Something cold and wet trailed along James's bare arm as he slept. Snail, he thought irrationally, still halfway dreaming. He pushed the thing away but it pressed insistently into his shoulder, and some sort of hand or paw swiped at his side, its claws grazing his stomach. James flailed out in a panic, sitting bolt upright with his eyes wide open, scrambling for his wand to subdue –
James resisted the urge to strangle the great, shaggy black dog. "Why?" he groaned, glaring at Sirius, who in return gave him a reproachful look that brought a strange humanity to the dog's pale eyes. There were sparks of red and gold lights dancing about the room like tiny stars, James noticed vaguely, wondering if he was seeing things. Sirius was sitting on the edge of James's mattress, which they had dragged into the guestroom weeks ago so that the two of them could stay up plotting through the night.
With an irritated huff, James reached for his glasses beside the mattress and shoved them on."What's your problem?" he snapped when Sirius continued to regard him with annoyance.
"You hit him on the snout," Remus said calmly from a third mattress, which they'd managed to fit into the corner of the room somehow. ("This is like Tetris," Remus had remarked when he'd arrived two days ago and they were trying to figure out how to fit two mattresses, one bed, two trunks, a bureau, and a bookshelf into the room. When James and Sirius had both stared blankly at him, he'd shaken his head and said, "Nevermind. It's a Muggle thing.")
"Well, that's his fault for snuffling at me like a bloody idiot," James said grumpily. A low growl came from Sirius's throat and James shot him a dirty look. "Oh shut up, you big mongrel. What's with the canine thing today anyway?"
Sirius stood up and strode over Remus's mattress, moving with surprising grace for a dog his size and for Sirius in general. He pressed his nose against the window and stared out at the green grass and blue skies, smudging up the glass with his breath.
Remus and James exchanged a glance.
"Er, Sirius?" Remus said.
The dog's ear flicked back toward his voice and Remus seemed to take this as a sign that he was listening. James wasn't so sure.
"Why did you transform again?" Remus asked tentatively.
This time Sirius turned around and let out a great doggy sigh as though irritated with the both of them. James was about to threaten to drop him off at the pound when Sirius transformed into a boy again, sitting cross-legged beside Remus and looking just as sullen and annoyed as he had in dog form.
"Dunno," Sirius said. "Bored."
"Really?" said James, glancing at the sparks of light still shimmering about in the air. Sirius must have been casting them for fun. The underage wizarding laws weren't much of threat to them here, seeing as James's parents were both authorized to do magic. "I'd never have guessed."
Remus smiled. "Mapmaking getting a bit too tedious for the adventuresome Mr. Black?"
Sirius looked thoughtful. "Adventuresome. I like that. Can we add that to my name on the map? The Adventuresome Mr. Padfoot."
"How about the Hopelessly Distractable Mr. Padfoot? I think that's a bit more accurate." James ducked and reached out a hand to catch the pillow Sirius had just chucked at his head.
"And the Incredibly Arrogant, Evans-Repelling Mr. Prongs," Remus added. James dutifully tossed the pillow at him, which missed and hit Sirius in the face.
"The Incredibly Boring Mr. Moony," James retorted.
"Boring? Really?" Remus protested, scrambling out of reach of Sirius, who'd gone for a tackle.
"Yeah, once a month you get a bit interesting…but only a bit," Sirius said with a grin, giving up on the tackle. He settled instead on sending the sparks of light after Remus with a flick of the wand he'd retrieved from his pocket.
"Oh how you've wounded me," Remus said dryly. He pushed the lights out of his face as though warding off gnats, and they scattered.
"Well, you gave me a nasty bite on the arse last month so I s'pose we're even," Sirius replied with a glint in his eye.
James shot him a glare. "Don't tell him that! He didn't need to know that!"
"I hurt you?" Remus said, looking puzzled and worried. "I'm –"
"So very very sorry, we know," James said, waving a hand in dismissal. "Don't fret about it."
"I'm not –"
"Yes you are. You can't help yourself. You're a fretter."
"It's one of your greatest talents," Sirius agreed. "If there was a Fretting Championship you would be the Grand Champion Fretter. You, my dear Moony, are the frettiest fretter who ever fretted."
Remus frowned. He looked ready to argue further…or perhaps to punch Sirius in the face. James jumped in hurriedly.
"So!" he said, leaping to his feet and clapping his hands together. "Who wants to go to the park?"
Remus just blinked at him but Sirius brightened, a huge grin spreading across his face. He jumped up and down and spoke in an annoyingly shrill voice. "Oh, I do! I do! Oh please, father, please won't you take us to the park? I would be ever so delighted!"
James put on a stern face. "Well, let me see…"
"Please oh please?" Sirius said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. Remus sighed and shook his head, but behind his exasperation lurked a smile.
James patted Sirius on the head. "Well, son, you've been a good lad. I believe you deserve an outing. Shall we bring the dog?"
"The dog would be positively thrilled to go for a run, I think," said Sirius. He glanced at Remus, smirking slightly. "What about my pet werewolf, father, can he come too?"
"Hmm," said James, considering the now-glaring Remus. "Well, so long as you're sure not to let him bite anyone."
"He's the one you ought to be worried about," Remus grumbled,with a scowl in Sirius's direction.
Sirius beamed. "We're going to the park, we're going to the park!" he sang in the same shrill voice.
James couldn't manage to summon up any semblance of annoyance. He exchanged a glance with Remus that was half-amused and half-relieved that Sirius was acting like his irritating self again. James had taken Remus aside on the night of his arrival to tell him the details of Sirius's escape, and ever since then Remus had been poorly concealing his concern, shooting worried looks at James when Sirius began to brood – which he did whenever he thought no one was paying attention.
"Let's go, then!" Sirius said impatiently when James took his time finding some appropriate Muggle clothing in the bureau.
"We haven't even had breakfast," Remus pointed out.
"There are some things more important than breakfast," Sirius said solemnly.
James stopped rummaging through his clothes and stared at his best friend. "I never thought I'd hear you say that."
Sirius shrugged. "Oh, I'm full of surprises." He stomach grumbled loudly at just that moment, and all three of them laughed.
"But apparently not full of food," Remus said, yawning and standing.
James walked toward the door. "C'mon, Padfoot, let's go and eat something."
"Or you'll be hunting down squirrels later," Remus added, making a face at the thought.
"What's wrong with that?" Sirius said, trailing behind Remus and James as they made their way down the hall and to the stairs.
"Are you really asking me what's wrong with eating squirrels?"
"Are you really asking me what I'm asking you? How's your hearing, Moony? Perhaps you should get that checked out."
"Perhaps I should hex you."
"Mr. Moony! Five hundred thousand points from Gryffindor for your rudeness!"
"Five hundred thousand?"
"Yes, and it'll be five hundred million if you speak another word!"
James descended from the last step and turned to look at Sirius and Remus. "You're a pair of bickering idiots, you know that?"
Sirius and Remus glanced at each other. "Don't worry, Prongs," Sirius said, throwing an arm around James's shoulders, "we think you're an idiot too."
James grinned. "Aw, d'you really mean it?"
Remus nodded. "Absolutely."
Sirius put his other arm around Remus's shoulders. "See? One big happy family."
And together the three of them marched into the kitchen.