Disclaimer: If they're not mine by now... *sighs* (They're not)
Remus slipped silently into the darkened Infirmary and cautiously removed the Invisibility cloak before settling into the seat he'd claimed earlier. His three friends were still asleep but despite Madam Pomfrey's threats, he refused to let them out of his sight. It had been way too close. He felt a little guilty for not being there with them, but all he had to do to squash it was recall the position he'd found them in when he'd arrived with the cavalry. If Dumbledore hadn't been there to chase off Malfoy... He shuddered, unwilling to follow that train of thought to its conclusion.
Sighing, he sat back in his chair rubbing his eyes. He was exhausted but he couldn't bring himself to leave. When Madam Pomfrey kicked him out and ordered him to get some sleep before he keeled over, he'd simply gone up to the dorm, retrieved James' cloak and came straight back down, loitering outside until she'd gone to bed. Filch had only passed by once and he'd absently noted that the floating mistletoe had gone. He tried not to dwell on that too much.
Even though he'd been assured numerous times that each would make a full recovery, he'd promised himself that he wouldn't go until he'd seen them wake up for himself. Bundling the cloak on his lap, his eyes fell upon the empty bed that had until recently held a fourth patient. Auror Potter and his wife had responded immediately to the Headmaster's owl, arriving via floo. They'd both descended on him, Mr. Potter pumping his hand and blinking rapidly before Mrs. Potter had enveloped him in a hug, tearfully thanking him for saving her son while Remus tried to explain that all he'd done was pass on a message and rally the troops—that Sirius and Severus were the ones that tracked him down and stalled until help arrived.
Dumbledore soon calmed everything down and swept them off to explain the situation. It wasn't long until Mr. Potter arrived back in the Infirmary in full Auror mode, insisting on taking Peter Pettigrew into custody to be questioned on the depth of his knowledge into Death Eater activity. Mrs. Potter stayed by her son's bedside, gripping his and Sirius' hands as she sat between them, watching as Peter was roused and portkeyed to Auror Headquarters. She left for the night shortly after, still pale at the thought that 'sweet little Peter' could have hidden a murderer's black heart.
Mr. Potter had been adamant that Lucius Malfoy should be arrested but he'd apparated away before any of the faculty had gotten a good look at him and they only had the word of three traumatised students to bring against him. Though Remus had found (well tripped over, really) a strange mask half-buried in the snow that at least proved the assailant was indeed a Death Eater. Just in case anyone tried to dispute that. James' father had sworn to see justice done but Remus wasn't holding his breath. The Malfoys were too powerful and had far too many influential friends to be brought down by the word of three teenagers. On the up-side, Dumbledore had promised not to allow Lucius back into the school. If he wanted to get his NEWTs, he'd have to either bare his left arm or finish out the year in Drumstrang or Beaubaxtons.
Remus stretched and yawned, trying to keep his eyes open. Peter, being underage would probably just be expelled—his wand snapped, though without even his OWLs, he might as well be a squib. His family wouldn't be able to afford to send him to one of the foreign schools. Remus couldn't find it in him to be too broken up about that. At least they wouldn't have to keep up the constant charade anymore. That realization was like a weight lifting off his shoulders, allowing him to breathe easily for the first time in what felt like forever.
Severus awoke as the dawn light began to filter in through the windows. Without opening his eyes, he began to take stock of his body. After reassuring himself that he had all his limbs intact and the horrible tearing pains were now just a distant memory, he cautiously opened his eyes and blinked in the dim light. Turning his head he saw James and Sirius in beds opposite him and Remus slumped in an uncomfortable looking chair with his head tipped back, eyes closed and drool collecting at the corner of his mouth. Severus smirked at the scene and wished electronics worked in Hogwarts so he could take a picture.
"You awake?" a voice whispered and Severus looked over to see Sirius examining him. "You look like shit," he observed bluntly.
Severus rolled his eyes. "At least we don't have to worry about brain damage with you Black," he remarked snidely, "since it would be impossible to tell the difference. Your grasp of stating the obvious hasn't deserted you, I see."
"Oh, so you were worried?" Sirius asked innocently, "Aw Sev, I didn't know you cared!"
"If I had to worry about the state of your brain, you wouldn't be able to get me out of bed in the morning."
"Ouch," Sirius gasped in mock horror. "Are you insulting my intelligence, Severus?"
Severus' lips twitched but he managed to refrain from smiling. "The fact you even had to ask, Black," he stated coolly, "just proves my point."
Sirius opened his mouth to respond but a groan startled them both into silence.
"For Merlin's sake, it's six in the morning!" James growled, slitting his eyes open to glare at them. "I want to sleep, not listen to the two of you bitch at each other! What the hell's the matter with you?"
Sirius gave this question deep, serious thought before responding gravely, "Boredom."
"Well you can't be bored if you're unconscious," James retorted grumpily, "so go to sleep and let me do the same."
There was silence for several minutes and James sighed with relief, snuggling down into his pillow. Severus however, was counting down in his head.
Three, two, one—
"But I'm not sleepy!" Sirius whined, gingerly sitting up and resting back on his pillows.
James' frustrated groan was loud enough to wake Remus who fell out of his chair in shock. "Madam Pomfrey, I can explain—" he blurted before he realized that he hadn't been discovered.
Sirius laughed out loud as his friend picked himself up off the ground, wincing as he sat back down. Even James sniggered a bit, his ire at being woken at such an ungodly hour temporarily forgotten.
"Are you all right?" Remus demanded, looking them over anxiously.
"We're fine," James said soothingly, "right guys?"
Severus gave a curt nod while Sirius enthusiastically assured Remus that he was in the bloom of health—never felt better in his life, in fact.
Remus in the midst of this, started to relax, the iron going out of his shoulders as the tension finally began to fade.
"Good," he murmured, "That's good."
There was a brief silence as they mulled over what could have happened, before Severus got irritated.
"So are you going to tell us what's been going on or do we have to guess?" he enquired impatiently.
Remus perked up at that and began to detail Lucius' escape, the visit of James' parents and Pettigrew's subsequent incarceration to his captive audience. Severus was slightly unnerved but not at all surprised to hear that Lucius had evaded capture. It was a Malfoy trait. Although he was relieved to hear that he wouldn't be returning to Hogwarts—he could just imagine how that would have gone. It certainly gave him some breathing room. While he'd still have to avoid his fellow Slytherins, especially after this little adventure came out, Lucius' departure would leave a vacuum in the Slytherin hierarchy that would have to be filled. That should distract his Housemates for quite a while. It would be vicious, he had no doubt.
"At least Peter has finally showed his true colours," Sirius muttered, interrupting Severus' musings on the machinations of Slytherin politics. "That's the only good thing to come out of this mess."
"And we didn't even have to do anything," Remus added, sounding a little disappointed.
"Except get kidnapped," James muttered sulkily, missing the worried looks Remus and Sirius exchanged.
"But you did it so well," Severus noted wickedly, his dark eyes flashing.
James responded by tossing a pillow at him only to have it explode in a shower of feathers over Sirius' bed.
"Oi!" Sirius bellowed, spitting out bits of fluff and glaring as if trying to decide just who he should hex first. Severus just smiled smugly and slid his wand carefully back under his pillow.
Sirius coughed pathetically and Remus started laughing. He couldn't help it! The state of him, sitting up covered in fluffy feathers and tattered remains of pillowcase, cursing and grumbling under his breath about 'certain people' with bad aim antagonising greasy Slytherin's with hair triggers and destructive tendencies. James snorted and soon joined Remus in helpless laugher; even Severus couldn't hold back a grin.
In the end though, Sirius got his revenge. The mumbling abruptly died down and then suddenly, while everyone was distracted making fun of his new look, Sirius struck—a pillow hitting James right in the face and Severus in the side of the head.
And of course, that meant war.
Not wanting to miss this rare chance to get his own back for all the Werewolf jokes, Remus pounced on Peter's abandoned bed and armed himself.
The battle raged for about ten minutes with creative use of the accio spell, before Madam Pomfrey stormed in. Remus dived for the cloak amid a flurry of feathers and prayed he hadn't been spotted.
However, luck seemed to be on his side as he watched his three friends get subjected to the sharp side of the matron's tongue without any indication that she was aware of an extra vic—troublemaker.
After a couple of quick cleaning spells and a pain-killing potion for Severus who'd managed to strain his still tender ribs, she stalked off muttering darkly about students who refused to rest after they'd been half killed.
As she disappeared into her office and started rearranging her potions supplies with unnecessary force, indicating her displeasure, Remus emerged from under the cloak.
"Welcome back," James said drily and Remus shrugged unapologetically.
"You would have done exactly the same thing in my position," he accused. "I'll gladly duel Death Eaters with you next time; just don't ask me to face down Madam Pomfrey on a warpath!"
James sighed ruefully but couldn't argue.
Sirius snorted. "If I thought I'd get away with it, I would've been under there with you mate," he admitted wistfully.
All four of them looked warily at the office. Remus stretched and sat down again trying to get comfortable.
"Oh for—are you a Wizard or not?" Severus demanded acidly. "Quit squirming and just use a cushioning spell or something."
"But Madam Pomfrey's banned magic in the Infirmary," Remus reminded him pointedly.
"Didn't stop us a few minutes ago," Sirius said unrepentantly.
"Quick, before she comes back," James urged, his eyes lighting up with a familiar mischievous glint. "Save yourself, or you're just going to have to explain how you managed to mangle your back when you were supposed to be sleeping in your own bed last night!"
Remus winced, acknowledging the point but before he could grab his wand the sharp pressure on his back eased and he looked up in time to see Severus shove something back under his pillow.
"Well, we'd have died of old age before you decided to stop crippling yourself," he snapped defensively and Remus hid a smile, instead relaxing with exaggerated motions.
"Thanks Severus," he said cheerfully and was rewarded with a sneer and just a hint of embarrassment. He grinned and skilfully changed the topic of conversation.
"So now that Peter's gone, we can finally start to unwind," he said gratefully. "I'm still getting used to the fact I don't have to edit the conversation every time someone enters the room."
James made a face. "Yeah but what are we going to do now?"
"I know!" Sirius moaned dejectedly. "We had so many amazing plans on how to get rid of him; it kind of leaves a hole in our schedule!"
"I don't suppose you'd want to put together an intensive study plan for our OWLs?" Remus asked hopefully.
The twin looks of horror that graced James and Sirius' faces answered that question and Remus sighed.
"Please Remus," Severus said sarcastically, "don't tell me you actually expected them to try and fill those echoing cranial spaces with anything relevant?"
Remus grinned at James and Sirius' outraged expressions. "Well you know," he sighed philosophically, "hope springs eternal and all that."
"Hey!" James spluttered, "Just because we don't want to get sucked into another of your black hole 'study plans'..."
"And can you blame us after last time?" Sirius demanded looking a little traumatised.
Seeing Severus' curious expression, Remus hurriedly brought them back to the matter at hand.
"So have you thought of anything interesting?" he asked ignoring James' triumphant grin and Severus' calculating glance.
"I don't know..." Sirius muttered, before exclaiming, "Hey! What about planning a big end-of-year prank? You know; something to cheer everyone up after the exams!"
"Yeah!" James agreed enthusiastically, "the OWLs are going to suck us all dry this year—we need something to look forward to—something to perk everyone up afterwards!"
Severus and Remus exchanged an amused glance.
"So what are you thinking?" Remus asked cautiously.
Hearing the muffled laughter and low whispers drifting in from the Infirmary, Poppy Pomfrey shook her head in resignation as she continued making up a list of potions to give to Slughorn, that lazy walrus. She was running dangerously low on blood-replenishing potions and the Gryffindor-Slytherin match was scheduled right after the holidays. If he didn't lower himself to do some actual physical work by the end of the week then she was going to Dumbledore, honestly enough was enough and that man—
A voice rose in excitement and was quickly hushed and Poppy found herself trying not to smile as snippets of their conversation seized her attention before the voices caught themselves and descended back into the realm of whispers.
Pausing in her work she tilted her head and listened more carefully. It sounded as though the Marauders were back to their old tricks, even after such a betrayal you still couldn't keep them down. She was oddly comforted by that, though it seemed to her they may have picked up a new member almost without realizing—and definitely traded up in the intelligence department. They were going to be ten times worse and yet she couldn't summon up the annoyance she'd generally felt before. She had a brief moment of sympathy for the professors expected to maintain order and control before she was distracted again. Lowering her quill, she let the disjointed scraps of conversation wash over her.
"Please Black, you've got to think bigger! Maybe..."
"Hmm...that's got potential, but perhaps if we add..."
"It'll be fine Moony, we're experts remember?"
"Well, I guess...alright but if they're going to be that many people then..."
Poppy returned to her work. If she heard nothing of note then she had no responsibility to report it.
Besides, eavesdropping on students was unethical.
With this in mind, she focused on her list and on how she could pin that social butterfly down to fulfil his responsibilities. And if she had a brief fantasy of those four terrors outside plotting Slughorn's downfall in their usual startlingly inventive way, then no-one would know but her.
Outside, Sirius' jubilant voice broke the silence.
"Of course it'll work! We're the Marauders after all!"
A/N: And that's a wrap folks! ^_^
Looks like everything is going back to normal, or at least as normal as it ever gets for the Marauders!
Hope you enjoyed the ride!