A/N: Hello! Thanks for clicking by. Wild applause for ObsidianEmbrace, beta and motivator extraordinaire.
Disclaimer: Thanks to JK for the world, Skins for the general storyline prompt, and The Libertines for the story title.
Thursday night saw Remus Lupin hunched on a sofa with his fingers in his ears.
It wasn't that he was a bookworm, or a killjoy, or a prose-loving pervert (thanks, Sirius) – it was just that the test was tomorrow, and Slughorn had seemed so hopeful that he'd pass this time, and there was nothing Remus hated more than letting people down – except for maybe Potions.
But honestly, if he hadn't melted his twelfth cauldron that morning, Remus would have happily force-fed a Calming Drought to the entire castle. High spirits pressed aggressively in around him. Even with the protection of an enormous mouldy library book, there was simply no way Remus could concentrate with those bloody paper aeroplanes swooping back and forth beneath his nose.
"Alone at the eye of a social storm, Moony? No surprises there, mate."
Remus heaved the book shut with a groan. That was that, then. Concentration was out of the question when Sirius Black felt inclined to converse. Despite himself, Remus was unable to put any real feeling behind the glare that he now turned on Sirius. The best intentions in the world couldn't dull the shock of pleasure that Remus always felt at the sound of Sirius' voice.
Remus wouldn't send Sirius away, of course. Obviously he'd tell him to shove off, but he wouldn't mean it, not really. Remus softened under those wicked grey eyes like butter in a Muggle microwave – not that Sirius was allowed to know that. Remus could only imagine what hideous exploitation would result from such dangerous knowledge. In all likelihood, Remus would find himself strapped to a Filibuster firework heading skyward within a week.
It was, all things considered, in the interests of the world at large that Remus should shield his delight with characteristic disapproval and deprecation.
"Alas, no more," he said, injecting the correct, wry tone into the words. "You have rescued me from a life of isolation. Well done. Now, either explain the theory behind Divination Distillation, or bugger off promptly. Please."
Sirius glanced at the title of Remus' textbook and gave a loud snort. "You've as much chance of understanding Potions by tomorrow as I have of avoiding arrest before the age of twenty-five."
Remus stared down at the cover of his book with a strong sense of approaching doom. "Is it all that bad?" he asked hopelessly.
"Worse," said Sirius with a careless shrug. "But forget that; did you like my paper aeroplanes?"
Forgetting his impending Potions failure for a moment, Remus snapped his head up and glared. "That was you?"
"Nice, weren't they? Went wherever I wanted them to go and everything," Sirius said happily, ignoring Remus' indignation with the ease of experience. "A simple swooping charm, that's all. We'll never have to pass plebian notes again; ours will travel business class, Moony."
"Aeroplanes and motorbikes – is that all you learn in Muggle Studies? And why couldn't you have tried them out on Wormtail?" Remus gesticulated irritably to the opposite corner of the common room, where Peter was losing a game of gobstones in spectacular fashion. "Look, no homework in sight. You targeted me deliberately, didn't you?"
"Friends don't let friends become hermits, Moony," Sirius said fondly, pawing the inconvenient textbook out of his way as he slid expertly into Remus' personal space. Remus swallowed and edged back, but it was no use. "Only thing saving you from being the dullest wizard in the world is your little furry problem."
"I am not a hermit," Remus muttered, not even bothering with his well-practiced huff of exasperation. He lifted his hands out of the way of a crushing as Sirius sprawled out along the entire length of the sofa, head and feet at either end, torso cushioned by Remus' legs. Remus peered disapprovingly down at Sirius, who smirked and pushed a careless hand though his hair, prodding Remus' narrow chest along the way.
James would have launched Sirius from his lap and onto the floor in five seconds flat. Remus, however, didn't really mind being used as furniture. Sirius squirmed about restlessly, shoulder blades digging painfully into Remus' thighs, but Remus did no more than poke him in the stomach and feel quietly pleased at the contact.
Just as a helpless smile was starting to pull at the corner of Remus' mouth, Sirius opened his, and made Remus reconsider James' approach.
"You are too a hermit, Lupin. Loony, loopy Lupin." Sirius rapped on the front cover of Remus' book to the rhythm of the chant. "Loony, loopy – you know, if ever a false description was penned by a poltergeist…"
"Oh, I don't know," said James, entering the conversation without a word of greeting. He'd clearly come straight from Head Boy duty; he had the telltale boils on his face. Sirius gave James a mock salute as he swung himself into the armchair opposite, tapping his chin as if in thought.
"Remember that time in Charms, third year, when –"
Sirius interrupted, waving his hands furiously and nearly knocking Remus' head off. "When I made you do that Cheering Charm with two wands and a blindfold, ha, and Moony got hit –"
" – and swept Flitwick away on a waltz right through to the staff room!" James finished, face distorted with hilarity. "And Dumbledore didn't even flinch, just tapped Moony on the shoulder and asked to cut in!"
The two boys collapsed into great wheezing gasps of laughter, leaving Remus flushed red with embarrassment and quite determined to Obliviate himself, his friends, and the entire school for good measure. He'd hoped they'd forgotten all about it; Flitwick certainly acted like he had. Well, he supposed it served him right for befriending the two cleverest idiots at Hogwarts.
"Courage, fellow prefect," came a cool voice of comfort, and Remus raised his head high enough to give Lily an appreciative sort of grimace. Meanwhile, James rose from his chair, gave one last distracted snort of laughter, and drifted off after that cool voice with nary a word of farewell to his friends.
"Well, there goes the Grand High Lord of Loopiness," said Sirius waspishly, staring after James with a frown. Before Remus could do more than quirk his mouth sympathetically, Sirius had shaken his head and resumed his teasing.
"Tell you what, you ought to go mental more often, Moony… It's unbelievably amusing. Now come on, how about some swooping origami, then? Ten points if you hit Wormy's nose."
Remus shook his head. "Not tonight, Padfoot. Fetch Prongs back; I'm sure he'd love a go, and Lily would probably appreciate it too."
"Then come to the kitchens, go on. I'd ask Pete, but the house-elves have refused to serve him since he… Well, you were there."
"So I was," muttered Remus, shaking his head and remembering the stains. "Believe me, I was; but no, Sirius, I can't go. Not tonight."
The scowl had darkened Sirius' face before Remus had even finished speaking. "It's always 'no, no, no' with you, Moony. No fun at all. Your stuffiness is selfishness, it is."
Remus did not feel inclined to agree. In fact, he felt more inclined to shove Sirius from his lap, and did so. Not even Sirius could make falling off a sofa look dignified. A group of fourth year girls at the next fireplace lapsed into giggles at the sound of the squawk and thump, and when Sirius rolled onto his stomach, hair in his eyes, his pride was clearly wounded.
Remus smirked. No fun indeed.
When Sirius next spoke, having raised himself haughtily to his elbows, his voice became brusque and businesslike. "Tell you what, Moony… I really think you ought to loosen up a little."
"I am loose," Remus protested, a bit hurt by this allegation. "I am highly loose. You caught me on a bad night, that's all. I've got this bloody test…"
Sirius snorted. "Yeah, yeah. Tomorrow's Potions – but then Saturday's prefect duties, and Sunday's homework, and then ever more tests and trials, and before you know it, you'll end up all shriveled into a hapless old husk of a hermit with good grades and a life of regrets."
Despite knowing better, Remus couldn't help the coil of anger that tightened in his stomach at this little speech.
"Maybe you're the one who should brush up on his Divination potions, Sirius," he said mildly, but was unable to wipe all traces of irritation from his voice. Those words had hit home rather more painfully than Sirius could have intended.
Not that he'd ever tell the others, but Remus had never quite accepted his place in their marauding group of four. He wasn't a James or Sirius, or even a Peter. For one thing, he was rather quiet twenty-nine days of the month. For another, he possessed a working set of morals. Secretly, and very deep down, he still expected to be dropped for someone who bore rather less of a resemblance to a wet blanket. And Sirius' careless words had given the old doubt claws.
He dropped his eyes, but he could still feel Sirius watching him.
"You just need to learn to say yes sometimes, that's all."
Sirius' voice was gentler now, almost like he'd noticed something of Remus' discomfort – but this clumsy attempt at kindness did nothing but irritate, and Remus found himself scowling in a very uncharacteristic way.
"You need to start taking things more seriously," he snapped before he could stop himself. He clamped his mouth shut, faintly shocked. Sticks in the mud snapped; Remus Lupin did not. And he certainly didn't criticize his friends.
Sirius' voice was dangerously low. He kicked out against the sofa legs, an unmistakable glint of challenge in his eyes. Remus leaned back into the cushions with growing dread, and wondered just what he'd started.
"Yeah, maybe I do," Sirius continued, because Sirius Black met every challenge head-on. "We're in the seventh year, after all. We're on the brink of war. We are," he said abruptly, pulling himself onto the sofa and staring at Remus, "about ready for a change, aren't we?"
Remus stared back, his stomach curling in on itself. He could feel heat rising up his neck – from shame, from anger, and most of all, from the intensity of those dark grey eyes. Sirius hardly blinked. His face was a bare foot away, and Remus could feel the insistent warmth of his breath on his cheeks.
"A change?" he repeated weakly, gripping his Potions book with white knuckles, feeling about ready to swoop away with the aeroplanes.
"A change," Sirius confirmed. "Let's make a deal, Moony. From now on, you will start saying yes when you're asked to do something."
"What? Anything?" Remus interrupted wildly, but Sirius silenced him with a raised hand. There was a touch of a mocking smile on his lips.
"Anything within reason. Within what I say is reasonable."
"Oh, Merlin," said Remus numbly. "That excludes approximately nothing. And what exactly would I get out of this deal?"
Sirius smirked. "I will make the ultimate sacrifice, Moony, and start to take things more seriously. As you so kindly suggested."
This was, Remus silently noted, one of the most ridiculous things that Sirius had ever proposed. And yet he felt almost inclined to accept the deal, whether from some misguided thirst to prove himself, or pure Gryffindor stubbornness, or from the fact that he never could say no to Sirius when he was looking at him like that.
And then, before he knew it, Remus found his hand being shaken, and the telltale tingle of magic traveling through his arm.
"What was that?" he demanded as Sirius' smile widened suspiciously. "Did you just hex me?"
Sirius shrugged in a would-be casual manner. The intensity had vanished as quickly as it had arrived. "I just made the deal more – interesting. I'll be able to tell if you've said no, that's all. Don't worry, it binds me, too."
"I wonder what people will ask you to do, Moony," said Sirius distractedly, casting his gaze across the common room with a look of unmistakable glee. "Someone might ask you to put down your book, imagine that. Someone might - ask you out."
Pausing, Sirius glanced sideways at Remus, who promptly flushed with discomfort. His heart was hammering in his chest, and he wished it wouldn't. He didn't want anyone to ask him out, particularly if he'd be forced to say yes – well, that wasn't entirely true, but all the same, he'd appreciate it if Sirius looked away now, and stopped making Occlumency lessons look so attractive.
Finally, mercifully, Sirius shook his head and turned from Remus with an indecipherable smile. "Someone might ask you to help him construct an armada of paper aeroplanes while he works on his swooping charms."
"Someone might remind you to take things a bit more seriously, Padfoot," Remus responded in a carefully even voice, gently extricating his hand from Sirius' vice-like grip. He shook his fingers out, and tried not to shiver at the loss of contact. His heart was still pounding away at an alarming rate, and he rather hoped that Sirius had cast that binding charm correctly.
"True," Sirius said with a grimace. "Cruel and unusual, that is. But now that you say it, I should probably go and ask Flitwick for a resit on the swooping charm test. I became – distracted – during the first one. Figured out how to fold an aeroplane." He grinned and winked at Remus. "Or maybe I should take him on a waltz. Might help him forget the test, if you know what I mean."
As Sirius made to stand up, Remus grabbed at his sleeve, suddenly overcome with anxiety. What on earth had he let Sirius get him into this time?
"What if I'm asked to do something really stupid, Padfoot? Like break into a teacher's office, or, or snog Mrs Norris!"
Sirius' eyes widened. "Do stop giving me such ideas, Moony."
But as Remus continued to glare in a panicked sort of way, Sirius gave his shoulder a quick squeeze, eyes softening. "You know I'd never make you do anything truly stupid. I just want you to put yourself out there a bit. Stop being so scared of tripping up. There are more important things out there, you know."
"No Mrs Norris," Remus said firmly, feeling reassured despite himself.
"No bloody cats," Sirius agreed, face returning to a wicked grin. "But I'll make no more promises now, Moony. Merlin forbid I don't take them seriously."
Thanks for reading - please review!