16. Rumors Are Almost as Dangerous as Mildly Illegal Explosives

Fabian Prewett was having a Bad Day. Not a bad day. A Bad Day.

The kind of day where the owl that brings you the paper craps on your toast.

The kind of day where Filch gives you a month of pre-emptive detention for 'walking funny'.

The kind of day where you find the girl you kind of fancy (formerly known as Amelia Hill, now affectionately referred to as 'Slagzilla') snogging a Hufflepuff. In a broom closet.

Gideon, on the other hand, was having quite a lot of fun. Since his brother was out of pranking action for the moment, he'd spent the past day spreading rumors, most of which had stuck quite nicely. As of a quarter to four that afternoon, half the Prefects were murmuring about the Boggart in the Owlery, most of the staff were searching for an escaped banshee on the fourth floor, and every single student in first and second year was convinced that Remus Lupin was dead.

...

"I heard that his sick Mum is actually a vampire, and when he last went to visit, she killed him. Killed him 'till he died!"

"I heard he got eaten by a rogue hippogriff!"

"No, no, that's all wrong. Peter Derby said that Allison Wright told him that Lupin fell off the Astronomy Tower."

"Allison Wright wouldn't know the Astronomy Tower if it fell on her in the middle of dinner. What really happened is he drowned in the Great Lake!"

"I thought he got eaten by the Giant Squid?"

"I thought he got eaten by that banshee?"

"I thought he had herpes?"

...

"What's herpes?" asked Peter. He was scrunched up under a bed in the Hospital Wing, sandwiched between Sirius and James.

"Not what's killed Moony," replied Sirius.

Peter nodded wisely. "Ah," he said, also wisely. He then attempted to wisely gaze at the floor, but ended up looking like he needed to go to the bathroom rather badly.

"Relax, Pete. Remus isn't dead," James whispered, kindly. "We're hiding under his bed, remember?"

The night before had been a particularly nasty full moon, and though Remus hadn't actually woken up yet, his friends didn't really want to leave him alone. But as they weren't technically supposed to know about his 'condition', they had no legitimate excuse for being there with him.

Hence the hiding.

It was kind of weird, this time – while no one usually came to the Hospital Wing to look for Remus, it seemed as if half the school had been through today, asking for him specifically. Because his bed was screened off from the rest of the Hospital Wing by a very realistic illusion of a wall, he hadn't been found yet. As the day progressed, the rumors had become wilder and wilder. (James was writing the best ones on his arm with a Self-Inking quill, for future reference.)

Though they did this pretty much every month, it still hadn't gotten any easier. Sirius had a wicked cramp in his left calf, Peter had somehow gotten biscuit crumbs in his trousers, and James' hair kept getting painfully caught in the bedsprings.

Sirius thought to himself that there had to be another way that they could be there for Remus, one which didn't involve Peter elbowing him the ribs every two minutes.

The tail-end of James and Peter's conversation distracted him, and he tucked the idea away for later.

"Right, right. I know he's not dead. It's just everyone keeps saying-"

"That he is?" interrupted Sirius. "I know. It's weird, isn't it?"

James grinned. "Whoever started it's done a bloody good job," he said. "I've heard at least three people wondering when the funeral was."

"And did you hear those girls in here before?" asked Sirius.

"Who? The Slytherins?"

"No, Pete, those Hufflepuffs in our year."

"Nah, must have missed it… What did they say?"

Sirius simpered up at Peter. "I heard Dumbledore killed him because he was an alien," he giggled, in a high-pitched and surprisingly accurate imitation of Felicity Marshall.

"Who, Lupin?" said James, wide eyed, trying for the breathy tones of Margaret Scott and failing painfully. "Well, I don't think he's an alien, but he is waterproof."

"Really?" Sirius asked, one hand over his mouth.

"Really. I heard it straight from his friend, the short one. Peterson, Patterson. Pettigrew? Something like that."

"She most certainly did not!" yelped Peter.

"Shut up, Pete! You made James break character!"

"I'll definitely break something if you don't get your elbow out of my-"

The curtains whipped back from the bed frame.

James froze.

"OUT!"

"Why, my darling Madame Pomfrey," said James, batting his eyes, "how perfectly lovely to see you!"

The frazzled witch glared at the pile of boys huddled under the bed. Peter shifted awkwardly. A stray biscuit crumb had wormed its way into the collar of his shirt, and the itching was unbearable. Madame Pomfrey's burning gaze zeroed in on him, and he quailed, trying to hide his rather plump body behind James very thin knees.

"I wish I could say the same," she hissed at them. "Out! This is the HOSPITAL WING. In the Hospital Wing, you do not hide under beds! It's disruptive and unhygienic!"

Sirius rolled out from under the bed and to his feet in one graceful movement, offering a hand to James. James ignored it and staggered to his feet with the drunken wobble of someone who has lost all feeling in his feet.

"Ow. Owowow, ow. Bugger." He lurched to the side, crashing into Peter, who fell onto the bed with a loud yelp.

The huddled figure under the covers shot upright in the bed, a wild expression on his pale face. "I'm awake, I'm awake!" he yelled. "Don't jump on me! For the love of God, don't jump on me!"

"Toodle-pip, Poppy! Thanks for looking after our Moony!"

James saluted the healer, who seemed to be on the verge of exploding in rage, and sprinted for the staircase. Peter scuttled after him, skidding on the slippery stone.

Sirius bent low in a sweeping bow. "Terribly sorry for the antics of my housemates," he said, gallantly. "I do what I can to control them, but I fear the situation may be hopeless!" He bit a knuckle melodramatically and pretended to look off into the middle distance.

Madame Pomfrey began to look slightly mollified. "Well, that's fine dear-"

Sirius took this as his cue to press a sloppy kiss to the back of her hand, fling Remus over his shoulder and bolt from the room.

"Sirius Black! Bring my patient back here RIGHT NOW!"

...

James and Sirius half-carried Remus back to the common room, each with one arm slung around their shoulders. They staggered up the stairs to their dormitory, narrowly avoiding knocking Remus' head against the door frame. They could have done with an extra hand, but Peter was busy doing damage control. It wasn't really working.

"But his friend, Patrick or Peter or something, he said Lupin was fine! Alive and fine!"

"Honestly, you can't believe anything that guy says. Of course he's not actually alive. I heard from Alice Finch that he's been a zombie since last Wednesday.

"Serious?"

"As a heart attack."

"Well, we'll be fine then. Gideon Prewett told me that Dumbledore's already survived one zombie apocalypse. He'll have no trouble taking care of Lupin."

...

Up in the dormitories, Remus was sprawled over his bedspread, too tired to actually get in. His hair was starting to grow a bit too long, and a sticky-out bit kept tickling his ear.

"James?" he asked, thoughtfully.

"Yeah, Moony?"

He paused, and started to speak in a low, measured tone. "If I am ever eaten by the giant squid, or my mother, or that banshee on the fourth floor, I just want you to know that…"

"That I should avenge your mangled remains by forsooth wreaking mortal afflictions upon your foul murderers?" interrupted James, equally solemn.

"Er, no. You should cremate me."

James blinked.

"Sorry. What?"

"Because," Remus continued earnestly, "I really don't want to come back as a zombie."

"What?"

"It would break my heart if I tried to eat your brains and you had to kick me in the face."


17. Defenestration Stations

Noun. Defenestration: The action of throwing someone or something out of a window.

(vb. form - to defenestrate)

ORIGIN early 17th cent, from modern Latin defenestration, from de- 'down from' + Latin fenestra 'window.'

...

"No."

"But-"

"No!"

James rolled his eyes and chose to ignore Remus' This-Is-A-Bad-Idea-Glare. (James and Peter had once spent a very productive weekend cataloguing each and every one of Remus' glares. There were about thirty eight, and they ranged from the infamous I'm-Not-Helping-With-This-Frown to the Someone's-Going-To-Have-To-Scrape-That-Off-The-Ceiling-Glower and the scarily common Sirius-Is-A-Nutcase-Scowl.)

"Come on, Moony, just-"

"I refuse." Remus very pointedly turned the page of his book and didn't look up at James' puppy-dog eyes. He'd almost managed to lose himself in the familiar words when James cleared his throat.

"Ahem."

Remus pretended not to hear, and turned another page.

"Ahem."

...Muggle influence was very strong during this incident, and it is almost certain that they are entirely responsible for the invention of paisley jodhpurs...

"James. Stop hexing my book."

"Sorry," said James, not sounding very sorry at all. "What if-"

Remus sighed and tapped his book with his wand, erasing the disturbing yellow trousers from the page. "It's not happening," he told James firmly. "I won't do it."

"But-"

"Not. Happening."

"But-"

"Ever."

James threw himself down on the bed, artfully managing to bounce the book right out of Remus' hands. "Just a little won't hurt!" he pleaded.

Remus stood up and folded his arms. He glared at James - the very rare You-Are-Being-A-Berk-And-I-Want-To-Hex-You-Scowl.

"James Potter. No matter how much you bribe me, blackmail me or beg me, I will not help you steal a love potion."

"Why not?"

Remus blinked, surprised. "Well, for one, its bloody illegal!"

"That's never stopped you before..." said James, giving him a sly grin.

Remus snorted. "It has, actually- last I checked, my name wasn't Sirius Black-"

"I'll buy you a month's supply of chocolate! A whole month."

"Huh. If you think I'm that easy-"

James smirked in triumph. He hadn't missed the flicker of interest in Remus' narrowed eyes. He pushed his advantage before his friend could talk himself out of it. "All you can eat..." he breathed.

Remus wavered, but attempted to stick to his morals. "Honestly," he protested, "Who do you think-"

"Plus stockpiling rights."

There was a silence. Remus' eye twitched. James swallowed a snicker, and affected such a good expression of innocence, he almost fooled himself.

"Two months," Remus said quietly, "and you've got yourself a deal."

"Moony! You're brilliant!"

The taller boy rubbed a thin hand over his eyes. "Just… don't tell me what you need it for," he asked. "Please? The less I know, the better."

James bounded down the stairs happily. "You won't regret this!" he yelled, as the door swung shut behind him.

Flopping back down onto his bed, book forgotten, Remus buried his face in a pillow. "I already do," he mumbled.

_Two weeks later_

"James Potter! Get your arse over here NOW!"

Lily was on the warpath. It was Valentine's Day, and James had decided that it was high time for a nice big romantic gesture. (While Christmas had passed without a hitch, New Year's had been an utter disaster. James had finally deployed the plan Sirius had given him, with the singing flowerpots. The one that had gotten wildly out of control, ending with everything from the cutlery to the toilets harmonizing to the same awful love songs.)

Unfortunately, this plan had also gone horribly pear-shaped. After spending the whole day drenched in pink champagne, Lily had finally snapped. The flowers following her around had been unceremoniously exploded, all the chocolates had been given to Remus (who was perched on an upturned table in the corner, and had just finished eating the last one) and she had now turned her attention to Potter.

James cautiously poked his head out from behind an armchair, ducking back down as a worryingly bright blue burst of light shot at his head. It missed and hit the armchair, which immediately began to ooze.

"Didn't you like the poem I wrote for you?" he yelled, army-crawling across the common room floor for the safety of a more solid couch.

Lily pretended to consider. "Well, it was kind of sweet, actually."

"Really?" James' tousled head popped up from behind his barricade, and Lily took the opportunity to fire another curse at him.

"No!" she snapped. "And can you stop the goddamn champagne?"

"Come on, Lilyflower," he said hastily, safe behind his couch. "Nothing says 'I love you' like pink champagne!"

"Nothing says 'I love you' like a curse in the face!"

As James' nose began to swell rapidly and flush an alarming shade of orange, he grinned happily. "You really love me? Lily! The wedding's next Thursday!"

Lily sighed. "You know what? I give up. Remus, come with me to the library. I need to find some new hexes." With a last venomous glare in James' direction, she dragged an oddly resistant Remus across the room and out the portrait hole, which slammed shut with a nasty crash.

Sirius poked his head out from under one of the only remaining armchairs. He surveyed the ruined common room with something close to awe. "Maybe you better leave her alone, mate," he said. "It's never going to work."

James felt at his nose gingerly. "She does love me," he said in a stubborn (yet slightly nasal) tone. "She just doesn't know it yet."

...

Lily stormed down the corridor, still dragging Remus behind her by his wrist. She tuned out the indignant voice of the Fat Lady, who really didn't like to be slammed.

"God, that Potter," she hissed. "I can't believe you're friends with him. He's such a jerk, all the time! I wish he'd leave me alone..."

"So do I," said Remus, abruptly. "Wish he'd leave you alone, I mean."

"Yes! Thank you! His head's so far up his arse he can't even see that I honestly can't stand him-"

Remus twisted his wrist out of Lily's grip and stopped in the middle of the corridor. "Don't speak about him like that!" he pleaded. "He's wonderful!"

Lily was still walking, ranting to herself. "Exactly!" she yelled over her shoulder. Then Remus' actual words hit her. She stopped dead. "Wait. What?"

"Why are you so mean to him all the time?" he sighed, a glazed and slightly stupid expression on his face.

Lily pinched her arm. "What did you just say? I don't think I quite heard it..."

Remus sighed, fluttering his eyelashes with surprising skill. "He's perfect! His hair, his eyes, God, and his arse-"

Lily pinched again, harder. "Uh, Remus? Is there something you wanted to tell me? You know, it is okay to be, um, er. Er. Gay." She put a tentative hand on his arm.

Remus didn't even notice. "And he's so good at Quidditch!" he gushed happily. "Amazing! Fantastic! I could watch him all day..." He trailed off with another love-sick sigh.

Lily frowned. Something wasn't quite right. "But you hate Quidditch," she said, slowly. "You always have."

Remus gave a scandalized gasp. "No I don't! Who told you that? I'll kill them!" He actually started to roll up his sleeves, before Lily gripped his arm again, more firmly this time.

"Remus?" she asked, "Are you quite alright?"

"Oh yes," replied Remus airily. "I'm fine. More than fine. Maaaaarvellous, in fact!" He beamed at her, the giddy expression so totally out of place on him that it almost looked as if he'd been…

"-drugged," breathed Lily, finishing her thought aloud. "Oh God. Oh, God."

"Who? Is he a friend of James'?"

Lily shook her head in disbelief. "You ate that chocolate Potter gave me, didn't you? All of it?"

"Yeah," Remus smiled. "It was good! He's so thoughtful, giving you chocolate. But why'd he give it to you?" He began to frown. "Why not me? Why doesn't he give me chocolate?"

"Remus," Lily began, "I think we'd better go and see Professor Slughorn-"

"Nah. I want to go and see James!" He started to walk purposefully back to the common room, Lily trailing ineffectively in his wake.

"Wait!" she called after him. "It's just that Pot- that James, er, mentioned earlier how much he, ah, cared for you and he... he, um left you a present! In Professor Slughorn's office! So that's where we should go!" Quite proud of her own quick thinking, Lily began to drag her friend down to the dungeons.

"What is it?" he asked eagerly, no longer fighting to get back to the common room.

"I'm not sure. He said it was private. Let's go!"

...

"Come in!"

Lily carefully pushed open the door, still gripping Remus tightly by the wrist. Whatever love potion he'd been given had started to strengthen with time, and Remus was all but bouncing off the walls with impatience.

"Er, Professor-"

"Lily!" Professor Slughorn, a jovial man who bore an eerie resemblance to a bowling pin, was seated at his desk. A flagon of pumpkin juice balanced on his purple-robed belly, wobbling slightly each time he breathed in. He gave Remus a cursory, faintly puzzled glance before beaming at Lily. "How wonderful to see you," he said. "And what brings you here to visit me today?"

"There's been a bit of an accident..."

"Ah." He gave Remus another, more appraising look and quirked an eyebrow at Lily, who nodded and mouthed James Potter. The Professor's eyes widened.

"Lily, Mr Lupin. Please, have a seat. I'll be with you both shortly." He hurried from the room, juice flagon still perched merrily on his stomach.

Lily settled herself on a green couch that had been pushed up against the wall of the office, and pulled a jittery Remus down with her.

"Where's my present?" he hissed. "Where's James? Where is he?"

Before Lily could make up another lie, Professor Slughorn barreled back into the room.

Remus shot to his feet, almost tipping Lily out of her seat. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH JAMES!" he bellowed, shaking with anger.

"Mr. Potter?" asked the professor smoothly, guiding Remus back to the couch and giving him a gentle push back down. "I've sent for him, don't you worry. He'll be here in a minute." He waddled over to his desk and began rooting through the drawers, sifting through hundreds of tiny glass vials. "Got an antidote in here somewhere," he muttered.

Remus leant back against the couch, his eyes closed. "What rhymes with Potter?" he whispered to Lily. "I'm not that good at poetry."

"How about 'selfish wanker'?"

"Mm, not quite," he replied, the sarcasm going over his head by a good foot and a half.

A staccato knock on the door jerked Lily out of her shock (Remus hadn't understood a joke. Remus.) and a tall boy with a faintly orange nose and far too much hair burst into the room.

"You wanted to see me, Professor?" James panted. He'd obviously run the whole way from the common room.

Professor Slughorn straightened from his desk, a tiny pink bottle clutched in one pudgy hand. "Yes, Mr. Potter." he said. "We seem to have a bit of a problem with Mr Lupin, over here. He's somehow managed to ingest a love potion."

James' face slackened in abject horror. "Remus." he said, ignoring Lily's frantic, yet oh-so-subtle shutupshutupshutup signals.

Remus' oddly glazed eyes snapped open. "James!"

"Remus, no!" Lily grabbed for him, but her fingers slipped on the loose fabric of his robe. Remus launched himself off the couch and across the room, tackling James to the ground.

"Oi! Moony, gerroff!"

Lily grabbed Remus around the waist and tried to pull him off the other boy. "Potter," she gasped, "when we get out of this, I am going to kill you."

James paled, barely managing to hold a flailing Remus' face away from his own. "Don't worry about that," he said miserably. "Remus'll get there first."

Lily fished her wand out of her pocket. "Incarcerous," she gasped. Thick ropes snaked from the tip of her wand and wound around Remus. He flopped and twisted around on the floor, wriggling like a dying fish.

"Look, Moony," James said weakly, dusting off his robes, "How about we-"

"YOU CAN'T DENY OUR LOVE!" Remus shrieked, still writhing.

Professor Slughorn wisely took the opportunity to pour the potion into his mouth.

Remus stilled.

James sighed in relief, and then flinched as the other boy's body jerked flat as a board and began to twitch.

"I don't think that's what's meant to happen," he whispered to Lily, who nodded worriedly.

"SCARAMOUCHE, SCARAMOUCHE, WILL YOU DO THE FANDANGO?" howled Remus.

"Not that one, obviously," Professor Slughorn said. "Let me see... Ah, here we go." He unearthed a shriveled blue bean from the depths of his desk and shoved it straight up Remus' right nostril.

Lily released him with a flick of her wand, and he collapsed against the wall, coughing and spluttering.

"Remus?" said James, carefully, poised to run.

"James," he croaked from the floor. "Why does my mouth taste like Peter's socks smell? And why is there a bean in my nose?"

"Er... Well... D'you remember that deal I talked you into about two weeks ago?"

Remus nodded warily.

"And d'you remember those chocolates I gave Lily?"

Another nod.

"The ones you ate?"

Remus' eyes widened, almost comically. "Oh no."

Lily fought a slightly wicked smile. "Well, actually-"

"Oh no."

"Oh yes."

Remus groaned, and dropped his head onto his knees.

Lily gave Professor Slughorn a quick grin and pulled Remus to his feet. "It was lovely to see you, Sir," she said, "but we really must be going."

"Of course, my dear!" he beamed. "I'll see you in class. Mr. Lupin, always a pleasure. Mr Potter-" the professor broke off, frowning. "Detention. Every Thursday evening for this month and the next should do the trick, I think."

James could do little more than gape as Lily gave one last cheery wave and dragged him and Remus from the room.

In the corridor outside, Remus took some deep breaths, and when his hands finally stopped shaking, he began to look daggers at James.

He gulped. Remus had brought out the big guns. The rarely used and utterly terrifying I-Am-Going-To-Kill-You-Slowly-And-Post-Your-Ashes-To-Your-Mother-In-A-Small-Envelope-Glare.

"You are so dead," Remus said, enunciating each word very carefully.

"No I'm not!" James said desperately. "I'm your friend!"

"I am going to beat you unconscious with your own broom," Remus continued in the same deadly calm voice, "and then I'll leave your unprotected body in front of the Slytherin common room. On a Saturday."

James winced. "I'm so sorry! I'll do anything to make it up to you! Anything. Anything."

Lily rolled her eyes. "Potter, do you have no sense of self respect?"

James shook his head wildly. "None! Unless you want me to, Remus?" He smiled hopefully.

Luckily for all concerned, Remus' homicidal mood seemed to have given way to bone-crushing embarrassment. "I can't believe I did that," he mumbled, his face an unhealthy cherry red.

"I'm so sorry," James repeated guiltily. "If there's anything-"

"Three months." Remus interrupted. "Our original deal, but three months. No. Four."

"Done."

The two friends grinned awkwardly at each other, and started towards the Gryffindor tower, leaving a very confused Lily Evans to wonder if she'd ever understand boys.

...

"Ow! Remus, you knob! Why are you under the table?" Sirius rubbed his toe ruefully, before flopping down next to his friend.

It was later that afternoon, and Remus was curled into the back of a desk with a half-eaten block of chocolate that was roughly the same size as a large cat.

"I was hiding," he said condescendingly.

"From James?"

"And Peter. Bastards keep trying to eat my chocolate. And I don't think I can ever really look James in the face again. I'm going to spend my whole life bent double and staring at people's shoes. When I shuffle past, you'll all say, 'Hey! It's that weird guy who used to be our friend before he got himself hopped up on illegal love potion and tried to make out with James Potter's knee-"

"You actually did that?" Sirius interrupted, far too interested, in Remus' personal opinion. "I thought that was the Prewett brothers making stuff up again."

"I did that," he hissed. "Now shut up and leave me to my gluttony."

"No I won't. Friends don't let friends overdose without sharing." Sirius cleared his throat importantly. "And we will never stop being friends."

Remus rolled his eyes at the other boy's dramatics. "Never?"

"Never. Not even if you eat me."

There was a silence that just oozed skepticism.

"Well, maybe then," conceded Sirius. "But then I'd be dead and you'd be in Azkaban, so it wouldn't really count."

Remus rolled his eyes again (but the other way, for variety), and scooted out from under the table, pulling Sirius up with him.

"Anyway, my dear Moony," Sirius continued, brandishing a broken quill and half a sheet of crumpled parchment, "we have a revenge to plan."

"We do?"

"Indeed. It's generally been my opinion that the windows in the first floor Charms classroom are always particularly easy to leave open."

"They are?"

"Yup. It would be a shame if someone , say, accidentally fell out of one. Being as the windows face out onto the Great Lake and all."

"Oh. Oh. It would be a shame, wouldn't it, Sirius? Especially as the Giant Squid always feels particularly frisky in February."

"It would be a terrible shame, Moony. Such a terrible shame."

"But we'll do it anyway?"

"Of course."


18. Yo Ho Ho and a Stupid Hat

It was late on an orange Saturday afternoon. Leaves were rustling in the light breeze, the sun hung low and warm in the deep blue sky, the muted buzz of talking students filtered through the clear air and Remus Lupin was in a tree.

The tree wasn't as nice as his one at home, sadly. It was far too short and it smelt of sour apples, but it did have a lovely view of the Charms classrooms. In particular, the Charms classroom with windows that opened out over the Great Lake. Remus smiled absentmindedly as a tiny figure in Gryffindor robes pitched head-first out of the window, limbs flailing madly. A thin, piercing shriek echoed off the high castle walls and was abruptly cut off with a splash and a gurgle.

He'd have to thank Simmons for showing him that Hurling hex, later.

Ominous rustling from the branches above his head almost made him look up and away from the scene in the lake, but by the time he'd decided to ignore it, a stick was poking him in the ribs.

"Have at thee!" howled his assailant, jabbing at him again, this time in the general vicinity of his spleen. Remus batted the thing away impatiently. What he had at first mistaken for a stick was apparently someone's' failed attempt to transfigure a sword. The wobbly bit on the end was a little worrying, but it was nice and shiny.

"Sorry, what?" he said. "I couldn't hear you over the sound of your shirt. And what on earth are you doing with that silver thing? What is it, a silver banana?"

Sirius ignored the slur on his clothing and poked Remus in the side a third time. "It's not a stick, it's a sword," he said, as if speaking to a particularly slow toddler. "And I said, have at thee!" Sirius waved his stick (sorry, sword, thought Remus wryly) around a bit, got it tangled in the laces of his lurid shirt and fell out of the tree.

He landed on his head with a sickening thud, and didn't move.

Remus felt like the temperature had just dropped by about thirty degrees. Someone seemed to have stolen all the air, too – he was finding it a little hard to breathe.

Sirius just lay there in a tangled pile of limbs, half-curled around a tree-root.

Maybe they would put him in Azkaban for this. It could have been worse – at least he hadn't eaten him, Remus thought wildly. Would they even let him go to the funeral? Admittedly, he was a bit fuzzy on who 'they' actually were, but his far-too-wild imagination was already conjuring up images of tall, cruel men in black robes. And chains. And cages. And registration.

And worst of all, no Sirius.

But then Sirius twitched, and Remus could breathe again.

"Sirius! Merlin, are you okay?" He scrambled along his branch and slithered down the tree trunk gracelessly, scraping his shin, landing heavily on the hard-packed earth and almost twisting an ankle. He limped over to Sirius' body and hesitated, not wanting to move him in case he really was dangerously injured. "Can you breathe?" he asked instead, finding a temporary refuge in the words that were now spilling out of his mouth uncontrollably. "Are you broken? How many fingers am I holding up?" Remus finally decided to move, and pulled the other boy off the tree root as if he weighed nothing. He carefully flipped him onto his back and hovered over his face, examining it closely. Sirius didn't even seem to be breathing. "What's your name?" Remus asked urgently, watching his eyes for any tiny flicker of movement. "What's my name? When did the Chudley Cannons last win a match?"

This time, Sirius didn't twitch at all.

Remus - although he'd deny it later – started to panic. "Why won't you answer me?" he begged. "Which eye does McGonagall twitch when she wants to turn you into a goat? What does Peter keep under his bed? WHAT IS THE NAME OF JAMES' CAT?" He fought the urge to shake Sirius by the shoulders, and instead tried to lever open his eyelids.

Sirius moaned piteously, and waved limp hands about his face, trying to ward off the prying fingers. Remus sat back on his heels, swallowing a relieved sigh. "Why did I have to be friends with such a drama queen?" he asked, grinning like a loon despite himself.

"Just so you know, I'm not Merlin. But yes, yes, no, none, Sirius the Wonder-Crumpet, Moony the Worry-Wart, 15th February 1969, I'm cruel and like to make you worry, the left one, Witch Weekly magazines he thinks we don't know about, Snapdragon McFisticuff and because you worship the ground I walk on, living only to bring me chocolate cake and fried onion sandwiches." He reeled off the answers as if he had them memorized (which he probably did, considering how many times he almost killed himself) and beamed up at Remus like an angel.

Or at least, like an angel in a ridiculously stupid hat. It had plumes, for Merlin's sake. Ostrich feather plumes.

Remus pinched the bridge of his nose between a thumb and forefinger, trying to hide the manic grin that wouldn't disappear. "I've said it before and I'll say it again. Why are you dressed as a pirate?"

Sirius struck what he probably thought was a manly pose, and thrust out his skinny chest. "Because I am one," he proclaimed. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again. And again. And again."

"How many times, exactly?" asked Remus, looking up at Sirius and fighting the urge to roll his eyes with everything he had. Funny how Sirius was so much more annoying when he was conscious.

"Until you finally agree to refer to me only by my true title of Captain Piratical Bigship The Utterly Fantastic!"

"I thought it was Sirius the Wonder-Crumpet?"

Sirius tossed his head haughtily, setting his plumes aflutter. "Such childish names are behind me, I'll have you know, Sidekick Moonikins the Almost-Awesome." He grinned. "That's your new title, by the way."

Remus could feel his brain cells dying in protest.

"My motto," Sirius continued happily, completely oblivious to his friend's imminent brain-death, "will be: Ta erat quando hic adveni. It's in Latin and everything."

Remus lost his tenuous grip on himself. The eyes rolled. He was actually a bit worried they wouldn't stop and would end up rolling out of his head and into the lake, but at least that would mean he didn't have to look at Sirius' god-awful boots anymore. They were knee-high. With buckles. Wrenching his thoughts away from destroying the boots with a superhuman effort, he managed a weak smile in Sirius' direction. "You do know," he said carefully, "that particular motto doesn't have anything to do with pillaging or smiting or pirating of any kind?"

"Yeah!" crowed Sirius, grinning broadly. "It's the Marauder's motto! It means, 'It was that way when I got here!'"

Remus thumped his head against the tree trunk half-heartedly. "I'm sorry," he said, not sorry at all, "but you're about as piratical as a limp noodle."

"Arr?" said Sirius, brandishing his thing-sword hopefully.

"Narr," replied Remus firmly. "Don't you remember what happened that time Peter nicked your best quill and you went all Captain Hook on his arse?"

Sirius folded his arms thoughtfully, his hands buried in a fall of rather ratty yellowing lace. "No, I don't think so..." he mused. A thought struck him and he visibly brightened. "I seem to recall there was a parrot," he said hopefully.

Remus rolled his eyes again, reasoning that if they hadn't fallen out by now, he might as well roll them while he had them. "It was a canary, actually. And you dyed it green."

"Oh." Dawning realization broke over Sirius' eye-patched face. He winced a little as the memories started to seep through.

"And Mrs Norris ate it," continued Remus, taking a slightly vindictive pleasure in Sirius' discomfort.

"Right."

"Whole."

Sirius gulped. "You're joking, aren't you?" he pleaded.

"Am I?" asked Remus, furrowing his eyebrows in feigned confusion.

"Aren't you?"

"Aren't I what?"

"Joking."

"Joking?"

"Yes."

"Yes what?"

"What?"

"No. Sorry."

Sirius frowned. He felt like he'd missed something important, somewhere. Sighing, he took off his eye patch and flung his heavily be-feathered hat in the lake, where it skipped once, twice and then sank like a stone. He looked up at Remus questioningly. "How limp, exactly, should my noodly self be?"

Slinging an arm around the drooping shoulders of (former) Captain Piratical Bigship The Utterly Fantastic, Remus gave him a reassuring smile. "You daft sod," he said fondly, "why mope about your lack of inner pirate when you could be watching our very own James putting on a show?"

Sirus unconsciously straightened, sword forgotten in his hand. "I thought I'd just missed it?" he asked. He craned his neck a little. "Oh look, no, there he goes. Got a set of lungs on him, he has. You jinxed him, Moony?"

"Got Simmons to do it."

"The 'I secretly like to sing Celestina Warbeck in the showers' Simmons?" Sirius narrowed his eyes. "Bit odd, that one."

Shrugging innocently, Remus examined his left thumbnail. "Not anymore. Apparently, someone managed to stop the rumors. It all turned out to be a misunderstanding with a broken radio." He looked up at Sirius' stunned silence and shrugged again. "The boy does a mean Hurling Hex," he said. "What was I supposed to do?"

"A broken radio makes perfect sense," Sirius agreed hastily. "That was what I thought in the first place!"

"Mmm. You know, that water does look a bit cold."

"True, that."

"Think we should help get him out?

"Nah, look, I think Professor McGonagall has him on a Wingardium Leviosa."

"Not for long, if he keeps wiggling like a toaster in a bathtub."

"What's a toaster?"

"Muggle machine that sucks out your brains and replaces them with marmalade."

"Thought so."

There was a wail and another splash, followed by the angry shouting of a teacher who's got nastily creative ideas for detention and knows how to use them. The tiny figure in the lake suddenly stopped shrieking and thrashing about and began to rise into the air again, this time silent and stiff as a board.

"Full Body-Bind," said Remus, impressed. "Nice touch."

Sirius flopped down onto the ground next to him in a boneless heap. "I'm tired," he said, in a voice that was somehow muffled by his kneecap and his elbow at the same time. "What d'you want to do now?"

Remus considered for a moment, before getting up and walking over into the shadow of the tree. He carefully removed his shoes and lined them up neatly by the base of the trunk, a sock balled up inside each one. He hooked his perfectly knotted tie over a branch and unbuttoned the cuffs of his sleeves, deftly rolling them up past his bony elbows.

Pushing himself to his feet, Sirius eyed him warily. "Er, Moony? What are you-"

"Nothing," said Remus solemnly, pulling his robes over his head and folding them in an orderly pile beside his shoes. He advanced on Sirius with a glint in his eye. Sirius recognized it as the glint that said 'I've just had a rather good idea, but you're probably not going to like it". His own eyes widened in dismay and he tried to make an escape, but instead tripped over a tree root.

Sirius staggered upright. "Remus," he tried again, "What on earth-"

Remus quirked an eyebrow. "Avast, ye scurvy dog,' he said conversationally, and tackled Sirius into the lake.


19. Explorers Have the Most Fun (And the Most Broken Limbs)

Sirius was lying flat on his back in the middle of his bed. He was twitching like a junkie, as he had been every night for the past week and a half. Heroically fighting the urge to jump off the top of Gryffindor Tower, he shoved his head under the pillow and swallowed a decidedly un-manly whimper.

Sirius Black was going through withdrawal, and it was not fun.

"My dears," James' mum had said as she dropped him and James off at the train station, "Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. I know you can do this." She'd hugged them both until they couldn't breathe, and then waved them off with a brave, quavering smile.

Sirius fought off a shudder at the memory. He'd spent the last week of the Easter holidays at James' house, as he had the year before, and James' parents – utterly insane the both of them, it wasn't hard to see where James got it from - had somehow gotten the idea into their heads that the two boys were addicted to pranking. It was crazy! Just because they didn't like to go more than a day or so without playing a trick on someone didn't mean they were addicted. They pranked because they wanted to, not because they had to. So when Mrs Potter had begged them both to try and 'fight their demons', as she put it, he was more than happy to agree, just to shut her up. After all, it wasn't like he was addicted or anything. He could stop whenever he wanted to.

Right?

Of course he could.

"Psst! Hey Sirius?"

The tentative whisper snapped Sirius out of his twitchy haze, and he sat bolt upright in bed. That was James' voice. James never said anything after lights-out anymore. This must mean...

He hadn't been the first to crack after all!

Sirius answered James with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. "Yeah, James? What?"

There was a silence. Then- "It's been a while. You wanna go find something to blow up?"

"Yes!" Sirius hissed. He leapt from the bed and almost skipped across the darkened dormitory, almost meaning that he did not, in fact, skip, and was therefore able to preserve his remaining shreds of dignity. Not addicted, not addicted, not addicted, he chanted in his head, firmly. I just... like explosions.

"Sirius! Be quiet! Watch the-" James broke off his whispered warning. Sirius, his marauding skills blunted by days of neglect, had tripped over Remus' trunk mid-pirouette.

"Remus never heard us, right?" asked Sirius from where he was wedged beneath the dresser. "I mean, Peter's still snoring, and Moony can't wake up in the middle of the night-"

"Oh yes I can," a hoarse voice snapped. "I just really hate it."

James and Sirius shared a panic-stricken gaze in the dim light.

"Sorry, Moony."

"Yeah, we never meant to-"

"Twelve days,"Remus said disbelievingly, poking his disheveled head out from the curtains around his bed. "Twelve!"

"Calm down, Moony, it's not that bad," said James with a weak smile.

Remus continued as if the other boy hadn't spoken. "You lasted twelve days and-" he checked his watch "-thirty seven minutes before your non-pranking promise broke." He frowned, absentmindedly tapping at the watch-face. "I knew you weren't going to manage, but I thought you could do at least a month."

"Well, we didn't exactly break it," Sirius hedged. "We just never said how long we were going to stop pranking for. And we've got a really good plan this time, don't we James?"

Remus buried his head in his hands. "Then I'd better come with you. Someone has to make sure you don't get eaten by some kind of velociraptor." He levered himself out of bed and fixed James with a vaguely manic glare. "I know how the plans go," he hissed. Remus strode out the door, James and Sirius trailing in his wake, mildly worried by the fact that Remus didn't seem to have been joking.

"What the hell is a velociraptor?" Sirius asked in an undertone.

Remus ignored him. "What was this marvelous plan, then?" he asked, "The one I dragged myself out of bed for?"

James scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. "Er, well... It's not a plan, as such" he mumbled. "More like a general idea."

Remus rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Don't tell me. You were just going to sneak out of bed and wander around, hoping for the best, until you found something exciting that you could animate, or polka-dot or explode. Am I right?"

"Are we really that predictable?" Sirius asked with a sheepish grin.

"Yes," said Remus. "And it's going to get you caught, which is why you are going to follow me."

James blinked. "Hang on," he said. "Not to sound negative or anything, but follow you?"

Remus smiled. "Yup. This way." He walked out of the common room and down the corridor, James and Sirius once again left hurrying to catch up.

"How does he do that?" James whispered to Sirius.

"Do what?"

"The whole, 'Follow me, peons!' thing?"

Sirius shrugged. "Beats me." He wasn't about to tell James, but he'd always privately thought that it was because every group, including the Marauders, needed that one member who was on a whole other level of brilliant. And it sure wasn't Peter.

Voices echoing from the stairwell at the end of the corridor jerked Sirius back to reality, and he dragged James and Remus behind a generic statue. (Ignatius the Illuminated, Patrick the Polygamous, Netitia the Nearly-Squashed – they all started to look the same after a while.) "Quiet," he whispered. "Prefects."

As they drew closer, the voices became more distinct. The two Prefects were discussing something in hushed tones, completely oblivious to the castle around them.

"It's not a positive belief, but rather a disbelief that the higher levels of simplified multilevel models are out there in the territory," said one.

"Oh, I don't know," replied the other, "Reductionism isn't so much a positive hypothesis as the absence of belief - in particular, disbelief in a form of the Mind Projection Fallacy."

As the pair turned a corner, their conversation fading away, the three boys unfolded themselves from their hiding place.

"Ravenclaws," said James dismissively, brushing the dust off his pajama shirt. "Absolutely batty, the lot of them." He started off down the corridor, Sirius at his side. "Remus?" he called over his shoulder, "You coming? Lead the way, oh mighty leader."

Remus was standing stock still, rooted to the spot, a glazed expression on his face. "But the Mind Projection Fallacy generalizes as an error," he said urgently, " and it's in the argument over-" Sirius leapt at him and rugby tacked him to the floor.

"James! We're losing him!" He slapped Remus around the face, to no effect – Remus started to mumble about quarks. "Quick, Remus," Sirius begged. "Think about dungbombs! Fire! Sparkly things! Remember, you're a Marauder!" He tried to slap him again, but Remus snapped out of his daze and caught Sirius' arm with a glare that promised that if Sirius ever tried that again, ever, Remus would take his hand off at the wrist.

Sirius gulped and thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his robes. "Er. Shall we carry on, then?"

Remus got to his feet and started off down the corridor again, mumbling to himself about idiotic friends who wouldn't know a good idea if it bit them on the arse. He was smiling though, so Sirius chalked the whole thing up as a success, and promptly forgot about it.

Several staircases, complicated turns and one detour around a large stuffed frog later, Remus came to a halt in front of a statue of a supremely ugly witch with an eyepatch and an enormous hat. "Here we are, gentlemen," he said, because he was prone to talking like a Victorian nobleman when he got excited, "I do believe we have reached our goal."

"Indeed, old chap," said Sirius, because he was even worse, "But how the devil do we open it?"

"Dunno," James shrugged, painfully modern. "Anyone got a hammer?"

Remus rolled his eyes. "Honestly. We don't have to smash the thing. You can tell it'll have a password." He crouched low, pointing at a tiny design beneath the brim of the statue's hat. "See that little castle thing on her ear?" Sirius nodded, and elbowed James until he started nodding too, "There's one carved into that bathroom mirror, one in the floorboards of our Charms classroom and there's another on that statue of Gregory the Smarmy." Remus' face lit up with a wicked grin. "And they all have some kind of password. So all we need to do..."

"...is figure this one out," finished Sirius. "Brilliant."

"Maybe its like the Headmaster's office?" offered James. "Cockroach cluster?"

" Acid pop?" Remus asked the statue. "Fizzing whizzbee?" Nothing happened.

"You're not trying hard enough," said Sirius. He cleared his throat importantly. "How about... Pepper Imp? Sugar Quill? Jelly Slugs, Licorice Wands, Cauldron Cakes, Droobles Best Blowing Gum-" he paused for a breath, James and Remus looking on in horror.

"We share a room with this sugar-devil," murmured Remus. "How have we survived this long?"

Sirius just continued with his list, happily unaware. "Or it could be Muggle. I know a lot of them because Mum hates the things. How about Mars Bar? Milky Way? Peppermint Patty? Licorice Allsort, Gobstopper, Toffee-"

"Okay, that's enough," said James hastily. "I think we've figured out by now that it's not a sweet."

Remus frowned thoughtfully. "It could be like a common room. Maybe it needs a house-ish password."

"Audacia?"

"Flitterbloom?"

"Er... Thestral?"

"Bugger this for a lark," said Sirius decisively. "Moony, how good is your Reparo?"

Remus shrugged. "It's decent enough. Why?" Sirius rolled up his sleeves.

"Oh no," said James. "Ohhh no." He started to back away from the statue.

Remus gave him a funny look. "What," he asked, "You don't think Sirius would be stupid enough to-"

"STAND BACK," shrieked Sirius, a feral light in his eyes. "IT'S GONNA BLOW!"

"No, I take that back. Of course he is. As you were."

"Dissendium!" Sirius yelled, stabbing his wand right in the witch's face.

James and Remus, sensible boys that they were, dived for cover from the razor sharp shards of splitting stone, which – did not come.

"It's Diffindo, you moron," sighed Remus, "Can't you even do the stupid things right?"

"No," said Sirius smugly, "I do them better than right. You should open your eyes now," he added. "Apparently, Dissendium was the password."

Remus rolled his eyes. "Why am I even surprised?" he asked hopelessly.

James got to his feet, brushing yet more dust off his pajama shirt. "Well, that was easy," he said happily.

Just for that, the other two threw him down the hole first.

...

Remus tripped over yet another uneven flagstone, stumbling into Sirius for what seemed to be the millionth time. "This was a stupid idea," he muttered under his breath. "Stupid. I don't care if I came up with it. It's stupid. I'm stupid, you're stupid, James is stupid... Peter's the only one in this group with even a bit of sense, and that's probably because you never gave him the chance to join in on this particular little bit of stupidity."

"There is a reason for that," James said, his indignant voice echoing off the low ceiling of the tunnel.

Remus winced. Right. He'd forgotten about that.

Last Tuesday, James had heard Peter talking to someone named Shirley while he was getting dressed. When he confronted him about letting a stranger into their bathroom – a stranger called Shirley, no less - Peter had replied by saying, "Oh don't worry. I'm only talking to my underwear."

The following conversation had been decidedly strange, even by James' standards.

"You... named your underwear?"

"Uh, yeah? Doesn't everyone? I have a roster too - I wear Patricia on Thursdays, Steve on the second Saturday of each month-"

"You know what, Pete? That's awesome. I'd love to hear more about it, but I have to go somewhere."

"Oh, have fun! Where are you going?"

"...Away. RIGHT NOW."

Ever since the Incident (which Sirius had actually refused to even think about ever again) the three boys had been kind of avoiding Peter. Remus felt a bit bad about it, but really- Shirley?

"Hey, Earth to Moony?" Sirius waved a hand in front of Remus' face, but snatched it back before it got bitten off. "You alive in there?"

Remus blinked, snapping out of his reverie. "What?" he asked.

"I'd like a little help."

"With what?" Remus asked, although he had a pretty good idea.

"Well there's a trap door..."

Ten points to Gryffindor, Remus thought sarcastically. "Damn it, use your wand!"

Sirius waggled his eyebrows. "Mmm, I love it when you talk dirty to me."

"...Erk."

James butted in before Remus could explode with terror. "What Sirius is trying to say, is that we're both pants at unlocking charms."

"Pants," agreed Sirius fervently, before adding in another eyebrow wiggle for good measure, because come on, he said pants.

"-and we were wondering if you, kind sir, would aid us in our mission to be- er, to be purveyors of aids to magical mischief makers."

"Heh. Perve-eyors."

"Sirius, oh my God, shut up, stop talking."

"I will if you'll open the trapdoor first," said Sirius, with all the tenacity of a stubborn three-year-old.

"Oh , honestly," said Remus, shoving his way past to the trapdoor. "Alohomora." The trapdoor swung open with the dry creak of victory. There was a bit of pushing and arguing as the three of them tried to all get through at once, but as they realised where they were, an awed silence fell.

Sirius, as usual, was the first to break it. "Gentlemen," he said, "We have found... paradise."

The three boys staggered back up into the dormitory, arms full of contraband that Remus had insisted they leave money for – I'm not hanging around with thieves, really, who do you take me for? Sirius?

"On three, yeah? One, two...three!"

"AARGH!" Peter yelled, rudely jolted awake when a particularly spiky piece of Cockroach Cluster got him in the eye. He rubbed at it, and then froze. His bed was literally covered in food. "Am I dreaming?" he asked in a tremulous voice. "Is this real life?" He gingerly picked up a packet of Ice Mice, dangling them from one corner as if they were going to explode.

"They're real, Peter," said James. "We wanted to say sorry for leaving you behind on this one."

Peter frowned, but was temporarily mollified by the sugar. "That's okay," he said, "but where did you go? I wanted to come!"

"Well, I wanted a motorcycle for my tenth birthday," Remus said dryly, "but as the great philosopher Jagger once said, 'You can't always get what you want.'"

"Who?" James whispered to Sirius.

"Dunno," Sirius whispered back. "Some famous guy, I guess. Like the muggle equivalent of Aristotle."

James nodded wisely. "Probably. Moony was going on about some bloke named Freddy, too... I don't remember the last name. Mars? Jupiter? Some planet, I think."

"Mercury?"

"Yeah, that's the one. Wanted to ride his bicycle all the time."

"Weird."

"I know, right? You can never tell with those philosopher types."


20. The CURSE

There were three weeks until the summer break, and the whole school was buzzing. Literally. Professor Ryan, the most recent teacher for Defense Against the Dark Arts, had been transfigured into a large wasp, and no one had figured out how to turn him back.

When he found out, James had muttered something about a curse and gone back to compulsively polishing his broom. (He'd been doing that far more than was strictly normal, and the Hufflepuffs had a pool going on how long it would take for the polish fumes to melt his brains. Assuming he had some in the first place, that is.)

The curse, Sirius explained later to a very confused Remus, was that no teacher had held the Defense post for any longer than a year.

"I don't actually know when it started," he'd said with a frown, "but it's the only thing that makes sense. If you listen to the upperclassmen, none of them can remember a professor lasting. And don't you remember what happened to Professor Clarke, last year?"

Professor Clarke hadn't known about the curse either. That hadn't stopped him from slipping down a particularly malicious staircase on the third floor and almost breaking his neck, two days before school let out. He'd left in an enormous hurry, crutches and all, after overhearing something about the curse in the Hospital Wing. Dumbledore had had quite a difficult job finding a replacement.

This year's Professor had been an enormous Irishman called Amarillo Ryan. He was an ex-Auror who'd taken the job in a blaze of glory, vowing that the curse would stop with him. That plan had sort of failed miserably, what with the wings and the three foot long stinger and all.

James had actually seen it happen, and was basking in the horrified attention as only a fifteen-year-old boy could.

"And then what happened?"Peter propped his chin up on his forearms and stared at James with eyes wider than a house-elf's. James leant in towards him, a conspiratorial grin splitting his face in half.

"And then he noticed the wings, collapsed and started frothing at the mouth. How cool is that?" James elbowed Sirius, who elbowed Remus, who rolled his eyes.

"What? I was there!" James repeated indignantly, for the seventh time in about half an hour.

Sirius elbowed Remus, who rolled his eyes again – it was a good system. Peter ignored them and widened his own eyes a little more. It looked a bit painful, to tell the truth.

"Wow," he breathed. "Yuck," he added, as a sort of afterthought, and then, "Wow," again.

"And then," James said self-importantly, "I saw Madame Pomfrey put him on a stretcher before you could say 'I told you so.' Dumbledore's already put a new ad up in the Prophet."

"Yeah," Sirius interrupted. "Wanted – one utter, utter madman, to teach creatively insubordinate children for one year only. Preferably with a little former training in education, but a big stick would probably work just as well. Shouldn't mind death or dismemberment. Pay good, health insurance nonexistent."

Remus leveled a gaze at him. "Creatively insubordinate?" he asked mildly.

Sirius just gave him a shrug. "Sounds better than half-crazed lunatics with a certain talent when it comes to itching powder."

"Itching powder? Still? What are you, six?"

Sirius raised his hands in surrender. "Easy, Moony! Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."

"Yeah, Moony," said James. "Don't fix it if it ain't broke."

Peter nodded wisely. "It's all water under the bridge, my child. All water under the bridge."

Remus blinked. "Right. Hang on, what?"

"The bridge, young grasshopper. The bridge."

"I get it!" James snapped his fingers. "By bridge, of course, you mean..." He trailed off with a sly wink that made Remus feel vaguely dirty for even witnessing it.

"No," said Peter with a slight frown, "By bridge, I mean bridge. That one between the Divination Tower and the Transfiguration block. With the annoying handrail." Peter gestured haphazardly in the general direction of the bridge, accidentally making quite a rude hand gesture in the process. Remus' vague dirty feeling kicked up a notch or two, and he shuddered. Was it possible to wash out the inside of your brain?

"Say no more, say no more," James grinned. He stretched over to whisper in Remus' ear. "By handrail, he means-"

"Nothing that could possibly be even a little bit dodgy," said Remus hastily, before he could descend into utter despair. Puppies, he thought to himself firmly. Puppies and babies and rainbows and other disgustingly fluffy things. No. Innuendoes. WHATSOEVER.

"No," said Sirius with a smirk, "He meant-"

"Puppies!" Remus interrupted wildly. "And that's the end of it!"

"What d'you mean?" asked Peter, happily unaware of Remus' impending meltdown. "Puppies have nothing to do with-"

"La-la-la, I can't hear you!"

"What's wrong with him?" James whispered, glancing over at Remus, who'd thrown his arms over his head and was singing at the top of his lungs.

"OH, IRISH EYES ARE SMILING-"

"Beats me," shrugged Sirius. "You can come out now," he yelled over Remus' singing. He was the only one who could- Remus was very, very loud when he put his mind to it.

"Really, though," said Peter, his eyes miraculously returned to something nearer their original size, "A wasp? Really? That was all the curse could come up with?"

He, James, Remus and Sirius were lying up on the roof of the Ravenclaw wing, warm and Sunday-lazy. There were only a couple of weeks left before school let out, and the substitute Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher had been smuggled in late last night. According to the mutterings of an annoyed Argus Filch, the man had been more than a little jumpy, and had hexed Mrs Norris on sight because he thought she was a boggart.

"I don't know - it's not so bad," Sirius said with another shrug. "I like that new Professor already. Even if he is deathly afraid of cats."

"It doesn't matter all that much what he's like," Remus said, laying his head back against the sun-warmed terracotta slating. "I just want to know what he's going to teach us."

Sirus was flabbergasted. Mainly because the running commentary he kept up in his head liked to say 'Our hero was flabbergasted by this unexpected turn of events!", but also because everyone knew that the last weeks of school was when you did less than nothing in class. "But Moony!" he said, flabbergastedly. Well, he tried for flabbergastedly, but it really came out a little high-pitched and shaky. He coughed (in a manly way, of course) before continuing in a voice a full two octaves deeper. "Only two weeks left! What are they going to teach us?"

"There are three, actually-"

"-Oh come on, you know the last one never counts-" James tried to interrupt Remus' interruption, but Remus just kept right on going.

"Three, I said, and I think he'll probably start us out on the fifth year material."

"No! But we're so traumatized by the, er, incapacitation of our favourite teacher! Aren't we, James?" A quick elbow to the kidney had James nodding in agreement.

"Absolutely traumatized," he said earnestly.

Sirius bit a knuckle and gazed off melodramatically into the distance. 'Once again, the depth of our hero's emotional torment was deeper than a tureen of really thick soup, cream of tomato to be exact, with a light sprinkling of pepper on the surface, and a soft bread roll-'

"Sirius? You thinking about food again?"

"No. Yes. No- I mean... Oh shut up, all of you."