Chapter 2: Smartest Potter Around.

"This is so dumb."

Sirius threw a look over his shoulder at the blessedly Filch-less grounds, before lighting his cigarette.

His silver lighter was full of scratches and had the letters MHJ inscribed on one side. None of them had any idea what it stood for - Remus had found it in a flea market years ago, and immediately thought of Sirius. It looked a bit like Sirius' old favourite ligher, one of the family heirlooms he'd thrown out the window in second year when they found out Remus was a werewolf. Blacks didn't approve of werewolves, just like they didn't approve of muggle-borns, pranks, rock music or motorcycles.

Sirius didn't much approve of Blacks.

"Oh, come on" Remus answered good-naturedly, "They're our friends".

He, Sirius and Peter were on their way to Hogsmeade, taking care not to walk too fast. The three marauders had spent the morning watching James alternate between hyperventilating like a panicked hedgehog in one second, and making up brilliant date-openers in the next ("Tally ho, ms. Evans", "Yo girl", and "OhMerlinthisisgonnabethebest dayofmylife" had all been rejected).

After sending him off with their best girl advice, they'd settled down to plan how best to save Jamie's date. Left alone, he would mess it up. There could be no doubt about that.

"Your friends, maybe" Sirius snorted. "I don't make friends with birds who throw fits every time someone sticks a toe out of line, and can't take a joke to save her life! She's going to ruin Prongs."

Remus rolled his eyes at Peter.

Sirius may have come a long way from the eleven year old with the 50 Galleon custom-made dragon skin gloves and stiff upper lip. He was best friends with a blood traitor, a muggle-born and a werewolf, and actually one of the most open-minded people Remus knew. And he had been James' self-appointed wing man in the hunt for Lily Evans since day one.

But there was one thing Sirius just couldn't do: Share the things he loved.

"I'm telling you" Sirius said for the umpteenth time, "she going to ruin Prongs for us. We'll never see him again, his prankster days are over for sure. They'll probably start wearing matching sweaters for Merlins sake!".

He waved his cigarette angrily in front of him as he said this, causing bits of ash to float into his hair.

"No he won't, and you know it" Remus answered calmly.

"Prongs will always be Prongs, and you like Lily. You've said so yourself. Anyway", he continued before Sirius could get another word in, "this is not what we're supposed to be talking about! What about the plan, we still don't really know what to do."

Peter made an embarrassed sound somewhere between a cough and a sniff.

"Should we really be doing this?" he asked plaintively. "I mean, isn't it sort of weird to spy on your friend when he's on a date?"

"Wormtail." Sirius stopped in the middle of the road and rounded on his friend.

"For the thousandth time: We are not spying on him. We're simply…helping out a mate! We're on a mission! Merlin knows he needs help, and I can't stand him prattling along about Lily for two more years with no progress."

Remus smiled to himself. Sirius might complain about Lily being too goody two shoes sometimes, but when push came to shove he would do anything to help James.

"All right." Remus put on his best business-like tone of voice. "So we need to make sure Prongs doesn't do any singing, poetry, dancing, or other social-suicidal activites, am I right?"

"Check", answered Sirius, pointing towards Peter with the butt of the cigarette. "If Prongs looks like he's about to do something embarassing – we divert. Pete, you've got the Filibuster's in your bag ?"

Peter nodded, patting Sirius' custom-made black dragonskin bag.

"And Remus, if Lily looks uncomfortable or freaked out, what do you do?"

"I casually run into them and small-talk about how Prongs and I are working together on a Herbology project, underlining how studious we're being", Remus answered. This was absolutely true, but he wasn't sure how impressed Lily would be by school work. Sirius was a bit one-dimensional in his assession of Lily sometimes.

"And if all else fails", Sirius continued, "I step in, casual as house elf in a laundry room, and chat about the upcoming Ravenclaw match next weekend. I've seen her looking at him during matches, it's foolproof."

"Yeah" answered Remus, pursing his lips. "And if that fails too…."

He drifted off.

After a minute or so, Sirius cleared his throat.

"There's always The Last Way Out" he said nonchalantly, flicking the stub of his cigarette out into a snow drift by the road.

"The Last Way Out?" Peter threw Sirius a suspicious look. "What's that supposed to be?"

Remus kept his eyes on the road in front of him, casual as a house elf in a laundry room.

"You'll just have to wait and see, won't you Wormy" grinned Sirius. He had the silver lighter in his hand again, flicking it with his thumb.

"You'll just have to wait and see."

.


James drew his breath again, determined to say something this time.

"So…. Is that a new coat? It's really nice! Brings out the, eh..color in your eyes. Sort of, because they're green and it's..." he said, faltering a little as he realized this sentence wasn't going where it was supposed to go.

Merlin!

Compare her eyes to a similarly colored item of clothing the stupid book had said, but how was he supposed to concentrate on coat colors when he was walking next to the most beautiful girl in sixth year? Or, in the whole world.. Maybe he could say that? Or would that be overkill?

"Er..no." answered Lily. "Not new. But thanks, that's nice. Of you". She gave him a slightly sceptical smile, like she was unsure of whether he was joking or not.

James decided against his most-beatiful-girl-in-the-world apporach, and silence covered them again like a wet blanket.

Why was this road so quiet? James had never before noticed how long and uneventful the walk to Hogsmeade really was. Neither had his head ever been as empty as this (except possibly during the History of Magic exam last year).

"Yeah", he said, staring wildly around for a subject of conversation and finding nothing but gray snow and mud.

Then he heard running footsteps behind him, and his heart leaped. A topic of conversation! But before he could come up with a good comment about it, a familiar voice shouted out to them.

"Oi, James! Lily!"

It wasn't every day you heard Remus Lupin raise his voice, so it took James a second to realize who was hurrying towards them. His scarf was trailing after him like a Gryffindor-colored streamer, and he puffed like a locomotive, but it was definitely Remus.

"Oh, it is you" the honey-blonde boy said as he caught up to them, panting like the wolf he most officially was not.

"I just", he paused to push slightly sweaty hair out of his eyes, "I was just walking to Hogsmeade, by myself you know, and I thought I saw you," he paused again to catch his breath, "and I figured I wanted to say hi!" he finished with an enthusiastic smile.

Lily and James exchanged looks.

"Hi Remus", Lily said with a small smile. "Nice to see you getting some exercise."

She and Remus had been friends for years already, even though she refused to hang out with him when the rest of the marauders were around. Lily just hadn't quite seen the charm of pranking Slytherins, having food fights in the Great Hall and drinking firewhiskey in the Astronomy tower. Or Sirius Black.

"And very nice of you to run yourself nearly into the ground just to say hi!" she continued with an innocent expression.

Remus' ears reddened slightly.

"Well", he mumbled, "you know. Nice to say hello. Incidentally, did you know James and I have a Herbology Project together Lily? I was going to talk to you about that James" Remus turned towards James with that slightly manic expression he used to get when caught mid-prank by a professor.

"Because…" Remus continued, "That thing you wrote the other day, it was really good! So good, I just..Yeah, I just wanted to, you know. Say so. The Herbology thing, you know. About plants and..school. Which you are good at."

James wanted to slap himself. Or possibly Remus.

Why had he told his friends when he was meeting Lily? This was obviously some horrible ploy to help him look good in front of her, which she would obviusly think was James' idea. And for once, it actually wasn't.

"Thanks Moony" James answered flatly, "Great project. So.."

He tried to give Remus a look that said get out of here right now you mongrel, you are ruining my date! without Lily noticing. Which was sort of difficult, as she was currently regarding him with an amused expression.

Remus grinned blankly. "Right! All because of you, mate! Smartest Potter around, I always say!" he added, seemingly for good measure.

"Okay!" James' own ears were reddening, and he needed to get Remus away from them. He thought he heard a giggle from Lily's direction, and quickly continued in a loud voice.

"So Lily and I were sort of on our way to Honeydukes, mate. And..You're probably going to Dogweed and Deatcap, right? To get those things for the project?"

James hoped Remus was using that genius brain of his, and hadn't been to contaminated by Sirius' plotting (this intervention was obviously the dog's work. He never did have any faith in James when it came to Lily).

"Sure", said Remus, looking much happier now that he had delivered his message.

"I'm super busy, definitely don't have time to hang around with you guys! I mean, not that I wouldn't love to," he smiled politely at Lily as he gathered his scarf about him, "but I have that project to work on. Can't let James have all the fun! Even if he's super smartest Herbology man around!" he added, giving them both a big grin and thumbs up before continuing down the road in a semi-jog.

The two non-daters stood watching Remus disappearing around a bend in the road.

"Remus jogging. There's something you don't see every day. I wonder why he was so eager to leave?" Lily asked, smiling up at James.

James had to laugh, even if his ears were still red.

"Yeah. A strange, strange boy our Remus" he grinned.

"He really is. Do you remember that time Sirius took his nougat-filled chocolate broomsticks, and tried to fly them around the Transfiguration classroom?"

"Oh yeah, I had almost forgotten!" James laughed. "Sirius looked rather dapper with those broomsticks in his ears though", he added.

Lily giggled, and slipped her arm under his. "Maybe we should get him some from Honeydukes? You know, commemorate the good times?"

"Or we could get him those chocolate ears they have now" grinned James. "You know, the ones which melt if the wearer is embarrassed enough?

Lily giggled, and they started walking arm in arm, discussing how to best persuade Sirius to wear giant chocolate ears.