Marauder Christmas Special, where a variety of things are learned, and most of them are silly.
Summary: Marauder Christmas Special, where a variety of things are learned, and most of them are silly.
Warning & Disclaimer: Mild slash, gratuitous turtle abuse, and the Room of Requirement. All characters belong to J.K. Rowling.
Snow was already falling by the end of the last class before the winter holidays began, proper snow in enormous white flakes that blew satisfyingly against the windows in thick gusting eddies. Remus had the seat with the best view and could see that the ground was rapidly disappearing under a white dusting, and that the clouds across the sky didn't look as though they would allow sunlight to come breaking through any time soon.
Peter was nervously shifting in the seat next to Remus, trying to see out the window and keep an eye on Professor Flitwick at the same time. Every now and then he made a half-hearted scribble on his parchment notes, but for the most part they were as untouched as the building snow outside.
Sirius was bent over his own parchment in great concentration, putting the final touches on a caricature of what looked like Snape being flattened by a snowball bigger than himself. There were little wiggly lines and spirals drawn liberally around his head and what looked like the Marauders' cheering figures nearby. Remus had the feeling that they would all be copying off James later. His parchment, at least, had a handful of words that looked as though they /might /relate to the lesson somehow.
They sat according to who found what easiest. James took Peter under his wing in Potions to prevent some of the more spectacular explosions; Sirius nearly always provided the notes for Transfiguration, although those usually had to be deciphered afterwards from various doodles, commentary on other students, and half-planned pranks; and Remus got them through Defense Against the Dark Arts more or less unscathed. In Herbology, they all took turns partnering Peter ever since the venemous tentacula incident. No one had yet managed to stay awake all through History of Magic, so they kept a watch system where one of the four had to be awake at any given time and they simply pooled their notes afterwards.
On the whole it generally worked quite well, with very little failure or violence, although James and Sirius had had a fist-fight at the beginning of the year over who got to sit next to Remus in Arithmancy. Sirius eventually won, solely because he threatened to let it drop around Lily Evans just who had magically fixed her Runes text to the common room floor in order to watch her bend and tug at it for over ten minutes.
At the front of the classroom, Flitwick was finishing the lesson. "And be sure to keep the thumb at a forty-five degree angle to the palm on the downstroke. Nice clear enunciation on the fourth syllable, mind!" He disappeared behind his desk for a moment and then placed a box with the Honeydukes's logo on it down firmly. "Now, before you leave--- /musmorphus ennervate/!"
The box trembled, and a wave of ice-mice scampered over the side and made beelines all over the room, scuttling up the legs of the desks and the occasional student. Several girls shrieked. Once a mouse was settled on every desk, they each skipped to a partner, did a neat little jig, turned a back flip, bowed, and then became inanimate once more. Most of the students clapped, and the clockhand on the face of the clock at the front of the room finally turned from Charms Class to /Holiday Stampede/. Chairs scraped back and students burst out talking in a clamor.
Amidst the commotion, Flitwick beamed and waved them away. "/Finite incantatem/! Feel free to take your mouse, they're quite safe to eat! Happy holidays to those leaving and remember your assignments over the holiday! Two and a half rolls of parchment on combined temporary animation charms!"
Remus shoved his books into his bag, leaning forward and narrowly avoiding getting kicked in the shoulder as Peter clambered past him over the desks, and stared eagerly out the window. In front of him, Sirius and James were still bent close together, James's perpetually tousled hair almost brushing Sirius's cheek, and Sirius's face partially hidden by his own more orderly dark hair. He watched the point of contact between hair and cheek, and then deliberately looked away.
From the windowsill, Peter grinned over his shoulder, his nose pink from the cold glass. "Look how fast it's coming down!"
Remus found himself smiling back. It was hard not to with the promise of free time and snow and dinners each night that would only get more elaborate. "Sledding tomorrow, you think? Wonder how deep it'll get?"
"What?" James finally lifted his head from watching Sirius draw and blinked at the two of them "Who's talking about sledding? And when did class end?"
"Five minutes ago," Remus replied. Perhaps it wouldn't be better to copy James's notes after all. "Where's your mind been, down Evan's neckline again?"
James ran his hand through his hair and gave Remus a haughty look down the end of his nose. "I'll have you know I paid very careful attention. Observe." James leaned forward and tapped Sirius's drawing with his wand. "/Imagomorphus ennervate/."
The black curves of ink went briefly golden. Motion flickered on the parchment and Sirius's drawing suddenly came to life-Snape's figure twitched, leaped, and made it almost to the margins of the paper before the rolling snowball overtook him and left him lying flat above a scribbled note on proper wrist angle. Further up in the left-hand corner, the Marauders' figures did an impromptu victory waltz.
Sirius looked irritated and pleased at the same time. "Prongs, you git, I wasn't done with that. I was going to add some icicles to his nose." He looked around. "Class is over?"
"Very clever observation, Padfoot." Remus examined the parchment. "Did you take notes on anything except different insulting adjectives for Snape's hair?"
"Of course. I also wrote out several things to do to his hair." Sirius paused for thought. "Although really, it's hard to make it much worse, isn't it?"
Remus put up a forestalling hand. "Don't tell me what you're going to do, because I'll have to stop you. Look, do you have a moment that I can-"
"Remus, Remus, Remus." James stopped trying to steal the leftover ice-mice and slung one arm over his shoulders. "/Moony/. It's the /holiday/, in case you haven't noticed. Even prefects catch a break on holiday. I suppose you're thinking of holing up and doing McGonagall's five roll essay?"
Peter looked up sharply and nearly toppled off the windowsill. "Five rolls?" he nearly squeaked and looked dumbstruck. "I thought it was only two!"
"That'd be Sirius's handwriting. Looks just like jobberknoll scratching, doesn't it?" James elbowed Sirius and broke the tail off his mouse.
Sirius, predictably, elbowed back, tried to rescue his pilfered confection, and even more predictably, knocked James over the desk in the scuffle. They rolled on the floor in a flurry of robes, fists, insults, and the occasional half-successful hex.
"James, you swine, give it back or Remus'll give you detention!" Sirius threatened, trying to pull his hair out of James's grasp.
His elbow connected with James's stomach, and James grunted and let go hastily. "Oh, he wouldn't do that," James managed to gasp out. "Moony... likes me... far better than you, Padfoot."
It looked like James was trying to bite and he might even have succeeded, because Remus heard Sirius make a strangled yelp, and he violently shoved at James's head. Amused, Remus leaned against the desk and finished packing his books. He carefully stepped over the flailing mass of arms and legs, and started packing up Sirius's rucksack as well. With nothing left, he picked up his ice-mouse and thoughtfully bit into it, sucking at his teeth from the cold.
Holidays. It was odd, still, to spend them at school. The full moon was going to fall a week after Christmas. Hogsmeade always looked like a gingerbread village in the snow, candlelit windows casting warm yellow light on the drifts. Even the places like Hog's Head Inn were softened, given a tint of unlikely innocence, as many things appeared under candlelight and snow. Bucolic, homey-it would be almost difficult to remember that any of the people inside those buildings would draw back from him in horror, should they see him on a full moon.
Remus wondered, briefly, how Peter would fare in the snow that was sure to get deeper. There was still time to plan for that, though. Sirius had only half-jokingly suggested Billywig stings and a string to tether him to James by.
Speaking of which. On the floor, James and Sirius had gotten to the incoherent yelling portion of their daily struggles, this time something about James's twelfth birthday party and a jelly-legs hex gone wrong.
Peter drew his legs up automatically whenever they rolled by. "/Five/ rolls!" he was still repeating to no one in particular.
"Yes," Remus agreed, and started working on James's ice mouse, a little more quickly. The conversation was becoming less hexes and more broken fragments of profanity, and that meant they would be done shortly.
"Because you son of a Black bastard-ow, my arm! I have to practice Quidditch even over the holidays you know-!"
"Better a bastard than-Oh, and what about-fuck! When you put a flobberworm in my-Merlin, that's my /jaw/, Potter! I happen to need it!"
They flopped apart, panting. Remus licked sugar from the webbing of skin between his thumb and forefinger, shouldered his rucksack, and toed first James, then Sirius. "Finished?"
"Quite." Sirius swung grandly to his feet as though nothing had happened, flipped his hair back, and struck a pose that was only slightly spoiled by the ink smudge on his cheek and the rumpled state of his clothes. "Well, that was lovely. Some of us have post-victory business to attend to. I'll be back shortly."
Remus threw over Sirius's bookbag and the last ice mouse. "Here. Look, I really do need a word with you, Sirius. Can I come with you?"
Sirius clapped him on the back and made for the door, hastily stepping over James's grasping arm. "If it's about Snape, I promise I won't do anything uncalled for until I get back. No, I just need to talk to family and you know how unpleasant that gets. I'll catch you in the common room and you can speak away."
In a flurry of robes, he was out the door and leaving only fading echoes of footsteps down the hall. There was sugar still clinging sticky to Remus's fingers.
James rolled over and blinked plaintively up at Remus. "He's delusional. I really won, didn't I?"
Back in the common room, James took possession of the largest couch and flopped down with one arm over his eyes. "Bit empty here," he commented without looking around. "Hogwarts'll be too quiet if we don't do something to liven it up around over the holiday."
"It won't be quiet if you enchant the angels on the Christmas trees again," Remus replied, letting himself drop into an armchair across from James. "Especially if you give them McGonagall's face again."
James grinned. "I thought those angels looked very good without their robes. Very spiritual."
"Yes, but I think it's safe to say none of us are interested in what's under McGonagall's robes."
"There is that." James stared at the ceiling in thought. "D'you think they'd look better with Evans' face?"
"I think you might not live to the end of holidays if you do that." Remus glanced over at Peter, cross-legged on the floor, and frowned. "Peter, what are you doing are you doing with that turtle?"
Peter looked up, clearly startled and a little shamefaced. "Nothing?"
James rolled over on his stomach, squinting. "You, you're poking it with your wand. That counts as something. Aren't things supposed to happen when you do that?"
"You're telling /me/." Peter gave the turtle another sharp prod. Green sparks skittered over its shell, and there was a distinct smell of evergreen mingled with burning. The turtle seemed unperturbed by this, but both James and Remus winced.
"Animal torture should be confined to Care of Magical Creatures class," Remus said. "Really, what are you doing?"
Peter went a little redder. "McGonagall's extra credit assignment. You know I'm going to need it. Plus, maybe this way she'll not care so much if I can't do five rolls. And I can't get things as easily as you all do, you know I'm not good enough."
"Aw, Wormtail, don't whinge, you know we wouldn't let you fail. It'd reflect badly on the lot of us." James made a lazy swipe at Peter's hair and went back to being uninterested in life.
"So, you'll give me a hand now?" Peter said hopefully.
"Sure, all right," James said, and reached for his wand. "Besides, we can always make Sirius write it and just change some bits around."
"What's the assignment?" Remus asked, thinking that a bit of extra credit might not come awry.
"Make Sirius write what now?" Sirius said at the same time, stepping back into the common room. They all looked at him in unison and he bowed. "Thank you, no applause. Well, all right, just a little."
"Wanker," James said affectionately. "Where've you been?"
Sirius stretched lazily and dropped in between the couch and the armchair. If he reached out, Remus would be able to touch Sirius's knee. "Had to see Regulus about a few things before he went off home. Namely I wanted to tell him what sort of things would happen to him if he tried to get into my room while he was home."
"Which would be?" James asked with an eager gleam in his eye, sitting up straight.
"Nothing particularly good," Sirius replied with an answering significant look. "I set them up when I left. Right after I got that owl back from you, as a matter of fact."
"/Rabbits/," Sirius said with great conviction and emphasis. "And, also that book you sent me? Dead useful, but I modified the one on page seventy-two because boils is the sort of thing my mother would approve of. I made it chicken feathers instead, tweaked it so they'd be pink."
"Oh, but did you look at page ninety four? There's a similar one there, I was sure I highlighted it..."
Sirius leaned closer to the couch as James leaned down and they started reeling off a low intense exchange of what sounded like ingredients that wouldn't be available in the normal school stores. Peter waited for a few hopeful minutes, gave them a wistful look or two, and then went dismally back to prodding the turtle.
Remus slouched in his armchair. The fire threw heat to one side of his face and lapped flickering tongues of light against his closed eyelids. He held his position until it became almost uncomfortable, then turned his face away to press into the cool side of the armchair. It almost didn't feel like the holidays yet, despite the emptied state of the tower. He wondered if it would feel different tomorrow.
There was a hollow thump, an even stronger sort of charred pine smell, and a muffled curse from Peter. Remus opened his eyes and looked.
"Your turtle appears to have doubled in size and grown another head," he commented. He took a closer look and added, "And some odd spines on its back, too."
"Yes," Peter said, in the resigned manner of someone who has been experiencing these sort of setbacks his entire life and no longer finds them particularly surprising. "I'm doomed."
Next to him, Sirius and James were still discussing... well, whatever it was in the long line of pranks that they had decided to collaborate on, although their laughter was winding down. Nothing new on that, and Remus wondered if it was worth his time to find out what.
James chortled again, slid to the floor, thumped Sirius on the back, and said something suspiciously like "/Turnips/," before pulling away. Remus decided, no, he really didn't want to know.
"So, mate," Sirius said pleasantly and without warning, swinging his gaze back to Remus. "What did you want to talk about?"
It was a little disconcerting to have not only Sirius's full attention, but James and Peter's as well. (Although, Peter looked more as though he simply wanted someone to deal with the turtle which was showing an alarming and unexpected ability for adapting to its new embellishments.)
"I'll tell you in a moment," Remus said. He nodded towards the scrap of parchment in Sirius's hand. "News from home?"
"What, this?" Sirius looked down. "Nah, nothing new. Just acknowledgement of the fact I decided to spend the holidays here again. I'm still the embarrassment and shame of the House of Black, and all that. It's the best compliment they could have given me."
Behind them, Peter tapped the turtle again. Three of its legs dropped off, and then it promptly grew six more. Remus decided to ignore it.
"Mm." He slid out of the chair and joined James and Sirius on the floor. "You're not sorry to be here, then."
Sirius snorted. "Are you joking?" he said. "My mother called me, and I quote, 'a travesty of nature with no idea of or respect for filial responsibility and social upbringing.' There's more, but I think the gist of it is they're not any more eager to have me in the house than I am to go back to it."
"It's a well known fact that Blacks don't celebrate Christmas the same way other people do," James said solemnly. "They begin by exchanging hexed presents, continue with a rousing game of House-Elf shotput, have a midday meal consisting of the livers of their enemies, and then round things off with a Muggle-hunt."
"Wearing bright red robes and funny hats, of course," Remus replied just as solemnly.
"Green robes," Sirius corrected distractedly, still scanning the letter. "And kidney pie. I don't like liver."
James shook his head sadly. "That's why you're in Gryffindor, mate. No true Black turns down liver."
There was a muffled explosion behind them, and a not-so muffled exclamation that gained even Sirius's attention. Wisps of orange smoke rose over the back of the couch.
They looked behind the couch. Peter looked wretchedly guilty.
"I didn't mean to," he said.
The turtle-or rather the creature which had previously been a turtle and now resembled nothing so much as the unfortunate offspring of a crossbreeding between a fire-crab and an augurey-had changed slightly. It was now the size of a footstool, a uniform shade of dingy orange, and shambling rapidly across the floor on newly elongated and segmented legs, at the same time flapping its wings as though gaining speed for attempted flight. Every other step produced a short spurt of flame from its tail and a strong smell of brimstone, there were feathers simultaneously sprouting and molting from the wings which had burst through its back, and both heads were hissing and bobbing about wildly in distress.
Also, it appeared to be preparing to divide.
"Now /that/," Sirius said in an unusually awed tone, "is a travesty of nature."
Remus and Sirius went to the kitchen for food, since it didn't look as though they would make it to dinner that night. They left Peter trying to undo his work while James looked on, nearly choking with laughter and offering a running commentary of well-meaning and not so well-meaning advice. It had taken a good ten minutes of forceful arguing to persuade both James and Sirius not to simply keep the creature as it was and hide it in Snape's bed that night.
"I still don't see why not," Sirius muttered from beside him as the staircase hesitated at the fifth floor.
"Stroke the right banister knob," Remus advised. "And it'd be too much trouble, that's why. He's gone home for the holidays."
"I always thought he just grew out of a damp corner somewhere," Sirius said under his breath. "It'd explain a lot."
They both stepped off. The staircase rumbled in what sounded almost like disappointment. Remus glanced back and frowned. "When I said stroke, I didn't necessarily mean to stroke it like-never mind. Let's go back using a different staircase."
"Yeah," Sirius agreed uneasily. "Anyway. Did Prongs want pumpkin juice or cider? And I can never remember what Wormtail likes on his sandwiches."
It was a short walk to find another more cooperative staircase, although Sirius did pause longingly outside the Prefects' bathroom, sigh, and give Remus a significant look.
"You're not getting the password again," Remus said firmly, and walked on. Sirius scowled, made a rude gesture at Boris the Bewildered, and followed. They made their way to the ground floor with little difficulty and several opportunities to begin a meaningful conversation, all of which Remus managed to convince himself were not quite right.
The door to the right of the main staircase in the entrance hall was standing slightly ajar. All through the corridor, they could smell dinner taking place overhead in the Great Hall, savory hints that made both their mouths water.
"Trust Wormtail to get us to miss the first holiday dinner," Sirius grumbled, but with no real heat. He stretched out a finger towards the painting on the wall and started tickling the pear, more cautiously than the staircase this time. After a final whoop of laughter, the doorknob appeared and they were through.
The house-elves, far from relaxing under a much-reduced student body to care for, were rushing all over the kitchen under various burdens of laden platters, plates, saucepans, and the occasional handful of cutlery. Remus blinked and stepped backwards in order to avoid getting run over by a ham that required eight house elves to carry it. Sirius, typically, was already looking pleased with being descended upon by four other house elves, all of who were bouncing on their toes in anticipation of fulfilling a request.
Remus backed them into what looked like a safely unoccupied corner and occasionally filled in Sirius's pauses with the requests that Sirius had forgotten. It was pleasant to be still amidst all the clamor, and to know that for once, they weren't in the kitchen after hours and having to sneak back to the tower under James's invisibility cloak. It got tiresome to listen to James rant over getting ice cream in his hair and soup spilled down his back and chocolate cake smeared on the hem of the cloak after a quick direction change upon spotting Filch one midnight.
Strangely enough, it was less the more difficult stain on the cloak and the (unfortunately hot) soup that had seemed to bother James than it was the hair. James had always been odd about his hair.
"...and if you're got any of that pie still about? Excellent!" Sirius exclaimed, drawing Remus's attention back.
"Did you remember which drinks?" he asked.
Sirius shrugged. "No. Got both, just in case. Give us a hand, Moony."
The elves beamed and bowed as they ran up presenting more and more plates. The covered platter that they eventually managed to stagger out of the kitchen with was enormous and looked like it held enough food for eight people rather than four. Remus thought this was quite fortunate, it would last them for at least an hour.
"Do you think there's any way we could get them to deliver it by hand next time?" Sirius panted as they stopped to rest by the trophy room. "Or maybe send the food up a couple levels to the Tower the way they do to the Great Hall? They'd probably love to be asked, the more difficult something is, the better they enjoy doing it."
"Don't tempt me," Remus groaned. "Look, we'll take the staircase with the biting decorative goblin heads instead this time. Just walk in the middle of the steps and we'll be fine."
"That one always reminds me of home," Sirius mused. "I wonder why no one's enchanted the House Elf heads yet. I wonder why I haven't done that yet. Singing, maybe. That'd send my mother right off."
Remus checked to make sure the heating and cooling charms on the various dishes were still operating, and picked up his side of the tray as Sirius did the same. They struggled on their way, with Sirius still scheming out loud and planning alternate routes.
"We could have jumped in the Vanishing Cabinet. Odds are pretty good we would've ended up on a higher floor."
"If you don't mind reappearing a week later, yes."
"Well, there could be advantages. I could find out if that was really where James threw that enchanted crystal ball I gave him."
"You mean the one that sang rude songs all the time? What is it with you and singing things?"
"No, no, the one that made you talk only in rhyme if you touched it..."
By the time they were at the sixth floor (and had used a different staircase), Remus's arms were feeling the same way they did after his transformations, as though someone had unkindly pulled them from their sockets and then stuck them back in again for fun. Sirius was trying to shake his hair out of his eyes without the use of his occupied hands, and failing miserably at it.
"Right," Sirius finally announced as they paused by an empty classroom, "that's had it. Levitation charm?"
"Remember what happened last time," Remus warned him, and then shook his head. "Just don't forget you've got it floating this time and take off running. I don't want to get back to the common room and find out that it got lost behind us and ended up in Flitwick's office again."
"I will be the very soul of moderation," Sirius said, and gestured with his wand/. "Wingardium leviosa!/"
The tray rose smoothly into the air at about waist level. Sirius smiled in satisfaction and waved a hand towards Remus. "/Locomotor tray/. After you, my dear Moony. I hope that's adequate?"
"I know that you live only to serve," Remus said dryly. Instead of continuing, he leaned against the wall and gave Sirius a long look. "It can wait a moment more. I wanted to talk to you."
Sirius eyed him uneasily and looked like he was doing some swift mental calculations. "I haven't done anything to Snape in three days, anyone else from Slytherin in five, and you laughed at the goat thing a week ago. In fact, you helped me with that."
"It's not about pranking," Remus replied.
Sirius looked even more on guard. "I haven't said anything mean to Peter, either."
"Shut up a moment, Padfoot."
"Overtly mean, anyway."
"And I could have. Remember last night when I found out where he wrote a foot on hippocampuses instead of on hippogriffs for our Care of Magical Creatures class?"
There was no good way to get him to shut up sometimes, Remus thought. It usually took something blunt, preferably applied to the head ad nausem. No silencing charm held up for any length of time when Sirius was well and truly determined.
"Sorry," Sirius repeated, looking slightly embarrassed. His face was slightly flushed along the cheekbones, probably due to the exertion as well. "You had the Prefect look. I never-well, when you. You know. I thought this was about being nice to Peter and your bedding and you were hauling me out here to yell about it."
"I wish you'd stop saying I was a prefect as though it was some sort of disease," Remus said. He paused. "Wait. What was that about my bedding?"
"Nothing," Sirius amended hastily. "Just. Ah, well. No, nothing. At all."
Remus decided it could wait.
"Look," he said. He lay a hand on Sirius's arm. Sirius looked at first Remus, then the hand, then slowly back to Remus's face again with an odd sort of dawning almost-comprehension. It was the same look on his face from whenever he was on the brink of solving a particularly knotty Transfiguration spell.
"Remus," he said slowly and very carefully.
"Sirius," Remus replied in the same tone. Finally/. "I want to /talk to you."
Sirius opened his mouth, closed it again, and nodded. They both started to speak at the same time.
Sirius's pocket began to shout at them. They both jumped.
"/Fuck/," Sirius muttered and started searching amongst his robes for the two-way mirror.
There was no need to repeat Sirius's sentiments, even if for different reasons, but Remus thought it might make him feel better anyway.
James was prone to exaggeration, so when he gave them his account of events through the mirror (with Peter giving garbled and fairly panicked sounding additions in the background), neither Sirius nor Remus was quite convinced, although it certainly sounded like something was happening. But since strange accidents and magical backfiring were no strangers to James, and it was exactly the sort of thing that would happen to Peter, they hurried.
Upon climbing cautiously through the door behind the portrait, the first thing to greet their eyes was a pile of furniture making a barricade near the fireplace and James looking slightly singed and gesturing threateningly with the fireplace poker at the turtle-turned-monster. Every time it came too close, James hit it with the poker, although it seemed fairly determined. His wand was across the room, stuck tauntingly between two couch cushions.
Peter, looking decideably more singed, was backing up the stairs leading to the dormitories, stuttering either threats or prayers against another identical beast. When he gestured with his wand at the turtle, it snapped its jaws at him and Peter backed up another step.
"Right," Sirius muttered, "so he didn't exaggerate for once. Lovely. Why are there two now?"
Whatever could be said about their appearances, the turtle-things had stellar hearing. Both paused and swung their heads the new arrivals; Remus could almost see slow cogs turning in their heads. It was not too unlike some of the Slytherin beaters from the last Quidditch match.
Peter scrambled up another step and James took the opportunity to lunge for the fire shovel as well, and fetch the turtle another good crack across the shell. There was no discernible effect.
With a war-cry, Sirius launched himself from the portrait hole, landed on one of the squashy armchairs, and began jumping from the remaining pieces of furniture to aid James, wand at the ready. James threw him the fire shovel, which Sirius caught with his left hand, and continued trying to hold his ground.
"Don't stun them," Peter shouted frantically from the stairs, "it bounces off, it only makes them more angry!" The turtle snapped. He squeaked, and leaped up another stair just in time to leave part of his robe's hem in the turtle's jaws instead of his foot.
"/Accio!/" Remus shouted, and James's wand was jerked from between the cushions and zoomed to his hand. He jumped from the portrait hole to the floor, was briefly distracted by the fact that the tray had actually followed Sirius and himself to the room and was hovering steadily just in the doorway, and then leaped onto a table again. "James, catch!"
James gave the turtle another sharp thwap with the poker, whirled about with wild eyes, and caught his wand. He nodded briefly in thanks and then looked towards Peter's direction in alarm where Peter's turtle had refocused its interest. "Merlin's sake, keep the goddamn things out of the dormitories! They'll set the whole bloody place on fire!"
Since James and Sirius together had received Hogwart's unofficial Hall-Brawling award for three years running, Remus thought it was safe to let them work on their own while he kept Peter from losing a chunk of himself and having all their worldly possessions go up in flames. He quickly picked his way over to Peter, shoes squelching on the floor. The carpet was both charred in spots and sopping wet, as though it had caught fire, and then been immediately put out.
A gout of fire suddenly flickered out the turtle's tail at him, and he jumped back. At least that answered the question of the carpet. Remus grabbed James's Potions text from where it was lying half-under one of the armchairs and lobbed it at the turtle's head, trying to switch its attention away from Peter long enough for the other boy to get away.
"Oi!" he yelled, and immediately felt ridiculous.
No stunners, no impeding. Remus thought wildly, all suitable charms and hexes seeming to fly out of his head and leave him with nothing more than first-year magic. Not that he really even knew what to begin with; it certainly looked like something out of his Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons but not something he was immediately prepared to plot a defense against.
/Back to basics/, he thought he heard Flitwick say, and remembered Sirius in the hallway.
"Levitation!" he shouted to Peter, and didn't wait for comprehension to dawn on the other boy's face. He pointed his wand. Swish and flick, that was the key, swish and flick-at least there were feathers to focus on. "/Wingardium leviosa!/"
Peter's voice rang out at the same time, and their combined spells must have made for a better effect than they could have reckoned for. It flew upwards immediately, hitting the ceiling with enough force to send down plaster bits, and then came crashing back to the floor. It lay on its back, legs curled inwards, looking a bit stunned.
Remus took a careful step closer and aimed his wand again. "/Petrificus totalus!/"
Behind them, Sirius and James's turtle was dancing, sprouting tentacles, and growing alarmingly bigger teeth all at once, the results of being hit with a variety of hexes. James motioned to Sirius, who gave the turtle a push towards the fireplace with his shovel. James aimed his wand as it rocked off balance. "/Locomotor mortis!/"
The turtle's legs locked up and it froze in place. Before it could start using its wings, Sirius pointed and snapped out another immobilization spell. Seizing up, the turtle fell heavily on its side. Peter edged up favoring his right leg, mumbled, and pointed to each turtle in turn. "/Reducio. Reducio./"
Shrunken down, they looked less like the end result of some bored and unscrupulous cross-breeder, and more like something sold at Zonko's to pass the time with during class. Silence reigned over the room, except for their heavy breathing and the simultaneous thuds of all four of them sitting down.
"Well," James said rather blankly after a few moments.
"Well," Sirius echoed him. His gaze drifted over to the still-open portrait hole; he raised his wand and made a beckoning motion. The ever-patient tray floated into the room and settled gently on the floor. "We brought the food back."
Remus wasn't sure who started laughing first, only that he was glad it happened, although Peter's laughter had a tinge of the hysteric to it. He supposed that almost being eaten by one of his own creations would do that to a person.
"Shall we eat?" Peter asked nervously after the laughter had died down.
"Splendid idea," James replied, a trifle crossly. There was a definite singed look to his eyebrows, Remus noticed. "We'll just have a spot to eat in this lovely destroyed room while waiting for your sleeping monstrosities shake off the spells, Wormtail. Brilliant."
"They were pretty impressive," Sirius offered more generously than usual, obviously still thinking of his and Remus's interrupted talk in the hallway.
Remus frowned. "What exactly happened, anyway? We weren't gone that long."
Peter and James launched into a long and confusing story over over-amplifying transfiguration spells and Peter stressing a wrong syllable and James laughing too hard to correctly compensate and the shell causing a rebounding effect and various other details. It seemed to involve a lot of hand-waving.
While they were engaged in this, Remus started sneaking tarts off the tray. Sirius noticed what he was doing, pulled plates, and started distributing them about. The application of food went a long way to pacifying James and steadying Peter, and they started listing potential ways to undo the damage done.
Peter wanted to keep at least one so that he could keep trying, but was unable to come up with any other suggestions. Sirius suggested the Vanishing Cabinet and was vetoed by dint that it was only delaying the problem and they were likely to emerge somewhere eventually. His protestations that by the time they /did /reappear, it would more difficult to trace it back to whoever put them in and someone else would have to deal with them went unheeded. James's idea of just abandoning them in the dungeons or the bathroom on the second floor was shot down on the same grounds.
At one point, one of the turtles began to twitch. Sirius fed it a bit of roast beef filched from Peter's sandwich and then kicked it across the room again when it tried to eat his fingers as well. James put another immobilizing spell on it.
Leaning his head against his chin, Remus tapped his fingers thoughtfully against a plate that had held treacle tarts. "So, they've really had too many spells cast on them for us to be able to just backtrack with a simple dispelling charm."
James cocked his head and bit into a ham sandwich. "Are you sure we can't just put them in the dungeons? They might think they were just another two Slytherins wandering about. And they might eventually crawl into Snape's room."
"They like to/ eat flesh,/ though!" Peter protested, waving a chicken leg for emphasis. "What if they get into Professor Nightshade's chambers and take a chunk out of his leg?"
Sirius brightened visibly. "Even better!"
"We'd get expelled!" Peter looked desperate. "Maybe one of you could manage to cast an /evanesco?/"
"We're only up to vanishing rabbits," Remus replied, and frowned. "But maybe? Sirius, James?"
"More likely we'd only make half of it disappear," Sirius said, chewing on his lower lip. "Even if they're already reduced in size. Prongs, have you figured out the Protean charm yet? Maybe we could just disguise them as something else." He waved his hands vaguely. "House plants, maybe. Ugly ones."
"I'm still working out problems with it," James said distractedly. "Where's the pumpkin juice?"
"Isn't it on the tray?" asked Sirius in surprise. "I got a jug. Must have gotten left behind in the hall or something." He pulled his wand out and got as far as "/Acc/-" before Remus forced his forearm down.
"We've made enough of a mess in here tonight," Remus said firmly. "Come out in the hall and get it the normal way."
"Just come /on/."
The time after the full moon usually left Remus in the Hospital Ward for at least a day if he was lucky, but that was usually due more to self-inflicted injuries than anything else. His strength, as he had read in several of the books littered throughout his home, was greater than most humans during the time leading up, although all of his friends had told him in no uncertain terms that he looked quite the opposite. It was not something he wanted, but it was useful.
A few moments after Remus towing Sirius had disappeared through the portrait-hole, the jug of pumpkin juice floated through. James caught it neatly.
Peter looked slightly concerned when waiting revealed no one else coming through the entrance again, and there was no sound of even a concentrated quiet dressing-down. Remus's lectures were rare, but they had all been on the end at least once.
"I wonder what Sirius did," he said. "It must have been earlier. Do you think Remus is going to do something horrible to him?"
James swallowed a mouthful of juice and looked thoughtful.
"Better him than us," he replied.
Rumor had it there was a clock in Dumbledore's office with all the names of the students on it, and it was by this magnificent device that Dumbledore kept track of everyone. Remus wondered where his hand would be right about then. No doubt it was stuck halfway between Time to Save Peter Pettigrew's Arse and /Time to Proposition Sirius Black/.
Maybe there was something about Sirius's arse on the clock as well, directly following /Time to Proposition Sirius Black/. One could only hope.
"Thank you for coming with me."
"Er, yes," Sirius said, rubbing his arm absently, and peering at the tapestry on the wall. Remus followed his gaze; Barnabas the Barmy appeared to be having a slightly worse day than Remus had had so far. There were still seven hours left in the day, though. "So."
He walked past Sirius, staring off into the darkness of the hallway. It felt odd to be speaking without interruptions, and he was almost unwilling to begin. Silly, that. Stupid. He took a deep breath and decided to ease into his speech.
"The next full moon is coming up soon."
"A week and a half." Sirius's voice was uncharacteristically hesitant. "Look, Remus-Moony. Are you angry with us? About becoming animagi without telling you? Because..." He trailed off and then shoved his hands back in his pockets. "Just because."
"Just hear me out on this, because I don't think I'll be to do it again. I'm probably going to muck it up pretty badly anyway." He forced himself to push on, walking past Sirius again and not quite managing to make himself stand still and face his friend.
"You could have died, you know." The words were thick in his throat. "You could have died/. I've been thinking about this, ever since we came back from Hogsmeade last moon. You could have ended up permanently transfigured or disfigured. There are fully-trained wizards who don't master the animagus transfiguration for years and you all went and tried it after almost three years and you somehow did it. But all of you could have died. /You could have died."
Sirius tried his most charming smile, the one that involved mostly teeth and an impression of being about to either get down on one knee with a ring or spring suddenly for the throat. "Moony, we went as fast as we could because-"
"/Let me talk/," he said, and Sirius subsided, the smile shattering off his face like ice from a tree.
"I was always afraid for myself," Remus said quietly. "Of what I could do to people. I was afraid for them too, of course, but I was more afraid for myself because I knew I could do these things and... well, I'd go on living. Because that's what you do."
Sirius kept his silence. After composing himself, Remus started to speak again. "You're James's best friend. I always thought the only way I would have friends were if I never told them about what I was. And once you all did this... this thing for me, without ever saying anything, and then showed me what you could do. And you never gave a hint that was what you were up to, I never suspected it. So I started thinking, well, what if you did it and it went wrong and I never knew because we're all keeping secrets and no one's saying anything."
Sirius swallowed, his throat sticking audibly. "Remus, I-"
"I know you didn't say anything because you wanted to surprise me and not... disappoint me if things went wrong."
"Last full moon-"
"Last full moon was one of the happiest times of my life," Remus said lowly, steadily. "Don't get me wrong. I almost didn't come out of the shack because I wasn't sure if I'd really find you all there. I went off with Madam Pomfrey before moonrise without saying anything to all of you because I didn't want to know if things would be... cancelled, you know. If you all had second thoughts. I wouldn't blame you, I just wanted to have that hope for when I was transforming."
Sirius was very still in the dim light of the corridor, and Remus walked past him one time then stopped. It wasn't working. He needed privacy and a place to just get all his words out for once without being interrupted, just a chance to get everything in the open air... He needed Sirius to /understand/.
"Look, what I'm trying to get out... I'm really messing it up... is that I don't want to keep not saying anything, or to keep just hoping and waiting and holding onto secrets. You're all my friends, and you just shouldn't do that, but. You're. I know you came up with the idea. You're James's best friend, but. I wanted to speak to you first because I, well. You could have died. And I..."
He turned. And yes, /finally/, Sirius finally looked intrigued, finally looked as though what Remus had said really struck him-No. No, Sirius was looking past him.
At the wall. At a door in the wall.
Which had not been there a moment ago.
"This is new," Sirius said, and touched the doorknob cautiously.
Remus reached around Sirius, not sure what he was going to do once he got hold of Sirius's hand. Bite it, force Sirius to punch himself in the jaw, punch himself in the head to be put out of his misery, kiss it, maybe. The doorknob yielded as soon as he touched it and the door swung open.
Remus didn't pause to consider the logistics of a suddenly appearing door where there had been no door the moment before, the appearance of a room he knew nothing about, or the fact that the entire ceiling of the room appeared to be lined with mistletoe. After all, if you didn't find something different, interesting, or at least mind-bogglingly strange at Hogwarts each week, you simply weren't trying hard enough.
He planted a hand in the small of Sirius's back, shoved firmly, and pulled the door shut behind them.
They landed in a heap on the floor, which had a surprisingly comfortable carpet-the kind where toes sank at least an inch into the pile and dropping any small object meant you were never seeing it again. It was dark green and smelled not of dust as he would have expected, but almost like damp leaves, the ones they had run through in the last full moon. Despite the comfort factor of the carpet, though, it was overall quite an unpleasant experience to get Sirius's knee in his stomach. Judging from Sirius's pained noise, his own elbow to the face was no more comfortable.
"Sorry," he grunted, and squirmed off to one side.
Sirius made a similar noise and flopped on his back. "Why the hell is there mistletoe?"
Remus looked up and shrugged. It could have been worse, really. There were rooms in the castle that did strange things when you went in them. At least this one was inspirational; he gave up trying to explain things, because, well, it wasn't going to plan anyway, and he rolled back over onto Sirius, aimed roughly for his mouth, closed his eyes, and kissed.
As it turned out, there were better ways of shutting Sirius up.
As first kisses typically went, it was somewhat awkward for all parties involved but improved with relatively little adjustment. Sirius made a surprised chuffing noise, lay fairly still for the first four seconds of it, and then kissed back with immediate enthusiasm. When he tried to sit up it was a little more difficult to keep contact; Remus pressed his weight more firmly down, made a slight growling noise, and then reluctantly broke away.
Sirius raised himself to his elbows. "Alphas," he said conversationally. "I read about this in /Hairy Snout, Human Heart/. The mounting comes next, right?"
"Don't tempt me," Remus said for the second time that night. "I'm not done." He leaned down again.
And he wasn't really. There were so many things to say that he had composed in his head during long nights staring at the curtains, during lazy hours sprawled in the common room, in class, in the halls, in the too-long summer months at home. There were so many things that probably should be said, because Sirius didn't always listen and Remus didn't always express himself well enough when he should have, but he could smell salt and sweat and Sirius, and then he could taste salt and sweat and several other things that were Sirius and they were friends and something else as well.
His talent in Defense Against the Dark Arts came from working by instinct. Perhaps this was the wolf in him, something that didn't need tactics and plans and carefully engineered conversations for the best possible result. Sirius laughed differently in the dark, a low thrumming rumble that didn't quite escalate into the usual barking tone. It was as though he didn't need to make his presence known the same way he always felt compelled to while in daylight and full gaze.
Sirius grinned up at him, doglike. "Why not? What could you do, Moony?" he said, with a challenging push of hips upward.
"What could I do?" Remus echoed. He lifted one knee from its place outside Sirius's legs and nudged upwards between his thighs. "That depends, doesn't it?"
Sirius pushed against him again. "Depends on what?"
Remus shifted his knee a little higher. "On how well you behave, of course. There's still the question of whatever you did to my bedding."
"Behave?" Sirius did a sort of rolling thing with his lower body that should have been impossible, lying on his back and mostly pinned down. "/You/ accosted /me/, Mister Prefect. That's abuse of authority, that is. If anything, my virtue is being offended."
"Your virtue," Remus said, "could fit in a teacup and there would still be room leftover for your morals. But you're right." He stopped and rolled off. "We should go help Peter and James."
Sirius, caught mid-hip-thrust, froze and gaped. "Peter and James-- I can't sodding believe--"
Remus tried to hold his snicker in and failed.
/"--Sod you, Lupin/!" Sirius bellowed, and it really was a good thing that the carpet was so awfully thick, because they were rolling around on it quite a lot.
Robes were an inconvenient extra layer and difficult to find the openings in when one was wrapped around another person, let alone getting out of them-no wonder Hogwarts required the students to wear them in all places except in common room and dormitories. Sirius wasn't quite as obsessed with Quidditch as James was, but his hands were deft enough as it was, even lying on his back, laughing, and swearing swift and terrible vengeance upon Remus and six generations of his descendants afterward.
In the ceiling, bits of gold paper twinkled among the mistletoe, like hidden stars. The carpet was really quite comfortable and somehow, the trouble of carpet-burn never came up either, even when their robes were more off of them than on. The lights were dim and the room smelled vaguely of evergreen, dust, and cinnamon-- holiday smells, muted and comforting.
Remus discovered that his method for silencing Sirius went a long ways towards placating Sirius as well. After a while, when Remus wasn't laughing and Sirius wasn't laughing and swearing, they managed to come to an understanding with no words at all.
James had mostly managed to restore the turtles to their original state by the time Remus and Sirius climbed through the door again, although one of them was still more orange than brownish-green, and the other had five legs. Restoring the common room to its (mostly) original state took four hours and another kitchen raid, although James and Peter were sent to fetch the food instead this time. By the time they had gotten back, most of the furniture was uniformly one color again with scorch marks charmed away, and Sirius and Remus were sprawled out on the same couch.
"Left the carpet for you, mate," Sirius said lazily, and ducked the roll James threw at him.
All in all, it was astonishing how easy it was to return to normalcy, although James pointed out it was only really after several hours of work that anyone thought to make that remark. The sooty-sodden smell was rapidly dissipating and there was nothing anyone could do about the ceiling, but how often was it that anyone looked up anyway?
Peter had gone back to poking at the turtles. James was playing chess against himself and confusing the chess figures terribly.
Sirius lounged against Remus's shoulder and threw bits of charmed parchment into the fire to make the flames change color, lobbing the occasional one at James. Remus shuffled through the notes for the day's classes to have them in order before tucking them away; when he got to Sirius's parchment, James's spell was still flickering weakly. Peter's figure was slowly rolling a head for the snowman that James's figure was building on top of the fallen Snape; both of them took frequent rests.
Remus noted with some amusement that his own figure and Sirius's seemed to have retreated behind a tree. The branches shivered and a clump of snow fell and dotted an i. He tucked that sheaf of notes behind several others. Some things required privacy.
"Do you know," Peter said with mild amazement, "I think I've got it right at last."
Sirius leaned out around Remus and cautiously surveyed the mildly bemused bird sitting where the first turtle had been. It was smooth and soft, fluffing out its brown and grey feathers and looking much less homicidal than its previous incarnation. Next to it, the other turtle had wearily withdrawn into its shell. "So you have. Well done, Peter m'lad." He frowned. "Er. What is it?"
"A turtledove," James supplied, keeping his index figure between a knight trying to kick over a pawn on the sideline. "McGonagall's assignment was to do a not only a cross-species switch, but to mix it with either a dividing or conjuring charm so you got two out of one. Turtledoves are supposed to come in pairs."
"Oh. No wonder it sprouted feathers before." Sirius looked thoughtful. "Why pairs?"
James shrugged. "Dunno. They just are. Some Muggle thing." He reached over, spoke, and gave the turtle a tap with his wand. It shimmered and transformed into a twin of the first, although with its head buried under one wing. "There, Wormtail. Don't ever say James Potter holds a grudge."
"For more than a month," Sirius added sotto voce, and shifted his legs onto Remus's lap in order to get them out of James's reach as the birds startled out of the way. Even after James went back to being shouted at by a particularly surly bishop (who was trying to smack James's fingers with his staff after James flicked his miter askew for the umpteenth time) he showed no inclination to move them.
On the fireplace's mantelpiece, the turtledoves cooed. Remus smiled, and hummed a brief snatch of song under his breath, and smoothed a crease on Sirius's trousers. The holidays had come.