The Third (1)
by Thamiris


"Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you."
--T. S. Eliot, from "The Wasteland"

Lionel Luthor held the vial to his lips, not entirely tasting, not entirely kissing.   "Few things are more beautiful than blood."

Taking the silver box from the bed, he carefully placed the tube inside.   "Dark times are coming, and to survive we must build an army.   This," he added, touching the box, "is the tool I need to build one."

No one spoke, but Lionel didn't seem to notice--or simply assumed that the perfect logic of genocide required no response.   He stroked the box once, returned it to his pocket, and headed for the door.   His shoes were made of a skin shinier in death than in life, noiseless against the stone; not even Death would move so quietly.

About to leave, he looked back over his shoulder.   "Naturally, this must be kept quiet.   Not everyone is sympathetic to our cause, and if the wrong people should hear about this, Dumbledore, for instance...Well, it's always a tragedy when one dies young.   This school has so many staircases, and it would be so easy to fall."   He said this conversationally, as though a murder-threat was a normal goodbye.

His final smile was like an eclipse.



Two Months Earlier

James' voice floated down, tickling like the grass under Sirius' hands.   "There's a new boy."

Sirius refused to open his eyes.   Not just to be perverse: with the September sun warm as a winter fire and James' balled robes cushioning his head, he felt reborn after a deathly summer.   No more quiet flat with only the television for noise, false sounds of Muggle comfort that grated within the first week.   Everything was better now, no responsibilities except to be smart, handsome and popular--

"Sirius, are you listening?"

When James  waved his hand over Sirius' face, Sirius snapped at it.   The black dog wasn't far below the surface, and he caught the tip of James' index finger in his teeth, tasted salt, dirt and grass.   While the new boy was tradition, it was tempting to forgo him in favor of James, tried and true.   He licked his lips.

"Sirius, don't make me get my Nimbus.   Might scare the first-years to see a public flogging.   Listen to me, you lazy git: there's a new boy."

Sirius nipped James' fluttering hand, then licked his palm.   "The new boy can wait."

As always, Remus stepped in before Sirius actually drew blood.   "I passed him in the hall this morning.   The new boy.   He came in after the others with his father.   Nasty sort, the father, ordering everyone around, even Dumbledore."

"Parents are a curse," Sirius said.   "Not like friends.   Even friends who threaten people with Quidditch brooms." His mother thought of him as a cigarette burn on the family tree; she'd put one there to erase him.  Once when he was a boy she'd put one on his right hand, still visible in the wrong light, a pale white patch, so he'd never be able to erase her.   Remus knew.   Remus understood because he'd spent two years locked in an attic after the werewolf bit him.

"Sorry, Padfoot."   There was a tiny ruffle of air as Remus shifted in the grass beside him, careful not to cast him in shadow.   The soft flannel of his trousers brushed like a cat against Sirius' hand, and he quickly pulled away.

"He's Slytherin," Peter said from the shelter of the beech tree.

Peter favoured cool dark places away from the sun that spread his freckles like measles over his skin.   Once without noticing he'd sat in a pile of arbour worms curled up under a tree for shade, and when Peter stood, one particularly long worm hung from his trousers.

"Worse," Peter went on, "the new boy's American.   I heard he was expelled from Excelsior, then Durmstrang,  although no one knows why.   And he's rich.   Disgustingly so.   And bald, although apparently half the girls are already mad for him, so sounds like competition for you, Sirius.  And--"

"And he's coming over here.   Not even rich, bald, strangely-attractive American boys can resist Sirius Black."   James sounded half-annoyed, half-amused.   "This will be the fastest conquest yet."

"Looks like you'll be sleeping alone for the next few weeks, James," Peter said, "unless Remus finally breaks his vow of celibacy."

"Nothing will make Remus change his mind."   Without opening his eyes, Sirius locked his hands above his head.   "He's determined to die a virgin."

The pages of Remus' book stopped whispering again.   "Would you idiots shut up?   I'm trying to read."

Sometimes Sirius wanted to be a book, one that Remus would hold on his lap, fingers brushing over his pages, eyes locked on his every word.   An old memory came to him, Remus in a Care of Magical Creatures class, kneeling before a bowtruckle with a broken finger.   The thing had been squeaking like mad, waving its other three clawed fingers, and even Professor Belua had back off, fearful of losing an eye.   But Remus had spoken in a low, reasonable voice to the creature, offering it tree lice, and the little bowtruckle had stopped its dangerous flailing, hopping into Remus' palm, even allowing him to set the broken finger under Belua's supervision.

Stupid, really, to think of that now.   "Don't suppose that's Sex and the Single Wizard you've got there, Moony?"

James laughed.   "He's just made a rather rude hand gesture at you, Sirius.   Apparently Remus isn't quite as proud of his virginity as you'd think."

"You'd best be worried about your own hand gestures, James," Remus told him.   "With Sirius ditching you yet again, you'll need them."

"Spoken like a true champion of the solo wank.   You must have some technique, Moony, to prefer your hand to anyone else's.   Or is it just that you think you're better than us?"

"You're the Quidditch star.   Sirius is lord of the manor.   I'm just trying to get out of here alive."

"Would you two shut it?  It's our first day back, and you're ruining it."   For once, Peter's voice seemed to hold authority since quiet followed, a crisp clear layer of it over the distant shouts of an impromptu Quidditch match.

Except the quiet went on too long, and Sirius almost raised his head to look, but the sun was too soothing--

"Hi."   Low voice, definitely American with its flat syllables and flashy confidence.   "I'm Lex, and I'd like you to show me around.   Help me understand how this place works."

Sirius' lids were too heavy to raise.   Didn't hurt to affirm the order of things at Hogwarts, letting the new boy understand that a rich father and an interesting reputation would only take you so far.   Another helping of silence, presumably filled with Lex's admiring gaze, although his friends were oddly quiet, like Lex had grown a second head.   With a yawn, Sirius opened his eyes and sat up.

Lex was narrow and paler even than Remus, and stood with a slight upward tilt of his chin that exposed the line of his throat.   His eyes were his most outstanding feature, even more than his skin or scarred red mouth, and not for their colour, although a nice-enough blue.   No, they were notable for the way Lex focused them not on Sirius in the normal order of things, but on Remus, quiet, bookish, sane-when-not-running-around-on-all-fours-howling-at-the-moon Remus.   Lex's look caught him, pinned him, stripped him.   It was like watching a dirty etymologist at work.

Remus stared back, a bruised look on his face, too many hollows even in the sunlight.   He seemed ready to claw up the earth and dive into it.

"It's Remus, right?" Lex continued, smooth as his skin, no awkward pauses, no awareness that he delivered a monologue to a confused audience.   "Dumbledore told me this morning after breakfast."

"Are you sure he's the one you want?"  Peter peered at Lex, his features corkscrewed, clearly wondering if something were lost in the translation.   Americans could do such funny things with language.   "Remus, and not...?"

"I know who I want."   Lex spoke with a song's clear pitch, maintaining that unblinking stare, so intense that the air had to be heating around him.

Sirius wished for a bucked of water because it was disgusting.  Wrong and disgusting and--

And James to the rescue.   Good old James.   "Remus is busy right now.   Besides, we're Gryffindor.   You're Slytherin."   James' left fist was clenched, his right hand in his wand pocket, ready for battle.

Lex looked very calm by comparison, and stood very still, not even glancing at James, while Remus had taken to rubbing his mouth, which left his lips pink as a girl's.   "When I told Dumbledore I thought you should show me around, he agreed it was a good idea."   Lex said it gently, less threat than reassurance.   Only the never-ending look gave him away.

Remus hesitated, then got to his feet, brushing off stray bits of grass, the book forgotten in a shameful upending of normal.   He addressed a spot over Sirius' shoulder, perhaps the Quidditch field because it was green and blank, while Sirius was red and raging, if hiding it moderately well.    After all, no blood had spilled.  "If no one needs me here..."

Like need could fit into a simple word, a simple sentence.   Like it had to be said.   "Do what you want," Sirius told him, proudly casual.   What did American flesh taste like roasted over an open fire?

"I'm glad to help then, Lex.  I won't be long," Remus added.

With Lex beside him, he headed across the lawn toward the castle.   All they needed was a sunset.   Sirius fumed under his yawn.

"That was a surprise,"  Peter said.   Always the master of the obvious, although sometimes he kicked up earthier truths.   "I was sure you'd step in and stop it, Sirius.   A Slytherin, and did you see the way he looked at Remus?   It was positively indecent."

James was satisfyingly riled, still clutching his wand.   "This Lex is like Mordred, breaking up the Knights of the Round Table.   You should've stopped Remus from going, Sirius.   He would've listened to you."

"He's not breaking anything up, Prongs.   It's just a tour.   Moony will be back soon enough, full of tales of American excess."   Sirius settled back, his eyes closing once again.   He'd had enough reality for one afternoon.  "Life will go on as usual.   You'll see."



"It's been ages," Peter said, between bites of steak and kidney pie.  A line of gravy wriggled down his chin until a serviette tossed by James caught it.   "Thanks."   Peter mopped his face.   "It's not like Remus to miss a meal.   For a skinny bloke he eats like a horse.   Must be the werewolf part," he added quietly.   "So what do you suppose they're doing?  You don't think they're actually--?"  He jabbed his knife suggestively in the air.

James rolled his eyes, then heaved a long-suffering sigh.   "Don't be ridiculous.   Lex can't manage in a few hours what some people, infinitely better-looking and generally superior people, haven't managed in years."   He grabbed a roll from a basket, tearing it into chunks, and tossed one at Peter's head.

"Idiot!" Peter said, then plucked the piece from the table where it had fallen, chewing contentedly.

"It's not a matter of managing or not managing," Sirius said.   "It's a matter of interest.   My interest, or lack thereof."

"Right, right.   Your interest."   Peter nodded as vigorously as he chewed.   "But, well, didn't Remus turn you down, Sirius, in fourth year--"   A glass of milk suddenly overturned, a white wave that overcompensated for the unspilled gravy, splattering Peter's face and robes.   "Bugger!" he shouted, leaping from his seat.

As Peter sputtered in surprise, drops charging down his pointed nose, James shook his head and aimed his wand.   "Abluere!"

Sirius looked innocent, glad that magic could work through tables.

With James' help, Peter stood clean and dry, his face red now instead of white as snickers erupted from the Slytherin table, loudest from the other seventh-years.

"Next time, swallow, Pettigrew!" Lawrence Macnair called.   "Didn't Black teach you anything?"

"Maybe it's Black's aim," Rodolphus Lestrange added.   "He's so used to buggering Potter that he's forgotten how to--"

"I think that you could stand some buggering, Lestrange," Lily Evans said from a few seats down at the Gryffindor table.   "It might improve your disposition.   Now would you all shut up so we can eat in peace?   There are first-years about, remember."

"God thing she doesn't have the right equipment," James muttered to Sirius, "or she'd be the one buggering us all.   That girl likes to take charge."

"Potter, I can hear you."   Lily flipped her long red hair over her shoulder.   "And unless you want to meet me and this stalk of celery at midnight, I suggest you button it in all possible senses."

"Promises, promises.   And that's quite the mouth you've grown there, Evans.   Must've been an exciting summer."

"If that's your way of asking what I did, Potter, let's just say I confirmed that the boys at Hogwarts are just that.   Boys."   She snapped the celery with her sharp white teeth, smiling when James flinched.   "So, where's Lupin?   He usually keeps you idiots at least partially in check."

"Speaking of buggering ... " Peter said.   Then, "Ow!" as James kicked him under the table.

"He's showing the new boy around the castle," James told her.

"So he's broken rank, has he?   Didn't think he had it in him.   Maybe you could learn from his example, Potter," Lily said, and with another red flip returned to her meal.

"Ever think that summer's just like a disease?"  This from Peter, foraging in the bread basket for another roll.   "It changes people, eats away at who you are.   No one's ever quite the same after summer.   I think I hate them.   Summers."

"Everything feels funny at the start of term," James said.   "By next week, it will feel like we never left.   The Marauders will ride again.   Right, Sirius?"

"Mayhem and mischief in every corner."

To prove this, after the meal the three of them performed their new-term rituals.   First, the obligatory changing of the password into Slytherin Tower; to enter, as the note they left instructed, a Slytherin now had to say, "Rodolphus Lestrange is a thick git."

"Unoriginal, but effective," James said.   "Can't be too clever or the meaning's lost."

"Rodolphus will hate it, and that's the main thing."   Casually as he could, Sirius glanced around for signs of Remus.   Nothing but stone walls, a tapestry that showed a giant serpent battling a frail-looking lion; over their hissing and spitting he could hear Nearly Headless Nick, enlisted by James to keep a lookout for The Bloody Baron or any stray Slytherins, chortling to himself ‘round the corner.

Next, they headed to Gryffindor Tower, and having lost Nick to a slanging match with Peeves, set Peter up as lookout while they rendered the statue of Lachlan the Lucky first naked, then anatomically-correct.

"He's Lachlan the Lucky now," James said.

"You mean, Lachlan the Equipped to Frighten First-Years."  Sirius deepened the shade of pink for an added touch of authenticity, then stood with the others to admire his handiwork.

Peter applauded, but without his usual enthusiasm.   "Not quite the same without Remus here, threatening to report you to Dumbledore, is it, while he tries hard not to laugh?"

"Nonsense," James said.   "We don't need Remus to have fun.   Right, Sirius?"


To prove it, leaving Peter on guard yet again, Sirius and James broke into Binns' office, a dusty little room with cobwebs connecting the desk to the bookshelves, the window to the waste basket.   They found his lecture notes and, cackling madly, replaced the word "wizard" with "pecker" and "rebellion" with "orgy."   Since the lecture dealt with The Great Wizard Rebellion of 1381, the results promised to be amusing.

"When Wat Topas, a pecker of great power, joined the orgy, he guaranteed its success...  Brilliant."   Sirius returned the scroll to the desk, artfully re-stringing the cobwebs.   "Remus would've been horrified.   Or at least pretended to be.   Remus is very good at pretending.   Maybe he's in the common room, waiting for us, poring over some deadly tome on the history of wizard architecture."

"Don't you want to feed foetor newts to Filch's cat, then lock him in the girls' dormitory?"

"Maybe tomorrow," Sirius said.

"But it's our last year, Padfoot, our last chance to have fun."

"Prongs, we've gotten up to enough no-good in the last six years to last us a lifetime."

"Now you sound like Remus."

"That's not always a bad thing.   Besides, Remus has clearly been off having a great deal of fun on his own with his new best mate."

"You know, sometimes when you talk about Remus I think that you're in....Forget it.   Let's just go to the common room.   We can do our homework and be very good boys."   He stared at Sirius, his eyebrows drawn and his mouth in a thin line.   Then he broke into a grin.   "At least until it's time for bed," he added with a wink.

Peter ducked his head into the room.   "Binns!   He's coming!   Or maybe it's Filch.   Or maybe Peeves up to his old tricks.  But someone or something is coming.   Let's go!"

They raced to the common room, scattering a group of sleepy first-years heading up to bed.   Sirius arrived first, but the room was empty, so he sat in an armchair near the fireplace while James threw himself in one nearby where he watched Sirius too intently.

Yawning, Peter plunked into a third armchair, kicking off his shoes and extending his toes toward the low-burning flames.   "Nice," he said, then glanced toward the common room window.   "Still a few weeks before the full moon, right?   It's not like Remus ate Lex and is too ashamed to face us ... Is it?"   He turned back, his face like a bruised apple, and chewed a fingernail, tiny quick bites like Lily and her celery.   "Should we talk to Dumbledore?"

"Dumbledore would just go on about Death Eaters and dark times coming," Sirius said.   "You know how he is these days."

"If only Filch hadn't confiscated the Marauder's Map."   Even James looked concerned, leaving the fire to pace before the other two.   "Maybe we should go looking for him ourselves.   Lex could've persuaded him to take a walk in the Forbidden Forest, and now they're both in the belly of some great scary beast."

"I wish you hadn't mentioned the Death Eaters, Sirius," Peter said.   "The very thought of them gives me the willies.   They say You-Know-Who isn't even human anymore, and that anyone who opposes him just disappears.   I shouldn't like to disappear."

Sirius warmed his hands in the fire.   "You two sound like old women.   Remus can take care of himself.   He's not stupid or weak, or he'd have spent much more time in detention with James and I rather than earning his prefect's badge.   Besides, this is Hogwarts.   Nothing bad can happen here."

"Right, Sirius," James said.   "You're not worried at all.  That's why you look toward the door with the regularity of a Muggle clock.   That's why we're still up and not in bed like everyone else."

"Shut up, Potter."

"Make me."   Stopping before Sirius, James took off his glasses, holding them against his thigh.   Then his mouth softened.   "Three long months, Padfoot.   Let's just go to bed."

For the first time since they'd entered the common room, the door swung open, and Remus walked through.   He moved carefully, his tie loosened, his hair mussed, and he smelled sweetly of mulled ale.

"Hi."  Remus smiled with too-red lips, so relaxed he seemed like a stranger.

"So much for the Death-Eater theory."   Peter leaned closer, sniffing the air.   "You've been drinking.   Remus has been drinking."

"Forget drinking," James said.   "He's drunk."

"I'm not drunk," Remus protested.   "I'm just ... happy.   And so what if I've had a drink or two?   You and Sirius spent the last week of term utterly pissed, snogging all over the place.   If I hadn't distracted Filch that one time you'd have been expelled for sure."

"We were all going to be apart."  James wiped his glasses on the hem of his robes before putting them back on.   "Sirius in his new place, the rest of us with our families.   Of course we were pissed:  months ahead with only letters to keep us going, and this the last year we'll be together.   That matters to some of us.   We--"

"Did you have a good time tonight?" Sirius asked,  casually reclining.

"Amazing.   You'd like Lex, Sirius.   He's smart and dead funny, and nothing scares him at all, not even the Shrieking Shack.    When we were in Hogsmeade, this big bloke came up to us, wanting to know why Lex is bald, being stupid and rude, and Lex just--"

"How did you get to Hogsmeade?"

"Come on, Sirius.   You know it's the fastest way."

"You took him through the tunnel?"   James, who'd moved to Sirius' side, took a step toward Remus.   "How could you?   That's our secret.   The four of us."

"Actually, it's my secret," Remus said.   "That tunnel was built for me, remember, so I'd have somewhere to run during the full moon."

"How could we forget when we spent three years learning to change into animals ourselves so we could run with you?   One summer, and you're ready to toss aside your oldest mates."   James shook his head in disgust.   "I'm going to bed.   Coming, Sirius?"

"I'm not tossing anyone aside.   The idea's laughable.   I'm surprised you and Sirius even noticed I was gone."

"You're the one who cuts himself off from us, not the other way around," James said, heading for the door.

"That's not fair."

Sirius got up, pausing beside Remus.   "Would you even have told us you were a werewolf if I hadn't found out?"   About to move on, he noticed a fresh telling bruise on Remus' throat.   While Remus froze, Sirius passed his thumb over the oval blue as Lex's eyes.    Warm, sticky skin, blood brought close to the surface by a sucking mouth.   "You let him kiss you, Moony?   You've known him for a few hours, and you let him kiss you?"

At first Remus said nothing, just stared down at the floor, then looked straight at Sirius.   "So what if I did?   You were ready to do a lot more with him.   You've been to bed with half the school.  You're in no position to judge me."

"That's different, and you know it."

"I'm going to bed."   Peter, forgotten in his corner, rose so abruptly from his chair that the wooden feet scraped against the tile, a high sound like a girl's shriek.   "Things will be better in the morning.   Like old times.   You'll see."   He didn't look at either of them as he hurried past.

Sirius' thumb was still on the warm bruise and Remus shook him off.   "You're just jealous, that's all."

"You're not the same anymore.   The summer changed you."    With his hand now in his pocket Sirius rubbed his index finger over the tip of his thumb.

"Because I'm finally having some fun?   Because for a few hours my life wasn't about you?   Some people might call that growing up, Sirius."

"Getting pissed and snogging a stranger don't qualify you for adulthood, Remus."

"Oh, you realise that?"

"Lex also taught you sarcasm, I see.   Quite the educational day.   I wonder what he has in store for the rest of term.   Today, love bites and sarcasm.  Tomorrow, blow jobs and irony.   Next week, sodomy and satire."

"So you're setting the curriculum?  I'll be sure to tell Lex as it all sounds good to me."   And Remus walked from the room.

Bits of grass clung to his trousers while his shoes left a muddy trail.   Sirius followed it up the stairs, wishing for a full moon so they could change and fight properly, the canine way with teeth, Remus howling beneath him, caught by the throat.   This fantasy sustained him while they prepared for bed, each brushing his teeth furiously, spitting water like blood, glaring balefully into mirrors.

By the time they finished, a tied race, Peter was snoring behind the drawn curtains of his bed, James still awake, watching quietly from his.  As Remus dropped face-up onto his mattress, Sirius mimicked his position, then reached for his wand on the bedside table.

"Luna Lumos," he said, and a moonlit sky bloomed above him on the canopy, lighting the space beneath, perfect as a lie could be.   He located the dog star, his namesake, which took him back to the previous summer, an evening picnic with the Potters, the four of them on a blanket staring up at the night.   James' mother had a ghostly wisp of a voice, and she told them the story of the boy who invented the stars:

Before the stars were invented, a wizard gave his godchild his very own sun, small enough to fit in his palm, bright enough to light a room, and warm enough that the boy was never cold.   He carried it with him everywhere, loving it the casual way boys do, but soon grew bored, thinning it like wool even when the warmth began to fade.   One night the boy tied an end to a tree, wandering through the wood until the forest glowed orange and the sun was stretched taut.   A sudden hiss, then the sun snapped, broke into a million pieces that catapulted into the sky.   The stars were beautiful, but so far away that for the rest of his life the boy was never warm again.

The day after she told this story, Mrs. Potter had asked Sirius to leave.

Tonight Sirius counted a dozen stars before James was there, pulling aside the covers to join him.   Like Sirius he wore only the bottoms of his pyjamas, and he'd left his glasses behind.   When he went to draw the bed curtains, Sirius grabbed his hand.

"What about him?" James jerked his head toward Remus, very still in the next bed.

"Remus doesn't care now that he has Lex for things like this.    Maybe he can learn something so he won't embarrass himself."

"Whatever you want."  James buried his face in Sirius' neck, his arms going around him, pressed tight.   "I missed you.  You should never have moved out.   I don't care what my parents thought."

Then James was kissing him, and after years of practice could make Sirius hard with only the slide of his toothpaste-cool tongue so that it almost didn't matter that Remus had kissed Lex.   Were there differences?   Did American boys kiss like English ones?   Had Remus stood there quietly letting it happen, or had he pushed Lex down into the grass and gone wolfish, taking charge?

"Yes," James said in a clear voice, "get hard for me."

James straddled him, knocking the covers to the floor, territorial in a new way.   Absence, audience, or both?   Sirius wasn't sure he cared and decided not to fight him, not even when James tugged off their bottoms, returning to the same position, because he liked equally the hard lines of James' body, Quidditch muscles in his arms and thighs, the nice-sized cock.   With James' hair grown over the summer, long as Sirius' but wavy, and an unconscious habit of licking his full lower lip, it was no surprise that Lily Evans stared at him whenever she thought no one would notice.   Sirius hoped that Remus was watching.

"I heard the new girls talking about you."  James still had Sirius trapped between those strong thighs, a hand on Sirius' hip.   "One said you were the most handsome boy she'd ever seen.   I wanted to tell her you're even better like this, nothing on, rumpled..."   He turned his head a fraction toward Remus, his voice a notch louder.   "The way you look before you fuck me."

Obscene and un-Jameslike, the words wrung a sound from Remus' corner, maybe just the groan of the springs as he moved, although he stayed on his back, white as the fake moon over James' shoulder.   James' teeth flashed, then he bent again to Sirius' mouth, rougher this time, pushing his tongue deeper.

It was too good, that kiss, too exciting, reminding him what kisses could be, like sex except closer, nowhere to hide.  This made Sirius a little mad, like Remus must feel when the moon was riding high, and he flipped James onto his back then crouched over him.   So right to sink his teeth into James' neck, to bite as James wrapped his legs around his waist.

He bit and sucked until the bruise was a certainty, then went after every corner and curve of James' body, shoulders and forearms, thighs and hips, even behind his knees, a ticklish spot that had James squirming.   James wasn't performing anymore, all moans and whimpers now, his neck permanently arched.

Sirius had a longer memory and targeted James' nipples just for the sounds it earned him; without Remus in the next bed, Sirius would be inside James already, his cock too hard and James too ready.   But Remus had to hear it all, how much James liked it, all of it, every brush of Sirius' tongue and fingers, and he reached down, stroking James, so big and hard in his hand.

"My name," he whispered in James' ear, biting the lobe for emphasis.   His chest slipped against James' gleaming wet one, his hand working faster.   "Say it, and I'll give you what I want."   One last flick of the wand, and they were ready, James slick and open, legs hooked around Sirius' waist.   "Say it."   With his cock pressed against him, Sirius felt like a god, one of the old Greek ones waiting for his tribute.

"Do it, you arrogant bastard."

Another whisper.   "Say it."   As he licked a stripe along James' taut bruised neck, Sirius pushed forward enough to increase the pressure, not enough to penetrate.

"Sirius.   You bastard.   Sirius, you...Oh.   Oh."

A smooth deep glide, so easy even after months apart, and in a few breaths they were seamless.   It made up for the summer, the stupid quiet lonely summer, to be this close to someone, living inside them, and he kissed James, who sucked his tongue, hungry as always, greedy about sex the way Peter was with food, the way Remus was with....No, he thought.   You're a god.   Don't think about Remus, stupid Remus who always knew surprising things, the smile he'd give when he knew he'd surprised you, those slightly long canines that marked his true nature--

"Sirius," James said, and pulled his hand from Sirius' back, reaching between them to stroke himself.

"You love it."

"Yes.   Bastard."

For a second Sirius wondered what James really thought, or if this was it, the simple truth.   Could anyone feel a single thing at once?   Hard to concentrate now with his own world narrowing to his cock, and when he tried to study James' face, see if anything else broke the surface, the rocking of his own hips distracted him, the heat, so tight, God, trapped inside James, who had his eyes squeezed shut, his head back like he was offering his throat for sacrifice.

His bruised throat.

Back where he started, and Sirius gave up, no more fighting, riding the rush, which was like running on all fours along the river at midnight and finding Remus.   Only when he looked over, finally broke and turned his head toward Remus, he found him gone.

Sirius came anyway, a flood inside James' clutching body, until he was empty as Remus' bed.



Sirius held his mother's ring to the light of a candle.

Hate was her favourite emotion, and like a pet, a fire-breathing dragon, it followed his mother everywhere.   She hated impurity more than anything, dirt inside and out, and white was her favourite colour.   As a boy Sirius asked her how blood could be dirty when it always ran red, and she struck him across the face.   When he asked if she'd thought of changing her name, cleaning it up, she'd struck him again, her long white fingers flying toward him, the red stone in her ring winking like a dragon's eye.

"You don't want to ruin something that valuable," Professor Farrago said, looming suddenly and disapprovingly when Sirius went to drop the ring in his cauldron.   As usual, he smelled of rum and peppermint creams.   "Not for a simple memory spell.   You're a good student, Mr. Black, but accidents happen, and lately you've been careless."

"It's fake," Siris lied, and the ring disappeared with a hiss into the cauldron.

Professor Farrago shook his head, freeing the grey puffs he'd brushed down so it looked like a storm gathered above him.   "Follow the spell carefully at least."   More cloudy shakes, then he moved to the next table, negotiating the cushy armchairs he'd conjured for the class.   "Careful, Miss Litvack, or you'll set the whole school ablaze..."

"I can't believe eye of newt is an actual ingredient."   Peter held one to the light to the torch light, clutching in his other hand a dusty Butterscotch Burst that had survived his first trip to Honeydukes only by rolling into the trunk at the foot of his bed.   "Looks less like an eye and more like a dried pea."   He sniffed it, then snorted violently when it nearly went up his nose.   "Smells like stewed lizard."   The eye disappeared into the orange potion bubbling in his cauldron.

James added a pinch of ground narwhal tusk to his pot before tossing in the toy telescope.   "Be great if this spell works.   That was the best Christmas ever.   Remember, Sirius?"

"How could I forget?"  The truth was Sirius could barely remember beyond a vague image of Christmas crackers in red and gold paper, an enormous tree heavy with ornaments, a dark crowded cloakroom.

"Blast."   A series of sparks and hisses rose from Peter's cauldron, and he yelped, stepping back.   "That wasn't supposed to happen.   I think I've left something out.   Prongs, help."

"Honestly, you're hopeless, Wormtail.   Let's start at the beginning, shall we?"   James picked up the spell book.   "Ingredients for the Parvus Memento Spell.   Crushed myosotis alpestris.   One eye of newt.   Pinch of ground narwhal tusk.  One object with positive associations--"

"I've got it!"  But this came from Remus a few tables away.

Beside him, Lex leaned close, brushing aside Remus' hair to whisper in his ear, and was rewarded with a laugh.

Professor Farrago halted his circuit, standing beneath a gold-framed portrait of Merlin and Arthur.   "Look to your own work, Mr. Luthor."

"I am," Lex said, in his stupid low American voice that made every word sound like he'd just woken after a night of debauchery.

"It's my fault, Professor Farrago."   Remus spoke slowly, reeling a bit from the spell until Lex grasped his arm.   "I asked him for help."

"I hope that's nobility and not fact, Mr. Lupin, since at this level you ought to be able to perform such a spell on your own.   It simply requires greater focus."

"I'm very focussed," Remus said.   "Focussed, and a little..."   His eyes closed, the lines of his face softening until he looked almost handsome.

"I meant on the spell, Mr. Lupin."

Lex put his hands on Remus' shoulder and helped him down with another indistinct whisper.

"Yes," Remus said, sprawling and so relaxed it seemed as though the knot holding him together had undone.   "Yes, I'd like that."

Then it was Lex's turn, the spell clearing his expression, smoothing away the arrogance, leaving him boyish and vulnerable.   Sirius was glad that Remus couldn't see him.

"Got it," James suddenly exclaimed, and reeled a bit on his feet, his face the colour of rice pudding.   "Whoa.   Packs a kick."

Professor Farrago faced him.   "Good work!   Now sit down, Mr. Potter.   As I told you all before, initially you might feel ill or drunk as the memory surges up, so you must take your seat at once and relax.   You'll be euphoric after as well."

James had dropped into his armchair, still pale, but now dreamy and smiling, his eyes half-closed behind his glasses.   "Padfoot, you have to try this.   It's brilliant."

"Yes, it's your turn, Mr. Black," Professor Farrago said.   "Nothing to be afraid of.   It's the past, after all, not the future."

Sirius repeated the final words of the spell, and as the last one hung in the air, the world tilted, Sirius' stomach following it, although the effect was more pleasure than pain, like riding a broomstick for the first time or drinking a pint of mead.   Sinking into the chair, he closed his eyes and held onto the armrests for balance.   Behind his lids colours swirled, shapes forming and unforming like he was looking through a kaleidoscope, until they began to steady, coalescing into a clear picture, an animated painting--

A pressure warm as a hug, then the past swallowed him whole.

Smoke tinged the air blue-grey, gave it a faint acrid smell under the rich spicy one of his mother's perfume.   Flowers right before they die.   People stared as they walk along the platform: his mother had long black hair and a face borrowed from some dead queen.   "Medea," she always said, because nothing about her, about any of the Blacks, existed outside of the family history, not even her beauty, which sometimes caused strangers to bump into posts or drop their parcels as she passed.

Sirius, who looked like her, would sometimes study his reflection in the mirror, wondering if anything about him was original or if he was simply recycled bones, skin and memory.

"Sickening stench of Mudbloods," she said loudly, pressing a handkerchief to her nose as they headed to the front of the train.  "I feel positively ill.   Why your father is allowing you to attend this school with these repulsive half- breeds, I'll never know.   Durmstrang places much greater emphasis on purity of blood..."

While she ranted on, an old speech he'd heard all summer, Sirius looked around at the other students.   A pale boy stood beside two equally pale adults, the most exhausted-looking boy Sirius had ever seen, with black smudges around his pale eyes and skin so white the morning light appeared to shine through him.   The woman clung to the man's arm, her face crumpled like old newspaper as he lectured the boy.

"You must be careful, Remus..."

 When he saw Sirius, Remus gave a wan smile that seemed to say, "Parents.   What a burden."

"Mudblood trash," Sirius' mother said with another sniff.   "Filth.   Don't you dare have anything to do with that miserable little boy, Sirius.   Or that one," she added, jerking her beautiful chin toward a second boy with wild dark hair and glasses, who walked between his parents, a thin red-haired woman and a man dressed in red and green, sometimes bursting ahead of them, then turning to wait as they caught up.

"James, slow down!   You're going to fall on the tracks, and your dad's never been able to repeat that levitating spell..."

Sirius' mother sighed like she'd been stabbed in the heart.   "Are there no pure-bloods here?   Look at him, that vile creature.   Should've been drowned at birth...No better than litter runts."   Her voice carried, the words clicking like train wheels, like the heels of her shiny black shoes, and everyone looked over again, no admiration this time, while Sirius felt his face go hot.

"Mum, give it up, can't you?"

"How dare you speak to me like that?  Really, Sirius, you're the most impossible boy.   I'm simply helping you distinguish the wheat from the chaff, a skill you'll thank me for later.  For now, you clearly need direction, and that's why I'm giving you this."   She stopped and pulled off her ring.   "My father gave me this; it's one of a dozen, and all the Pureblood families know what it means.   The stone in the centre?   It's the crystallised blood of Medea herself, terribly valuable in its own right, of course, but it has a special property: it dims whenever a mongrel is nearby, a warning to our kind to keep our distance.   Take it, Sirius."   She plucked up his hand, dropping the ring into his palm.   "Take it, and remember who you are."

The train whistle blew.

"I'm late," Sirius said, and dropped the ring in his pocket.   "I'd better board now, Mum."

Bending, she kissed the air beside his cheek with her perfect red lips.   "Don't do anything to shame the family," she said, and walked away.

A hole in the platform's roof had let in last night's rain, which formed a muddy puddle, and before heading onto the train Sirius deliberately toed it until a crust formed on his shiny black shoe.

The train was half-full, boys and girls milling about, others lounging on seats, peering into compartments.   His cousin Bellatrix, a miniature of his mother, had taken over the first  one, but trying to hurry past Sirius nearly tripped over a white rabbit, then over the whiter Persian that chased it.   His cousin Narcissa raced behind them, snapping, "You're a help," as she darted past.

"There you are, Sirius," Bellatrix called from the seat where she sat upright, her hands folded neatly in her lap.   "Come in before you catch something from the half-breeds."

Beside her, his hair leeched of colour just like the cat's, sat another cousin, Rodolphus Lestrange, who had a broom for a spine and a nose large enough to announce his presence.   "My father blames the headmaster for the glut of them.   If this weren't the best school, I'd be gone."

"Sit beside me, Sirius.   There's a good boy."

Bellatrix always spoke to him as though her words were a leash, and he eyed the corridor.   In the end, it was easier to give in, but rather than sitting upright and neat beside her, he loosened his strangling tie and sprawled, displaying his muddy shoe.

"Really, Sirius," Rodolphus  said, "you look a mess.   Anyone would think you were Muggle-born."

"No such luck."

Rodolphus ' mouth went tight, and he reached for his wand.   Sirius' future destiny as a toad was averted only by a hysterical hiss then a spectacular crash from the corridor.   Remus, the pale boy, was lying face down just outside their compartment.   Behind him Narcissa clutched her still-hissing cat, its tail tangling in her blonde hair, and next to her stood James, the wild-haired boy.

"That cat's a menace," he said, kneeling to help Remus.

"Only because your stupid Mudblood friend stepped on her tail."

Remus sat up, looking dazed.   There was a scrape across his left cheek and a rip in the knee of his trousers.   "I'm sorry," he said.   "I didn't see the cat."

"It's not your fault," James told him.   "That cat was on a tear.   Could've happened to anyone."

"Anyone who's clumsy and blind."

"Perhaps you should lend him your glasses, Four-Eyes."   Bellatrix sprang to her feet, putting her arm around Narcissa's shoulder.   "Then maybe your friend wouldn't be such a danger to everyone."

"Maybe if your friend had kept her stupid cat in a carrying box, none of this would've happened."

Rodolphus  took his place beside his cousins, his hand on his wand.   "You're the one who needs a carrying box, you and your Mudblood friend.   Or a leash, at the very least."   He turned to the girls.   "How about it?  Fancy seeing the two of them as rabbits?"

"Morgan would like that."   Narcissa stroked the cat's spiked fur.  "Though she'd have indigestion from Mudbloods.   Why not turn them into flies?   Then she can swat them to death."

"What do you say, Sirius?"  Bellatrix turned to him.   "Rabbits or flies?"

They were all staring at him now, and Sirius knew what he must do.   A quick laugh and a third funny suggestion; after all, they'd played this game before, every summer whenever a Muggle boy or girl strayed too close to the Black Circle, and the rules were written in their blood.

"Let's just go."   Remus tugged Peter's sleeve.   "They were here first, so it only seems fair."

"That's a good idea," Sirius said.   "Go.   Get out of here."

Rodolphus gave a death's head smile.   "Listen to him, you useless--"

"I was talking to you," Sirius told him.   "You, Bella and Narcissa.   Get out of here."   He pulled out his own wand.   "Unless you want to spend the new term as a three-legged rat.   Rabbits and flies are all very good, but think what Morgan would do with something she could actually catch."

"You wouldn't dare!"  Bellatrix narrowed her eyes, but took a step back into the corridor.   "You don't even know how."

"Maybe he doesn't, but I do."   James moved beside Sirius, his wand jutting.   "Sorex transfor--"

Remus joined them, his wand out and his eyes bright.   "You'd better go.   That cat has very sharp claws.  Trust me."

Just then a small boy bounded onto the train, his freckles blazing under hair soft and cropped as rat's skin.   "Just in time," he said.   Then, "What's going on?"   His pink nose quivered.

"Are you for us or against us?"   This from James, who never took his eyes from Sirius' cousins.

"Um..."   He eyed Narcissa, clearly admiring her china-doll prettiness, then jerked back when he saw Rodolphus ' glower.   "For you," he said quickly.   "Do I need my wand?  I'm not carrying it with me.   Too much stuff in my pockets.   Gran gave me chocolate for the trip, and tissues as I'm getting over a cold, and--"

"This is ridiculous."   Bellatrix stamped the perfectly-polished toe of one dragon-skin boot.   "You're all ridiculous and I'm not going to stand around fighting with Mudbloods and my idiot cousin over a compartment.   We'll simply find a better one and leave you stupid marauders here."

She flounced off, and after sticking out her tongue at him, Narcissa followed.   Only Rodolphus  remained, glaring at them.

"Four to one," Remus said calmly, a sky-coloured bruise forming on his cheek.   "Not very good odds."

Rodolphus  had gone very white and his lips looked sewn shut.   When he finally opened them, Sirius half-expected to see a billow of smoke.   But Rodolphus only snarled "Blood traitor" in Sirius' direction before stalking off.

"Useless git."  James tucked away his wand, and stuck out his hand.   "I'm James Potter, and you'll have to teach me that spell."

"I'm Sirius Black, and I was going to ask you the same thing."   He grinned, shook his hand vigorously, then dropped onto the seat beside him.

"My mum uses Sorex mousetraps in the attic.   I caught my finger in one when I was five."   James held up his index finger, revealing a thin white scar across the first joint.   "Never been grateful for that before.   Hurt like anything.   So, who are you two, besides survivors of the Great Mouse War?"

"I'm Remus Lupin, and you're both mad."   He took the opposite seat, then gingerly touched his cheek.   "Mad in a good way.   I was sure for a moment that I'd spend my first term at Hogwarts as a fly."

The fourth boy plunked down at Remus' side.  "I'm Peter Pettigrew, and I don't know what's going on, but that blond bloke looked pretty angry, like my gran when she doesn't have her tea on time."

"Decent of you to stick up for us," Remus said to Sirius.   "Though it means you've lost some friends for it.   They don't strike me as the forgiving kind."

"He doesn't need them."   James imitated Sirius' gesture, slouching in the seat with his legs extended.   "He's got us now."

"They're not friends, just cousins, so I'm stuck with them.   But you'd better watch out: they're not the forgiving kind."

James shrugged.   "Bugger them.   We'll stick together.   Knights of the Round Table."

"Marauding knights," Remus said.

"The Marauders!"  James clapped his hands.   "That's who we are."

A whistle sounded, then the train began to move.

"The Marauders," Peter repeated.   "I like the sound of that.   Like the three musketeers, only four, and without muskets."

"All for one, and one for all!"

When James pulled out his wand and leaned forward, the others did the same, except Peter, who used a bar of chocolate, and they touched the tips together, repeating the chant.

"All for one, and one for all!"

"Hogwarts won't know what hit it," James said, settling back.   "Now how about a piece of that chocolate?"



Sirius came to, still smiling, the taste of chocolate lingering on his tongue.   As the fog cleared, he saw that the classroom was empty except for Professor Farrago, who sat at his desk, a quill between his teeth as he pored over scrolls, and James, sprawled in the armchair at Sirius' side.   Sirius blinked a few times to make the room seem real.

"Welcome back," James said softly.   His cheeks were flushed, his hair wilder than usual.

"Where is everyone?"  Sirius yawned then gave a bone-cracking stretch.

"The Three Broomsticks.  Dumbledore dropped by and told us we could; apparently it's a tradition to go after the Parvus Memento class.   Said everyone was so ravenous after the spell that we'd overwork the elves.   He even gave us each some Floo powder to get home.   We're fine to walk in daylight, but he hinted yet again that things aren't safe out there."   He gave a stretch of his own.   "So, how do you feel?  I'm bloody marvelous, but hungry as Gandalf's dragon."

"Gandalf had a dragon?"

"Well, no, but if he had, it would've been hungry.   Facing the end of the world does that, I hear.   Now tell me how you feel."

"Fantastic.   You, though, James, you look like you've just been shagged."

"I was," James said, grinning.   "Best Christmas gift ever.   I can still feel you inside me.   Thought I'd need an Abluere spell when I came out of it--it was that real."   He jumped to his feet.   "Thanks for the great class, Professor Farrago."

"It's always a good class when no one sets me on fire," Professor Farrago replied, giving James a pointed look.

"How was I to know you weren't supposed to mix lizard tails with fervidus root?"

"By doing your homework, Mr. Potter."   But the old wizard's eyes twinkled.   "Go join your classmates, and try not to burn down the inn.   Madam Caupa might be getting on but she still serves the best mulled mead in England."

As they walked from the dungeon, James said, "Farrago has to be the only one alive who made it through One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, and look what happened to him."

"He's not so bad.   ‘Course, right now I love everyone.   They ought to bottle that spell and sell--"   He broke off as James reeled suddenly, backing him into the wall.

The stone was cold behind him, James warm in front, and Sirius leaned into him until their hips met, then the tips of their noses.   James angled his head first, going for the kiss with the same determination he went for the snitch on the Quidditch field.   Since James kissed like he played, passion first, technique second, high levels of both, Sirius held on and enjoyed the ride, the hot dart and swirl of James' tongue, the press and stroke of his hands, the tease and bump of his cock.   When footsteps sounded around the corner, forcing them apart, the game was nearly over.

"Probably for the best," James said breathlessly.   "I really am famished, and the others will be waiting.   Unless you want to stop upstairs for a quick shag...No, I need food.   Food, then shagging."

"You always need shagging," Sirius told him as they hurried toward the library.

"I'd happily shag you if you'd ever let me."

"In your dreams, Potter."

"Every other night," James said over his shoulder.   "Wow.   I'm really in the best mood.   Race you!"   He took off down the corridor, Sirius tearing after him, his whole body humming with every pounding step.

With his head start, James reached the library first, tapping his wand against the lock.   "Alohomora."   Nothing happened.   "Bugger.   The librarian must've caught some third-years with Sex and the Single Wizard again.   Remember her face when she caught us?"

"I think it was less the book than your attempt to demonstrate The Two-Handed Snake Charmer on me."

James snickered.   "You'd think she'd never seen a snake before.   Maybe I'll try that one on you later; it's been awhile.   Now, let's see.   No imagination, that woman, so I'll bet it's ‘Aromohola.'"   He repeated the reverse spell, again touching the lock.   When the door swung open, James added, "‘Snake' would've been my next guess.  Lumos."

They moved in the light of James' now-glowing wand through the forest of stacks, stopping in the Potions section to kiss in the shadows until James' stomach growled, then they dashed toward the Restricted Section.

"Easier when I could fit behind the statue in Gryffindor Tower.   Took  a layer of skin off my right shoulder the last time I tried.   Still, this is quicker, at least if I can find the book."   With his free hand, James ran his finger over the dusty spines.   "I know it's here since Moony and Lex went with the others.   Say, do you know what Moony used in his memory potion?   He was pretty closed-mouthed with me, has been all week."

"No," Sirius said shortly.   "I'm not bald or American enough to interest him these days."

"His loss.   You're much better than that hairless git.   Although that reminds me:  did you hear what he said to Rodolphus in Herbology?   Told him he had a Samson complex, that if he bothered Remus again, he'd go Delilah on his arse.   Said he didn't think bald would be a good look on him.   Rodolphus  went eight shades of purple, and started sputtering.   I've never seen anyone sputter before.   Wasn't pretty."

"Sounds like you admire him."

"I called him a hairless git, didn't I?   But, okay, maybe he's not all that bad.   Not many people stand up to Rodolphus.   The bloke's scary.   And Remus seems to like Lex all right, and Moony's too smart to throw himself after just any old--"

"There's the book."   Sirius yanked the worn copy of Illusions and Other Stumpers from the shelf.   He opened it to the first page, revealing the painted image of a blackened doorway framed with white columns, and placed it upright against the back wall.   Next, he knelt, tapped the picture once with his wand, a little harder than necessary, muttered "Expandere," then backed away.

The book seemed to hiccup, to cough, and finally to heave.   The image began to waver, trying to separate from the page, and succeeded with another cough.  Then it was as if someone were blowing up a balloon,  the picture expanding until it became three-dimensional.   In a minute the doorway reached its full size, smaller than a regular one, but easily entered by ducking.

"Success!   Onward to food and eventual shagging!"

Crouching, James went through, but Sirius hesitated.   The doorway looked like it led to black endless night, and though he'd never admit it to James, he always hated to step inside, fearful of being stuck forever in a dark void.   But the door was already fading so he leapt, his eyes shut, and landed with a thud on the tunnel's earth floor.   The door disappeared behind him where it would remain, invisible, until they returned the book to the shelf.

Ahead the tunnels spread before them like veins, narrow and scattered, and James turned right, using his wand as a torch, his shoes noiseless in the earth.

"What did Remus do?"

James glanced over at him.   "You mean after what Lex said in Herbology?   Not much.   You know Moony.   But they were both late for Transfigurations, and Remus had grass in his hair."


"Apparently Lex likes it outdoors.   Gives ‘woodsman' a whole new meaning."

Difficult to breathe down here, with the air thick and old, like being buried in the belly of a worm, and his head still swum from the Parvus spell.

James continued to speak of Remus and Lex as they walked, his waving hands casting writhing shadows across the low ceiling.  "--don't see the whole Lex thing, but I hear he's a wicked Quidditch player.   Maybe if I can pry him from Moony for  a minute, I--"

This time it was Sirius who pushed James against the wall, bringing down a powdery rain of dried earth.   The wand fell, lighting them from below, and he kissed James roughly.   When James reached up between them to pull off his glasses, Sirius busied himself with James' throat.   Too dark to see old bruises, but he pressed with his tongue until James gasped, and Sirius put his mouth right there to suck as he unfastened James' trousers, digging until he held James' cock.

No calls for food now, and Sirius ensured no more by pushing his tongue back into James' mouth, stroking him roughly with his hand, smiling against the kiss when James began to thrust and swell, the smooth skin filling until it was solid and wet-tipped.   He rubbed his thumb over the head while James sucked his tongue, untucking Sirius' shirt under his robes to run his cool hands over Sirius' back.

In the earthy quiet, Sirius swore that he could hear James' heart, a rapid throbbing that he felt under his fingers.   Too quiet, and he dropped to his knees, James' cock still in his hand, now a bare centimeter from his mouth.   "Do you want this?  Or are you still hungry?"

"Bugger food," James said, staring down.

When he tried to thrust, Sirius placed his free hand over James' hipbone.   "What do you want?"

"Your mouth."

The pleading note did the trick: Sirius gave it to him, taking James into his mouth, a slow wet penetration that stretched his jaw and pushed his fingers down the length until they rested against James' stomach.

James' hands came down, cupping the back of Sirius' head.  "That's it.   That's...perfect."

The light from the wand spotlighted James, with his half-open shirt and half-shut eyes, his red kissed mouth and mussed dark hair.   There was a smudge on his left cheek, dirt from the wall, and his throat looked tender.   He'd be perfect once the tension left him, the vision of debauchery.

Sirius set to work, sucking noisily the way James liked, meeting his gaze because he liked that, too.   No wonder he  always came back to James, who was not only loyal, a brilliant Quidditch player and a master of spells and mayhem, but gave perfectly-pitched responses.   Delicious little pleasure sounds, not like that git Lawrence Macnair, who'd squealed like a girl and had to be buggered with a hand over his mouth, or Stuart McKnight, who'd been so honored by a mutual wank that he'd spent the whole time saying, "Thanks, Sirius.  Thanks ever so," or, worst of all, Jack Mahler, who, in a rather disturbing impression of a corpse, had made no sounds at all.

James also had a beautiful body under his Hogwarts uniform, a long, thick cock that begged for sucking, and was really the best friend a bloke could want, honest, uncomplicated and a hell of a lot of fun.   Much more fun than Remus, who liked a book as much as a Quidditch match, who thought before he acted, mysterious thoughts he sometimes refused to share, and an annoying respect for authority.   He wasn't half as good-looking as James, either, too pale and thin, with bones too close to the surface, his nose a shade too long, shadowy eyes of an unremarkable blue.

He'd had a lucky escape, really, when Remus turned him down.   He was probably Jack Mahler all over again, a dead-boring lay, and Sirius redoubled his efforts with James, adjusting his rhythm which had turned sloppy, taking him deep before pulling back until just the very end of James' cock rested on his tongue.   A pause to admire the gloss, then he began again.

"Sirius," James said.   "That's so good."

He started to shake, fingers tightening in Sirius' hair, and when he wasn't speaking rumbled like a brewing storm.   The cave rumbled back, then Sirius did, an approving sound as his own cock grew harder, as James left bittersweet traces on his tongue.   When the air, cool before, started to cook around them, Sirius shook his hair from his eyes.

To take James deeper, Sirius reached around to cup the strong curve of his arse, squeezing his fingers into the flesh since he couldn't use his teeth.   He liked to bite James there, leaving red marks that faded too quickly, before filling him with his tongue; James never objected, just ground his cock into the mattress or Sirius' hand with this blind faith that Sirius knew best how to make him come.

Proof of this lay now in James' rigid thighs, the sudden rush of air as James moaned, the hot flurry on Sirius' tongue that he drank in quick gulps.   It invigorated him, a flow of energy, and when James finally stopped, sagging a little against the earth wall, Sirius rose and spun him around.   Easy with James so loose-limbed, although he raised his arms easily enough above his bowed head, and Sirius, trousers at mid-thigh, uttered a quick spell as he took himself in hand; with the other he gripped James  below the hip, pushing inside him with hot aching precision.

A smooth glide with James so relaxed, so smooth that the pleasure didn't strike until he pressed against James' back, resting his chin on one serge-covered shoulder.

"Good?" Sirius whispered.

"Always."   No edges at all in James' voice, pliant as the rest of him.

The willingness excited Sirius as always, the sleepy need, and he drew back, both hands on James' hips, then began to move, fast from the start, a series of slamming thrusts that sent reality rolling down the cave's dark corridor.   Clutching James, he came in a single swell, gasping in lungfuls of hot earthy air.

Sirius stayed with his cheek against the rough cloth of James' robes until he became soft enough to slip out, his semen dripping down James' thighs.

"And I thought I was hungry before," James said with a grin as he turned around.

When he bent to pick up the wand, about to utter the usual cleansing spell, Sirius stopped him, handing James some tissues from his pocket.   "Use these.   I want some to linger so you won't forget."

"As if I could.   You played a harder game than a Slytherin Bludger."   But he accepted them, patting himself down while Sirius adjusted his own clothes.   Afterward, he chucked the damp tissues, a white ball in the dirt, and fixed his uniform.   "So, do I look at least faintly respectable?"

"You look like you've been buggered by the entire Slytherin team."

James grinned again.   "Feels it, you self-satisfied git."

"You complaining?"

"After that masterful shag?  My only complaint's that my face isn't buried in a basket of fish and chips.   Now let's go before my legs give out or I drop dead from hunger."

When James took an exaggerated wobbly step forward, Sirius laughed.   "Idiot.  At that pace, we'll never get there.   Let's transform."

"Good idea.   Four legs are faster than two."

Magically slipping into his dog's skin was like slipping into James: the same sudden tight heat, the same mindless freedom.   Howling once for sheer joy, he began to run, loping through the cave's twisting passages, the thud of stag's hooves behind him.

It took no time to reach the stone staircase that wound up to the tiny Museum of Local Wizardry just down the road from the inn.   Human again, they mounted the stairs, greeted by a dwarf-sized door that swung outwards, hidden inside by a massive stone rumored to be part of the Giants' Ring that Uther Pendragon had taken from Mount Killaraus in Ireland.

Legend had it that if you rubbed three of the carved runes in quick succession, you'd bear a son, and Sirius had once caught James doing that.   ‘Come on,' James had said sheepishly.   ‘Who doesn't want a son?   A mini-Potter to carry on the Marauders' tradition of magical mischief-making?'  Sirius, though, hadn't bothered, with the future a long blurry stretch ahead.

Squeezing past the stone led them into a dusty corner of the museum, and James sneezed twice.   "Lucky for us this place is popular as Salazar Slytherin at an all-Gryffindor picnic."

On their way to the back door, they passed rows of cabinets all glowing with the blue light of a security spell.

"As though anyone would want to nick Morgan Le Fay's toenail clippings or Oberon's chest hair," Sirius said.

"I'd swipe a pair of Titania's knickers if they had them.  To keep me entertained on the nights you're otherwise occupied."

"Lily Evans might give you a pair of hers if you asked her nicely."

"Evans?   She's probably got spikes on hers.   At the very least a deflator spell."   James cringed, cupping himself protectively.   "Definitely a patch that reads: Potter-Free Zone."

"Not likely.   She fancies you.   I can tell."

"You're mad.   Not like she'd stand a chance, anyway, with you around."   James gave him a lopsided smile.   "You know, you almost sound jealous, Padfoot.   Be kind of nice if you were."

It was like James' smile had misaligned the space.   James had stopped moving, too, vigour gone as he stood in the blue light still as the stone from the Giants' Ring.   He looked wrong, years too young and old at the same time, and Sirius' stomach gave a queer lurch that he couldn't explain.

if only, he thought.   But if only what?   It was just that there were some things you could control, and some you couldn't, but he didn't know how to say this, or even exactly what it meant, knew only that he wanted the old James back, because James was his best friend.   He felt a surge of anger against Remus.   It was Remus' fault, really, that he was in this mess.   If only Remus hadn't turned him down; everything would be different, and James would be racing through the doors to see Lily Evans.

When the silence began to bloat, Sirius finally said, "Don't be an idiot."  Not a bark, just a soft mash of affection and frustration, but the remaining half of James' smile faded.

"Yeah," James said.   "I'm an idiot.   I've always been an idiot around you, Padfoot.   Don't think that will ever change, no matter what."

Sirius' stomach lurched again, and he looked around, anywhere but at James.   "Look.   Did you see this?"   He pointed to the large glossy handbill mounted on the back door.   "Look.   It's ridiculous."

A tiny wizard in shimmering red robes jogged across the paper, squeaking, "In honor of All Hallow's, The Museum of Local Wizardly is proud to Present Blood History:  Past, Present and Future.   Learn about our wizarding forefathers!   Hear a learned American professor discuss the latest in Muggle cloning technology!   Come one, come--"

Sirius laughed loudly, hoping James would do the same.   "Forget the Halloween dance at Hogwarts.   Let's come to this instead.   We could catch up on our sleep.  About Halloween--did you hear that it's costumes this time?"

There was another stretch of quiet, a desert of it, then James spoke, his voice prickly as a cactus.  "Costumes, yeah.   Lex's idea, I heard.   He suggested it to Dumbledore.   Brilliant idea."

"Right."  Sirius quickly unlocked the door and scrambled down the steps into the night, tripping on the last one so that he flew into the alley.

The cool autumn air had washed the look from James' face, and as they walked down the street James launched into a noisy and enthusiastic impersonation of Binns delivering a lecture on the sex lives of wizards past:   "While the great sorcerer Merlin was best know as the chief magician at King Arthur's court, most people are unaware that Merlin was rogering Arthur silly..."



They arrived laughing at The Three Broomsticks, opening the oak doors to a flood of noise and colour.   Wizards and witches in rainbow-hued robes squeezed into every smoke-blackened corner of the ancient inn, while the air was rich with the smell of burning logs, melting candles and sweet Butterbeer.

"At last!"  Peter cried from a cluster of tables beneath a latticed window where the seventh-years gathered.   "We thought maybe you'd met up with another Viscid or been caught with that Sex and the Single Wizard book again--"

"By McGonagall this time," Remus said.

"And she wanted to join in," Lily added.

James dragged over a couple of chairs, groaning, "Does everyone know about that?"

"Better McGonagall than Flitwick," Sirius said, settling in between James and Remus, ignoring Lex on Remus' other side.

Lily took a sip of her Butterbeer.   "I think Flitwick's adorable."

James, who'd been flagging the waitress, winked at her.  "For shagging purposes, Evans?   I picture him with a tiny wand topped with a star in place of the usual equipment."

"You've been picturing Flitwick, James?"  Remus winked.   "Watch out, Sirius.   Sounds like you've got competition."   He looked almost unbearably relaxed, his tie hanging unknotted around his neck, his face flushed and softened by a natural smile, although he never quite met Sirius' eyes.

"So what have you two been doing?   Because, James, you look positively indecent."   Peter studied him.   "What's that on your face?"

Lily dug in her pocket for a tissue and swiped it across James' muddy cheek.   "Honestly, Potter, you look like you've been wrestling a Norwegian Ridgeback.   Or been shagged by one."

"It was perfectly innocent," James said, passing Sirius a steaming flagon of Butterbeer before taking a long draught of his own.   "We were playing Arthur and Merlin."

"So that's what you're calling it these days," Lawrence Macnair called from the Slytherin table.   "Whatever happened to ‘Stuff the Sausage'?"

"Jealous, Macnair?   From what I hear, you're so happy with sausage that you cry like a girl.   Oh, here's my food.   Brilliant."   James' fish and chips had arrived, and he dug into them, ignoring the Slytherins, including Rodolphus Lestrange, who was helping Macnair compile a list of sexual synonyms.

"I'd like to think it's maturity that's stopping you, rather than a plate of chips, but I know better," Lily said, stealing one of his chips.

"Plenty of time to cover Beckwith with sobbing sausages later," James told her, his mouth full.   "I've been starved since the Parvus spell."

"Wasn't that fun?"  She snagged another chip.   "Farrago told me there's a section at the Ministry of Magic that deals with memory, and I'm thinking now of taking a position there when I'm done.   What about you, Potter?  What'll you do if they ever let you out of Hogwarts?"

"Work for Magical Law Enforcement.   Maybe be an Auror, and take care of Death Eaters.   Something exciting where I battle evil.   You could be an Auror with me, Sirius.   We'd be unstoppable."

"I'd have to throw half my relatives in Azkaban.   My mother would disown me," Sirius said.   "Well, if she hadn't already."

"What about the rest of you?   Remus?"

"Don't know.   Something quiet, where I don't have to deal with people all the time.   Writing, maybe."

A shadow passed over Remus' face, and Sirius knew that he was thinking of his secret.  "Peter, tell everyone what you want to do.   We could use a laugh."

Peter blushed.   "It's just that everyone else has their thing.   James has his sports, and Remus his books, and Sirius, well, he's Sirius, if you know what I mean.   They're all dead clever, too.   The only thing I'm really good at is, well, smelling.   It's my nose, you see.   All the Pettigrews have a strong sense of smell, so we're all great eaters, and--"

"He wants to be an elf," Sirius said.

"Sirius is just being funny.   It's just that there's this school, The Elfin School of Culinary Magic, where they teach the elves how to do cooking spells, and I'd like to go.  So I can open my own inn some day, but with extra-good food."

"But don't you need to be an elf to enrol?" Lily asked.

James, licking tartar sauce from his lips, said, "Peter already looks vaguely like an elf, so we figure that he could simply crouch a lot.   And we'd find a spell to give him the proper ears.   Sirius could manage it.   Look what he did to Rodolphus when he ratted him out to Filch about sneaking into his office.   The real elves would never know the difference."

"I know it's daft.  But it would make me happy," Peter said wistfully.  "The way the rest of you are."

"We still haven't heard from Lex."   Lily turned to him.   "What will you do when you're finished at Hogwarts?"

"Work with my father.   Work against my father.   It depends who wins the battle of wills."

"You'll win," Remus told him.   "You're one of the strongest people I've ever met."

"That's because he's a Pureblood," Rodolphus called out.   "All the Purebloods are strong."

"Except that I'm not a Pureblood.   My father tells everyone that we are, but it's a lie.   He paid a genealogist to trace our history back to a bastard son of Merlin and Vivien, but the truth is much less interesting: the oldest known Luthor was a Muggle thief who was hanged in a Scottish prison."

Rodolphus gaped like a confused fish.   "But there was an article in The Daily Prophet--"

"My father recently acquired shares in The Daily Prophet.   His only magical talent is to spin gold from a pile of shit."

"Should've figured that a hairless freak like you couldn't be a Pureblood--"

Before anyone could react, Remus was on his feet, his wand out.   "Applicare Tuberosum!"

Rodolphus' plate of chips began to quiver, then the chips flew up like yellow birds and attached themselves to his face.   Squawking like a large blond bird, he swatted at them, but only succeeded in breaking them in two, leaving exposed white centres like particularly large, nasty pimples.

"You blasted Mudblood!   You'll pay for that, Lupin!   My friends and I will blast your pasty arse to the moon!"

But the group of Slytherins was too slow: the others at Remus' table were already standing with him, a row of wands ready for action.

"I suggest you leave," Remus told Rodolphus.   "Before I add some fish to your chips."

"Wait till Dumbledore hears about this!   He'll have your sorry arses in a sling," Macnair snarled.

"Yes," Remus said, "I'm sure Dumbledore will be very happy with you for picking on the new boy, who, incidentally, is worth a thousand of each of you.    Dumbledore will love it so much he might add some tartar sauce while you rot in detention."

When the truth of this sunk in, Rodolphus and his friends slunk off, muttering, "Stupid poof," and "Mudblood filth."

"Remus to the rescue," James said approvingly, as they returned to their seats.   "Nicely-done."

"Thanks."   He turned to Lex.   "I know that you didn't need anyone saving you, but--"

"I didn't need it, but I appreciate it all the same.   It's not often that someone tries to save me."

The look that Lex gave Remus had Lily staring at the ceiling, whistling under her breath, while Peter blinked a few times, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, then took several swigs of Butterbeer.   Sirius, however, contemplated what Lex's head might look like adorning the wall.

"Most of the Purebloods are gits," Remus said.   "That's what Sirius is always telling us, and he should know.   I mean, because he's a Pureblood, not a git, at least not most of the time.   And you might not be able to tell, but he has a good sense of humour.   Oh, that reminds me.    Peter, you mentioned the Viscid episode.   Sirius, you have to tell Lex about that."

"I think we can skip that story."  James had gone the colour of Lily's hair.

Lex looked interested.   "What's a Viscid?"

"A Viscid," Sirius said, "since Remus asked for the story, is a type of gremlin that looks like a slug.   It's about the size of your thumb, pink in colour (see James' face for reference),  with tiny invisible legs, sticky ones like spiders--"

"Who thinks that Gryffindor will sweep the next Quidditch match?"   This from James, who kicked Sirius under the table.

"Ow!   Kick me again, Potter, and you'll be playing Merlin without a wand."

"I thought I was Arthur."

"Arthur, then, with a missing sceptre."

"You'll pay for this, Black."   James gnashed his teeth theatrically.

"Looking forward to it, Potter."   This was more like it, everyone having fun, getting along, being young and stupid, and he launched back into the story.   "So, this type of gremlin hates the cold, absolutely detests it.   They're not native to England, naturally; an exchange student accidentally brought this one in on his cat.   No one noticed because of the fur."

"Either that, or they thought this was one special cat," Remus said.

When Remus smiled at him, warmer than he'd been in days, Sirius felt like he'd just drank a pint of ale.  Two, even.   "Right.   So for whatever reason this Viscid decides that a cat's simply not good enough, and goes looking for a new host."

"I've never liked cats," James said.   "Evil hairy creatures."

"So there was a big Quidditch match, with Gryffindor trouncing Ravenclaw, who were brilliant that year, and James was carried off the field by his adoring fans.   When they finally let him go, our star player heads to our room for a shower, intending to meet up with us here afterward."

While Sirius took a breath, Remus continued the story.   "We're all gathered here, scarfing chips and Butterbeer, and no James.   We wait for ages, and still no James.   It's late by this time, and we've all had our fill of celebrating, so we head back to school--"

"And Remus, Peter and I find James in our room, sitting on his bed, a towel around his waist and his head in his hands."

"At first we think that something terrible's happened, but we'd passed Dumbledore on the way in and he'd have known--"

"So we start asking him what's wrong," Sirius said.

"All James can do is moan, ‘I've got two of them.   I've got two of them.'"   Remus, who'd been grinning all the way through, began to laugh outright.

"It wasn't funny," James insisted.   "Imagine if it had been you.  What would you have thought?   I'd never heard of a Viscid until then."

This only made Remus laugh harder.   "Homework," he gasped.  "Book.   On magical creatures."

"That book was deadly dull.   Besides, it's not like I expected to find a gremlin...where I did."

"Finish the story," Lily said.   "I'm enjoying the rainbow of reds James is turning.   He's like a human sunset."

"You've heard this story a million times, Evans," James told her.   "Are you some sort of sadist?   Are you all?"

"I enjoy watching you squirm," she replied, calmly sipping her Butterbeer.

"We all do," Sirius said.   "So there we are, gathered around James, trying to figure out what's wrong.   Peter is sure that someone has given James a Cleansweep 3, and he can't decide between that or his trusty Nimbus, while Remus thinks that James' lax academic ways have caught up with him and Binns has assigned him extra homework."

"It's bound to happen sooner or later.   He's been ridiculously lucky for someone who never studies."  Remus wiped his eyes, then repeated, "I've got two of them,'" and started laughing all over again.

"My guess is that James, who was completely ineffectual around girls--"

"Some things never change," Lily said, rolling her eyes.

"--now has two dates to the Halloween party, and is panicking."

"As if I'd have missed a celebration at The Three Broomsticks for any of those reasons," James scoffed, clearly trying to regain some dignity.   "Or skipped putting my clothes on."

Sirius ignored him.   "So we're all speaking at once, demanding to know what's going on, and James just keeps repeating, ‘I've got two of them.'   ‘Two of what?' Remus asks, and James says he can't tell.  Too embarrassing.   Remus reminds him that we're all friends, that we've stuck it out through thick and thin, and that whatever it is, he can tell us."

"And like an idiot, I believed him." James shook his head sadly.   "Now, if he'd told me the truth, that my idiot friends would tell this story to all and sundry, I would've kept the towel on, and no one would be the wiser, since I would've left school to live in a cave."

"You could've joined the circus," Lily said.   "The Muggles would've loved you."

"So James, somehow believing that his friends are actually sympathetic blokes, gets off the bed and lets his towel fall.   Peter shrieks, ‘He really does have two of them!' while Remus, who seems to be sensitive but is just as bad as the rest of us, starts laughing, not unlike he is now, except that time he was on the floor."

"Should've kicked him when I had the chance," James muttered into his Butterbeer.

"In all fairness," Remus said, "unlike the rest of you, I knew what the problem was, and that James wouldn't have to live life as a freak.   I was just laughing too hard to be of much help.   Seeing Sirius' horrified expression only made it worse."

"Well, it looked rather odd, to say the least.   I could hardly tell the real one from the gremlin--"

James pretended to throw his drink in Sirius' face.   "When you wake up tomorrow covered in warts the size of cabbages, remember tonight and that comment."

"Fine.   So there was a slight discrepancy in size and--"

James leapt to his feet, fumbling with his belt, then looked around, grinning.   "Think I'll get thrown out if I drop my trousers in my defence?"

"Given the massive difference in size," Sirius went on, giving him credit for pure showmanship and a little for truth,  "it was clear that something wasn't right."

"Not my finest hour," James said, seated again.   "Not only did I have two things, but Sirius had gone pale as Nearly Headless Nick, and kept saying, ‘By Merlin, James!  What have you done to yourself?' while Peter squawked and Remus wet himself with hysterics on the floor.   Is it any wonder I fled to the toilet and locked myself in?   It was either that or beat the three of them senseless, but being naked at the time, I chose flight."

"A wise move, with two things to protect," Lex added with mock-seriousness.   "So how long did it take for Remus to help you?   Because I'm assuming he did.   Or did you just learn to adapt?"

"Very funny, Luthor."   James grinned at him.   "Remus eventually managed to recover and convinced me to let him in.   He took a towel, warmed it by the fire, and persuaded the Viscid to change hosts.   Don't think it liked all the shouting, poking and squirming, so he wasn't that hard to coax off.   I wanted to toss the little bastard into the fire, but tender-hearted Mr. Lupin -- tender-hearted when it comes to horrible, pecker-imitating gremlins -- took it to Dumbledore, and they found a new home for it with Professor Belua.    He keeps it in his office under the heater.   As a pet.   I always cross my legs whenever I'm stuck in there for detention."

"Wise move," Lex told him.   "And now I know why Remus sometimes calls you ‘Prongs'.   He also told me about Peter and the arbour worm, so I know why he's ‘Wormtail'.   But he never explained why Sirius is called ‘Padfoot'.   He also refuses to tell me what his nickname is."

"Sirius' nickname is easy to explain," James said.   "You might've heard that he has a reputation for being..."

"A trollop," Peter said helpfully.   "That's what my gran used to call the barmaid at The Happy Sailor.   Of course, she was a girl, but Sirius is pretty as one...There's always ‘slut,' too--"

"‘Not entirely discriminating in his affections,'" Lily suggested.

James tapped his finger against his chin.   "How about ‘eager to share his bounty'?   So one night--"

"Enjoying your revenge, James?"

"Quite a lot, actually, Sirius.   Thanks for asking.   Anyway, Sirius often returned to the dormitory late at night, thinking he was being extremely stealthy when he was clomping around and generally making a nuisance of himself for those of us trying to sleep.   Remus, Peter and I are fed up by this point, so we hide Sirius' wand before he heads out one night for a bounty-sharing session with some nasty sixth-year--"

"He was very attractive.   Bit of a screamer, but very attractive."

"He was a wretched little toad.   Now let me tell the story.   While he was gone, we extinguished the torches in the tower so it was pitch black, then put a spell on the hallway leading into the dorm.   When he finally staggers back, completely knackered--"

"You weren't even there, Potter.   You're making half of this up, as usual."

"I saw you afterward, Black, and, trust me, you looked completely knackered."

"Have to go with James on this one, Sirius," Remus said.

"It was fear you saw.   If you'd ended up in--"

James clamped his hand over Sirius' mouth.   "You've had your turn.   It's mine now.   So Sirius says the password and thinks he's heading into our room.   Except that the spell has redirected him and he's actually heading into McGonagall's bedroom.   You know what she's like, right?"  James looked at Lex, who nodded, grinning.

Sirius feigned a bite at James' palm, who yanked his hand away.   "I'll tell the rest," Sirius said.   "Just to keep the facts straight.   There I was, innocently imagining that I was getting into my own bed, when there's this shriek fit to wake the dead, and terrible claws coming at me.   I leap to my feet, figuring that James has put Filch's cat under the sheets again, when a thousand torches begin blazing in the room, and I see McGonagall glaring at me, her hair standing on end, her wand out.   My mouth is hanging open, and I'm clutching myself, sure she's going to hit me with a permanent deflator spell before I'm out on my ear."

Remus was laughing again, and, really, there wasn't a better sound in the world, even if Lex still had his arm possessively draped across the back of Remus' chair.   "Tell us what she said.   That's the best part."

"She must've known from the look on my face that I wasn't there to ravish her--"

"The only reason you're still alive to tell the tale," Lily said.   It was common knowledge that McGonagall had made Lily cry last year, tore into her in that biting way for not applying herself, for "wasting your potential and behaving like a giggling schoolgirl."   McGonagall had shot a pointed look at James, and the whole Transfigurations class had suddenly become fascinated with the cross-beamed ceiling, the desks covered in runes left by students past, the spider with seven legs and a life preserved by the threat of bad luck that wandered over the flagged stone floor.

"I was ready to cry."  Sirius spoke from an unbidden sympathy for Lily.   "At first McGonagall just stares, steely-eyed and not unlike a Gorgon with her hair all snaky.   Then she gives her wand a flick and mutters a spell which makes my feet  go funny, but I'm scared to look down.   Another long stare before she says in that cool way of hers, ‘Mr. Black, I can only assume that you're here for help with your Transfigurations homework.   While I applaud your enthusiasm, accept this reminder for the next week that midnight visits are not encouraged here at Hogwarts.   Explain your punishment any way you wish, but if my name is mentioned in your story, this reminder will be permanent.'  "I look down," Sirius continued, "and the old girl has given me lion-sized paws in place of feet."

"You could hear him coming a mile off," James said.   "I thought it was a troll at first.   But in comes Sirius with these big paws instead of feet, cursing like mad.   He takes one look at me, shouts, ‘You miserable bastard!' and throws himself across the room.   Nearly strangled me on the spot."

"I tried to rescue you," Remus said.   "Honestly, I tried.   But--"

"Remus was laughing himself sick.   When he finally calmed down, he told me I had it coming -- did I mention that Remus' reputation for kindness is greatly exaggerated? -- then demanded to hear what McGonagall had said.   It put him on the floor every time."

"So did the thumping we heard every time you came near that entire week.   The sulking and cursing were also rather amusing," Remus added.   "Anyway, that's why we Sirius ‘Padfoot.'"

Lex was watching him in that quiet, intense way.   "Did you ever take your revenge, Sirius?"

"Who do you think put the Viscid in James' towel?"  Sirius's grin widened when James bit him on the shoulder, shaking his head like a dog, growling as Sirius pushed him off.

"What about Remus?   Did you ever get him back?"

"Sirius' entire life is revenge against me."  Remus' words didn't sound like a joke, and the table went quiet.

Pete gave a loud, jaw-cracking yawn, exposing pink gums and tiny teeth.   "Time to head back, I think.   It's late, and we've got Transfigurations first thing tomorrow."

"Good idea."   When Lily stood, all the seventh-years followed, swigging the last drops of Butterbeer.

There was a fireplace in an anteroom off the kitchen reserved for travel, and they lined up in single file, pulling out Dumbledore's silver packets of Floo powder.   Because it took James some time to find the second packet, which he'd stored in his sock, he and Sirius were the last two to go through.

James went first, saying, "See you on the other side," and Sirius followed, arriving with a series of quick sneezes in the entrance hall at Hogwarts.   The torches threw flashes of light over the suit of armour, bouncing it off the marble staircase and James' glasses.

"The others have already gone up.   You go up, too, while I pop over to the library and return the book to the shelf.   Try not to end up in McGonagall's bedroom this time, all right?   And wait up for me."

Something in James' tone brought back the spin in his stomach, and Sirius said, "I'm a bit tired," but James was already bounding off.   James should've been the dog, no the stag; he had all the qualities of one.   Besides, what did stags do?   They were ripped to pieces by dogs, just like in that old story about the witch Diana and the chewed- to-pieces-man-turned stag Acteon.   The world wasn't kind to stags.

Nothing stirred in the castle as he climbed the stairs; even the ghosts seemed to be sleeping.   After the McGonagall incident, at least once the spell wore off, Sirius had practised walking as quietly as possible, not even letting the air shift around him, and it was this quiet that allowed him to see the two locked figures at the entrance to Gryffindor Tower. Remus and Lex.   Kissing.   Suddenly he missed the lion paws.

Remus' passionate response, his arms tight around Lex's neck, killed Sirius' lurking hope that Remus was with Lex only to make him jealous.

He was on his knees, half-way to transforming, before he realized it, so struck with the desire to sink his teeth into Lex's neck and tear out his throat.   The sound of bone against the hard stone floor broke the two apart, and they turned toward him.

"Sirius...What are you doing?  Are you all right?"

"Just lost a button," he told Remus, rising to his feet.   "Sorry to interrupt."

"That's okay.   We were just saying goodnight.   Sort of.   I mean...Maybe not goodnight exactly..."

Lex, who'd been watching impassively, said, "Remus wants to invite me in.   You don't mind, do you?"

"Invite you in?   You mean for...?"

"Not for tea, if that's what you're thinking."   Lex had a thousand expressions reserved for him, all shades of sarcastic.  "Or is that what you and James have been doing?   Drinking a lot of tea?"

"Do what you like," Sirius said.

Lex flashed him look number seventy-five.  "I was planning to.   I only wanted want to make sure that you won't try to stop us."

"Why would I do that?"  He shrugged, putting his hands in his pockets to hide his balled fists.   "Remus can do what he likes.   He's put up with me and James often enough."

"I've put up with a lot," Remus said.   "But as long as you don't mind..."

"Not at all.   It's not like you and I...You know."   Remus' hesitation was catching, and Sirius' limbs felt stiff and awkward as his words.   "Whatever.   It's just shagging."

"For you."   Remus turned to the Painted Lady, who looked rather interested, and gave her the password.   "Let's go in then, Lex."

Sirius trailed after them, feeling like one of the castle ghosts, Nearly Headless Nick, who had nothing better to do than follow people and try to be part of their lives.   Inside the dormitory, Peter was already asleep, buried under a pile of blankets behind the bed curtains, though he'd left a torch burning.

Unsure what to do or where to look, hating every second of his indecision, Sirius sat on the edge of his bed to pull off his shoes.   Left, then right.   A bit sooty from the Floo travel; he'd have to clean them tomorrow--

"--can't wait."

He stole a look toward Remus' bed, saw Lex clutching a bed post as he slipped out of his own shoes, Remus already lying back against the pillows, his tie and robes lying on the chest at the foot of the bed, his shirt unbuttoned.

"Good night, Sirius," Lex said, and drew the curtains shut.

The last thing that Sirius heard was Remus reciting the silencing spell.

Sirius undressed, or must have, since he was now naked under the sheets.   His mouth even tingled, teeth brushed, but perhaps he used a spell.   The mattress had developed lumps, fists that pummelled his back and right calf, and he shifted, then shifted again, limbs straight, limbs splayed, on his back, his side, his stomach.   Nothing helped. The castle, always too cool, now felt too hot, almost electric, like a storm cloud had snuck in through a window.

What were they doing behind the curtain?   Friendly boy-stuff, the kind Sirius learned from a sixth-year Slytherin in an empty classroom?   Or more?   The possibilities were endless, each one more vivid and repulsive than the last.   Remus on his back, Lex with his face between Remus' thighs, his dull American tongue on Remus' cock.   Remus on his hands and knees, his eyes squeezed shut, growling like a wolf as Lex plunged into him.   The two of them naked, face to face, kissing and rubbing, Remus' eyes shining and open, all of him open for Lex.

It was like an illustrated book, pages turning in his head, faster and faster, and he shut it, punching his pillow for closure.   Just a crushed ego, that was all.   He touched his face, outlining his mouth, his cheekbones, his eyes, to see if they'd shifted over the summer, to see if being alone had somehow ruined him.

His fingers weren't enough, so he conjured light and a mirror above him.   The only difference lay in his expression, wild-eyed and desperate, a vision so horrifying that he erased the mirror at once.   Whatever was wrong with him wasn't new; Remus had sensed it before, had snuffled it out with his werewolf's nose for blood.

They'd been in the tunnel, just the two of them that full moon, with James laid up with a Quidditch injury and Peter playing nursemaid.

...Running, running hard on all fours, free and howling, blind black gloom.  Silver flash ahead, smell of hunger, red burn as the wolf turns to snap and growl.   Snarl back, then a race, a chase through mazing tunnels.   Caught once, twice, bites without blood, wolftaste.   Run, howl, bite, heart exploding.  Ebb, finally, air thinning, canter, walk, then fall, both of them, fur mixing in a corner, then mortal skin with the hidden dawn, tangled and yawning.   Kiss a little, blood-earth mouth, tongues, hands...

Then it ended.   Remus on his feet, Sirius' shoulder punch-bruised, the two of them staring at each other.

"Are you mad, Sirius?"  Disgust pinched every feature, and he walked away, back rigid, the werewolf tucked away.

The shameful worst part came when Remus turned it into a joke later before the four of them in the common room.   "You'll never believe what..."   And Sirius laughed it off, said, "You were the only one there."   Laughs all around, hardest from Remus, weakest from James, who complained that his bandaged foot ached and could they please shut the sodding hell up so he could heal in peace.

Now Remus was giving it away beside him, giving everything he'd hoarded to some arrogant, selfish twat, was probably shooting his precious werewolf spunk into the pretty, scarred mouth of that superior American bastard--

"Back at last," James said, slipping in beside him.   "Filch nearly nabbed me.   Had to hide behind a tapestry until he stopped nosing about."   He closed his fingers around Sirius' traitorous cock.  "Feels like you've started without me."

"Get on your hands and knees."   Pure Black voice, but the quiet from Remus' bed clanged like a bell.

"So that's how it's going to be."   But James stripped and did as Sirius commanded.

A quick spell, then he moved behind James and pushed inside him.  James gasped into the pillow, a satisfying sound, and Sirius went at him.   No finesse, no care, no control, just rutting, slamming into heat, his eyes screwed shut, his heartbeat erratic.   But the position was a mistake: the body could be anyone's, a stranger's smooth back and buttocks.   Remus'.   After all, wasn't Remus crouched like this in the next bed, Lex pounding into him, sweat gathering along his spine, clenching the big hot cock inside him?

Sirius grit his teeth and ground his hips, said, "Take that, take that, you want it so much."

He came furiously, and felt furious after, spent and unspent as he rolled onto his side.   "Get out," he told James.   "Leave.   I'm done."

"I'm not," James said, twisting onto his back.   "Give me a hand first, your Highness."

"Bugger off."

"What's going on?"  He crawled closer, throwing his arm around Sirius' waist.   "I come back, you shag me without mercy, and now you're--"

"I told you to--"

The curtains opened around Remus' bed.   The wrong side, so nothing to see, just hear as Lex said goodnight, Remus' voice low and warm in return.   Then Lex rounded the bed, perfectly dressed, his shoes on and his tie straight.   He looked straight ahead, didn't even glance back as he walked out the door.

"Well," James said.   "Now I understand."   He sat up, struggled into his pyjama bottoms, and went without another word to his own bed.

When he fell asleep, Sirius dreamed in black, silver and red, of wolves and dogs and a stag torn to pieces.

Go here for part 2.
Go here for part 3.

The Third.  (c) Thamiris, January 2004

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