Title: Of Scarves and Sentimentality

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Harry Potter, Marauder era

Rating: PG13 for winter snuggling action and romantic kisses

Warnings/Spoilers: Nothing too harmful except for some smarm and slash and book 3 secrets

Disclaimer: For goodness sakes, the Harry Potter world is certainly NOT mine! Nor are its characters or its revenues. I spend my free time dreaming up stories and spending my money on fanish pursuits

Summary: Seven years at Hogwarts means seven winter holidays and winter colds for Remus Lupin

Notes: There's a reference to my story 'Hunter's Moon' but you don't have to have read that to enjoy this. And I do hope everyone does enjoy this!

More Notes: Written for the Sneezefic Winter Celebration Challenge using bunnies #2, #3, #4, #5, #7, #13, #14, #15, #16, #20: Use the situations: too much cold and snow during a snowball fight, after much deliberating, one character gives another the perfect present,  character(s) celebrate(s) a holiday for the first time, one character finally works up the courage to tell one other something, winter blues; use all of the words: snowflakes, shy, music, quilt, "Too cold", icicles, hot cocoa, scarf, mittens, "Don't feel well", frozen, feverish, dreamy, fire, "Nice and toasty", temperature, covers, holiday, feast, "Take care of you", and write it to a length of 50 pages.

Feedback: I would love some :-)



Of Scarves and Sentimentality


Year 1


            "Then we all gather in the parlor to sing carols and the whole house is filled with music for hours on end. And every year my uncle Norman makes this eggnog but I haven't been old enough to drink it yet. Hopefully this year..." Peter raised a goblet in toast to that hope and gulped it down to seal the deal. "So what are you all doing for the holidays?"


            "We always just have a quiet evening at home in front of the fire, and exchange presents in the morning," James said, shrugging. "Nothing too exciting, I suppose. But at least I won't have to stay here over the break like some people."


            Sirius, mouth full of breakfast sausages, looked up and shrugged at his best friend. After a strong swallow, he was at least able to talk around the remaining food in his mouth. "I'd much rather stay here than go back home and have to pay for why I wasn't sorted into Gryffindor," Sirius said, and took a gulp of pumpkin juice to wash down the rest of his mouthful. "Actually, I'd be happy to do anything other than be subjected to Christmas back at Number 12. At least here I don't have swarms of hideous relatives buzzing around and being obnoxiously cruel." His gaze panned over to the Slytherin house table, then snapped back to his breakfast. His cousin was there, snogging that slimy seventh year, Lucius Malfoy, and he didn't need to see more of that during his holiday break. "I was never much into Christmas because of that. Never really saw the point. Besides, it'll be nice to have the run of the castle, not just being shoved into the shadows as a first year."


            James could find no way to argue with any of this, and let the topic slip as he finished up his porridge before it could grow cold. They had all learned not to bring up the subject of Sirius' relations if the wanted the mood to stay even remotely light. Mail came just then, as a welcome distraction. Owls and letters rained down upon them all, and most recipients, Remus included, opened them at once with eager expectancy. It was days before Christmas, yet, but sometimes cards came from distant relatives and it was difficult to resist the jingling of money inside the envelopes. "So how about you, Remus? Looking forward to going home for the holidays?"


            Remus Lupin sat, staring at the letter in his hand. His soft brown hair fell down over his face, hiding his eyes, his expression. His scarf came off one shoulder and slid down over his chest but he didn't move to push it back into place. He blinked repeatedly, long eyelashes fluttering back what James glimpsed as wetness. Then he shrugged and ripped his letter in half. "Not any more," he muttered. Then he stuffed the pieces of the letter into his half-eaten cereal and rose. "'Scuse me."


            James, Peter and Sirius watched as he walked across the great hall to the staff table. He had to stand on his toes just to be seen over the end of the table, but he struggled to get a good look up at Professor McGonagal. He spoke, and she nodded, and then looked warily over at Madam Pomfrey, the school nurse. Madam Pomfrey stood and leaned over the table to touch her hand upon Remus' forehead. She frowned and shooed him out the door, and he went straight away, head bowed so no one could read his expression this time either.


            "What do you reckon's wrong with him?" James asked, successfully sneaking a snack cake into his bag.


            Sirius, who cared nothing for privacy and helped himself to a spoonful of the rejected cereal in the process, snatched a few pieces of the letter and tried to read and reassemble. "I can't quite make it out," he said, squinting at one piece, then turning it over and squinting harder. "But my guess would be that I'm going to have company during break."


            "You think? But Remus is always going home for one thing or another," Peter said. The others shrugged, not knowing what to say, and quickly changed the subject to New Year's resolutions they intended to make but never keep.


            Remus didn't turn up for either of his morning classes, and James skipped upstairs during lunch to find him curled up and sleeping in a nest of blankets he'd made in front of the fire. James was hesitant to wake the boy, as he knew how frequently Remus was ill and how much Remus needed his sleep. But the fire crackled and popped loudly for him, and Remus stirred with a very showy stretch. "Must have dozed off," he muttered, looking up at James with a rather dazed expression. "What's going on? Why're you here? I didn't sleep all day, did I?"


            "Nah, it's only lunchtime," James answered. Dazed, and hurt. Or possibly sick. Remus' eyes were bright, watery, sunken. His face was pale but his robes seemed soaked through with sweat. "You all right?" he asked, concerned. Remus nodded rather unconvincingly, and sniffled. "You, ah, want my hanky or something?"


            Shaking his head, Remus dragged a hand under his nose. "Nah, I'm just not feeling so good. And I'm kinda depressed on top of that. I was looking forward to going home for the break."


            There was silence, in which James nodded and Remus rubbed his nose and eyes with the end of his Gryffindor scarf. He was only a first year, but in a few months already the scarf was beginning to show signs of wear as the knit was stretched into holes here and there. James spoke up after a while, "It's your Mom, isn't it? I know you were just home to see her," James rambled onwards, "But they don't want you home because you've got a cold and they don't want that to make her health condition worse, right? They think it'll be better if you just stay here?" Somewhere in the middle of all the ramblings, James reached out to take Remus' hand and squeeze it, and Remus let him do so.


            Remus hung his head again, chin digging into his scarf, bangs obscuring his eyes. "Something like that," Remus whispered back.


            "Well, you just get some rest and get better," said James, giving the hand a squeeze, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, and moving the blankets around a little so they covered parts of Remus. Remus nodded and lay back down in the mess of blankets, snuggling into them and holding the end of his scarf to his face so it brushed against his cheek, hugged like a security blanket. On his way out, James called over his shoulder, "And at least you won't be here alone."


            Remus disappeared to hospital before any of them returned for classes that afternoon. And though Peter and James stopped by to say goodbye before they left, Madam Pomfrey would not let them in to see Remus. Apparently the boy wanted to be left alone in his sickness and misery.


            He was back in the dormitory when Sirius woke the next morning, however. Sirius pulled back the hangings of his bed to find that Peter and James had left with their trunks already, and that Remus was indeed still there. The brown-haired boy sat at his desk, buried beneath books and ledgers and enough parchment to wrap a mummy sufficiently. As it was the holidays, he wasn't wearing his school robes and instead sported a thick sweater and corduroys. However, he still had his scarf in house colors wrapped around his neck and lower part of his face. Quietly, he sniffled and snuffled into it as he worked. "Oy, Remus," Sirius said, half in a yawn, but still managing to surprise Remus. "It's the holidays, you're not supposed to be working."


            Remus looked up, his eyes watery, his nose peeking out from beneath the scarf to show its redness. "I, er..." He dragged a wrist over his face, then rubbed the end of his scarf at his eyes and nose to greater result. But then, as he tried to work out what to say, his breath hitched and he covered his nose with his hand. "ihkshmmm! Hih-ihketchmmm!" he sneezed, the sound partially muffled. He sniffled wetly, then dissolved into tears, crossing his arms on the desk and burying his head in them as he shook with sobs.


            "Hey," Sirius said, getting up and crossing the room. "It's my first time celebrating Christmas away from home, too, you know. We can celebrate together." He sat down on the desk, on top of Remus' work and stroked his head softly.


            "Won't be the same," snuffled Remus, too ashamed of his stream of tears to look up. "Christmas at my house is the best part of the year." It was the time of year where relatives came and his mother prepared a feast and for once no one looked at him for being strange. They all saw him as a little boy who got presents, the same as any other little boy. And now that he was older, he was being told to stay at school because it was simply easier to coordinate, what with the safety measures placed in Hogwarts.


            Sirius, on the other hand, had never had anything half as happy or jolly as all that. He couldn't much remember having a real Christmas, or enjoying it for that matter. He was sure as a young boy he must have... but everything since had somehow blocked those times from memory. Christmas at Hogwarts wouldn't be the same, that was for sure. It would be a real Christmas, for one thing, and Sirius was much looking forward to it. "I know it won't be exactly like Christmas at home... I know you're not feeling so hot... and I know you're homesick... but it can still be fun. I promise."


            Sirius' hand on his head, Remus lifted it and looked up, tears staining his face, his scarf darker in parts for the wetness. Sirius hopped down and returned in moments with a handkerchief. He forced it over, and made sure Remus blew his nose thoroughly before another word could be said.


            In truth, Sirius turned out to be right. The winter feast, while it was nothing at all like the Halloween one, was nonetheless marvelous. Roasted duck, perfectly mashed potatoes, sautéed vegetables, hams and turkeys, hot rolls, and sauces and jams of every kind. And just like Remus' home, there were Christmas trees covered in lights and ornaments so that they twinkled merrily. Some were magical, so that when you passed by, presents would appear beneath them. Nothing horribly large, usually crackers or candy, but special nonetheless because they were for the passersby especially. By the end of the season, Remus had more books and more chocolate than he knew what to do with. And Sirius seems to have the entire sampling of the Hogsmede joke shop and more Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans than anyone could count. And on Christmas morning itself, the space beneath tree in the common room was overflowing with presents of all sorts.


            "Go od," a stuffed-up Remus said, motioning to the snake-encrusted pocket watch Sirius' parents had sent him. "Chuck it idto the fire."


            Sirius hesitated a moment, turning the ugly thing over and over in his hand. Then he closed his eyes and tossed it in. A blinding flash of green met their eyes, and a thick cloud of ash caught in their throats. Sirius had the sense to grab Remus' arm and pull him back to a window, throwing it open so that the smoke could leave and they could gulp down some fresh air. He patted Remus on the back until they had both stopped coughing. "S-sorry," Sirius said, once he'd regained his breath.


            "'Sallright," Remus replied, leaning on the stone windowsill with his head out in the fresh air. "I told you sniff, sniff, to do it." He rubbed the back of his wrist against his nose with a strong sniffle, and pulled his head back in. "The cold air is..." his voice died and he rubbed desperately at his nose. The sneezes struck anyway, and he covered his mouth and nose with his scarf, turning away from Sirius in embarrassment. "ihhkchmmm! Hihkshummm! tchhmphh!"


            Sirius patted Remus on the back, gently as he snuffled and wheezed. Remus turned his head, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes again. "I ab glad you stayed here for the holidays, Sirius."


            Sirius laughed, finishing the series of pats with a strong, reassuring one. "What, you're glad I'm here to keep you from studying and to fill the common room up with smoke?"


            Remus nodded, turned, and laid his head upon Sirius' shoulder. "I'b just glad you're here at all. Sniff! It's beed better stayig here, sniff, sniff, durig break, sniff, thad I'd thought it'd... be... oh doe... dod agaid..." He pulled away, cupping both hands to his nose and mouth. "hihChuhhh! ihhhKshhhh! ihhKshahhh! ehhCheww!" The sneezes were overpowering, and Remus found himself leaning against the wall just to remain standing.


            Sirius took a hold of him by the shoulders and directed him towards the stairway which led to the boys' dormitories. "I think that's enough excitement for you this morning," Sirius decided. "You go climb under the covers and I'll go collect the rest of our presents. We can finish opening them up there." It was starting to grow cold in the common room with the window open, anyway, though tough Sirius wouldn't exactly admit to it.


            Remus nodded in agreement and started up the stairs, coughing and sniffling in congestion as he went. "Oy, and Remus?" called Sirius. Remus looked back, eyes starting to squint, jaw starting to go slack. Another sneeze was shortly on its way. He made a point of looking attentive to hear what Sirius had to say, however. "I'm really glad you stayed here for the break as well."


            Remus nodded and held his hand to his nose to cover the sneezes. "ihhChushh! IhhKshhhh! Sniff!" He sniffed a few more times, and tried to answer before he forgot Sirius' sentiment entirely. "What, sniff, with be coughig add... add sdeezig... ihhChufchhhh! Sniff! all the tibe?" he replied, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand.


            "I'm just glad you're here at all," Sirius said, echoing Remus' explanation. Sirius' smile lit his whole face, and Remus was glad that he had a good excuse like being sick to explain the sudden flush that had gone to his cheeks. "It wouldn't have been half as much fun without you."




Year 2


            Remus sat, stoking the fire, pushing logs around with the poker, watching the flames dance and flicker from his touch. The Gryffindor common room was dark and deserted, which was the way he liked it best. And though he had his choice of seats, he instead sat on the floor so he could be close to the fire. Like this, wrapped in a blanket, scarf around his neck, warmth from the fire filling his body, he could almost forget it was winter again. "ihhChufff!" Almost. He sniffed hard and breathed out with a bit of a moan. Another winter, another head cold. It was inescapable. And annoying. And depressing.


            He blamed it on the full moon, of course. Every month he transformed, his body crying out in pain one way, then the other, and in between were an assortment of scratches, bruises, bites, and cuts. Ten or eleven times out of twelve, he was weakened, but relied on his inner strength to help him recover. There were no potions he could be given to make magical injuries like his go away quickly. But coupled with the cold of the season, the length of the nights suffering, and the millions of viruses hanging about inside, the other one or two times a year he was inevitably weakened so much that he couldn't fight anything properly. "ehhhCheshhh! ihhhChahhhh!" Which was why he always came down with something that seemed virtually unshakable in the wintertime.


            The portrait creaked open and heavy footsteps came forward. They stomped on the stone floor, shaking off the snow. A cloak and scarf were tossed onto the back of an armchair and the footsteps crossed the room quickly to the staircase. Remus cowered closer to the fire, a tickle in his nose rose but was soothed by the warmth. He knew who it was by their scent and the sound of their footsteps, but didn't want to be bothered just now. He'd spent days slipping slowly into a proper, normal winter depression and he didn't need Sirius Black taking a few seconds with a joke and a smile to pull him back out of it. Remus pulled the blanket closer around himself and loosened his scarf in order to rub it against his cheek for comfort. Then he began counting the thumps that meant Sirius was climbing the stairs. One, two, three, four, five... Remus felt he had to sniffle, but muffled the sound in his scarf so he couldn't be heard. His nose ran, unchecked, as he continued to count. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven... The footsteps were growing softer, the further away they went. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen... And Remus' nose was really starting to tickle now. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen... Just eight more and the closing of the door and Remus would be able to sneeze unheard. Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two- "ihhhShuhhhh! ihhkShmphh!" He managed to smother one sneeze into the scarf, but as the footsteps stopped after the first Remus knew it was no good. So close, but not close enough.


            Twenty-one, twenty, nineteen, and all the way back down to one and back across the common room. "I didn't see you there behind these chairs. Whatcha doing, Mate? Hiding from us?" Sirius leaned on the back of an armchair, peering over at Remus by the fire.


            Remus shrugged and rubbed his nose in the thick, soft knitting of his scarf. There were more holes in it, this year. And while it hadn't had its beautiful new look for some time now, it was starting to match his other patched and hole-ridden clothes now. "I thought you probably wouldn't mind if I hid from you. After all... well..."


            Sirius gave a soft chuckle, hanging his head. "Aw, Remus, what are we going to do with you?" He pushed off from the back of the chair and went to settle on the floor beside Remus, hair dripping from being out in the snow, his shoes rather soaked through in places as well. He stretched his legs out in front of the fire, the snowflakes melting quickly in the warmth of it all. He kicked his shoes off and wiggled his toes at the flames. He looked over at Remus, seeing the solemn, sad expression on his face.


            Then, taking Remus quite off guard, he put his arm around his friend and brought him close for a rough hug. "Look, Mate, we told you that we're all right with it."


            Sniffling, Remus rubbed his nose into his shoulder. "I know you all said that but..."


            "We mean it. You're the same person you always were to us... you just don't have to lie to us every month now is all." He gave Remus' shoulders a tight squeeze.


            Remus shrugged and sniffled. "You... and James and Peter... I didn't want to tell you because I thought I'd lose you as friends. I just wasn't prepared that you might actually be all right with it." He fingered the end of his scarf out of habit, looking down at it in his lap.


            "Well, unless you have some overwhelming desire to bite us, I don't think that we have any problems with it. Besides, I'd say that as your friends you'd be less likely to bite us, so we're even safer, huh?"


            Sirius' smile was like magic. It made Remus even warmer than the fire, and forced a smile onto his face as well. "Damn you, Sirius." He fought that happy feeling bubbling in his chest and frowned again, taking his eyes off Sirius and returning them to the gently dancing fire. Its oranges, yellows, and golds were calming, and reminded him of the thoughts that had brought him down all day. He hated the winter. He hated getting sick. He hated being a lonely werewolf. He hated being different.


            "What? You wanted to sit here all day and feel sorry for yourself? Is that why you wouldn't come out and play in our snowball fight?"


            "Partly," Remus replied. This conversation alone had been reason enough to avoid his friends. It had been hard enough when they told him just before break that they'd figured it out, but all three of them insisting upon staying at Hogwarts to keep him company after his parents had written again to say that he'd be safer staying there... he didn't need them hovering over him and spending the whole break looking at him differently. Especially not when he was already sick and tired.


            "ihhh...hihketchhh! Sniff! Snifffff! Uh, sniff, but James was right, too. I really don't feel so hot." He wiped his nose with the end of his scarf, sniffling miserably. The sniffing tickled his nose, so that the urge to sneeze that rested in the back built again suddenly. "heh... hehIhkshhhh! hihKshuhhh! ihhhshahhh!" He sniffled and rubbed the back of his wrist against his nose.


            Sirius put his hand up to Remus' forehead. "I think you're running a temperature."


            "Everyone's got a temperature," Remus scowled. With a snort, Remus reached up and flipped Sirius' hand over so that the back of his hand, not the palm, touched his forehead. "Besides, if you're going to do it, do it properly."


            Sirius nodded. "Oh, yeah," he said, quickly making a mental note. "Well, you're not that warm then. Although my hand's still cold from being out in the snow." He pulled his hand back. "It's just a cold, maybe? Come to think of it, didn't you have a cold last Christmas, too?"


            Remus shrugged, feeling a fresh wave of depression overpower him. He had the sneezes and stuffiness to remind him that he wasn't strong enough to shake it, he didn't need Sirius bringing it up, too. "I always come down with something this time of year. Kind of like a second curse in a way." He shivered and pulled the blanket closer around himself, tucking his arms underneath this time as well.


            "Well, you should have come out and played anyway. It might have made you feel better. Or at least taken your mind off things for a little while," Sirius suggested. "You never know."


            "As though I could get my mind off feeling sick while I'm outside cold and wet and sneezing?" Remus replied, rubbing the back of his wrist against his nose. Then he did so with the back of his hand, and then with the scarf. His nose had decided to switch again from tickling to running. Remus groaned inwardly. "I just didn't think getting pelted by your snowballs would be all that much fun."


            "Well, that's where you're wrong," said Sirius with one of his most charming smiles. "Because at least you'd be out there with us. With your friends. I mean, you're not having much fun sitting here and feeling sorry for yourself either, are you?" Remus shrugged again. "Are you?" Remus didn't answer. "Huh? Are you? I can't hear you." Still there was silence. Sirius' smile turned into a grin, and he started poking Remus through the blanket. "Are you? Are you still depressed even with me here?" He poked some more, moving from side to stomach to shoulder so Remus couldn't swat him away easily. "Huh, huh? You're not so horribly depressed after all, are you? Huh?"


            Despite himself, Remus hung his head and smiled. "No I'm not." He tried to force the smile off his face again by looking back into the fire.


            "Yeah, I saw that smile. You can't fool me." His pokes turned to light tickles. "You don't really want to be depressed, do you? Not deep down." Remus pushed Sirius' hand away, the tickles making him smile again but he did his best not to laugh. "Oh no, it's not that easy. It's Christmas-time. I'm not going to let you go back to being depressed." And he jumped onto Remus, throwing off the blanket, tickling mercilessly.


            Remus burst into laughter, trying to protest and fight, but feeling too weak. He'd seen Sirius and James go at it a number of times, wrestling and fighting and laughing, and knew what to do. He managed to slip his hand under Sirius' shirt tickle his side. Sirius immediately pulled back, doubling over with laughter. "I give! You win! You win!" he shouted through his laughter, looking down to see Remus smiling a smile that would surely remain there for some time.


            "You let me win because I was sick," Remus said, pulling himself out from beneath what parts of Sirius still were on him. He sat back up, coughing to clear his throat and shivering. Sirius recovered the blanket but Remus snapped forward with another sneeze "hih-Ehshhahh!" before Sirius could wrap the blanket around his shoulders. He sat back up with another shiver and took the blanket from Sirius. But he couldn't quite put it around himself properly. His arms felt weak and his head hurt from so much laughing and struggling and sneezing on top of that. So he handed it back, swaying slightly as Sirius wrapped it and an arm around him.


            "Maybe," he said, sitting close again so Remus could lean on him. "But it was worth sacrificing a little of my honor to see you smile like that, even if you are still sick and depressed."


            Remus stared into the fire again, at the dancing gold flames. But this time he couldn't remember why he was so down. So what if they figured out he was a werewolf? It wasn't really any different now that they knew. So what if he had another little head cold? If it meant sitting by a warm fire with a friend to keep him company, he could handle that. So what if his parents thought it would be easier for him to spend the holidays at Hogwarts? It had been rather fun last year, and now all three of his friends were there to share in the festivities. Resting his head on Sirius' shoulder, Remus whispered, "Not depressed any more."




Year 3


            "No... come on guys... I said I don't want to!" Remus protested. James had a tight hold of one hand, pulling him forward. Peter was behind him, pushing on his back to force him to walk. And Sirius grabbed the end of his scarf and tugged it to make him go.


            "But it's a tradition!" Peter said, nudging Remus to start down the narrow back staircase. "Traditions are important this time of year. Just like the music in my house on Christmas Eve--"


            "Or your uncle's eggnog?" Sirius asked, walking backwards down the stairs so he could stick his tongue out at Peter. "You're still too young to drink it, aren't you?"


            Peter made an equally rude face back. "Doesn't matter since I'm not home this year."


            James interrupted, "Oh, quit it, you two! Some of us are trying to have fun here."


            "I'm not!" said Remus, trying to pull away, but he was trapped on the thin staircase with friends in front and behind. "I don't want to go out and have a snowball fight! I really do want to stay inside and catch up on my homework. All these new classes..."


            Sirius shook his head. "It'll be good for you to go outside. There's cool, fresh air out there. You'll get sick if you stay inside so much."


            "So I'm supposed to go outside in the snow and the cold? I'll get sick if I go out, too!" Remus laughed. "My first even remotely healthy winter in I don't know how long and I don't want to risk coming down with something now." He tried again to pull free, and failed abysmally.


            "Come on, Remus! Live a little, take a risk for once in your life and have fun!" Sirius' eyes were dancing happily, but Remus still looked quite doubtful. With his free hand, and grinning madly as only Sirius could do, Sirius drew a cross over his heart. "You won't, but I promise, if you catch cold I'll wait on you hand and foot."


            The shock of these words made Peter, James and Remus stop in a dead stand-still. Sirius nearly tumbled down several stairs from the abrupt stop. "What'd I say?" Apparently, Sirius didn't show this side of himself as much as he thought he did. "Well, I'm trying anything to get the bloke out," Sirius said to James and Peter. "And if that's not a proper, convincing argument I'd like to see you lads try."


            Smiling, Remus bent his head so that his bangs hid his eyes again. But Sirius, a few steps down from him, could see them clearly and knew Remus would raise no further objections. "Well, come on then. We haven't got all--"


            And there he stopped for when he took a step back, his foot just caught the edge of the step below. He fell backwards and tumbled down the stairs. Luckily they were far enough down already that he didn't have far to fall, but he came to a rest at the base of the stairs by banging against a suit of armor. The empty knight's sword fell dangerously but Sirius, with lightning reflexes that came from practicing Quidditch often with James, pulled himself out of harm's way. As the sword fell, a section of the wall slid open to reveal a hidden passageway. Shocked again, the others scampered and skidded down the stairs to Sirius, shouting in concern.


            "Are you all right?"


            "Where does it hurt?"


            "Are you injured badly?"


            "Can you remember your name?"


            Sirius blinked and reached up, rubbing the back of his neck. "My name? Peter, I fell down a few stairs, I don't have amnesia."


            James, sitting down on the floor and putting an arm around Sirius, looked him over critically. Everything seemed to be in the right place, however. "All right then, prove it. What's your name?"


            Sirius sighed. "My name is Sirius Black and you're all idiots."


            Remus, squatting down in front of Sirius, shook his head. "You're all right, aren't you?" he asked, rubbing Sirius' legs gently.


            Sirius nodded. "Yeah. Just my pride hurt," he admitted with an embarrassed smile. He took Remus' offered hand and they all stood and looked at the newly-found passageway.


            "Looks like maybe we won't be having a snowball fight after all," said Remus, peering inside. "Something better just came along."


            They all quickly agreed that exploration was absolutely required. They lit their wands and headed into the passage, which slammed shut behind them as soon as they entered. All four of them jumped and Peter screamed. "I don't want any more scares today!" Peter complained, leaning close to James for protection.


            "I'll do my best not to nearly kill myself again then, Peter," Sirius snorted. He grabbed hold of Remus' scarf again and led him along.


            The passageway was mostly straight and narrow. It sloped downwards gradually and the stone floor was soon slick with condensation. They all had to hold onto each other to keep from slipping and falling but they managed to make it to the end without further incident. At the end, they came upon a large, pointy-leafed hedge. It was thick and solid and they found, after a few attempts, that there was no budging it even when pushing into the leaves which hurt. As Sirius and James debated about how best to blast the hedges out of the way, Remus and Peter came up with the idea of sliding beneath by the stumps. Even Peter, who was the widest around the middle, managed to crawl through to the outside of the passage.


It led, they discovered, right out of the castle itself. It came out round the back of Hogwarts, facing the forests. The entrance was completely hidden from the outside and when they tried to crawl back beneath the hedges to get in, they found that a wall had slid into place there, as well, blocking them from returning through it. Try as they might, they couldn't find the trigger to open it again.


            Remus, shivering in the cold, ran his hands up and down his arms to stay warm. James looked at them all for a moment, realizing that they all expected him to make the decision. "Well, now that we're outside, we might as well have that snowball fight!" He scooped up a handful of snow and began patting it into a ball.


            Sirius and Peter followed suit, but Remus backed away a little, the sharp leaves of the hedge digging into his back. Sirius noticed. "Come on, Remus! It'll be fun, I promise." He re-wrapped Remus in his scarf as it had gotten out of place due to all the tugging and the crawling.


            Remus did not have much of a choice, though he looked warily up at the sky as snowflakes danced down on the wind towards him. He was starting to get really cold now, and decided that the best way to warm up was to move about a bit. If it turned out he couldn't endure a full-out fight, he could sneak away and go make hot chocolate for them so they wouldn't be so angry about his desertion. "So, um, how exactly does this sort of thing work? Are there teams or rules? Or codes of conduct at least?"


            They looked at him with that expression they seemed to only reserve for him. That look of confused fear and annoyance, one step away from the look they used whenever Peter said something terribly stupid. It was the look they used on him whenever he insisted on skipping something fun to study... but it was also the look they all gave him moments after he'd finally confessed to being a werewolf. When they looked at him like this, he dared not meet their gaze. Remus became instantly fascinated with the way the snowflakes settled on his shoelaces.


            "H-haven't you ever been in a snowball fight before?" asked Peter, finally.


            Remus shook his head. Tracing the loop of his shoelace with his eyes and trying to recall that poem from his childhood that told how to tie a shoelace.


            Surprised gasps met this. James spoke, "But, surely, when you were a little kid you must have played in the snow a little."


            Remus shook his head again, feeling colder by the second. He wished desperately that he'd stayed inside.


            "Even just throwing snowballs around with the neighborhood kids or your parents or something?" Sirius asked.


            Remus shook his head again, fighting back tears this time. He certainly did not need them to remind him that he hadn't had a normal childhood, or that his parents have never allowed him to go out and play in the snow because he was always sick during the winter. Or that he'd never had any friends before... in the neighborhood or otherwise. He raised a mitten-clad hand and wiped at his eyes before they could see the wetness there, hidden by his bangs as he bowed his head and continued to regard his snow-covered shoes. His nose was running now, whether from the tears or the cold, he could not tell. He sniffled and pulled a bit of the scarf up to cover his mouth and nose. The hot breaths against the scarf stayed against his face, making it hot and moist. It was a familiar sensation that soothed him greatly.


            "Never?" James gasped, plainly shocked yet again. "Well, then we have no choice but to do this. A snowball fight is one of the most important outdoor activities known to wizard or muggle."


            Behind the scarf, Remus bit his lip. He hadn't known this was so important. What if he messed it all up? They'd apparently had much fun the year before without him. He didn't need to be there screwing it up. Right now he'd have settled for something easier to start out with, like building a snowman or catching snowflakes on his tongue. He didn't dare mention that he hadn't ever done those things either. If he did, he'd probably never get to go back inside.


            Sirius started to explain, "Teams are for pansies. The only proper way to have a snowball fight is every man for himself." He scooped up another handful of snow and began patting it into the shape of a ball. "No hitting above the neck, or at the waist if that can be helped," Sirius winced dramatically at the idea of being pelted in the crotch by a firm snowball. Remus couldn't help but smile behind his scarf. Sirius joking dramatically always made him smile. "All techniques including building forts, unofficial alliances, hording reserves, stealing stockpiles, using stealth techniques, and using battle strategies are welcome."


            "Pretty much, anything goes," Peter piped up, rounding out the snowball which was clutched in his own hands.


            "You all set, Remus? Remus nodded to James. "No questions?" A million questions were racing through his mind, in fact, but he felt foolish to ask any of them. This wasn't a class, where asking intelligent questions showed you had a good understanding of the material. His questions showed he still had no idea of what was going on. When did the game end? How did you score? Who was keeping score? What sort of snow was best for making snowballs? What if someone used ice? What if they ganged up on him? What did he have to say to make them stop? Were they allowed to use the entire field for this or was the fight limited to a specific area? What about enchanting snowballs? Or using magic on the snow? Remus was leafing through books in his mind, trying to come up with a novel two he'd read that had involved a snowball fight. But he couldn't think of one that he could base a proper strategy off of. And time very much seemed to have run out.


            "All right then," said Sirius, raising his hand. "Game's on!" and he launched the snowball at James. Though James tried to dodge it, it still struck him on the shoulder.


            Remus smiled at the look on James' face, shock met with playfulness, and Remus could tell James was already hungry for revenge. "Ohhhh," James said, brushing snow from his side. "You're going to get it!"


            Sirius, James and Peter scattered, throwing snowballs over their shoulders, laughing. Remus went off in another direction, looking back to see what they were doing. They seemed to be trying to establish their ground and make as many snowballs as they could carry. Remus didn't care about holding ground, and knew this was the best time to strike if only he knew how to throw snowballs. He scooped up snow in his hands and patted it together. Then, looking around to be sure the others weren't watching, pulled his wand out. He tapped the snowball and whispered a few words. It few across the snowy field to smack Peter on the back. Peter fell face-first into the snow. Remus stared in horror, hoping that he hadn't hurt Peter, wondering if he should run over and be sure Peter was all right. But then Peter pulled himself to his knees, laughing. He looked over at Remus, grinning in approval. And Remus, scarf slipped down so that it revealed his whole face, grinned back. This wasn't going to be so hard after all.


            The snowball fight went on for hours on end. At one point, Remus was working with James to gang up on Peter. Only a moment later, Peter and James were after Remus himself. Outnumbered, Remus ran, laughing, trying to dodge snowballs. He heard two thumps and when he looked back he saw that Sirius was sending two streams of snowballs at the both of them, allowing Remus to retreat safely. Remus gave him a smile of appreciation and Sirius nodded back. Every man for himself, indeed. But before Remus could do anything else, Sirius sent one at Remus, knocking him off his feet, into a snow drift, laughing.


            Hours later, with everything from pants to mittens soaked through and with his cheeks and hands frozen, Remus still could not ever remember having a better time. As James helped him up for what was probably the hundredth time, Remus was rather sad to find the game coming to an end. He, like the others, was cold and freezing but hungry and quite ready to go in to a warm Christmas feast. "I think I much prefer this tradition to music or alcoholic eggnog," Remus confessed, feeling soft thumps against his back as the others patted him affectionately for the comment.


            The Christmas feast, with its normal assortment of food, tasted like no other on top of the healthy hunger in Remus' stomach. He wolfed down his food quickly and then took seconds and thirds before feeling full enough to eat four desserts, which was the least number of the rest of his companions.


            The rest of the evening was spent sitting around the fire in the Gryffindor common room, telling stories, making jokes, and discussing all possible uses for their newly found secret passage. It seemed they all had a number of ideas, and the other three were practically stunned again when Remus' suggestions were more than simply 'to get to Herbology class more quickly'. In fact, Remus had single-handedly come up with a prank using the tunnel that would set the other three houses against each other and make Gryffindor come out looking like the perfect angels they weren't.


            Peter fell asleep early, his head resting back on a couch seat, mouth open, snoring. Remus drifted in and out of the conversation, nodding off to sleep now and again. His head lowered until his chin met his chest and then  snapped up again with a gasp, trying to look as though he hadn't really been asleep and pick up the thread of conversation. After a while, James put an arm around him and let Remus doze on his shoulder while he and Sirius continued to talk and scheme.


            Remus couldn't remember getting up and going to bed, so he supposed he must have been taken there while asleep. He guessed that he couldn't have been in bed for very long, for through the gap in his bed hangings he could see Sirius and James supporting a sleeping Peter to bed. They were grunting and panting, but managed to put him to bed all right before retreating to their own. Remus' eyes closed, but he did not fall back to sleep right away.


            There was a pain in his head, pounding right behind his eyes and in the back of his nose. No matter how he turned and readjusted himself in bed, he couldn't quite get comfortable enough to ignore it completely. Frustrated, he propped his pillows up against the headboard, grabbed a book from his bedside table, and lit his wand. Reading in bed was a sure-fire way of making himself fall asleep, no matter how interesting the story was.


            Several chapters later, he was no better off. In fact, he was considerably worse. The pain which had filled his head was now excruciating, and both his throat and his nose were giving him complications. They both itched a great deal, no matter how much he cleared his throat or scratched his nose. Remus desperately wished he were still out in the common room asleep on James' shoulder, completely ignorant to the fact that he was coming down with something. Instead, he was awake in bed to live out the whole realization. Remus, his wand, and his book were soon joined in bed by a box of tissues and a glass of water. And then the sneezes started. There were just a few tickles at first, and he managed to hold the sneezes back for a while, but in the end they proved too strong.


            "hehIkshhhh! hahEhshhhh! hehEhshahhh!" Sniffling into a handful of tissues, he listened closely. The sound of Peter's snores broke for a few moments, but then resumed. Remus sighed, glad not to have woken him. "This isn't going to work," Remus muttered, putting his book away and turning the light on the end of his wand off. He gathered the rest of his things in his arms and climbed out of the bed. In the process, he dropped the glass of water. Luckily the glass did not break, but it did make a loud sound as it fell and spilled on the floor. Remus swore softly as he dropped to his knees. He grabbed a few tissues from the box to sop up the water, getting most of it. When he reached for another bunch of tissues to clean up the rest, he found the box empty. Not only that, but he needed to sneeze again. Badly. He pressed his nose into his shoulder as his breath caught in his throat. "ehhhShushhhhh!" He rubbed the back of his hand against his nose and stood back up. He'd have to let the house elves finish this. The pounding behind his eyes was getting worse, and he needed to lie down. Taking his thickest blanket with him, he headed out of the room before he could make any more noise to wake his roommates.


            He almost made a clean escape. "Remus?" Sirius stood behind him, rubbing his eyes and yawning. "Hey, where're you going?"


            "Shhh!" Remus pulled him into the hallway and shut the door behind. "Look, I just..." With all terrible timing possible, Remus held his hand up to motion for Sirius to wait. Then cupped it over his nose and mouth. "ihhhKshhhhh! ehhChushhh!" Sniffling, he looked around to be sure no one else was there to be bothered by his sneezes. "'Scuse me. Sniff! I just have a little case of the sneezes and I didn't want to wake any of you up." He smiled sheepishly. "Looks like I didn't succeed."


            "Nah," Sirius shook his head quickly. "I just got in bed. Hadn't really fallen asleep yet. And you know Jamie and Pete, they can sleep through anything."


            "Well, all the same, I think I should probably sleep down in the common room. I'll probably be up most of the night sneezing." Remus rubbed at his nose, then gathered as much of his blanket as possible in his arms to start down the stairs.


            Sirius nodded. "All right." He patted Remus on the bed. "Then go on, I'll be down in a moment."


            Slightly confused, Remus started down the stairs. Sirius came up behind him just as he reached the bottom, panting for breath, his arms full of blankets and pillows and other things. Trying not to look at all confused, Remus let Sirius take his arm and pull him into the common room. The lights were all off now, but the fire was still going, bright enough to see by. "Sirius, what's all this?" he asked as Sirius deposited him on a couch near the fire and dropped the other things on the couch just across from it. "I have my own blanket already."


            "Yeah, these are for me," Sirius said, gesturing to them. "But the tissues and this pillows are for you. Here." He headed over to Remus and put them down on the couch beside him. Sirius perched on the arm of the couch and snatched Remus' blanket. Then he shook it to straighten it out. "Come on, lie down and I'll cover you up, nice and toasty."


            Rubbing the back of his neck with further confusion, Remus did indeed lie down, with his head on a pillow on the side where Sirius sat, and let Sirius tuck the blanket around him. "hehshhhh! Hih-ehhshuhh! Sniff! Thanks, sniff, but why... why are you here?"


            "Because I made you a promise, didn't I?" He reached down and ruffled Remus' hair.


            "A promise? A promise to...?" Remus helped himself to the tissues and hugged the blanket closer as it slowly grew warm around his body.


            Sirius chuckled, speaking softly, kindly, in a tone Remus had only heard him use a few times before. "To take care of you, you silly git. Remember? I said that if you got sick I'd take care of you." He softly pulled the bangs away from Remus' forehead.


            With an amused smile, "Yeah I remember. But you weren't serious--"


            Sirius jumped up, looking insulted. "Serious happens to be my first name, Mate. I always mean everything I say." A smile broke through his affronted expression. "Okay, well, maybe not every little thing, but Sirius Black's a man of his word. When I make a promise, I keep it." Remus still looked amused. Amused and doubtful. And Sirius knew he'd have to do a bit more convincing.


"Hey, budge over," he said, pushing Remus up and sitting down where his head had laid a moment before. He set the pillow down on his lap and let Remus lie back down with his head upon it. Then he made certain Remus' thick blanket still covered him entirely and warmly, tucked around him.  "Okay, so I promised you'd have fun at the snowball fight, didn't I?"


            He pulled his hand slowly through Remus' hair. Remus shivered, then closed his eyes to better enjoy the soft petting. "You did," Remus answered.


            "And did you?" Remus nodded. "Even if it meant skipping studying for the day?" Remus nodded again. "And even if it meant coming down with a little case of the sneezes now?" Another nod. "Well then, see? I'm a man of my word. So I'm going to sleep down here tonight and make sure you're all right. And anything you need, I'll go fetch for you."


            Remus smiled, looking up at Sirius' face and realizing that the boy wasn't at all kidding about this. "You don't have to--"


            "I do," Sirius whispered back. "So let me wait on you hand and foot. Okay, Mate?"


            Remus reached over and squeezed Sirius' knee in agreement. He wanted very much to reply, but was otherwise engaged. "heh... heh-ehhhhShihhh! ehhChishhh! ehhKtchhh! Sniff! ehhh-KTCHhhhhh!" He sniffed hard and realized he didn't have anything to blow his nose into. He rubbed his palm against his nose, sniffling. "Scuse be," he snuffled, still rubbing. "Just really- Sniff! Sniff! -sdeezey."


            Sirius took out his wand, aiming it towards the couch and doing a nice swish and flick before realizing that the levitation spell wouldn't be enough to summon the items over.


            Understanding that Sirius didn't know what to do, he spoke up. "Assio," Remus suggested, snuffling, cupping his hand over his nose as it began to run. "Add, ub, hurry ub? Blease?"


            Sirius swished his wand carefully. "Assio tissues!" he called. Nothing happened. "Assio tissues!" he tried again, and again. On the fifth try, the box budged a little. On the sixth, it flew back a few feet and fell to the floor behind the couch where they couldn't see it. Sirius was clearly frustrated, but did not seem to want to get up from the couch and his comfy position with Remus, either.


            "Ub... Siri?" whispered Remus. "I really snuffle, snuffle, I really godda hab subthig..." He started to get up, but the pounding in his head, accompanied by the congestion, made it spin and he felt Sirius' hand on his shoulder, holding him down. "I really deed subthig to blow by dose..."


            "I'll get it. Just have faith in me," Sirius said, a determined spark in his eye, his face resolute. "Assio tissues!" he shouted, giving his wand a violent swoosh. The box flew across the room, over their heads, and against the back wall. "See? Almost got it."


            "Siri!" Remus whined. "I deed--"


            "Here," Sirius held out his other arm. "Use my sleeve or something. I don't care. Just let me do this... Assio tissues!"


            The offer was tempting, but not quite what Remus wanted. As he lifted his head, wincing as his sinuses throbbed and ached, the box of tissues came, landing right in Sirius' outstretched hand. Sirius plucked one out, then another, and another. He held them up to Remus' face. "Here you go."


            "Ub..." He sounded worried. "Dod't watg, okay? It's... well... I really godda... add by dose is rather..."


            Sirius chuckled and set the box of tissues down on the arm of the couch in order to cover his eyes with his hand. "I'm not watching, you silly git. Just blow your nose and stop complaining."


            Remus looked at him skeptically, holding a tissue up beneath his nose to catch the runs.


            "Look, I promise," Sirius said. "I won't watch."


            Remus, desperate, congested, in pain, still smiled at the smile he saw on Sirius face. "Try dot to lised, either?" he requested. Then, unable to wait any longer, took a deep breath, dropped his hand, and blew his nose. Around the third blow, he took the tissues from Sirius' hand to do it himself, though he had to admit Sirius had done an excellent job, especially without his sight for Sirius had not peeked once, being completely true to his promise. Sirius fed him tissues until Remus gave a nod and lay back down with his head on the pillow in Sirius lap. He sighed. "Feels so much better," he said, the pressure in his head considerably lessened. "Thanks."


            Sirius grinned and nodded. "Hey, watch this," and he eagerly raised his wand. "Assio pillow! Assio blankets!" This time both items soared quickly over, right to Sirius. With a bit of fidgeting, Sirius got the blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and the pillow propped on the back of the couch against his head. "You need anything else?" he asked eagerly, swishing his wand in the air. "I think I've really got the hang of this summoning spell."


            Remus shook his head. He should have known better than to tell Sirius a fourth year charm. Sirius wouldn't be bothered getting up for anything from now on, wanting to show it off to everybody, including all the girls who already thought he was the smartest, cleverest in his year. There would be absolutely no living with him after this. Smiling and shaking his head to himself now, Remus closed his eyes. The light of the fire was warm and soothing. His blanket was heavy. And Sirius' hold on his shoulder was rather comforting. He knew the boy was only doing it to help keep himself upright, but it was nice to know Sirius was there, all the same. So relaxed was he, that even with another tickle in his nose, he was able to drift off to sleep.


            "Oh, I almost forgot," whispered Sirius, just as Remus was about to fall asleep. Remus might have killed him for the disturbance if it hadn't been for the sight that met him when he opened his eyes. It was his scarf, worn, fraying, tattered, and very well loved, held delicately in Sirius' hand. "Sorry you came down with something after all. I was kinda hoping you'd get through the season without sneezing, for your sake." He forced a cough. "And those of us who have to put up with more snoring of course," he smiled charmingly, trying to cover his concern with the joke, but knew it wouldn't work. "But, uh, I am sorry you're not feeling well."


            Remus grinned widely and took it, snuggling it close and nuzzling it with his still slightly sniffley nose. "Thanks," Remus replied, his eyes closing again. "It really was worth it, though." He didn't bother to fight a yawn. "And I'm feeling better now." Sirius' hand found his shoulder again, and patted gently before settling there for the night.


            Remus fell right to sleep, even missing Sirius' softly whispered "Good night".




Year 4


            Finished eating, Sirius sat at the table with his head in his hands. The rest of the Gryffindor table was exploding with action as students talked about their plans for the upcoming winter break. James took his eyes from where their fellow fourth year Lily Evans sat talking animatedly with her friends, and looked at Sirius. Sunken eyes, pale face, worried expression. James stared hard, and Sirius, sensing that, did not look up to meet his gaze until James coughed at him. "Come on, Sirius. Cheer up. The holidays start next week."


            Sirius shrugged and looked back down.


            "Sirius... what's bothering you?" Peter asked, now picking up on it as well. But he wasn't quite bothered enough to pass up helping himself to dessert.


            Sirius shrugged again.


            James sighed. "Oh, come on. You're not still fussing over what to get Remus, are you?"


            Sirius shrugged.


            "I knew it!" James laughed and finished off his pumpkin juice. "Just get him another case of chocolate frogs. You know he can't get enough chocolate. It's always what you give him."


            "That's just it," Sirius replied, lifting his head with a forced sigh in reply to James'. "It's what I always give him. I want to get something perfect for him this year." He hung his head and buried his chin in his hands again.


            James shook his head. "Don't worry about it. Just don't push it and let the ideas flow naturally and you'll end up getting something perfect for him. Like the new Quidditch set you got me."


            Sirius' head snapped back up. His pale eyes blazed towards Peter. "Pete! What'd you go and--"


            "I had to!" Peter squeaked, sliding down in his chair and hiding himself behind a pitcher of juice as Sirius stared him down, rising in his seat to look over it at him. "You don't understand how much he persuades." Peter cowered, "I couldn't fight him."


            Sirius still looked furious. "What'd he do? What hex did he use that made you let out the secret I made you swear on your mother not to tell him?"


            James, hiding his laughter, nearly fell off the bench at this point. "I... I..." He simply couldn't help it, and burst into a fit, for which he received a number of eye rolls from Lily and her friends. They scooted a little further down the benches away from him.


            "He tickled me," Peter whispered, looking ashamed of himself to admit it. He hung his head and stared down at the desserts in front of him on the table.


            "What? Rictusempra?" asked Sirius, who rose, reached across the table, and punched the laughing James in the arm to quieten him.


            Peter shook his head. "No... he just... tickled me," Peter replied. Sirius' eyes flashed with anger and disbelief. "But he was merciless! You don't understand! He pinned me on the ground and wouldn't let me up until I told him!"


            Sirius sat back down with a growl, looking even more miserable than before. Peter looked close to tears while James was still laughing full-out. "Wankers, both of you. What'd you go and ruin the surprise for? It was going to be really great to see the look on your face when you saw it."


            "Aww, Siri, I love it," James said, recovering. "And just what I wanted. That quaffle I have is so old and patched that it doesn't even have the right weight or feel any more. Doesn't help me one bit to practice with it. So thanks, Mate."


            Sirius shrugged and twitched his mouth into a half smile. "Yeah, well, you're welcome. But you're being no help with this present situation for Remus. And you're still a wanker."


            "What's he done this time?" inquired Remus, who sat down in the empty space beside Sirius.


            Sirius jumped, startled to have only now seen him and worried about how much Remus had heard. But if he had heard it or not, Remus didn't let on. He reached over and grabbed a half of a sandwich, eating it in a few bites.


            Sirius hesitated, wondering whether or not to make himself madder in getting into it again. But knowing he couldn't keep a secret like this from another marauder, he explained. "The first year I go and find a really great present for him, and he goes and makes Peter fink. It's not fair," Sirius finished. "I really wanted to see him surprised."


            Remus nodded with understanding, though looked a bit dazed during the last little bit of the story. He suddenly lifted a hand and cupped it to his nose and mouth. "Hehh-hehhhIhhshhhh! ehhhChishhhh!" He sniffled wetly and rubbed the back of his hand against his nose roughly. His shoulders sagged and he slumped a bit. "Sorry," he said, really looking apologetic. "Think I'm getting sick."


            The others understood. "It's nearly the holidays. It's about bloody time!" joked Peter, though the others barely laughed.


            "Yeah," nodded Remus. "Look, I think I'll go lie down for a few by the windows. Someone come rouse me when lunch's ov... over?" He lifted his hand again. "ehhhHishhuhhh! ehhhChushhhh! Hehkshuhhh!"


            "Of course," James told him. "You just go rest." Very cat-like, Remus liked to take naps in the western hallway in the afternoon, because of the way the sunlight shone through the windows and warmed him. Remus had always favored the sun to the moon, but this was not the least bit surprising considering his condition, and they were used to him getting little naps in here and there. There were little padded nooks just across from the windows which were like little private beds if you curled up and used your bag for a pillow.


            "I'll come wake you," Sirius corrected. "I don't trust these wankers to do anything right now." James and Peter laughed, but Remus gave him a small nod of appreciation. Then, sniffling wetly again, he turned from the table, heading towards the door.


            "Hey!" whispered James, once Remus was safely out of earshot. "I know what you could get him for Christmas!" James exclaimed, and was suddenly serious but bursting a little with eagerness. "Something completely perfect for him."


            Willing to accept help on this most desperate matter, even from an annoying friend, Sirius looked over and raised an eyebrow. "What?"


            "A box of tissues!" James exclaimed, and shook with laughter so much that Peter shook as well from leaning on him in his own laughter. It seemed there had been something in the day's lunch that was making James act extra silly. Or perhaps it was simply the fact that the holidays were nearly upon them. Or possibly the fact that he and Evans hadn't spoken in a week, which meant they hadn't fought, either. Still, the laughter was overwhelming.


            Sirius muttered something very rude under his breath but cracked a bit of a smile just the same as it had been a rather good one. And it wasn't as though Remus couldn't use it. He looked across the Great Hall to see Remus being struck with another sneeze, the sound of which could not be heard over the noise filling the room. But the skinny, brown-haired boy bent nearly in half by it, then lifted the end of his horribly tattered scarf and rubbed it under his nose, before disappearing out the door.


            Sirius watched the door after him, and a smile crept over his face. "Brilliant!" he whispered to himself, glad James and Peter had not heard him through their laughter. He didn't need them guessing the gift and ruining it for Remus, too.


            As it happened, none of them found out about Remus' gift beforehand, not even Remus. And on Christmas morning when Sirius and Remus woke right at dawn to their empty dormitory and raced downstairs to the tree, they brought along each others' presents to swap them as well. They tore into their other presents first, revealing candy and books and quite an assortment of magical gadgets in all. Sirius barely bothered to open the gift from his parents, which turned out to be a silver picture frame with little snakes running around the boarder. Remus, startled by it, coughed and hopped back to get away from it. He looked panicked, but tried to shake it off with humor. "And to think I was worried that being a dark creature would make the hat sort me into Slytherin." Remus forced a nervous laugh, but his eyes didn't leave the picture frame, scared perhaps that it might slither out of Sirius' clutches and over to him.


            It took Sirius a moment, but once the comprehension dawned, he quickly wrapped the frame up and pitched it across the room. "Sorry," he said, wiping his hands on his pajama bottoms in case some of the silver somehow had rubbed off onto him.


            "Not your fault," Remus said, settling back down in front of the tree. He took one of Sirius' hands and patted it gently. "Don't worry, it doesn't work like that. I have to come in direct contact with it. Otherwise I'd never be able to touch anybody who had a few sickles in their pocket or something, would I?"


            "Oh... right..." said Sirius awkwardly, gently easing his hand out from Remus' grasp, but politely. He wasn't comfortable to see how much it had made his friend panic. It wasn't the most wonderful thing in the first place. In fact, one of the reasons he liked spending holidays at Hogwarts was so as not to have to go home to Number 12. He didn't need reminders of it on Christmas morning. And certainly not reminders that made him suddenly fear for his friend's health. "What'd James get you?" he asked, changing the subject.


            "Chocolate frogs," Remus replied, holding up the case of individually boxed frogs. "In his note he reckons you didn't get me any chocolate, so he thought I needed some from somebody at least." Remus' voice was slightly shaky. He started to say something else, but a sneeze caught him before he could get it out. "hehKishhhh!" But he couldn't stop at just one. He pulled back and buried his face in his scarf, breathing heavily into it. "ihhh-ihhhChiihhh! ihhhChooo!" He snuffled and rubbed his nose, difficult for the holes in the knit, and the parts where it was unraveling and fraying already where he had to be careful not to pull. "Excuse me," he whispered. "This bloody cold." Sniffling, he rubbed his finger beneath his nose. "It's been days but I just can't seem to shake it."


            Sirius nodded with sympathy.


            He selected a chocolate frog box out of the case and turned it over in his hand. "You know," he said, absentmindedly. "These really are the perfect present for me." He opened one of them and it hopped in the palm of his hand. He closed his other hand over it, and felt it jumping in his cupped hands. When it had stopped jumping, he held it up and bit off a leg. "Not only is it fun and the chocolate of excellent quality," he looked inside the box. "But there's a nice informative biography of a famous witch or wizard to learn from." He bit the lower half of the frog off completely, chewing, and looked up at Sirius. "Was James right? You didn't get me some for Christmas then?"


            While Remus looked a bit depressed at that prospect, Sirius looked crestfallen. He tossed the package he'd been hiding behind his back into Remus' lap with a sigh. "I didn't. I got you something else. Thought it was good at the time, but guess if you'd rather have chocolate... doesn't matter now." He got up and turned his back so he didn't have to see Remus' disappointing reaction. "Sorry. Happy Christmas anyway." Sirius bit his lip as he heard the sound of tape being pulled from wrapping paper. When the noise of paper being carefully folded ended, Sirius paused, took a deep breath, and looked back.


            Remus sat, staring down at the package in his lap. His hand pulled back involuntarily. "Oh," he said flatly, and blinked.


            Sirius grumbled to himself. "You hate it. Damnit! I should have just gotten you chocolate. But I thought..." He sighed. "Never mind. I was stupid." He turned away, silently mouthing swear words to himself.


            Remus reached down and touched the soft, brand new Gryffindor scarf before him. It was smooth and clean, with no tears or holes or snags. Every bit of yarn was fresh and beautifully woven into the familiar stripes of maroon and gold. "You... got me a scarf?" asked Remus, perplexed. "But I've already got one." How was it possible that Sirius, who noticed the littlest details about everyone, didn't see Remus had one already?


            "Yeah, I know that. But yours is all frayed and filthy and I just thought you could use a new one is all." He shrugged.


            Remus sniffled and touched the end of his scarf tenderly to stall for time. He wasn't quite sure how to explain it to Sirius, and could tell Sirius was already pretty beaten up by it already. Somehow he had to explain. "I know it isn't new and perfect, but it's... Sirius?" He rubbed part of the end of his scarf against his nose, sniffling. "Sirius, sit down again." He knelt and reached out, tugging on the bottom of Sirius' pajama top.


            Sirius obeyed, but looked utterly annoyed with himself and his present choice. He didn't look as though he wanted to talk about it any more. Snatched it back from Remus' lap, he wrapped the paper back around it so he wouldn't have to look at it. But when he looked at Remus, it was the scarf that still stood out, all ratty and used and clearly on its last legs. It was obvious it wouldn't survive another winter, and probably not make it through this one.


            Remus followed his eyes, and petted his scarf gently. Then he reached over to the butter beers they'd set in front of the fire to warm them. He opened them, handed one to Sirius, then took a gulp of the other. Sirius hesitated, then drank. Quite a while passed, and Remus was nearly done with his bottle in fact by the time he spoke again. He still didn't have all the words chosen and arranged as he would have liked, but he couldn't stall any longer. "My parents sent me this scarf as a present the day after we came to Hogwarts," he said softly, staring into his almost-empty bottle. "After I was bitten, they tried everything to find a cure. They just wanted me to live a normal life. I was so young... and it was so hard for them. So when I got accepted to Hogwarts, it wasn't a happy occasion because  we knew I couldn't go. But then Dumbledore came and explained about the shack and the tunnel and the willow and... Sirius, they were so happy. So happy for once. I'd never seen them that happy before. I mean, I was happy, too, of course, but I didn't really know what I'd be missing, did I?" He gave a weak smile. "But all they wanted was for me to be normal, like everyone else, and that was my chance. Anyway, so they worked it out, and I got to come and then I was sorted, and not even into Slytherin, and my parents sent me this as a congratulations present. So when I wear it... it reminds me of all that. And I feel normal."


            Sirius couldn't meet Remus' eyes. He looked down, and off to the side. "I didn't know," he said.


            "Why ever would you have?" Remus continued. "You and James barely looked my way for the first couple of months we were here. Until just before that Halloween excursion, at least."


            "I just... thought... yours was looking a little too loved. Look, I'm sorry, Rem." He stood again, taking the present with him. "I'll return it and get you chocolate then. Just... don't tell the others I screwed up, all right? Jamie and Pete wouldn't let me live it down."


            "Siri-?" Remus tried to call him back. But he didn't get far with that, either. "heh...ihhhhHeshhhh! ihhhChooo! ihhhChew! ihhhTchooo! Sniff, sniff!" He rubbed at his tickling nose. "Come on Sirius. Sit back down, will you?" He picked up the end of his scarf again and rubbed it against his nose. He regarded it a moment, then tugged on it. The scarf slid around his neck and off, into his gently cupped hands. "Sirius?" he said softly, and Sirius looked back finally. Remus was still staring at it, cradled tenderly in his hands. "I don't really think I need it any more to remind me I'm normal."


            Sirius knelt down in front of Remus and held out the present, the new scarf, for Remus to take. But Remus hesitated. His hand, outstretched, retracted, and he shook his head.


            Misreading Remus, Sirius swore. "I'll take it back. Get you some chocolate instead," Sirius tried again, balling the offending gift in his hands.


            "No," Remus said, sitting up straighter, grabbing Sirius' wrist. "Put it on me yourself."




            "You heard me..." He smiled and stuck his neck out a little more. "Put it on me."


            It was wrapped around his neck loosely, sitting on his shoulders. But even so it was longer than the other one had been, wrapping around four times easily instead of just one and a half. It was meant for a man, not a child. Remus warmed up to it at once, rubbing the soft knit against his cheeks. His eyes spoke the thank you that caught in his throat.


            "So you really don't hate it?"


            Remus shook his head and coughed, but still did not say anything.


            Growing worried, "You... you all right, Remus? You look like you need to--"


            "ehhh-heh-Ihkshhhhh! ehhhShuhhhh!"


            "--sneeze," finished Sirius. "Guess you did. Feel better?"


            Remus nodded. "Yeah. And I really do like the scarf. It's perfect."


            Sirius' ears flushed lightly. "More perfect than chocolate frogs, even?"


            Another nod. "Much more. So stop worrying, all right? I love it."


            Sirius smiled. His present from Remus, like most presents from Remus, was a book. But this time it was a book much more to his liking than in previous years. It was a book entitled Useful Skills and Spells for Mischief-Makers. He had had to exercise great restraint not to ignore all his un-opened presents in favor of diving into the book. But after flipping through it, he had set it aside carefully for future study. It was very telling of Remus' wild streak of late, as that particular book was on the list of items banned by the castle caretaker, Mr. Filch. However as he'd mentioned the fact that he'd gone and looked it up on the list and wanted Sirius to be careful with it for that reason, his wild streak apparently only went so far.


            "So..." said Remus, pulling a candy cane off the tree and peeling back the wrapper on the straight end. "What did Peter... oh wait..." He cupped his hand over his nose and mouth. "eehhhKishhhh! ehhhIhhshhh! ihhhChishhhh! ihhhShahh!" He kept his hand in place, sniffling, and tried to carry on. "What did... hehhhIhhhshh! ehhChishhh! Keshhuhh! What... ehhh-Ihhhshhh!"


            Sirius was trying not to laugh as Remus fought against the tickle in his nose. "Hush, Remy. Finish sneezing, then you can talk."


            Remus looked annoyed, but because of the sneezing not because of Sirius, and took Sirius' advice. He buried his nose in his pajama sleeve and patiently sneezed the rest of the sneezes out. "ehhhIhhhShhhh! ehhhIhshhh! ihhChuhhh! ihhhShuhhh! ehhhKshhhh! ehhhChuhhh!" Then quickly wiped his nose a few times against a dryer portion of his sleeve, not wanting to dirty his new scarf. "Uhghh... sorry," he muttered.


            "Quite all right," Sirius said, dramatically sticking a candy cane in his mouth. "You were saying?"


            With the realization that Sirius had stolen it from him while he was sneezing, Remus simply went for another on the tree with a chuckle. "Peter," Remus said. "I was trying to ask what Peter got you."


            Sirius glanced over at his pile of presents. "A bag of special magical marbles which apparently never lose a game. I'll believe it when I see it. You?"


            "A few jelly slugs of my favorite flavors and a box of tissues," Remus replied. Caught by surprise, Sirius nearly choked on the part of the candy cane he'd just bitten off. He doubled up with laughter. "I wasn't sure whether to be insulted or thankful!" Remus added, laughing as well. When the laughter had died down a little, Remus asked, "And James? Of course I know what you got him--"


            "Blasted Peter. I bet the whole tower knew."


            "But what did he get you? Not chocolate frogs, too, I reckon?" Remus looked curiously over at the stack of presents, hoping to see one that was unmistakably James'.


            Sirius reached over and picked out a small white box. "He got me a couple of things. A set of invisible quills that write with invisible ink, a new book bag because of that accident that happened in mine last week." Sirius sighed and laughed. "Though that was clearly his fault and he should have bought me a new one anyway just because I took the blame for him. Oh... and this..." Sirius opened the box and pulled out a small green sprig. Remus looked up at it, as Sirius held it around forehead level. "His note says it's to force all the girls into kissing me."


            Remus smiled. "Well, you certainly are quite a thing with the ladies. Looks like a thoughtful bunch of presents, then."


            Sirius didn't comment as he was preoccupied with the present. "We're technically under it now," he said noted, looking up at it.


            "We are," said Remus, his eyes trained on the bright green, as though wondering if it might send out some magical surge of energy that would force them together. "But I'm..."


            "It's tradition," said Sirius, softly, still looking up at it, rather than at Remus.


            "Like the snowball fight. Or Peter's uncle's eggnog," said Remus automatically and quickly, and then he started to ramble. "But what do you want to bet he's not getting any of it this year either?"


            "I wouldn't want to disappoint the mistletoe. It expects a kiss," said Sirius, ignoring Remus' ramblings completely now.


            "Yes, but..." Remus searched desperately for something to say apart from 'but I'm a guy' and found, instead, "But I've got a bad cold."


            "Well," he said, flashing a sly smile. "I don't mind that."


            Remus' voice was unsteady as he quickly said, "But-but I wouldn't want you to catch it from me. It's a pretty miserable cold. I'd feel awful if you caught it from me on Christmas morning, just because of a joke."


            Understanding now, Sirius' hand fell, and he dropped the sprig of mistletoe back into the box. "Right," he said, sounding sad again. "Not worth it for just a joke."


            "ehhhIhhhShhhh! ehhhIhhChuhhh! ehhhShuhhh! Sniff!" Remus shivered, and rubbed his nose with the end of the scarf out of habit.


            "Bless you," said Sirius softly, watching Remus shiver a bit. "It's rather cold down here. How about I go get a couple blankets from upstairs when I take my first load up?" he offered, already gathering some of his presents in his arms.


            Remus nodded, looking grateful for the suggestion.


            Sirius rose carefully so as not to drop or damage any of his new possessions. He walked swiftly, however, apparently eager to get out of the room as soon as possible.


            "Siri?" Remus called him again. And, again, Sirius turned back.


            A set of warm lips struck his cheek. They were soft, gentle, and quick, but had touched him nonetheless. Slightly taken aback as they pulled away, Sirius followed Remus' gaze upwards to where a sprig of mistletoe hung over the doorway to the stairs. "Happy Christmas," Remus whispered, and gave a bit of a shiver.


            Sirius nodded, and his slightly shocked face acquired a sweet smile to cover itself. "I'll be right back with those blankets in two shakes."




Year 5


            Remus sat with them by the fire but unlike Peter, who would bounce in his seat at every good move and hold his breath in anticipation while they thought, Remus wasn't spellbound by the game of wizard's chess which was being played out before him. Sirius and James were working on their tie-breaker in a best-out-of-five tournament. And although he might normally have been captivated, or at the least mildly interested, all Remus could manage were a few smiles and nods here and there. His head felt full with something cloudy, something hazy, something that seemed to separate him from the rest of the common room. He sniffled and rubbed a hand over his forehead. His yearly winter cold had hit a few days into break this time. And while he was glad the entire school wasn't around to watch him suffer, it had given him a false hope of maybe making it through just one holiday season without feeling sick.


            Even though he wasn't paying too much attention, he could still see Sirius' mistake before his friend's hand touched its piece. Remus tried facial expressions and hand signals, as he wasn't allowed to say anything to interfere with the game, but it was no use. Sirius touched the piece, picked it up, and moved it across the board, leaving his queen utterly unprotected on one side, right next to his king. This was all James needed to swoop in, take the queen, and declare "Checkmate!"


            Peter clapped enthusiastically, and Remus complimented James. Sirius looked a bit grumpy at the sudden defeat. "Best out of seven!" he called.


            James nodded. "Yeah, all right. Why not?" He started gathering pieces. "I'm still going to beat you anyway."


            "ehhIHHKshhhh! IHHHShahhhh!" Remus sneezed into his scarf. His head, which had been heavy and cloudy, was now pounding with ache and congestion. He rose to his feet. "Don't feel well. I'm gonna go lie down," he mumbled, and started towards the stair up to their dormitories. He swayed as he walked, trying to keep his balance. James was resetting the pieces with Peter's help, but Sirius noticed Remus having difficulty. Luckily, Sirius sprang up and grabbed hold of Remus just before his legs buckled and was able to keep him from falling and hurting himself. Sirius helped Remus steady himself, then supported him up the stairs without so much as looking back at the others or the abandoned game.


            As they reached their room, Remus looked up at the top of the door jam. Sirius, in a joke response to James' present from last year, had put a sprig of mistletoe over their dormitory door, which had meant a week of intentionally hovering around just to kiss James as he went in or out. James had been slightly annoyed at first, but now laughed heartily each time they did it, or came in looking disappointed if no one had kissed him on entry. He was determined not to make it look like he was annoyed by the joke, even if it meant swooping one of them into a tight embrace and a dip for a passionate kiss.


            Remus looked up and his hands clenched Sirius robes tightly. "We're under the mistletoe again," he said, then promptly passed out before he could bestow a kiss upon Sirius. Sirius swooped his friend up in his arms, glad that if he had had to carry any of the Marauders, it was the skinniest one of them.


            Meanwhile James and Peter were gathering up the broken chess pieces and trying to put them back together before placing them properly on the board. Wizard's chess was terribly violent, as the little pieces struck hard blows at each other. But if you managed to collect all the pieces and throw them into a special bag, you could perform the Repairo spell on them easily and they'd be as good as new. However, inevitably there was a small piece or two missing each time, hiding under the chairs or a chip so small that it couldn't be seen even when lying out beside the board. And so James' pieces looked nicked in a dozen places still, but that gave them character. "So, Pete. You want to take his place?" James asked, pulling the newly repaired pieces out of the small bag, a few at a time.


            Peter shrugged. "Won't Sirius mind? He'll be right back won't he?"


            James looked warily towards the staircase and heard nothing. "I guess he'll be right back, but you know how he and Remus can be when they're alone together."


            Peter shook his head. "No, not really. If ever I've been there to see them together, I've been there so they're not alone together." He screwed up his face in confusion, then shook his head again to sort it out. "But, yeah, Sirius can get a little overprotective of him. Especially now that we've worked out the animagus transformation." Peter grinned. "Now there's no escape from us. We're with him all the time now."


            Nodding, James continued to set out the pieces. "So, the game? Just until Sirius gets back? Pretty silly just to sit here waiting while he takes his time escorting Remus to bed and all that."


            Forced to agree, Peter nodded back. "Sure. You can see how long it takes to beat me, because I'll never win. Especially not against you."


            "James! Peter!" came Sirius' loud call, and the game was completely abandoned at once as they raced up the stairs. There had been fear in his voice, which was quite rare, and James and Peter knew better than to take their time. They reached their room to find Sirius laying Remus on his bed, and pulling the covers up to his waist. Sirius turned to them, looking panic-stricken. "He's burning up. Here, feel his forehead."


            James walked over and placed his palm on Remus' head. "No, like this," Sirius said, turning the hand over. "See?" James nodded. "He's hot and sweaty and feverish, and he keeps shivering. I saw him shiver a few times earlier while we were playing. I wasn't going to say something because he looked all right, but now..." Sirius' expression of worry was mirrored in James and Peter's faces.


            "I'll go get..." Peter's words died off. Madam Pomfrey was away from the castle on holiday this year. "I'll go get Professor McGonagall." And he was off as fast as Peter ever went.


            "And I'll go, er, make sure everything's hidden properly," James said and quickly scampered off to stow away the cauldrons, boxes of illegal ingredients, and books they weren't supposed to even know existed.


            Sirius pulled out his wand. "And I'll stay right here by your side," Sirius whispered to Remus. "Assio chair!" he swished his wand towards the chair by the desk across the room and it zoomed over. He took a seat, tucked his wand away, and placed his palm against Remus' forehead, not to feel the warmth but to help cool it. He pushed back the sweaty brown bangs, pasting them to the side of his head instead.


            Everyone returned nearly at the same time, and it was Sirius who made them all back off to give Remus some room. Professor McGonagall moved in and looked him over critically for what seemed like hours but was really only a few very tense minutes. Professor McGonagall did not seem overly worried as she knew Remus was always sick this time of year. And as, based on their reports, it seemed to be only a fever and some congestion, she didn't have many suggestions. When she leaned in to perform a temperature reading on Remus' forehead with her wand, she had to squeeze past Sirius who refused to budge from his seat beside the bed. She suggested lowering his fever with a sponge bath before it got too high, because getting too high would be dangerous, and she wanted to be updated every few hours or if anything significant should happen. James, Peter, and Sirius agreed.


            "I'm sure he'll be all right," McGonagall said to soothe their worries. "Just a cold. Though it is certainly a shame he's got such a high fever, and just a day away from Christmas at that." She ruffled his hair and reached down to take Remus' scarf off and hang it on the bedpost. But Sirius grabbed her wrist. Remus barely ever took it off nowadays. Even early in the fall he had it, and late into the spring. And Sirius knew he'd want it around now for support more than any other time. Though the grab had certainly been an action she normally would not have tolerated, McGonagall nodded in understanding. She let the scarf alone, and let the incident pass without mention or scolding.


            When she was gone, Sirius climbed up onto the bed to be closer to him, putting an arm around Remus' shoulders and cradling his head against Sirius' own arm and body. Peter filled a silver basin with cool water and brought a wash cloth from the bathroom. He held the basin as Sirius unbuttoned Remus' top and James dabbed him with the washcloth. All thoughts of the chess game had gone completely from their minds and the poor figures, some still half broken, sat in waiting on the board for the rest of the night.


            Hours later, Sirius was still stroking Remus' cheek with the back of his hand. Peter had set the bowl on the night stand and fallen asleep in the chair beside the bed, his head on Sirius' thigh as a pillow. James sat at the foot of the bed, rubbing Remus' cold feet through the blankets. They had just placed a special pad they'd charmed to stay warm there at the foot of the bed, but it hadn't had time to warm him much yet. Peter snored stuffily in his sleep, and both Sirius and James went to feel his forehead to be sure he hadn't caught Remus' ailment, even though snoring was normal for him. Luckily, his temperature felt normal.


            "I'll take Pete to bed," James whispered finally. "And you should think about getting some sleep, yourself. You look awfully tired, Mate."


            "I'll be... fine," Sirius said, his words sounding much less insistent with a strong yawn forcing its way in-between them. "I don't want him waking up alone," Sirius said.


            James nodded. "All right, but wake me if there's any change. Or if you want me to watch him for a little bit while you nap, promise?" Sirius gave a noncommittal shrug and half a nod, knowing very well he wouldn't be leaving his friend's side no matter what. James stood, stretched, and kissed Sirius' forehead for comfort and reassurance before wrapping his arms around Peter beneath his underarms and pulling him up and over to his bed.


            Sirius closed his eyes with another yawn. He refused to sleep, but he did feel much better with his eyes closed. It was dark on Remus' bed, with the curtains on the side facing the door open, but the ones facing the window tightly shut to keep the waning moonlight from touching him.


He reached over to the night stand and took a few sips from the water they'd brought over for Remus. It was cool and refreshing, but only served to help keep him awake for a few minutes. Soon, even as the liquid rushed down his throat, he felt his eyes closing sleepily. Desperate to find another approach, he grabbed a book that sat on the night stand. This one was a collection of fairy tales from different countries around the world and long explanations of their magical connections and historical origins. Leafing through it, Sirius could tell at once that it wasn't his sort of thing, but he amused himself by reading the stories at least and skipping the more informative bits.


            It was late into the night when Sirius, who had nodded off despite himself, woke to the feeling that someone was shaking him. The book, open on Sirius' lap, tumbled off and onto the bed beside, where Sirius caught it before it hit the floor and woke the others. Groggily, Sirius looked around to see what had awoken him. It turned out to be Remus, eyes open, moving around in bed. "Remus!" Sirius whispered, taking him in a tight hug. "You're okay! You're awake!"


            But Remus, it turned out, was neither okay nor really awake. In a feverish daze, he looked around. "Sirius?" he asked, gripping Sirius' shirt tightly in his hand.


            "Yes, it's me. I'm here," Sirius whispered, dipping the washcloth in the basin again and dabbing it against the warm forehead. "Just rest."


            "Where am I?" Remus asked, his eyes not resting on anything but zipping about anxiously.


            "You're in your bed," Sirius told him, holding the cool washcloth against one of Remus' red cheeks, then the other.


            "Where did all the firebirds come from?" was his next question, and one that took Sirius by surprise.


            While it was clear Remus really wasn't aware of what was happening, hearing it said caused unease to say the least. "There are no firebirds here," he replied softly, but Remus did not seem to believe him.


            Remus continued looking around. He had a look of panic about him. Panic and fever and restlessness. Sirius had to grip his shoulder to keep him from thrashing about too badly. Even with a cool compress and Sirius to reassure him, Remus was getting worse and worse. He started making even less sense, and trying to pull free of the covers, though Sirius held him down. Sirius had half a mind to call James over to help, but didn't want to wake the loudly snoring Peter with a yell. Peter was brilliant and useful in a lot of different ways, but he wasn't the best to have around in the middle of a crisis, and comforting Peter's worries while trying to calm Remus was the last thing Sirius wanted now. And while he did want to go wake James, Sirius wouldn't leave Remus' side for an instant to do so. He'd taken care of a sick Remus before. He could do it again. Even with a fever this time.


            But this wasn't any normal fever. This fever made Remus lash out and pull at his surroundings. It made him cry, and it made him talk. Most of what he said, Sirius couldn't understand. And some of what Sirius could at least make out, he couldn't justify. Remus talked about all sorts of things, but did so all the while with a pained expression and eyes that showed he was very far away yet.


            "Don't want to... bite them...." Remus muttered, looking pained and trying to push Sirius away.


            "You won't," Sirius said, trying to sound reassuring. He stroked the side of Remus' face as best he could, with Remus moaning and moving about, his head going from side to side. "I'm here to make sure you don't."


            "You can't stop me!" Remus mumbled, pushing harder. "I'll just hurt you if you try it!"


            So Sirius merely held on more tightly. "I can," he said. "I'm Padfoot. I'm big, and strong. I can stop you, and you won't hurt me." It seemed pointless to try to reassure Remus, as Sirius wasn't even sure Remus could hear him, let alone understand him, but it was the truth. With Padfoot around, the wolf side of Remus was hardly a danger.


            As expected, Remus continued to whine and cry and mutter pointless things as he tried to break free from Sirius' hold, and the covers. Not knowing how else to soothe his friend, Sirius bent his head and placed a soft kiss on his forehead.


            Remus calmed immediately at the touch, staring up at Sirius with fever-bright eyes that seemed to look beyond Sirius. "Sirius?" he asked again. Sirius nodded. His hand shaking, Remus reached up, grabbed the collar of Sirius' shirt, and pulled him close. Remus caught him in a strong kiss.


            Completely startled, Sirius couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't think until Remus released him. "R-Remus?" he stuttered, wiping his sleeve against his mouth.


            "I've wanted to do that for so long," Remus admitted, gazing up at Sirius in a dreamy sort of way. "I suppose I was just too shy to say it, but I love you, and I want you and..." his voice died away and his eyes closed again.


            "Remus!" Sirius shook him, and pressed his hand against his forehead. He even gave Remus a slap. But it was no use. Remus was unconscious again. Doing the only thing he could think of, Sirius bent his head and returned the kiss, strong and sweet. It was the sort of kiss the prince had given Snow White, or the one the other prince had given the sleeping beauty in the fairy tales Sirius had just read. But no matter how heart-felt and passionate, it did not wake the sleeping werewolf. Not long after, however, his fever finally broke.


            Too shocked to move, and too confused to sleep, Sirius simply held him tightly and waited patiently until Remus woke. As it happened, it was early in the morning when Remus opened his eyes. The faint sunrise hidden from him by the curtains drawn around his bed on one side. He sat up coughing and snuffling, and as he looked around for a tissue, he found Sirius in bed with him instead. He froze for a moment, wondering what it could mean, but then Sirius woke with a yawn and a stretch.


            "Hey," Sirius said gently, and reached out, feeling his forehead. "Good, good. No fever at all. I've been checking all night." He tried not to look as seriously relieved as he felt, and tried not to hug Remus to death. He managed a tight squeeze of a hug. "We were all pretty worried about you, you know."


            Remus nodded. "But you're the one who..." His face fell and his jaw dropped. It was an expression Sirius recognized intimately. Sirius snatched up a tissue and held it to Remus' face just in time. "ihhhChuhhh! ehhhChahhh! Sniff! You're the one who stayed with me and nursed me back to health? Sniff!"


            Sirius nodded. There was silence a moment, in which they simply got used to finding each other in bed. Awake, and close, and Sirius could barely contain himself. "Remus... about what you said last night... I--"


            "Last night?" Remus asked, rubbing the back of his neck where an ache still ate at him. "Uh... what happened last night?"


            Sirius froze. Of course he wouldn't remember. It had been the fever talking then, and it had been all blocked from his memory now. In fact, perhaps he hadn't really even meant it. He'd been rambling about werewolves and hags and all sorts of things from lost shoes to murder. But for those few seconds of consciousness, it had seemed as though he'd been truthful in his emotions. "Nothing," Sirius whispered, and gave him another tight hug. "Just relax and start feeling better now. The bad times are behind you." He touched Remus again, tenderly, on the forehead, a forehead he had kissed just the night before, pushing back his hair. His fingers hesitated, seeming to want to move down instinctively to the lips... but he held them back. If there were ever a time to discuss it, this was certainly not it.


            Remus smiled, paused a moment, then rolled over and snuggled up against the side of Sirius' body for warmth. Sirius wrapped an arm around him and held him close. "We'll talk about it later," Sirius whispered, reassuring himself of the point more than telling this to Remus.


            "Hmm?" he asked, raising his head.


            Sirius shook his head with a smile. "Nothing."




Year 6


            Sirius laid back on Remus' bed with a pleased sigh, and Remus pulled the covers over them both. It was cold in their dormitory room, as it was snowing heavily outside. The snowstorm had hit just as classes were ending and it was almost an issue for those going home. For a few hours it seemed impossible that anyone would be going home for winter holiday on time. But in the end, they all headed off as usual, leaving just a few stragglers behind. But the storm had not lightened much since its beginning, layering Hogwarts with feet of snow on all sides. It was all they could do to keep the chill away. Remus wrapped an arm around Sirius from the side and nuzzled him close. Oddly, Sirius was always rather warm, even when he, himself, was feeling cold. As Remus always felt cold, he'd never resist the chance to snuggle with a nice warm Sirius. "How long do we have?" Sirius asked, closing his eyes.


            Remus glanced at his watch. "I have to leave in about an hour," he said, his voice raspy. He forced himself to swallow, hoping it would help his throat, when it really didn't. "And you have to go down for dinner, else they'll think something's up."


            "Something's always up when it comes to me," Sirius replied, grinning madly, to which Remus hit him in the face with a pillow. He still laughed and smiled after the hit, but let no more sexual innuendoes slip by on purpose. "So, what... Remus? You all right?" Sirius turned his head as he heard Remus' breath catch in small, halting gasps.


            Remus nodded, unable to speak at the present moment. He cupped his hand over nose and mouth, waiting for it. "ehhh...ehhhIHShhhh!" He paused for a moment, a second not far behind. "ihhKshhhh!"


            "Bless you," said Sirius. He reached over to the night stand and pulled out a tissue, handing it back to Remus.


            "This dab code," Remus said, stuffily, and blew his nose a few times. "I wish just one year, sniff, sniff, I could get through the winter without it."


            Sirius nodded. Remus had every right to complain. This cold in particular had lasted nearly a week now. They'd hoped, when his sniffles started early, he might be over it by Christmas. But he'd spent Christmas in bed, sniffling and sneezing, and Sirius had brought all the presents to him. Then they'd hoped it would be gone by the night of his transformation. But now that was upon him and Remus was still under the weather. As Remus rubbed the tissue against his raw nose, Sirius fought to continue the conversation on any topic other than Remus' ailment. "So... what do you want to do with the extra hour we have now? Feel like a game of chess, maybe?"


            Remus shook his head. It wasn't that Remus wasn't good at chess, only that Sirius was better. So much better, in fact, that it was not worth playing. The outcome was virtually set.


            "Hmm... exploding snap?" Remus wasn't too keen to play that, either. Though he had quick reflexes which served him well in the game, there was very little strategy or thinking of any sort involved. "How about we go have a snowball fight?"


            Again, he shook his head. "Nah, had one with James and Peter before they left, didn't we? Wouldn't be the same without them."


            This was true enough, and Sirius agreed, but was quickly running out of suggestions. "I dunno, then. What do you want to do for an hour?"


            Remus hesitated, the answer on the tip of his tongue. He had a look in his eye Sirius recognized all too well.


            "Whoa no!" Sirius exclaimed, rolling over onto his side to face Remus in bed. "Don't say that. We're not doing that."


            Smiling innocently. "What? All I was going to say was--"




            "--maybe we could get a little homework done."


            Sirius rolled his eyes and flopped onto his back. "You said it!" he groaned. "Moony, come on! It's the holidays. I barely do my homework when classes are in session. Think I want to spend my holidays doing it? You've got to be joking!"


            Remus was, as his smile told, most surely joking. The smile was fleeting, and his face was full of recognition of another sneeze coming on. "hehhh... ehhhIHKshhh! ihhhKshh!" He didn't feel well enough to handle thinking his way through chess, let alone to do a good job on homework. He rubbed his nose as he thought. "I just want to lie here a while with you, if you don't mind," Remus said at last. "Until I'm forced to get up and make my way over to the shack in the cold." He practically shivered just from the thought of it.


            "You know," said Sirius, rolling back onto his side, "I think I could handle that."


            Remus smiled. "I'm glad you decided to stay here this year for the holidays," Remus whispered. "I know James' parents invited you and all..."


            "Hey, course I wanted to stay here at Hogwarts. It's right here with you. Like always."


            Nodding, "Yeah, I know. But having a warm, fuzzy traditional holiday with the Potters... it would have been fun. I just... appreciate you making the choice to stay here with me."


            Sirius quieted him with a soft kiss. "There wasn't a choice to be made," he whispered, and Remus understood and dropped the subject. There was silence for a few moments as they snuggled beneath the covers. Then Sirius spoke again, "Thought we should sneak down and get you something to eat before you have to go. I don't want a sick and hungry wolf on my hands, er, paws, tonight."


            With a shrug and a rub at his nose, "I dunno. Not feeling so... so... ihhhKuhshhh! Kshoo! Sniff, sniff! Not so hungry." Truth was, Remus hadn't had much of an appetite since getting sick, and the prospect of an additionally uncomfortable transformation that night wasn't making him any hungrier.


            "Too bad," said Sirius, tapping Remus' nose. "I'll get you some tea and a sandwich and I'm going to make sure you eat it, sick or not." He gave Remus a soft kiss and climbed out of bed, filled with his mission. Determined, he headed towards the doorway.


            "Sirius!" Remus laughed, pulling the blanket tighter around to make up for the empty spot in bed beside him now. "At least put some clothes on, first!"


            With a slap on the forehead, Sirius pretended to have forgotten. Then, smiling knowingly at Remus, slipped on a shirt and pants and headed out, barefooted, hurrying. Remus laughed more and snuggled into the pillows, settling in for a warm nap before tonight. He reckoned that he was going to need all the strength he could muster.


            As it turned out, he was right. And the strength that had come with a somewhat full belly had been helpful as well. But it had also been one of his most difficult transformations to date. Luckily, Sirius hadn't left his side for an instant.


            Padfoot raised his head from the rather tattered pillow to see the wolf dreaming in its sleep. One of its hind legs was twitching, along with its ears. It gave a whimper, and Padfoot knew the dream wasn't an especially happy one. Beyond that, Moony looked terribly cold. Padfoot rose, slightly unsteady on the bed. His legs stiffened with a stretch and his head shook with a fierce yawn. Then he lowered his head and gathered himself a mouthful of cloth. He jumped down to the floor, softly for his padded feet, bringing with him the thick blanket and the scarf.


            Though it was difficult to do as a dog, he managed to drag the blanket over much of the wolf. And he draped the scarf loosely around its neck so that it would be in place but wouldn't wake him. Then Padfoot circled him instinctively, though not entirely sure why his instincts told him to do so. Padfoot wasn't a real dog, but Moony wasn't a real wolf, either, so it worked out just fine. Padfoot curled up against Remus' front, the part the blanket did not completely cover, and nuzzled him affectionately.


            Sleepily, Moony nuzzled back, his nose warm and dry against Padfoot's face. It pulled back a moment, head snapping down with a strong canine sneeze. "ihshhhh!" Padfoot nuzzled him back to comfort him.


            Then a sharp howl was directed into the dark black fur, its volume muffled. The wolf made to bite, but Padfoot pulled away as the body of a wolf and a young man twisted and turned, writhing on the floor as one. As the howl turned into a moan, and the last of the sharp teeth, fur, and claws vanished back to humanity, Padfoot changed back into Sirius with a flash.


            Knowing the quickest way to help him, Sirius wrapped the scarf around Remus neck, rather than having it just hanging there loosely. Remus was on all fours, his thin frame more noticeable as his clothes had been discarded and torn to pieces earlier in the night. He had the blanket to cover some of himself, but the heavy panting of his chest seemed to take him over. His ribs were visible through the skin, and he shook with fierce shivers. But the scarf around his neck slowed his breathing and helped him remember what he was. He tilted his head and rubbed his cheek against it, then sighed deeply and collapsed. The muscles supporting his arms and legs gave out at once, and he crashed down against the cold wooden floor.


            Sirius took Remus in his arms, cradling him warmly, bringing the blanket around his naked, shivering body. Remus snuffled and nuzzled his face into Sirius' strong, warm chest. "Still a little cold?" Sirius asked, now rubbing his hand hard up and down Remus' arm through the blanket to generate heat.


            "T-Too cold," Remus replied. His body stiffened and he buried his face in the folds of Sirius' cloak with an apologetic whimper. Sirius stroked the back of his head soothingly to let him know it was all right, and that he didn't mind a few sneezes. "ihhChuhhh! ehhhHachhuhh! ehhhChahhh! Sniff!"


            "Bless you," Sirius whispered. "Come on, let's get up onto the bed at least. This floor is freezing cold."


            Remus whimpered again. "I don't think I can."


            "Hold on tightly, then. I'll get you up." Remus clutched Sirius' cloak with fists so hard that his knuckles turned white. Sirius lifted him up, blanket and all, and took him to the bed. The mattress was lumpy, the blanket full of holes and tears, and the cold air just as bad a few feet off the ground as right by it. But he had to admit it felt better. And better yet was when Sirius crawled beneath the blanket with him, nuzzling and warming him from behind with his body pressed up close and his arms closing in around Remus.


            Remus' shivering died down gradually, as he was hugged close against Sirius. He felt more comfortable, ready to get some much needed sleep. But his nose ran terribly from the cold. And no matter how much he sniffled or rubbed his nose on a part of the scarf, it didn't seem to get any better. "ehhhKSHHH! ihhhKEHShhhhhh!" He sighed in frustration and sniffled wetly into his scarf.


            "There now," Sirius said, pulling back his hair, placing a kiss behind his ear which was accompanied by a warm breath. "You'll be just fine. I'm here to take care of you."


            "Like always," Remus whispered, the words obscured by the scarf.


            "That's right," he replied.


            "Like Peter's uncle's eggnog. Or the annual snowball fight."


            "Or the mistletoe," Sirius added with a dreamy sort of smile. "It's tradition."


            "It's why I started to fall in love with you," said Remus, rubbing his cheek against Sirius' arm affectionately.


            Sirius smiled and, straining his neck, kissed Remus' other cheek softly. "My sweet, soft-spoken Remus... I could not begin to count the reasons I began to fall in love with you."


            Remus pulled his face away, dipping his head to hide the bottom portion beneath the scarf. "I'm weak like this..."


            Sirius took in a sharp breath. "You most certainly are not! You're the only one I know who could withstand these horrors every single month and come out strong, come out alive. The only one who could recover so well afterwards, and who could actually hide it from nearly everyone. You're strong, Remus. So strong that you don't actually need me..."


            "Maybe not... but I'd rather have you than not have you." Remus shook his shoulders, cuddling back against Sirius again, who held him tighter.


            "Puppy love," Sirius whispered. That was what James had so aptly named what they had, and what he and Peter referred to it as whenever they caught Remus and Sirius in a compromising position which they could not help. It wasn't the puppies' fault they couldn't keep their hands to themselves, after all.


            Remus cracked a smile and nodded. The smile was, unfortunately, short-lived. He sniffled and bent his head, directing his sneeze towards his scarf. "hehhhIhshhhh! ihhhChuhhhh! IHHHChuhhh!" Still sniffling badly, Remus sighed and closed his eyes. "How long until Madam Pomfrey comes?"


            Sirius shrugged. "A couple of hours, I think. It's dawn but not very light out yet."


            Remus nodded. "That's the problem with this season. Days get shorter, nights longer. Which means more time as a wolf, and less time to re-recover." Quickly he bent his head downwards and held the scarf over his nose. "EhhhChahh! IhhhChuhhh!" He sniffled miserably, rubbing his nose against the soft weave. "More nighttime. Just what I need."


            "Moony wasn't much thrilled with it either," Sirius told him. "It's a little odd seeing a werewolf sneeze so much. You'd be all vicious and snarling, then suddenly turn away and start sneezing." He kissed the back of Remus' head. "As cruel and vicious as the wolf is, he never fools me. I know deep down he still has you in his heart, and in his head. And it never surprised me when the wolf wanted me to lick its face or nuzzle it after a particularly hard bout of sneezes." Sirius smiled.


            Then Sirius went on, thoughtfully, "But it couldn't understand why I wouldn't let it out of the shack, but I dared not do so without Prongs to help watch you. I might have been able to handle it normally, but I'm not sure how well I'd have been able to handle a sick and confused werewolf." Sirius rubbed his shoulder. He pulled down his shirt at the neck to show a set of claw marks that had pierced him deeply. The blood flow had since stopped, but the scrapes were still horrible to look at. Remus closed his eyes at the sight. He didn't mind his own cuts and bruises, but ever since the others had become animagi, he'd had to see the kind of damage he usually inflicted upon himself on them instead. With their size and in their animal forms, Remus couldn't really hurt them, or kill them, but it was still painful to see the injuries. "Don't worry. It doesn't even hurt any more. Believe me, you weren't happy when I wouldn't let you out. But I wouldn't budge on that issue."


            With a grin, "Sirius Black showing some restraint and responsibility? Who would have thought?" Remus joked, but the way he held on tight to Sirius in the young man's tight embrace told them he wasn't really as doubtful of that part of Sirius as he seemed. If nothing else, Sirius knew when it was time to be serious and protect his friends. "Too bad Madam Pomfrey will be coming around soon."


"That doesn't matter. I'm not going to leave you this time." Remus' head swung back. He looked startled. Sirius shrugged again. "You're sick and it's cold. Bet the shack is halfway buried in snow. You shouldn't be alone."


            As though answering his assumptions, there was a great crack and a splintering high-pitched sound which was that of one of the many icicles decorating the roof of the shrieking shack breaking off and crashing to the ice-covered blanket of snow below. Both Sirius and Remus jumped, startled. Remus sniffled and retreated even more into Sirius arms.


            Sirius couldn't resist administering soft kisses to his neck and cheeks and wherever else it was easy to reach, whether the soft brown hair got in the way or not. "Wish we could stay here forever," he whispered.


            "Classes will be starting soon," Remus said. "I'm determined to get at least a little work done over break." As though telling him not to hope for such things, his breathing caught. His mouth fell, body tensed, and eyes closed. "heh...hahEHSchhh! ihhhHeshhhh!"


            Sirius reached over and rubbed the scarf against Remus' nose. "I'm not letting you do a bit of work until you start feeling better," he said.


            "Siri... ihhhHehshhhh! Chishooo! You just said I was strong..."


            "Nope, no protesting, Remy. You're sick and I'm taking proper care of you. So you'll just have to put up with me doing your work for you."


            "Sirius... I won't learn that way..."


            Sirius laughed and nuzzled and kissed. "You're a bookish little prefect. You're smart enough already. Now let me help you out for a change."


            Remus reached up and pulled the blanket over his shoulder, tucking it beneath his chin so as not to let any of the cold air from the room in. Another icicle cracked from its spot and shattered on the ground. Sirius laughed again, and Remus knew he could do nothing to resist that laugh. That laugh, that smile, that young man who risked a month's worth of detentions by staying beside him all morning. Remus smiled and closed his eyes. "You're helping me just by being here with me, warming me. Like always."


            "Well, ever since fifth year when I was able to transform and stay with you, at least."


            Remus shook his head and fingered his scarf with great affection. "No, you were always here with me. Ever since that first Christmas here. And you'll always be with me, won't you?"


            Sirius sighed happily. Sirius Black always kept his promises. "Yes. Always."




Year 7


            "ehhhKtchhh! ihhhChuhhh!" Remus jumped, startled, as a large quilt wrapped around his shoulders. With the quilt came the arms, strong yet gentle, hugging from behind. They came over his upper arms and locked with fingers entwined at the center of his chest. Remus threw his head back and gave Sirius a kiss on the cheek in thank you.


            "Best I could find," Sirius said, kissing him back on the cheek and swinging over to sit on Remus' side, taking up the sides of the quilt and pulling them closed in front of them both. There was enough of the quilt that they could still reach through gaps between folds and use their hands for some things. Sirius picked up a skewer and impaled a marshmallow on the end of it. Then he slid one arm around Remus' waist to get more comfortable and lowered the end of the skewer into the fire.


            Remus scooted a little closer to the fire as he did the same, though he warmed his free hand by holding it up to the flame. Remus held his skewered marshmallow just above the flames, carefully turning so that the whole thing turned a soft golden brown. When it could be no more perfect, he would pull it back, gently ease it off the skewer, and take a bite, the outside hard and the inside warm and mushy. Sirius, on the other hand, plunged his into the flames, let it completely catch on fire, then pulled it out when it was black and charred. He stuck the whole thing in his mouth, pulled it off the skewer, and ate it in a few swallows for a mix of burnt sugar and gooey goodness.


            "ehhIhhShhhh! ehhShhhh!" Remus rubbed his nose on his scarf-clad shoulder and shivered, needing to readjust the quilt after the sneeze. "Sirius? Weren't you supposed to get something warm for us to drink?"


            "The hot cocoa!" Sirius exclaimed. He crawled out from under the blanket and bolted away. He was back not long after, snuggling under the quilt with two mugs of hot cocoa in his hands. "There you go, Love. It's not butter beer but--"


            "Chocolate," Remus grinned, and took a few cautious sips so he didn't burn his mouth. Sirius, on the other hand, gulped down a few mouthfuls and swallowed, wincing. Remus smiled and turned his head so Sirius could not see him laughing. Sirius saw anyway, out of the corner of his eye, and quickly took their cups away to let the drinks cool a bit. This way, too, Remus would not spill any and scald himself when Sirius covered him with tickles. Remus howled with laughter, not putting up much of a fight but enjoying it all the same. They stopped, a bit breathless, and Remus fell into Sirius' arms weakly, smiling. He looked up, the pale eyes smiling down at him, and he wanted a kiss but dared not ask for one even as Sirius moved in for one as well. "I'm sick," Remus whispered. "Don't want you catching my cold."


            "Hang your cold," Sirius replied, and gave him a hard, strong kiss. "Don't need the mistletoe to kiss like that," Sirius said, nuzzling him affectionately afterwards. "And don't need your cold to keep us snuggled under a quilt together under the fire during the winter holidays."


            Remus nodded and rubbed the back of his neck. He went to go for his hot cocoa again, but Sirius stopped him. "Wait, let me check you for fever before you go drinking any more of that." He raised his hand and pressed the palm to Remus' forehead. Before Remus could sigh and explain again about using the back of his hand, Sirius brushed Remus' light brown hair back from his face with a soft touch. Then he leaned forward, pressing his own forehead to Remus' and closing his eyes in thought. When he pulled back, he shook his head. "You're doing much better. You'll be over this cold soon. In time for New Year's I'm certain."


            Remus nodded again, and leaned against Sirius for the warmth. He recovered the mug and began drinking, able to take larger gulps now easily without risking further injury. Sirius gulped down his own rather quickly, then set another few marshmallows on fire before he got up again, this time for tissues.


            Remus snuffled into the end of his scarf, wiggling his nose from the itchiness. Sirius sneaked back beneath the quilt with a box of tissues, setting it on Remus' lap. "Good thing you got a nice big box of tissues for Christmas, eh? Thoughtful thing for a bloke to get you, wasn't it?"


            "I should say so," Remus agreed. "When I'm feeling all cold and sniffley like usual, it's nice to know I can blow my nose any time I need to."


            "Oh," Sirius continued on, stroking the side of the tissue box. "But they aren't just any tissues now, are they? They're the extra soft kind with the lotion."


            "They are indeed." Remus plucked one out from the box, and another sprang up in its place. They were also the especially thick ones with the spell on them so that they had super absorbency and could withstand pretty strong blows. But apart from the tissues, Sirius had also given him a whole box of chocolate frogs, presumably purchased but possibly pilfered from Honeydukes by means of a secret tunnel, and a new scarf with the colors of the muggle college he'd been accepted to as a research fellow. Remus still wasn't sure he was going to go, but a new scarf was a new scarf and he wore both of Sirius' scarf presents at once as he snuggled into Sirius by the fire and blew his stuffed-up nose.


            When done with the tissues, and the hot cocoa, Remus took up another marshmallow and began toasting it again above the brilliant dancing flames. Sirius watched, wrapping his arms around Remus from behind to warm him just as Remus felt chill and needed them to. After a few minutes of trying to make the marshmallow a beautiful golden brown, Remus heard a soft grunt of impatience from his friend, and decided to simply plunge the marshmallow into the flames briefly. He pulled it out and blew out the fire, then held it up to Sirius, who nodded to him to take the first bite. Remus took a bite from the less burnt side, then Sirius pulled the rest of the melting marshmallow off the skewer with his teeth and ate it happily.


            Remus yawned fiercely and leaned into Sirius more, feeling the strong arms tightening warmly around him again. "Close your eyes," Sirius whispered. "Get some rest if you like. I'll watch over you."


            But Remus shook his head. "Shouldn't. What would Mr. and Mrs. Potter think to find us snuggled together, asleep beneath one quilt by the fire when they woke in the morning?"


            Sirius chuckled. He could think of a number of more embarrassing scenes for the Potters to walk in on. "They'd think we're poofs, which we are, and they'd think I was making you feel better because you have an awful cold, which I am because you do." Remus laughed as well. "And then, knowing the Potters, they'd probably usher us over to the guest bedroom anyway." Ever since Sirius had run away from home, James parents had taken him in during breaks and loved him just like their own son. Though the shock of such a thing probably would cause a bit of hesitation on their part. Sirius paused for a moment, considering this. "Then they'd probably go wake James up and question him for a few hours."


            Laughing, Remus had to agree. He turned and snuggled into Sirius' chest, the warm arms and thick quilt wrapped around him for warmth on all sides. "ehhIhshhh! ehhShhhh!" And even when he sneezed, Sirius did not flinch or pull back. He simply rubbed Remus' scarf against his nose for him and stroked the back of his head gently, trying to help Remus off to sleep.


"Why do you think it is you never catch my colds from me?" Remus inquired randomly a while later, warm and comfortable but not quite able to fall asleep as all the sugar worked its way through his system.


            Sirius shrugged. "I suppose it's because I'm always too busy taking care of you to get sick," he reasoned. "Besides, I always come down sick during the school year so I can skip all my classes. You're the one with the timing to push yourself hard with school work and then get sick during break so you don't miss out on any of the learning."


            Remus chuckled and nuzzled into the soft flannel of Sirius' pajamas. His nose running again, it was easier to do that than to raise a hand and rub his nose, and Sirius didn't seem to mind either way. He sat still and let Remus fall asleep in his arms for the night.


            Remus slept well against Sirius' warm chest. His hand, which gripped Sirius' shirt, loosened so it was half curled as he fell asleep and relaxed. Sirius pushed the hand down beneath the quilt and clutched a tissue in his own hand, periodically wiping Remus' nose as needed. Then, after another couple of marshmallows, he pulled the quilt into place around his shoulders and tilted his head, resting his cheek on the top of Remus' head as a pillow. Remus, sleeping upright, did not snore at all, though breathed more heavily than normal with congestion. It was a familiar and somewhat soothing sound to Sirius, a subtle reminder of every holiday they'd spent together, every holiday that Remus had brightened just by being with him. Smiling, he closed his eyes, inhaled a bit of Remus' scene, and fell asleep with his arms tightly around Remus.



            The fire burned brightly, all through the night, as the logs within it were magical and burned away especially slowly, if at all. So when Remus woke early the nest morning, the flames were still tall and warm. It was not his cold that had awoken him, but a noise he had sensed, far off in the rest of the house. If his ears could have twitched on their owns, they would have been. Remus looked up to find himself still sleeping against Sirius, leaning into him as Sirius was leaning against him, giving each other the balance needed to sit upright even in sleep. He tugged at Sirius' shirt. "Siri!" he whispered anxiously. But no sooner had he spoken than he had to bury his nose in Sirius' chest to muffle the sound of sneezes. "hehhh... ehhChmphh! IhhhKshmmm!" Remus shook at the force of trying to hold them back. While Sirius had not woken to Remus calling his name, the sneezes had been affective.


Without opening his eyes, as though working on instinct, Sirius took his hand from the small of Remus' back and plucked a tissue from the box. "Bless-you-need-a-tissue?" he asked groggily, his words running together without the effort required to correct them. He had been through this a dozen times already this night.


            "No!" Remus whispered, straining to hear another noise that might mean for sure that others were awake in the house. He rubbed his nose, sniffling. "Well, actually, yes I do," and he grabbed the tissue, sniffling. "But no, I mean, I thought I heard something from upstairs--" he stopped short and both he and now a more awake Sirius heard a distinct thump that time, followed by a set of voices.


            "James' parents!" hissed Sirius. He'd stayed with them over the summer break as well and knew them well, even when he was sleepy. He stood immediately, pulling Remus along with him. Remus was unsteady on his feet for a moment, and clung to Sirius, but then found his balance. "Run," Sirius whispered with urgency. "Go on ahead. I'll grab the things and be right behind you."


            Remus grinned, his eyes tired and over-bright. "You always are."


            "Go on!" Sirius pushed him, rolling his eyes. Then he grabbed the mugs, marshmallows, and skewers, and the quilt and tissues, and darted down the hall.


            The guest bedroom, luckily, was on the first floor, while the other bedrooms were up the living room staircase and on the second floor. So, as they ran, they heard footsteps coming down the stairs but could not be seen.


            Remus had jumped into bed and left the door open. So Sirius swung it closed behind as he raced in, landing on the bed as well. He draped the quilt over Remus, and deposited the box of tissues with him as well. But took the other items under the covers as he dove beneath the blankets. Sometime during the day they had pushed their two beds together to make one, but as the bedframes were large and heavy, there was no separating them now, even with magic. So they hoped it wasn't too noticeable as they snuggled into their beds and pretended they had been asleep there all night.


            Sirius lay on his stomach, his face pressed into the pillow so it wasn't visible. Remus, on the other hand, was on his back and didn't have time to move his head before they heard footsteps in the hall and the door swung open. Mrs. Potter, the hall light flooding the room behind her, looked in on them. As the room had no windows, it was the only light amidst the blankness. Sirius could feel it on him, bright and warm, and was glad not to have it shining in his face. Remus wasn't so lucky. It struck him in the face, and he winced instinctively, even though his eyes were closed. It was something that couldn't be helped, and James' mother noticed it, but Remus played it off as though he were just waking up.


            "Oh, I'm so sorry, Dear," she said, stepping in and closing the door halfway behind her. "I didn't mean to wake you."


            "S'okay," he said, in a rather good impression of how Sirius sounded when groggy. "Wasn't in a deep sleep." He rubbed a fist against his eyes, and opened them, squinting up at her. "Been waking up on and off, sneezing, getting water, and all, actually. Hope I didn't wake you."


            "Oh, no, no, of course you didn't," she laughed, walking over to the bed. She put the back of her hand against Remus' forehead, then his cheek. "You're pretty warm. Are you sweating?" Truth was, both of them had been a bit, from the sprint and the nervousness. But at least Remus had an excuse for that as well. "Just a light fever. I'm rather chilly, really."


            James' mother, her eyes soft and kind, nodded. She walked back over to the bedroom door and called out, "Honey, would you bring an extra blanket and a glass of water for Remus, please?" There was a muffled answer neither Remus nor Sirius could distinguish, but seconds later, another blanket was being tucked around Remus and he was being helped to sit up and take a bit of the water now.


            "You two all right in here?" James' father asked, apparently noticing the way the beds were together.


            Remus nodded as he was helped back down and the covers were tucked beneath his chin. "We were both really cold, so we moved the beds to the center of the room, away from the walls."


            Mrs. Potter felt one of the walls and nodded. "What smart lads. Feeling warmer now, are you?"


            "Oh yes, thank... thank you..." Remus didn't like sneezing in front of others, especially parents. Given how overprotective his own could be, this wasn't unusual. But he did not go through his normal routine of holding back his sneezes, hoping that they might help make James' parents see that he should be left alone again. They'd fussed over him for days when he came down with the cold, but they also knew when to leave him alone to get rest. "ehhhIHShhhh! ehhKshuhhh! Kshahh! ehhhIhchhhh! Sniff, sniff!"


            "You poor thing," Mrs. Potter said, watching him pull out from beneath the covers for a tissue and rub his nose. "It's very early yet. James' father needs to go into work early," Mr. Potter nodded in confirmation, "but there's no need for you lads to be up yet. Sleep in, enjoy your winter holiday. And feel better, Remus." She bent her head and kissed his forehead gently. "Call us if you need anything." She rounded the bed as Mr. Potter fiddled with the covers. They were already around Remus, but he tucked them more tightly now. Mrs. Potter kissed the top of Sirius' head with a "Sleep well." Sirius gave a grunting sort of sigh as though in his sleep, his breathing purposefully slow and deep.


            They both left, closing the door tightly behind. Remus and Sirius waited until they heard the footsteps die away, down the hall, across the living room, and through the door leading to the kitchen. Then Sirius sat up and looked over at Remus. "They bought it. What a relief."


            Nodding and exaggerating a stretch, Remus then put his hands behind his head, elbows sticking out to the side against his pillow. "I thought you didn't mind if they found out we were poofs. You thought they'd understand."


            Sirius smiled. "Yeah, they likely would have. But I wasn't going to take the chance. Not just now. They didn't need the shock. It's one thing Just knowing, or being told. But another to walk down the stairs for breakfast and find two of your son's best friends snuggling in front of the fire." Remus smiled a little at the image. It had been a wonderful night, fully worth a bit of rushing and panic in the morning. Though marauders were certainly used to a bit of panic now and then. "Anyway, you've got enough to be getting on with right about now without having to explain about us."


            He nodded his head towards Remus, who was rubbing his nose hard to get rid of the tickles. When it didn't work, Remus grabbed a few tissues and held them up to his face. "hehhh... ehhh... ihhKshhh! IhKshoo! IhhKShuhh!"


            Sirius waited for him to finish sneezing and blowing his nose before talking. "Thanks for thinking up such good excuses, by the way. You were bloody brilliant, you know. If they heard any noise at all, it could have just been you on your way to the bathroom for a glass of water."


            Remus grinned. "That's what I thought." His breath caught again, and he sat up, to better steady himself against the sneezes. Lying down, he shook in bed, his feet and head coming up from the force. But when sitting up, he just fell forward a little with each. Nothing too bad at all. "hehh..." His body pulled back as he took in the breath. "heh-IHHShhhh! ehhhChhihh! ehh... hehhhh..." His hand cupped his face with a tissue as he sneezed, but it pulled away as the last sneeze built up, his hand flapping back and forth over his face, as though in warning, or to draw the sneeze out. Whatever it was there for, it seemed to work. Quickly he clamped the tissue to his face again and sneezed the last sneeze of the set out. "ehhhh-HIHChhuhh!" Remus sniffled miserably into the tissues.


            "You poor, poor widdle dear," Sirius cooed, and Remus shot him a look over the tissues. Transferring the handful to one hand as he wiped, he grabbed his pillow and swung at Sirius, knocking him back against the bed.


            Laughing, Sirius grabbed hold and stole the pillow away from Remus. He cuddled it to his chest as though winning a prize he was most happy with. "Why, thank you." He pushed it under his head, so that he was quite elevated, and grinned in triumph. Then he faked a yawn and stretched out his arms even more than Remus had done.


            Remus scowled and tossed the used tissue towards him with a laugh. "Oh, you're welcome," he retorted. Then, taking as many blankets with him as he could, crawled over onto Sirius' bed. He snuggled under the covers, finding one of Sirius' arms already stretched out under the covers in invitation, to wrap around him. Remus snuggled close, his head on the pillow beside Sirius'. He lay on his side, pressed up against Sirius' side, with one leg bent and resting on top of Sirius' leg. "Mmmm," he muttered, nuzzling into Sirius' neck.


            "You feeling okay?" Sirius asked, reaching up and stroking Remus' cheek gently. "I mean, I know you're sick and all... but is there anything you need to make you feel better?"


            Remus shook his head. "I'm okay. I'm here with you, after all, aren't I?" Sirius beamed. "You're always so warm... I dunno how you do it, really." He nuzzled closer. "And you're strong and snuggley. Nah, I've got all I need." He closed his eyes, savoring the warmth that was Sirius for a few moments before he thought to ask. "Oy, what you you?"


            Sirius' eyebrows raised. "Me?"


            "Yeah, are you okay? I mean, do you need anything?"


            Sirius' expression was soft as he smiled and tilted his head just a little more into Remus'. Remus' warm forehead was pressed against his cheek, and he could feel the young man's warm breaths against his neck. Remus' heartbeat was fast and steady against his side, and he was as warm as he ever could be there with Remus lying partially on top of him. "I'm okay..." He paused, considering it for a moment. "But I could use a kiss."


            Remus turned his head up and pecked Sirius on the cheek.


            "Nah, I mean a real kiss- and I don't care that you're sick," he said with a chuckle as he felt Remus take in a breath in order to protest.


            Remus heaved himself up on one elbow, leaning over Sirius from the side. Slowly he lowered his head. Their lips met softly, touching fist in the middle, then fully, even at the corners of their mouths. Remus tilted his head a little, so their noses just brushed against each other. Remus applied pressure, opening his mouth just a little, making the kiss last as long as he could. Unable to breathe well through his nose, he ended it sooner than he would have liked, but took Sirius' top lip between his, sucking on it for a few moments as he pulled back.


            Sirius exhaled, savoring the memory of the kiss for a few seconds longer before allowing himself to break into a broad grin. Immediately, Remus coughed from congestion and turned his head into his shoulder. "ehhhHIHShhh! ehhKtchhh!"


            Still grinning like an idiot, Sirius reached over and grabbed a tissue. He held it up to Remus' nose with a mumbled, "Bless you." Remus nodded his thank you as he blew his nose. Then Sirius, arm still outstretched, wrapped it back around Remus, drawing him back down, holding him close. "Come on, back to sleep now. But you wake me if you do need anything, all right?"


            Remus nodded and cuddled up to him again, fitting perfectly against his side as though he belonged there. Sirius kissed his cheek, and readjusted his scarves tenderly. After just a few sniffles and a few minutes, during which Sirius still couldn't manage to remove the grin from his face, Remus fell asleep. However, Sirius stayed awake a little longer, to be sure Remus was all right, and to savor the moment.


Until Hogwarts, he had never had Christmas away from Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and had not understood how much more enjoyable the holiday could be until he and Remus had spent it together that first year. It has been like a whole new holiday entirely. And he'd never dreamed of enjoying it anywhere but at Hogwarts until the Potters had insisted James bring his friends over as well. Peter visited, coming and going, but spending most of his time with his own family for he was finally old enough for eggnog, but he dared not miss out on their annual snowball fight, this one in the Potters' extravagant backyard. He was pressured into brining over a couple cups of eggnog for the others to try as well. But for all the holiday traditions they'd developed, for all the playing and the presents, it was being together with Remus that made Sirius really feel that it was the holidays. It was the kissing that they did because they wanted to, because they could, rather than the ones under the mistletoe that meant the most. And as he drifted off to sleep with Remus in his arms, the grin plastered on his face, he vowed never to know what it was like to celebrate another Christmas without Remus by his side.