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“James, I’m really sorry but… James I would have told you but… James… ack!” Sirius cursed at his reflection and threw the bowtie he was never going to manage to tie properly to the ground.

“What the bloody hell are you doing, Padfoot?” Remus asked, walking into the room with a raised eyebrow, “If I didn’t know better I would think you were rehearsing an apology speech for James.”

Sirius widened his eyes at his friend and threw a finger to his lips, gesturing with his other hand towards the bathroom.  Remus could see, now that he was looking, that the crack beneath the door was spitting light; clearly someone was inside.  It only took him a moment to put together the pieces, James must be the one in the bathroom, Sirius must be pretending to rehearse an apology so that James would later think that he had actually fallen for Lily but have been too terrified to tell him…

Remus sighed deeply, he should have just waited in the common room until breakfast. “My head hurts,” he groaned, shaking his head at his friend’s dramatics, “I can’t wait for this ruddy dance to be over.”

“I… don’t know Remus,” Sirius said slowly, keeping up his charade for the boy who may or may not be listening in the bathroom, “Tonight is going to mean a lot of things to me.  It could decide the future of my forever.”

“That doesn’t even make sense,” Remus groaned.

“Does love ever?” Sirius replied with a sigh, “I just hope James can forgive me.”

At that, the bedraggled eavesdropper sidled back into the room.  The way he was wringing his hands and looking shiftily at Sirius made plain that he had, in fact, overheard all of Sirius’s acting.  Remus rolled his eyes again and pulled his pillow over his face.

“Ten hours,” he moaned into the soft fabric, “Ten more hours and this will all be over.”

“Right you are Moony,” James nodded, pulling a brush futilely through his hair, “But first a hearty breakfast and a nice long double Transfiguration to start the morning off right!”

“You’re awfully chipper this morning,” Sirius commented drily, “normally we have to drag you out of bed on a Friday morning.”

Remus snorted, pulling his pillow down to his chin so that his snort would have the maximum effect.  “What is this ‘we’ you speak of sir?” he asked to no reply.

James shrugged at Sirius, ignoring Remus’s comment, “It’s my last chance to win Lily over before the dance tonight,” he explained simply, “I figure if I’m super good in Transfiguration she’ll have to talk to me.  And if I can just get her to listen long enough for me to explain what a prat I was…”

“James,” Remus interjected calmly, “The amount of time it would take you to fully explain your history of prattiness would far surpass the amount of time we have left before the dance.”

“He’d be talking till graduation, more like!” Sirius snickered, tugging his tie on straight.

“Oh shove off, you,” James glared, shoving his feet into his sneakers and grabbing his bag from where it hung haphazardly off the end of his four-poster bed.

Remus blinked in surprise, “Leaving already Prongs?  Breakfast will still be empty.”

“I’m not staying at breakfast,” James replied, “I’m just grabbing a stack of toast and eating it in the classroom.  I want to get their early to get the seat next to Lily’s.  She always sleeps through breakfast, no point in me wasting my time there.  At least this way she’ll have to speak to me.”

“Uh…”  But before either boy could point out any of the flaws in James’s plan, the black haired boy had already sauntered out of the room, the door shutting with a neat click behind him.

Sirius raised an eyebrow at Remus, “He does know that Lily can sit somewhere else, right? She’s not emotionally attached to her seat or anything like that.”

“Sirius,” Remus sighed in reply, “If we’re being honest, when it comes to Lily does James really know anything?”

“Most things,” Sirius replied immediately, “but she does tend to make him lose all of his common sense.”

The two sat in silence for a few minutes, Sirius struggling to untangle his socks from the ball of clothing the house elves had deposited on his bed the previous afternoon, and Remus staring at the canopy of his bed without really seeing it.

“Speaking of males losing their minds over females,” Remus said slowly, breaking the silence, “Has Mary forgiven you for being an ass yet?”

Sirius groaned, tugging one sock loose at last, “No.  But then, I haven’t asked her to forgive me yet.”

That comment made Remus sit up and shoot Sirius a bewildered look.  “Why the bloody hell not?” he demanded, “You know you messed up royally.”

“I know,” Sirius sighed, “I’ve talked to Lily about it.”

Remus would have sat up in shock again if he were not already in the sitting position, “Lily is willing to talk to you after that?”

“She has to be,” Sirius half-smirked, “She’s my date tonight… but she starts every conversation with ‘For Mary’s sake I’m really mad at you, but…’ so I know I’m not in good standing with her.”

“Why on Earth haven’t you made up with Mary yet?” Remus demanded again.

“Because I need James to believe I’m in love with Lily!” Sirius snapped, “He’s hardly likely to be concerned about me going to the dance with Lily if I’m all happily-ever-after with Mary!”

“But…” Remus trailed off, “This wasn’t Lily’s idea, was it?”

“God no,” Sirius laughed heartlessly, “She offered to call the whole thing off, let me go run off and apologize to Mary, but… I don’t know Remus, I feel like I owe it to James now.  And Lily.  And if I make them both happy…”

Remus sighed, “This is absolutely ridiculous.  You know that right?  Absolutely ridiculous.  Lily and James both know that they like each other.  Why on Earth don’t we just lock them in a closet and force them to admit it!?”

Sirius blinked at Remus, “… We have trained you so well Moony.  That’s exactly what we’ll do.  We’ll have the big dramatic entrance.  And the first dance and then, if neither party makes the big move… we’ll shove them in a broom closet and be done with it.”

“Or we could just shove them in a closet now…” Remus pointed out, though he suspected it was as useless suggestion.

“Or we could do it my way.  We did not sit through hours of torture in Gladrags to deprive Lily of a big dramatic dress reveal!” Sirius proclaimed, slinging his bag over his shoulder as he threw his arms wide as though declaring something of extreme importance.

“I knew we should never have taken you to a muggle cinema,” Remus sighed, picking up his own bag and slipping on his loafers, “This redefines absurdity, you know that right? Let’s go down to breakfast…”

James had been right about Lily sleeping through breakfast, Remus and Sirius ate alone.   Mary quite literally dragged Peter into a seat next to her on the opposite end of the table and Remus pointedly ignored his small friend’s SOS crumpled napkins that kept hitting him in the face.  James had been wrong about securing a seat next to Lily in Transfiguration however.  Despite the fact that she ran in late (as usual), Mary had managed to save the seat beside her by some means or another, and Lily sat there instead.  James spent most of the period transfiguring items on her desk into hearts and apology notes, and for a while the rest of the class couldn’t shake the feeling that they had somehow traveled back in time to fifth year.  It therefore felt natural to watch Lily and Mary bolt from the classroom the second the bell rang.  The only change from past to present was that now James did not race after them.  Instead, he sighed miserably and started to pack up his things, one quill at a time.

Lily and Mary were well versed in the art of patience.  They were, after all, the only two girls in their year known to have successfully pranked the Marauders more than once.  The waiting game was always their secret weapon.  The boys were quick, they were smart, they were sneaky, but they were also antsy, volatile creatures who hated waiting.  Even Remus, the most even-tempered of souls, could not handle waiting around for too long.  So, Lily and Mary, neither of whom had been born patient had learned how to wait and let their prey relax.  They knew how to work with their targets’ weaknesses in mind; how to play the Marauder’s game. They knew exactly how to avoid the boys in the time between their fights and the ball.  They knew exactly how to exercise patience and politeness to make to the day of the ball.  That did not mean, however, that they liked it.

“Six hours,” Lily promised Mary as she slid into the seat opposite her during lunch.

Mary stabbed a lettuce leaf glumly, “Amen to that,” she sighed, “Though really, the boys are actually aren’t that difficult to avoid.”

Lily shot her a surprised look, “Really?” she exclaimed, “It feels like they’re being extra persistent,”

“James probably is,” Mary acknowledged, no less glumly, “I haven’t even seen Sirius since the debacle.”

“Oh Mary,” Lily bit her lip, “It’s probably a bit… complicated for him you know, I mean, he has to pretend to be into me tonight to get James to go for it?  James needs to think of him as an actual threat.  I almost feel sorry for Sirius; he can’t hang in his dormitory.  There’s nothing he can say to James that won’t make James suspicious.”

Something in Lily’s voice caught Mary’s attention.  Her head snapped up from its sullen hang, “You’ve talked to Sirius.” 

It wasn’t so much an accusation as a statement of fact, but it made Lily feel guilty all the same.

“Yeah…” she admitted slowly, “He’s my date tonight… I mean, you must’ve spoken to Remus?”

Mary nodded.  A part of her wanted to violently argue that it was different for her to talk to Remus.  Lily wasn’t in love with Remus after all, but then, Lily wasn’t in love with Sirius either.  If it weren’t for the necessity of talking to Sirius for the prank, Mary was quite sure Lily would be refusing to speak to him out of solidarity to her.  However, if it wasn’t for the jealousy prank, Mary wouldn’t be mad at Sirius in the first place.  Probably. There was, of course, the overwhelming chance that he would have found a way to do something else stupid, like ask a girl who was neither Mary nor Lily to the dance.

“My head hurts,” Mary groaned, resting the pained thing down on the table beside her plate.

“You might want to see Pomfrey about that then,” Remus had arrived, sliding in beside Mary, “Hullo Lily.”

“Remus,” Lily nodded.  She wasn’t entirely sure if she was supposed to be mad at Remus, but since he hadn’t done anything directly offensive to either her or Mary, she figured he was a safe bet.  He had acted like a stupid boy, but if she was mad at every stupid boy in Hogwarts, she would never get a date.

“You girls have your costumes ready?” Remus asked, forking a sandwich off the serving platter and onto his plate.

Lily couldn’t help but roll her eyes, “You helped us buy them,” she reminded him, a tad bit sharper than necessary.

“True,” Peter flopped down next to Lily and splashed some soup into his bowl, “but in the year or so that we’ve actually been friends, and during those previous years when James basically stalked Lily’s every move, we learned some stuff.”

“Oh?” Mary raised a disinterested eyebrow at the boys, “Pray tell.”

“Simply put, you girls are probably going to skive off all of your afternoon classes to fuss with your hair and nails and accessories.  The dresses themselves are only half the costume.”  The voice made Mary stiffen. Lily looked up and winced in sympathy for her friend as Sirius took the empty seat on the other side of Remus.

“You boys would be disappointed if we didn’t skive off and spend the rest of the day getting ready,” Mary pointed out drily, “We put in a lot of effort for you lot.”

“Besides,” Lily hurriedly added before the sour look on Sirius’s face could mutate into sour words, “it’s technically not ‘skiving’ Sirius.  I’m Head Girl.”

Sirius blinked, “And that, somehow, makes you immune to punishments?”

“Yup,” Lily smirked, “Haven’t you noticed how James and I basically never get yelled at for being late?”

Remus snorted, “Bet they’ll start abusing that soon enough,” he muttered to Mary, who snickered to herself and raised her glass of pumpkin juice in silent agreement.  Remus in turn picked up his respectable goblet of milk and the two made a silent toast to dreams of a future in which Lily and James spent the first ten minutes of every class in varied broom closets rather than at their desks.

“We’ll probably know after tonight,” Mary pointed out after taking the requisite post-toast sip.

“Know what?” asked Lily.  She had missed Remus’s snide comment, having been chastising Sirius for complaining about James’s abusing of Head Powers… or more precisely the fact that James had failed to include Sirius in the abuse.

“Nothing,” Remus sighed, “Are you ready for tonight Lily?”

She shrugged, “I don’t know.  I don’t know if he’ll even slightly believe Sirius and I are going as any more than friends.  It’s been too…” she shot a look at Mary and seemed to reword her phrase, “Too strained around here to really lay any groundwork.  To plant any seeds.”

“I dunno…” Peter said slowly, “James is so high-strung right now, I’m pretty sure he’ll fall for anything.”

“Sad but true,” agreed Remus, “Yesterday I told him that the morning’s charms lesson was going to be on top of the astronomy tower.”

Sirius guffawed, “Is that why he was so late to class?”

Remus nodded, “He waited on top of the tower for twenty minutes before he realized what was going on.”

“Nice one Moony!” Sirius nodded, the prankster-gleam in his eye, “Peter is right, James is clearly at a very high level of gullible.”

“Gullible comes in levels?” Mary asked snidely.

Lily nodded earnestly, “I’m a level five!” she smirked, ignoring her friend’s glare.

“Six.” Peter, Remus and Sirius all corrected automatically.

“Oh, shove off,” Lily grimaced, slinking a little lower in her seat.

Anyway,” Remus started, dragging the group back to the matter at hand, “James is clearly very susceptible to pranking at the moment.”

“It’ll help that Sirius has been so absent lately too,” Peter added thoughtfully.

Remus nodded, “James keeps asking us where you are, Padfoot, and when we don’t have good answers… well I think he knows you’re up to something he wouldn’t like.  He hasn’t connected your shadiness to Lily, but he’ll fall hook line and sinker for an illicit affair if it’s presented right.”

“Illicit affair,” Mary repeated slowly, drawing out the sounds, “sounds like the title to an excellent novel.”

“I’ll look it up,” Lily promised before turning back to Remus and Peter, “You guys really think we can pull this one off?”

They both nodded.  “James is already in love with you, and he knows it.  He’s just acting like a prat,” Peter explained calmly.

Sirius nodded, “He’s very skilled at acting like a prat.”

“Sometimes I don’t think he’s acting,” Lily muttered, leading Remus to snort his milk and smother a laugh with his sleeve.

“I wouldn’t worry about it Lily,” Peter smiled, choosing to ignore the slight on James’s character – Peter had decided long before then that, if he couldn’t, in good faith, disagree with what Lily or Mary was saying about James or Sirius, then he would just ignore it and pretend as if he hadn’t heard it.

“James is mad for you,” Peter reiterated.

Lily sighed, “Thanks Peter, it’s nice to hear, but I want to hear it from him.”

Mary sent her friend a sympathetic grimace as she tilted her head slightly to scan the Gryffindor table, “Speaking of James,” she said slowly, “where in the devil is he!?”

Remus shrugged, “Could be anywhere,” he replied.

“Probably not throwing himself off a tower though,” Sirius smirked, “if that’s what’s troubling you MacDonald.”

Mary glared back at Sirius, “No, Black, I’m just concerned that he won’t get to eat before the afternoon classes.”

“I thought you weren’t going to the afternoon classes?” Sirius retorted at once.

“We’re not,” Mary snapped back, “but we’re not James.”

“Clearly you’re not,” Sirius glared, “or you’d understand when a bloke was serious or joking!”

Lily and Remus exchanged raised eyebrows, intrigued by the sudden change of subject matter.

“Oh, harhar,” Mary rose to her feet, briskly brushing crumbs off of her skirt with trembling hands, “I thought that you were always serious.”

Sirius clamored to his feet too, crumbs falling off of his trousers of their own accord, “I am,” he said slowly, some menace in his voice, “the only one allowed to make Sirius is serious jokes!!”

“Oh really?” Mary demanded, “Well I don’t think anyone should be allowed to make them seeing as you’re never serious!”

“That’s bull!” Sirius was shouting now, he just didn’t get how she couldn’t hear what he was telling her.

Mary was shouting too now, hands balled into little fists of rage, “Really now?” her voice dripped acid, “Name one thing you’re serious about, besides your hair!”

Neither one of the pair noticed how silent the Great Hall had fallen, or how attentive the entire school was on their argument.

“I’m serious,” Sirius’s voice had dropped back to its usual level, though in the quiet hall it still echoed, “I’m serious about you.”

Eager to test a common theory, Peter yanked a pin out of Lily’s hair and dropped it.  As he’d always thought, he still couldn’t really hear the noise it made when it hit the ground.  Remus, who was awkwardly sitting with his back to the couple who had been shouting in the aisle between the tables, wondered if it would be too late to swing around to watch.

“About me?” Mary blinked, her knees suddenly going weak.  Sirius automatically put out his arms to steady her, pulling her close.

“I’m an idiot,” he said bluntly, “and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  But I’m crazy about you Mary, and that’s not changing anytime soon either.  So unless you have any objections, I’m not going to let you go.”

“No objections,” Mary answered quickly, “Nope, keep on hanging on.”  And she pulled him down for a kiss.

“Awww,” sighed Lily, as the hall erupted into applause and catcalling.  It was Remus who remembered, rather abruptly, that James wasn’t in the hall… and that it would be rather ideal if he remained in the dark about this for at least another six hours.

“Sonorus,” he whispered, jamming his wand to his throat and jumping up to stand on the bench behind Mary and Sirius.

“Yes, yes,” he said to the crowd, “Well done Padfoot.  He finally wised up and got the girl.  But, the Marauders have a favor to ask everyone here… it’s a part of our biggest prank of our careers.”

At once all of the other students in the hall fell silent, attention focused upon Remus.  It was unusual for him to be the one appealing to the student body for help, but no one gave it too much thought.  Marauder pranks were legendary, even the Slytherins were unlikely to mess one up.  They would act too superior to help, but Remus was willing to bet that not one of them would go out of their way to hinder a prank either.

“Right, so,” Remus bit his lip, not used to so many eyes focused on him, “What we need you to do is simple.  Just don’t talk about what just happened.”

He saw all of the confused faces and wondered how best to explain further without ruining the big reveal.  The less people knew, he remembered from experience, the less they could accidentally tell others.  The less they could accidentally spill, the less James would accidentally find out.

“As happy as we are for Padfoot,” Remus explained slowly, “James not knowing that Padfoot finally got his head out of his arse is crucial to what we have planned for tonight.  This means that, the less anyone says about what just happened, the better.  We trust you all not to go running to Prongs, but… he has ears everywhere. Got it?”

There were noises of ascent, and feeling confident, Remus ended his charm and hopped back down, avoiding McGonagall’s half furious, half entertained glare. Behind him the rest of the room had started muttering about what they thought the Marauders might be up to, but he ignored them.

“That,” Lily said, raising an eyebrow at Remus, “is the most public speaking I have ever heard you do.  You don’t even like to give presentations at Prefect Meetings!”

Remus shuddered, reaching for an apple, “I have listened to you lot plot, scheme, and whine for weeks.  I am not about to let your plot get all fouled up over one grand gesture from Padfoot.  No sir, I have put far too much time into this to let it all go to waste.”

“Thanks,” Lily said with a smile, placing her fork back on her plate.

“Don’t mention it,” Remus nodded curtly, “Just don’t mess this up!”

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