First of all, it wasn't green.
"And it took us all day!" and Sirius huffed, much like those tentacled plants in Herbology had last week, when the Professor dangled them over the fire to let off steam. "We're never going to do this, forget it James," Sirius said, flopping down. "It's useless, and I'm bored."
"You're useless," James replied immediately, holding the niffler up with one hand. The thing snuffled his wrist, attempting to chew through his sleeve, and then huffed like Sirius. James added, "We'd have a harmless green potion to use if you and Mr. Silent Treatment hadn't been arguing instead of doing what you were supposed to be doing--"
Remus closed his eyes, and counted to ten. It wasn't yet the full moon, no, that particular day was coming up right before New Year's Eve - and what a way to spend Christmas, lying in bed - but he was irritable and felt like he was getting the flu. The fact that they had gobs of homework no one had even started yet, and thus he was unable to copy, wasn't helping. The fact that he didn't have any gifts yet, nor any money to buy them, wasn't helping either.
The niffler finally succeeded in biting James, and he yelped. Sirius shook his head, saying, "forget it, mate, it's not going to turn green, best just give it back--"
"And why would we give it back, anyway?" James glared, clearly forgetting that there was a set of teeth currently trying to grind away at the button on his shirt. "I like it."
"We weren't fighting," Sirius offered up as an answer to this, and rolled over onto his stomach. Against his better judgment, Remus glanced over at where they were lounging. The dorm room was cozy because of the fire, and snow was falling outside. It was a nice little picturesque December afternoon. If only--
"You're stupid, Sirius," James said, quite seriously. "If you can't even notice when you're fighting with someone."
Sirius finally glanced at Remus, and Remus pretended a complete lack of interest - not all that hard, considering he had none. Sirius was going to answer, then. Of course he was. Remus resisted the urge to huff, and with an air of martyrdom he was sure would be completely missed by any and all assembled, picked up his Defense essay. Someone had to write it, and someone was going to be him, like always, and like always, James and Sirius would grab his to copy and get better marks.
"We weren't fighting," Sirius insisted.
James looked over at Remus quite pointedly, who quite pointedly ignored him. Far be it for him to intrude while Sirius and James were dictating the bounds of his life; they didn't need him, as they would inevitably come to their own version of events and conclusions that may or may not match any degree of reality. It didn't even matter if he and Sirius had been fighting or not - by tomorrow, what was would be what James and Sirius said it was.
James, alternating between poking the niffler with his wand - as it tried to bite the tip off - and trying to stuff the niffler in a box, said to Sirius, "I know something about relationships, you know."
Remus counted to ten again, as Sirius pulled his wand out and tried to turn the niffler green. He managed a nice pastel-mint shade, as it succeeded in biting James' buttons off one by one. Sirius said, "We weren't fighting, were we Remus?"
James looked over at Remus, pity in his eyes, as the niffler started ripping pieces of his shirt. "You're so stupid, Sirius," he said.
James was attempting to create some kind of red potion. Much like the niffler he had hidden under his bed in a box, this was yet another exercise in mysteriously coloured substances and probable mess. Frankly, Remus was staying out of it.
Peter asked the obvious but logically unanswerable question. "But - remind me why, again?"
Peter was peering into the bottom of James' cauldron, which was conveniently enough sitting and smoking on the end-table between Remus and Peter's beds. It wouldn't have been cause for concern, save for the suspiciously red mist emanating from whatever potion was inside, and the way James was leaning casually but firmly on the wall beside the very open window.
James waved a hand in front of his face, as the mist threatened to come too close. "Because, of course." He winced, as Peter leaned a little closer, and then commented, "but I wouldn't get too close to it..."
Peter hastily withdrew the four and a half feet to the other side of his four-poster bed, scrubbing at his face with his palms. "You might have warned me earlier!" he said, scowling at James.
James swiveled, to open the window a little wider. "Don't worry, it's harmless. Probably," he said.
"Probably, he says," Peter replied, scowling at James' turned back, then at Remus when James refused to turn around, but rather lean out the window.
The cauldron, to be fair, wasn't melting, nor was it spewing noxious gas or debris. The mist was getting thicker, though. Remus eyed it, and contemplated levitating it over to pour it on James' head. The image in his head of James wearing the violently red concoction was tempting, but it was swiftly followed by the images of certain retribution. Remus weighed them briefly, and sighed. He, too, moved farther away from the cauldron. "Why are you trying to create explosive Christmas baubles, James?" Remus asked, despite the fact that he was sure he didn't want the answer.
James did turn around to answer, "you'll see," and grin at them both. Peter looked at Remus, Remus looked at Peter; and then Remus grabbed his class notes to study in the Common Room. To be fair, James typically knew when something was going to be harmless, mostly harmless, or anything but harmless, and warned them appropriately. In consideration of that fact, Remus didn't lock the door from the outside as he and Peter left the dorm room.
Remus half-turned around, to see Professor McGonagall storming up to where James was emphatically not doing any homework. Unfortunately, that particular part of the Gryffindor table was also right next to where Remus was attempting to finish his. He ducked his head as much as he dared with McGonagall leaning over the two of them, and tried to look nonchalant.
James stood. "Yes, Professor?"
"You are far too old," she started, "to be releasing nifflers into the Gryffindor Common Room." She tugged on her robes to straighten them, and repeated, "too old."
"A niffler?" James said. Remus continued to face his parchment, watching James's face out of the corner of his eye. So the niffler had got loose. Well, it could be worse. James added, "and it's loose in the Common Room?"
"You're telling me you have no idea how it got there?" McGonagall asked James.
"Actually, no," James answered, and then yelped as McGonagall dragged him off for his due punishment.
Remus scowled at his Arithmancy homework, completely hopeless now that James wasn't here to do it for him, and started packing up quills and parchment. After a minute, he put James's stuff away as well. James probably hadn't let the niffler loose - not before he was finished teaching it to steal from the Slytherins or something, anyway - and so the thing had obviously snuck out of their dorm room of its own accord. It didn't bode well for the state of their dorm room, nor did it bode well for whatever James had planned. That the niffler had escaped would only mean a temporary setback, and unfortunately whatever would inevitably come next was currently an unknown. Remus didn't like unknowns, especially when they had the potential to land him in detention. Whatever it was, Remus was certain he wasn't going to like it, and he was certain he'd find out sooner or later.
As he rounded the corner up the staircase to the first floor, Remus went past a Christmas tree. It was very Christmassy, with the fairy lights and the tinsel and the little red and green baubles.
He paused in the corridor to adjust his bag, and a green bauble exploded in his face. Ah. Well. Sooner, then.
Remus was tired of walking around corridors and being hit with red and/or green ink.
It's not that it wasn't, well, festive, to be sure - students, especially Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were starting to grumble as they had to walk around typically the rest of the day in another house's colours - but there were only so many times a day one could re-colour one's nose the proper shade. Frankly, even if it was harmless, even if it was overlooked by the teachers as basically good cheer, even if it was--
"Ah. Remus." Sirius peered out from behind a gargoyle, and hissed, "come and give me a hand."
The corridor was deserted, most of the school currently in classes - only a few sixth years had third hour off. Something immediately put Remus on guard. Perhaps it was the reams of tinsel currently wrapped all over Sirius; perhaps it was the grin Sirius wore. Perhaps it was simply habit that put him on guard, his finely honed survival instinct; honed from years of sharing a dormitory with James Potter and Sirius Black.
Despite his better judgment, Remus ducked into the alcove. "What?"
"Christmas present for James," Sirius said, as if that explained everything.
"Things are not any clearer," Remus said, and then Sirius held up a bundle of mistletoe. It gave off the same slight hazy misty glow that James' Christmas baubles had, except this mistletoe was tied to one end of a piece of tinsel. Sirius had a firm grip on the other end. Remus waited patiently; something would happen, either to explain this mystery or to stop it, and land them both in detention. Ah, the life of a wayward prefect.
Briefly, Remus entertained the idea of docking Sirius points for the inevitable mayhem that would follow this innocent little piece of mistletoe around, but then Sirius said, "It's a present for James, see," and then, "hold it up for me, would you? I can't do the charm and hold the blasted string, too."
Remus thought he was probably going to regret this, but took the end of the tinsel gingerly, letting the little bundle of mistletoe dangle freely in the air. He was very sure he was going to regret this once Sirius whispered his version of a love spell - and he didn't even want to know what that particular bit about the levitation was doing in there - and then the mistletoe tugged to get out of Remus's hand, to speed on its merry way and go about its business.
As reluctantly as he'd taken it in the first place, Remus let the tinsel go. The mistletoe hovered for a minute, raised to just above head-level of most students, and then bobbed around the gargoyle and out of sight. Remus tilted his head; waited, then said, "Sirius, what did you--"
As they heard classes let out, someone - Remus rather thought it was one of the fourth years - squealed, and then yelled, "you kissed me!"
Sirius's canary-eating grin faltered slightly, and cautiously he peered around Remus and the gargoyle, to stare down the hall in the same direction as the squeal. Remus put a hand over his eyes, slumped against the stone of the castle wall, and didn't even ask.
Sirius's voice mused, "well. I don't think that went exactly according to plan, then."
So school became a lot more interesting rather quickly after that.
Remus idly threw a piece of carrot at the back of James's head. "Hey!" and James narrowed his eyes. "I didn't do anything."
Lily Evans, who had the unfortunate luck of sitting next to James, leaned as far back as she could when the mistletoe threatened to come near the two of them. "It was for you," Remus said, miserably, as it veered off course, towards the Ravenclaw table. Apparently the mistletoe had decided to hang around the Great Hall. Remus added, "as a Christmas present."
James looked startled, and glanced at Lily. "Was it now."
Lily, being of perfectly good hearing and having an uncanny sense of when to be annoyed at someone because they deserved it, stared at them.
Remus didn't turn around. What good would seeing doom before it rained down do, after all, and besides, if he turned around it was as good as admitting accomplice.
Sirius didn't turn around either. McGonagall marched up to the Gryffindor table, where several students were studying, Remus included, and Sirius was reading a comic book. He stuffed the comic under his Arithmancy textbook, and stared politely as McGonagall scowled down at the two of them. Remus reluctantly put down his quill. Apparently not turning around hadn't helped his case for innocence.
"Do you know what I am here about, Mr. Black?" McGonagall asked.
Sirius leaned back in his chair. "I imagine you're here to give me detention, Professor."
"Very astute, Mr. Black," she said to them. Remus counted to ten in his head. Sirius continued to sit, smiling pleasantly. McGonagall finally barked, "Sit up straight, Mr. Black!"
"Yes, Professor." Sirius dutifully sat up, folding his hands in his lap.
McGonagall glared for a long moment, then put a hand over her eyes. "Oh, stop being so smart, Sirius," she told them with a great sigh.
Peter came barreling up, out of breath and a pile of books in his arms obstructing his view. "Sirius," he panted, "what are you going to do about--" and then he plonked the books on the table, saw McGonagall, and halted mid-sentence. "Ah! Hello Professor McGonagall."
"Yes, Sirius," she replied. "What are you going to do about it?"
Sirius replied cheerfully, "I'm not sure what you mean, Professor."
Remus, bowed low over his homework again, couldn't help but mutter, "yes, because there are so many things to choose from..."
Peter looked from Sirius to Remus and back again, all the while looking like he'd rather be in Outer Mongolia. "Oh, do sit down, Peter," McGonagall said sharply. "Sirius, I expect you in my office tonight at nine o'clock. We can discuss the nature of illicit love spells, and the animation of flora, then."
Sirius nodded. "Of course, Professor." He leaned back in his chair again, brushing hair from his face. "It's a date."
Apparently, unlike the Christmas baubles still raining red and green ink upon unsuspecting students, the mistletoe was not going to be tolerated. Unfortunately for the professors, in order to stop it, they had to catch it. In vain, they waited in the Great Hall, watching for it, and yet it slipped away every time. Now not only did they have to watch for Christmas baubles exploding - and how James hadn't run out of those to hang up, Remus wasn't sure; surely he'd run out, unless the damned things were multiplying - they also had to watch for animate plants hovering over their heads.
"I think it's quite funny," Peter said, and grinned. "This second year, yesterday? Well, he was right next to Lily's friend, you know the one with the curly hair? He couldn't reach her cheek so he had to climb three stairs, and--"
"Do shut up," Remus said, finally. "It's not all that funny."
Peter persisted in calling it the most fun they'd had in just ages, until Remus snapped, "wait'll it gets you, then," and went up to the dorm room. He was mad mostly because Peter was right - as far as tricks go, these two were harmless, and yet still disruptive enough to throw their entire lives upside-down. Remus was getting a cold, had no money for Christmas presents, and now had to worry about ink and mistletoe? No. It wasn't funny, even if it was harmless.
As he went up the stairs, he heard someone telling the room about how one of the Hufflepuffs had nearly kissed a Slytherin, and Remus amended, mostly harmless.
"What do you want for Christmas, Moony?"
It was snowing outside, and the view from Remus's armchair was rather pretty. He'd been glancing up occasionally, in amidst copying a Transfiguration essay and leaning carefully away from where James was writing Lily's name on a card, painstakingly charming each snowflake to glitter. The card was supposed to chime when you opened it, but somehow James had screwed that one right up. Remus hoped Lily opened it in private.
Remus looked up from his foot and a half of parchment. Sirius was quite firmly in front of him, tapping a foot as if Remus would of course have an answer to some question Sirius probably hadn't posed yet. It was these times - fewer and farther between, but still frequent enough to cause headaches and sometimes magically-induced boils - that he wished in the back of his mind he'd been a little more discriminating with his friends. Not that he didn't want Sirius, but just, sometimes-- sometimes farther away.
"Christmas?" Sirius repeated, as if Remus was daft. He tilted his head, and then Remus got it - ahh. To be fair, this time Sirius had asked, and Remus had simply chosen to implement selective hearing. "What do you want?"
"A new broom," Remus replied dutifully.
Sirius fell gracefully on top of Remus's homework, carefully laid out on the armchair beside him. "Don't be daft," Sirius replied, as Remus winced at the telltale crinkling noises coming from beneath him. Sirius added, "you know full well I can't buy you a broom."
"Then don't ask," Remus said. He picked up his textbook, then said, "You don't have to get me anything."
"Of course I do," Sirius told him. There was a pause, in which Sirius looked around the Common Room. "What about a singing Christmas Card?"
Sometimes Remus preferred Sirius when he wasn't speaking. "You still haven't told me what you want for Christmas, Moony."
Remus put the pillow over his head, and pretended Sirius didn't exist. "I'm still here," Sirius said. Remus sighed, and put the pillow back. From out of nowhere, Sirius produced something suspiciously green out of his pocket. He played with it for a bit, while Remus flipped back and forth through his textbook, silently counting the seconds. At twelve, Sirius sat up, apparently done with waiting. "I could charm a piece of mistletoe for you," Sirius said, unnecessarily, as he was already holding a piece up, carefully bending the leaves back and forth.
Remus put his parchment down, and felt his own forehead. No, no fever, not delirious -- "what?"
"Well, you seem cross that I made James enchanted mistletoe."
Remus sat up, and kicked the blankets onto Sirius's bare legs. "Sirius," he explained patiently, "you've single-handedly managed to turn the school into chaos."
"It's brilliant, isn't it?"
Remus decided to go back to lying on his stomach, attempting the Arithmancy. Maybe Sirius would go away; maybe something more interesting would attract his attention as it so often did. He thought about it for a moment, and leaned over to take the mistletoe away from Sirius. Just in case.
The Great Hall was decorated and done up for the holidays, which made end-of-term studying much nicer than usual. Remus could smell pine, and puddings, and as it was the last lunchtime before everyone - some students - went home for Christmas holidays, lunch was roast beef and potatoes and mince pies and all sorts of good Christmassy smells. Everywhere you looked, there was tinsel, lights, icicles, trees - everything you could name. Including mistletoe.
A second-year student down the Gryffindor table, mistletoe hovering innocently above her head, turned to the boy sitting beside her and kissed his ear. "Hey!" they heard him exclaim, wiping his ear off with a disgusted look on his face. The girl, all of twelve, turned beet red and fled from the Hall.
Remus turned back to his food. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the mistletoe bobbing along the table, other students hurriedly getting out of its way. Peter, having got himself under control, was applying himself to a second helping of mashed potatoes. The mistletoe, coming ever closer, put Remus on his guard; he closed his eyes, counted to three, and then whipped up his hand, palm-up, at Peter's outstretched lips. His hand and Peter's face met, right before Peter leaned in.
Remus opened his eyes, faced Peter, and said, "Don't even think about it."
Peter looked up from where his lips were smushed against Remus's palm; looked at Remus; and said around Remus's hand, "okay. It's not funny."
The day before Christmas Eve, someone let the mistletoe into the Gryffindor Common Room.
Remus bit his lip, squinted, and tried to pretend he was as invisible as the niffler sitting on the hearth wasn't, happily trying to rip all the Sickles out of James's bag. Lily only used that tone when she intended to get snippy, and Remus had a fairly good idea what she was going to yell about, seeing as how one of the fourth years had just slapped Peter as he leaned over to try and make out with her.
"Lily Evans," and James hopped up, ignoring the niffler - Remus wondered where, precisely, it would deposit the money and whether he could somehow abscond with some of it - "you're looking radiant today."
"James, you are the most exasperating--" and then words actually failed her, as Lily stared at the two of them. "Did you let the mistletoe into the portrait hole? As if I have to ask."
"Of course not," James replied. Lily narrowed her eyes, but as her sense of fair play was unfortunately as well defined as her sense for bullshit - and not having anything to pin James with - she didn't actually say anything else.
Remus really didn't want to know - deniability, as usual - but he asked, "was it you?"
"Nope." James flopped down. "I have nothing to do with the mistletoe, other than being the one to inspire such a brilliant move. Only the ornaments are mine."
Remus had been right, he hadn't wanted to know - his mind did some rapid calculations and came up with the only other answer, and said, "so where's Sirius now, then?"
"Attempting to get you a present, I do believe," James told him serenely. "He doesn't want to have another row."
"We weren't--" Remus started, but just then James noticed the niffler taking his Sickles to Lily, and decided that there were some things that even he wasn't was going to give up so easily in the name of love and courtship. As he rushed past the mantle, one of his spare red baubles blew up. Remus could have sworn that as it did, the one beside it shook a little, then split into two. He covered his eyes.
"So here," Sirius said, dumping a messily wrapped card into Remus's lap. "And I got you a gift, too, so you can stop being angry with me."
Remus looked up at Sirius, who'd come and joined him in bed as if of course he had the right and of course Remus would be happy to see him. "You did now," Remus said, and moved over to make room, which Sirius immediately took up.
"I did," Sirius told him. "So stop being angry."
"I never was angry."
Sirius picked up his card, and started flipping it through his fingers. "James said you were," Sirius replied.
Remus rolled over, so he could lay down as well as throw an arm over Sirius's chest. "And you listen to James."
"Sometimes," Sirius said, and then, "are you going to open your card?"
"Why don't you open it for me?" Remus said, as it was apparent that that was exactly what Sirius was itching to do. "I'm not feeling entirely well."
"Where's the mistletoe?" Sirius asked, instead. His fingers found the seam of the envelope of their own accord. "I thought it might finally get Lily to kiss James."
Remus snorted. "Fat chance. She's more likely to kiss that niffler stealing everyone's money than James."
"Wonder where it's putting all the money?" Sirius pondered, echoing Remus's earlier thought, and Remus grinned. Sometimes, out of nowhere, Sirius could surprise him.
"I didn't get you anything," Remus said suddenly. The pillow muffled his voice a bit, and when Sirius asked him to speak up, Remus sighed and said again, "I didn't get you anything. I mean, I tried."
"Well," and Remus took the card from where Sirius had mostly opened it. He said, "I wanted to get you something for Christmas, but." He pulled the card out - for a moment dreading some kind of singing, and intensely relieved when it was silent - and added, "that's what we were arguing about last week, by the way."
Remus said, "that argument. I said you didn't have to get me anything."
Sirius said, "that's stupid."
Remus looked at the inside of the card, where Sirius had drawn a dirty little picture and a badly shaped mistletoe, with a paw print. "Probably," Remus agreed, and kissed Sirius's cheek.
James finally got detention for the exploding baubles when one of them got into the potions classroom, mixed with some kind of puffer-fish and newt ingredients, and started replicating itself once a minute. "It serves you right," Lily told him, while he was cleaning up the green mess currently coating most of the hallway outside the Potions classroom. "And you're in my way."
As Sirius and Remus watched - trying mostly successfully to stay out of the green puddles - James gritted his teeth. "Next time, Sirius? Just don't get me anything."