The Sugar Quill
Author: Canis M. (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Hang the Moon  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Snow whirled around the three boys as they tramped down the main street of Hogsmeade, their faces reddened by frigid blasts of wind. They trailed in the wake of other Hogwarts third-years, many of whom were hunched and bundled against the cold just as they were. Glancing at his two companions, James saw that Peter had pulled his hat down almost to his nose.

Peter had been the clever one this time, thought James. He ducked a little lower into his striped muffler and wished he'd worn a cap of his own. On his other side, Sirius was storming along hatless, heedless of the wind and weather despite his bare head. James suspected it was ire that was keeping him warm.

"Sod the stupid moon, anyway! Why should he always have to miss Hogsmeade weekends? It's bloody unfair if you ask me."

Alarmed, James cast a look back over their shoulders, although no one was really near enough to have overheard. "Keep your voice down, you idiot. Someone's going to hear you."

"In this gale?" Sirius snorted. "Not likely."

"It's just rotten luck, that's all," said Peter, speaking between panted puffs of breath. His short legs were churning fast to keep up with the two taller boys, and James slowed, feeling a pang of guilt. "I mean, we've only had two so far. It'll probably work out that the moon isn't full next time."

"Probably?" Sirius did not keep his voice down. If anything, it only escalated in volume and pitch, cracking on the final syllable with enough indignation to make James wince. "Well, who decides the schedule for these things? It's Dumbledore, isn't it? We could complain to him."

James nodded. "Or we could, you know, adjust the lunar calendar."

Sirius glanced at him. "What, you mean disrupt the moon's orbit? Knock it right out of the sky?"

"Why not? It can't be all that difficult, can it? I mean, the Muggles have sent people there. If they can do that using their technology, just think what we could do using magic."

Sirius stopped in mid-stride. "James, you're a genius."

"Well, naturally."

"And wouldn't it give Widdershins a thrill? 'Mr. Black! Mr. Potter! What have you done to the motions of Earth's only satellite THIS time?'"

James snickered. Then he halted as well, staring across the street in dismay. Sirius and Peter followed his gaze to a horde of black-clad students, all of whom were trying to cram through one particular ornamented doorway. "Good God. Is the entire school at Honeydukes?"

"Looks like it."

Although he could hear Peter's teeth chattering, James hesitated, swiveling on his heels. "I don't really fancy fighting the crowd to get in."

After a moment of frowning at the gaggle of his classmates, Sirius blinked, then began to grin. "We won't have to," he pronounced, in a tone that made James regret having said anything about the crowd at all. "Watch this." Gold and scarlet muffler flaring out behind him, Sirius bounded forward and began to wave wildly at the crowd.

"Oi!" he called. "Butterbeers on the house at the Three Broomsticks!" His arms flailed as he pointed with great urgency in the direction of the pub. "Free to all Hogwarts students!"

When a Ravenclaw girl narrowed her eyes at him, Sirius merely beamed and patted his stomach in perfect mimicry of pleased satiation. James and Peter exchanged glances. It was difficult not to be impressed--had he not known better, James would have sworn the other boy had just come straight from the toasty interior of the pub.

"Madam Rosmerta says 'Happy Christmas,'" Sirius was saying, "and she'll treat any Hogwarts student to a glass of butterbeer. But you'd better go and get it while it's hot!"

The mutters ran through the mass of bodies: "Butterbeer?" "On the house, he said." "Come on, we'd better go before it's all gone!" In a matter of minutes, all the students but those in line to make purchases had cleared out of the shop. Like a pack of black lemmings they migrated toward the Three Broomsticks, some of them slipping on the snowy street in their eagerness to reach the pub.

Gesturing toward the shop's now unobstructed doorway, Sirius smirked and waltzed inside. James and Peter followed, stomping their feet on the doormat to shake off the snow.

The air inside Honeydukes was warm and still, fragrant and sweet. Sirius sniffed happily, while James removed his foggy glasses and began to wipe them on the end of his scarf. "You know, I've just realized something," he said.

"What's that?"

"You should've been a Slytherin."

"WHAT?" Sirius gaped, his lip curling in outrage.

"Slytherins use any means necessary to achieve their ends, and that's what you just did. Quite underhanded, really." James shook his head. "Apparently the old Sorting Hat isn't infallible, after all."

Peter began to snigger. Then he clapped a hand to his mouth as Sirius hulked over James, using all two centimeters of his superior height to the utmost.

"Say that again to my face, James Potter--"

"Yes?"

"--and my fist will be getting better acquainted with your nose."

"So you don't mind if I say it behind your back?"

"Um, not to interrupt," said Peter, with a nervous glance toward the street, "but aren't they're going to be a bit put out when they realize it isn't true? About the butterbeer, I mean."

"Yes, I expect they will be." James replaced his glasses and raised his eyebrows at Sirius. "We'd better work fast, hadn't we, gentlemen?"

"Fine," said Sirius. "My vengeance will be postponed. Let's see now...something for me, something for Remus, something for me...."

"How about sugar quills?" James pointed at the nearest shelf. "Seven for a Sickle."

"Really?" Sirius peered at the display with interest. "He likes those, doesn't he? Since he can eat them and still look studious."

"And there's a new series of cards with the Chocolate Frogs--'Famous Burned Witches.'"

"I suppose that means it's all girls, doesn't it?" asked Peter, keeping one eye on the window.

"I suppose so."

"Wonder if the pictures show them being engulfed in flames and pretending to writhe in agony?"

"Hard to say."

"It would be an interesting effect," said Peter. Then, after a pause, "I bet Wendelin the Weird's in there."

"I'm sure she is." James glanced at Sirius, who had gone to the counter and was speaking to the shop assistant. When he looked back down at the gleaming display of sweets, he found himself unable to resist the siren croak of the Frogs. "I'm getting some of these, Peter. You want any?"

"Jelly Slugs for me," said Peter, reaching for a jar of them. "But I want to see the witch cards later."

"Oh, come on, you got Jelly Slugs last time. Why don't you try something different for once? I mean, this is Honeydukes! You should live a little!"

"But I like Jelly Slugs. And these are the best Jelly Slugs ever made." From the way Peter was clutching the Slugs to his chest, they might have been the world's rarest delicacy. Shaking his head, James grabbed one last Frog and made for the counter, only to come face to face with Sirius.

James stared. Bulging in Sirius' arms was an enormous red sack.

"I took the lot," Sirius said.

"You what?"

"Bought them out of sugar quills, every last one." Looking inordinately pleased with himself, Sirius hefted the sack over his shoulder like some lanky and demented version of Father Christmas. Peter glanced from the huge bag of quills to his own jar of Jelly Slugs, then gave a small sigh.

"You'll be sick if you eat all of those," said James.

"They're not for me," Sirius said. "They're for Remus."

"All of them?"

"Well, most of them."

"Then he'll be sick."

"James, you're talking like my mum. Remus needs the sugar--I mean, he lost a lot of blood the other night. And I don't see you or Peter getting him anything."

"Hardly seems necessary now," said James. "Peter and his Slugs, you and your quills--you're both mad. I'm going to take my Frogs and--what is it?"

Sirius had pressed himself against the store window and was peering down the street.

"Looks like there's some sort of commotion outside the Three Broomsticks," he observed. "I think it might be a good time to make our exit."

Peter blanched. Hastily he and James paid for their sweets, then rearranged their mufflers and followed Sirius through the door. James grimaced as they left the pleasant heat of the shop for the ferocious cold outside. "What do you mean, 'our'?" he yelled against the wind. "You're the one who lied through your teeth. Serve you right if we left you to be mob fodder."

"And you call ME a Slytherin! Whatever happened to loyalty and courage?"

"I left them in the dormitory with my hat." Squinting, James did his best to turn his face out of the blowing snow. "Hang on, where's Peter got to?"

Sirius craned his neck. "There he is. He seems to be sort of...scuttling away. Almost as if there were something he wanted to avo--"

"Sirius Black!"

Both of them froze. The female voice had cracked like a lash of ice. When it spoke again, it was slower, like the creep of frost along someone's bare spine.

"I've been looking for you, young man. I'd like an explanation."

James swallowed. Being addressed by an adult as "young man" never did bode well. He caught Sirius' eye, and slowly they turned around.

Standing before them, hands planted on her shapely hips, was the owner of the Three Broomsticks, Madam Rosmerta. The wind whipped her glossy hair and buffeted her emerald cloak, which was form-fitted and cut to flatter her curvy figure. She pursed her lips as she gazed at them, a dangerous light flaring in her eyes. For a moment James felt very glad that his face was already red from the cold.

"Now," Madam Rosmerta said, "what's this tale I hear about free butterbeer for all of your classmates?"

James glanced at Sirius again. There was no time to work out a strategy. They'd simply have to improvise.

Sirius blinked. "Has--has somebody been saying that? Good Lord. I'm sorry if there's been a mistake, Madam Rosmerta, but it's so cold out, and I was saying to James here, 'Wouldn't a nice, hot butterbeer be just the thing?' and James said, 'Yeah, and Madam Rosmerta's so kindhearted, she'd probably give them to all of us on the house.' I suppose someone must have misheard us." He nudged James in the elbow. "Isn't that right, James?"

James took a haughty step back. "Don't believe him, Madam Rosmerta, he's talking rubbish. He told half the class you were giving away free butterbeer, just to get them out of Honeydukes so he could go shopping at his royal leisure."

"James!" Sirius looked scandalized. "I'd do no such thing."

"You did exactly such a thing."

"This is slander!"

"Well, the truth hurts."

"Madam Rosmerta, you're not going to swallow this little git's pack of lies, are you?" Sirius turned his best pleading gaze on Rosmerta, who had folded her arms as she listened to their routine.

"Honestly, Madam Rosmerta, I'll thrash him for you if you like. He's incorrigible."

Madam Rosmerta looked from James to Sirius, then back again. At last she put a green-gloved hand to her lips, and her shoulders began to quiver. It was a moment before James realized that she was laughing.

"You're scoundrels, the pair of you," she said. "And it's too cold to stand here arguing in the street. Come up to the pub while I decide on a fitting punishment."

She set off, and the two boys had no choice but to follow. James cast a backward glance at Peter, who had escaped to hide under the awning outside Honeydukes, and was watching them leave with wide-eyed anguish. He couldn't really blame Peter for fleeing--after all, it was Sirius who had landed them in this particular fix. James wasn't even sure why he was going along to face the music with the other boy, although it occurred to him that a punishment administered by Madam Rosmerta--who did look awfully pretty in that green cloak--might not be entirely bad.

When they reached the Three Broomsticks and went inside, there was a sudden hush. The crowd of waiting students turned, and dozens of resentful eyes fastened on him and Sirius. James found it hard not to balk and flush as Madam Rosmerta pushed the two of them forward, one hand on James' back, the other on Sirius' shoulder.

"The culprits have been caught," Madam Rosmerta announced, "and I'll see to it that they're properly dealt with. Now, as to the butterbeer. I won't have it said that I don't keep my promises--even the ones I don't seem to remember making myself. And it is the Christmas season, after all." She smiled. "The first round is on the house."

Someone let out a muffled whoop. Then there was a chorus of cheers, and all the glares transformed into delighted grins. Sirius nearly dropped his sack of sugar quills in surprise, but he quickly recovered and accepted the congratulations of his classmates as though they were a matter of course. Madam Rosmerta returned to the bar to begin filling glasses, and soon the whole pub was burbling with contented chatter.

"That's lucky," James murmured, as Sirius settled his bag into a nearby chair. "But she still hasn't told us what our punishment is."

"So? As long as the others aren't out for our heads, it can't be all that--"

"Black and Potter!"

They looked up and found that Madam Rosmerta was beckoning them over to the bar. In front of her sat two trays loaded with tall, foaming glasses of butterbeer. James felt his mouth begin to water.

Madam Rosmerta smiled broadly at both of them. "There's a tray for you," she said to Sirius, "and another for you." She nodded at James. "Now then, you'd better start serving."

James and Sirius were dumbstruck.

"Temporary staff will be allowed to partake after the customers have been served," added Madam Rosmerta with a wink. "That is, if we haven't run out by then." Chuckling, she reached again for the tap and filled another glass.

~ ~ ~

The afternoon had waned, and still Remus had heard no sign of the other students' return from Hogsmeade. For perhaps the hundredth time in an hour he glanced though the window, which overlooked the snow-covered roofs of the greenhouses far below. Watching the snow was probably better than being out in it, really, he thought. He'd chosen this bed for that very purpose: there was only one window in this room of the hospital wing, and though the bottom quarter of it was encrusted in white from the ledge upward, he could see perfectly well through the rest. Now and then the glass panes rattled, bullied by the fierce wind outside. Moving gingerly, careful of his wounds and bandages, Remus snuggled down into the covers and was grateful for the extra blanket Madam Pomfrey had given him.

He turned his attention away from the window long enough to frown at the roll of parchment in his lap. It was still mostly empty, although he had several pages of notes from which to draw. Somehow he wasn't in the mood to write his essay for Transfiguration, not even when the topic was of such personal interest.

Laying aside the parchment, he placed his pen and quill on the bedside table. He had just shut his eyes to rest them for a moment when a voice hissed at him from across the room.

"Psst!"

Blinking, he looked over and saw a familiar dark head protruding around the corner of the doorway. Sirius' hair was wildly windblown, making it look even shaggier than ever.

"Can I come in?"

"I think so." When no one followed Sirius through the door, Remus cocked his head. "Did you come back all by yourself?"

"For the moment. I was going to burst if I drank any more butterbeer." Unlooping his muffler as he walked, Sirius crossed the room to Remus' bedside. "James and Peter are still at it, though. Nice bit of business the Three Broomsticks did today, if I do say so myself. Madam Rosmerta gave us the first round on the house, but once we were all in the pub and warmed up, nobody wanted to go back outside. Can't drink just one of those things, anyway."

Remus lifted his eyebrows. "On the house?" he asked. "How did you manage that?"

"Oh, you know, my good looks, my brilliant wit, the usual." Sirius waved a hand airily, then heaved a prodigious sack down onto the bed beside Remus. "Special delivery," he said. "You do like sugar quills, don't you? I didn't want to bring chocolate--you've got plenty of that already."

Astonished, Remus poked at the sack's protruding sides. "From Honeydukes?" he asked. "For me?"

Sirius glanced around the otherwise empty room. "No, for all the other convalescents." He peered at the parchment resting beside Remus on the bedspread. "What's that?"

"My Transfiguration essay."

"Really? What are you writing on?"

Remus cleared his throat. "The Animagus transformation."

"Ooh, how timely." Sirius smiled and perched himself on the edge of the bed. "What have you found out?"

"That it's very advanced magic," said Remus, pronouncing each word with exacting precision, as though he were speaking to a slightly addled child. "And it can go horribly, irreversibly wrong. As it did only fourteen years ago, with--" he glanced down at his notes, "a Mr. Alfred P. Scudder, who tried to become a lion and succeeded only in making himself unnaturally hairy for the rest of his life."

"Bet his barber was none too pleased."

After a reproving glance that was lost on Sirius, Remus continued. "Or in 1936, in Austria, when a certain Herr Vogel failed in his efforts to become a raven, and lost his arms in exchange for a pair of feathery but entirely non-functional--mrmph."

Sirius had stopped his mouth with a sugar quill.

"There, now. Got to get your blood sugar back up."

Remus would have liked to frown with suitable indignation, but the melting sweetness on his tongue made it impossible.

Leaning backward, Sirius grinned. "James and I were discussing it, actually. He thought we might just eliminate the source of the problem. You know, blast the ruddy thing right out of the sky. But I still think it'd be much more fun for all of us to turn into animals. I mean, imagine the havoc we could wreak! And the places we could sneak off to, and--that was quick. You'd better have another." He dug into the sack, rustling through the paper-wrapped, quill-shaped sweets until he found a particularly fat one.

Remus licked his lips for the last crystals of lingering sugar, then swallowed. "Sirius, listen. It's not that I'm ungrateful. It's not that I don't think you're capable. I just don't want anyone to be hurt because of me." He drew breath. "Especially not--you."

Fresh quill between his fingertips, Sirius paused. And just looked at him with wide, thoughtless blue eyes.

Almost at once Remus felt his ears begin to burn. He'd meant for the "you" to be plural, to include James and Peter as well as Sirius, but somehow it hadn't sounded that way when he said it. Or maybe it had, and he was only imagining this--this--whatever it was. Flustered, he reached for the huge sack of quills and dragged it into his lap, grateful for the distraction. The bag weighed nearly as much as a small cauldron. "You didn't have to buy their entire stock, you know," he murmured.

"Well, since you couldn't come to Honeydukes, Honeydukes has come to you." Sirius snaked a hand toward the mouth of the sack. "I'll help you eat them."

"You're too kind."

"Next time I'll bring you a jar of Jelly Slugs. Then you can fight over them with Peter. You'd win, of course."

"Really, I'm sure I'll be able to go next time. If the moon isn't--"

"Oh, hang the moon!" exclaimed Sirius. "We'll fix it with Dumbledore, we'll turn the moon into a toad if we have to. You're going with us, and that's that." He bit down hard on a quill, then sucked on it with such emphatic tenacity that Remus couldn't help but laugh. The laughter, unfortunately, broke into coughing, and Madam Pomfrey chose just that moment to bustle through the door.

She stopped, her lips thinning as her eyes fell on Sirius. "Mr. Black, are you disturbing my patient?"

"Not disturbing, Madam Pomfrey, only making a delivery. Christmas and all that."

"Well, I'm afraid it's time for me to change Mr. Lupin's bandages. I'll have to ask you to come back later."

Reluctantly Sirius slid off the bed. "I don't think she likes me," he whispered to Remus.

"It's nothing to do with you. She thinks my condition's very delicate."

"But she did say I could come back?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Good. I want a look at your essay."

"This? I've barely started!"

"Then you'd better get cracking, hadn't you?" Sirius flashed a grin as he turned to leave, pausing only to stuff a final quill into Remus' palm. "And eat that." Then, with a cheery wave to the nurse, he was across the room and out the door.

Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "Energetic, isn't he?"

"Just a bit," said Remus. He sat still as Madam Pomfrey changed his bandages and checked that the gashes beneath were healing without scars. The nurse clucked over the bag of sweets, muttering that he'd better clean his teeth thoroughly if he intended to eat such rubbish. Remus nodded and promised that he would. After one last injunction that he rest, Madam Pomfrey left the room, and her patient found himself alone again with the window and the snow.

Before the solitude could begin to deject him, Remus lifted his hand and looked at the sugar quill his friend had placed there. He settled back against the pillows, then unwrapped the quill slowly, patiently, determined to devote his full attention to gleaning all the sweetness from it.

Hang the moon, he thought, smiling a little. If anyone could, it was Sirius.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

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