The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Clean Living  Chapter: Chapter 2.
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CLEAN LIVING

CLEAN LIVING

 

 

<o:p></o:p></span><span style='font-size:13.5pt; mso-bidi-font-weight:bold'>Disclaimer:<span style="mso-spacerun: yes">   </span>Naturally I do not own JK Rowling’s characters. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She invented them and the wonderful world of Hogwarts. I am just happily visiting her world for a while.

 

Author’s note:  For those who may be wondering about Sirius and his Penrose cousins, read my fic “That’s What Little Boys Are Made Of”.   Sirius has not been invited back to Cornwall …!

 

 

Chapter 2.

 

The ‘good deeds’ bit had given them some trouble at first.   After all, they couldn’t be too blatant about it – like offering to help Filch clean the classrooms.   But Professor Kettleburn had really appreciated their offer to care for the animals on his day off -two Clabberts, an ancient Kneazle and a Hippogriff.  He even gave them five extra marks each.  

 

Luckily they quickly discovered that opportunities for other good deeds presented themselves quite unexpectedly.  James put his flying skills to good use one afternoon when he wandered down to the Quidditch pitch during a spare period, only to find Madam Alfi giving lessons to the Ravenclaw and Gryffindor first years, some of whom were clearly having difficulty despite her instructions.  He hastily abandoned any ideas of practising goal-shooting, and instead offered politely (with just a little trepidation) to help her with a couple of youngsters who were having real trouble.  

 

Rather to his surprise, the offer was accepted.  Alfi preferred to supervise the complete beginners, so she gave him the more assured fliers and asked him to put them through some basic exercises.   Which he did, discovering that he actually enjoyed teaching and demonstrating some slightly more advanced moves.  Or, as Remus put it later, ‘just showing off to the new kids’.   James protested that he was not showing off: Peter retorted that he’d heard a couple of the Gryffindor first years speaking about James in very glowing terms, so of course he had been showing off.   The ensuing wrestling match was only abandoned when Remus knocked over Peter’s bedside table.  The crash brought a sixth year prefect hammering on their door to demand they either shut up or go down to dinner. 

 

Sirius generally had little to do with his Penrose cousins.   Lucy had started at Hogwarts this year and followed her brothers into Hufflepuff, thus rendering herself almost invisible to Gryffindor fourth year boys.  Tony wasn’t bad, but he was now in seventh year and supposedly studying for his N.E.W.Ts.   The Black-Penrose paths seldom crossed, and Sirius generally preferred it that way.  He suspected the feeling was mutual. 

 

In his newfound spirit of virtue, however, he had recently smiled warmly and greeted Lucy when he saw her in the corridors, and had casually chatted once or twice with Tony.  This, Sirius considered, was about as much as could reasonably be required of him in meeting family obligations.

 

But chivalry demanded action when he and Remus happened across Lucy and two friends cowering in terror behind a third floor statue while Peeves hurled books and pieces of a broken chair at them.  The boys repelled the poltergeist with well-aimed double jets of water into his eyes, then helped the girls gather their wits and their books.  A few quick spells mended bags and cleaned up a bottle of spilled ink, after which they escorted the tear-stained first years downstairs to Madam Pomfrey.  Brenda and Sally promptly developed abiding crushes on Sirius, while Lucy decided on Remus.  She agreed Sirius was good looking too, but insisted she couldn’t possibly have a crush on her own cousin.   Fortunately for all parties, it was some time before this adoration became known, even within Hufflepuff.

 

It was James, possibly emboldened by the approving glances he’d received from several older girls because of the efforts he was making with his appearance, who hit on an excellent idea.

 

Which was why he carried Lily Evans’ bag between Potions and Divination that Monday morning.  It wasn’t really that heavy, but it was quite a way between classes, and Lily had smiled very nicely at him when he offered to help her.  And that gave him a funny warm feeling that lasted all through Professor Tetley’s interminable class, even though he’d been made to sit next to David MorrisJulian Vickers, who told him three jokes he’d already heard.    But he was able to carry Lily’s bag back to Gryffindor later.

 

Sirius went one better next day.  Just before lunch they had Care of Magical Creatures with the Slytherins.  As usual they met up with the Slytherinsthe two groups met up in the eEntrance Hall, and Sirius noticed Portia Staples stop to rub her ankle ruefully.  She’d fallen and sprained it on the weekend, and Madam Pomfrey had insisted she keep it strapped heavily.  The trip down to the animal pens and Professor Kettleburn’s lesson would take some time.

 

“Need a hand?” Sirius asked, nodding to her heavy bag and giving her a friendly grin. He generally got on quite well with Portia, despite her occasionally sharp tongue.  She had a very dry sense of humour and a tendency for pointed, pithy remarks.   She looked a little astonished, and then – to his great relief – returned the smile and allowed him to take the bag from her. 

 

“Thanks, Sirius” she said.  “It’s too hard to take them back to the dormitory between classes, so I have to carry the lot down here.”

 

‘Yeah – we can never get back up to Gryffindor either,” he commiserated.  They walked slowly down to the lesson, discussing the Founding Four and the strange design of Hogwarts Castle, and she seemed grateful for his supporting arm as they negotiated a small flight of steps.  

 

They arrived a little late.  Portia apologised, explained about her ankle and said Sirius had been helping her.   Professor Kettleburn smiled rather vaguely and said he was glad to see she had a nice strong friend.   James doubled over in a sudden coughing fit, and Sirius promptly went bright red, but the smile from Portia and the filthy looks he got from the other Slytherins more than compensated.   He couldn’t work in Portia’s group, but at the end of the lesson, he politely offered to help her back up to the castle.  Snape and Avery immediately intervened.

 

“I don’t think she needs a Gryffindor’s assistance,” Avery said coldly.  “Portia, I’ll  do let me take that.  I’m sorry, I forgot about your ankle – I should have helped you before.”

 

Portia stiffened, drew herself up and looked Avery up and down very slowly.   “Yes, you should,” she replied haughtily, and earned the Gryffindors’ undying gratitude with her next words.  But Sirius offered first.  Anyway, he tells much better jokes than you do.”  And with that, she turned her back disdainfully on Avery, smiled warmly at Sirius and held out her bag.   Remus hustled the spluttering James and Peter away before they could spoil the moment.

 

Over lunch Sirius endured much teasing about the incident. 

 

“New girlfriend?” chuckled David Morris, slapping him on the back. “Not bad, Sirius, not bad at all!  Bit of all right, that one.  Even if she’s in Slytherin.” 

 

“She must really like you, Sirius,” teased Susan, “though I admit you’re much better looking than Avery or that creepy Snape.”  

 

GetoffHey!! That’s hardly a compliment,” said Sirius, looking hurt.  “Even the gargoyles are better looking than Snape.  

 

“Did you SEE Snape’s face!” enthused Peter. 

 

“Yeah – thought he was going to Curse you,” said James, dumping huge mounds of mashed potatoes onto all their plates.

 

“And what about Avery,” said Remus.  “That look when Portia said she’d prefer you to him!”

 

“Shows she’s got excellent taste,” retorted Sirius. Later that evening, as they reviewed their progress, the incident was voted an unqualified success.  After all, said James cheerfully, it was easy to be nice to your friends – it was much harder, but also much more fun, to be nice to those who were supposed to be your enemies.   

 

Sirius was, feeling very tired after spending several late nights in certain activitieswith James engaged in certain academic pursuits not directly relevant to his official studies, .  He couldn’t be bothered protesting that Portia was really quite nice, and she’d never been an enemy. 

 

*     *     *

 

The research was progressing well, though it led them in unusual directions. It was James who found what they needed.

 

“Look at this!” he whispered to Sirius, handing him a plain-looking book bound in green leather.   The pair had entered the library using James’ cloak, and were now ensconced in the Highly Restricted section, ears ever cocked for the faintest sound of Filch or other trouble.  The search for particular sorts of charm had led them to this distant corner of dusty shelves, and eventually to certain books that were definitely not on the approved reading lists for fourteen year-old wizards.

 

Sirius glanced at the pages indicated, and stifled a snort.  “Madam Pomfrey didn’t say anything about that in her lectures! Anyway - ” he looked up, “I am not making a love potion!  This year, anyway!” he amended.

 

“No – but look at the stuff on massage – there …”  James jabbed a finger at one of the pages.   Sirius read on, then nodded.

 

“Good idea … should work … yes, activates when rubbed … lasting effectsextra sensations for … hell, we don’t need that sort of stuff, James!”  His eyes widened as he flicked over a couple more illustrated pages, and he wordlessly held the book out to James, whose expression promptly mirrored his own fascinated embarrassment.   “Ah – yes – er …. well, we’d better go check some of those other texts.  That isn’t the ordinary contagio charm.  And I need to look up a bit more on slow release potions.”

James replaced the book with a sheepish grin.  “I know.  But I think it works on the same principles as contagio.  OK – I’ll see what Cartoffle has to say – he’s usually pretty good.   You check the potions – maybe there’s something in those Healer texts.”

 

A few moments later James had located Cartoffle’s enormous tome, while Sirius was rifling through several complex texts that he was sure only Professor Heldin and Madam Pomfrey would ever read.   Two HushQuills worked silently as certain sections were hastily copied .    Finally James sat back with a contented sigh.  “Think that’s all we need.  We’ll try it tomorrow night with some of your potion.”

 

“We may have to test it on people later. You could always ask Susan or Lily to volunteer!”  Sirius grinned suggestively, then yawned.  James rolled his eyes and cuffed him lightly.  A few moments later, only the stealthy opening and closing of the library door hinted at their passage.  The Fat Lady grumbled at their nocturnal habits but admitted them to Gryffindor Tower.  Ten minutes later they were both asleep.

 

 

*    *    *

 

It doesn’t take long for suspicions to be aroused when four boys, known for their trouble-making since first year, suddenly become models of virtue.  Particularly when the ringleaders seen to have undergone some sort of spiritual transformationconversion. 

 

Their Gryffindor classmates were divided on the matter.  Mavis O’Reilly wondered fearfully if the Potters and Blacks had been sent Final Owls, warning that the boys’ future at Hogwarts might be in jeopardy if they accrued any more detentions.  Julian thought that Sirius and James might have had Severe Warnings at least, while Malcolm Stewart believed that the Head Boy (a Gryffindor) might have had Had Words. 

 

Others were more suspicious.  David Morris and Jeffrey Houghton reckoned the four of them were definitely planning ‘something’, but had decided to keep their heads down while they did so.   They were rather looking forward to the results.

 

 Lily, Susan and Amanda thought it might be a little more complicated than that, and had their own ideas about who knew what.   Peter, they agreed, definitely knew something was going on but wouldn’t – or possibly couldn’t – say.   And anyway, even if Peter could be persuaded to talk, he’d been known to give out false information before now to divert suspicion.  No use tackling Remus, who was a lost cause as far as divulging secrets: he had at least a dozen politely different ways of saying absolutely nothing.   Which left James and Sirius. 

 

Those two were most certainly Up To Something, but there hadn’t been a single, solitary clue.  Certainly Sirius had been reading some advanced texts on Potions, but that was nothing new – Sirius really loved all that stuff.   The hand-lotion he’d made for them last year was even better than the one you could get at Diana’s Grotto in Hogsmeade, and he’d promised them some more for this Christmas.   James had been burrowing into Charms texts with unusual vigour, but then he had got a perfect mark for that last horrible essay … 

 

The only things they all agreed on were that all the Professors were getting decidedly twitchy about the Gryffindor ‘angels’.   And that whatever was brewing, it was bound to be worth watching.

 

“Maybe they’re planning a spectacular fall – like Lucifer!” laughed Lily.  “Just don’t try and tell me those two are going to be perfectly good from now till the end of seventh year.”

 

“Me neither,” agreed Susan.  “I believe in magic – not miracles!”

 

Physically, they the angelic duo continued to present themselves neat, clean and tidy.   They no longer looked as though they’d dressed mere seconds before appearing for breakfast: their robes had obviously been neatly folded or hung in wardrobes, not merely rescued from wherever they’d been tossed the previous evening.  Even their shoes appeared to have suffered regular attention.   True, Sirius did wear the tartan socks, but at least they were a matched pair.  He’d previously tended to favour Frazer tartan on one foot with a black and gold striped Wasps one on the other.   And while James’ hair was probably beyond redemption in this world (or and the next, as Minerva had once ruefully noted), he did at least make sterling efforts to comb it into some sort of submission.

 

But it was their impeccable behaviour that was most alarming.  They handed in their assignments on time.  Being Black and Potter, these were of excellent quality.  They arrived at classes promptly and were models of decorum - no faces, jokes, pranks, or untoward comments.   They correctly answered all questions put to them; they smiled at the professors and their fellow students; they were helpful in the extreme.  No-one had seen them out of Gryffindor tower Tower after hours; no-one had seen them down near the Forbidden Forest; most alarming peculiar of all, they completely ignored the Slytherins, and refused to react to any of the slurs and insults thrown their way.   

 

Well, they didn’t ignore all the Slytherins.   Professor Kettleburn, vague about so many day to day matters, nevertheless had remarkedobserved casually that Black was happy to work with Portia Staples or Janice Timms during his classes.   And Alfi Abernathy had been slightly surprised to find Potter talking amicably with Henry Tebbitt and Joanna Cornwell, new members of Slytherin’s Quidditch team, after practice one evening.  But Snape, Avery, Rosier and their group might have ceased to exist, for all the notice attention that was paid to them.

 

There’d been one small incident between classes, it was true, but Filius had appeared on the scene unexpectedly.  He later informed some slightly incredulous staff members that Lupin had apologised politely for bumping into Rosier, while Black and Pettigrew had merely sighed heavily and turned away.  The only remark had come from a bored-looking Potter, who told Rosier and Snape not to be so rude – it was “very juvenile”.

 

“Potter calling the kettle black?” quipped Alfi.

 

Minerva glared.  The whole situation was slowly driving her mad.  

 

After enduring three weeks of this incomprehensible behaviour, she found herself down at the Three Broomsticks on Friday evening, sitting at a table with Alfi, Filius, Ivy and Horace Heldin, as well as Alfi Abernathy.   

 

“Gillywater for you as usual, Professor?” asked Madam Rosmerta, taking their orders.  “Or will it be a Strawberry Switch tonight?”

 

“Neither,” said Minerva firmly.  “I’d like a Firewhisky please, Rosmerta.  McTavish’s Aged Peatfire, if you have any.”

 

There was a shocked silence.  “Will that be a small one?” inquired said Rosmerta politely, skilfully maintaining her composure.

 

“Large, I think,” said Minerva, and, and Rosmerta departed rapidly.  .   TheThe others regarded regarded their colleague with mixed expressions.

 

“Are you all right, Minerva?” asked Filius.  “Is anything wrong?”

 

“Nothing is ‘wrong’, Filius,” she said firmly.  “And THAT is what’s worrying me!”

 

‘You’re worried because nothing’s wrong?” said Alfi, rolling her eyes at Horace but smiling encouragingly.   “Isn’t that a little – well – strange?”

 

“The only thing ‘strange’ Alfi, is the behaviour of certain members of my House.  James Potter and Sirius Black, to be precise.   And their cohorts, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew.”

 

“Yes, they do seem to have become quite well-behaved lately,” said Horace cheerfully.  “Excellent workers, both of them.  I’ve enjoyed teaching that class these last few weeks – they seem to have finally given up tossing crocodile hearts, substituting ingredients or setting off Zoomers.”

 

“Turned over a new leaf, have they?” said Ivy, and Filius chuckled.  “I was so glad of their assistance the other day – that Spangled Tetrapod suddenly started shooting its seeds everywhere – quite unexpected, it shouldn’t have done that for another week - and of course they really hurt sting when you touch them.   Potter was able to get a net over it very quickly, and the four of them stayed back to help me clean up.   They Summoned all those seeds from where they’d gone under the benches and into the other plants – very clever, they were.”

 

Rosmerta brought the drinks: Minerva downed a large sip of whisky.   “They have NOT turned over a new leaf, Ivy,” she said firmly.  “They are only well-behaved because they have an ulterior motive.   They are up to something.   I know it.”

 

Her companions regarded her sympathetically, and sipped their own drinks and eyed her sympathetically. 

 

“Perhaps,” offered Alfi Horace after a few moments, “they have found girlfriends?”

 

Had Black or Potter acquired a girlfriend?  Minerva rather hoped not: so far, erratic teenage hormones seemed to have had little effect on the group, though she was sure it was only a matter of time.  Black and Lupin were certainly good looking, and Potter had really shot up these last few months and now resembled an amiable, bespectacled  beanpole.   But would a girlfriend cause this change …?

 

She took another mouthful.  An excellent drop, McTavish’s – most enjoyable.  Pperhaps she should have it more often.   Further conversation with her companions revealed that the two boys had been seen sitting with all the Gryffindor girls, as well as with Lupin, Pettigrew, Houghton and Morris. 

 

“And of course,” said Ivy happily (she took a keen interest in any potential romances), “Black’s taken to working with Fiona Martin in my class.  Such a nice girl, really very nice indeed.   And But I’ve also seen him walking back from Professor Kettleburn’s classes with Portia Staples and Janice Timms – you know, from Slytherin.  Quite pretty, that Portia.  And Potter has been sitting with Jill Evans Amory or Liz Chauncey.   Though Liz also likes working with young Lupin of course.”

 

The others joined in, assuring Minerva that she was imagining things – that the two boys were just settling down – that they were both very popular and were simply sitting with different friends in turn – that she was making mountains out of molehills.   That there was nothing at all to be worried about.   Minerva was not convinced, but said nothing more.   It was pleasant to spend the occasional evening away from the school.  She had a second whisky.  Another large one.

 

Despite the evening chill, the walk back to the school was very pleasant, although Minerva didn’t recall there being so many corners or rough patches on the path, .and Luckily Alfi managed to grab her elbow when she stumbled on one of them.  Nevertheless she walked quite steadily from the main door to her rooms, even if for some reason the key didn’t want to fit into her lock.  The bedside candle was definitely too bright, but the bed was wonderfully soft and she didn’t really have the strength to argue with Poppy Pomfrey.  Such a sensible woman, Poppya good friend   The Matron had mysteriously appeared as she was struggling with her nightdress, firmly insisting that Minerva swallow some foul-tasting green liquid and drink a large glass of water; she had then helped her into bed.  Black and Potter – Potter and Black ….  Minerva closed her eyes.

 

Madam Pomfrey extinguished the candle, shook her head ruefully and shut the door behind her.  “Good thing it’s Saturday tomorrow,” she muttered to the waiting Alfi.  “Though she won’t be down for breakfast, I expect.”

 

*     *     *

 

James let his Quidditch team-mates walk on ahead after Monday evening practice, and bent over to fumble with his bootlace.   Sirius paused beside him, swinging his broom idly.

 

“I think they’re definitely getting a bit worried about us,” he murmuredsaid in a low voice.  “Madam Alfi’s been giving us very funny looks.”

 

“Just smile nicely,” said James.  “That really confuses them.”

 

“Even Professor Lieder asked me if I was all right the other day.”

 

James gave an amused snort.  “Maybe you should start looking pale and ill.  That way they’d have something to worry about.”

“I’m disgustingly healthy.  Hungry Starving mind you, but very healthy.  We need to visit the kitchens.”

 

“Perhaps you should borrow some …”  He broke off as a pair of bright yellow boots paused beside him. 

 

“Everything all right, Potter? Black?” inquired Alfi cheerfully.

 

Yeah Yes – just fixing my bootlace, Madam Alfi,” said James, rising to his feet.

 

“That’s good.  You haven’t been quite yourselves lately.  Anything wrong?” 

 

 “No – nothing’s wrong,” James assured her earnestly.   “We’re fine, honestly.”

 

“That’s good.  I was worried that several weeks of excessively good behaviour might have been too much for your health.”

 

James looked completely puzzled; Sirius frowned.   Three years of mutual mischief had perfected their ability to look instantly innocent, ignorant, incredulous or indignant – whatever the occasion demanded. 

 

“What do you mean?”   James really did that well, Sirius thought, keeping his own features suitably bewildered.

 

“Well – seems you haven’t been getting your usual detentions.  I think poor Filch almost misses you.  And you’ve been very helpful to people, and you’ve been working extremely hard.  Of course, sSome people might think it was all too good to be true, and begin to wonder what you were up to.”   Sirius was fascinated to discover that Alfi Abernathy could also look totally innocent .  And she really did have a very nice figure – those robes sort of clung to herespecially the front of them - he tore his eyes away ..– as many an opponent had found to their cost.

 

“We’re always helpful!” he beamed , hoping he wasn’t blushing again.  SiriusHe hated doing that.  “You know that, Madam Alfi.”

 

“Oh indeed I do, Black.   Indeed I do.  But there’s an old saying about leopards not changing their spots.”   She paused, eying them thoughtfully  “So – how would you like to help me next weekend?  Say, Sunday afternoon.  The Ravenclaw – Hufflepuff match should be finished by then, I hope.”

Sirius The boys stared at her, now genuinely puzzled.  “Help you?  How, Madam Alfi?” said James.

 

“You’re doing Muggle Studies aren’t you?”  They boys nodded.  “Well, that car of mine needs a really good clean and polish.  I’m going to sell it and buy a motorbike.  So I wondered if you’d give me a hand.  I’ll show you the engine and explain some Muggle mechanics.  Might even give you a ride in it.”

 

Sirius’ eyes lit up in delight.  “Really, Madam Alfi?   Do you really know all about the engine and all that?  Will you show me howCan you explain how that carburettor thing it works? And why are you getting a motorbike? Do they go faster?”  James rolled his eyes theatrically.

 

“Don’t get him started,” he said.  “He’ll forget to do any polishing, just stand there and drive you barmy with questions.  Then he’ll want you to pull the whole thing to pieces so he can see how it fits together again.”

 

“S’all right.  You don’t need to come if you don’t want to!”  Sirius grinned.   This was definitely a Good Deed he’d enjoy.

 

James elbowed him.  “We’ll both be there, Madam Alfi.  Glad to help.”

 

“Excellent.  I’ll see you then – it’s the end part of the old stables.  Now, you’d better scoot.  Wouldn’t want anyone saying you’d stayed out after hours, now would we.  You might get a detention.”

 

Alfi watched the two figures racing up towards the castle, and smiled to herself.  She genuinely liked those boys – a ‘likely pair of lads’ as her father would term them.   Highly intelligent, plenty of spirit, a sense of fun, and a great deal of Quidditch talent.   Especially that Potter. 

 

But Minerva was right: something was definitely up.   Her sixth sense didn’t need to consult Professor Tetley – they were just too innocent. 

 

 

*    *    *

 

Sirius paused near the Ravenclaw table as he left the Great Hall after lunch next day.   He bent over and said a few quick words to Fiona, then grinned cheerfully and strode off after James.    Fiona shrugged at Liz’s inquiring look, and said it was ‘just something about music’.  

 

Later that evening she met Sirius in the little music room at the end of the corridor.   The piano was closed: he gestured her to a chair and swiftly explained what he needed.

 

“I can’t ask the Gryffindors of course. You’re the only other one I can ask who has really pale skin,” he finished.  “I mean – I mean, you don’t look sick or anything – you’ve just got sort of – well, you know – pale – skin.  It’s – it’s really nice,” he added hastily, suddenly worried she might be offended.   He’d always been able to talk to Fiona about anything, but just lately, some girls seemed a bit – well, sensitive about certain things.  Especially their appearance …

 

Fiona flushed with sudden pleasure.  She and Sirius had been easygoing friends since first year, but despite some teasing from the others in her dormitory, she’d occasionally wondered if he was even aware she was a girl.  “Well, I don’t use much really,” she said slowly.  “But I’ve got some stuff that you can usetry.  Though it would really be better if you could do a Glamour.”

“Can’t do that.  Madam Pomfrey would pick it up too easily – Steven Folkes, one of our fifth years, tried one last year as a joke and she was onto him like anything.”

 

“He probably didn’t work it properly,” said Fiona scornfully.  Then she smiled at Sirius. “Though I think you’d manage it.”

 

“Thanks!”  He grinned disarmingly.  “But I can’t risk it.  So – can you let me have the stuff?  Do I have to use very much?  How long does it last?”

Fiona eyed him, then spluttered with laughter.  “Depends,” she said.  “I think you’ll have to experiment a bit – only don’t ask me to explain to anyone if you’re found out.!  Because I know nothing – right?  I know - I’ll bring it to practice tomorrow morning.  I can show you how to put it on.”

 

“Right!  And – er, thanks a lot, Fiona!”

“Wish you’d tell me what it was all for!”

 

“Nothing much really.   Just a sort of idea I had.  Promise you won’t say anything though – to any one.  Even Liz.”   

 

“I promise.”  Fiona shook her head.  Boys!

 

 

*     *     *

 

Remus went down to the hospital wing as usual that Thursday after classes.  His friends had an unspoken agreement that they were quieter than normal around him on the days immediately before a full moon, but for some reason he was feeling a little more on edge than he expected.   James and Sirius had him worried – well, not worried really – just wondering what they were up to.   All this business about being good, and not getting into trouble.   They’d been at it for more than three weeks now, and even he was starting to wonder about them.  Not that he or Peter minded the lack of detentions, it was just that … well, even the other Gryffindors were getting a bit concerned.  It wasn’t natural.

 

He sighed, changed into old clothes and lay back on the bed, waiting for Madam Pomfrey.  No use in worrying about it now, though it did help keep his mind off things.   Whatever was going on, Sirius certainly wasn’t looking all that well today, and he’d been realistically pale yesterday too.  Maybe Madam Pomfrey would notice when they came to see him tomorrow.   Though what she’d do to Sirius if she worked it out could be interesting …     He closed his eyes and steadied his breathing.

 

*     *     *

 

The cauldron was simmering nicely, and Sirius gave it another stir. 

 

“D’you think its ready?” said James, eyeing the pale blue liquid with interest.

 

“Should be – want to test it?”   Sirius ladled spooned some of the mixture into a small bowl of water, stirred it slowly, then dipped an old paintbrush into it.  “Right – over there near the wall.  Hang on, brush it clean first.”

 

James wiped the floor with an old rag, then Sirius carefully painted a thin coat of the mixture onto a patch of stone.  

 

“Let it dry for a bit, then we’ll see.”   He placed bowl and paintbrush carefully to one side, then sat back and grinned at his friend.   “Good place, this.”

 

Sometimes the best discoveries are made by accident.  James had found their hiding place just after term started, when he’d hastily squeezed behind the pillar in the sixth floor corridor to evade Filch one afternoon and accidentally pushed against a rosebud on the carved frieze behind him.   He’d only just avoided a squawk of surprise when the small panel had swung open in the wall behind him.   An evening expedition with Sirius and the Cloak had led them to this secluded room.  There were no windows as such, just three archers’ slits, but that was enough to give them air and faint light, particularly with tonight’s full moon.  Two candles and the blue flames of the small fire beneath the cauldron gave additional light for illuminated the present proceedings.

 

“Right – should be dry – let’s see.”   Sirius crawled over to the patch of floor, placed one finger on it, then carefully wiped the finger with another rag.

 

“YES!” James’s eyes lit up as he scanned the patch.  “Brilliant, Sirius!”

“Of course!” Sirius punched his shoulder.  “Try it yourself!”

 

James grabbed one of the candles, dabbed it onto the patch, then turned it over. “Wow.  Not bad, Master!”

 

 “Here – wipe it off – I think that stuff will stick and continue to mark things.  Which will be great.” He handed James the rag and inspected the floor critically.  “Now – the combination of charms is the key.    We’ve got to get it to release gradually – not when they first use it, but when it’s dry and gets touched later.   So - if the first classes are at nine o’clock, it’s got to last for between nine and twelve hours.”

 

“Will it work when you add it to Filch’s stuff?” James pushed his glasses back up his nosepeered over his shoulder with interest. 

 

“Should do – I mixed a bit in the other day and it seemed OK.    That blending charm you found for the callifly wings is great.   Here – let’s put some of this batch in and try it.  If we paint it on now, we can check it after lunch tomorrow.”

 

James handed him a tin filled with thick orange paste.  Sirius added a dozen drops of the blue mixture, stirred it carefully with an old spoon until it was properly blended, then painted another patch on the floor.

 

“Right.  Let’s leave that to dry for now – we’ll check it tomorrow after lunch.  I put in a dozen drops – I may need to add a few more.  I won’t add the scent until last – it’s concentrated and I don’t want to waste any.”  

 

James chuckled.  “We’ve got a bit of time.  Full moon tonight, so Remus won’t be up to helping us much before the weekend.  Give it another few days after that, and all we need to do is get a suitable detention.”

 

There was a wicked glint in Sirius’ eyes.  “Who said anything about involving Remus or Peter?”

 

James stared at him, then an equally evil grin spread over his face.  “Mr Black, I just had an interesting thought – it would be even better if Remus could get the detention, wouldn’t it?” 

 

“An excellent idea, Mr Potter!”

 

 “Mr Black, as usual it’s a pleasure doing business with you.”

 

*     *     *

 

McGonagall frowned and adjusted her glasses as Potter and Black entered her class before lunch next day.   Was it her imagination, or did Black still look too pale?  She’d seen him yesterday in the corridor, and thought he’d looked less – well, robust – than normal.    Almost like Lupin on the days after full moon.    But perhaps it was just a trick of the light.    He certainly worked diligently in the lesson though, and as usual, he and Potter were the only ones to successfully complete the exercise she set them.

 

At lunch, she cast several anxious glances in their direction.  Potter was eating steadily, but Sirius had propped an elbow on the table and was leaning his head in his hand.  He wasn’t really eating - just prodding and poking at his food as if there was something wrong with it.   She watched as he pushed his plate away, almost untouched, and take a bread roll instead.  Not normal: the boy was definitely off-colour.  If he didn’t look any better by dinner, she’d insist he visit Poppy.   She hoped he wasn’t sickening for something dreadful – his behaviour had certainly been rather odd these last few weeks. Could there be something physically wrong with him?   Though Potter looked healthy enough …   Perhaps Black was worried about something?  Had anything happened at home?  Minerva frowned: she wondered whether she should talk to him later.

 

Sirius stabbed disgustedly at the mess on his plate.  He thought he’d done quite well really.  He’d only used a little bit of Fiona’s make-up, and she’d shown him the best way to apply it.  Even so, it had required some time in front of the mirror before he was completely satisfied.  Honestly, what girls apparently did to themselves - they usually looked all right the way they were.   He’d never understood why they needed all that lipstick and stuff.   But Peter, used to his younger sisters, had assured him that he looked quite realistically pale; James and Remus studied him carefully over near the window and pronounced it all right.  No-one had made rude comments, though Amanda remarked in Muggle Studies that she thought he looked very tired.   And he was relieved and oddly pleased when Fiona had winked and given him a quick thumbs-up as they passed each other between classes.

 

But he hated kidneys.   Normally when they served steak and kidney pudding, he could quickly pick out the bits of kidneys and eat the rest.  Today’s offering however seemed to include much more kidney than proper meat, and the pile of discarded bits at the side of his plate was growing steadily.   He ate the pastry, and managed to find one or two pieces of stuff that didn’t look like kidney, but on the whole, it was probably better to leave the rest of the mess.   He pushed his plate away in disgust and reached for a second bread roll.  Damn!  It had those stupid poppyseeds on it.   Why couldn’t they just be nice and plain?  He shoved the roll aside and sat back crossly.   There’d better be something decent for dinner.   

 

Madam Pomfrey greeted the three of them pleasantly when they reached the hospital wing ten minutes later.  “No, I’m afraid Remus is still asleep.  But he’s not hurt too badly this time, so come back this evening and see him.”   Then she looked at Sirius.

 

“You’re looking very pale, Sirius.  Are you feeling ill?  Is anything wrong?

 

“No, Madam Pomfrey – I’m all right.”

 

She gave him a shrewd look.  All right does not necessarily mean ‘well’, Sirius.  You look quite ill to me.  Come with me and I’ll check you over.”  And she led him inside and made him lie down while she moved her wand around him in a series of complicated movements that Sirius knew were diagnostic spells. 

 

“Hmmm – nothing wrong that I can see … but you look almost anaemic.  I’ll give you some tonic and you can come back this evening for another dose.  She was rather surprised at how meekly he swallowed it: normally he would have protested vigorously.  Maybe he was just tired or overworked  - he and James did have heavy timetables.   But she’d keep an eye on him all the same.  Boys never liked to admit they were unwell, usually preferring to leave matters until far too late, in her opinion. 

 

Now, you make sure you go to bed early tonight, Sirius.  You’ve been working hard lately, I know, and you need your rest.  In bed by nine o’clock, I suggest.

 

She was even more surprised when Sirius turned up again before dinner, meekly swallowing another dose of tonic and promising he’d go to bed early.  Yes, he admitted, he had been working long hours lately, and could do with a good night’s sleep.   Which was perfectly true.

 

Minerva was relieved to see him eating heartily again that evening and remarked on it to Poppy, who merely smiled and said it was good to see her tonics had worked so quickly.  Minerva shook her head in amusement: trust Poppy to have noticed Sirius looked off-colour. 

 

“He’s a perfectly healthy boy normally, Minerva,” the Matron said firmly.  ‘Nothing much wrong with him at all, apart from occasional injuries.  A bit tired, I expect.   Dose of tonic and a good sleep – he’ll be right as rain in the morning.”

 

“Glad to hear it.  He and Potter have been behaving very strangely lately – not like themselves at all.  Five – no, nearly six weeks without a detention.  Not a toe out of line at all – it’s quite unnatural.   Then Black’s been so pale lately - I wondered if he was coming down with something.  Or whether anything else was wrong.”

 

Poppy shrugged.  “Well, he’s perfectly healthy as far as I can see.   And I haven’t had a hint there’s anything else worrying him.”  She smiled reassuringly.   “But I’ll keep my eyes and ears open, Minerva – and perhaps if Remus knows anything, he might say something.  But I think Sirius is fine.”

 

The two women ate in silence for a few minutes, then watched as their plates were cleaned away.   “You know,” said Poppy mildly, “I think the boys are probably just very busy.  Or else they’re up to something.   Probably both.  In fact Minerva, knowing those two, I think you could almost bet on it.”

 

Minerva ladled out their helpings of chocolate pudding, and passed Poppy the cream.  She was greatly relieved by Poppy’s comments: after all, she’d had two boys herself.    And at least Minerva wasn’t the only person at Hogwarts who was suspicious.

 

______________________

 

 

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