The Sugar Quill
Author: Madhuri (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: That Blasted Crossword  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.

That Blasted Crossword

That Blasted Crossword

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. One rather obvious quote stolen from The Godfather, and one from Frasier.

A/N: Thanks to the wonderful Soupytwist for Brit-picking and beta-reading this.

***

Every morning Sirius would finish his breakfast just as the morning issue of the Daily Prophet would plonk down on his cereal bowl from some random subscription owl hovering overhead. And every morning Sirius would pluck the slightly soggy newspaper out of the bowl, flip over to the last page, fish out a quill from one of his overlarge pockets, and finish the crossword before the dishes were cleared away.

One day, James decided that he was sick of this.

"Don't you ever get tired of doing that?" he asked.

"Doing what?" Sirius asked, without looking up.

"The bloody crossword. What's so fascinating about it anyway?"

Sirius shrugged and didn't say anything. James bristled. He hated it when people ignored him. He reached over and snatched the newspaper away.

"Oi!" Sirius exclaimed, trying to snatch the newspaper back. James leaned back in his chair and lifted it high above his head. "I just want to see it," James said. Sirius scowled and sat back in his chair with a thump.

James pushed his glasses up his nose and looked at the crossword. Sirius had only figured out one clue so far- Poinsettias [3 Across, Winter Flowers (10)]. He glanced through the other clues. They seemed easy enough.

"This is childish!" he scoffed.

"It's a lot harder than it looks," said Sirius.

"It's just a puzzle," James said. "If you could do it anyone could."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I take offence to that." He paused. "All right, then."

"All right what?"

"You do it. Finish the crossword, whatever's left of it. I'll give you the entire day." Sirius smiled, almost mockingly. "Let's see if you can finish it by midnight,"

This was an outrage. James sat up straight. He would not be mocked. "I accept the challenge," he said.

"You finish it all by yourself," said Sirius. "No help from anyone, living or dead, you understand?"

James stuck out his hand. "Understood." They shook hands, and grinned at each other.

"You have no idea what you've got yourself into, Potter," Sirius laughed.

James raised an eyebrow languidly. He looked around to see if anyone else had witnessed the challenge. No one seemed to have, no one of importance anyway. Lily was chatting with her friends, Peter was gazing dreamily at some girl at the Ravenclaw table, and Remus was frantically cramming for the Transfiguration theory test they were going to have in the first period.

"Wag your tail while you can, Padfoot," James smirked.

***


James finished his Transfiguration test within ten minutes. He looked around and found that Sirius and Peter had as well. Peter was gazing dreamily out of the window (what, was he in love with the clouds now?) while Sirius was flicking rubber bands at Moa Nandorf, the pretty Hufflepuff brunette. Lily was writing as slowly and neatly as she always did, while Remus looked like he was about to sweat blood. James leaned back in his chair and hummed softly under his breath. The price to pay for genius like his was having way too much free time on one's hands.

He suddenly remembered the crossword, and figured that he might as well finish it right off and get it out of the way. He walked over to the front of the class, handed in his test paper to McGonagall, and went back to his desk. He took out the Daily Prophet from his bag and opened it to the last page. He licked the end of his quill, and set about doing the crossword.

Well, trying to do it.

Damn that Sirius. The only easy answer in the whole damn thing was the one he'd already written down. Deep breaths, James, deep breaths, he told himself. You just need a little more time than you thought to figure out the answers.

He started to read the clues again, one by one. First one, 2 Across- Punctured his lilo (9). James scratched his head furiously. Punctured his lilo? What the-

Oh well. 7 Across- Like New Wine (6). Hmm... New Wine? James didn't know much about wine. He made a mental note to ask Hagrid about it later. Hagrid ought to know, considering those tankards of cider he always kept handy…

James suddenly remembered that he was supposed to do this himself. Damn.

His eyes skimmed down to the end of the list. 23 Down- Deck Boss (3). Deck Boss. Deck. Boss. He concentrated. Deck. Deck. Card deck? Hmm. Card deck. Boss. Boss of the Deck. The most important card? Three letters. Ace? Hmm. Ace- Ace? Ace! It fits!

"YES!"

The entire class looked up at him, startled. McGonagall peered at him sternly. "Yes?"

James flushed. "Uhm… the Catapults beat the Cannons 470 to 20," he said lamely, holding up the newspaper.

The class went back to their tests, muttering to themselves. McGonagall glared at him. Sirius tried very hard not to laugh. James shot him a look of death.

***


Three hours and two lessons later, James was distraught. It was time for lunch and despite having racked his brain for answers, he had only figured out one other clue- [19 Across- VACCA STULTA (6), which turned out to be 'Stupid Cow']. He walked to the Great Hall with Lily.

"The captain of Germany's Stichstock team," he said conversationally.

"I beg your pardon?" she asked, looking up at him and shifting her books from one arm to the other.

James smiled at her. "The captain of Germany's Stichstock team," he repeated, and nodded his head earnestly.

She put a hand up to his forehead. "Are you feeling all right, James? Were those potion fumes too strong for you?"

James impatiently pushed her hand away. "The captain of Germany's Stichstock team!" he said desperately. "Don't you know who I'm talking about?"

Lily narrowed her eyes at him. "No. Should I?"

"He's trying to cheat his way through the crossword, Lily," Sirius said from right behind his left ear.

"Gnargh!" James yelped in surprise. "Damn you Sirius, don't sneak up on us like that."

Sirius smirked at him. "Told you it was tougher than it looked," he said, and sprinted ahead of them to catch up with a very peeved Moa Nandorf.

"The nerve of him!" James huffed. "To insinuate that I, the Head Boy, would ever stoop to such a level."

"Absolutely disgraceful," said Lily.

"I'm glad you agree."

"No, I mean the way you manage to get the words 'Head Boy' into every sentence you speak," Lily said, laughing. "Sirius told me all about the challenge, James, and I'm not helping you. It would do you good to get taken down a peg or two."

James stared at her in dismay. "Lily, sweetheart, love of my life-"

"Shove it," she said firmly.

***


Since it was a Friday, there were no classes after lunch, and James thanked his lucky stars that he hadn't scheduled Quidditch practice that afternoon. He needed all the time he could get to work on the blasted puzzle. Or maybe just some help. Not help, really, just a little nudge, a few hints, something… from a well-meaning friend. It wouldn't be help. It wouldn't be like they would finish off the crossword for him or anything.

He found Peter talking to his Ravenclaw girl by the third floor landing. "Peter!" he yelled, as he ran towards him. He skidded to a halt, panting. "Just the man I wanted to see."

Peter raised his eyebrows. "Erm, hello, James."

The Ravenclaw girl smiled waspishly at James. "Peter, aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?" she asked, her voice dripping syrup.

"What? Oh, um, Gertie, this is James Potter. James, Gertie Rose," Peter said, looking confused.

Gertie grabbed James' hand and shook it vigourously. "So glad to meet you," she said. "You're the Gryffindor Quidditch Captain, right?"

"And Head Boy," James said.

"And Head Boy," she repeated, flashing all of her white teeth at him. "Peter has told me so much about you."

"No I haven't," said Peter, now looking more mystified than ever.

"Yeah, well, Peter's great like that," James said, wincing as he extracted his hand from the girl's iron grip. "Listen, Peter, do you know of any six lettered acid that starts with 'N'?"

Before he could say anything, Gertie suddenly wedged herself between them. "So, tell me James," she said, fluttering her eyelashes. "What do you think the match between our houses is going to be like next Saturday?"

"Ravenclaw's going down," James said curtly, trying to look over her shoulder at Peter.

Gertie placed a hand on his chest and laughed shrilly. "Oh, you're so funny!" she squealed. James was starting to feel really annoyed. The blonde curls piled up all about her head made it impossible for him to see whether Peter did or did not know the answer.

"Listen, Gertie," he said, finally reaching around her and grabbing Peter's arm. "It was nice talking to you, but Peter and I really have to go. Gryffindor stuff," he added, as he yanked Peter up the stairs.

"Bye James! Maybe we can talk some other time!" Gertie trilled.

As soon as they were out of her range of vision, James let go of Peter and shuddered. "What a fright," he said. "Really, I don't know what you see in her. So anyway, Peter, do you happen to know a four letter word for 'Bog'? Or the capital of Guatemala?"

"No," Peter said, looking very grumpy indeed. "Is this about that stupid crossword? Why are you asking me anyway?"

"Because I've always thought you're very smart and-"

"Last week you told me I was thicker than your mother's trifle pudding."

"I meant that in an affectionate way, Wormtail, mate. Come on now…"

"Go away, James," Peter said, hurrying ahead.

"Peter, I'm at my wit's end here! Sirius will never let this go, never ever ever-"

Peter spun around. "Well why don't you ask Gertie then, if you're so stuck? I'm sure she'd be positively thrilled to help you out."

"Gertie?" James asked, puzzled. "Why her? Is she any good at these?"

But Peter had already rounded a corner and disappeared. James was left standing alone. "Was it something I said?" he wondered aloud.

He sniffed his robes. No problem there.

He sighed. It was time to seek out his only remaining ally.

***

 

"Go away James," Remus said tetchily.

"Mooooony," James whined. He slumped forward on the library table, his head in his hands. "You're the only one I can turn to," he said.

"Go away James," Remus said again.

James sighed. "Can't you spare just a few minutes? Look, I know you're good at these crosswords, I've even seen you do a few of them-"

"James, I've begged and pleaded with McGonagall to let me re-take the Transfiguration test tomorrow morning. I really, really need to revise now," Remus said, scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment.

"I can help you out!" James offered.

"No thank you. I'm doing quite well on my own. Now if you'd just leave me alone…"

James rubbed the bridge of his nose. There really was no point talking to Remus when he was like this. It was that time of the month again. Not that time of the month, but the few days after that, when Remus would wake up in the infirmary bed and see a huge pile of schoolwork to be completed on the table next to him. For the next few days, he would work like crazy to catch up, and bare his fangs at anyone who dared interrupt him.

But James was desperate.

"You know, I think these clues might have something to do with Transfiguration. See, if you help me out, you'd be studying as well, in a way," he said, pointing at the newspaper.

"Not interested, James," Remus muttered, flipping through the very large textbook of Advanced Transfiguration.

"For Merlin's sake just stop studying for a moment, Remus!" James said. "It's just one test!"

Remus snapped. He slammed his textbook down on the table and hissed "Just one test?"

"Mr. Lupin!" Madame Pince shouted indignantly from her table.

"Sorry!" Remus barked, and turned back to James, now speaking quietly. "If I fail this test James, that means I fail an entire year of Transfiguration. I've been hanging on by a thread. If I fail this test, that means I can't write the Transfiguration N.E.W.T.s. And if I can't do that, it means I will pass out of school underqualified and will not get a job anywhere.” He paused and sighed.  “But from the way things are shaping out, it seems like it doesn't even matter if I pass the NEWTs with flying colours or not, because no one in their right mind would offer me employment anywhere anyway."

James sat back in his chair. He felt mortified. "I'm sorry, Remus," James said. "I really was being an arse."

Remus nodded, still looking ruffled. "You were."

They sat in silence for a while, and Remus went back to his textbook. James drummed his fingers on the table and finally spoke. "You're going to be fine, Remus. We all are."

Remus didn't look up. "You don't know that," he said.

"I- You're right, I don't know. But no matter what happens… you'll have us, Moony. Me and Sirius and Peter. And Lily too. We'll be there for you."

Remus stared at the open page of his textbook and grimaced. "You don't know that either, James."

James didn't know how to respond. He shifted uneasily in his seat for a few moments, and then got up, taking the newspaper. "Moony… how about we get under the cloak tonight, after you're done working, and go for a midnight raid of the kitchen? Just like we used to."

Remus smiled up at him and went back to his textbook. "I'll have to take a rain-check, but... that would be great, James, thanks."

Feeling relieved, James walked out of the library. He was on his way to Gryffindor tower when he suddenly remembered that he still hadn't completed the bloody crossword.

He gnashed his teeth. He needed help, but he couldn't risk asking anyone who might report back to Sirius. Sirius had spies in the oddest places. This had always worked to their advantage before, but now James despaired of finding anyone that Sirius wouldn't have tipped off. He needed to get someone who Sirius would never talk to... someone Sirius would avoid at all costs.

James sighed. Desperate times called for desperate measures. He turned sharply on his heel and made his way towards the Slytherin dungeons.

Oh well. At least the slime-ball had a vocabulary strange enough to help him out.

***

 

"What the hell do you want?" Snape asked. He looked so surprised that his words didn't even have their usually menacing inflection to them.

"Help," James said.

He felt a strange sort of calm pass over him as that last shred of dignity crumbled away.

"Go away, Potter," Snape said curtly, throwing salamander spleens into his potion. James rubbed the bridge of his nose wearily. He was getting really tired of people saying that to him all day. He looked around at the gloomy Potions classroom. It was almost funny, James reflected, how Snape was doing the exact same thing he'd always pictured him doing outside classes. Stirring some concoction in some cauldron, looking as nasty and despicable as ever.

"What are you making?" James asked, hoping to start off on the right foot.

Snape didn't answer.

"So... nice weather we've been having lately, don't you think?"

Silence.

"Hey, congratulations on beating Hufflepuff last week. Looks like it'll be our two houses playing at the finals."

Snape threw a large pumice stone into the cauldron. It splashed wildly into the potion and James jumped back instinctively. Snape glared at him. "What the hell do you want?" he repeated.

"I told you," James said, trying not to step on the khaki coloured potion puddling on the floor. "I need you to help me finish my crossword."

Snape's mouth twisted. "Sod off, Potter."

Now James got really angry. "Look, I saved your life, arsehole! The least you could do is tell me what 27 Across is!"

"No one asked you to save my life," Snape hissed.

"Well, you make it really easy for me to regret what I did!" James shouted.

The two students stood glaring at each other furiously. James finally spoke. "So. Do you know a seven-letter word for the young of a Puffskein?"

Snape rolled his eyes and turned back to his cauldron. "Get lost."

James banged his fist on one of the stone counters. "No I am not getting lost, Snape! I'm the Head Boy! I can take points away from your house if I wanted to!"

"Oh I'd like to see you try," Snape said mockingly.

James tried to calm down. Snape was right. He couldn't go about threatening to remove points like that. "All right," he said. "What should I give you if you'll help me?"

"What?" Snape asked, narrowing his eyes.

"What should I give you? D'you need money? A new broom? Some conditioner, maybe?" James asked, wrinkling his nose at Snape's hair.

"I don't need your money, Potter," Snape said angrily. "Or anything from you."

"Come on Snape, just help me out here!" James said, trying to keep his voice from tottering beyond the boundary of 'asking politely' to 'begging'. "It's just a bloody crossword."

Snape exhaled loudly and snapped his face up to look at James. "If I help you finish your puzzle," he said derisively, "would you---" And then he described a very complicated procedure involving James' testicles, a long length of rope, Skele-Gro and Mrs. Norris.

James thought about it. "Um, no," he said.

"Then get out of my sight, Potter," Snape said without fanfare. "Before I fetch Mrs. Norris myself."

James rolled his eyes. "Oh please. Like you could actually steal her away from Filch!" He stormed out of the dank classroom. James was out of the dungeons and on his way to Gryffindor tower before he realised how painfully lame that retort actually was.

"Shit," he muttered. "I'm really having an off-day." He glanced at his wristwatch and sighed.

***

 

Sirius was in a very good mood as he gave the password ("Schpanky") to the Fat Lady and clambered into the Common Room through the portrait hole. Moa could be quite a generous girl when she was in a forgiving mood. He turned up the collar of his shirt, in order to hide any tell-tale marks. Very generous.

He saw James and Lily sitting at their usual table in the far corner of the room. He grinned and strode over to them. James looked up as he came over, while Lily's nose remained firmly in a book. Sirius glanced pointedly at the very crumpled Daily Prophet clutched in James' hand. "Ready to admit defeat?" Sirius asked. "Technically, you still have a couple of hours left, but there's no use postponing the inevitable."

James thrust the newspaper at him, grinning in a very smug, self-satisfied sort of way that Sirius didn't like. He turned to the last page and gaped. Every square was filled- and correctly. He immediately turned to Lily. Her forehead was bright red above her book.

"Lily, you traitor," Sirius said fervently.

She set the book down and shrugged apologetically, not meeting his eyes. James looked back and forth between them frantically. "She didn't help me at all!" he said. "I completed the whole thing myself!"

"Oh shut up James," Sirius said irritably. "Your nose is practically a foot long already. Lily, how could you?" he asked, waving the newspaper in her face.

Lily looked up at him and threw her hands up in defeat. "He made me an offer I couldn't refuse," she said.

"What, he pointed a gun at your head and said that either your answers or your brains would be on the crossword?" Sirius asked witheringly.

"No," Lily said, rolling her eyes. "He just promised me something much, much better."

She got up, stood on tiptoe, and leaned forward to whisper in his ear. Sirius' eyes widened as he listened. "But..." he muttered. "How could you... oh, with the charm... that too?... ambitious, ambitious... wow, good luck." Lily finally sat down again, and Sirius let out a low, impressed whistle.

"So you see, Sirius," Lily said, "What would you do if you were in my place? Choose between loyalty to your friend or an offer like that?"

"Well," said Sirius, shoving his hands down his pockets and looking uncomfortable. "If James were the one who was to be doing the… er, that, then I'd stay far, far away from him. But I see your point."

Lily smiled and returned to her book. Sirius leaned down and punched James in the shoulder. James winced and Sirius grinned wickedly. "You animal," he whispered. "Have you got a rough night ahead of you!" With that, Sirius cackled and ran up the steps to their dormitory.

James turned to see Lily staring at him with an expression that could only be described as laviscious. She slowly licked her lips. James gulped, wondering if, once again, he had bitten off more than he could chew.

THE END.

 

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