The Sugar Quill
Author: Thing1 (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Shed  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.

Curiosity

Shed

Curiosity

I think that it would help you much

If you’d remember not to touch.

The Goops do this, and they do more,

They peep and listen at the door!

They open bottles of cologne,

And feel of parcels not their own!

But there are many stupid folks

Who do not care for children’s jokes.

-          Gelett Burgess

 

 

AN: No Salamanders were actually harmed in the writing of this tale.

 

For the third time in the week since Malcolm Lupin had returned home to Devon after completing his first year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, breakfast was ending in a shouting match amongst the children. Roarke and Annie had tolerated exactly three days of their brother being rather constantly vocal about how wonderful school was and how high his marks were before closing ranks on him and calling a him brat of dragon-sized proportions.  Malcolm was surprised to find that his sisters were cross with him at all, and he was put out over accusations that he was being a snob and ignoring them.  Anyone privy to hearing Malcolm declare ‘Am not!’ only to have two small girls’ voices cry out ‘Are too!’ in return would have to at least agree that Malcolm had not become ‘too old’ for his sisters.

Remus tried to put the matter to rest before it got too far out of hand by offering some advice to Malcolm once everyone had been excused post-haste from the breakfast table by Katie that morning.

“Son, your sisters have been excited about your returning for the last three weeks.  They have missed you very much, you know.  And of course, you want to share everything about school with us but I think they are feeling left out, and that you don’t care about them.”

“Oh that’s rubbish!”

“No, from their perspective all you seem to care about right now is school and your new friends and all that; have you talked to them about what they have been doing?”

‘What’s there to tell?”

Remus sighed and gave the boy a small smile as he shook his head.  “Well, Annie has won two gymkhanas since Christmas. Roarke was good enough to join the school’s Rounders team and scored tops in Maths this last semester.  Did you know that?”

Malcolm shook his head. Remus continued, now smiling even wider and with a bit more mischief about his face.

“You should also know that Annie has started to be able to control her magic rather well.  Take that into consideration as you plan how you are going to spend your next two months.  You are no longer allowed to perform magic outside of school.  They can, and probably will. To a point, of course; even pre-school age juveniles have ended up in front of the Misuse of Magic Permanent Secretary.”

Malcolm looked genuinely shocked.

Dad?”

Remus laughed, “No of course not. Ask your Godfather for details.  But don’t tempt your sisters to do anything other than that which will only be tempered with the fear of what your mother and I will do to them.”

“That is a rather strong motivation to toe the line, you know.”

Remus raised an eyebrow.

“Not all the time, though, is it, My Little Marauder?”

“Um, no.” Malcolm had the good sense to look apologetic through his grin as he left the room.

***

 

Though Malcolm was still a little put-out at being accused of being a brat, over the next several days the Lupin household settled back into familiar patterns.  A level of truce was even achieved that brought all three of the children together to develop, without magic of course, a rather intricate system of balanced cauldrons filled with water that executed a very satisfying bit of mischief against Remus one afternoon. There were, however, occasional magical ‘accidents’ that added to the general excitement. The fact that only Malcolm seemed to be at the receiving end of them was not taken as particularly strange by anyone but him. Malcolm did his best to smile through clenched teeth and not mind that he was essentially defenseless against the girls now. The increasingly smug looks he was getting from them was, however, starting to get on his nerves. 

Roarke clearly knew exactly what she was doing to him.

“What’re you doing now”, Malcolm had asked suspiciously one evening when they were alone in the front room.

“Nothing much,” replied Roarke with a casual voice but a wicked look.

“My arse”, he growled in return.

Roarke didn’t bother to say anything else and simply hummed to herself as she worked on some sort of Quidditch model. Malcolm fled, retreating to his room for the night to stay out of harm’s way. His hand only stuck to the doorknob of his room for a half-an-hour; he refused to scream for parental assistance and give Roarke the satisfaction.  She got it anyway, as she walked past him without a word to her own room just before he was released. The emotional discharge of finally being able to slam his door was worth the scolding Malcolm immediately received from Remus over abusing the house in such a fashion.

Annie was no better. If anything she was more irritating to Malcolm because her ‘charming innocent little girl’ act was, clearly, rubbish. 

“Oh, Annie, Sweetheart – let me help you…yes, that can happen sometimes when you’re learning these cooking spells,” chuckled Katie as she started to work on the mess that was intended to be a summer pudding, but was now simply a coat of goo in an impressively large blast radius away from Annie and directly towards Malcolm, despite the angle of their positions. “And Malcolm, for goodness sakes, don’t just sit there!  Go into the laundry this instant and change out of those clothes, there will be something in there for you in your pile. Oh, and take that upstairs as well when you are done; you’ve left it for two days now!”

“I’m so sorry, Mummy!”

It’s fine, Sweetheart; it takes a while to learn your own strength.”

Malcolm hesitated, desperate to call his mother’s attention to the obvious conspiracy going on, but before he could even open his mouth he was threatened with having his clothes banished from where he stood if he didn’t move immediately.  Annie’s giggles followed him down the scullery hall, as did the taunting look she returned to his mutinous glare.

***

 

Two weeks after Malcolm had returned, his father announced at tea that on Thursday there was going to be a large, and very serious, dinner party at the house to which the children were not invited.

“Who’s coming over?” Roarke asked, looking a little aggravated at the announcement.

Remus paused before responding, and Malcolm knew that his father was trying to decide between getting all of the children off this line of questioning or telling them what was going on. It had to be very serious then, Malcolm considered, as Remus rarely kept secrets from them.

“Well, the Blacks will be here, as will the Tanners.  You all remember Mr. Tanner?”

The children nodded and Annie chimed in with “if Sirius and Liz are coming, why can’t we be there? Isn’t Griffin coming too?”

“Sweetheart, please don’t interrupt me,” Remus did give her a quick smile to show he wasn’t cross, then continued solemnly.

“We will have guests that night none of you know, and even one your mother and I have never met.  However, she is an important member of the Ministry, and she has politely agreed to join us for a discussion and listen to some suggestions we have.” Dinners with friends were not uncommon, but strangers actually at the home were.  Remus did not like having ‘strangers about the place’, as they made him on edge.

Annie interrupted again with an ‘on what?'. Roarke kicked her under the table.

“Werewolves, of course, silly.  Right, Daddy? Is this about those bad laws?”

Remus nodded slowly at the children, his face still grave.

“Yes, this is about laws concerning lycanthropes, which make it very difficult for us to find work to support ourselves. We might be able to start changing some things, but it will be very difficult and we cannot do it with out key support in some areas. So, you understand why we cannot be distracted, then? And you wouldn’t want to be at this dinner anyway, it will be very dull for you, despite Sirius.  Even he will be…somber and focused.”

“I’ll take them to Mrs. Noyes’ around five then,” said Katie.  All three of the children looked very surprised, and Malcolm even managed to look offended.

“Mum!  I am nearly 13….!”

“Four months out is ‘nearly’, is it?”

“Law of majority averages, Katie-love; less than half the distance is in fact closer to the destination so ‘nearly’ is the appropriate majority adjective,” smiled Remus slowly over his tea.

Malcolm gave his father a rather exasperated glance. “Really, Dad.”

“Yes, really, Dad!” aped Roarke in exaggerated tones, before dissolving into howls of laughter across the table from her brother.  Malcolm wasn’t about to give up this fight.

“Dad, aren’t I old enough to stay on my own upstairs from the adults?”

“Perhaps, but I am not about to spread the three of you across the county,” replied Remus casually.  Malcolm got the message; it was all or none.  Much as he regretted making this next gesture, it was the only way he would keep up an argument to maintain his own independence.

“Dad, if I’m old enough to stay on my own, surely I am old enough…to watch those two as well.”

‘Those two’ glowered with faint menace, but didn’t interrupt Malcolm, knowing they had as much to gain from his winning this argument as he did.  Mrs. Noyes was nice and all, but it was really boring at the shop and it smelled funny. Besides, it wasn’t like they were babies either.

Remus did not seem to be willing to have a debate on the subject, however.

“This isn’t just friends coming over for a meal, Malcolm. This is very important and your mother and I need to be focused on the situation, not wondering who is going to come running down the stairs at any moment with blue skin and extra ears to lodge a complaint against someone else.”

“I understand that, Dad.  We all understand that.  We won’t make a problem for you, will we,” Malcolm said strongly, looking at his sisters in turn.  They both nodded firmly and watched their father closely. Remus took a long time thinking the situation over, but finally looked up at Katie questioningly.  Malcolm saw his mother smile and nod, looking rather proud.

“It does seem a bit much to banish them from the house when we are here. They are only part-time hooligans, Remus-love.”

Everyone did laugh at that, and Remus formally announced that everyone could in fact stay, provided nothing happened between now and Thursday to make him regret the decision.  The other condition was that the dog was not allowed to stay with them upstairs, and would spend the evening in the kitchen.

“Thanks, Dad.  I promise you won’t regret it.”

Malcolm then tried to change the conversation and get some more information about the mysterious strange guest coming to Devon.

“So if you don’t know this person, why are they coming?  You must have written something really well if a dodgy Ministry person is actually going to listen to you,” Malcolm offered.

Remus smiled softly and shook his head. “Thank you for the compliment, My Little Marauder.  And please do not refer to an officer of the Ministry as dodgy when you do not know them and you should be respecting your elders.  You may only call them dodgy once you have met them and can verify they truly are.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.  No, our guest is only joining us, I am very certain, because she was at school with my father, and they even practiced law together in the same Court for a few years.  They lost touch…well, they lost touch once I was bitten and your Grandpapa retired to private practice. I have no doubts that she is agreeing to this one meeting only out of respect for my father’s memory; but that is just fine and I am certain he would be pleased to know he was still helping,” finished Remus with a soft smile at his family.

“Did you ever want to be a barrister like Grandpapa, Daddy?” asked Roarke with a curious look.

“No, never once, Firecracker.  Reading law always seemed a bit dry to me.  We’ll all leave Sirius to being a barrister, shall we?”

Katie laughed softly and shook her head. “Bet your dad never would have believed Sirius would be the one to go into law when you two were boys.”

“I’m not so sure about that.  Sirius was always the one with the talent for argument and for being fully aware of the law.  Needed to understand the repercussions of what he was doing. Not to evaluate whether or not he should actually do it, mind you.  Just to pre-plan for how long the punishment was going to inconvenience him were he actually caught.”

***

 

Malcolm paused on the stairs the next day, looking to avoid Annie who was just entering the front room.  From there he could clearly hear the ensuing conversation between his sister and his parents.

“Is Sirius a good barrister, Daddy?” asked Annie.

“Well, he’s still a bit new at it but I understand that he’s a lot better now that he’s improved in controlling his temper,” offered Remus in a helpful tone.

“Honestly, Remus,” mumbled Katie.

“Annie, sweetheart, should ever you need a barrister for something, I am sure that Sirius will be very good at helping you. And, of course, very happy to do so.”

“Right-o!”

Annie bounced out of the front room without further comment and left through the front door. Malcolm paused for a bit, giving her time to clear away, before he decided to get on his way over to Mrs. Noyes’ shop to meet up with Tarquin on the day he came to visit his grandmother. Just before he opened the door however, he heard his parents talking again.

“Katie-love, why is our seven year old concerned about need for legal representation?”

“I’ve no idea, but the possibilities are not something I wish to consider at this moment. I’m beginning to feel that you and I are at a serious disadvantage with these young ones of ours, seeing as we were both only children.  And we managed to be relatively devious despite that handicap; this brood is disturbingly close to earning a classification as dangerous creatures, you mark my words.”

Remus laughed. “We should ask Dexter to draw up an ‘official’ declaration on his formal stationary. Lupins: Classification “Impossible to train or domesticate’.”

“Don’t forget Blacks. You’ll have to go for the title ‘Marauder Pups’.”

Malcolm had to admit that it was rather funny, but that only Roarke and Annie deserved it at this point as far as he was concerned.  He left, heading out of the house and down the lane towards the village, faint ideas of revenge filling his head during the walk. If Annie felt she might be in need of legal representation like Dad had suggested, surely she and Roarke were working up to something really, really dreadful. He needed to be prepared.

***

 

But there was nothing ill from his sisters over the next few days.  They all three played together, uneventfully, meals were pleasant and lively, and none of the house stuck to him ever again.  Up through lunch on Thursday, Malcolm had nearly convinced himself that the guerrilla war was over with.  However, in the afternoon when Malcolm had taken a bit of a fall out of the apple tree due to a breaking branch, all of his anger returned when he decided that the cause of the break was extremely suspicious looking. Tired of being the brunt of the joke, Malcolm marched into the house to report his suspicions to his mother and demand that parental action be taken; the absolute last step of the Lupin children.

Katie, in the midst of preparing a five course meal for eight people, was unconvinced and relatively unsympathetic.

“Malcolm, please.  That tree is very old and has been known to drop people every so often.  I’ve fallen out twice myself.  And I really don’t think that the girls can manage a severing charm, as you are alluding to.”

“Mum, it’s been like this all summer!  They just…just do these little things that look so innocent! It’s not fair!”

Katie actually laughed at that, but not unkindly, and then gave Malcolm a quick hug before starting to get the good china out.

“Malcolm, I cannot believe you of all my children just stood there and cried ‘it’s not fair’.  Didn’t you just get sorted into Gryffindor? Yes, I did notice that they, just like you, are not entirely as innocent as they like to think they seem, thank you.  But I am not involved unless one of you does something that requires a healer, and after that you get ‘The Wrath of Mum’ for being so reckless. Your sisters would not do something like bung you out of a tree.  They are not that vacant of sanity. Besides, girls prefer doing sneakier things than that; or haven’t you noticed?”

“I have; they make me nervous when they walk into room and just look at me!”

“Yes, that would be their main objective.  Having you nervous verses having you legitimately cross due to an attack that will get me and your father to punish them is much better for them.  Ergo, they did not do anything to the tree.  You just had the bad luck to step on a rotting branch.”

Malcolm slumped into one of the kitchen chairs and muttered something he wished his mother had not managed to overhear.

“May I remind you, Malcolm, that it is not too late for me to take all of you to Mrs. Noyes for the evening?”

Katie left the kitchen in an annoyed fashion, the dinner service trailing her, a vast flying squadron of valuable yet extremely ugly antique china.

Malcolm chose to ignore the last comment and merely sunk down in his chair so that he was at eye-level with the table-top.  He sat there for a long moment feeling cranky and cross with his sisters who, as far as he was concerned, were being wholly irrational.  The fact that they seemed to have the tacit approval of his parents (who, at the very least, were not discouraging the guerilla campaign against him very forcefully) made him just that little bit more bent on revenge. Despite his better judgment, instinct set in and he began to ponder the simplest, least legally challengeable, means of retribution.

It was then, in the late afternoon sunlight, that something glinted and caught his eye from the depths of the main fire his mother kept constantly alight to slowly roil some potion or potent or other.  Malcolm slid down another few inches so as to have a clearer view of the fire.  Fortunately this allowed him to put his feet fully flat upon the floor, so he had proper leverage not to slide completely off his seat when he jumped at the second distinct flare that came from the fire. Something was in there, lurking in the flames.  And there was now, without a doubt, a little slitted eye staring at him with a trepidation likely equal to his.

Malcolm held his breath and slowly descended the rest of the way to the floor. Kneeling under the table and continuing to stare into the fireplace, he was able to make out several more little faces in the flames and all were watching him closely. Malcolm was almost trembling with delight; salamanders were back in the house. 

When he was younger this was not that uncommon an occurrence.  They were, in fact, very useful to his mother for her potions, and when he was around seven his father and he spent a memorable afternoon learning about the salamanders’ magical properties.  But it was during this casual lesson that an interesting property of salamanders neither of the Lupin parents had ever known was discovered.  Salamanders can be kept outside of their fires for several hours if fed pepper, all magical folk knew. Different peppers, naturally, had varying success with the animals and produced unique reactions.  The reaction of the little salamanders Remus and Malcolm had scatting around the kitchen table to a particularly large helping of cayenne peppercorns resulted in Katie banning the animals, and in her regularly scrubbing out her fires after that day to discourage further nesting. Malcolm grinned in delight at the memory of that discovery, and scooted carefully forward to collect a small cauldron from the very back of the cupboard where it would not be immediately missed, and the ash shovel.

The little eyes moved along with him, but did not vanish.  Checking once more that he was still very much alone, Malcolm lunged at the hot coals and scooped up as much of the fire material as he could manage and dropped it into the cauldron.  Once the ash settled, he looked down to see two rather startled looking salamanders gasping slightly but none the worse for wear.

After quickly washing up all the evidence of the ashes and settling the fire back into place, he emptied a large helping of cayenne peppercorns into a coffee mug, grabbed the cauldron, and retreated into the back garden.  He made a line directly for the old shed at the far side of the house, away from the paddock where Annie and Roarke were with the ponies. Grandpapa Edmund had built the shed a very long time ago for Malcolm’s father to use at full moons, but his mother had taken ownership of it now and turned it into a mulching hut, which was frequented sparingly.  And certainly it would see no adults dressed in their finest robes awaiting important dinner guests that day.

Malcolm ducked into the shed with the cauldron in one hand and the mug of peppercorns in the other.  Once the door was closed it was quite dark inside.  Some sunlight came through the small vents at the top of the walls, and very small drops of light came through the patches of the thatch roof that were thinning. The thatch had been done by Sirius years ago during the time he was hiding at the house.  Katie wanted it to improve air circulation for the mulching and (though she claimed this was of secondary import), so the little hut matched the look of the big house. The thatch was now starting to wear down and Malcolm had a sudden grim suspicion that one of his summer activities would be helping to re-thatch the place entirely. Thatching work on the house was fun as it was exciting to be on the top of the three-story home; thatching the shed seemed awfully anti-climactic in comparison. Malcolm resolved never to bring up the condition of the shed’s roof and see whether or not his parents brought it up on their own.

Putting aside worries of future chores, Malcolm turned his attention back to the salamanders.  They had nestled as closely as possible to the glowing coals in the cauldron, and were already starting to lose some of their brilliant whiteness. Setting them carefully on a post-top for one of the mulching bins, Malcolm emptied a fair helping of the peppercorns into the cauldron.  The salamanders didn’t seem to notice at first, but once they had they leapt up with encouraging vigour and started to devour the food. Pleased, Malcolm watched until they ate them all, and then settled back down into the ashes, brilliant white once more. Malcolm added a few thick twigs from the top of the mulch pit to the cauldron in order to keep their home fire burning a little longer, as it would draw out the time he could actually keep them alive and complete his plan.

Slipping from the dark shed back into the late afternoon light, Malcolm made his way carefully around the house and entered through the front door.  Were he seen returning, this was the point farthest from his salamanders. He went up the stairs two at a time and retired to his room, trying to imagine how his sisters were going to take their close encounter with the cayenne-stuffed salamanders, well after the guests had left of course.

***

 

Malcolm, Roarke and Annie had an early tea so they would have time to clear away upstairs before the guests arrived.  Remus, carrying a large bowl of fruit, a gigantic bowl of popped corn, and a plate with three brownies led them all to the second storey where they settled in Malcolm’s room for a moment.

“You look very handsome, Daddy, in your blue robe,” smiled Annie.  Remus bent down and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you, Sweetheart. You look very lovely yourself, even if your sister thinks pink is a ‘daft colour’, he finished, winking at Roarke who rolled her eyes and picked up her brownie.

“Alright; I secured one large sweet for each of you, as you see, and the popcorn and fruit are for if you get hungry later on, so you don’t have to come down to the kitchen.  Mummy or I will come to check on you and bring you some hot chocolate at bedtime, as this dinner may go very late.  You have everything you want from downstairs?”

Malcolm commented that everything had been brought up in the mad cleaning session they all helped with the day before.

“Good.  Now, I’ve no doubt that you can all stay up here and play quietly together.  If you cannot do that, please lock yourselves in your individual rooms before the shouting starts.  Malcolm, can you all play in here?  Roarke’s room is over the dining room, and the house creaks when you walk about.”

“Um, sure.  Not a problem.”

“Can we play Snap, Daddy?”

“Yes, Roarke, cards are fine.  Please do not play tag or hide-and-go-seek, which you three have made into a full-contact game.”

“Oh, go on Remus!  Just put up a silencing charm and let them have at it!” Sirius strode into the room, laughing.

“There is no need for one, Padfoot; they know the rules and are more than capable of handling them, aren’t they?”

“Yes!” chorused the children.

“Where’s Griffin, Sirius?” asked Annie.  Malcolm saw his father and Sirius share a bit of a look. Clearly, the option of bringing Griffin over here was not allowed, as that was pushing the limits.

Griffin is spending the evening with his cousin, Harold.  I think they are going to a play, but I’m not sure.  Harold wouldn’t tell me his plans.” Annie looked disappointed but Remus smiled.

“Annie, it is probably not going to be a very fun play.  Harold is very nice but he hasn’t quite grasped that seven year olds don’t like Shakespeare just yet.”

“Yes, Sweetheart, I think you are going to have much more fun here with your brother and sister. Shall we finish getting ready, Moony?”

Remus nodded and they left together, saying goodnight to everyone.  Malcolm plopped down on his bed and took up a comic book, but the girls moved to the large window that overlooked the front path.

“Don’t you want to see who’s coming, Malcolm?” asked Roarke.

Malcolm shrugged but didn’t look up. “Not really.  Besides, didn’t Dad say we don’t really know them?”

“I want to see the pretty robes!” said Annie.  “And look there!  Someone’s just arriving; he’s wearing boring old black but she has on purple.”

“That’s Mr. Tanner, isn’t it?”

Malcolm sighed and said quietly “If you open the window, you can hear Mum or Dad say their name when they greet them at the door.”

The window was duly opened, but that forced the girls’ commentary to drop to a whisper, and that started making Malcolm nervous.

“Oh look!  It’s Headmistress McGonagall!” was the one whisper he did catch.

Now Malcolm did drop his book, and shot over to the window to peer down at the front path leading to the entryway.  Sure enough, the Headmistress of Hogwarts was striding up the path with a broom in one hand and using the same gait she had when she was descending on unruly students.

“Maybe she’s not here for the dinner, but she’s come after Malcolm for something,” giggled Roarke.

“Oh ha, ha, Firecracker,” grumbled Malcolm.  He nearly jumped in fright when the next moment the door was opened and Remus came in, looking a little amused.

“Right, I did not specifically say not to open the window and offer commentary on our guests’ clothing, but I would suggest that it was a given when I have repeatedly stressed to keep it quiet up here.  Therefore, your punishment is that all three of you must come downstairs and say hello to our guests, who would like to meet you.”

This was certainly not a punishment, but they all pretended to look very serious to join in the joke with their father. He led them to the Front Parlor and made the introductions.

“Katie’s and my children,” he started, with a smile, “whom some of you have met.  This is Malcolm, and our daughters, Roarke and Annie.  Children, you remember Mr. and Mrs. Tanner? Mr. Tanner is the Head of the Beast Division at the Ministry.”

Dexter and Anastasia Tanner smiled.  Malcolm noted she was the one wearing the purple robes Annie liked so much.

“This gentleman is Mr. Nicholas Scamander, Mr. Tanner’s Private Secretary.”

The solemn looking man in grey nodded at them.

“Malcolm of course knows Headmistress McGonagall well, and Roarke and Annie have had the pleasure of meeting her too.”  The girls grinned at Malcolm who flushed a bit and smiled.  The Headmistress looked as imposing in his own front room as she did in her office at Hogwarts.

“Need I say anything about Sirius and Liz?”

The Blacks waved at the children, and Remus turned to the final guest.  She seemed to be almost 100, with a shock of white hair done up in a very intricate style that was held by jeweled clips.  Her robes were scarlet, and she wore thin black gloves that matched her boots.  She looked, to Malcolm, even more intimidating than the Headmistress.  While Professor McGonagall looked like she never laughed, Malcolm knew for a fact that she did; it did not appear as if this woman laughed at all, and Malcolm couldn’t imagine her doing so.  Still, she was clearly the focus of this evening, and Malcolm was determined to make a good impression.

“Children, this is Mrs. Echo Hannover, the Minister for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Annie, please say hello to Mrs. Hannover.”

Annie looked a little nervous, but true to her nature simply stepped forward and shook the woman’s hand.

“Was it you who liked my red robes?” asked the woman.  Her voice was shockingly soft and high toned.

“Yes, Mrs. Hannover. They are very, very pretty.”

“Thank you, my dear.”

“Mrs. Hannover this is Roarke.”

Roarke said nothing, and simply shook Mrs. Hannover’s hand before moving back to stand close to Remus.  Remus put his arm around her with a smile, before continuing with his last introduction.  Malcolm wondered why the woman was watching Roarke with interest.

“Mrs. Hannover, our son, Malcolm,” said Remus.

“Malcolm Edmund,” he stressed, stepping forward to shake her hand.  She returned his solid grip and nodded, looking closely at him.

“An excellent name from an excellent man.  I am sure you serve it well.”

“I do,” said Malcolm firmly.

“Gryffindor, like he was, are you?” When Malcolm nodded, she continued calmly, “I was a Slytherin myself.  What do you say to that?”

Malcolm met her eye and said only “I have been told that Slytherins make the finest barristers”.

She glanced coolly at Sirius before staring at Malcolm once again.

“Well, Mr. Black must have said that to you to illustrate a different point, but as he shows promise of being a fine barrister himself one day, I will take it as a compliment.”

At that, Remus led them all out again and back to Malcolm’s room.  He said nothing, but smiled warmly at Malcolm before he closed the door and left.

***

 

Malcolm and his sisters spent a subdued evening, making as little noise as possible. At first, once the adults had gone into the dining room, the children sat on the landing to try and hear any of the conversation.  Mostly it was indistinguishable, but the occasional phrase from Dexter Tanner or Liz could be picked up, and Malcolm figured they must be seated nearest the door. This activity ended when Sirius left the room for a moment, and then hesitated slightly upon his return.  He seemed to be double checking something on the scroll he carried, but when he re-entered the dining room, he carefully closed the door behind him and gave a very brief glance in the direction of the stairwell.

“Goblin toes!” mumbled Roarke, “he saw us!”

“Nah, I think he just felt us,” whispered Malcolm as they went back into his room. “And better it be Sirius than Mum or Dad.”

“Sirius won’t tell, will he,” asked Annie.

“If Sirius didn’t tell on us when we snuck a ride on Daddy’s broom I hardly think he’s going to mention a little thing like that,” was Roarke’s comment.  Malcolm had to agree with that; Sirius only ‘told’ if they were discovered doing something really dangerous and they made him cross with worrying about them.  Malcolm’s kelpie curiosity a few years back had put him in serious trouble with his godfather mostly for giving Sirius such a fright once he figured out what was going on. He even resorted to ‘MALCOLM EDMUND’ when he voiced his fury as he pulled Malcolm from the weeds in the river he was carefully hidden in.

“Want to play a game with us, Malcolm?”

“Which one?”

“You can choose,” smiled Annie “only just remember I’m seven,” she finished more austerely. 

“Certainly,” mimicked Malcolm, in his best imitation of his father being stern with them. “Now, remembering Annie is only seven, I suggest we play Snakes and Floo Powder.  Excellent for seven year olds!”

Roarke giggled even as she shook her head and pulled the game from the shelf. “You’re such a goof.”

“Well you’re one too; we’re from the same stock.”

“No, that only makes me the sister of a goof.”

“Can I be the cat?”

“You know Annie, you are always the cat.  Try something new; here, you be the potion bottle.”

“I don’t WANT to be the potion bottle!”

“All those in favour of Annie being the potion bottle, raise your hands.”

“Daddy said no quarrelling!

“This isn’t a quarrel, it’s a vote.”

“You can’t make me be the potion bottle!”

“Annie, calm down. Be the cat if you must.  Roarke, hand her the cat.”

“No, I don’t want to be the cat anymore.  Let me have the spider.”

“Fine.  Can we start now?”

They played several rounds of the game until it grew dark. The spider, never having liked being flooed around the board for any length of time, scurried away and hid under Malcolm’s dresser after only three games.  Annie claimed the cat at that point with a look of triumph.

There was a knock on the door just as they finished putting the game away, and Sirius came in with three large mugs of hot chocolate.

“You get me to send you to bed, my little gang of grindylows.  Your parents are both busy explaining how boringly normal life is at this house despite Daddy’s curse. As you can imagine, I don’t actually help that conversation much.  I even think your mum looked a little relieved when I ducked out!”

Sirius settled one of the mugs down on Malcolm’s table, told him to change, and he’d be back after settling the girls.  He offered an arm each to the girls and led them down the hall, all three talking in whispers.  Malcolm changed for bed and let the girls take the bathroom first, avoiding the very real possibility of a louder argument erupting over who didn’t rinse the sink and who managed to lose the top of the toothpaste when it was supposed to be magiced on to begin with. Instead, he took the time to smile quietly to himself and plot his route down to the back garden to check on his salamanders.  They would surely need another round of peppercorns by now, and a few more twigs in the fire. He nearly cackled to himself thinking of how his sisters were going to react to being woken in the middle of the night by his surprise.

“Right, that’s them settled,” said Sirius as he came back into Malcolm’s room.  He sat down on the bed next to Malcolm and smiled.

“You three have done really well.  Not a peep to be heard, and your parents even relaxed to the point where they stopped glancing at the ceiling every 10 minutes or so.  Well done!”

Malcolm laughed softly.

“You can stay up reading for a while longer, of course.  I’ve had the girls swear to me on the honour of the Marauders that they will not attempt to get up and foil the curfew simply because no one is keeping an eye on them.  My deal with you is that if they do sneak back out, just keep them quiet and rest with the fact that they will eventually get into trouble for it.”

“Nah, they’re done for the night.  No worries there.  How’s everything going downstairs?  Is Mrs. Hannover listening?”

“She is, she is.  Is she convinced that our argument for revising the laws is sound and merited?  Not sure.  Scamander seems to have warmed from his careful neutrality, so that’s something.”

“But he’s just a private secretary; he can’t change any laws!”

“No, but remember, he can have his opinion and he can express it to others we don’t know.  One more person speaking favourably about the cause we’re working for is always a small victory, and one that starts to add up. See my point?  Besides, it helps me by knowing that we can make this argument to a neutral person and come across well.”

“I think I followed that,” said Malcolm and Sirius gave a small, somewhat sad laugh.

“It’s dull as dry toast, but it’s important. One of those things….”

“…always worth fighting for.  I know that.  I understand a lot more now, I guess.”

“The curse of getting older.  Wait until you’ve reached my years!  My wife thinks I still keep supplies of fireworks and dungbombs purely to annoy her. Not true at all, as I take no pleasure from annoying her. I do, however, take great pleasure in keeping my inner child happy.”

Very happy,” agreed Malcolm.

“Exactly!  Well, I’m off again downstairs.  Goodnight, My Little Marauder; I’ll see you in a day or so.”

“Night, Sirius”.

After Sirius left, Malcolm quickly got out of bed and pulled on a jumper over his pyjamas, and slipped on some Muggle tennis shoes he had for exploring.  Boots were always too noisy in the house, and Malcolm knew better than to go across the lawn barefoot at night.  At least, he had learned at a very young age that it was best not to risk trodding on Stink Slugs and Night Spiders and other things that came out after sunset.

The only way Malcolm was going to make it down the stairs with any hope of not being heard was to go down the stairs as the grandfather clock marked the hour.  The chime was loud enough to cover any footfalls or creaks that might prove unavoidable, and unpredictable. It had been explained to the children long ago that their Grandmother had enchanted the stairwell to creak around the time Remus had been twelve.  Something to do with houseguests and the adventurous natures of young boys, Malcolm understood. So it was impossible to ‘learn’ the safe steps, because you never knew where or when any one of the twenty-three steps would decide to make a noise.

The adults had moved from the dining room into the front room.  Malcolm frowned a bit, as this meant he was now forced to go the long way around the house to the back garden.  The windows and the large French doors looked out directly onto the front garden, and it was not worth the risk.  He was still going to have to get past the kitchen. Malcolm needed to be certain everyone was in the front room; Liz or his mum could be in the kitchen, and that was not a happy thought.

The grandfather clock just below Malcolm’s spot on the landing gave the quarter-to chime.  Since he couldn’t see the clock, he didn’t know what hour was approaching, but it was ten at the earliest and probably eleven, judging by the darkness.  The only lights below were the dimmed flames of the front hall sconces, and the glow coming from under the front room’s closed door. Malcolm did note that the sconces had been transfigured or charmed for the night; the bowls in the shape of wolf heads that Sirius had given his parents were well liked and found humourus among the family and close friends. They did not appear to be prudent for this evening, however, and we now simply plain stone, ornamented with Tudor Roses to match the house itself.

“How do you think Griffin has enjoyed his evening?”

Malcolm started at the sound of his mother’s voice, and ducked behind the stair rail. 

“Hard to say; he and Harold really do get on well, and Harold’s becoming much more savvy in dealing with him.”

Malcolm heard his mother and Liz crossing the flagstones from the direction of the kitchen, and pausing in the hallway.

“Katie, you’ve managed to resist running up there all night, don’t give in now.”

Malcolm held his breath while Liz spoke.  His Mum was going to come up? He’d have no chance of making it to his room; he’d have to cop for eavesdropping and hope it sold.

“Sirius did say he’d extracted promises to go right to sleep from the girls, and Malcolm is most likely passed out with his lantern on and a book on his chest at this point.”

“Probably.  I’ve got a mental image of my own boy sleeping on the couch at Harold’s covered with crups at this point.  Does love sleeping in a dog pile, that one.”

“Your cats must love him when he comes back from that,” Katie laughed.  Malcolm heard them start to move again, and then the entryway was flooded with light as the door to the front room was opened.  Voices clearly engaged in energetic conversation filled the hallway, so Malcolm felt that their attention was fully on their own business, which was another good sign.

Dimness settled down again once the door had been shut, and Malcolm crouched down and listened to the clock ticking below him, waiting for the chimes.  He glanced up and down the main landing and hallways once or twice, making sure his sisters were not actually about, and reiterated his plan in his mind several times.  Down the stairs, down the back hall past the kitchen towards the scullery and sun room; out the sun room window (being careful to prop it open with a book as it tended to slam shut), and through the garden to shed. Coming back would be trickier, but if the worst case scenario of the stairs giving him away came to play, he’d be in his room by the time anyone got to him and could bluff it. Or at least he could draw a stalemate as no proof of his having been up would be available. It was reasonably flawless, having all of the unknowns worked out, like any good Marauder plan should be. Malcolm decided he would have fun going over the details with Sirius once everything was over.

The clock workings started to whirr a bit, the sound of the works preparing to ring the chimes.  As the first wave of the salutation sounded, Malcolm started down the stairs carefully.  He was halfway down as the salutation ended, and the chimes began.  Malcolm counted out the chimes as he continued moving carefully.  One, two, three…at eight he was two steps from the bottom, and at ten he was already halfway down the back hall.

The clock struck eleven as he entered the sun room, and shut the door silently behind him. As it was New Moon that evening, there was no light coming from the windows to help him cross the space to the bookcases, then to the window. 

Malcolm nearly yelped in fright when something started thwapping against his leg.  He took a deep breath and managed to stop himself when he realized it was Bessie.  The dog had not stayed in the kitchens; she seemed to have been settled into her basket here instead.  No wonder the door had been closed! And now her tail was wagging happily, which was a sure sign she would bark a greeting in a second or two. The dog barking in the night would be sure to cause a mystery that would be investigated.

Malcolm dropped to his knees and put his hands around the terrier’s muzzle quickly; she gave a little huff but simply sat down next to him.  Malcolm felt rather than saw her eyebrows twitching at him in curiosity.

“Shush, Bessie.  I’m up to no good, so I need you to be very quiet, alright?” whispered Malcolm.

He let her go and was given a series of licks to the face as an assurance that his pet got the message.

“Good dog.  Now, stay right here and I’ll be back in a bit.”

His eyes now adjusted to the darkness, it was a little easier to cross to the bookcase, select a slim volume he could use to prop the window open just enough, and get over to the window itself.  Carefully, Malcolm got the window up and clambered over.  He set the book on the sill and let the window slide down, his hands on the glass to keep the movement slow.  Once it was settled, he saw Bessie’s head pop up over the sill as she stood up to have a look at him.  Malcolm put a finger to his lips once more, and then started across the lawn towards the far end of the garden.

He reached the shed in record time. The door actually faced a side window of the front room, but that was the back of that room and far from the fire, so there was only a very slim chance that anyone would be near it, less that they were looking out, and even less chance they could see the shed as anything other than a dark spot in the distance. Still, he opened the door and moved inside very quickly.

It was not pitch black in the shed, as there was an encouraging glow coming softly out of the cauldron sitting on top of the post where Malcolm had left it.  He collected the mug of cayenne peppercorns and a few more twigs before peering inside happily. The salamanders appeared to have buried themselves in the glowing ashes, and Malcolm used a fresh twig to carefully brush the ashes to check them. However, nothing stirred as he dragged the fire carefully. Frowning, Malcolm was now worried that he hadn’t fed them enough and may have lost them.  He lifted the cup to pour the rest of the peppercorns in, hoping that the food would encourage them.

The cup was empty.

Malcolm felt a little dose of dread stir in his stomach; he was certain he still had half a cup of these when he had left that afternoon. Was it possible that his parents had in fact found the salamanders? They could have left everything here, charmed to the gills of course, to catch out whoever had put them in here in the first place. Malcolm wished he had a mirror so he could have a look at himself.  His hair was probably hot pink right now, indicating his guilt for having touched the incriminating evidence. Then again, considering what was going on in the house, this probably wasn’t the case. Entrapment charms generally included a lot of noise to summon his parents once the trap was sprung, and there had been no sound. That left another possibility. Most likely, Malcolm reasoned, the door was now spelled shut, and would remain so until they came to collect him once they discovered him missing after the guests had gone.

To verify this, Malcolm grimly moved to test the door.  To his surprise, it opened easily.  He pulled it shut again very quickly and stood there, puzzled and now worried. Why would this cup be empty? It seemed the salamanders were dead, and what on earth happened to the peppercorns? Maybe Night Spiders liked them.

It was then that he heard a distinct *hiccough* above him in the rafters, and Malcolm realized what had happened.

Slowly, he looked up and there on one of the rafters sat the two little salamanders, brilliant white and looking very lively indeed. One of them opened his mouth and gave another hiccough, this time a little louder, and a small trail of smoke came out of its mouth. Malcolm had assumed the salamanders wouldn’t leave the fire willingly.  It appeared they did, to find the food. And now they were starting to react from their meal, and Malcolm knew he was done for if he didn’t get them back in the cauldron very soon.

The salamanders had managed to situate themselves well out of reach of a young boy, even one standing on top of a mulching post reaching as far as he could get.  They also slinked further away from him, with terrifying speed, whenever he got remotely in range. To make matters worse, they were both starting to cough almost non-stop. Malcolm was getting very frustrated, particularly because a simple ‘accio salamander’ would easily solve this problem. Only he couldn’t cast the spell, and even if he did want to risk it, his wand was all the way back in the house, stored in his father’s desk for the summer.

There was only one thing for it, Malcolm decided.  He needed to get Sirius out here to catch the salamanders, and very soon. One of the salamanders gave a particularly loud belch just then, and Malcolm cringed as a tiny fireball erupted as well.  Those fireballs would not stay tiny for long, and Malcolm couldn’t help but notice how close the salamanders now were to the old, extremely dry, straw thatched roof.

Malcolm exited the shed and ran back to the house. Only he didn’t go to the sun room, he went right up to the back window of the front room and carefully looked inside. If Sirius were true to form, he would take to pacing at a distance from the main conversation at some point when he became stressed from the goings on.  A nervous habit he’d had as long as Malcolm could remember. The only place to do that, in the front room, was right back by the far window. Malcolm wanted the conversation that night to go well, but he prayed at this moment that Sirius was agitated or cross about something.

Very carefully, Malcolm peered around the side of the window to get a look at the company in the room. Dexter Tanner seemed to be talking about something in a very animated fashion, gesturing with his hands and the like.  Most of the attention was on him; Mr. Scamander seemed to be looking into his tea cup with a little concerned frown. Sirius was not pacing, but he was sitting in a side chair near the back of the group, arms crossed and one foot twitching. Malcolm didn’t need to see Sirius’ face to know that this was actually a very good sign for Malcolm.  Sirius would start pacing soon, but would it be soon enough was the worry now.

Malcolm stood there and willed Sirius to get up, and turn this way. He willed Sirius to come all the way to the back window.  He prayed only Sirius noticed him and that Sirius kept his mouth shut when he did.

Mr. Tanner stopped talking and all heads turned towards the fire.  Malcolm assumed they were looking at whoever was in the wing chair he couldn’t see, and it was probably Echo Hannover who was now talking. Malcolm jumped back and ducked away from the window as Liz turned to Sirius at that moment, looking over her shoulder and getting a clear view of the back window.  He counted to 20 slowly, then peeked again. 

Prayers were answered; Sirius was pacing, slowly, and headed in Malcolm’s direction.  All he needed was to get Sirius’ attention, get Sirius to open the window saying he needed air, give a tiny little flick of the wand, and get the salamanders to safety. That’s it; only he and Sirius (once again) would know what was up.  Sirius might even let Malcolm have the salamanders back to carry out his mischief against his sisters.

But Sirius was scowling at the floor, and paying the window no mind. He paced back and forth always focused on his boot tops.  The cycle seemed endless and Malcolm was sure he was now going to slowly go mad. Finally, in desperation, he risked giving a single tap to the window at Sirius’ next approach.

It worked.

Sirius’ head shot up and he looked at the window.  His eyes grew wide as he caught Malcolm’s gaze. Malcolm signalled Sirius to come to the window, and his godfather hesitated only a moment before he started to approach, slowly, his eyes curious and locked with Malcolm’s.  Malcolm felt like fainting with relief. But before Sirius got there, he stopped and looked over his shoulder, and seemed to be talking to someone back in the main group. Sirius glanced back only for a brief moment, holding one hand up carefully in a ‘stay there’ motion, then he turned and walked back to the other guests.

Malcolm was frustrated and horrified by this.  There wasn’t time! Couldn’t they talk to someone else? He leaned against the wall next to the window, eyes shut and forehead pressed against the plaster.  He jumped strongly when the window was opened a few minutes later.

“What are you doing?” came Sirius’ voice, very low.

“No time.  Can you do a quick spell?”

“Which one?”

“’Accio salamanders’ – and mind you they’re hot so be careful.”

“Give me a sec, I have to go back and answer something.  Don’t move.”

Malcolm didn’t budge.  He stayed as he was, eyes shut and head down, counting the seconds until he heard footsteps coming back to the window.  He was about to lean over and whisper thanks to Sirius, when a new voice was heard.

“Mr. Lupin?”

“Yes?”

“Are you normally in the custom of doing your back garden bonfires at this time of night?”

“I beg your pardon?”

Sure enough, when Malcolm turned back to the garden his worst fears were realized.  The shed’s thatch had caught fire, and an impressive burn had built very quickly. His parents didn’t even bother with the door, they both Apparated almost instantaneously a few feet in front of Malcolm, staring at the conflagration and looking flabbergasted.

Sirius also didn’t bother with the doors, instead coming out of the window and immediately looking about for Malcolm. He wasn’t quick enough, though; Remus turned at the sound of Sirius landing on the gravel path and caught sight of Malcolm.  His jaw dropped, even as Katie worked to extinguish the flames, and the rest of the guests (who had used the French door) came around from the front garden and took in the scene.

“How!” barked Remus.  Malcolm couldn’t even bother to play dumb.

“Salamanders.  Got too near the roof.”

“What were salamanders doing in the mulching shed?” continued Remus, tightly and pointedly.

“Well, they were originally in a cauldron,” Malcolm offered.  Remus did not look amused.

Sirius couldn’t stand it anymore, and turned to Malcolm

“Malcolm, how did some little salamanders manage to cause this?”

Malcolm looked sheepishly at his parents, and saw in their faces that both of them had just realized what he was really up to.

“Because… because they belch little fireballs if you feed them cayenne pepper.  Just little ones!  And once they start they can’t really stop. They got too close to the thatch, and, well.”

Katie gave Sirius a deadly glare, even as he tried to squelch the faint “meep” of laughter that escaped his hand over his mouth, his face turning red from the effort of holding himself back.  The nearly deranged look of total amusement in his eyes did not help, Malcolm noted.

“Exactly where would you have intended they belch fireballs, Malcolm Edmund? I doubt you had such an issue with the shed.”

“Um, on Roarke and Annie’s feet, actually.”

There was a long silence, but then laughter started.  Not from Sirius, who knew better than to risk Katie hexing him, but from another of the guests.

Echo Hannover roared with laughter for nearly a minute before regaining her composure, and she faced Malcolm’s parents with a large grin.

“Devious little blighter, isn’t he?”

 

 

//
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