The Sugar Quill
Author: Ellyse (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Card Castles in a Summer Storm  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.

Card Castles in a Summer Storm

Card Castles in a Summer Storm



Author’s Note ~

These characters do, of course, belong to Queen JKR. Thank you to my beta, Zsenya, for her continuous support. In this story I am playing around with the Marauders, fusing together events of their past and present. Enjoy.


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Remus Lupin descended the stairs to the basement kitchen of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. His footsteps echoed on the stone steps and the shadows clustered around him as he reached the bottom. Once at the door, he felt blindly for the latch before tugging it open with a jerk. It moaned as it swung back unevenly, knocking against the rough stone wall with a clunk.


Lupin waved his wand absently and a soft glow entered the room from the grimy lamps on the wall. It was not enough to fill the place with warmth. Turning slowly, Lupin shut the door behind him. He had to lift the door slightly in order for it to fit back into place; he hadn’t noticed that on the way in.


It had begun to rain heavily. He knew, despite there being no windows. He could hear it dripping in the gaps between the walls. He could smell it in the damp draft that whistled under the door. He could feel it in the thunder that shook the house’s foundations. And he could sense it all around him.


Stepping further into the room, Lupin almost laughed. It looked the same. Exactly as they had left it. It was the same, in many ways. And it was completely different as well. The pots, plates and goblets from dinner still lay unwashed in the sink. The Daily Prophet was still unread on the work surface. The fire at the far end of the room was still spitting sparks. The chairs still sat squashed around the table. And on the table, the pack of Exploding Snap cards that he and Tonks had been idly playing with merely hours before, still rested, the game forever incomplete.



“I’m so bored.” James presses his nose against the common room window. On the other side, cold rain lashes sharply against the glass. “I hate storms.”


Sirius rids his eyes of hair with an attractive flick of the head. “It shouldn’t rain in June,” he yawns.


 Remus frowns into his book and turns a page. Peter shuffles restlessly in his chair, his hands writhing in his lap, looking between James and Sirius expectantly.


“We have to do something,” James decides, tapping the window with his wand, as if willing the rain to cease with a spell.


“But it’s raining,” Peter points out.


“He knows that, Wormtail, thank you,” Sirius says impatiently. “I think he meant we have to do something inside.”


Peter blushes deeply. Sirius smirks, managing to raise his eyebrows appealingly to a group of fourth year girls on the other side of the room at the same time.


“Suggestions, comments, Moony?” James asks.


“Hmm?” Remus says, looking up from his book, a finger marking his place.


James finally drags his attention away from the window and leans across the table. “What – can - we - do?” he asks.


“Read?” Remus suggests.


“Read?!” James splutters. “Moony, we’ve just finished our exams! This prefect stuff is having a bad effect on you.”




Sirius snorts derisively.


“Exploding Snap?” Peter squeaks.


“Wormtail,” Sirius says, “I think we’re a little beyond…”


“Hold it,” James says, suddenly looking interested. “Exploding Snap could be a good idea. With a few fun alterations…”


Sirius grins.


Remus looks up from his reading. “What fun alterations?” he asks suspiciously, unable to avoid the glint of the prefect badge on his chest.  


“It should be card castles, not Snap,” James begins.


“Yeah, because they give better explosions,” continues Sirius.


“The winner should get ten Galleons from the other three players…”


“… and the loser has to touch Snivellus’ hair.”


James and Sirius collapse into sniggers. Peter looks confused.


“So, are we playing then?” he asks.


“No,” Sirius says. We’re competing. Aren’t we, Moony?”


Remus hesitates before shutting his book and placing it carefully on the table.


“I’ll get my cards,” he says.



Lupin sat down at the long wooden table and immediately stood up again. He walked around the kitchen three times, noting the considerable change in temperature each time he passed the fire. Then he leaned against the one part of the wall not covered by hanging kitchen implements. But the sharp, jagged edges of the stone cut into his back and he quickly resumed his journey around and around the room.


Above him Lupin heard creaking footsteps. He looked up and saw grey dust fall from the ceiling. Blinking rapidly, he ducked his head to protect his eyes. The creaking continued. Lupin knew it was Kingsley Shacklebolt, pacing. He had only just left Lupin alone. Kingsley was probably still in the house to keep an eye on him. He needn’t have bothered. Lupin was too tired to do anything.


He could remember the evening so clearly. The laughing and drinking rang in his head as if he was still surrounded by people. It was almost as if the last few hours hadn’t happened. They were a blur, a dream, something Lupin was barely even able to focus on. But as he looked around the gloomy, empty room he knew it had. Kingsley was creaking above. Tonks was lying unconscious in St. Mungo’s. Moody was prowling about somewhere, trying to catch anything that moved. And Sirius…


Lupin strode purposefully towards the sink and began to make tea. He wasn’t thirsty; the thought of drinking anything made his feel weak with nausea. He just had to do something. Anything. He waved his wand and the kettle began to boil. He waited. It was only when he picked up the mug that he realised his hands were shaking. They trembled so badly that when he tried to carry the tea to the table, it spilled on his hand and he dropped it instinctively. The smash was so loud in the empty room that Lupin’s heart thudded. He stared at the broken mug for a full two minutes before repairing it with his wand and starting the tea again. This time he took several deep breaths before he picked up the mug and carried it successfully to the table. He wouldn’t drink it, he knew that. But while it was there, steaming like one of Mundungus’ cigars, a little normality remained.


Lupin’s eyes fell once more to the Exploding Snap pack. There were many scorch marks in the table from Tonk’s many Snap disasters. He pulled the pack towards him, shuffling them absently. His hands had almost stopped shaking now; the feel of the cards between his fingers seemed to soothe them. With a deep breath, Lupin began to build.



As James, Sirius, Remus and Peter descend the boys’ staircase, each clutching a pack of cards, a red-haired girl with an armful of books appears from the girls’. Sirius looks gleeful.


“This is going to make my victory even easier,” he hisses to Remus.


They watch James, totally oblivious to their words, adjusting the collar of his robes and ruffling his hair.


“Hi Evans,” he calls with a casual nod of his head.


Lily completely ignores him and settles herself in a seat on the other side of the common room with a group of fifth year girls. James narrows his eyes as her companions begin to giggle. Lily remains stony-faced.


“Let’s play,” Sirius says poking James in the back with his wand. “I want my thirty Galleons.”


“Yeah, let’s play.” James sounds sulky. He then seems to hear what Sirius has said. “Hey, there’s no way you’re going to win this, Padfoot!”


“Want to bet?”


“Aren’t we doing that already?” Remus says hastily, sitting down at the table once more.


James, Sirius and Peter sit down with their backs to the window. James spends a good deal of time positioning himself so that the other side of the common room is visible from his seat.


“First to finish five layers,” Sirius says, looking excited.


“Or last castle left,” Remus points out.


“Yeah, or that.” Sirius waves a casual hand. “Ready?”


Remus sits up straighter, laying a hand on his cards. James nods, tearing his eyes from Lily.




Peter, perspiring with anticipation, bobs his head up and down.




A silence, unnoticed by the rest of the common room, falls upon the table. The four boys work quickly, bent over their cards in silence. James’ glasses have slipped down his nose. Sirius’ hair is in his eyes once more. Remus’ head is cocked to one side. Peter’s tongue is sticking out in concentration. The first layer of each castle is soon complete, though Peter frequently flinches away from his as if expecting it to blow up any second. Sirius is first to start the second layer and he looks at the others triumphantly.


“Thirty Galleons to me, thirty Galleons to me, thirty Galleons to me…”


“Shut it, Padfoot, that’s distracting,” James says.


“Is this distracting?” Sirius begins to blow on the foundations of James’ card castle.




Peter squeals as his castle goes up in smoke. James and Sirius stop trying to dismantle each other’s and roar with laughter. Calmly, Remus extinguishes Peter’s smouldering hair with a gush of water from his wand.


“Wormtail!” Sirius shouts with joy. “You loose! It’s Snivellus hair for you!”


“Just think of all that grease,” James says with relish.


“Oozing between your fingers as you touch it,” Sirius adds.


Peter turns pale at the prospect.



Lupin finished the first layer of the card castle with ease. He had done it too many times before. His fingers moved deftly and instinctively as if trained for this very purpose. It helped that the cards were old and worn, tarnished by fingerprints and coffee stains, mucky and faded in appearance. They stuck together better that way.


Lupin thought of the past. They had been so very young then. So very, very young. They hadn’t had any concept of danger. They hadn’t thought about what would happen to them. What they would each become. Perhaps he should have been more suspicious of Peter. Perhaps he should have been kinder. Perhaps…


He shook his head, trying to rid it of things that could have been. This was the present. He wondered where Peter was now, what he was doing. He wondered whether his old friend had heard about Sirius yet. Would he mourn? Would he laugh like the rest of the Death Eaters? Would he feel the same stab of guilt that Lupin felt every time he thought of Wormtail himself? No. Of course not. He would feel relieved.


The tea had stopped steaming now and Lupin felt the side of the mug. It was lukewarm. Self-consciously, he tugged his threadbare coat further over his shoulders finding a fresh tear in the sleeve as he did so. He fingered the frayed edge, running a finger down the rip and feeling his equally tattered jumper underneath. He should get a new coat. Molly was always eyeing this one distrustfully as if it was one of Arthur’s bewitched Muggle objects and might suddenly jump at her. He could get a new one, if he really wanted to. But something about it was very comforting now. He sunk further into its depths, suddenly feeling very vulnerable.


Because he couldn’t think of anything else to do, Lupin began the second layer of his castle.



“Right,” Sirius says. “Let’s get on with this. I want my Galleons before Saturday’s Hogsmede trip.”


“You’ll be lucky,” James snorts. “The money’s mine, Padfoot.”


Grinning, James, Sirius and Remus continue to build. Remus is noticeably behind the others, taking a great deal of time placing each individual card. Peter’s attention is utterly devoted to the competition, his watery eyes flitting between James and Sirius’ progress, his hair still smoking slightly at the front.


“So Wormtail,” Sirius says, carelessly flicking his next card onto the castle, “what do you think Snivellus is going to do to you when you grab his head?”


“He’ll definitely curse you something rotten,” James says seriously.


“Do you think so?” Peter whispers, wide-eyed.


“Oh yes,” Sirius agrees. “Maybe jelly legs?”


“Bat bogey hex?”


“Full body bind?”


“What’s that?” Peter asks fearfully.


“Your body sort of locks and hits the floor like this,” James says, slamming his hand down on the desk, making the three castles wobble precariously.


Sirius throws his head back and barks with loud laughter. Remus chuckles into his castle.


“Excuse me,” says an annoyed voice.


The Marauders look up. Remus and Peter’s faces are impassive. James is suddenly alert. Sirius grins.


“I wonder if you could keep the noise down,” Lily says, hugging a Charms book to her chest. “I’m trying to read.”


Sirius throws his arms up into the air. “What is wrong with everyone?” he asks. “The exams were over last week!”


“The shouting is distracting,” Lily continues, as if she hasn’t heard him.


“Could you go to the library?” Remus asks softly.


“It’s full,” Lily says, her expression almost pleasant.


“Yeah, we’ll keep quiet, Evans,” James says, stretching out in his seat.


Sirius looks surprised. So does Lily.


“Really?” she asks.


“Sure,” James says, flashing her a winning smile. “If you come to Hogsmede with me this weekend.” 


Lily’s face contorts into a scowl. “I’ve told you before, Potter,” she says. “I will not spend a minute longer in your company than I have to. You’re so…”


“… Charming? Good-looking? Talented?” James suggests.


“You’re a lazy, conceited, arrogant louse, James Potter!”


She turns on her heel and marches across the common room.


“What is wrong with her?” James asks. He leans forward to peer at her retreating form and his elbow knocks his card castle.




As the smoke clears, James removes his glasses and wipes the soot from them with his sleeve. Sirius looks beside himself with glee and rubs his hands together delightedly.


“This game is mine,” he calls.


Peter looks excited. Remus quietly continues building. James barely seems to have registered the explosion.


“Why do you like her anyway?” Sirius asks him, examining Remus’ castle carefully.


“Dunno…” James murmurs. “She’s interesting… spiky…”


“Face it, mate,” Sirius laughs, clapping him on the back, “you have about as much chance with her as Wormtail here has of escaping his forfeit with Snivellus in one piece. You and she will never happen.”



Lupin checked his watch. He hadn’t noticed before, but the glass was smashed. It must have been the fight. A wide gash split the face although Lupin could just about see the hands underneath. It was past midnight. He felt faintly surprised although he didn’t have any idea of what time it felt like. It didn’t really feel like time at all, not anymore.


How strange it was, to think of Lily separately from James. She seemed such a part of James now. How odd to remember that she once couldn’t stand the sight of him. Thinking of them a dull ache throbbed in his chest. It seized him at certain moments, quite unpredictably, throwing him slightly off balance. But time was healing. It didn’t make it better, but it made it easier. Lupin liked to think of them both, happy and young and smiling. They hadn’t changed these last fifteen years.


Harry had though. Harry had changed a lot. He was so much like them, so much their son. But then a part of him was not like them at all. There was a darkness about him, a cloaked place beyond his eyes. Those eyes that had seen far too much for a fifteen year old boy.


Lupin swallowed with difficulty and ran a hand through his hair. He wondered if it had grown greyer these last few months. He wasn’t in the habit of studying himself in a mirror anymore, but he strongly suspected that it had. His hand slid down his prematurely lined face to his chin where he felt the irregularity of unkempt stubble. He wasn’t like Lily and James. He had let himself go to seed over time. His chin also felt unnaturally sharp. He supposed he must have grown a lot thinner lately, despite Molly’s cooking. While he had never been a picture of perfect health, the last few months had been so filled with worry and uncertainty that it had taken its toll on all of them physically, himself included.


His hand left his face and fell to the table with a soft thump. Now that he had grown used to the room around him, he noticed that it was actually quite noisy. The rain continued, unabated, hurling itself onto and into Grimmauld Place. The clunking ticks of the Grandfather clock on the floor above carried easily through the gaps in the stone and the wood. Even the tap which he had unsuccessfully squeezed off when making the tea dripped loudly and regularly. There was also a new sound, a tiny scrabbling noise in the corner of the room. Lupin wondered whether it was a mouse; they had found a few in the dust-filled rooms.


Lupin stopped listening and turned his attention back to his cards. The third layer of the castle needed completing.



Sirius is standing up now, doing a half dance, as he tosses cards haphazardly onto his card castle. There is absolutely no care to his work. Remus is still building slowly. He has only just begun his third layer, but seems unfazed by Sirius’ blatant belief in his own construction skills. Peter is watching Sirius avidly, nodding whenever Sirius observes loudly how sturdy his castle is looking. James, on the other hand, pays absolutely no attention. He is slumped forward on the desk, his chin resting on his folded arms, his eyes narrowing as he watches Lily.  


“I think I’ll spend all my money in Zonko’s,” Sirius says thoughtfully. “Well, except for a commiseration drink in the Three Broomsticks for you three,” he adds.


“You might not win,” Remus points out.


Sirius barks with laughter once more. Peter titters nervously.


“I’m not very intimidated by that,” he says, indicating Remus’ castle with a sweep of his arm. “You’re way behind me.  I might go to Honeydukes before Zonko’s,” he continues. “Better stock up for the end of year party.”


“What end of year party?” Remus asks. He fingers his prefect badge.


“The one Prongs and I are organising,” Sirius says with a grin. “Common room, next Saturday night, with as much as we can steal from the kitchens. It’s going to be better than the Quidditch one, isn’t it, Prongs?”


James’ brow is furrowed in thought. Sirius nudges him.


“Prongs!” he says.




“Our party is going to be better than the other week’s, isn’t it?”


“Do you think it’s my glasses she doesn’t like?” James wonders. Sirius rolls his eyes to the ceiling.


“I could probably do a spell to fix that,” James continues. He pushes his glasses up into the depths of his black hair and points his wand at his eyes. Remus quickly slides the wand from James’ grip and lays it on the table.


“It’s not your eyes that need fixing,” Sirius says, giving James a supportive clap on the back. “It’s your brain. You might as well ask out McGonagall.”


James retrieves his glasses from his hair and slips them back up his nose. He resumes his position on the desk, grabs his wand once more and begins to blast small holes in the wood.


“Careful,” Sirius says. “You might knock down Moony’s castle.”


“My castle’s fine, Padfoot,” Remus says smiling.


“Do you know what I really want to buy with your money?” Sirius says to no one in particular. “Those new things in Honeydukes. The bug things? What are they called?”


“Ice Mice?” Peter suggests.


“Are mice bugs, Wormtail?” Sirius asks coldly. “No, the brown things. You know, the insect ones.”


“Cockroach Clusters,” Remus says.


“Yeah that’s it. Cockroach Clusters.” Sirius savours the name. “Do you think they’re really cockroaches? Because if they are, you know who could do with a large dose of them in his morning tea?”


“Snivellus,” James hisses with pleasure.


Seemingly encouraged by James’ attention being diverted from Lily, Sirius continues enthusiastically.


“It’ll be brilliant!” he cries. “There he’ll be, his greasy head bent over some book on the Dark Arts. He takes a casual sip of his tea and…” Sirius breaks off, doing an impression of someone choking violently. James and Peter laugh.


“Potter, Black, I know you put this in my tea,” James says, standing up and adopting Snape’s characteristic sneer. “And I’m going to make you so sorry that you will apologise to me on bended knee!” He draws his wand with a mock flourish and points it at Sirius.


“Not so fast Mr. Snape!” Sirius says, adopting a high, girlish voice. “You will not curse members of my house. Detention!”


“But Professor McGonagall, they put Cockroach Clusters in my tea!” James protests through peals of laughter.


“What nonsense!” Sirius squeaks, still pretending to be McGonagall. “What absolute rubbish!” He begins to wave his arms around wildly in pretend anger. “I’ll take ten points from Slytherin for trying to curse Potter and Black and ten for…”




Sirius smothers the flame at his elbow and scowls at the remains of his castle.


“Bugger,” he says.



Lupin put his head in his hands. His fingers clawed at his face as if he hoped that this would somehow exorcise the memories. When this failed, he knocked his head against the palm of his hands several times but to no avail. So he stayed perfectly still, his eyes closed behind his fingers, his breathing ragged.


Sirius had truly left. If he had been here, he would not have left Lupin in this state without cracking a joke and nudging him into laughter. Yet because of foolish bravery and brilliant recklessness Sirius wasn’t there anymore. Lupin had lost him, all over again. And it wasn’t easier than the first time. In many ways it was harder, because Lupin couldn’t even pretend to hate him, couldn’t even pretend that he had deserved what he had received. Not this time. Sirius had paid the price of his life for protecting the son of his friend that he had lost so many years ago. And now Lupin had lost Sirius as well.


Peter’s betrayal and James and Lily’s deaths were scars that Lupin carried around with him. He was constantly reminded of the injury their loss had done him, because he saw them in everything he did. It twinged when he remembered them and sometimes it stung a little too. But the pain was fading, leaving behind only memories. Sirius’ death however was raw. It grasped at him so tightly that he could barely breathe. Just hours ago the feeling had been so strong that he had been in shock. He had been numb. But now the wound was messy and throbbing and Lupin’s whole body seemed to explode with pain.


A bubble rose up from Lupin’s chest and settled at the back of his throat. He tried to swallow and failed. He tried again and still the bubble would not move. Deciding to ignore it Lupin began to concentrate on regulating his breathing. But the bubble was growing and growing and growing. When it finally popped Lupin choked. As a wolf he had howled before, as a boy he had sobbed before, and as a man he had sighed before. But this noise was somewhere in between all three. It wasn’t crying; Lupin had forgotten how to do that. It wasn’t wailing or moaning, for they were voluntary noises of distress. It was just choking, again and again and again.


The sound echoed through the kitchen. The patter of the rain, the ticking of the clock, the dripping of the tap all faded into obscurity next to a lone man’s grief. As suddenly as he had started, Lupin was abruptly silent. He brought his head from his hands so swiftly that his neck made a small clicking noise. Self-consciously he brushed a coat sleeve over his face. The rough material made his tired eyes sting painfully. Lupin looked behind him to the door as if expecting to see a crowd of people witnessing his breakdown. No one was there. He was still alone.


With this in mind, he picked up the last few cards of the pack, and decided to finish his card castle.



“I’m the only one left,” Remus says. “Looks like I’ve won.”


“So?” Sirius has become rather petulant.


“So that’s thirty Galleons to me, please. Ten from each of you.”


“You know it’s not all about winning,” Sirius tells him. “It’s about taking part. I wouldn’t have demanded the money if I had won.”


James coughs “yeah right” into his hand.


“I wouldn’t have!” Sirius protests. “To be honest, I think it’s quite greedy of you, Moony.”


Peter’s nose is twitching. He looks between Sirius and Remus awkwardly as if unable to decide who to side with. He looks to James for help.


“You know, technically Moony didn’t win,” James says thoughtfully.


Remus looks entertained. He folds his arms waiting for James’ explanation.


“No point, Prongs,” Sirius says. “We have to cough up.”


“Not necessarily, Padfoot. You said the winner was the one who completed five layers of his castle. Moony’s only on his fourth layer.”


“But I said it could also be the last castle standing,” Remus points out. “And Padfoot agreed.”


“Yes but it wasn’t officially decided as a rule,” James insists.


Remus raises an eyebrow.


“Ah ha!” Sirius cries, turning to Remus victoriously. “You haven’t won!”


“But I still could,” Remus says. He picks a card off the top of the deck lying on the table and continues to construct his card castle. The other three boys exchange a weary glance and slump back into their chairs. With painful precision, Remus slowly finishes his fourth layer and moves onto his fifth. The minutes tick by.


“This is so boring,” James says irritably.


Sirius, who has given up watching Remus and moved back onto the fourth year Gryffindor girls, glances behind him.


“Hey! It’s stopped raining!” he exclaims.


Rays of bright sunshine are blazing through the common room window and onto the boys’ backs. The grounds of Hogwarts sparkle with fallen rain and the sky has turned a perfect blue.


“Let’s do something outside,” James decides.


“I haven’t finished,” Remus says.


James takes a swipe at the castle. It doesn’t move. Leaning forwards he prods it hard.




“I think - you have - now, Moony,” splutters Sirius, shaking with laughter as James struggles to wipe the voluminous amounts of soot from his face and hair.


“Come on, let’s get out of here,” James mutters with a fleeting look at Lily, who is still reading, oblivious to the commotion.


He grabs Peter and a sniggering Sirius and pushes them towards the portrait hole, his hand in his hair.


“Coming Moony?” Sirius asks, still laughing.


“Where are you going?”


“To find Snivellus, of course. Wormtail has a forfeit to do.”


Wormtail makes an involuntary squeaking sound.


“I might stay here,” Remus says carefully.


“Suit yourself.”


Happily they wave and clamber out of the portrait hole, talking excitedly. Remus watches them go, picks up his book once more, and continues to read.



Lupin had finished. He felt much calmer now. His card castle stood completed, five layers high, a magnificently delicate landmark in the dark stone kitchen. He leant back in his seat, folded his arms and surveyed his handiwork. It was so solid that it did not even quiver in the drafty room. And it didn’t emit so much as a puff of smoke. This was probably because the pack was so old, he reasoned. They tended to lose their magic after a while. And Tonks had almost certainly worn it out with all of her Exploding Snap catastrophes.


He looked away from the card castle and into the darkness. The fire had completely burnt out now and the old lamps were offering only a feeble glow. His eyes unfocused and, for a second, he could see his three friends, leaning over his castle, laughing and chattering.


He blinked.


“He – he was taking over everywhere… Wh-what was there to be gained by refusing him?”


“Lily, take Harry and go! It’s Him!”


“Come on, you can do better than that!”


He blinked again and they vanished.


Words he had said to a desperate boy only hours ago echoed in his head. Words he had found himself saying, because they were what he should have been saying, came back to him. Words that he didn’t even remember thinking, but he had somehow voiced, suddenly made sense. He needed them now.


“There’s nothing you can do, Moony,” he said aloud. “Nothing. They’re gone…”


Slowly, Lupin brought a hand through the cards in front of him and, without a sound, his castle crumbled.


*      *      *







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