The Sugar Quill
Author: Lady Narcissa (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Black Dog  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.

untitled

black dog

Disclaimer: Sirius Black, James Potter, and Uncle Alphard belong to JK Rowling, whom I thank kindly for inventing them.

This story ©2004 by Lady Narcissa. Rated PG. Huge thanks to my betas: Corgi, Missy, and Yvonne.


‘How much detention do you think we’ll get?’ Sirius hoisted the bag over his shoulder. It wasn’t particularly heavy, but it did contain everything he suspected they would need. Not much: wands tucked safely into belts, the bag contained just the things a pair of teenage boys would find they couldn’t live without: food, fresh underclothes, food, a t-shirt apiece, food, a small bit of money.

And one very nice set of breaking-and-entering tools. Just in case.

James peered down the road before them. He had a rather thoughtful expression on his face and Sirius recognised that look: a very fine excuse in the making. ‘I suspect at least a few days. Maybe a week, but won’t it be worth it? I don’t think anyone’s ever done this before. You didn’t tell anyone, did you?’

Sirius rolled his eyes. ‘How stupid do I look? Wait, don’t answer that.’ Down the road, he could just barely make out a bit of dust hopefully signaling an approaching car. ‘Good, here comes a ride.’

James stepped forward where they could be seen and held out his hand as the car approached. He waved to it, but the car didn’t even slow down. ‘I must be doing this wrong. How hard can it be?’

Laughing, Sirius nudged James aside with his shoulder. ‘I’ll do it next time; there’s a trick to it. You can’t just wave; you have to hold out your thumb.’

‘What a stupid rule that is.’ James shook his head. ‘I defer to your superior skills at blending in with Muggles, although where you learnt it is beyond me. Wait, here comes another. I bet you five Galleons you can’t make the car stop without magic.’

Sirius raised an eyebrow. ‘I always did like to take your money, James. Here, watch how it’s done.’ He moved to the side of the road and held out his thumb. Classic hitchhiker pose, walking backwards slowly as the vehicle approached: a pickup truck kicking up dust and small stones and who knew what else, going far too fast. It passed them, then swerved to a halt a short distance up the road. ‘You owe me five Galleons, Prongs. Let’s go.’ James and Sirius ran up the road, conferred with the passenger for a moment, and with a pronounced thank you climbed into the bed of the pickup. The driver set off again at a manic pace carrying them far away from Hogwarts, far away from where they should be.

‘So this is how Muggles get by without brooms,’ James shouted. He held his finger to the bridge of his wire-rimmed spectacles, the breeze in his hair, a huge smile on his face. The truck hit a bump and both he and Sirius flew into the air for a moment before resettling—hard—into the rusting steel of the pickup’s bed.

‘But they still know how to make people fly.’ Sirius grinned at his best friend, the wind whipping his long dark hair into his eyes and mouth. He brushed it aside. ‘Told you I knew how to hitchhike.’

‘I can’t hear you.’ James’s grin widened. ‘Good thing you know how to hitchhike. Now we just have to get in once we get there.’

The travel bag sat comfortingly at Sirius’s feet; he patted it with great tenderness. ‘If worse comes to worse, the back way. Somehow, though, I have a feeling we’ll manage without having to disassemble a door.’ He had a plan; he hadn’t yet shared it with James but it was a very fine plan nonetheless.

‘We should have brought Remus and Peter.’

Sirius shook his head. ‘They don’t want detentions on their records. But you and I have so many already; what’s one more? Besides, examinations are just around the corner. You know the pair of them will be holed up in the library studying. They probably won’t even notice we’ve gone.’

James laughed. ‘Oh, they’ll notice, all right; we’ll hear it from them when we get back.’ He turned to face the direction of travel, the wind on his face and the sun beating down. Sirius tapped him on the shoulder, handing him half a sandwich. James smiled and nodded. He could always do with food. ‘So we have to do this without magic because…’

Swallowing down a bite of sandwich, Sirius shook back his hair. ‘Because we’ll be in violation of the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry. I don’t know about you, James: I don’t mind detentions, but I don’t want to be kicked out of school. I’d have nowhere else to go. I’d be watching your entire education through the mirror… not remotely satisfactory.’

‘You could always come stay with us.’ James nodded. ‘Imagine the possibilities—how much fun that would be, Sirius.’

‘I don’t know… I rather think your parents would like to put my head on a serving platter and hang it in their hallway if I got expelled from Hogwarts.’ Sirius grinned. ‘So instead, we’ll just get there and back without magic. And I know London, I know it like the back of my hand. Paw. It’s just Earl’s Court, James. It should be a piece of cake.’

‘Black Dog.’ James shook his head, grinning. ‘You are trouble, Padfoot. This is going to be most excellent. I wonder what Lily would think if she knew.’

‘Ah, Lily Evans. If you were going to invite anyone else to join us on this little foray, it should have been her, James. You know you wanted to.’

In the back of the pickup truck, James Potter blushed furiously but didn’t say a word. He knew that Sirius would leave it alone; he always did… after a time. The trunk bounced them south and east, and the sunlight began to fade and the first stars appeared in the sky. It was a very fine late May evening indeed, and they had three nights in London to get what they wanted.

This would be worth all the detentions the Headmaster could dish out.

^~*v*~^

‘Thank you!’

‘Yeah, thank you so very much.’ The pickup truck made its way off through the London street traffic. ‘Where are we going?’ James looked around the unfamiliar setting. ‘Your parents’ house?’

Sirius snorted. ‘Oh, no, no, no. I don’t think we’d be quite welcome there; I’ve got an alternate plan.’ He glanced around; they were just at Hyde Park on Bayswater Road. ‘Come on, James, this way; over by Kensington Gardens. I’ll take you to where we can get a proper supper.’

‘And we have until tomorrow night—it’s still Thursday, by my last calculation.’ James scratched his head and looked around; it seemed like more than a day since they’d sneaked away from Hogwarts.

‘And they say you’re the cleverest student in our year? Yes, it’s still Thursday, and we did target Friday night for a reason. If we can’t work our way in Friday, we still have Saturday and Sunday to aim for… but I have a feeling we won’t be needing those extra two nights. We can either stay in London or go back so you can catch a glimpse of your precious Lily… ah, here, we can cut through the Gardens and get to Kensington this way.’

The night was lovely; Sirius had been this way so many times before when he’d had nowhere else to go. He and James made their way down the Lancaster Walk in the twilight, across the Gardens, and over to Kensington Road.

‘How much farther? I’m starving, Padfoot.’

‘You’re always hungry. Have to feed that massive ego of yours on a regular timetable, eh, James? Just over here.’ Sirius turned down first one side street, then another, all full of grand old residences. ‘Here we are.’ He knocked on the door.

For a long time there was no answer at all. James raised one eyebrow, an I told you so gesture, but Sirius simply shrugged and waited. ‘Protections,’ he said softly. ‘No one in my family is any too trusting of an unsolicited knock on the door.’ At long last, though, the door opened by itself. Sirius nodded James through, then followed, closing the door behind him. A disembodied voice greeted them.

‘Sirius Black. I wasn’t expecting you until morning, perhaps. And who’s this? Young Master Potter. I’ve not seen you in some time, James. How are you keeping yourself?’ An older man with whispy white hair dressed in evening robes made his way slowly down the stair, a cane in his hand and a smile on his face. ‘Surely they’ve no idea where the two of you are?’ The gentleman grinned and there was certainly a resemblance in the smile.

‘Hullo, Uncle Alphard. Thanks for having us to stay.’ Sirius shook his uncle’s hand. ‘I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to get here from Hogwarts; you know, we had to travel without magic but we were lucky. James is starving. You wouldn’t have anything to eat, would you?’ He set down the small bag.

‘It’s just James who’s starved?’ Uncle Alphard let out a low laugh. ‘Show me the day when a fifteen-year-old boy isn’t hungry and I’ll turn in my wand, just like the family wants me to do. Come in, come in the pair of you. I’ll get the table ready.’ He moved slowly, as if it were difficult for him. James raised an eyebrow; Sirius shook his head and mouthed the words I’ll tell you later.

‘We’ll help,’ Sirius offered, following his uncle. But he didn’t have to offer; with a wave of his wand the plates and silver on Uncle Alphard’s sideboard arranged themselves into three place settings on the old oaken table. A moment later a modest supper appeared: half a roast, potatoes, gravy, biscuits, peas.

‘Tuck in, tuck in,’ Alphard sat at the head of the table and snapped his fingers. A carafe of port appeared in front of him and he poured a glass for himself. ‘Eat, James, Sirius.’

‘You still have a House-Elf then?’ Sirius filled his plate and invited James to do the same.

Alphard nodded. ‘Just because my brother disowned me doesn’t mean that I lose the privileges that go with being a Black,’ he said. ‘I may be older than your father, Sirius, and I may be in poor health, but I stopped letting him tell me what to do many years ago. You’ve been wise to follow suit. In fact….’ Alphard looked up, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. ‘I know why the two of you are here and I’ve got a challenge to offer you.’ He pushed back his chair and stood slowly, balancing on his cane. On the sideboard lay a small box; he opened it and took out what looked like a small rectangle of inflexible paper. He waved it in the air for a moment before handing it to his nephew. ‘Figure out how to make this into two and you’ll be heftily rewarded.’

Sirius set down his fork and knife and took the item eagerly; a huge smile played across his face. It wasn’t a mere piece of paper after all but a ticket. He showed it to James, who let out a stifled yelp of pleasure.

An Evening with Led Zeppelin. 17 May 1975 at 8:00 p.m. Earl’s Court Arena

‘Sweet!’ James grabbed the ticket. ‘This one’s mine; how are you going to get in, Sirius?’

‘Yours? He gave it to me.’ Sirius reached for it, but James held it up and away. Standing, Sirius made a lunge for it but stopped himself at the last moment. ‘Uncle Alphard, what did you just say?’

Alphard grinned in amusement as he watched comprehension bloom across his nephew’s face. ‘I said: figure out how to make it into two and you’ll be heftily rewarded. I’m not getting any younger, Sirius, and face it, my brother isn’t going to be helping me out here. I’m old and I’m tired and I’m ill and I need to leave what I’ve got left to someone, and I’d much rather it be you than any of the other stuck-up prats who call themselves Blacks. Especially not your brother: he’s as bad as his father. So if you can figure a way to get the both of you into that show on the one ticket, I’ll see that you’ve got enough gold after I pass so that you never have to go back to Grimmauld Place again. How does that sound?’

‘It sounds like a challenge well worth figuring.’ Sirius had long ago given up arguing with his uncle over the older man’s health; Alphard wore his illness like a badge of courage. Isolated from the family with none but his House-Elf for company, Sirius was the only one who ever visited but he did so frequently, particularly during the summer when there was no school. When James and his family were off on holiday, or otherwise occupied, and Sirius was stuck in London with a family who despised him and resented his presence. Uncle Alphard’s home was a refuge, a respite. And his uncle was sharp and had a keen sense of humour and Sirius had learnt quite a bit from him. When he was arguing with Regulus or his mother or otherwise out of favour at home, he’d make his way to his uncle’s house; he’d spent many days here tinkering with some of Alphard’s magical devices.

Alphard never minded Sirius taking things apart and putting them back together because he could always repair whatever it was later, magically. Sternly proud of having been disowned, his argument with his brother had been over fundamental disagreements on blood purity and a wizard’s responsibility to his family. Because he’d chosen not to marry—and as a result not to further the noble and most ancient house of Black—he’d been cast aside by his brother first and their parents second.

Sirius knew Alphard didn’t care, the same way he himself didn’t care. He turned his attention back to supper with renewed relish. Getting two in on one ticket was going to take some consideration but since Sirius hadn’t expected even one ticket, his original plan of taking apart the stage door bit by bit would have to be modified. This was going to take some thought.

‘Thank you, Uncle. It sounds far too generous an offer for a pair of troublemakers like me and James, but I accept. I’ll figure out a way: are there rules to your game?’

Alphard sat back in his chair, bemused; this was all part of his favourite nephew’s ongoing education, so far as he was concerned. Hogwarts be damned; the best way to learn how to survive was by making one’s self as clever as possible. He knew Sirius could outthink most others his age and was eager to see what the solution would be; he never doubted his nephew’s ability to conquer stumbling blocks. ‘Rules as follows: no spell-casting in Muggle areas. No simple duplication of the ticket. No whining if it doesn’t work; no… what is that term? Scalping the ticket for huge amounts of money and then buying two less expensive seats. That should about cover it.’

Sirius glanced at James, grinning. This was going to be fun. James smiled quietly, pushed his glasses back up his nose, and helped himself to seconds.

^~*v*~^

‘These.’ James tried on a pair of sunglasses: blue with mirrors. He looked into the mirror and fluffed up his hair, posing.

‘Egotistical prat. They’re not dark enough.’ Sirius took a different pair off the rack and handed them to James. ‘These are much better. They might actually work to convince someone. Try them on.’

‘Too dark’ James took them off hastily. ‘I’ll never be able to see a thing.’

‘Poor James. Once it’s dark, you can take them off; no one will care.’ Sirius selected a different pair of sunglasses and handed them to his friend. ‘These aren’t so bad.’

James nodded, unconvinced, examining himself in the mirror. ‘I’m not going to get any girls with these, though. I need the kind that attach to regular glasses; then I’ll be able to see.’ He reached for a pair of round clip-ons that would attach passably to his own, nodding in satisfaction. ‘At least these don’t make me look like an idiot.’

‘I hope I can get away with not wearing the vest.’ Sirius shook his head in mock horror at the thought. ‘Those are good; they’ll do. I don’t think we need anything else while we’re out, though. This should work. Can you see where it wouldn’t?’

James pulled his most pathetic, sorrowful face. ‘How could anyone say no? Can we borrow your uncle’s walking stick, or do we need our own?’

‘I’ll charm it so you don’t hit me with it,’ Sirius laughed. ‘I’m sure he’s got more than one; I don’t have enough paper money to buy us one of those anyway. What do you think about the vest?’

‘Probably don’t need it.’ James shrugged and looked out through darkened glasses. ‘Would you argue with a face that looked like this?’ He fluffed up his hair again, peering into the mirror.

‘I’m the wrong person to ask,’ snorted Sirius. ‘Come on, let’s buy those and get back to Kensington; we’ve a bit more planning to do.’

‘Sunglasses,’ James muttered. ‘Could just do a darkening spell.’

Sirius shook his head vehemently. ‘No spell-casting in Muggle areas; that’s part of the bargain. You’re mucking about with my inheritance, remember. Then again, he’s made plenty of comments like that before and it really doesn’t matter if he leaves it to me or not; I’m not staying at home any more. I’ll figure something out.’ Sirius handed the clip-on sunglasses and a ten-pound note to the cashier, a pretty girl whom he ignored completely as she counted out his change and put the sunglasses into a small sack for them. He gave the bag to James. ‘Guard these with your life, James; I don’t fancy another shopping trip with you.’

Tucking the bag into his jacket pocket, James laughed. ‘You’re no grand companion either. But you are good at working around all manner of restrictions; that’s why I keep you around.’

Sirius let out a derisive snort. ‘Right. And whose idea was this little excursion away from school anyway? I could have done it by myself, you know.’

‘Could have, but didn’t.’ James shoved Sirius with his shoulder. The truth was that he couldn’t imagine not having Sirius for a best friend; no one else was as remotely devious and interesting. No one else in his year had quite the same balance of nonchalance and dangerous disregard and perhaps, James reasoned, it was like a moth to flames but he liked being around Sirius. They fed off one another. He hadn’t yet figured out his best friend, but Sirius made for a good challenge and James liked the way he thought. He was clever at school but his cleverness went beyond that: Sirius had respectable moral standards but wasn’t afraid to take risks. And as much as James gave lip service to breaking rules, it was really Sirius who always figured out how to do it in a way that made the best possible sense. His friend was certainly reckless, but never appeared to care or let it hinder him. And James admired that.

This whole plan, for example, had been Sirius’s idea. James doubted he’d have even considered leaving school so close to examination time, but… there wasn’t a counter-argument in the world he could have used that wouldn’t have made him look like a selfish nancy-boy.

Besides, he liked Led Zeppelin just as much as Sirius.

If not more.

^~*v*~^

‘You didn’t say anything about not using Magic here, Uncle Alphard, isn’t that right?’ Sirius handed his uncle a cup of tea. ‘Just not in Muggle areas?’

Alphard took a long sip of his tea. ‘Right. You have to follow the rules set out by the Ministry, after all. Any official warnings from the Improper Use of Magic office and the whole deal’s quit, Sirius. I’ll leave it all to charity… or to James here.’

Sirius shrugged, but he stifled a smile. ‘You don’t have to leave me anything, Uncle Alphard. I appreciate the offer and I’m sure James does as well. You’ve given us one ticket and we’ve got a plan to work around the fact that there are two of us and just the one pass; if we’re successful we’ll be back home late. If not… well… we’ll have to think of something else and try again tomorrow, won’t we.’

On the other side of the room, James stared at the fireplace. It was graced by a pair of gargoyles and every time he moved, their eyes followed him. ‘This is actually a bit unnerving, Mr Black. Do they watch everybody?’

Alphard laughed. ‘First, call me Alphard, James. Now those gargoyles… they protect the house from anyone looking in the fire. I keep requesting to be taken off the Floo network, but that ridiculous what’s his name… Lestrange? Brother of the one Bellatrix fancies? keeps adding the fireplace back in again. I know they’re spying on me for your father and mother, Sirius.’ He nodded to his nephew, then returned his attention to James. ‘So the gargoyles are charmed to spread their wings and block the view and obscure any ongoing discussion here when they sense a Floo invader. I know it must sound paranoid, but I learnt my lesson the hard way a long time ago. I had young Moody from the Auror Division do the spellwork for me; he’s got a few tricks up his sleeve, that man. He’ll make a name for himself, mark my words. But that’s not remotely interesting to a pair of fifth-year Gryffindor boys like yourselves. So tell me, what plan have you come up with?’ He rubbed his hands together.

James moved to explain, but Sirius hushed him. ‘No, no, no; you’ll have to wait and see. We’ll go get ready after tea, and then… well… it should be obvious. And I solemnly swear…’ Sirius shot a mirth-filled glance at James. ‘I solemnly swear that any magic we use will be done here and we won’t do anything to break Muggle laws. In fact, we won’t even bring our wands to the concert; you can hold them for us.’

‘Are you sure?’ James furrowed his brow; he didn’t like going anywhere without protection.

‘I’m sure. Don’t worry, James. It doesn’t become you.’ Sirius drank the rest of his tea and stood abruptly, a mischievous smile spreading across his face. He was ready.

^~*v*~^

I hate collars, Sirius thought as he padded down the street before his friend, who was holding the lead just a bit more tightly than necessary. Prat. Torturing me just because you can. Some day you’ll get your payback for this. But it was all just so much internal running commentary; after all, James couldn’t hear a word of his thoughts when only one of them was in his Animagus form. And for all the complaining, it had been Sirius’s plan and they were both going to be able to see the concert on the one ticket, which James had promised repeatedly he had in his pocket.

Sirius wished he could have really analysed the expression on Uncle Alphard’s face when the pair of them came back down the staircase, giant black dog on a lead and James carrying one of his uncle’s canes, a makeshift white tip on it and dark glasses covering his eyes. But Padfoot’s eyes didn’t take in quite the same level of detail. In this form he was more reliant on hearing and smell, but he’d heard his uncle’s laugh of utter delight and his admonition that they take care and enjoy themselves and remember, no spell-casting in Muggle areas!

He didn’t know that Sirius was an Animagus, and Sirius meant to keep it that way. So he didn’t let it bother him in the least when Alphard commended James on his most excellent Transfiguration spellwork. It didn’t matter: on two feet or four paws he was going to see the concert with his best friend, and nothing could stop them now. Not even the huge crowed already gathered in front of Earl’s Court Arena. Padfoot led James—cane and all—straight to the entrance, looking as friendly yet disinterested in others as possible. After all, that was a good guide dog’s duty.

And then they were inside and the sounds and smells were almost overwhelming, and he behaved himself so very nicely as they were escorted to James’s aisle seat and the attendant actually leaned over and patted the dog. ‘Sure you’re going to be all right?’

‘I will,’ James promised. ‘He’s well-trained to take care of me.’

‘Well, just… keep him close; you don’t want him trod upon.’

James laughed, speaking loudly to be heard over the burgeoning crowd. ‘He’s all right. Thank you for your help.’ He held the cane tightly in one hand and the lead in the other.

‘What’s his name?’

James thought for a moment. ‘Snuffles.’

I am going to kill you. Snuffles? I am definitely going to kill you. As the attendant moved away, Padfoot put one very large paw up on James’s arm and pushed it away.

‘Snuffles! Behave, or you’ll have to wait outside.’

Padfoot growled his displeasure. But he was a good dog and so he sat patiently as the crowd filed in and the excitement level grew palpably and the lights finally went out. And he forgot he was in dog form and he forgot about everything else and there, in Earl’s Court he was just a fifteen-year-old who’d just had a wish come true. He was there watching Led Zeppelin with his best friend.

James had long since discarded the dark sunglasses; they were tucked safely into his shirt pocket. In the darkness, no one looked twice at him… or at his dog. For the longest time James waited to look over and see Sirius standing there instead. But his friend had shown remarkable self-restraint and stayed in his Animagus form; James wasn’t sure he’d be able to do that had the situation been reversed.

Then again, a stag for a guide-dog? Never would have worked, not in a million years. James laughed at the thought and then, like the rest of the crowd, melted into the experience with a look of pure bliss on his face. I owe you, Sirius. I owe you.

 

^~*v*~^

‘Stairway to Heaven.’

‘Over the Hills and Far Away.’

‘Stairway to Heaven.’ James folded his arms over his chest. ‘Best song ever written.’

Sirius smirked. ‘You would think so. You’re all about the flash, James.’ They walked across Kensington Gardens, retracing their steps of a few days earlier. James carried the pack on his back this time; it was filled with food from Uncle Alphard’s kitchen and one pair of dark shaded clip-ons and a slightly used dog collar and some clothes the House-Elf wouldn’t let them leave with unless they were clean and a prize souvenir programme from the concert.

‘Your uncle still thinks I transformed you. I wish I were that good at Transfiguration.’ James ruffled his hand through his hair, all old habit by that time, and finished by sliding his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose. ‘I still can’t believe you didn’t turn back for the show.’

Sirius shrugged, hands tucked into his pockets. ‘The challenge was to do it without casting any spells in Muggle areas… not that we were the only wizards in the place, I’m sure. But still, that was the dare from Uncle Alphard. If I’d risked changing forms and someone had seen me, we didn’t even have our wands with us to modify their memories—if we could; Flitwick keeps promising to teach us that charm but I’m sure he has very good reasons not to just yet.’ He grinned, imagining all the trouble he could cause with a little well-aimed memory modification.

‘Ha.’ James laughed. ‘Sirius Black, following the rules. Who’d have thought.’

‘I follow them when they make sense… or when they make things more interesting.’ Sirius kicked a stone on the path. ‘I still say it’s Over the Hills and Far Away… but I like how they ended the show.’

‘Black Dog.’ James grinned widely. ‘There’s some poetic justice in that. Speaking of which, I think your uncle was rather impressed by our plan.’

‘My plan, you mean. Did you hear him tell me this morning that the Ministry had tried to Floo into his house? Apparently our absence from school has been noted; they’re looking for us. Uncle Alphard told them he hadn’t the slightest idea what they were going on about, and if they didn’t leave him alone he’d sue the Ministry for violation of privacy.’ He snickered. ‘He’s the best liar I know, James. I’ve always liked him. It was a lot more fun being there than spending the last two nights studying for O.W.L.s in the Common Room.’

‘Speaking of studying, have you given thought to how we’re going to get all the way back to Hogwarts, Padfoot?’

‘You mean Snuffles, don’t you.’ Sirius shot his friend a look of moderately amused disgust. ‘Thank you for the name. Couldn’t I at least have been Spike or something more appropriate?’ He shook his head, still amused. He could tell that would be one of those nicknames he’d never be able to live down. ‘But I think we’re going to get back to Hogwarts the same way we got here: hitchhiking. We can’t use magic; if we’re lucky all that will happen is we’ll get detention. I thought about using the Knight Bus, but since the Ministry are looking for us, that’s probably even more stupid than anything else.’

‘At this rate, we’ll be lucky if we don’t have to walk all the way back.’ They’d left the Gardens and Hyde Park and worked their way north on London’s streets. It was Saturday and not as busy as it had been when they’d arrived Thursday evening. James looked up and down the streets, lost; this was not a place with which he was familiar. But Sirius seemed completely devoid of worry. ‘You’ve done this before. And not just once. Admit I’m right, Padfoot.’

Sirius stopped walking and turned to James. ‘First off, of course I have; all those times you invited me to your place for holiday and over the summer? You don’t imagine I simply used Floo powder from my parents’ house, do you? And second… you’re right. I admit it. I bow to your superior deductive skills.’ He snorted. ‘There’s a place not too far where I’ve always been lucky catching a ride. Bear with me, Prongs. I’ll get you back. If worse comes to worse you can transform and let me ride on your back.’

James laughed out loud. ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ he said definitively. ‘Best song ever… Snuffles.’ He shielded his arm from the upcoming shove he knew he’d be getting for that one.

^~*v*~^

The first car dropped the two somewhere past Cambridge on a stretch of rural road. With waved thank yous James and Sirius set off walking again, stopping under the shade of a lovely old tree. ‘Lunchtime,’ James announced, opening the sack and spreading some of Uncle Alphard’s House-Elf’s goodies out before them: meat sandwiches, fruit, crisps, chocolates charmed not to melt in the heat. The two fairly devoured the meal; James looked longingly into the sack but Sirius shook his head.

‘We need to ration it out, James; we might not even make it back today.’ Sirius threw a grape up into the air and caught it deftly in his mouth, then smirked. ‘We might be stuck to fend for ourselves in the wilds of… oh, Sherwood Forest or somewhere equally sinister.’

‘I’m so frightened I’m shivering.’ James wiped the corners of his mouth, which were turned up in a grin. But he gazed off into the distance, towards the north.

‘Aww.’ Sirius clapped James on the shoulder. ‘He misses his girlfriend; he’s thinking about Lily with the green eyes and auburn hair. He’s wondering whether or not she’ll approve of this unauthorised trip away from school, and how much explaining he’s going to have to do when he gets back to regain her good graces. Poor Prongs; let’s get you back there.’

James shrugged Sirius’s hand away. ‘I can do very nicely without Lily Evans, thank you very much.’ He turned up his nose in mock indignation and strode off down the street.

‘Haughty.’ Sirius picked up the bag and easily caught him up. ‘Why do you like her anyway? What makes her so special?’ He knew full well that it was a dangerous topic to start on, but they had nothing better to do. Sirius also knew that James would tell him to bugger off when he’d had enough needling; they worked well together like that.

From the look on his face, though, James wasn’t in a hurry to talk about anything else. A quiet breeze picked up and kissed some of the clouds across the sky. ‘Why? I can’t see why someone wouldn’t—she’s pretty, she’s smart, she’s kind. You’ve seen the way she defends Snape; he doesn’t deserve it at all but she’s got the keenest sense of fairness I’ve ever seen. And…’ He broke off for a moment, smiling to himself. ‘She likes me. She might not admit it, but she does.’

Sirius snorted. ‘She likes you, so you like her back, is that it?’ He laughed to himself but he also knew James was right: he’d seen the looks Lily gave James when she thought no one was watching, the faraway stares from across the classroom, the sudden whispers between girlfriends when he walked by. ‘She’s got a funny way of showing it, though. I don’t know. If I were going to go after a girl, I’d make her promise she wouldn’t dress me down in public. Lily seems to do that to you every opportunity she gets.’

‘Well.’ James elbowed Sirius in the ribs. ‘If you weren’t such a stuck-up git, you might find a girl too. What about that Caroline Hesperus? She’s not half-bad.’

‘Caroline Hesperus?’ Sirius coughed. ‘The fourth-year? Please.’ He shook his head, but he couldn’t fight a small smile. ‘I have other things to do besides chase girls. You Quidditch players, you’re out for the glory. When I find someone who interests me, I’ll let you know. All the girls at school are bores, honestly.’ He stopped walking and turned to James, suddenly very earnest. ‘I’ll tell you something, James. It’s enough work to keep us rolling in detentions; I’ve no desire to add anyone else to the mix. What will Lily say when she finds out about Remus, for instance? There’s nothing that could be worse than his secret getting out, and girls gossip. They all tell tales; they can’t keep secrets to save their lives. I know: I’ve got my cousins to prove my point.’

‘Not everyone’s as bad as they are, Sirius, honestly. But I do admit, your cousin Bellatrix is a piece of work, isn’t she. Narcissa’s pretty, but… what’s the saying? The lights are on but nobody’s home?’ His eyes crinkled into a grin. ‘Andromeda’s all right, though. She belongs with them about as well as you belong with your brother.’

‘Rotten apple in every bunch,’ Sirius nodded. ‘That’s me and Andromeda. She can’t wait to get away from them once she leaves Hogwarts in another month. She’s got a job lined up working at a Muggle book shop; the entire family’s disappointed. My father said he’d never let her set foot in his house again. Some loss for her, isn’t it? Now, Bellatrix and Narcissa, on the other hand…’ He shook his head sadly. ‘You’re lucky, James. Your family is almost normal.’

‘Yeah, except for the fact that they actually seem to like you. Wait… I hear something approaching.’ James moved toward the road and put out his thumb, walking backward the way Sirius had taught him. The car slowed to look at them, but then sped off again. ‘Rotten luck,’ James muttered.

‘You just don’t have the skill. It’s an art, James. Just like catching that damn Snitch you always play with and why you’re a Chaser instead of a Seeker eludes me.’

‘Because, Padfoot, I’m not always all about the glory.’ James smirked. ‘Because it’s where I fit and it’s where I play best and where I can most help the team. Why don’t you play?’

Sirius shook his head. ‘And risk my natural good looks?’ This was an old argument and both were comfortable with it. ‘Maybe that Lily is a good fit for you after all; I didn’t realise you were so selfless. I’m telling her about Prongs.’

‘You’re not!’

‘Ha.’ Laughing, Sirius set off up the road. ‘Come on, Potter. If we can’t get a ride, at least we can get our exercise. You don’t want to get fat and complacent; Lily won’t blush when she sees you if you lose your looks.’

‘Shut… oh. Someone’s coming. Your turn.’

They set all teasing aside and simply hoped for the car or truck or whatever it was to stop; they had a long trip ahead of them under any circumstances. From far away they heard the sound of an engine… no, two engines. A pair of motorbikes, their riders young and accommodating, stopped. ‘Where are you headed?’

James shouted to make himself heard over the sound of the motors. ‘North. Past Loch Ness.’ He shrugged. ‘We know, it’s far.’

The rider of the first bike grinned. ‘Then this is your lucky day; we’re all the way to Glasgow and after that you’re on your own. Get on and hold on tight; it’s a long ride and we drive fast.’

The second rider nodded. ‘We’ll take you for the cost of the petrol.’

‘More than fair,’ Sirius nodded, smiling, then got onto the back of the second bike as James took a seat on the first. Both bikes took off at an alarming pace and without further conversation, they were on their way.

^~*v*~^

‘Oh… my… sweet… mother’s… House-Elf; I’m getting one of those, James. I want a motorbike. That was amazing. Amazing! Was that not the closest thing you’ve come to being on a broom without magic? I want one. Where I can get one, do you think?’ Once again Sirius and James sat in the back of an open truck—this one filled with hay—bouncing down the back roads.

James figured this truck only stopped for them out of pity; between Glasgow and Stirling it had not just rained but poured. They must have looked quite the sight after that. As the cities and the lights faded into the distance, James shook his head one more time. ‘I feel quite the shaggy dog here.’ He pulled a piece of hay out from between his trainer and his skin, fiddling it between his fingers.

‘Welcome to my world,’ Sirius laughed. He was tired; the lateness of the concert the night before and the day’s travel was beginning to force him to slow down. ‘That damn Decree for the Restriction on Underage Wizardry; if it weren’t for the Ministry we could have run here on four paws and four hooves. Imagine traveling that way, James. Some day… I want a motorcycle. Will you help me find one?’

James nodded idly. The stars were beginning to show in the sky; they’d had a solid day getting from one place to the next and had so far managed to remain undetected. As the truck bounced along he shivered; they were definitely getting farther north. Closer and closer to Hogwarts, and to dry clothing, and to… Lily. And to studying for O.W.L.s like they should have done all week-end, but really, this had been far more exciting. ‘That was a great concert,’ he said softly. ‘It was worth whatever they throw at us.’

‘Detention,’ Sirius grinned. ‘Until the end of time… unless by some miracle we manage to sneak back in without being noticed.’

‘Fat chance of that; my Invisibility Cloak is locked away in my trunk.’ James ruffled his hair and smiled into the night as the truck pulled over to the side of the road. He hopped out, followed by Sirius, and leaned in to the truck. ‘Thank you so much. We really appreciate it.’

The rest of the way would be a walk. No Muggle vehicle could get close enough to Hogwarts anyway. ‘It was a good adventure,’ Sirius agreed belatedly. ‘I wonder how much detention we’ll get. I don’t suppose you can sweet-talk our way out of it.’

James laughed into the growing darkness; the lights from Hogsmeade weren’t so very far away now. ‘I don’t suppose we could stop into the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer.’

‘I don’t suppose Rosmerta would serve us; it’s not a Hogsmeade week-end. Not that I’m eager to get back, of course…’ Sirius ran his hands through his hair and hitched the bag onto his back. ‘Front door, you think, or one of the hidden entrances?’

‘Oh, I think we’re in enough trouble without trying to sneak in without the cloak.’ James cleared his throat and straightened his t-shirt over his trousers and ruffled his hair and pushed his eyeglasses back up to the bridge of his nose and looked very important in general. Next to him, Sirius nodded and pulled open the front door to Hogwarts castle. They walked into the deserted Great Hall and looked at each other, unable to believe their good fortune: no Peeves, no Headmaster, no lurking Snape, no angry Lily, no Deputy…

‘Black. Potter. The Headmaster would like to see you.’ Professor McGonagall, their Head of House, stood with her arms folded over her chest. One foot tapped and she had a nasty twitch playing over her left eye.

‘Now.’

Caught, James and Sirius hung their heads as they followed the Deputy Headmistress down the hall toward Professor Dumbledore's office. Had she bothered to look back, however, Professor McGonagall wouldn't have been able to miss the fact that both her errant fifth-years grinned from ear to ear.

^~*v*~^

//
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