The Sugar Quill
Author: Rainbow  Story: The Echinodermaga  Chapter: 2: Detention!
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: JKR is the owner, not me

Disclaimer:  JKR is the owner, not me. 

 

A/N:  Thanks so much to Lone Astronomer for the fabulous beta-read. 

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

"Is it just me, or is it really quiet in here?" Kathryn remarked the next night.

 

"You're right . . . "  Frowning, Lily looked around the crowded common room.  "All right, who's not here?"

 

"Of course!"  Kathryn slapped herself in the forehead.  "It's James, he's got detention."

 

"It can't be that, he's always on detention."

 

"He hasn't been getting as many because Mark threatened to kick him off the team if he kept missing practice.  And then he had to go and get one for tonight, didn't he?"

 

"That's right, isn't there practice tonight?"

 

"Chaser practice is no good with only two Chasers.  And I was really looking forward to learning some new plays . . . detention!"

 

"Yes, detention," said Adriana placatingly without looking up.  "With Hatabie in the forest."

 

"What?" the other girls said together.

 

"It's dark!" Kathryn exclaimed, just as Lily asked, "How do you know?"

 

"I listen," Adriana replied, still squinting at her Transfiguration essay.

 

"But the forest?"  Kathryn persisted.  "At night?  I mean, I could see it with Hagrid, but Hatabie?"

 

"And when did you hear this?" Lily added.

 

"The forest at night with Hatabie.  They were talking about it when we left dinner -- I think it was, like, supposed to be somewhere else or something," Adriana said absentmindedly.  "Ugh!" she exclaimed suddenly, slamming her Transfiguration book shut and making everyone else within twenty feet jump.  "I just don't get this, do you?"

 

"What?" said Lily, amazed, as usual, that her friend could change the subject so quickly.  "Oh, that -- no, I've been trying for ages to figure it out; I'm getting nowhere."

 

They both looked at Kathryn.  "I haven't started yet," she protested.

 

"So, let's go ask for help."  Adriana grabbed her things and bounced up and over to the portrait hole.

 

"And we should be happy about this because . . . ?" Kathryn asked as she and Lily followed her out.

 

Adriana shrugged and began skipping down the corridor.

 

"Unbelievable," Lily muttered.  Kathryn looked at her, shrugged, and skipped after Adriana.

 

Lily shook her head and followed her friends.  Soon, she found herself skipping.

 

Ten minutes later, Adriana halted abruptly.  "Okay, where are we?"

 

"There's the trophy room."

 

"Yeah, but we were heading for the staff room, right?"

 

"Right . . ."

 

"So that's by Charms.  How did we get here?"

 

"By skipping," Kathryn said dryly.

 

"Oh, you!"  Adriana dropped her armload and shoved Kathryn, who promptly elbowed her in the ribs.  As Adriana retaliated, Lily laughed and, on impulse, began acting as commentator.

 

"And Schwartz stomps on Michels' foot, ooh, that's gotta hurt, but Michels isn't backing down, she kicks Schwartz in the shin and Schwartz staggers back, she quickly recovers and moves to -- wait, stop.  NOW!"

 

Not even the seventh years tangled with Lily when she used that tone of voice.  Kathryn and Adriana froze in their tracks and heard a different voice filling the corridors.

 

" -- to the staff room.  Once again, all students to their common rooms, all teachers to the staffroom.  Immediately."

 

There was a click, then dead silence.  The girls stared at each other then, as one, began walking back the way they had come, Adriana scooping up her book and parchment as they went.

 

"I didn't know Hogwarts had a P. A." Lily said.

 

"What's that?" Kathryn asked quizzically.  Without waiting for an answer she went on, "I think that must have been the M. S. S. -- Magical Speaker System.  My cousin told me about it -- he just graduated, said it was never used all the time he was here.  It's supposedly only used in times of great emergency.  C'mon, let's hurry."

 

They ran all the way back to the common room.

 

"And we thought it was quiet before," Kathryn muttered as they stepped through the portrait hole.  The room was practically silent, even though all of Gryffindor were there.

 

The girls went to stand next to Kathryn's younger brother David, as all the seats were now taken.  "I think you must be the last," he informed them in an undertone.  "Zillions of people have been coming in . . . you must have been really far away."

 

Kathryn nodded and put a finger to her lips.  The room fell silent again.  Gryffindor Tower held its breath and waited until the M. S. S. crackled back to life.

 

"Attention students."  This time Lily recognized the voice as Professor McGonagall's.  "As many of you may know, Martin's Magical Circus is currently in the Hogsmeade area."  There were murmurs of agreement; several second years had spent the past few days bemoaning the fact that they were not allowed to go see the circus.  This had resulted in all of Gryffindor knowing many details of the event, whether they cared or not.  The professor went on, "One of the circus's most dangerous exhibits, the echinodermaga, has recently escaped from its cage."  There was a collective gasp.  "There is no telling where this creature may go.  We ask all students to remain in their dormitories or House common rooms until further notice.

 

"Professor Kettleburn" -- McGonagall's voice turned faintly amused -- "would like to take this opportunity to give a mass lecture on the echinodermaga.  All Care of Magical Creatures students will please give him your full attention, as there may well be a test."

 

Everybody groaned, and several students pulled out rolls of parchment to take notes.  There was a crackle as Professor Kettleburn came on and began to lecture enthusiastically.  The thing about Kettleburn, Lily reflected, was that he made everything so interesting that you took more notes than you really needed for the test.  Someone who paid as strict attention as Lily did was liable to take notes like:

 

                                               ECHINODERMAGA

 

            -- native 2 N. American forests

            -- 5-part radial symmetry, like echinodermata

            -- looks like giant sea star

            -- each arm ends in sharp point

            -- mouth under body

            -- can "stand" on 1 or 2 arms

            -- MOM class.: XXXXX

            --VERY DANGEROUS!!!!

                        -- pot. deadly venom thru points

                            CAUSES: immediate unconsciousness, maybe death

                        -- desperation weapon: Ness Assault

                                    popular @ MMC

                                    leaps, violent wind, lands w/ mouth over victim & digests immediately (gross)

                                    unblockable, only dodgeable

            -- Avoid this creature!

            -- IF CORNERED

                        --is allergic 2 salt H2O

                        -- shoot @ it -- 50 mL salt/ L H2O -- inc. Salagua

                        -- get away!

            -- IF SOMEONE IS POISONED

                        -- get medical help ASAP

 

"Why is he telling us all this?" Kathryn muttered darkly.  "It's not as though we're going to meet up with one . . . kind of morbid if you ask me."

 

"Didn't you hear what Professor McGonagall said?" Adriana retorted.  "'There is no telling where this creature may go.'  I bet it could break down the doors -- it could be in the castle right now!"

 

"That's impossible!" Lily protested.

 

"Nothing is impossible," Adriana said.  "Anyway, I get the feeling we've forgotten something  . . . something really important . . . don't you?"

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

Across the room, Remus Lupin had been steadily growing white.  "James," he said sharply, as soon as the lecture was over.

 

Sirius looked at him a little uncertainly.  "James isn't here, Moony," he said.  "He's on detention -- in the dungeons, remember?  I'm sure -- "

 

"No, not in the dungeons!" Remus snapped, making both Sirius and Peter jump.  "Didn't you hear him talking to Hatabie after dinner?  They're in the forest!"

 

The others' eyes grew wide.

 

"Are -- are you sure?" Sirius asked after a moment.  "I mean, if we didn't hear them, how did you?"

 

Remus merely glared, and Sirius seemed to shrink a little.  They all knew that Remus's lycanthropy gave him enhanced hearing, but they tended to forget.

 

"Oh.  Right."

 

"We can't do anything until we know for sure," Peter said firmly.  "We have to ask someone."

 

"How?"

 

"We'll go find a teacher.  If the thing's in the castle, we're worrying about nothing, anyway.  Come on."

 

Something registered dimly in Sirius's mind as he followed Peter toward the portrait hole.  "Wait a minute," he said suddenly.  "Since when do you take charge, Pete?"

 

"Since when do you two not?"

 

Sirius stopped short and watched Peter continue across the emptying common room. 

 

"He's got a point," Remus said quietly, almost at Sirius's elbow.

 

Sirius grinned in spite of himself.  "That he does.  Hey Pete, wait up!" he called.

 

Unfortunately, his raised voice attracted the attention of the Head Boy, who was sitting by the fire.  "Hey, you!" he shouted just as Peter reached to open the portrait hole --

 

It swung out before he could touch it, and he found himself face to face with Professor McGonagall.

 

"Professor!" he gasped.

 

"Mr. Pettigrew," she returned, nostrils flaring.  "May I inquire as to just why you were about to leave the Tower?"

 

"I -- we -- "  Peter's mouth opened and closed like a goldfish out of water.

 

"Please, Professor," Sirius said hurriedly, rushing up behind Peter, "we were worried -- about James.  He's out in the forest on detention."

 

"I am well aware of that," Professor McGonagall said icily.  "However, as he is under teacher supervision,  there is no reason for you three to put yourselves in danger by leaving Gryffindor Tower, do I make myself clear?"

 

"Yes," they mumbled.

 

"Now," she said, raising her voice to the entire common room as the boys sat back down, "my purpose in coming up here was to inquire if anyone had any questions.  Any questions at all."

 

Lily, Kathryn, and Adriana accosted her, clutching Transfiguration texts and rolls of parchment. 

 

"C'mon," Sirius muttered.  "Let's go upstairs."

 

Once in the dormitory, Peter fell onto his bed and muffled a scream in the pillows.

 

"Relax," Remus said, reading his mind.  "McGonagall's right, he'll be fine."

 

Peter rolled over and grinned up at him.  "I know," he said, "I just had to do that.  You know, Remy, it's remarkable how you can change moods so quickly."

 

Remus shrugged and braced himself, expecting a smart remark from Sirius.  None came.  Remus looked over his shoulder and saw Sirius pacing the room.

 

"He'll be fine," he repeated, not knowing if Sirius had heard him the first time.  "Hatabie is a teacher, Sirius."

 

"He's evil," Sirius muttered.

 

"Just because he's mean doesn't mean he's evil," Peter pointed out reasonably.

 

Remus agreed.  "You're not exactly a saint yourself, you know.  Are you evil?"

 

Sirius abruptly shifted topic.  "What about that feeling thing you had the other night?  You said something horrible was going to happen!"

 

Remus chose not to comment that Sirius had suddenly become a believer.  "This is plenty horrible without anyone getting hurt.  Take it from the Seer."  He tried to lighten the mood.

 

Sirius, however, seemed determined to be worried.  "He's evil," he muttered again, dropped suddenly onto the window seat, and stared in the direction of the forest.

 

Remus sighed, sprawled across his own bed, and pulled out his Transfiguration book.

 

"Do you get that?" Peter asked, staring at it.  "'Cause I sure don't."

 

"Yeah, look at this."  Remus turned the book around and was patiently re-explaining the assignment whan Sirius sat bolt upright. 

 

"Lookatha!"

 

"Look at what?" Peter asked, disgruntled. 

 

"There's someone coming out of the forest -- Remus, what's that charm -- ?"

 

"Amplifico," Remus said, vaulting off the bed and running to the window.

 

"Amplifico," Sirius repeated, tapping the pane with his wand.  He peered out the window while Remus and Peter waited breathlessly.

 

"It's Hatabie," Sirius said finally, sitting back on his heels.  "He's . . . alone."  He looked away.

 

There was silence for a long moment.

 

"Let's go tell McGonagall," Remus said, and was up and out the door before the others could react.

 

By the time Sirius and Peter had gotten downstairs, Professor McGonagall was at the common room's window.  "There's no-one there," she said, turning toward them, her lips so thin they were white.

 

"But that's impossible!" Sirius protested, jaw dropping.  "He can't have gotten up to the castle already --"

 

"Maybe he went back to the forest," Peter suggested.

 

"Why would he do a thing like that?"

 

"That charm would be detectable from the ground," Remus murmured.

 

Professor McGonagall ignored them with practiced ease.

 

"I fail to see why you made up such a story," she said severely, "but I can assure you that it will not be tolerated.  Understood?"

 

"But --"

 

"Understood?" the professor repeated menacingly.

 

Sirius heaved a sigh.  "Yeah," he mumbled, speaking for all of them.

 

"Pardon me?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Good."  Professor McGonagall swept back over to the study group in the corner.

 

Without so much as looking at each other, the boys ran back upstairs.  Sirius and Remus dropped to their knees and began rummaging through James's trunk.

 

"Please say he didn't take it with him," Peter said to the ceiling.

 

"YES!"  Remus pulled out the silvery material -- the Invisibility Cloak!

 

"How are we going to get out?" Peter wondered.

 

"Through the portrait hole, knucklehead," Sirius snapped.

 

"I mean, how are we going to get out without being seen?"

 

"This is an Invisibility Cloak, Peter," Sirius said impatiently.

 

Peter almost screamed.  "I mean, without anyone seeing the portrait open and close!"

 

" . . . Oh," Sirius said.  "Good point."

 

They both looked to Remus.  "We can't wait any longer," he said.  "We do it very quietly."

 

It wasn't very good, but it was the only plan they had.

 

To Sirius's surprise, Remus's spur-of-the-moment "plan" worked.

 

"Yes!" Peter whispered when the portrait hole closed behind them.

 

"We made it!" Sirius added under his breath. 

 

"It's not time to celebrate yet," Remus cautioned.  "Let's get outside.  And keep an eye out for Hatabie."

 

Sirius and Peter clammed up and let Remus call the shots.

 

As it turned out, keeping an eye out for Hatabie was unnecessary.  They were still in the  shadows of the castle when they ran into him.  Literally.

 

"Who's there?"

 

'Now or never,' Sirius thought.  'We have to know.'  He exchanged a glance with Remus and Peter and, as one, they threw off the cloak.

 

Without giving their teacher a chance to recover, Sirius demanded, "Where's James?"

 

Professor Hatabie, however, only looked startled for a split second.  "James?" he asked quizzically.  "Oh, you mean Mr. Potter.  I've no idea.  Should I?"  He grinned nastily at them. 

 

"He was on detention with you!" Sirius half-shouted, taking a step forward and pulling out his wand.

 

Hatabie chuckled softly.  Remus put a hand on Sirius's arm and gave him a warning look. 

 

"He was? Oh dear," the professor said mockingly.  "It's terribly easy to get lost in that forest, isn't it?"  He gave them the nastly grin again, stepped around them, and entered the castle.

 

"He's lying," Peter said quietly.

 

"We know that, idiot," Sirius snapped.  "You don't exactly have to tell us."

 

"Quit calling me names!"

 

"Quit deserving them!"

 

"Uh, guys," Remus said, "let's find James first, then you two can argue.  'Cause the forest is not exactly the safest place in the world, you know . . ."

 

"Got to have your wits about you," Sirius finished for him.  "You sound like Filch."

 

"Whatever.  Let's go!"

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

It took James nearly half and hour to free his ankle from the rock that held him captive, but eventually he managed it.  "Professor?" he called, sqinting toward the top of the gully he had fallen into.  Odd, he thought, that he had heard nothing from his teacher for quite a while.  'Get yourself out,' he remembered Hatabie saying.  'It builds character.  I'll be up here.'

 

James grabbed his wand from where it had gotten wedged under the rock and stood up, wincing when he put weight on his right foot.  Cautiously, he picked his way up the side of the gorge.  Emerging over the top, he balanced on his left leg and again called, "Professor?"

 

Nothing.

 

James lit his wand and slowly turned around, peering through the trees.  "Professor Hatabie?"

 

No answer.  The only sound was his own ragged breathing.

 

The realization hit James like a ton of bricks.  He was alone, a third year in the middle of the Forbidden Forest with next to no knowledge of the beasts in it.

 

How could that git have done this?  Hatabie was a teacher, for Merlin's sake!

 

A rustle in the underbrush made James freeze.  He had plenty of knowledge of exotic creatures -- his mother was a magizoologist -- but having only just started Care of Magical Creatures, he knew nothing about the monsters of the forest.  Or, for that matter, how to defend himself from them --

 

'Easy,' the more rational portion of his mind said.  'Get out of here first, then panic.'

 

It sounded like a good plan.

 

James limped back along what he figured was the path he had come by.  He kept his wand out, both for the light and because every once in a while, something would move nearby.  But then --

 

He began to hear other noises.  Voices, human voices, quite close by, calling his name.

 

James froze before he realized that he knew those voices.  "Guys?" he called.

 

"James!" three people yelled simultaneously.

 

James began to run as best he could.  He burst into a clearing just as Sirius, Remus, and Peter appeared from around the bend.

 

"He's here!" Peter exclaimed unnecessarily.

 

"What are you guys doing?" James asked.

 

"Warning you," Remus said quickly.  "Listen, there's an echinodermaga loose around here."

 

"Fifty milliliters of salt in one liter of water," James recited automatically.  He stared.  "What?"

 

"It escaped from the circus."

 

"But . . . how?"

 

"Beats me," said Sirius.  "You'd think they'd have tighter security, wouldn't you?  How'd you know that thing about the water?"

 

James stared at him.  "My mum works with animals like that.  You know that."

 

"Oh.  Right.  Forgot."

 

"Whatever," Remus said.  "Let's just -- oh, my god."

 

James whipped around and there it was.  The echinodermaga.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

"Darn it!"

 

The common room was almost empty; only the sixth years by the fire jumped.  Lily and Kathryn were far too used to their friend's outbursts to be surprised.

 

"Is it October twenty-ninth?" Adriana gasped.

 

"Um . . . yeah . . ."

 

"The contest!" she moaned, dropping her head onto her Arithmancy book.  "If I don't send my story out tonight I'll miss the deadline!"

 

"Wait," Kathryn said cautiously, "what contest?"

 

"'Young Witch's short story contest!"

 

"You're entering that?"

 

"Well, I was . . . ugh!"

 

"Spaz," one of the boys by the fire whispered.  Lily turned her patented death glare on him, but he had already looked away.

 

"Take a deep breath," Kathryn was saying.  "Maybe you'll find a way later.  You never know.  But now, just finish your homework, okay?"

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

It was bigger than anything James had ever imagined.  It towered over the boys, easily four times as high as Sirius, the tallest.  It was ugly too -- a truly sick shade of puce, five long, sinuous arms undulating, ending in menacing points that glittered with poison.  And it could stand on them, just as the books said, and walk -- James realized the last as it took a step toward them.

 

"Salagua!" he shouted, both surprised and glad that he remembered the incantation.  'I love you, Mum,' he thought fervently as he stumbled backwards.  His friends' voices were echoing his own, and an earsplitting shriek split the air as four streams of water hit the echinodermaga almost simultaneously.

 

It didn't move back, but didn't advance either.  James wished he had three hands so he could block out its continued screeches.

 

"Let's run!" Sirius shouted over the racket.

 

"NO!" James yelled.  "These things are really fast!  It'd be on us the second we turned our backs!"

 

"So what do we do?"  Peter was clearly  panicking.

 

"First, we calm down," Remus told him.

 

"We back away slowly!" James hollered. 

 

Peter took several deep breaths and started inching backwards.  "Should someone go for help?"

 

"Don't we need all of us to fight it?" Sirius countered.   

 

"Better safe than sorry," Remus called.

 

His last words reverberated through the clearing as the echinodermaga got over its initial shock and stopped screaming.  It stood unmoving in the sudden silence and James could almost sense it sizing them up.

 

"Keep moving back," he said cautiously.  This was irrelevant, as all of them already were. 

 

The creature started inching away from James, towads Peter's side of the clearing.  Peter's face was frozen in terror.

 

"You need more salt," James said to him.

 

"Salt!" Peter moaned.  "Why couldn't it have been sugar?"

 

James laughed aloud for a split second.  Then Peter shrieked as their adversary took another giant step -- all heads turned to him -- and the echinodermaga took advantage of their inattention.  It struck out at the nearest person, who turned out to be --

 

"Remus!" three voices yelled as Remus crumpled.  Sirius, who was nearest, dropped to his knees beside him, leaving James and Peter on their own.

 

'Don't panic,' James thought frantically.  'Moony's fine, he'll be fine, he's fine he's fine he's fine DON'T PANIC!'  "Augdelugio!" he heard himself shouting, and the water shooting from the end of his wand erupted into a torrent with all the force and turbulence of a hurricane, causing the echinodermaga to start shrieking again.

 

'Okay.  Hold back a little, you're not alone, Pete can help . . . '  James glanced across the clearing and immediately reverted to his days of training from his mother.  "Hold you wand tighter," he coached Peter in a shout.  "No, make a fist . . . there you go . . . now twist your wand hand over and back . . . yeah, do it again . . . "  The echinodermaga stopped moving towards Peter and stood stockstill.  James grinned victoriously and started wondering whether to teach Peter how to crank up the flow.

 

His stomach hit bottom with a sickening jolt when he heard the yell from behind him.  "Peter!" Sirius bellowed.  "Go -- run -- get Madam Pomfrey.  If we're not out then bring her back along the path."

 

"I thought we needed all of us," Peter called, not taking his eyes off his wand.

 

"Peter!  This is an EMERGENCY!"

 

Peter lowered his wand and ran.  James gave up trying to conserve energy and let the echinodermaga have the full force of his water power.  "Are you sure that was a good idea?" he shouted.

 

"No."  Sirius's voice was barely audible over the raging of the enemy.  "Look, we're ready to go, you can start moving again."

 

"Don't go too fast."

 

"How stupid do you think I am?  Move it.  And watch out for your ankle, there's a hole right behind you."

 

Sure enough, James's ankle protested when he stepped into the small depression in the ground.  'How did Sirius know I hurt it?' he wondered as he kept moving back, heedless of the pain.  'But that's easy.  Sirius worries about all of us too much, that's how.'

 

"What's up with your water?" came Sirius's voice behind him.  "And move to the left or you'll hit a tree."

 

James quit thinking and focused all his attention on his wand and on his friend's instructions, leaving none for his ankle or for worrying about Remus.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

True to his nature, Peter hadn't run far before he began to get tired.  He wondered why Sirius had sent him, the slowest, to do this.  But he knew, really.  Sirius and James were much better at fighting the echino-thing.

 

Peter gritted his teeth and kept going.  'Run for your life!' his mind was screaming shrilly.

 

'No,' Peter said to himself.  'Run for Remus's life.'

 

He ran faster.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

When Sirius reckoned they had gone about halfway, he tapped James on the shoulder and the switched tasks.  Their progress was even slower now because of James's ankle, but he could see the logic.  Fighting the echinodermaga took energy -- a lot of energy -- and they couldn't afford to make any more mistakes. 

 

James knew Sirius had made the right decision -- he only wished he were as cool-headed.  He was panicking inside, just managing to act calm, to do what had to be done -- coaching Sirius and carrying Remus across his shoulders.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

When Peter burst through the great oak doors to the castle, he was already shouting.

 

"Madam Pomfrey!" he yelled fruitlessly, bent double, trying to catch his breath.  "Professor McGonagall!  Professor Dumbledore!  Somebody!"

 

His only response was his own echo.  Peter straightened, took one final gulp of air, and started to run again, straight for the hospital wing.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

"I think we're almost out," James announced.

 

"How can you tell?" Sirius asked.  "I can barely see you."

 

"We must be almost out by now."  The echinodermaga had just fallen behind at last and Sirius was busy taking a few deep breaths.  James glanced behind him.  "Of course you can't see anything.  Light your wand."  James's own wand was still lit from when he had first crawled out of that damned hole.

 

Sirius blinked.  "Oh!  Right.  Lumos."  The sudden flash of light almost blinded him.

 

'Then again, maybe he's not so cool-headed,' James reflected wryly.

 

Sirius was about to ask James if he wanted him to carry Remus when he heard a rustle in the bushes behind him.  He spun around, wand ready.

 

"What was that?" James said sharply, freezing mid-step.

 

"I . . . dunno," Sirius said slowly, squinting.  "I don't see anything."

 

"Is your wand lit?"

 

"Yeah . . . keep going."  Sirius walked backwards a few meters behind the others, scanning the forest for any signs of life.

 

Then, suddenly, it was there.  Without so much as a whisper the echinodermaga appeared in the air over the trees -- the Ness Assualt Professor Kettleburn had mentioned.  'How'd it do that?' Sirius wondered briefly, irrelevantly.  This thought  was soon banished from his mind by a new, more pressing realization -- the creature was headed straight for James and Remus!

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

The corridors were still deserted.  Peter had never wished so much that he would see a teacher, any teacher.  Unfortunately, his wish was soon granted.

 

"Professor Hatabie!" he gasped, skidding to a halt.

 

"My, my, my," his teacher said quietly, grinning bloodlessly.  "What are you doing out?  And all alone . . . where are your friends?  I do hope no-one was . . . hurt."

 

Peter felt a hot surge of anger and with it, a courage he didn't know he had.  It took all his willpower to simply say, "Excuse me, please," and try to walk past Professor Hatabie.  The teacher, however, flung out an arm to stop him.

 

"And where do you think you're going?" he asked, voice deadly quiet.

 

"Anywhere that's away from you," Peter snapped, slightly surprised at his own rudeness.  He ducked under Hatabie's arm and once again ran for the hospital wing.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

Sirius stood frozen, unable to move.  His heart was suddenly pounding like a tom-tom as the wind picked up , whirling dead leaves around him in a faintly sinister dance.  It seemed like ages, but it was surely only a split second before he sprang into action.  He lept into the path of the echinodermaga, not yet knowing what he was going to do.

 

The wind seemed to gain force, nearly bowling him over and making so much noise that he couldn't hear anything but Professor Kettleburn's words ringing in his ears: 'The Ness Assault has never been successfully blocked.'  Well, that would just have to change -- Sirius would make sure of it.

 

He never remembered what he shouted -- the wind tore his voice away the instant it left his mouth.  A brilliant flash of white light burst from the end of his wand, nearly blinding him.  It spread and spun, a dazzling ring of radiance.  Sirius watched it through slitted eyes, fighting to keep it there.  It was draining his energy, whatever it was . . . yet Sirius had an inexplicable conviction that this was good, this spinning circle of light, that it would help . . . and if it would help, he was bound and determined to keep it there.

 

All these thoughts and more flitted through Sirius's mind in the space of a split second, but one overpowered them all.  'Please let it work,' he prayed silently, the wind roaring in his ears . . . 'please . . . '

 

The echinodermaga and the magic wheel collided.  There was another bright burst of flame, lighting up the forest trees, accompanied by a great 'boom.'  The monster's course was altered; gravity kicked in and it fell like a rock, hitting the ground with a soft thump.

 

Everything stopped.  The wind slowed abruptly, letting the leaves settle in a misshapen circle.  Sirius's hoop vanished but he kept his wand raised, watching the creature warily.

 

"Merlin," James's voice said in the sudden silence.  "What was that?"

 

"I don't know."  Sirius tore his eyes away from the motionless body and turned slowly to face James.  "Whatever it was, it just happened."  Dimly he remembered what he had been about to say.  "D'you want me to take Remus?"

 

"Are you mad?"  James stared at him, concern suddenly glowing from behind his glasses.  "Look at you.  You're shaking."

 

Sirius realized numbly that he was indeed shaking.  He wished briefly that he could be as calm as James was.

 

His friend looked at him anxiously for a moment longer and then turned away.  "Let's go.  We're wasting time."

 

"Right behind you."

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

Peter had always liked telling stories, and had learned a lot from his friends.  This particular story tumbled out of his mouth, words tripping over each other in their haste to get out, but he was still understood.  By the time he reached the end Madam Pomfrey was already standing, wand and plaid bag in hand.

 

Peter and his friends had had past experience with that bag, a satchel of blackwatch plaid containing various potion vials and even bandages, though Peter had never understood the need for them in the magical world.  That bag was plainly for on-the-go emergencies, and this was only made more plain by the fact that she was taking it along now.

 

As they left, Peter lagged several yards behind the swift, long-legged nurse.  Still worn out from his run inside, he briefly considered not following, but he knew he had to.  He wasn't about to be left in the dark -- not where his friends were concerned.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

James and Sirius were partway up the wide, sloping lawn when they ran into a whirlwind in the form of Madam Pomfrey, accompanied by several other teachers whom she was hurriedly explaining the situation to.  All conversation stopped for a split second when the two groups met.  Then a flurry of activity and commotion erupted around the boys.

 

Remus was taken from James and magicked onto a stretcher.  Madam Pomfrey bent over him, muttering a combination of spells and characteristic grumblings, and guiding him towards the castle.

 

Sirius, explaining what had happened to Professors Flitwick and Kettleburn, wished tiredly that they wouldn't ask so many questions.  How long had it been?  He didn't know.  How far inside the forest had the echinodermaga overtaken them?  He had no idea.  Was the creature actually dead?  He hadn't thought to check, so long as it wasn't following them anymore.

 

Finally, the teachers went back up to the castle, calling for James and Sirius to follow them.  The boys did not obey, but rather stayed where they were.  Forgetting about his injured ankle, James took a step backward, overbalanced and nearly collapsed.  Silently, Sirius wrapped and arm around his shoulders to hold him up.  And suddenly, Peter was hurrying towards them across the lawn.  He stopped beside them, not speaking.

 

They stood that way for a moment, bathed in the stream of light spilling from the open doors of the castle.

 

 

*          *          *

 

 

Professor McGonagall had left and returned, bringing news that the echinodermaga was no longer a threat but refusing to give the few overexcited Gryffindors still in the common room any more information.  Once they had given up trying to persuade her, it only took Adriana half a minute to remember her contest.

 

" -- and it's really, really important to me, Professor, d'you think I could run to the Owlery real quick and send it off . . .?"

 

"I thought you owned an owl, Miss Schwartz."

 

"I do, Professor, he's in the Owlery."

 

Professor McGonagall appeared distracted and was definitely not thinking straight.  "Couldn't you borrow an owl?"

 

"Professor, all the owls are in the Owlery; they live there."

 

"Of course they do.  All right, you may go, but take a friend or two with you, and please do hurry."

 

"Thank you, Professor!" Adriana squealed breathlessly, racing across the room to grab the precious two scrolls of parchment.  "Come on, Lily, Kattie, let's go!"

 

"Don't call me that," Kathryn grumbled, standing up.

 

Lily giggled.

 

Professor McGonagall accompanied them as far as the staircase, where she left in rather a hurry.  Intoxicated by the freedom of being out after curfew, the girls decided to take the long way around.  Adriana's entry was sent off on the leg of her gentle brown owl (who, for some bizzare reason, was named Nundu) just before ten o'clock.  Giggling, the girls turned and started back down.  

//
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