The Sugar Quill
Author: SweetSirius  Story: Leaving Out the Lemon Peel  Chapter: Default
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Leaving Out the Lemon Peel

Author’s Note: A brief moment of backstory behind Remus’ comment in “After the Order...”, and perhaps the peeling letters on an old suitcase.  Once upon a time I promised Nigella and Fiona that I would write something a little more cheerful for the ‘Quill, but I must have forgotten to seal the dog door, because the smallest smidgeon of melancholy crept in and took up tenancy somewhere in the middle.  Nevertheless.

 

Thanks as always to my beautiful Beta-girl Jo.

 

Disclaimer: These lovely boys belong to Ms J. K. Rowling, and I thank her for the unofficial lend.

 

 

Leaving Out the Lemon Peel

 

 

“If you’re not going to concentrate, I really have no problem with leav-”

 

“Who’s not concentrating?  I’m a perfect student.”

 

“It doesn’t work on McGonagall, it’s not going to work on me.”

 

“It works...sometimes.”

 

Remus sighed.  He had long since given up the effort to conceal frustration.

 

“Fine.  Look, this recipe has been in my father’s family for ages, and it’s just about impossible to get right.  Baking is a serious business.  So what was the last thing I said?”

 

Sirius raised his eyebrows incredulously.  “I’m still on ‘baking is a serious business’,” he said pointedly. 

 

Remus inhaled deeply. “What,” he said, “was the last thing I said?”

 

“The last thing you said was, ‘what was the last thing I–’”

 

Before that, Sirius.”

 

“Don’t get all brow-arching on me.  I heard you.  Sift the flour into a round bowl.”

 

Remus covered his surprise.  He just didn’t understand how it was that Sirius could be fishing around in the raisin jar one moment, his tongue poking between his teeth in concentration as he tried to snare a glacé cherry, and then turn around and have memorised the recipe the next.

 

Some things, he thought with a sigh, just weren’t fair.

 

Oi, professor.  What’s next?”

 

Remus frowned.  It had started last term, this horrid nickname, during preparation for next term’s O.W.L.s.  Career advice from McGonagall had stirred up some distressing truths – while James and Sirius could get by on brains and nerve, he, Remus, would need to work doubly hard to overcome the stigma associated with – buried in – life as a lycanthrope.  Of course, she hadn’t said as much, but Remus could feel it.  Consequent of this little panic attack, Remus had launched into a studying frenzy, culminating one night as he ordered James, Peter and Sirius to Shut Up And Get The Heck Out Of The Library with such alarming authority that they had obeyed at once, but not before Sirius could invent a title, and Professor R. J. Lupin had been there ever since, a joke Remus just couldn’t swallow.

 

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that,” Remus frowned, holding up the sieve to tap the rest of the flour through it.

“What, professor?” Sirius smirked.

 

“I’m not that bad.”  Uncertain, actually, but he preferred to deny it.  It was just another way that made him feel distanced from the others, and that was the last thing he needed.

 

“Course not,” said Sirius lightly.  He clapped Remus on the back.  “You’ll make an excellent McGonagall one of these days Moony.”  Remus was silent.

 

Sirius, noticing this, glanced over at his friend’s troubled expression.

 

“Hey,” he said.  “Pass us that manky looking sugar, would you.”

 

“It’s brown sugar.  Even wizards have brown sugar.”

 

“So you say, professor, but my mother doesn’t believe in it.”

 

“She doesn’t believe in disciplining her sons, either, I’d imagine.”  The briefest and most awkward of silences followed.

 

“Oh, she has her ways and means,” Sirius said, tapping the sieve, looking for all the world as though he was merely enjoying watching the flour fall like snow into the bowl below.

 

It was a practiced indifference, Remus suspected, towards uneven, unfamiliar ground.  It had been growing over the past year or so, like a darkening sky.  Nothing concrete, but there had begun a series of silences around the subject of Sirius’ home life that seemed to subsist on an unseen level of understanding between Sirius and James.  It wasn’t exactly off limits to ask, but then Remus never felt exactly comfortable in doing so.  It seemed to require invitation, and he wasn’t sure it had been extended.

 

He wanted to ask.  To just break into this private life and make himself at home, the way James and Sirius had done all those years ago, when it had been Remus’ secret which had fallen down around him, when it was he whose problem had been divided into quarters.

 

Instead, and, he thought bitterly, typically, he turned the page and followed the recipe.

 

~*~

 

Remus frowned at the darkened ceiling, chewing his lip and wondering what it was that had woken him up.

 

Generally speaking, he didn’t wake up in the middle of the night, or any time before six o’clock.  This was less to do with any kind of peace and quiet than it was with the fact that he had evolved, over many months of horrific, sleepless moons, into someone who could sleep at will and for a fixed amount of time, conserving and regenerating by force of will.  A creature of habit, if you will.

 

And yet he was awake.  He knew he was – he had just pinched a lovely bruise on his forearm.

 

James Potter and Sirius Black were staying over at Remus’ house in preparation for Christmas holiday, over which they had planned to have obscene amounts of fun and generally wreak havoc on the delighted home of Remus’ father.  Peter Pettigrew, the fourth of their group, hadn’t been allowed to visit either of his friends since the time they had all received warnings from the Ministry of Magic for Muggle-baiting on the London Underground.  Sirius had stood up to take blame for the puffskins, and they had all sworn they had not known anything whatsoever about the dungbombs, but evidently this was enough to bar Peter from fraternizing with Those Boys.

 

It meant more than anyone could know to Remus that he was one of Those Boys.  Life after the wolf bite had been one big free fall into insecurity.  Hogwarts had been a miracle, and his friends...sometimes, however, he just wished he didn’t feel so anxious.

 

Envious of a peaceful sleep, he listened intently for what should have been the sound of two other sleeping boys, but one was missing.  And by the sight of James’ tussled head poking out from under his blankets, the missing Marauder was Sirius.  He sighed.  There was just no going back to sleep with the knowledge that Sirius Black was at large.

 

Remus padded carefully out of bed and down the stairs – faint noises were coming from the kitchen.  One thing about Sirius – and this was either endearing or irritating, depending on where you stood – was that he wasted no time in taking advantage of any invitation to ‘make himself at home.’  Consequently, Remus was only partly astonished at the sight of a flour-covered Sirius frantically measuring a cup of raisins.

 

“Is there any point at all in asking what on earth you’re doing?” Remus said at last, staring.

 

Sirius looked up through the flour dusting his hair, lashes and nose.

 

“Quick, Moony – how many mls to a cup?”

 

“You realise it’s the middle of the night?”

 

“And here was I thinking your family always blacked out the windows at midday,” Sirius muttered, holding the cup up to read the measurements.

 

“And you’re baking.”

 

“I,” said Sirius, lifting a flour-covered hand and pinching his thumb and forefinger together in anxious enunciation, “am freaking out.”

 

“And...baking is your solution?”

 

“Hey–” Sirius pointed a dusty finger as Remus walked over and sat at the kitchen bench.  “I’ll have you know, this is all your doing.”

 

“Mine?”

 

“You’re the one who made me memorise two cups of sifted flour and a pound and a half of fruit...”

 

“And remind me where it was that I told you midnight was as good a time as any to put this into practice?”

 

Sirius rolled his eyes, put down the cup and looked with a sigh at Remus as though he were a very small, very dim child who Simply Didn’t Get It.

 

“I couldn’t sleep,” he glowered.  “My head got all full of cake recipes and I forgot how many ounces of butter and...”  He gestured forlornly amidst the scattered ingredients.  Help.”

 

He looked so despondent that Remus relented and, with a chuckle, stood to survey the recipe.

 

“You know,” he said, looking over the assembled ingredients.  “I’m not sure we actually need another fruitcake.  After all, we...”  He trailed off at the look on Sirius’ face, hastily adding, “But then you can never have too much fruitcake, I always say, and...er...let’s just take it from the beginning, shall we?”  He grabbed a measuring cup and bustled into business.

 

“What in the name of all things magical are the two of you doing at one in the morning?”

 

It was James, rubbing his eyes as he took in the sight of the kitchen counter, covered with ingredients, Remus weighing butter on the scales, and Sirius, covered in flour, stirring a pot of dried fruit on the stove.

 

Remus and Sirius exchanged a glance.

 

“Baking...” said Sirius hesitantly.  But James just grinned and clapped his hands together.

 

“Good-o,” he said.  “What are we making then?”

 

Remus blinked as, just like that, James was part of the action.  It seemed so effortless for him, to become included.  And yet...he looked around at the kitchen and couldn’t help but smile.

 

“Sirius here thinks we need another fruit cake.”

 

“What, in addition to the five sitting in the cupboard?” James smirked, spending rather a lot of time tweaking his apron so that it covered as much of him as possible.

 

Oi, shut it the pair of you, and tell me whether or not you think this needs a pinch more cinnamon.”

 

“Hmm.  Sentences I never thought I’d hear from Sirius Black...”

 

“Oh yeah?  Tighten your apron, Prongs, I think you’ve left some pyjama showing.”

 

“You think I want to end up looking like you, eh, dough boy?”

 

Remus was watching Sirius sort through the sultanas.

 

“Half a cup of fruit, Sirius, means half a cup of all the fruit.”

 

“Remus, I’m begging you, can’t we just leave out the lemon peel?”

 

Remus blinked.  “But...it’s in the recipe!”

 

“To hell with the recipe!”

 

“You see, this is why exactly why Snape keeps beating you in potions.  Leaving it out will affect the whole flavour of the cake.”

 

“Yeah, but in the meantime I get to enjoy a fruitcake without spitting the rind out onto the tablecloth.”

 

James turned to Remus.  “He makes an excellent point, Moony.”

 

Remus looked at them, irritated.  Why did he always have to be the one acting ten times his age?  Why couldn’t he ever fit in?  Why, why couldn’t they ever do anything by the book?  He liked By-the-Book, he understood By-the-Book; it had gotten him through the past six years.  He hissed through his teeth, on the brink of deciding to just add the damn lemon peel himself...

 

Until Sirius caught his eye and winked.

 

“How about it, professor?”

 

It was the oddest thing.  All of a sudden it lost its exclusion, and for some strange reason it didn’t feel like a provocation but a challenge.  An invitation to absurdity.

 

Remus felt suddenly as though a tense weight had melted away, like so many grams of butter.  All this irritation over a handful of lemon peel.  It was more than absurd, it was juvenile, it was irrational, it was...

 

Funny.

 

He gave a measured smile.  No need to startle them.

 

“Maybe you’re right,” he said.  “It would be nice not to have to watch him regurgitating during dessert.”

 

James laughed and turned to Sirius with a grin and a raised eyebrow.

 

Another excellent point.”

 

“Hey, don’t blame me – blame the human digestive system.”

 

In four hours the sun would rise, and Mr Lupin would enter the kitchen to find about three cakes worth of raisins in, around and under the sink, butter on the bench top, and a fruitcake cooling on the table, around which three boys lay fast asleep, one of whom was covered in a thick and beginning-to-congeal layer of flour.  In the time between, however, the little kitchen was filled to bursting with laughter, banter...and a solid dosing of cinnamon.

 

Remus allowed them to leave out the lemon peel.

 

//
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