The Sugar Quill
Author: inyron (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Four Sins 3: Conceit  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.

 

Story Three: Conceit

*****

After Peter had eaten his last blue Bean, and Sirius had finally stopped parading around in his new bright purple pajamas, everyone in the room lay very still, as if in sleep. After waiting patiently for almost an hour, James Potter decided to risk his luck and pushed his covers back slowly, then padded to the door. He couldn't help but crack a smile when he made it halfway down the common room stairs unmolested. Not many people could slip by Sirius Black like that. Especially when Sirius seemed to be looking for reasons to pester James lately.

The common room looked deserted, which was perfectly natural, considering it was much past midnight. His sixth years' boy's dorm was usually the last to clear out, and the last to fall asleep, so they found it very rare when another person was there when they doubled back for some mischief. Tonight, he hoped, would be an exception, because he really felt like breaking some rules.

"James?" she whispered from the entrance to the girls' dorms.

"Lily." He looked over at her and smiled. She had made it. She moved towards him.

"It looks like a beautiful night out tonight."

"Shall we find out?"

She looked at him guardedly. "If you want to."

This was a bit of a big moment for James. He had assumed that Lily, like all the Gryffindors, and most other people within a fifty-mile radius, knew that James and his friends were prone to sneaking out and having fun without getting caught. How they did that was a very closely guarded secret, known only to the four of them. Until tonight, at least. James and Lily had been dating for months, since she had returned from Christmas vacation. He hadn't really had all that experience with the girls before, but he knew that Lily was someone special, someone he wanted to be with, and that she was someone trustworthy. He slowly slipped the invisibility cloak out from under his robes. Her eyes grew wide.

"It's big," he whispered. "Can fit, oh, about three or four people underneath." Her expression turned to one of delight.

"I don't believe it! How in the world-"

"Family heirloom."

"You know, Jon claimed you knew an Invisibility spell, that you've been using one since first year."

"Who says I haven't?"

"And Willard told all the Slytherins you just Charmed Filch and all the teachers. Think they believed him too."

"Nothing so grand or illegal, I'm afraid."

"But still pretty illegal."

"Not technically." He held it out for her. "Now, we're going to have to huddle very close together to both fit under here."

"Oh. You boys must like that." He didn't dignify that with a response. They headed out and down the stairs without further discussion, just a bit of girlish giggling. As soon as they were outside the castle, James directed them towards the lake. He knew a lot of really fun and action-packed places one could go after dark at Hogwarts, but most of them, you shouldn't really take a lady. The lake seemed pretty and romantic enough, plus he had never been attacked there by any sort of dangerous wild beast, so he figured it would be perfect. Lily found another pleasant surprise when they arrived; still-chilled butterbeer, and her favorite, Chocolate Frogs.

"Oh good, it's still safe."

"How did you do this?"

"As Willard pointed out, I am quite good at Charms. Not up to your standards maybe, but-"

"No, I mean… never mind." She sat down and unwrapped the Frog, but didn't eat it. Instead, she looked out over the lake. "It's so beautiful."

James was dying to say something wonderfully romantic in response, but bit his tongue, letting her enjoy the moment and concentrate on the view. He sat down softly next to her. She turned to him, and he could see her glittering green eyes and soft red hair in the moonlight as she leaned towards him. James closed his eyes and savored the perfection of the moment.

*****

Perfect was a word James heard a lot. From teachers,

describing tests. From Sirius, describing plans. From fans, describing their Quidditch record this year. And last year. And the year before that. Oh, third year, too. As he entered the Great Hall for breakfast the next morning, James heard the word once again, but this time, he wasn't happy about it.

"Look, it's perfect James Potter. He's decided to join us mere mortals for breakfast." Severus Snape was apparently still smarting from the thrashing Gryffindors had given Slytherin two weeks earlier. Severus was not on the team, nor was he traditionally a big fan, but tensions between their two factions had been running high lately, and he had seized the opportunity to make all sorts of nasty comments and predictions against him personally. The Slytherins had been very amused at anything having to do with tearing James down, so they had laughed heartily, and Snape had made more comments, and everyone became overconfident, and secure they would win… until about ten minutes into the game. Sirius still claimed there must have been some most-baskets-in-least-time record broken during that match. Severus had disappeared for a few hours after that, but reappeared making snide comments again after some overzealous classmates kept carrying James on their shoulders and conjuring up fancy goblets for him to drink out of.

"I see they still haven't cleared a spot for you at the main table. You should really complain about that, I'm sure the teachers would be happy to oblige." James stopped in front of him and glared.

"Would you do me a favor Severus? I have an Arithmancy test coming up, and I need you to state I'll fail, just so I can be sure I'll ace it."

Snape glared at him with more hatred than he remembered. "You're not so special, Potter. You're not so perfect."

"I never claimed to be."

"Right." Snape looked him up and down. James bristled at the sarcasm, but being the better man, he headed to his table, to a spot right between Lily and Sirius. As he drew near, he heard Sirius' voice suddenly raise.

"And then, James took the dung, and-"

"Shut up, Sirius. No one's listing to you." Sirius gave him a hurt puppy-dog face. Lily laughed. James looked around. Aryeh, Lily's best friend, was sitting next to her looking interestedly at both himself and Sirius. Remus and Peter were sitting across, and James noticed Remus looked a bit pale even for him, for this time of the month. Remus shook his head and gestured to his tea in response to James's questioning look.

Peter spooned more eggs onto his plate, and looked at the girls mistrustfully, before turning his gaze to James. "Was that Snape bothering you again? We should really fix him good sometime."

Sirius glanced back at the Slytherin table behind him. "Maybe," he said casually. "Some of us might have other, more important things on our mind, though." James flushed. Lily and Aryeh exchanged significant girlish glances.

Peter frowned. "What could be more important?"

Aryeh answered. "Well, we are in our sixth year, now. Isn't it time to put away such childish behavior, and start thinking about our futures?" Lily hid her head in her hands.

"Yes, well, James," Sirius no longer sounded the least bit amused. "You should think about things like that. Very important. Speaking of the future, I hope you haven't forgotten our future plans for tonight. We agreed tonight would be the night the four of us would meet… in our room. For… to study." James considered hiding his head in his hands too.

Sirius did not really like Lily, or the idea of her, anyway. James had tried to extol her good virtues, "Lily this, Lily that," but had quickly realized that Sirius didn't want to listen. It wasn't as though Sirius hadn't had his own girlfriend, or twenty- but those were just casual affairs, none lasting more than a week. And he hadn't borrowed the invisibility cloak; hadn't even asked. No, a night with Sirius Black meant a slow creep up to the Astronomy Tower, followed by a frantic retreat as soon as Filch caught up with them. Yet somehow, the girls, they were still fawning all over him.

Sirius had NOT been pleased when he found out James was going to spill about the invisibility cloak. It had lead to some rather testy words between them, where James was forced to point out that the cloak did not, in fact, belong to Sirius, but to him. Sirius had said he was perfectly correct to be wary. The four of them did, after all, have a lot of important secrets. James assured him the rest were safe… for now. Sirius remained unsatisfied. James thought he might be a little jealous because he was spending time with Lily he would ordinarily spend with Sirius, or the others. So, he was trying extra hard to make sure he still spent time with them, to assure Sirius he wouldn't be pushed out in favor of Lily- but he made it perfectly clear Lily wasn't going anywhere.

At least Sirius was being civil to Lily. They had gotten on all right before Christmas, Sirius couldn't object on those grounds. It wasn't as though James was dating a Slytherin. But James knew Sirius's feelings were perfectly clear when he had gotten back to his dorm late last night to find everyone sleeping peacefully, and his bed short-sheeted.

He looked at Sirius. "Of course I haven't forgotten about tonight."

*****

"Are you sure you're up to this Remus?" James asked.

"I'm fine, I told you."

Sirius did a little impatient jig. "Come on, Peter."

"I can't find my sock. Who stole my sock?"

"Yuck."

"What are we doing anyway?"

Sirius smiled that dangerous smile. "North-west corner."

"What? That's where we're going?"

"Yup. Way up."

"But-"

"We can't go there on a full moon, we don't really know if it's uninhabited. And we couldn't go before the whole Animagus thing, it was too far. Now, we can go."

"And I'll join you how?"

"On James' back. He already said you could ride."

"What about me? I'm so small, I can't run fast like you."

"You can ride in Remus's pocket."

"Oh."

"You can just not come, if you don't want to leave with one sock."

"No, no, one sock is fine." Peter hurriedly put on his shoes.

"Oh Peter, we have time, just-"

"We don't, and see, he's perfectly fine. Alright?"

"Why do I have a bad feeling about this one?"

"Come on, we have to see what's up there."

"I bet it's a giant."

"A giant?"

"There are no giants up there!"

"I hope it's nothing. I mean, that's what we want to find, right? Nothing?"

"So we know it's safe to maraud?"

"Right, now come on."

"Wait!"

*****

As James galloped through the wood, he was barely aware of Remus on top, holding tight as he rode. Instead, he mostly concentrated on Padfoot, to his side, racing him forward in a rush. They made good time of it, and it was less than two hours before James sensed some sort of populated land ahead. He came to a stop, bowing quickly so Remus could slide off easily, then changed back into a human straight away.

Remus pulled Wormtail out of his pocket and put him on the ground, where he became a green-faced Peter. Padfoot circled back, and became Sirius without breaking stride. "What is it?"

"You're the canine, you tell me. I just smelled… something."

"Just the regular pungent forest. Nothing human."

"I smelled something. Come on." The boys followed James, silently.

"This is different from our side of the forest."

"Which is why we're exploring it, see, I bet it has all sorts of strange creatures we can mix with in the moonlight."

"And look. We don't have purple flowers like those."

"Shhhh."

"What?"

"Shhhh!" In the scarce light, they could see a little clearing in the trees. James crept closer and closer, before he could see a little cottage. "I told you someone lives here."

"Must be some sort of hermit, I'm sure there isn't anyone else for miles."

It was a strange sort of cottage, very small, and made entirely out of straw. There was a little stable next to it, but he couldn't make out anything else.

"We shouldn't go any further."

"How will we know if its it's safe to trip here, then?"

"It's obviously not. We'll have to stay at least a mile away." James turned his head from the cottage to look at Sirius, and saw that Remus was a couple paces behind them, standing stock-still.

"Remus?" His face was white and his eyes were wide. James rushed back and grabbed his arm. "Remus!" He pitched forward, and would have landed on his face is James hadn't been there. He struggled to breathe, eyes sill wide.

"James!" Sirius gestured to the tree Remus was standing besides. It had some sort of strange drawing carved in its trunk. "It's a hex!"

"We passed it all right."

"We're not magical creatures. James, do something."

"I think I recognize that symbol." James struggled to think, with Remus swaying next to him. "It must be awfully powerful to repel a werewolf."

"A werewolf in human form?"

"It's the Raegilus-nonus, it has to be. It's strong."

"The what?"

"We have to break it."

"I can do it." Sirius looked at him expectantly.

He pulled Remus back a bit, away from the tree. "Inraegilnon-us!" He really, really hoped he got the pronunciation right. Next to him, Remus slumped to the ground, unconscious.

"He's breathing."

"Check his pulse."

"How do you check someone's pulse?"

"Remus? Remus!"

"Shhh!"

Remus stirred, opened his eyes.

"Are you okay?"

"Lets-lets not come here again," he said hoarsely.

*****

James carried Remus and Peter back to the castle in their human forms, and he said he didn't mind much, even though he secretly never planned on doing it again. Peter kept Remus awake, and from tipping over as James ran, and as soon as they all arrived back, they all crashed into bed. There were about five hours until breakfast.

James came down the next morning a little early, leaving the other three still in the showers. He wanted to get his alone-time in with Lily.

"Did you have fun last night?"

"Of course! Studying is always fun, you know me."

She smiled. "Kipper?"

"Umm, no thank you."

She looked so pretty. He wished he could kiss her right then. But perhaps a dining hall crowded with Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs and Slytherins and Gryffindors wasn't the right place. Prefects should set examples after all.

"Where are Sirius and the others? Still sleeping?"

"Nah, they're coming down soon." James' mind went back to the problem of the day before- Sirius and Lily. There had to be some way that he could make them get along. Some way he could make things perfect.

Just then, the other three Marauders swarmed around, grabbing seats around him and Lily. She kept the smile on her face. Sirius looked suspiciously at the two of them. "What're you doing?"

"Just talking about last night. I do so love to study." Sirius snickered unkindly.

Lily ignored them and turned to Remus. "Are you all right? You don't still have that headache, do you?"

Remus was looking paler than yesterday morning, and was rubbing his head in a non-exasperated way. "Yeah," he mumbled. "But I'll be okay."

James frowned and exchanged a glance with Sirius. Lily got up. "Come on you guys, its almost time for class. You really got down here late today."

*****

Remus slept through the next two classes, and during lunch, the four of them gathered in an empty classroom. Peter didn't even complain, though he'd missed breakfast.

"It's just a headache."

"Are you sure you don't feel worse because of the hex?"

"Of course the hex made it worse."

"Wait, what?"

"I got hexed, and my head is killing me. It doesn't mean I'm still hexed, just that I was."

"Are you going to Madam Pomfrey?"

"Is that a good idea James?"

"I don't know, she could be able to tell you were hexed."

"I could tell her Sirius did it."

"I wish I knew if there was any way she could tell."

"It's only a headache anyway, maybe I'll just skip the next couple of classes."

"Without going to Pomfrey? You'll get a detention!"

"It's better than someone catching me sleeping. I'm just tired."

"I think you should go to Madam Pomfrey." Peter asserted.

"No, Peter, I'm fine."

"But what if you still have the hex on you?"

"He can't. I got it off. I mean… I must have. If it wasn't the Raegilus-nonus, or if my counter spell wasn't strong enough, it would have had no effect on him. But I broke the spell, so you're in no danger now."

"I don't know. He looks pretty bad."

"Remus, are you sure it's just a headache?" Remus sighed, and shrugged his shoulders.

"Alright… alright, listen. After class, we'll go to the library and find out as much as we can about the spell. If there's anything we missed, we'll be able to correct it."

"And Remus shouldn't go to Madam Pomfrey?"

"No," said Sirius. "We can't bring any adults into this. If they find out where we were last night, how we got there…"

James looked at Remus again, who met his gaze. I'm sure it's just a headache. It has to be, I know my counter-curse worked. And if it isn't, I'll figure it out when we get to the library. Everything will be fine; Sirius is right. We can't bring any adults into this. It would ruin everything. Remus looked tired, but cognizant. He lifted his eyebrow, and James nodded. Peter frowned.

*****

After class, James and Sirius headed to the library, as Peter went back to the dorms to check up on Remus. It took James two books and eight minutes to realize his mistake. He and Sirius rushed back to the dorms at top speed. When they got to the doorway of their room, they saw Aryeh peeking from behind their door. She quickly rushed back as they burst through. There, they saw Lily sitting on the bed next to an unconscious and very pale Remus.

"Is he breathing? Where's Peter!"

"Peter went for Madam Pomfrey."

"What happened?"

"It's my fault." James took his wand out, and held it over Remus as Sirius shut the door.

"Inraegiplovon-us!" Why hadn't he recognized the extra triangle of circles over the carving in the first place?

"Raegiplovo-nonus?" Lily gasped. "But… but-"

"What happened? What's going on?" Aryeh asked, as Remus started to stir.

"He's still in bad shape. He's burning up."

"What's going on?"

"Madam Pomfrey will be here soon."

*****

It was a close one, as Sirius said the next day. Madam Pomfrey immediately recognized the signs of the aftermath of a strong hex, but since James had broken it, she couldn't tell what kind, or where he had gotten it, so the secret was still safe. In fact, the teachers put a bit of pressure on the Slytherins for that, which they all would have enjoyed had things not been so serious.

Remus was fine after a couple of days. He didn't get detentions in any of the missed classes, so that was good too. James felt terrible about the curse- he hadn't recognized the advanced version, and felt he should have known about it. Remus said he was just glad James knew what to do, and suggested that the next time they used or came across unfamiliar spells, they try and learn about them sooner, rather than later. Sirius was angry at Peter for directing the girls upstairs as he ran for Pomfrey; Peter explained that said he didn't want to leave Remus alone. Sirius repented a little, and after a tense day, started acting differently towards Lily. A little more… accepting. After all, she had played a small role in their adventure, and was showing herself worthy.

Lily still didn't know about the Animagi, or the Forbidden Forest adventures, but James told her that Remus was a werewolf. It was very tense; Remus was still unavailable in the hospital wing, and didn't know Lily was being told, but she had recognized the spell, and James figured a werewolf was one of the tamer magical creatures covered. She accepted it well, was very open-minded, and didn't question them about their other activities, which might have had a part in Sirius' new attitude towards her.

Aryeh didn't recognize the spell, but it was one of the ones briefly reviewed in seventh year. She wasn't really a scholar, and wouldn't be one to look it up, but they would have to decide to whether or not to tell her the truth about him before then, on the off chance she should remember. No one really expected her to take it well, but it would go over better in a quiet area in a close group of friends, rather than in a classroom with a bunch of other students. They would have to make a decision about that.

James and Lily went out again, and this time James did not wait until Sirius was- or was pretending to be- asleep. Sirius made no mention. As they walked outside, James let the stresses of the previous couple of day pass out of him into the brisk night air. After all, hadn't everything worked out in the end? For some reason his mind went back to second year, when they had discovered Remus was a werewolf, the last time he had been so afraid for his friend. He almost wished he could tell Lily about the Animagus, tell her that he had figured a way to keep Remus from the worst horrors of being a werewolf, that she didn't have to worry about it that much. But the moment passed, and James kept his friend's secret. Instead, he concentrated on beautiful Lily.

"Don't stare like that, James."

"I'm sorry. You're just so incredible." She flushed.

"You're the incredible one, James. You're just so… I'm so lucky."

"I'm the lucky one, Lily." He pulled a lily, wrapped in white tissue, from under his robe.

"Oh," she whispered. "Oh James, it's just… you always know what to do."

And with the moonlight shining down on her perfect face, he leaned in and kissed her.

 

A/N Thanks as always to Zsenya, my wonderful, patient, and extremely timely beta-reader.

 

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