The Sugar Quill
Author: Mincot (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Ministry Christmas  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.

Disclaimer: I do not own JK Rowling’s characters or world. They are all hers. Dang it. I have used Angelus ad virginem and The Song of the Nuns of Chester as they appear in the Oxford Book of Carols, ed. Dearmer et. al., London: Oxford University Press, 1928, 1956, pp. 108, 140, respectively. The "translation" incident really happened. I WISH I had been the one to think it up! Mr Laufmann is taken, lock, stock, and bushy eyebrows, from the choirmaster at my grade school whose hair went white the year he shepherded the All-City Children's Choir through the "Blessed Boys" in Mahler's Eighth Symphony. Come to think of it, that was in 1973, too.

Author’s Note: This is just short plot-bunny, and I'm not sure this really is "my" childhood Sirius. However, the idea of Sirius as chorister and the thread about Sirius' character just happened to combine with a family story from when my mother was in choir in the 1940's. I had also been wondering about the Latin in many older carols, and what might happen if a wizard were to sing those verses. So after joining the thread about Remus/Sirius and music, I did some checking into when boys' voices break. Turns out that, with the proper training, they can keep singing long after their speaking voices break--up to around eighteen is the record, I think; Welsh treble Aled Jones was singing until he was at least sixteen and a half. For those of you who like wonderful musical jokes, check out the recording of Die Fledermaus that has Russian baritone Ivan Rebroff singing the (mezzo i.e. usually female) role of Count Orlofsky. In falsetto. I'm not kidding.




Christmas, 1994

The house was unusually quiet, at least for the day before Christmas. Remus and Sirius had both remained behind when the others went out for some last-minute Christmas shopping. Remus had claimed unfinished work that he wanted to finish before that night, and Sirius had simply shaken his head when Hermione had asked him if he wanted to come along to get out of the house for a bit. "Last-minute Christmas shopping was never my idea of fun, but it’s even worse if you spend all your time with your leash hooked to a post outside the shop."

Remus worked steadily throughout the afternoon. From the living room below he could hear Sirius playing the piano: Lars Erik Larsson's Winter's Tale. By four it had begun to snow lightly, and he listened with part of his mind to the whisper of flakes against the window as he wrote the conclusion to a report for Dumbledore. --Peaceful. If ever I needed a rationale for doing this work, it would be moments like these. He glanced at the file box where he was beginning to compile notes for a revised history of lycanthropy. --If I were writing something else, I could say it was even normal. He checked over the report, and then left the study, intending to give it to Sirius to read over before posting it.

Sirius had stopped playing and lay sprawled on the couch, paging through the Oxford Book of Carols. "Planning out carols for tonight?" Remus asked. "I'm afraid I've howled out whatever voice I used to have."

There was a glint in Sirius' eye that Remus knew spelled trouble. "Well, the husky sound is back in fashion, you know. Remember when your mother used to play these?" He held out the small red-bound book to Remus, who stared at it for a moment, and then giggled.

"The Nuns of Chester. I had forgotten that one. You know, my mother never did understand why neither of us could ever get through it without snickering. Did Nigel ever manage?"

Sirius shook his head.

"You know, Sirius, maybe we'd better not sing this one tonight. None of the kids needs a letter from the Ministry this Christmas."

"They wouldn't get one. You know, I could have killed my cousin. If it hadn't been for Mr Laufmann …." Sirius began, but then stopped himself and said, "He was cleaning out the stables for the rest of the holiday. Without magic. And he had to write an apology to Mr Laufmann, and my father took him to the Ministry, and made him explain." Then Sirius caught Remus' eye, and grinned. "It was clever, wasn't it?"


Christmas, 1973

Remus sat quietly in the cathedral nave, listening to the St. Albans' boys' choir rehearse their program of Christmas carols, their clear voices magnified by the cathedral's own size and power. They had almost finished the rehearsal, but the choirmaster was unsatisfied with the choir's balance and was taking them through the "Song of the Nuns of Chester" yet one more time.

Qui creavit coelum, Lully lully, lu

Nascitur in stabulo, By by by by by

The program was entitled "Carols: Medieval and Modern," and although Remus knew most of the popular Christmas carols, he had never heard of some of the ones on the program. He had really enjoyed Martin Shaw's "Merry Christmas," and planned to ask his mother to play it for him when he returned home. He had also interested to hear that Muggles knew one of his mother's favorites, Peter Warlock's "Balulalow."

Remus had been surprised that Sirius not only sang with the choir for the Christmas program, but was one of the treble soloists. "I'm really not a chorister any more, not since I started Hogwarts," Sirius had said on the first afternoon of Remus' visit. "But Mr Laufmann asked me to come back for the program this year because Kevin is in the Muggle hospital, and I don't think he trusts Nigel to sing much better than he looks. Anyway, I said yes before I knew that you could come for a visit. I hope you don't mind--it won't take too long." And then he had whispered fiercely, "And if you ever tell anyone, even James or Peter, I will tell Winifred Gaskill that you're mad keen about her."

Remus had laughed and assured Sirius that the secret was safe. --I know something about unmentionable secrets, after all.

"Tony says I sound like a girl, but he's just angry because last month I hexed his chess set so the players won't listen to him, and he hasn't been able to break the spell yet." Sirius had shaken his head and said, disgustedly, "And he's almost ready to graduate, too. --Hey, Moony, I'm late, where's my score?"

They found the black folder after tearing up Sirius' room completely -- it was downstairs on the piano bench -- and left for town.

Sitting in the cathedral for an hour or two a day was a small price to pay for being able to come to visit Sirius, even for a few days, Remus reflected. Sirius had stayed with his family for two weeks last summer, and he had returned the visit just before term began. Mrs. Black had asked if Remus would like to come stay for a week before Christmas. It was a new moon that week, and so Remus' parents had agreed to the visit as long as he was home for Christmas itself. The boys had spent much of their time roaming through the town, exploring the countryside, and seeing how many ways they could find to annoy Sirius' cousin Tony, who was also staying for Christmas. They had had a snowball fight near the old Roman wall, and two nights ago had had a close call when the night watchman had almost caught them as they flew up to the top of the Wallingford Clock to explore the clock mechanism. "I want to be able to come back here," he had whispered fiercely to Sirius, when they were putting their broomsticks away, and Sirius had shaken his head theatrically, "Moony, trust me: there is nothing you can do that my parents will not think is a good influence on me."

Rex qui regit seculum, Lully lully, lu …

Sirius had a clear voice, soft at its edges, and he sang simply, with his whole body at ease. Although he rolled his eyes at Remus sometimes when Mr Laufmann was not looking, Remus could tell that Sirius really enjoyed the music and treated it quite seriously. The other soloist, Nigel Bolton, was a tall, fair-haired boy, to whom Remus had taken an instant dislike. Despite Sirius' comments, Nigel sang as well as Sirius, but his voice had a harder tone, and when he sang he screwed up his face in what he probably thought was ecstasy. Remus thought he looked as if he needed to use the loo.

Joseph emit paniculum, lully lully lu

Mater involvit puerum, by by by by by…

Remus stopped studying Nigel's facial contortions when he noticed that Sirius was whispering something to Nigel during the chorus. Nigel looked puzzled, but sang the next line, and, as the full choir came in ("By by by by by … "), Sirius winked at Remus and whispered something else to Nigel. Before Remus knew, it, Nigel had let out a loud, braying guffaw and was leaning over the choir stall, helplessly laughing, while the rest of the choir looked around, puzzled, and then started to whisper and titter. Mr Laufmann rapped his baton on pew next to the organ, but nobody was paying attention. Remus noticed that Sirius stood perfectly still, but that his face held the studied innocence that he used whenever the Marauders had gotten into trouble last year.

At length Mr Laufmann grew tired of waiting for his soloist to sober up, and blared out the first measure of Personnent hodie, all stops open. Remus felt better about jumping in surprise when he noticed that the rest of the choir had done so as well, including Nigel Bolton. When there was silence, punctuated only by Nigel's sputtering laugh, Mr Laufmann said, his voice cool, "Perhaps, Mr Bolton, you would care to enlighten the rest of us about the joke?" Remus noticed that, although he glared at Nigel, he was also eyeing Sirius suspiciously.

Nigel had turned bright red with laughter, and choked out something incoherent.

"Or perhaps, since you seem to be overcome, Mr Black might deign to share it with us."

Sirius said, "I suggested an alternative translation, sir, for the beginning of verse two."

Mr Laufmann's thick black eyebrows rose dangerously. "And how else, pray, can one translate the phrase? 'Joseph bought bread, and the mother snugly wrapped up the child" is fairly unambiguous, would you not agree, Mr Black?"

"Yes, sir." Remus watched the scene with interest: Sirius's eyes were bright with mischief, and several members of the choir were giggling. Nigel had developed hiccoughs.

"And not particularly humorous, either, unless I am missing a popular joke about swaddling clothes?"

"No, sir." There it was again, that dangerous look. --Sirius, what are you up to?

"And you suggested this … alternative translation … exactly when, Mr Black?"

"It was, well, sort of a simultaneous translation, if you know what I mean, sir."

By this time Remus was laughing, too. Only Sirius could pull something like this and get away with it.

For a long moment Mr Laufmann looked at Sirius, and then exhaled sharply. "I see. What, then, is your translation, Mr Black?"

Sirius's face was now slightly pink, but he took a deep breath and sang, "Joseph pushed the panic button," and the entire choir, perhaps waiting for something like this, chimed in right on cue: "Lully, lully, lu!"

This time Mr Laufmann had to play a dissonant chord on the organ, full stops open, before he could restore order to the choir. His ears were bright red, but, as he left the organ pit and came around to face the choir, Remus noticed that he was trying hard to keep his expression sober.

"Well, Mr Black, although you are quite skilled at onomatopoeia, I am very much afraid that you are deficient in Latin," he said dryly, provoking a fresh wave of laughter from the choir members. "We will pick up here tomorrow, if you please. Mr Black, Mr Bolton, do try to work on your enunciation in the Geoffrey Shaw; please remember that "God is come to birth," not "God is come to burst." Speaking of enunciation, Mr Black, please refrain from re-translating "Angelus ad virginem" tomorrow; I want to get through rehearsal without incident. I want the altos to pay close attention to the drone in 'Balulalow;' I am still hearing several of you," here he looked very hard at selected members of the choir, who tried to appear invisible, "missing those accidentals. And all of you," he finished, cracking his baton for emphasis on the wood of the choir stall in front of him, "please remember that 'In the Bleak Midwinter' is a meditation, not an invitation to a snowball fight. Dismissed."

The choir scattered, the noise of their simultaneous motion amplified by the cathedral acoustics. Remus saw Mr Laufmann detain Sirius for a moment. Although he was shaking one finger at Sirius, the effect was spoiled by the smile that kept threatening to appear on his face. Sirius said something in return that caused Mr Laufmann to throw up his hands in mock annoyance, and then he ran down through the nave to meet Remus. "Ever since I learned that carol I've thought about Joseph's panic button," he said cheerfully as he came up even with Remus. "And I've been looking for something to get Nigel with. He is such a git. Told me once that he was the only serious singer the choir had ever produced."

They burst out of the cathedral doors, and headed down toward the Roman wall. "Does he always look that stupid when he sings?" Remus asked, making a mental resolution never to join a choir. --That's an easy promise, idiot, he told himself, --Even if there was a village choir, do you think they'd take you? Even as the words crossed his mind, however, he was pushing them away, and soon all was lost in the animal joy of racing down by the pond, skating on the slick, icy snow, nearly falling into the pond and disturbing the swans.

After an hour or so, they flopped down on the ground to rest for a bit, and Sirius checked his watch. The light had gone soft and fleecy as the afternoon had worn on, and a raw wind had begun to push its way through the park. "We've still got about an hour before we have to be home," Sirius said. "I don't know about you, Moony, but I'm getting cold."

"That's because you're sitting in the snow, you prat," Remus replied, and scrambled to his feet, extending his had to help Sirius up. "Look, isn't that Muggle bookstore you told me about--the one with the great chemistry section--around here somewhere?" They headed back toward the Cathedral, intending to cut through the close and onto the High Street. Just before they reached the cathedral school, Sirius stopped, his face slightly pale. "Sirius? You okay?" Remus asked.

"Nothing. Just felt dizzy there for a minute," Sirius said after a minute. "Must be the sheer joy of Nigel's singing." He began walking toward the Cathedral again.

"Maybe one of the girls got your cousin to hex the Santa Snot we made last night."

"Bad move, if they did," Sirius grinned. "I still have some more Blinking Bugs that need a good home. In, say, their beds … "

As they reached the cathedral, however, the boys checked their speed. "What's that?" Remus whispered, pointing at the boxlike vehicle with the flashing lights that had pulled up at the south portal. Several Muggles in police uniform stood near the entrance.

"It's an ambulance. To get Muggles to their healers as quickly as they can go. I hope it isn't Mr Laufmann; Mum said he hadn't been well this term," Sirius replied, frowning a little, and started toward the entrance. Remus snatched at Sirius' coat-sleeve as several Ministry officials Apparated near the entrance, out of the direct line of sight of the loitering police. "What are they doing here?" Sirius hissed.

They glanced at each other, and without another word slipped out of sight. Sirius headed toward a small side door. "This way, Moony, this gets us into the organ loft."

When they reached the organ loft and found a spot where they could peer over the railing at the church below, they found utter mayhem. Many of the stone sculptures were moving. Mary was rocking her Child, and Joseph ineffectually tried to fend off the plaster and pβpier-machι stable animals brought in as part of the Cathedral Nativity display. Some of the more elaborate Victorian angel sculptures wriggled madly, trying to free themselves from the stone support pillars. The three Wise Men were chasing several elderly Muggle women through the nave, shouting that they had nicked the casket of gold. One of the young priests had fainted and was surrounded by several Muggles, who were fanning him with their hats, while an elderly verger stared at the Madonna with a shining expression of wonder. Mr Laufmann had arranged several angels in a line, and was trying to get them to sing in tune.

Sirius jogged Remus' elbow, and Remus looked up where Sirius was pointing. The figures in several of the stained glass windows were flowing into shimmering blurs of light in the air, and were slowly sinking down toward the nave.

Remus caught Sirius' eye, and they both began to snicker. "Brilliant!" Sirius said. "Look at Dean Horgath's face!" The Dean was frantically trying to keep the stone donkey from nibbling at the stone greenery.

The Ministry officials, having finished outside, now charged into the Cathedral proper and began setting the statues back in their places and calming the Muggles. The boys began to edge backwards, quite slowly, and at length were safely outside the Cathedral. Once they reached the gate to the High Street, Remus let out a whoop. "Did you see those angels?"

"Pity the Ministry'll put Memory Charms on everyone; I can just hear Mr Laufmann telling us that those angels sing better than we do. Making them sing, that's just him!"

They headed up the steep street toward the old town center, the bookstore visit forgotten. "And the animals, and Joseph. He sure was emitting panic! And those old ladies and the Wise Men …"

"They're part of the Altar Guild; they always have their meetings on Thursday afternoons," Sirius said. "And they're always telling me to be quiet and respectful."

They reached the Clock Tower. To its left stood a dilapidated pub, the Crossed Wands, that remained completely unnoticed by the crowds of Muggle shoppers and tourists. Remus had not had a chance to look at the pub properly that afternoon, when they had come through the pub on their way to the Cathedral, and he hoped to stay and get some Butterbeer or hot chocolate. However, when Sirius pushed open the door, Aelfric Ames, the barman, just pointed solemnly to the clock hanging above the fireplace which showed just past five, and mouthed, "Your -- mother -- says -- you're -- late." Sirius nodded, still chuckling, and steered Remus to the fireplace.

They spilled out into Sirius' parents' living room, still chattering about the events in the Cathedral, and were just brushing the soot from their clothes when they heard a cough behind them. Spinning, they saw Sirius' father standing near the couch, looking grim. "Sit down, you lot," Mr Black said, in a tone that brooked no argument. Sirius and Remus exchanged glances, surprised, and complied. Sirius' parents were quite strict about dinnertimes and curfews, but from experience Remus knew that five minutes' delay was not cause for such a reaction.

Sirius had clearly summed up the emotional weather in the room, and just as clearly was completely perplexed. "Dad, I'm sorry we were late, but you should have seen the fuss … "

Mr Black cut him off. "I know about it, Sirius, and I must say that I am disappointed." He held out a letter that bore the Ministry of Magic's letterhead. "This arrived half an hour ago. What were you two thinking?"

Remus stared. Surely Mr Black didn't think that he and Sirius …. --Well, it is the sort of thing he'd do … except he didn't. He felt an acid curl of worry deep in his chest. --What if …

Beside him, Sirius looked outraged. "Dad--I didn't do anything. Neither did Remus."

"I'm afraid the Improper Use of Magic Office differs with your story, Sirius; Remus, we are checking with your parents." --How could they? We didn't do anything!

"It's true, sir," Remus protested, caught between indignation and shame. While he did not mind in the slightest owning up to something he had done, being accused of something he had not--and something of this magnitude--stung. --Dad is going to be really mad. "We didn't do anything. We know we're not supposed to do any magic outside school."

"Remus is right," Sirius added earnestly. "Dad, you know I wouldn't do anything like that to Mr Laufmann. He doesn't have a strong heart, you said so yourself last term."

Remus had a sudden memory of Mr Laufmann delightedly teaching the angels to sing. Somehow he doubted that Mr Laufmann would suffer from this prank. --It was funny, though. Abruptly he wished that his father were here, after all. --Dad would get a real laugh out of it, after he got over being mad. --Where are they? They should have gotten here by now. Another thought suddenly revived his misery. --Unless they're really furious …

Mr Black was shaking his head. "I don't know about that, Sirius. I think you tend to play the joke first, and think about the consequences later--if at all." He sighed heavily. "And this was not just a prank. It was more than a little malicious, and I will not have that from my own son. Some of the ladies on that Altar Guild are in poor health, Sirius! A shock like that could have killed them on the spot, before anyone could have reached them. This is something you must learn to understand, to tell the line between mischief and dangerous ideas before you or someone else gets hurt. I cannot let this one go, Sirius. Now, the Ministry has managed to remove all your mobilius charms, and has successfully modified the memories of almost everyone in the church. The one Muggle immune to memory charms is convinced that he saw a private, miraculous vision. Which means that neither of you are facing expulsion, for which you both should be very grateful." Mr Black turned to face Remus. "I'm also sorry to have to say that, under the circumstances, Remus, Anne and I feel that it would be more appropriate for you to return home this evening. Perhaps some time apart will make you both appreciate the real dangers in what you've done."

"We didn't do anything," Sirius repeated, face and tone mutinous. Remus suspected that Sirius was hiding as bad a case of the miserables as he had himself. --It was such a great day, and it's all gone bad. "Dad, have I ever lied when you've caught me out in something?"

"Until today, Sirius, I would have said no, unhesitatingly, but after today I am not as sure."

Remus swallowed. Mr Black's voice had gone flat, distant. --Just shut up, Sirius, he's made up his mind and you can't argue him out of it. He kicked Sirius' ankle, but Sirius ignored him and continued to protest. At length Sirius gave up and sat slumped back on the couch.

The doorbell rang.

Mr Black surveyed the boys critically, and then said, "Go upstairs to your room, boys. I'll bring some sandwiches up in a short while. Remus, please be ready to go after dinner." He turned toward the entrance hallway. Sirius and Remus rose, subdued, and headed for Sirius' room.

Sirius' face was set, his lips slightly white. "Your dad'll listen, Sirius, when he's not so mad," Remus said as they climbed the staircase. "You've said he usually does."

"How do I convince him we didn't do anything this time?"

As they reached Sirius' room they heard Mr Black calling them. Returning to the living room, they found Mr Laufmann standing beside the fire, holding Sirius' score in his gloved hands. Remus looked sidelong at Sirius, who shrugged slightly.

Mr Laufmann looked at them, his eyes twinkling. "I have just been speaking to your father about the interesting events in the Cathedral this afternoon." Ignoring the look of surprise on both boy's faces, he continued, "No, Sirius, I'm not a wizard, but my wife Herrad was a witch. She is long dead, and I have put your world behind me. Until today, of course."

Sirius' face was white. "Mr Laufmann, I didn't … " he began, but the choirmaster cut him off.

"We were both very young, of course, and I had no talent whatever. Still, she spelled me with enough ability to recognize magical traps when I saw them … we were both in the Resistance, you see …. But I am digressing; please forgive an old man's wanderings. When you are my age, sometimes the past is a far gentler place than the present." He stopped for a moment, and then continued, "You left your music behind in the choir loft, young man, and I must confess I found it … interesting enough that I thought your father should see it."

Remus looked warily at Mr Laufmann. Beside him he felt Sirius shuffle his feet, and he willed Sirius to remain silent. --What now?

The choirmaster had handed the score to Mr Black, who took out his wand and ran it slowly across the score. In several places the wand let out brilliant white sparks, too bright for Remus to look at directly. After a few moments, Mr Black muttered, "Of course … of course …. subintrans in conclave … tu porta coeli facta …. Ne timeas, sed gaudeas … et cupiens videre … " Finally, Mr Black looked at the two boys. To Remus' very great relief, Mr Black's voice was lighter, and Remus saw that the suspicion and sorrow had left Mr Black's features.

"Sirius, did you feel anything unusual this afternoon, after choir practice?"

Sirius shook his head, clearly puzzled and apparently still too angry to respond to his father's changing mood, but Remus nodded. "Yes, you did, Sirius you came over funny for a moment when we came up to the Cathedral. It was just for a moment, sir," he added, turning toward Mr Black, "And he was just fine afterwards."

"No, that fits." Mr Black returned to his examination of the score, running his wand down each page in turn. "Det nobis sua gaudia … " After a moment he put his wand back in his pants belt. "Harlan, do you have another score that Sirius can use for the performance? I'm afraid I need to send this one to the Improper Use of Magic Office."

Mr Laufmann nodded. "I assume that that was what I thought it was?"

"Indeed it was." Mr Black turned to the boys. "Sirius, Remus, I owe you both an apology. You were both telling the truth, at least as you knew it, and I should have understood that. Remus, I will of course explain to your parents, and if the Improper Use of Magic Office sent your parents a letter, I will have the Ministry remove this letter from your record. Although," he said with a faint smile, "I think that, if your father had gotten one of these, he would have been here by now!"

Sirius remained angry, although Remus noted that the set of his jaw had relaxed somewhat. "What do you mean, 'we were telling the truth as we knew it'? Dad, we didn't lie … "

"No, Sirius, you didn't. But you did perform magic." He held up a hand to check Sirius' protest, and then asked the boys to sit beside him on the couch. Mr Laufmann took the easy chair near the fire, and the boys watched, fascinated, as Mr Black spread out the musical score on his lap. Most of the sheets, Remus noticed for the first time, were hand-written mimeographs. When Mr Black touched the lyrics for "Angelus ad virginem," several phrases leapt into blazing white life. "I know you both like reading history, so you boys know by now that ancient languages--Aramaic, Coptic--and later languages such as Persian, Greek or Latin were used as the basis of spells. Most Muggles have no trouble saying Latin spells aloud, of course, as they have no wands and no innate magical talent. A Muggle could bellow even some of the nastiest Dark hexes at the top of his lungs, and nothing would happen. Wizards might have a little more trouble, though, particularly with some of the phrases that are actually spells," he touched his wand to the paper in several places, and the words again glowed brightly, "but unless they were focusing their power through their wands … unless they intended the words to act as spells--little or nothing would happen."

Sirius was still frowning, but now Remus recognized the look Sirius wore when he was trying to figure out the logic behind a charm or when he was exploring a particularly tough issue in DADA. "So you're saying that, despite that, we did make something happen …. I made something happen … by singing the Latin carols?"

"How would that work, Mr Black?" Remus asked. "Sirius didn't have his wand out, and I wasn't even carrying mine."

Mr Laufmann leaned forward and looked at the score. "Here, in "Angelus," it is possible that the choir itself acted as an amplifier for young Mr Black's natural talents. And in "Chester," as well, particularly given the … specific … nature of the manifestation we saw."

"That's true," Mr Black agreed, "But it should not have been enough to create all that I hear happened."

Sirius, still frowning, said, slowly, "Dad, I did play a trick on Nigel today. Without magic! I wanted to get him to crack up while singing, so I ….uh …," He started to grin, first reluctantly, and then without reservation. "I gave him a fake translation of the lyrics."

Mr Laufmann began to chuckle, a deep, rumbling bass. "You should have been there, Orion, it was priceless."

Rather warily, Mr Black asked Sirius what he had said, and Sirius told him. Remus was quite surprised to find that Mr Black could laugh as heartily as his own father did, particularly because while Mr Black had always been kind to him, Remus had never before thought that he had much of a sense of humor. "Oh, dear, Sirius, that explains the way Joseph was being mobbed by the stable animals …. " He sobered a little, and then said, "But although I'm sure your intention added a certain--flavour--to the proceedings, it still would not have set off any inherent spells."

"So what happened?" Sirius asked.

Mr Laufmann took the score from Mr Black's lap, and turned the pages until he came to the first sheet. On the facing page was a brief, handwritten note in a spiky hand. "Here, I think, although I cannot see it. I always write a memorandum showing how I adapted the arrangments."

"And that would be a perfect place to set an amplification spell that could be triggered by inherent magical ability," Mr Black finished. He looked more carefully at the lettering, and his eyes narrowed. "An as-good-as signed spell that is beyond even your abilities as yet, Sirius."

Remus glanced behind Mr Black's back at Sirius, whose face glowed with a combination of relief and satisfied mischief. "Tony!" Sirius mouthed.

Mr Black stood up suddenly, and turned to help Mr. Laufmann rise to his feet. "I think that it is time for us to speak with young masters Penrose about their taste in pranks." Remus was suddenly very glad that he wasn't Tony, judging by his own feelings this last hour. Then Mr Black looked over at the boys. "All right, you two, off to the kitchen. And, Sirius, if your mother isn't there, please make sure that the kitchen is at least tidy when you leave it." Sirius nodded, hesitated; then lightly grasped his father's forearm and said, "Thanks, Dad." He walked from the room, and Remus followed a heartbeat later. Remus thought that he would have hugged his own father, but, somehow, despite his laughter, Mr Black did not seem like a man that hugged easily.

In the hallway, Sirius echoed Remus' earlier thoughts. "I'm so glad I'm not Tony. Or Norman; this had to have been set here, and Norman's the only one who could have done it."

"I didn't think he was that creative," Remus said, and then added, as something else occurred to him, "Your dad said that spell was as good as signed. You don't think …. Well, maybe that someone set him up for this, do you?"

Sirius replied lightly, although Remus saw that his eyes still looked a little sad, "Nah: I think they were just being stupid. I bet they didn't know what would happen at all."

A smile tugged at the corner of Remus' mouth. "I really liked the Wise Men."

"And Mr. Laufmann's angels."

"You think Nigel's going to be able to get through that carol without losing it?" Remus asked slyly.

"Nope," Sirius said, with satisfaction, as they stepped into the empty kitchen. "Hey, Remus, I've got this great idea what to do to his bed tonight."

"It'd be better to wait a while, you know," Remus answered. He looked up as Mrs Black hurried into the room, and then poked Sirius in the back. "Think how much more you can do to him at school."

They lost themselves in dinner, and cheerfully tumbled explanations for Sirius' mother, who also reassured Remus that he would not be in any trouble at home, and sometime between the roast beef sandwiches and the chocolate ice cream, Remus suggested sweetly that Sirius should sing "The Song of the Nuns of Chester" for his mother, and Sirius suggested that Remus could just lose the next wrestling match which he proposed to have right there and then, and Mrs Black was laughing, and it was Christmas again.

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