The Sugar Quill
Author: Mincot (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Conversation Piece  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.

Conversationsq

Disclaimer: I do not own JK Rowling’s characters or world. They are all hers. Dang it.

Author’s Note:Although this story does not explicitly belong to any AU, I have been completely convinced by Thing1's sophisticated world (thank you! How DO you write surrounded by medical students?????), and I tried to write this so that it would not conflict with any events in her fics.

Conversation Piece

The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Remus leaned back against the wall of the abandoned granary. For several moments he relished just being still, but soon enough the restlessness of a day spent in continual motion caught up with him. Wearily he reached for his rucksack, and pulled out the small propane tank and backpackers' stove, wishing heartily that he could heat the water for his and Sirius' tea magically, without the bother and delay. He and Sirius had spent the better part of a soggy, chill July day working their way toward the apparently derelict farmhouse reputed to be a new gathering place for Death Eaters. What had started as a simple reconnaissance trip had rapidly become something far more potentially dangerous. The level of warding surrounding the farmhouse was far too extensive for a simple meeting place. They had already encountered at least two layers of protection, one ringing the perimeter, and another highly complex and nasty layer at edge of the clearing in which the house stood. Remus and Sirius had agreed that, under the circumstances, using any magic, however minor, could alert whoever was using the house. --Or trigger some booby trap we haven't yet found. I don't even want to think about what's been cast on the house itself. Why can't Death Eaters ever meet any place comfortable, like the local Muggle pub? Even if we noticed them there at all, which is unlikely, we'd be much more comfortable watching them. Of course, Death Eaters wouldn't have anything to do with Muggles; we're out of luck there …

Sighing, he edged back outside the granary and settled beside Sirius, who was hidden in a clump of bushes near the entrance, maintaining the watch on the house. It lay in a little clearing slightly downhill from them. "Anything yet?"

"We know they're supposed to be here today, but so far there's nothing. I've been sitting here, trying to come up with reasons why I'm not just sitting watching an abandoned, derelict farmhouse without any Death Eaters currently in it. There's nothing that I can see from here, anyway. Not even with these." He waved a small pair of Omnioculars in the direction of the house. "But there has to be something, Moony. We're going to have to try to get closer soon." Remus could hear the frustration in Sirius' voice, mirroring his own. Sirius continued, "And then there's whatever there is on the house itself. Furthermore, I have no clue what at least one of those spells does, and I really don't like the idea of just going away and trying again later; we might lose contact with this lot. And if that wasn't enough, we're still going to have to watch all night."

Reluctantly, Remus found himself grinning. Despite Sirius' complaints, he sounded the way he always did when planning some completely impossible prank. "Right. You've only been carping for the last two weeks about 'stupid Death Eaters who don't show any imagination in their spells,' and 'guess it's going to be the same boring old stakeout this time, and why don't these people ever try something different,' and 'how did this lot manage to pass Flitwick's class their first year?' … "

Sirius gave a remarkably good imitation of Padfoot's low growl.

"...And of course, there's my personal favorite," Remus continued, elbowing Sirius lightly, "'First they'd have to figure out what their wand arms are for.' You know, Padfoot, even wizards have to be careful what they wish for."

"Steam. As in letting it off, Moony." Sirius looked over at Remus, and in the pale moonlight Remus noticed the look of friendly exasperation on Sirius' face. "Speaking of steam, there's no chance of tea yet, is there? It is going to be a long night."

"In a bit. We have to wait for that contraption to heat the water first. Don't worry," he added, seeing Sirius' sharp look, "the light can't be seen outside the granary; I checked."

Sirius nodded and relaxed, pulling his cloak more tightly around himself. In the pale early evening moonlight--waxing gibbous, Remus thought automatically, five more days until it is full--Sirius' expression had turned speculative. "Of course," he said, "I wasn't the one making up rude songs about that last lot of Death Eaters. Nor was I the one writing disgusted letters to Harry, Ron, and Hermione that the nincompoops obviously hadn't even paid attention in DADA …"

Remus carefully kept his expression neutral. --I had to give him an opportunity, didn't I? A long wakeful night with nothing to do but talk and speculate, and I just couldn't leave well enough alone. He rummaged around for some sort of diversion. Something that he had wanted to ask Sirius earlier, on the hike up to the granary…what was it? Before he focused so intently on sidling through the wards without alerting their makers. Gone now. No chance of getting up to get tea. The water had not had time to boil--he had put enough water on to fill both mugs and the Thermos he had brought. Wait--was that action at the house? --No, just faint moon-shadows. --Waxing gibbous … five more days …

"….and saying that if Muggle dogs could talk, they'd make better spell casters than this lot … "

--Yes. His earlier question focused, became clear, along with both his earlier annoyance and amusement. Remus thought he could hear an almost audible click as he remembered. -- It is going to be a long night. But it's good to have you back, Padfoot. I've missed the fun … and I mean to make up for lost time. "I stand corrected, Padfoot," he began, but Sirius interrupted him.

"Sit. You sit corrected."

Remus glared in mock annoyance and said in as severe a tone as he could muster, "That was old when we were twelve, Sirius. But just so. I sit corrected. We are both obnoxious gits." Sirius returned the elbow jog, and Remus amended, "Highly vocal obnoxious gits. Speaking of whom," he said, trying to suppress the grin that was now threatening to reappear on his face, "What were those obnoxious gits saying to you earlier?"

Clearly startled by the change in topic, Sirius asked warily, "Which ones?"

"The ones on that last farm. The bitty, yappy four-footed ones?" Remus gave up trying to conceal his grin. "You know, I've never heard you bark at other dogs before, Padfoot. Let alone put on the show you did. They must have said something really irritating."

Sirius shook his head and laughed. "Dogs just make noise when they're barking. At most they communicate dominance, threat, fear, affection.… I was trying to get them to shut up; I was afraid the little yappers would give us away." Sirius shuddered theatrically. "Remember Mrs. Abernathy, that Muggle woman who moved into the estate gatehouse in our third year? Kept a Cairn terrier that never shut up. Drove me dotty, because all that summer I couldn't get past the place without the damn dog sounding off, and I couldn't sneak off the grounds any other way without setting off my father's wards."

Remus grinned more widely, as he recognized the look that Sirius had so often given his teachers when he wanted to divert them from a sensitive topic. --And a very lame explanation. We were two miles away from the warding boundary. Your turn to think of a diversion, old friend. I am so glad you're back. Lots of luck-- this is going to be fun. "Set them specifically for you that summer, did he?"

"Well, no." Sirius glanced sidelong at Remus, and grinned. "Well, actually, yes. I think it was the time he got a simultaneous visit from the librarian, the apothecary, and the Muggle harbormaster that did it." He laughed at Remus' expression, this time a bit ruefully. "We were rather embarrassed, I can tell you. James and I spent the weekend in the library, shelfreading--what a snore--and all next week scrubbing down every inch of that bloody boat and repainting the decking. Without magic, of course. You were lucky your parents had grounded you that week, after all."

--All right, let him think his diversion has worked. "So how did you finally get past the Terrible Terrier?"

Sirius growled again, evidently remembering a summer's worth of humiliation. "Three guesses, and the first two don't count."

"I assume you used one of Lily's Spellkeys and a version of the tacere spellfamily. How on earth did you attach it?"

---------------

Lily had discovered the Spellkey in their fourth year. Like most Marauder discoveries, the Spellkeys had begun with a simple question. The fourth-year Gryffindors had just finished a section on charming inanimate objects. After Lily had asked several questions about the implications of such charms, Professor Flitwick had spent some time discussing more advanced theories, including how to construct Portkeys. "You won't learn the translocation or attaching spells until your seventh year, of course; they're far too complex," Professor Flitwick concluded his lecture. "But that, Miss Evans, is how you do it." He stopped for a minute, raised himself as high on his book-laden chair as he could, and looked as sternly as possible at James, Remus, and Sirius. "In theory. Any further questions before class is dismissed?"

Most of the class began to shuffle their books, quills, and parchment into bookbags and satchels, but Lily put up her hand again. "Professor, could the same theory of attachment be applied to any spell, or is it limited to travel spells?"

Flitwick beamed. "Yes, Miss Evans, it can. But that is also a much more advanced topic, and is … well, rather discouraged, I'm afraid. There have been regrettable incidents when the enchanted object was not used correctly or fell into Muggle hands. And of course, these objects should never be used for Muggle baiting." Flitwick had begun to squeak as he tried to become more forceful, and he smiled apologetically at the class as he said, "I'm sorry to have kept you late. Now go on, all of you; you'll be late to your next classes."

As the class filtered out of the room, Lily walked up to Professor Flitwick's desk. "Sir? Does the Ministry track attached spells? You know, the way they appear if someone mis-uses magic or if, well," she added, blushing, "an underage student uses magic outside Hogwarts? I mean, these charmed objects could be dangerous."

Flitwick smiled at her, his eyes twinkling merrily. "I heard that those teacups made lovely rats, though." Lily blushed some more, and Flitwick added, "The ministry tracks wizards by age, not by spell--heavens, it would be simply impossible to track every single spell! There are a few categories of spell, however, that are rare enough to attract the Ministry's attention if not performed by people licensed to do so--Apparation, for example. In the case of a Portkey, the Ministry doesn't track who uses it. Many parents find them the safest way to transport younger children over long distances, you know."

She laughed. "My parents are Muggles, and this is the first time I had heard to such things. Thank you, Professor Flitwick."

Outside, in the hallway, Remus, Sirius, and James were waiting for her. "Brilliant," said James, grinning broadly. "I can think of all sorts of uses for enchanted objects, if we find out how to attach the spells to them."

"Oh, we will," said Sirius, glowering slightly. He looked straight at James. "I can think of a certain canine at home that could receive some attention. And when did "too advanced" ever stop us, anyway?"

Lily looked at Remus, puzzled, and he looked back with what he hoped was a mystified expression on his face as they began to hurry toward the greenhouses. He knew that the others had not told her about their experiments with the Animagus charm, but he still felt that distraction was necessary. "James stayed with Sirius for over a week last summer, but they didn't tell me about whatever this is," he whispered, and Lily grinned. "I don't think, though, that I really want to know."

They had mastered the attachment charm by the end of the year, and had manufactured a number of what they had named Spellkeys. "It's pointless making Portkeys," Peter had said, and Remus and James had agreed. "We can always fly or use the Floo network." Sirius had said nothing, but had stopped researching translocation spells and instead turned his attention to time-delay charms, which they used several times that year to great effect. After some mishaps--Peter had forgotten that his green quill had both sublevate capillae and inicere woade attached to it and spent the day covered in blue mud with his short hair in spiky bristles before they could find the counter-charm--each had in his or her trunk several carefully wrapped Spellkeys as they separated for the summer at King's Cross.

---------------

In the chill, damp evening, Sirius paused for a moment. "Didn't I tell you … ?" His sentence trailed off as he glanced at Remus, who shook his head.

"You just told us that you had gotten past the dog, but, for once, weren't forthcoming with details. I wondered; we had delay timers on all the Spellkeys, of course, to let us handle them … " Sirius grimaced, and Remus wondered if he were remembering Peter's quill. "But it would affect only the collar if you attached it that way and, last I heard, collars don't bark."

Sirius huddled back into his cloak. --Time to check that water, Remus thought, but before he could get up, Sirius said, "I bought a packet or two of biscuits last time I was at Honeydukes, plain ones with no flavor or effects spells. I put a time-delay on them as well as tace voce, and when I needed to, I tossed one to the damn mutt. Usually I had enough time to get back without using another biscuit. The spell stopped working when he had digested and … eliminated."

Remus smirked. "And you found out that last piece of information exactly how? On second thought, never mind; I really don't want to know." He paused, and then said, innocently, "Did you ever forget and eat one of the biscuits?" Sirius glared at him, which made Remus laugh even harder as he scrambled up and went back into the granary to check on the water temperature. After filling two mugs with water and teabags, he poured the rest of the water into a Thermos. --Some Muggle items are dead useful when you can't use magic. Remus put more water on the tiny stove and added the lentil-dried tomato concoction that was one of his favorite hiking dry soup mixes. Hooking the small bag of dried fruit with his little finger, he maneuvered both mugs outside, careful not to let what any light escape.

Sirius sat quietly, sipping his tea, watching the farm-house. "Do you know if there's any way in or out of the farmhouse other than the doors? There's a lot of surface cover, but--" He looked sidelong, apologetically, at Remus, "this close to the full moon you could at least see sustained movement. But if there's an underground entrance--a tunnel, maybe, running from one of the outbuildings.… "

"It would have to run an awfully long way, I think, and this was never close to a main road. But we should check tomorrow; we were so busy just getting in tonight that I didn't even consider the possibility." He handed Sirius the bag of fruit.

They scanned the farm's layout, but neither one could see a likely spot for a tunnel opening that would provide any better cover than the farmhouse itself. Remus' thoughts began to wander back to his earlier question. "Several other dogs barked at us as we were hiking in, and you didn't bark at them. And don't give me that "trying to conceal our presence" nonsense. We were on a public hiking trail at least two miles away from here."

---------------

They had Apparated several miles away from the farmhouse, and had spread out their topographical maps to find the least noticeable approach to the farm-house. "Lucky for us a Muggle hiking-path runs along here," Remus had said, running his finger along the map. It could be comical to watch Padfoot follow his motion, and Remus smiled. "We'll have to leave it and hike the last half-mile cross-country, but most people won't give us a second glance." Remus glanced down at Padfoot, who thumped his tail in agreement. By now they had gained an impressive array of Muggle hiking clothes and gear, for they never knew when using even simple camping spells might be dangerous. The propane tank and featherlight burner were Remus' most recent acquisition, and he was very pleased with the prospect of having at least some hot food that night.

Remus folded the map, placed it in the chest pocket of his anorak. As they started down the trail, he said, "I got another camping catalog from the States. It had all sorts of supplies for people who like to go hiking with their pets." He ignored Padfoot's glare. "It showed a wonderful contraption that could fit over your back and let you carry your fair share of camping equipment."

Padfoot huffed, and trotted silently ahead, his leash trailing behind him.

"And there were little canvas boots to wear to protect Paddy's delicate feet. Muttluks."

Padfoot ignored him. Remus reflected that both cats and dogs had the devastating ability to let you know exactly how they felt by the set of their ears and the look of their backs. Deciding that silence might be the better part of valor--after all, he had no clue how long he and Sirius might have to stay on duty--Remus smiled and decided to enjoy the walk.

The trail alternated between wild riverbank and settled farmyards. As they approached the first farmhouse they'd seen, a pair of lean Australian shepherds exploded from a shed, barking frenziedly at Remus and Padfoot. Padfoot growled but remained silent. Picking up Padfoot's lead with one hand, Remus took out his wand with the other and silenced the barking just before an older man emerged from the shed, shouting to the dogs.

"Eh up! Jinx, Joker, get tha'selves back." He glanced at Remus, and came over to the fence dividing his property from the right-of-way. "Now tha' mun be a reet odd feller," he said reflectively, "or tha' dog mun be summat special. Jinx an' Joker canna stop bellin' an' they see other dogs on path."

Remus smiled, casually fingering his wand, ready to cast a memory charm if necessary. "My dog sometimes has that effect on others," he said. "He is very large, as you see."

The farmer eyed Padfoot appraisingly. "Aye, that he is, but Ah don't reckon tha'd make a good herd dog of yon beast without a reet amount of sweat." He looked back at Remus. "Where is tha' heading?"

Remus silently blessed his map study. "There's a campground some miles up the road," he replied. "Padfoot here and I are taking a long weekend."

"Aye, well, tha's in good company along th' trail. Bit mucky this weekend, tha' think? But then," he added, eyeing Remus again, "I would bet tha' works in town, an' tha' time inner tha' own." Seeing Remus' nod, the farmer chuckled. "Then on tha' way, lad. Have a good tramp." Remus had nodded and tugged at Padfoot's leash. They continued down the trail. As he walked, Remus felt the farmer's gaze squarely between his shoulder blades, but also felt relieved that he had not had to explain a memory charm to the Ministry.

He jumped as the farmer called out behind him, "Eh up!" Turning around, he saw the farmer nodding his head. "Tha's got a good name there for a reet good walking dog."

Remus managed to wave, and continued walking. After they were out of earshot, he muttered to Padfoot, "I didn't think of that. With the hiking trail here, people must be used to having their dogs bark. I think I'll just let them bark next time; sorry, Padfoot." Padfoot gave him a disgusted glance but wagged his tail.

 

They passed the next few farmyards along the trail without incident, although one yard held a shaggy Newfoundland who growled fiercely at them as they walked past the fence. Remus began to relax into the quiet of the afternoon, the rhythm of steady walking at an easy pace, the feel of the trail under his hiking boots and the weight of the pack on his back. Even the intermittent drizzle did not bother him; it was light enough that he found it refreshing. For a little while, before they hit the wards guarding the Death Eaters' camp, he could simply walk. He knew that, even with the shelter of the granary, he would be cold and wet that evening, and that the pleasure of the walk would have faded into stiff muscles and grimy, grainy dampness, but at the moment he didn't much care. --Okay, so I'm going to be miserable and want my own fire and my own bed later, he thought. --I'm going to be miserable no matter how I feel now, so I might as well enjoy the walk now.

His thoughts were interrupted by a fusillade of sharp, short barks from a mass of dogs barrelling toward the fence at top speed, and he started as Padfoot jerked the leash from Remus' hand and arrowed forward. Remus eyed the dog pack warily. As best he could tell, there were at least four West Highland White terriers, three Cairns, and a slightly out of place wire-haired terrier that made up in vocality what it lacked in symmetry. The dogs roiled over one another, barking with the steady relentlessness that marked terriers intent on having their say. Abruptly, Padfoot began to bark in a staccato baritone.

"Padfoot! What are you doing?" Remus hissed, and made a grab for the leash. Padfoot jumped forward, sliding the leash beyond Remus' grasp, and continued barking in return, so continuously that he was almost baying in fury. Remus thought he could detect a surprised, almost hysterical note in Padfoot's voice, and he made another grab for the leash. Catching it, he slipped his hand through the leather loop at the leash's end and wrapped it securely once around his wrist for good measure. He was surprised at the sheer strength it took to drag Padfoot away from the fence, still barking frantically and scrabbling with his feet to get away from Remus, back to the fence. Only when Remus had hauled Padfoot well out of sight of the farmyard, around a sharp bend and into a low-growing copse of trees did Padfoot stop straining at the leash and begin walking more normally.

"What the hell was that all about?" Remus demanded, glaring at Padfoot, who looked rather contrite. He looked around. The thick trees and undergrowth shielded them from any unwanted eyes; still, Remus dragged Padfoot deeper into the copse by his collar, but before he could continue, Padfoot shook himself, yawned hugely in Remus' face and started back toward the hiking trail.

--I get the picture. You're not going to talk about it. Okay, boyo, just wait 'til tonight. As he followed, Remus had to admit that it really was rather funny, now that his initial surprise was fading. As he followed after Padfoot, he even found himself giggling softly, thinking of ways to tell Harry about this trip.

When they reached the wards surrounding the farmhouse, far earlier than either had expected, Remus was caught up in the challenge of working his way through a set of spells far more complex than he had envisioned, and by the time the pair had edged their way to the farmhouse and found the second set of wards, Remus had completely forgotten the incident. Until Sirius reminded him of talking dogs.

---------------

Remus repeated his question.

Sirius reached for a second dried peach, and chewed thoughtfully. "They were yappers. Determined yappers. Keeping a single Cairn is bad enough, but why in creation would anyone want a pack of Cairns and Westies?"

"Right. I'd take that better if you hadn't ripped the leash right out of my hands, barking your fool head off. Furthermore, you're smelling shifty."

Sirius looked indignant. "I am covered in road dust and leaf mould and grass seed and pollen and Merlin only knows what else, but I do not smell. Shifty or otherwise."

"Ah, Padfoot, you forget to whom you are speaking," Remus said in as solemn and formal a tone as he could muster. "If I say you smell shifty, you smell shifty. And embarrassed. You smell just like you did any number of times McGonagall caught us out of bounds. So come on, give over."

Sirius eyed Remus for a long moment. Then he said, delicately, "Well, okay, what I said about barking is true for most dogs--it's just noise. But this lot must have humans who talk to them a lot, or are highly verbal people. Dogs don't replicate human speech in canid form, of course, but those that hear a lot of speech learn that there are other things to communicate besides dominance, fear, affection …. Up near Hogsmeade last year I ran into a couple of corgis that had amazing vocabularies. Really quite sophisticated."

"Sirius." Remus' voice was stern. "You're babbling. So you're saying that this lot could actually make some sense?"--Here goes. This can't possibly be true. He's got that look on his face. Go ahead, Padfoot, run with it.

"They started with pretty standard insults, and moved on to … "

"Pretty standard insults?" asked Remus, interested. "Like what?"

"Boring stuff, really. 'Hey, Muscle-mutt,' 'Pity you don't have the brains to match your bulk,' 'Hey, I bet you're so stupid you have to get Scruffy there to keep other dogs off you,' and 'Cat got your tongue?' You know, first-year stuff."

"In English?"

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I'm translating."

Highly entertained, Remus remarked, "While you, of course, remained totally blasé. Didn't rip the leash out of my hand or anything like that."

"I didn't say anything--that was just while the pack was spilling toward the gate. It was just that they were all yapping simultaneously, and it was going through my head, so I finally told them to shut up for a minute."

"It took a full minute of barking to say that? Dog communication must be pretty cumbersome."

"More like Muggle spaceships." Remus shook his head and mouthed "Diversion," and Sirius looked back innocently. "No, really. When they communicate, they send streams of messages at each other, saying the same thing; there's enough of a time-delay that the only way you know that the other ship's gotten your message is that their message to you changes. Dogs communicate like that. So they kept yapping and I kept telling them to be quiet."

"Politely."

Sirius sniggered. "Okay, I escalated the message a little each time. By the time we'd made a run of the fence line I'd gotten up to suggesting that they stuff themselves down the nearest rabbit hole and take on someone more their own speed. Meanwhile," he said, eyeing Remus, "They'd started in on other topics." He looked mournfully into his empty mug as if it might start filling any moment, if only he stared long enough. "Are we going to live on tea, or are we going to have some of the food you brought with us, as well?" Sirius asked.

"It's your turn to run errands," Remus reminded him, and Sirius grumbled gently about having to leave his warm nest, but duly got up and returned with two carefully-balanced tin bowls and the Thermos of hot water. When they were settled once more, and Sirius had poured out more tea, Remus smiled his most wicked smile. --Come on, Sirius. How far are you going to take this? "As I recall, we had reached…what did you call them? 'Other topics'?"

Sirius took a large bite of stew. "You know, Moony, persistence is one of your less endearing traits. I feel obliged to inform you that it is going to get you into trouble some day."

"So I've been told, often and by many," Remus replied happily. Sirius ate two spoonfuls of his stew with exaggerated slowness, and then yawned elaborately. "That ploy worked better for Padfoot, Sirius. Now come on, give. Or I'll tell Harry you lost a battle of wits with a terrier."

Despite the poor light, Remus thought Sirius was blushing. But, after a few moments, Sirius said, mincingly, "'Your mother was a poodle.'"

Remus choked on his tea, and then began to laugh helplessly. Finally, he managed to say, "Really, that's not so bad. Poodles are supposed to be the smartest dogs, aren't they?"

"A miniature poodle?" Sirius asked, raising one eyebrow. "With a bad French cut and hair fluff where her brains were supposed to be?" Put that way, Remus had to agree that that was a solid insult if you were a large, black dog. "'And your father was scared of rabbits.'"

Remus began to chuckle again. "You're right. I never thought dogs could be that articulate. And you know what, Padfoot? That certainly explains quite a lot about you."

"Oh, do shut up, Moony." Remus sipped his tea as Sirius continued, grinning a bit now. "You were born on a puppy farm, and you've only got two ancestors; your littermates sleep with cats; you make an Afghan hound look smart'--actually, aren't they pretty smart dogs, too? Oh, yes, and 'I bet the squirrels chase you.'

"You're having me on."

"No, really," Sirius protested. "You asked. And then they moved on to you."

"Me? I'm not surprised, Padfoot. Most dogs don't like me, so you should be used to that."

Sirius applied himself to his tin, scraping up the last traces of his dinner. "Yes," he said, now suddenly quite solemn, "but most dogs don't call you ThetaPup, either, or suggest that you keep a large dumb mutt around because you like being--well, pussy-whipped."

This was entering grave territory. Remus only made jokes about the wolf on rare occasions, and Sirius had not initiated even so much as a dry comment about it since arriving at Remus' house several months before. --This can't possibly be true, but Sirius doesn't joke about the wolf, even when I can. (Waxing gibbous … five days.) And he smells … different. Not quite like he does when he's joking, but not really joking, either. Maybe he hasn't been …. Impossible. Remus had to admit that he did feel a certain amount of pique. --Pussy-whipped? ThetaPup? Still, the bare image was well beyond ludicrous, real or not, and he began to laugh even harder, until he could feel a stitch forming under his ribs. "Brave little buggers," he wheezed, when he could speak clearly. "Er … Sirius … how good a grasp on reality did these dogs have? I thought canines had better instincts."

Still grave, Sirius shrugged and studied his clean spoon. "There was a stout fence," he pointed out. "They knew I couldn't really get at them."

"Ah." Remus sipped the rest of his tea slowly until he thought he could speak in an appropriately academic tone.--Time to call his bluff (it is a bluff, right, Sirius?). "This is extremely fascinating, Sirius. Did you see that article in Transfiguration Quarterly, last month I think it was, speculating about Animagi and trans-species communication? When we get back you should set down some notes. I've been doing that with some of the new techniques we've encountered, you know; Dumbledore has suggested that I put together some new scholarly DADA texts. Of course, that would be much later, as well … but really, Sirius, to the best of my knowledge nobody has ever communicated with dogs quite this … er, clearly. I know you can't publish now, but …. " Sirius was regarding him with a faintly puzzled expression. --His smell is changing … ah, he was joking. Silly me. Careful here--don't overdo it, Remus. Remus continued, "Is there some way that you can describe the way dogs use such specific language without actually using language? The symbolists will be quite intrigued. And wait until you write to Hermione. She'll be so fascinated that she'll do most of the background research for you. You'll probably have to put her on as second author, but I'm sure you wouldn't mind that." --Time to finish this. Just, please, let me keep my face perfectly straight. "You know, at first I thought you were just inventing stories, but the more I think about it … and now that I can remember some of my own experiences … well, I'm just going to have to pay more attention. Maybe we can go see if the Boltons' Labrador can speak in this way? The Boltons certainly talk to him incessantly." --Waxing gibbous … five days.

Sirius ran his fingers through his hair, looking distinctly uncomfortable. "Look, Moony," he began, and then stopped. "Maybe we should just bag this job. You sound as if you're under more stress than I had thought, and … "

"The wards weren't that hard, Padfoot," Remus said lightly, and joggled the Thermos. There was just enough hot tea left to give them each another quarter-cup. "I'm feeling tired, but basically well. Stop worrying, will you?"

"I worry," Sirius said, biting his lower lip, "when friends who ought to know better take a poorly-thought out joke absolutely seriously."

--Bait taken. Remus turned to face Sirius and lifted his mug. "Gotcha!" he said, and ducked as Sirius, laughing ruefully, took a mock swing at him. Then he asked, with a glint in his eye, "And by the way, Padfoot, could you please explain to me why you sometimes wag your tail uncontrollably?"

//
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