Title: Hunter's Moon
Fandom: Harry Potter- Marauder Year 1
Spoilers: none, actually
Disclaimer: Oh come on now! Do I look like J.K.R.? Do I look like I'm getting money from this? And do I look like I'm not just a humble fan who spends what little money she gets on fanish pursuits?
Summary: The four Marauders, together for the first time, investigating and adventuring. Can't help it if there's a little sneezing thrown in for fun, the boys are just too cute to resist *G*
Notes: This was written for the Sneezefic Halloween-themed challenges #1 and #2: write a story using the words/phrases 'werewolf', 'freezing', 'full moon', 'I'm scared', 'is that you?', 'trick or treat', 'but he's so pale', 'haunted', 'raining', and 'but I'm afraid of the dark'
More (boring) notes: The dates of the full moons in 1971 (the year the Marauders attended Hogwarts as first-years) are done according to http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/MoonPhase.html and then lined-up with days of the week on which these actually occurred to be as accurate as possible... the story was built around this info. In addition, the October full moon is sometimes called the 'Full Hunter's Moon' which is where the plot of the story and title come from, even though it's the November full moon we actually see in the story
Comments: I'd really love some!
"Nox!" Remus whispered, and the light at the end of his wand obediently went out. He had been up late, reading in bed, but heard a noise that meant one of the others was up as well. He assumed it was just someone on a trip to the loo, but the footsteps went the other way across the room. Not wanting any of them to know he was awake and reading, Remus fell silent and still.
The bed creaked and bounced as Sirius landed on it. The hangings fell closed behind him, with only his bare feet sticking out past the curtains. "Oy! Jamie!" Sirius whispered, his voice low and harsh as he shook James at the shoulders. He was partly kneeling on the boy's back and purposefully continued to bounce the bed up and down both in his excitement and in an attempt to rouse a sleepy James. "Come on, wake up!" Sirius whined, pawing at him through the blankets.
"Down boy!" James mumbled angrily, throwing a hand back, trying to swat Sirius away. "Annoy me in the morning. Sleep now."
Sirius pouted. "But I want to annoy you now while the others are asleep and we can talk in private," Sirius whispered, pulling the blankets down as far as he could while still kneeling heavily on James.
James tugged the blankets back up. "Siri, leave me alone tonight, will you? Just for one- heh- night?" James released his grip on the blankets in order to rub his nose with two fingers.
Sirius sighed and pulled the blankets down again. "Awwww, just cause you've got a little sniffle you want me to break a beautiful tradition?"
Smiling weakly behind a tickling nose, "Tradition? We've only been here two months."
"Technically less than," Sirius reasoned. "Now come on, wake up and talk to me, Jamie!" He tugged at James' pajamas, bouncing more.
Instead of telling Sirius off, as he was getting so good at doing, he coughed and turned his head into his pillow. Then he found he couldn't stop coughing. He gestured to the bedside table as he shook. Sirius crawled over immediately, taking the half-full glass of water in one hand. His other hand patted James' back, then tugged at the back of his pajama top. "Sit up, Mate. Take a sip of some water so you'll stop coughing." He left off the part about possibly waking one of their roommates up from the sound. And he left off the part where this meant he won the argument. But he wrapped a comforting arm around James' shoulders as the boy struggled for breath. James choked on the water as he tried to swallow some. But a bit did make it past his mouth, slipping down his throat to calm it.
James gestured towards the nightstand again and Sirius traded the water for the box of tissues, setting the box on his own lap but handing two tissues over to James. James took them and blew his nose a few times to clear it. Then he laid his head on Sirius' shoulder as Sirius tightened his arm around James' shoulders with a squeeze. "What is it you wanted to talk about?" The way Sirius was helping him, it was the least he could ask.
"Right," Sirius said, excitedly jumping into it so as not to dwell on how poorly James was feeling. "Remember back in the first week of October when those rumors started circulating about ghosts in the town? That there were noises, same ones they heard back at the beginning of September?" James nodded. Such things were difficult to forget. It seems excitement always followed the Potters. James remembered stories his father had told him about his days at Hogwarts. And now that James was finally here and expecting wild adventures, it seemed some had struck up precisely upon their arrival. The Daily Profit had even done a small story about the Hogsemede house which seemed to be terribly haunted. "Well, I was thinking..."
"That the beginning of November is in just a few days and the ghosts might be back again?"
Sirius grinned, "See, this is why I wanted you as my best mate, James Potter." He clapped James on the back, which caused some more coughing. Sirius went immediately for the glass of water, but James held up a hand, signaling that it would pass on its own. "I mean," Sirius continued, thinking back a few months to the sorting ceremony when he and James had stood anxiously as the beginning of the list was read, hoping against hope that Sirius wouldn't be sorted into Slytherin like the rest of his bloody family. "What good is it if I can't get a brilliant idea in the middle of the night and crawl into my best mate's bed to share it? Tissue, Jamie?"
James nodded, his breath hitching, his hand instinctively going to his nose and mouth to cover it. "heh... hehhhhh... heh-AH-schhhh! heh-AH-Chhoo!" He blew his nose furiously into the tissue. Sirius took it from him immediately, reached through the curtains, and chucked it into the trashcan with a little magical assistance and a lot of skill. James sniffed and ran the side of his hand under his nose. "It was all that Quidditch while it was raining that did me in, I reckon. I shouldn't have even bothered trying out for the team. They never pick first years," he mumbled dejectedly.
Sirius shrugged. "I think one of the chasers is a seventh year, isn't she? There'll be another spot open next year just made for you. You're excellent in that position."
James snorted. "That's because you're so ruddy quick and tricky I've got to fly well to keep up with you!"
"Just helping you train," smiled Sirius innocently. "All right, now, back to the ghosts. I mean, look at it logically--"
"Sirius Black telling me to be logical?" James snorted again. He pressed his palm to his forehead. "I must be hallucinating with fever."
Sirius hit him with a pillow and went on. "Tomorrow's Halloween and leads right into the beginning of November. So what better time for these ghosts to show themselves?"
Thinking about it, James had to admit his friend had a good point. "But do you suppose there really are ghosts in that old shack in Hogsmede? And that they suddenly appeared there just months ago, right when we started at Hogwarts? Seems a little... I dunno... dodgy."
"But just think, Jamie! Think of how incredible it would be if we figured it out! If we broke into that shack and saw the ghosts and told everyone about it. We could bring along a camera or something to prove it, even. Think of it! We, ickle firsties, solving the first big mystery they've had at Hogwarts for years. We'd be famous before our careers here ever began."
Sirius had another good point in that. One James, even with the sniffles, couldn't deny. "All right. But we'll have to plan it out carefully. We can't just go running off to Hogsmede. We're not allowed for one thing. Only third years and above are allowed."
"Oh, that's just a rule, it's not like we're going to be asking permission," Sirius scoffed, waving his hand dismissively. "Besides, there isn't a group going tomorrow we to hitch a ride with. It's Sunday." James nodded. "So I think our best shot is to sneak out during the feast when there's lots of commotion and no one will notice us."
James nodded, rubbing at his nose again, needing to sneeze. Sirius passed over another tissue at the expression on James' face. "Thah... heh... hah-AhChhh! Hah-Eh-Choo! IhChooo! hah-Ahhh-Chooo! Sniff! Sniff!" He blew his nose and Sirius took the tissue to throw it away, then froze. "You, sniff, heard that, too?" James asked. They both froze completely, listening for further noise, but there wasn't any.
"I swear I heard something. I'll go check on the other boys." Sirius crawled off the bed and pulled the covers up to James' waist. "Stay warm," he said, then pulled away. He checked Remus' bed first, finding the brown-haired boy curled up with covers clutched to his chest. He looked small, peaceful, and best of all completely oblivious to the plans James and Sirius were hatching. The boy flinched as a bit of moonlight slid through the gap in the curtains, striking him in the face. Sirius closed them quickly and backed away, though heard no break in his breathing. Then he checked on Peter, finding only a tangle of sheets and blankets. Most likely, the boy had simply gone to the bathroom, but it was still cause for concern. Sirius raced back to James' bed, bouncing onto the bed as he whispered, "Lupin's still asleep but Pet--"
Sirius stopped dead as he spotted Pettigrew sitting on the bed across from him, smiling. "James' sneezes woke me. I came to see if he needed anything," Peter explained.
"Well he doesn't. Now skithe off, will you?" Sirius asked, taking full responsibility to answer for James.
"Hey, now," James said, however. "Why don't we let Pettigrew in on it? Maybe he could be of some help?" he suggested, rubbing his hair to mess it up as he always did when thinking. Sirius frowned, not caring at all for this idea. So far this year every prank and adventure, little though they were, had been his and James. That was as it had always been since grade school when they used to smuggle salamanders into class and leave them in the teachers' water goblets. He didn't really fancy the idea of sharing James and the adventure with the least talented and least coordinated boy in their grade, and probably the whole school. It was bad enough they had to share a dormitory with him. "No, think about it, really," James insisted, seeming to read Sirius' thoughts. "They're all bound to believe Peter over us. If he says we found the ghosts, then that's real proof." Cameras, after all, rarely worked on ghosts though sometimes worked on poltergeists and based on the sounds and damage done within the house that was more likely what lived in the shack. But poltergeists were sneaky and twice as tricky to catch.
Sirius still didn't really like the idea, but if James thought it good, well, James was usually right about this sort of thing. And it might be easier to slip out during the feast unnoticed if it seemed they were just going up to their dormitory to bed. "Fine," Sirius growled. "Fine, all right. But keep it quiet, Pettigrew. This is a secret."
He said this so sternly that Peter nodded in earnest. "Out with it then?" Peter asked, the expression on his face showing that he was dying with anticipation.
"We're planning on..." James started, then stopped, gasping for breath. "heh... hah... hehhh... AHH-Tchooo! EhhhChooo! Ahhh-Schhhhh!" Peter went to offer a tissue, but Sirius easily beat him to it. James sniffled and accepted it, blowing his nose before continuing. "We're going to go find out what makes all those sounds in that shack in Hogsmede the older students and professors are always talking about."
Peter looked shocked. "But we're not allowed in Hogsmede!" he exclaimed.
"Well, that's the point, isn't it?" Sirius said with a laugh. "Wouldn't be a challenge if we could just stroll over there and knock on the door and call out, 'Oy there, Sprits! Could you come out and let us have a look at you?' now would-IT-AH!" He screamed, bursting next into uncontrollable laughter. The other two looked concerned and jumped to his aid.
The cause was revealed to be a breeze tickling Sirius' bare feet which stuck out of the curtains this time as well. The culprit, it turned out, was Remus Lupin walking by. "Thanks for waking me up, Black," he said. James gestured for him to sit on the bed as well. "And keeping me up," he added, casting looks over at the others as he climbed up. None of the others stopped him. "What's all this about?"
James opened his mouth to explain, but Sirius growled with indignation. "Oh, come on, Siri. We told Pettigrew." Sirius shrugged, giving up and gesturing for James to go ahead and explain. And so James explained, about the sounds heard from the shack, about the idea they had of discovering it as they must surely appear on All Hallow's Eve, and their plan in so much as it was thus far.
Remus went paler and paler as James went on, and Peter did not look too pleased either. In fact, he looked absolutely petrified as James went into detail. "But... but how will we get there?" he said in a voice no louder than a whisper.
"We will..." James started, and stopped abruptly. Sirius was suddenly worried that he perhaps James doubted they would be able to do it, but his stopping was only to sneeze again. Sirius went to hand a tissue to him, beating Pettigrew to the box again. But Remus beat Sirius to the tissues. Remus took two, folded them neatly, and handed them over. James gave a surprised look, but took them just the same. "Thank-heh- thank you." He covered his nose and mouth quickly. "heh-Ah-Chuhhh! hehChooo! hehhhh-Ah-chooo!" He sniffled wetly and folded the tissues to sustain another quick bout of sneezing. "heh-AhShhhh! heh-Ahh-Shuhhh! Heh-Ah-Chuhh!" He sniffled, rubbing at his nose. "Excuse me."
"Cold still bothering you?" Remus asked, looking on in sympathy, and James nodded. Sirius gave Remus a cold look, as though supplying tissues was his responsibility, not Remus'. Though Remus was sitting closer to both James and the tissues so it was understandable.
Perhaps sensing the tension, Peter piped up to break it, "Maybe you should go see the school nurse? Madam..." he trailed off, the name failing him.
"Pomfrey," Remus said softly. "Madam Pomfrey." He looked up at James, hoping that neither James nor any of the others would not mention that he had been there twice already this year. Watching James continue to sniffle, he quickly said, "And maybe you should."
"He's fine," Sirius grunted. "It's just a little sniffle." Besides, Sirius could take care of him just fine. And suddenly he wanted to be beside James' again, with an arm around the boy to warm him. All of this sharing was not Sirius' style at all. "Can we just get on with the plans?"
James nodded. "I am fine," James agreed. He sniffed again, rather badly. "Well, I'm fine enough for this. And yes, let's go on."
"So we sneak out at the end of the celebration, when some of the students start leaving. We'll just have to be sure not to be seen by anyone heading down the rear staircase. Then we go around the back of the castle and head into town. Once there--"
"Wait!" Peter exclaimed, suddenly looking very pale, himself. "That means we'd right by the forbidden forest. Nearly in it, in fact! And at night!" Peter gnawed on his bottom lip nervously.
"Something about that bothers you?" Sirius asked, prodding the boy who was most obviously bothered about it, though with good reason.
"Yes!" Peter squeaked. "I heard there are horrible things that live in the forest. Vampires... and werewolves, even!"
Remus gave a surprised, choking cough. They had just studied werewolves in Defense Against the Dark Arts last week. And vampires the week before. Peter has seemed more on edge during those classes than any other, Remus had observed, and his constant mentioning of dark creatures and forces made Remus uneasy. "There aren't werewolves in there, Peter," Remus said softly. "Besides, it's not the full moon for another three nights anyway. And we'll be with you the whole time."
There was silence for a moment at those words, as a shared but unsaid bond slowly crept over them. None, it seemed, were willing to voice it. But they all seemed to believe that none of them would let anything happen to the others no matter what. Each recognized it, but it was an odd, unfamiliar feeling.
A feeling Sirius was quick to push aside. "Anyway, we'll sneak through town unseen, then try and break into that shack. Shouldn't be too hard to blast the boards off the windows and such. Then we'll go in and find out what's been making those horrible noises once and for all!" It seemed simple enough, especially late at night.
They made a solemn promise not to breathe a word about it to anybody, and oddly again, they took each other at their words. Perhaps it was the Gryffindor in their blood, but their words seemed good enough for anything. Then they disbanded, wishing each other polite "good nights" and giving James a number of "feel betters". Peter headed off to bed, still looking a bit scared though he was obviously pleased to be a part of this adventure.
Remus pulled Sirius aside just before splitting to go into their respective beds. "What is it, Lupin?" Sirius grumbled with a sigh. "Backing out? Scared already?"
"Did I say I'm scared?" he asked with a bit more spirit than he meant to. It was clear that Sirius was still not at all pleased at having them along on the expedition. "I just wanted to talk with you for a short moment," Remus said. "In private, if you don't mind?"
Sirius shrugged and tried to look as though he really didn't mind. "Why would I mind?"
They took a spot between their beds, against the wall, and kept their voices to the lowest whispers possible. "I know he's your best mate, so I wanted to talk to you about it, but I'm not sure it's wise to have James coming along tomorrow night." Sirius looked at him, completely flabbergasted. "Hear me out," Remus said with a sigh. He had expected as much from Sirius. "He's sick, and it's going to be very cold tomorrow night. It won't be very conducive to his recovery. I know you want to have fun but I know you wouldn't want James to get worse just for the sake of a little fun. Especially if we don't hear the, er, whatever it is making the noise in that shack."
Sirius glared at him. "You don't think we'll find out?"
"It's possible. It's just a guess that they'll be there tomorrow night."
"A ruddy brilliant guess," Sirius said with pride. "Besides, James will be fine."
"But he's so pale!" Remus breathed with concern. "And all that sneezing."
Sirius stared him down, pale eyes glaring at him. "James will be fine," Sirius repeated. "Believe it or not, Lupin, he and I have managed a number of things in worse circumstances without your or Pettigrew's help. And if I had my way, you two wouldn't be with us on this one." He sighed. "But that wasn't my decision and as long as you two don't interfere or fink on us, I don't have a problem with the two of you tagging along to corroborate our discovery. But don't go thinking you know what's better for James than I do, all right? I've known the chap since we were in diapers."
Remus nodded, a million and a half thoughts rushing through his head. He could not argue with Sirius on the subject any further, however. "All right. Good night then, Sirius."
"Night, Lupin," Sirius said civilly with a nod. They were all four in bed in no time, falling asleep to a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and anxiety. Except for James who was a mix of excitement, anticipation, anxiety, sniffling and sneezing until he fell asleep.
* * *
Their excitement, anticipation and anxiety only increased throughout the next day. James' case of the sniffles was getting progressively worse as well. After a short breakfast, he spent the morning back in bed sleeping and trying not to sneeze so much. Sirius had suggested the nap for his own good and Remus suggested to Sirius that James might do well with a cup of tea.
"How are we going to manage that?" Sirius asked, checking behind James' curtain to be sure the boy was still asleep, then ushering Remus out of their room. "It's still hours until lunchtime."
"There's got to be a way into the kitchens, hasn't there?" Remus asked, keeping his voice low.
Peter, who was sitting just a bit away looked up and hurried over to join the conversation. "I heard they're right beneath the Great Hall," Peter said. "But I don't know how to get under there to them."
"Let's try then," said Remus sensibly.
Sirius grinned. "I like the way you're thinking today," he said with an approving smile. "We're off then!" As it was a Sunday, many students were walking the hallways freely and the three of them weren't noticed apart from the others, though they did pass Filch who gave them as suspicious a look as he gave everybody else. The Great Hall was locked during all but mealtimes, and "Alohomora" did not work on the doors. So they took to combing the passages on the ground floor, looking for some way down.
"I don't want to go down to the dungeons unless we must," Peter said softly, tugging on Sirius' sleeve as the other boy's pale eyes looked towards the stairs down to them. The dungeons were where the Slytherins lived and there were always a dozen or two milling about down there. And the Slytherins did not like Gryffindors wandering into their domain, especially first year ones.
"We have one more hallway to look down," Remus said, gesturing towards a door to the right of the main staircase. It was one that led to a hallway were the Hufflepuffs had their common room. But off of that was another hallway that seemed deserted. Making sure no one was watching them, they headed to it. The corridor was long, but the moment they started down it, Remus froze. He sniffed, twitching his nose. "We're close," he said, looking hard at the walls and paintings upon them. The others did similarly. The corridor sloped downwards then stopped at a dead end, and they still had not found the way in. "It's somewhere close... on this wall I think," said Remus, stroking the stone wall to his right.
"How d'you know that?" asked Peter curiously. Sirius seemed to want to know the answer to that very question as well.
Remus pressed his ear against the stone wall, straining to listen. He heard the steps of large but light feet. He heard the clanks of dishes and pots. He heard the running of water. "Yes..." he muttered, his amber eyes lighting up. "It's behind this wall."
Sirius came close to Remus, pressing his ear to the wall. "I cannot hear a bloody thing. Are you certain, Lupin?"
Nodding, "It's here." He felt the walls, searching for a catch or a lever. "I just don't know how to open it. Help me look."
Sirius and Peter looked skeptically at him. "How is it you know?" Sirius asked.
Remus shook his head, unable to tell. "I just... have a feeling. In my gut. I'm sure it's this way. I'm just sure of it."
"How do you know?" Sirius asked again, leaning against the wall. "Come on... you can tell us," he said in a terribly charming voice. "Out with it."
Remus shook his head again, keeping his mouth closed. There was nothing he could possibly say.
"Well, well," Sirius said, clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "I have ways of making you tell, you know." And he leapt towards Remus, pinning him against the wall. His hands went straight for Remus' stomach, then his sides, tickling mercilessly. Sensitive in more ways than one, Remus doubled over with laughter. "Oy! Pettigrew!" Sirius panted from the effort of tickling. "Help me out here, will you?" Peter obeyed, jumping into the task of tickling as well.
Remus howled with laughter, squirming and wriggling, trying to break free from the four hands that tickled him all over. No matter how much they tickled him, he wasn't going to say anything. He'd pass out first. Gasping for air, he kept trying to tell them to stop, but he couldn't get a word in around the tickles and his hands were too busy trying to protect his neck or tummy to shove them away. He could never remember laughing so much in all his life. It was also the first time he could ever remember being tickled, by someone other than his parents, at least. And Sirius and Peter seemed to be enjoying it as much as he was.
Remus reached out to try and tickle Sirius, getting the chuckling boy at his underarm. Sirius yelped in laughter, jumping. And that was what did it. The hand which was going up to tickle Remus beneath his chin slipped and hit the painting they had pushed Remus up against. Still caught in a tickling motion, Sirius' fingers brushed against the painting and a large handle suddenly appeared in the place where only the pear had been in the painting a moment before.
The tickling stopped at once as all three of them jumped back in surprise. Remus, catching his breath, merely pointed to it as though to say 'see, I was telling the truth!'. Cautiously, Sirius pulled the painting open and, making sure no one was around to see them, they quickly piled in.
It was the kitchens, all right. House elves raced around with pots and pans and food galore. Several ran up to them happily, introducing themselves and welcoming them to the kitchens. "Can we get you Sirs anything?" they asked, squeaking in excitement. It wasn't every day they got visitors, apparently.
Sirius, Remus, and Peter stayed nearly half an hour, taking a good, long, exploratory look at the kitchens. Peter had a helping of cookies and cakes, and Remus and Sirius took a few as well, unable to resist celebrating their victory. They left, smiling, with a small pot of tea and a mug for James which would last him the rest of the day.
But even with the tea to make him feel better, James didn't much feel like going down to lunch. The only way they managed to drag him down there was to tell him he couldn't come along tonight if he felt too sick to eat a simple lunch. He tagged along, wearing an extra jumper to keep warm, Sirius' arm around him to steady him as he sniffled and coughed his way down all the flights of stairs to the Great Hall.
They sat down to lunch, Sirius and Peter on one side of the table, Remus and James on the other. James was looking suspiciously at Sirius, who was grinning like a madman from the moment they entered. "What's up?" James hissed from across the table.
"Nothing yet!" Sirius whispered back.
"I knew it!" James exclaimed, leaning forward. "You're up to something!" And his eyes immediately moved to the Slytherin table where students were just starting to sit down.
Sirius's eyes danced with laughter above his wide grin. "Let's call it a get well present to you," he said with a nod. James raised his goblet of pumpkin juice in a thank you toast. Sirius raised his and clinked it against James'. But when it went to drink, the juice never made it to Sirius' lips. It dribbled down his front, onto his turtleneck.
A sharp laugh sounded from behind, and Sirius turned to see none other than Severus Snape standing there, arms crossed in front of his chest, a snide smile on his face. "What's the matter, Black? Can't even manage to drink properly, you slob?"
Sirius clenched his fists and pulled out his wand. But he caught the eyes of several teachers from the staff table and knew he couldn't do anything right out in the open. Quickly, he shoved the wand back in his pocket. Gritting his teeth, "I don't know how, but I'll get back at you one day for that!" he threatened, teeth bared.
Snape only smiled more. He threw back his greasy-haired head with a laugh. "Pathetic. Too bad you're not quicker on your feet, Black. You know it's Halloween today. Trick or treat." He grinned and headed over to the Slytherin table to gloat in his accomplishment.
"Sorry about your shirt," Remus said when Sirius was seated again and had selected a new Goblet. "I have a spell I can show you later that will get the stain out if you'd like," he offered.
"Yeah, thanks," said Sirius off-handedly, as though he wasn't listening to a word Remus said. His head was still turned back to the Slytherin table, watching intently. James was watching closely, too, and Peter turned his head as well to try and see what the other boys were looking at. Remus let the matter of pumpkin juice stains slide and watched as well.
What happened, happened slowly. So slowly that none except for Sirius even noticed it until the damage was done. First the Slytherins' faces turned a bit yellow, then a bit orange, then a bit more orange. And then, "Pumpkins!" Peter squeaked, under his breath. Pumpkins. The Slytherins' heads were all turning into pumpkins. Facial features of ears, nose, mouth, and eyes were all still there, as though carved right into the pumpkins. Their hair was there as well, covering the top of the pumpkin heads with a stem sticking up from the top in the middle.
The Slytherins noticed each other, of course, looking around in horror. A particular pale pumpkin head with greasy black hair flopping over the top, turned and glared at Sirius. Sirius smiled broadly and mouthed the words, 'Trick or treat'. The pumpkin glowered fiercely back at him which only made Sirius laugh harder. The whole of the Great Hall was filled with laughter where it wasn't filled with the Slytherins' angry shouts. Teachers ran about, trying to control the pumpkin-headed students who were in danger of smashing their heads open against things as they skidded around frantically.
No one even noticed the three small Gryffindor students slipping out of the Great Hall with the rest of their lunches in hand. They raced all the way up to the seventh floor, in through the portrait of The Fat Lady, across the common room, and into their dormitory. James went straight for his bed, and the others followed, falling upon it in fits of laughter.
"Pumpkins!" Peter shrieked through his laughter. "That was bloody brilliant!"
James had to agree as he slid down beneath his covers, still laughing. "However did you manage that one, Sirius?" James asked, leaning back against his pillows.
"Well, Lupin, Pettigrew and I found the way into kitchens this morning," Sirius said, giving Peter an approving look. "And they have these five tables set up where the house elves actually place the meals, right beneath where the staff table and the four house tables are located above. I simply gave the pumpkin juice on the Slytherins' table a little tap with my wand is all," he said, glowing with pride though he sounded as though the prank was nothing at all.
Remus, who had not run up with them, came in now. He spotted them and walked over. "The teachers are taking all the Slytherins over to the charms classroom to de-pumpkinize their heads. They said it won't take long, but no one said anything about investigating and none of the teachers saw anyone near the Slytherin table who could have done it," he informed them, climbing up onto the bed as well.
"heh-Ah-Chhuhh! hah-Chushhhh! heh-Ahhh-CHOO!" James sneezed quickly into his shoulder. "'Scuse me," he mumbled, rubbing at his nose.
"Sounds like your sneezes are getting worse," Peter observed, looking concerned.
"More tea," Remus suggested quickly, pouring him a new cup.
"Glad you stayed behind and watched out for us, Lupin," Sirius said with a dramatic stretch, lying down beside James in the bed. James shifted over a little to take in a bit of Sirius' warmth.
Remus nodded. Truth be told, he'd been a bit shocked by it all and concerned and had just wanted to be sure there wouldn't be any permanent damage. "So what is it between you and Snape?" he asked Sirius. James laughed, which turned into coughs, which were easily calmed by more tea.
Sirius looked a little perturbed just at the mention of Snape. "He's a wanker, that one. A slimy little good-for-nothing git. We crossed paths before Hogwarts," he said, though didn't go into much more detail. "Let's just say he's a little too fond of the dark arts for my tastes. I don't like horrible dark creatures like him, and he doesn't like noble, courageous fighters like us."
Remus felt quite on edge at the wording Sirius used, but James smiled and went on. "It's just your basic rivalry," James said. "We're just on the side of good and Severus Snape's just a loser."
"The pumpkin trick was far better than a dribble-goblet anyway," Peter said, looking up at Sirius with great admiration.
James reached quickly for the tissues again. "heh-AhhCHOO! Heh-Ahchhh! Heh-Ah-Shhhuhhhh! ahh... ahhh-CHOO! ahhh-CSHHHHHH!" He blew his nose miserably through several tissues, pushed his glasses back up his nose, and sighed. "I'm sorry. Sniff, sniff! I think I am getting worse."
"All right," Sirius said, sitting up and waving his hands. "Time for another nap. Clear off now." Remus and Peter left, and Sirius helped lay James down in bed, against the pillows. He took the empty teacup and placed it on the bedstand, then felt James' forehead.
"I'll be all right for tonight," James promised. "Just feeling kinda... heh... kinda sneezey this afternoon." He yawned rather violently. "And sleepy, too."
"Aye, well, get some sleep then," Sirius reasoned with a smile, ling back down beside James and draping an arm around his shoulders to keep him warm and hug him close. James, rather thankful for the warmth and comfort, cuddled against him, closing his eyes and still rubbing at his nose with a tissue. "Let me worry about you. You just rest," Sirius said, taking the balled-up tissues and gently rubbing them at James' nose.
"Please don't be worried about me," James said with a smile as he let Sirius tend to him. "I'll be fine, heh, that's what you keep saying, isn't... heh-ehhh... isn't it?" His nose twitched and he pursed his lips, sniffling back the sneezey tickle.
Sirius grinned and ruffled James' hair affectionately. Then he pulled the tissue box onto his lap and took two new ones, folding them as Remus had done last night, and placing them against James' nose and mouth. James didn't need to be told it was all right to sneeze, which was good as he could not hold it back any longer. "heh-CHOO! heh-AhChoo! HahChishooo!"
"Bless you," Sirius whispered. "Pettigrew was right, you do sound much worse. And if you're feeling as bad as you sound..."
"It's just a ruddy c-cold-keh-AHTchhoo!" Sirius rubbed his nose for him. "Nothing's going to stop me from going out tonight." He cuddled closer to Sirius for warmth, using part of his chest as a pillow.
"I hope so, because I don't want to have to walk all the way to Hogsmede and back with only Pettigrew and Lupin."
James pulled his eyes open, lifting his head with a sniffle. "But I thought you three had a fun adventure in finding the kitchens and all that?"
Sirius shrugged. "I'm not saying we didn't. It's just... I want my best mate along for this one, all right? I'd rather we do it just the two of us... like always. Why'd you invite them along in the first place, anyway? Pettigrew's just a stupid lump and Lupin always stays in and studies or reads. Remember when we tried to get them to play when everyone was trying to get closest to the Whomping Willow? Both chickened out, Lupin wouldn't even go near it."
"That was just a game... this is a quest. And it'll be easier than trying to hide the fact that we'll be gone all night from them. Hard to hide such things from roommates." Sirius was inclined to agree with James. Though they had thus far created a number of good excuses to explain several of their late night adventures, the excuses were running out. "hah...Ahtchhhhh! Ahhh-Hahshhhh!" James sneezed, and Sirius rubbed his nose, then massaged his head through the mess of hair that could not be tamed.
"Your hair and my spirit," Sirius muttered. "Untamable." He hitched the blanket up a little more to James' chin. "Now I sent them away so you could get some sleep. So sleep." James obeyed, drifting off with a pleasant smile and breaking right out into snores.
Sirius woke to Peter prodding him in the side. "Time for dinner," he said, his cheeks hot and round with his anxious grin. Sirius got James up and Remus made sure all four of them dressed so warmly that they were sweating through dinner, what with the Halloween candles surrounding them as well.
The Slytherins were all back to their normal sickly colors, though not one of them touched the pumpkin juice on their table. The feast went as well as always, with mounds of tender meat and soft vegetables. And with sweet after sweet for desert. Dumbledore stood up halfway through and gave a report on the best of it just to be sure no one missed anything, and then little Professor Flitwick made a spectacular show of festive autumn-colored fireworks which exploded from the jack-o-lanterns with pops and hisses to the awe of all.
"Come on, Jamie," Sirius whispered, pushing a piece of pie at him. "You've got to eat more to keep your strength up. Just a bite, for me?" James really wasn't feeling too well, and it was evident just in looking at him. While the sleep had done some good in the end, he woke with a very stuffy nose and a very deep, gruff sounding voice. But he took the pie, gave another sniffle into a handkerchief before lowering it to his lap, and picked at the piece until Sirius was satisfied.
The feast was, to the first years, even more spectacular than the one to welcome them to school, perhaps because of the absence of the anxiety of being sorted. But to the four Gryffindor first years, there was still quite a lot of anticipation, especially as some of the students started to file out.
And so they, too, left. They did so casually and one at a time. Each took a slightly different path to the hallway where they had earlier found the kitchen, assuming it would be deserted. And though Sirius was the first and James the second, they both waited for Peter and Remus to arrive before taking off. The plan was to go up to the next floor and take the back stairs down as they led straight to the Herbology greenhouses. From there they intended to skirt along the edge of the forest and around the castle, then over to Hogsmede.
But as they reached the landing on the first floor, Severus Snape was there, sitting on the railing, glaring. Most of the Slytherins had a constantly high-and-mighty look about them all the time, as though their mere presence was evidence of superiority. But while Snape had bits of that in his eyes now, he was more sullen and slimy than anything else. A bit out of place.
"Out of our way, Snape," Sirius growled, breaking away from the others to look Snape in the eye. "Or we'll call for a teacher. This isn't even close to your dormitory."
"I'm allowed to be in the hallways," he snapped. "And you shouldn't be here anyway. That stairway over there is the fastest route up to yours." He grinned a very slippery grin. "Off to bed with you all now."
"You don't give us orders!" piped up Peter bravely, though he stayed somewhat hidden behind Remus. He raised a fist angrily and James put his hand on Peter's shoulder, holding him back.
"Need little pipsqueaks to stick up for you now, do you, Black and Potter?" he looked meanly over all of them.
"At least I've got mates to stick up for me, Snape!" Black replied.
James coughed. "Aye, come on, Mates. I'm not feeling so well. Must be something around here that disagrees with me. Let's take the main staircase after all." He steered them all away, having to drag Sirius by the neck of his robes.
They made their way back down to the ground floor, losing themselves in the crowd of students. Then they hurried up the main staircase, pushing themselves much faster than any of them would normally have gone, especially in Peter's case. Somewhere between the second and third floors, Remus grabbed at Sirius, who was the closest of the others to him. "Snape!" he hissed! "He's following us. He's just on the staircase below." Sirius stopped dead in his tracks, looking down. He spotted the greasy hair and large hooked nose at once. They got James and Peter's attention and on the third floor the four of them pulled away from the stream of other students. "What are we to do? We cannot fight him here. One of the teachers would find us!" Remus pointed out, their voices drowned out by the sound of the other students going up the stairs.
"But Snape will find us!" Peter squealed nervously, looking to James and Sirius for answers.
"Let him!" barked Sirius, wand out and ready, and James grinned rather broadly at Sirius' enthusiasm.
There was an uproar of suggestions from them all. To go back down, to go up to the tower, to confront Snape. No one seemed quite sure what the best thing to do was, though they all knew they had to decide something as quickly as possible. They struggled and argued until one of them went back against the stone statue of a witch which marked the corridor. James leaned back but must have hit it with his wand, and one of them must have said something in the way of magical words that floated out from the muddle of voices. For the one-eyed witch's hump slid right open, allowing them entry.
"Should we... go in?" asked James, cautiously, his nose wiggling with an oncoming sneeze. He smashed his nose into the crook of his arm with a powerful sniffle, the sound muffled and the tickle backing away as he rubbed it into his arm.
"Snape's almost upon us!" Remus hissed, his nose raised slightly in the air. "We've got to do something."
"Nothing for it!" exclaimed Sirius, peering down into the darkness within the statue.
"Assuming we all fit," said Peter in a whisper, wringing his hands and gazing at the small opening.
But Sirius gave them all a nod, and slid in, feet-first. He landed in complete darkness, the result of a bit of a fall and a bit of a slide. There seemed to be no immediate danger. No sounds apart from those in the hallway above, and nothing there apart from what unknown things could be lurking in the darkness. "Hurry!" he called up to them. It was one thing to be the first in, but another to be alone in the dark for a long while before company came. There was a thud and a cough which was Remus' entrance. Then some struggling noises and a bit of a scream, and Peter joined them. James brought up the rear and the opening closed itself off as he slid down to them, adding himself to the pile of tangled bodies in the darkness not a moment too soon. Even though they were all in pain, lying on each other at weird angles, they froze completely in silence.
Footsteps echoed above them, steady and slow. They slowed as though in confusion of where to go next. Then came another set of footsteps, these fast and close together, and they heard Professor Flitwick's voice. "Now there, Mister Snape. Lost your way to the Slytherin common room again?"
If James and Sirius could have exchanged looks in the dark, they certainly would have, mouthing 'Again?' at each other with amusement.
Then came the reply, "No, ah, I mean yes, Professor. The stairways changed and I got a bit mixed up."
Professor Flitwick seemed to buy it, squeaking helpfully, "Well, off with you, then. Take the stairs down at the end of the hallway to the dungeons."
"Yes, Professor," Snape obeyed, sounding cold and disappointed.
Both sets of footsteps left the area and four separate sighs of relief took their places. "He's gone," Remus said at last. A jumble of grunts answered as each tried to separate himself from the others in the small, pitch black space.
"Wonderful," said Sirius. "Now will the someone on my legs please get off them?"
"Sorry!" came Peter's voice in the darkness and there was more grunting as Peter moved, knocking into the others in the process.
"Speaking of which," said Remus, "someone's got my arm pinned to the wall. James? Is that you?"
"I'll take that as a yes," Remus laughed, pulling his arm free as James bent forward with the force of the sneezes. "Wonder what's down here?" he asked softly, trying to make his eyes see through the darkness. But even his eyes could see nothing. There was no light to draw from and fill his pupils. They were utterly and completely in the dark with no knowing where exactly they were or what was there with them.
There was a frightened squeak followed by anxious breathing.
"I'm sure there are no werewolves, Pettigrew," Sirius reassured him, though it sounded as though he were trying not to laugh.
"It's not just that," whispered Peter, sounding close to tears.
"There's nothing to be afraid of down here," James said, his voice sounding even deeper and thicker with congestion. "It's just dark."
"But I'm afraid of the dark!" Peter cried.
There was some laughing, covered up by some intentional coughing. Peter squeaked again with fright.
"No need to be afraid. Come, Peter. Take my hand," said Remus, reaching out, trying to find Peter.
"I've found you!" Peter exclaimed, grasping a hand firmly.
"That's my hand," Sirius said with a sigh. But given the tense way Peter clung to him for protection, he did not pull away. Instead, he gave Peter's sweaty hand a reassuring squeeze.
"Now you've found me," said Remus, taking up Peter's other hand and linking his finger's with the other boys'. "All right?"
Peter nodded stupidly then whispered an "All right" when he remembered they couldn't see him in the darkness.
"ahhhKutchhh! ahhhSheshhh! AhhhChooo! Could someone... heh... find me?" asked James, also reaching out in the darkness. "I think I'm going to f-fall over in a moment. Heh-AhShooo!"
"Whoa!" Sirius exclaimed, managing to grab James around the waist and keep him upright as he continued to sneeze. "You all right, Mate?"
James leaned against Sirius for support and Sirius directed the boy's head into his shoulder to help him cover his sneezes. There was no telling if they could be heard in the corridor above. "Yes... hahShooo! hahKeshooo! hahChushhooo!" He sniffled, finding Sirius' hand and giving it a squeeze. "Just a little light-headed."
"Now we're all linked up here," said Peter, sounding as though he was feeling much better about it all. "Where ever here is."
Remus sighed and pulled out his wand as he was the only one with the free hand and lack of congestion. "Lumos!" he said firmly, and light burst from the tip of his wand in a thin beam.
"Brilliant!" said Sirius, looking over with admiration. "When'd you learn that one?"
"Just a weeks days ago, actually," said Remus, holding the wand out so as to hide the flush in his cheeks. He left off the part about reading ahead three chapters in the charms book to find it just so he could study in bed at night.
As Remus moved his wand around, the light sweeping this way and that, they all looked around the place they'd fallen into, but none of them dropped hands. Just the opposite in fact, as the sight before them made them tense up with excitement. They were not in a small room at all, but at the mouth of a tunnel. A tunnel which seemed so long that they could not see the end of it.
"I'd heard that there were secret passages at Hogwarts," whispered James, eyes wide. "Where do you suppose it... it goes?" He managed to turn again, half-stifling the sneeze into Sirius' shoulder. "kahtchhh!"
"Well, let's find out!" Sirius nearly shouted, the thrilling anticipation burning in his pale eyes. He started forward.
"Wait!" exclaimed Peter almost as loudly, planting his feet in the dirt floor. "Shouldn't we at least try and get out first? I really don't want to be stuck down here forever."
Before another argument could break out, Remus headed it off, "We don't know how to get in again, so the most logical thing to do is to be sure we can get out eventually but explore as much as we can now." They all turned to Remus, who shrugged. "Well, it is, isn't it?"
Even a slightly frightened Peter was inclined to agree. James and Remus gave Sirius a boost towards the spot where the opening had been, and the witch's hump slid right open to allow him exit. He turned and grinned as he hopped back down. "Excellent! Now we explore?"
Now they explored. The tunnel was long, and sloped upwards though the ceiling sloped down so they had to walk partially hunched over. It twisted and turned this way and that and at one time or another at least one of them accidentally banged into one of the dirt walls, not looking where they were going. Remus, who led the way with the wandlight, soon found his attention straying from the tunnel to his nose. It was clear that they four were the first to set foot there in a very long time, for there was a layer of dust on the ground. It was an odd feeling, while walking, to step on both cold earth and dust, but as the passageway was enclosed to the elements, it was somewhat understandable. Even so, its presence made Remus' nose twitch, tingle, and tickle.
For the first few minutes, he held back the sneezes quite well, only giving his nose a rub or two when the urge to sneeze built too strongly. But after five minutes, he could take the torture no longer. He pressed the back of his hand to his nose and mouth and tried to hold his wand steady as he sneezed. "hitchhh! hetchhh! ihhKshh! ihhh... ehhKutchhh!"
The others stopped behind him, looking on in concern. James put a hand on his shoulder. "You're not coming down with my, sniff, sniff, cold are you?" He sounded terribly sorry about it.
Remus shook his head, nodding to the ground as both hands were currently occupied. "Doe... it's... it's... hihKshhhh! ehtchhh! ihhhShhuhh! It's the d-dust. ihhhHEKShhhhh! Sniff! I'b aller... aller-huh-heh-ihkshhh! ihhtchhh! ehtchhh! hetchh!"
"Bless you!" called Peter rather uselessly for the break between sneezes was virtually nonexistent.
"Allergic to the dust?" James asked softly.
Remus managed to nod his head in a way that distinguished the nods from the bobs of his head when he sneezed. "ihhKshhh! hehshhh! hetchhh! hih-ihhchhh!"
"Here," said Sirius, pulling a handkerchief out from the pocket of his robes. "I brought it along for James, but looks like you need it more right now." He couldn't quite see a way to hand it over, so pressed it to Remus' face for him.
Remus took over thankfully, the sneezes well muffled in the cloth. "hihkfff! hehchfff! hihchfff!" He blew his nose a little to further clear out the irritation, then covered his nose and mouth with the other side of the handkerchief, using it as a filter when he breathed. "Th-thags," Remus managed, what part of his expression that could be seen shone with gratitude.
"Are you going to be all right to continue?" asked James, and Remus nodded resolutely before heading down the tunnel again.
It was James' turn to sneeze next, falling back against one of the curving dirt walls to catch his breath. The others stopped for him, too. "hahChushhh! Ahhh-CHUSHhhhh! hahShooo! Tchoooo!"
As James blew his nose and started onwards again, Peter spoke up. "We don't really know what's ahead, do we?" he asked timidly. "So shouldn't we try to be as quiet as possible?"
It seemed a very logical idea, and for Sirius and Peter it was not a problem whatsoever. But Remus' nose still burned with tickle, even with the handkerchief in place. And James' cold was getting worse by the minute. But both tried to hold back their sniffles and sneezes as much as possible. And they watched closely over each other as well.
"Pinch your nose tightly t-to hold the sneezes back," James suggested as Remus' hitched breathing indicated the need to sneeze again.
Frowning, Remus nodded and tried, without much success. He breathed heavily into the handkerchief, the breath shaky and uncertain. Closing his eyes and hoping they wouldn't be too loud, he sneezed. "ihshhff! Ehhshfff! ihhhkshhff!" The sneezes made him stumble forward. His foot hit something hard and he tripped, falling frontward into what the something was. He gave a half-restrained yelp of pain as his chin cracked against something hard with the most awful of sounds. His wand slipped from his fingers, casting them all into darkness again.
"Remus!" exclaimed James, going to him at once, just as Sirius did the same. Peter felt around on the ground and picked up the fallen wand.
"Lu... what was that spell again?" asked Sirius, pulling out his own wand as James turned Remus carefully onto his back.
"Lumos," breathed Remus in no more than a whisper. He brought his hand up to his chin, rubbing gingerly.
"Lumos!" Sirius said firmly, and a light burst from the end of his wand. It seemed what Remus had tripped upon and fallen into was a set of stairs. Stairs that went upward for what seemed like forever. Hundreds and hundreds of stone stairs. Sirius ran his hand up Remus' forearm to his hand, gently easing it off the chin. There was a scrape there, deep enough to be bleeding just a little. "You're bleeding a little." Sirius made a disapproving face at the injury, but when Remus made to hold the handkerchief to it, Sirius pulled that hand away, too. "Ick! No, that's filthy now." He looked around, trying to think of something. "Anyone know any spells for this sort of thing? Disinfecting? Conjuring bandages? Anything useful?"
But no one did. "I've had worse," Remus said softly, though he found it hurt to talk. In addition to the scrape, he had sustained a bad bruise there. He winced at the sudden pain.
"Shhhh, don't try to talk," whispered Peter, settling on the steps as well, at Remus' feet. He tore a piece of his sleeve off and handed it up to Sirius. "You can use this."
"Thanks," said Sirius absentmindedly, pressing the fabric against Remus' jaw to stem the slow trickle of blood. "Hold this on tightly for now."
"Will you be able to go on?" asked James, brushing dust from Remus' robes as the stairs were coated with it as well.
Remus nodded again, though looked terribly sneezey which seemed to say that he wouldn't.
"We'll help you make it up the stairs," said Peter, reassuringly.
"The sooner we get out of this tunnel the better," agreed Sirius, helping a sniffling, bleeding Remus to his feet.
They began to climb slowly. The curves of the tunnel had been quick but difficult. This was slow and even more arduous. The passage seemed never-ending, even to Remus who had an idea of how long it was and in what direction it was heading based on his experiences with other passageways. But even he lost track of the number of steps as they climbed on.
Peter was winded somewhere around step thirty-five. James sneezed and coughed, needing frequent rests along the way. And Remus had to manage to hold the cloth on his chin and the handkerchief at his nose and mouth at the same time. Each sneeze now hurt not just his nose and throat but his chin as it moved quickly at each sneeze. "ihhKshhh! Ihhhshffff!" he sneezed, grimacing. He had indeed had worse, but it was annoying more than anything else. And he had wanted to avoid this sort of thing tonight of all nights, around roommates who were already aware of how weak and beaten up he looked once a month.
Remus felt a hand on his back, and looked over to see Sirius. "Are you going to make it all right?" Remus nodded again, not wanting to speak unless he had to. "Good. Can I see the cut?" Remus lifted the cloth and Sirius examined it. "It's nearly stopped bleeding now." Remus smiled and Sirius gave his back another pat before looking over his shoulder. "And how are you two doing?"
"I'm doing all right," said James. "Though I'll be glad when these steps end."
Peter, huffing quite a few stairs behind them, nodded. "Okay!" he said between heavy pants. He clutched a stitch in his side.
"Good," Sirius said again. "I think we're almost- Ow!" His head smacked hard against something strong and wooden. He swore so hard it made Peter flinch. Remus pulled him down a step and ran a hand over the top of his head, rubbing gently to try to alleviate the pain a bit. It didn't really do anything, but it made Sirius feel a little better.
"Looks like some kind of... door..." said James, pinching his nose and trying to control his breath. It would be particularly bad to come all this way to the end and be found out by a badly timed sneeze.
"Nox!" Remus said, and the light at the end of his wand slowly put itself out again. Sirius reached up and pushed on the door. It didn't budge.
"I think... oooof!" James steadied him as he nearly lost his balance from the effort. "I think there's something blocking it."
"Is there a spell for that?" asked Peter, sounding nervous to be in the dark again.
"I can try something," Sirius whispered back. He sent a jet of red sparks at the door, which endured the blast for a whole five seconds before bursting open with a loud thud. All their hearts raced with the sound, but they heard nothing that would indicate anyone else heard it. The pitch black darkness of the tunnel gave way to grey, as there was sufficient light to make their eyes adjust. Sirius motioned for them all to stay put and silent, then poked his head out. He paused a moment, then climbed out completely.
Almost a full minute went by before he poked his head back down. "It's all right!" he whispered. "Come on up, but be quiet about it." The others filed out, one by one. James still pinched his nose tightly to keep from sneezing. And Remus was quick to close the door behind them, once they'd decided it would not lock itself on them. It seemed to be an ordinary trap door amidst the wooden floor. What had been holding it down were boxes. Boxes filled the room they were now in and they could just make out the words stamped upon them, thanks to the light from the nearly full moon shining in through a short and wide window at the top of one wall. Some of the labels read "Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans" and "Lucinda's Lovely Licorice Wands" and "Droobles Best Blowing Gum".
"Mates!" exclaimed James, looking around and blinking his eyes in astonishment at it all. "I think we must be in a sweet shop!"
"Honeydukes!" exclaimed Peter. "That's the name of the sweet shop in Hogsmede." Then he blushed. "I, ah, heard some of the older students talking about it. And... that's what's written on this barrel here," he said, moving aside to show the others.
"Fantastic!" exclaimed Sirius again in a whisper. "We're just a little ways away from that shack then and we didn't even have to go past the forest or the castle to get here." He dipped a hand into a barrel of jelly slugs and tossed one into his mouth, chewing. "And it's a much more appetizing journey." James helped himself to a handful of licorice wands, biting the end off one with a laugh.
"We can't just eat this stuff!" hissed Remus, removing the cloth from his chin and trying to look as though it did not pain him to speak. The cut had stopped bleeding apparently but the bruises were slower to go away.
"Why not?" asked Peter, a chocolate frog in his mouth. He threw a fresh one over to Remus, who caught it, stunned.
Turning it over in his hand, rather than eating it, "It's not ours! It's private property. It's--"
"It's delicious," Sirius finished for him. But then the boy pulled out a few coins. "We'll leave a little money, all right? Will that make you happy?"
Remus opened his mouth to protest further, but the truth was that leaving money did make him happy. He unwrapped the chocolate frog and let it hop a few times in his hand before biting its leg off.
"So where do we go from here?" asked Peter around another mouthful of chocolate.
"Up and out," said Sirius, nodding up towards the window. Peter gulped. "And then... James?"
James, who was scrubbing at his nose to relieve another tickle, nodded and reached beneath his robes. The bulge at his stomach which could have been rationalized as a very bulky jumper, turned out to be a piece of very fine, silvery material.
"What's that?" asked Peter, absentmindedly dropping a wrapper to the floor as he turned his attention away from the candy.
James grinned, shook the fabric to unfurl it, then pulled it around himself like a blanket. At once, James' body disappeared, leaving just his head which now sported a wider grin. Remus gasped in astonishment. And Peter squeaked with surprise, taking a rough step back and colliding with Remus' front, nearly toppling them both over. Sirius laughed and walked over, reaching a hand out to both to steady them. "James and I have used it a few times this year already, but I think we'll all be able to fit beneath it."
That presumption turned out to be true, as Peter was short and Remus very thin. The invisibility cloak just managed to cover every bit of them. "Last chance to back out!" hissed Sirius as they pulled off the cloak in order to get out. All four were decided and focused, however. "All right then," said Sirius. "Let's hunt some ghosts!" Dead set in their adventure. They pulled the cloak back on once they had assembled a stack of boxes, and climbed up and out as Sirius had said.
was cold, there was no getting around that. And while
they were hot under the cloak, squished together with many layers of clothing
and heavy hot breaths, they all found themselves shivering somewhat. While
Remus' need to sneeze had generally died off upon leaving the passageway,
James' was still present and perhaps magnified by the cold temperatures. He had
to work very hard not to sneeze as they made their way through the
The shack looked every bit as haunted as they had all heard. Peter was very glad for a reassuring squeeze of his arm from James as they approached. It looked old, paint chipping off in places, the whole thing leaning a bit to one side. The windows and doors were all boarded up, and even as they circled it they saw there was no conceivable way in. In the moonlight, it looked spooky, threatening, scary. The only thing missing were noises. The shack was very silent.
They waited for a moment, listening hard for howling and moaning, crashing and clanging. But there was nothing. Nothing but the whir of wind cutting past them. Nothing but the crickets and owls and other regular nighttime noises. Nothing at all. Frustrated, Sirius pulled himself out from beneath the cloak and began pacing more quickly around the building.
"Maybe they just haven't woken up for the night yet?" suggested Peter, though that did nothing to stem Sirius' anger. Their eyes flickered from the shack to Sirius and back again, hoping for something to happen. But it stayed dead silent and there was nothing that could be done.
They all aimed blasts of sparks at the boards covering a window, at the boards that made up the shack itself, and even on the boards on the roof which looked loose. But the shack had been sealed together with magic and there was no budging any of it. With a growl of frustration, Sirius walked to the far side of the dwelling and sat down on a patch of grass. He pulled his legs up to his chest and began to rock backwards and forwards slowly. Peter started to him, but Remus and James both held him back. "Give him a moment to himself," said Remus, eyeing the other boy.
Peter, Remus and James sat down where they were, James pulling the cloak around himself for warmth and looking odd as a disembodied head once again. Remus put a hand on his shoulder, watching James' face contort against the urge to sneeze. "I think we're far enough away from the village if you need to sneeze," he said softly.
James looked at him with great relief. "G-good... because I c-cah... cah... ahhhHESHhhhhhh! ehhh-AHHChuhhh! ehhhShushhhh! ahhhhChushhhh! ahhh-AhhhShooo! AhhhChooo!" He sniffed and the lower part of his countenance disappeared for a moment as he rubbed his nose with a handkerchief beneath the cloak. "Can't hold them back any longer," he finished miserably, then gave a strong shiver that seemed to race through his entire body.
Remus reached over and put an arm around him, though it took a few attempts to do so, not knowing precisely where the boy's shoulders were located. Peter had brought along another chocolate frog and offered to share it with them. James refused, closing his eyes and resting his head on Remus' shoulder. But Remus, who made it a point never to refuse chocolate, accepted a large piece of it. They ate quietly, with James' sniffles and sneezes the only thing that they could hear.
After a while, Remus passed James off to Peter. Feeling tired, James lay down, snuggling up in the cloak and resting his head in Peter's lap. Remus made his way slowly over to Sirius and sat down beside the boy. Neither said anything for a long while, both keeping their eyes on the mysterious boarded-up shack.
"I thought for certain they'd be here tonight," whispered Sirius finally, still hugging his legs to his chest, looking down at his knees now.
"It was a very rational idea. What ghosts could resist Halloween?" Remus said, trying to sound reassuring.
Sirius shrugged. "But I dragged you all over here and there's nothing." He sighed, sounding close to tears. "Nothing."
Not wanting Sirius to cry in front of him, or at all for that matter, tried another approach. "You didn't drag us here, we came willingly. And it wasn't for nothing. Look at how much we discovered today. The way into the kitchens, a secret way out of the castle that clearly no one knows about, a way into Hogsmede and Honeyduke's. Those aren't to be taken lightly. Without your lead and support we'd have never found any of them."
Slowly, a weak smile broke out on Sirius' face. "Really?"
"Of course!" said Remus, smiling back. They sat in silence for a little bit longer, as Remus tried to come up with the right wording. He looked over at the others. James seemed to have fallen asleep or was very close to doing so. Peter had a hand on his shoulder, and was watching Remus and Sirius intently. His eyes met Remus' and with a look and a gesture it was clear that Peter was worried about James condition. Remus nodded back to Peter. With a deep breath, Remus started, "You must know how very much I'm looking forward to walking back through that dusty tunnel." Sirius' smile flickered on once again. "But I really do think we should be heading back soon. It's bloody freezing out here and James..." Remus gestured over, "James really isn't doing so well."
Sirius looked over in concern and nodded at once . "You're right. We should go back."
Remus took a deep breath for courage, then placed a hand on Sirius' shoulder. "I'm sure you'll..." the words died in his throat, and he closed his eyes, pushing them back out. "I'm sure you'll figure this place out some day," he said. "If it really is haunted, there's no rush. Could just be that the ghosts sense our presence and don't want us finding their secrets."
Sirius brightened considerably and nodded. Remus stood to go. "Hey, Remus?"
Remus froze, shivers that weren't from the cold temperatures racing through his body. He looked back down at Sirius.
"Thanks for the help," said Sirius simply. Then cracked a grin. "What's that look for?"
Remus found his voice, but it sounded distant and flat with disbelief. "You called me by my given name."
"Of course," said Sirius with a shrug. "After all this, we're mates now, aren't we?"
Still a bit shocked, Remus nodded. "Yeah... I guess we are." He held a hand out in offering, and Sirius took it. Remus helped him to his feet, clapping the boy on the back.
He followed Sirius over to the others. Sirius bent down, touching James' forehead, and ruffling his hair. "Come on, Jamie. We're going back now. Time for bed."
James looked up sleepily and nodded. He let the others help him up and support him as they all slipped beneath the invisibility cloak once more and retraced their steps all the way back to their dormitory.
* * *
The next morning, all four were nearly late for classes, having slept in and skipped breakfast. James was especially worse for the adventure. He nodded off in History of Magic, which was understandable on a normal day, let alone when one was sick and tired. Peter, who was sitting behind him, helped him out by waking him up every few minutes and Remus said James could borrow his notes.
On the whole, Remus wasn't looking too good either. He insisted he felt fine, but fought frequently to hide sniffles and sneezes. And while he might have been able to get away with that before their friendship, the other three were watching over him too closely not to also be concerned for his heath. "I'b fide!" Remus insisted stuffily, looking up at all three of them from the armchair in the common room where he sat late on Monday night, doing as much homework as possible.
"You're sick!" Peter pronounced, hands on his hips.
"You've caught my cold," said James, his voice a bit rough still from the congestion.
"You're--" But Sirius had to wait.
"ihhtchhahh! ehhtchhhhh! hihTchhh!" Remus sneezed into a cupped hand, sniffling softly and rubbing his nose on his sleeve.
"You're going to go get some rest," Sirius finished. "And we're going to take you over to bed right now. All right, Remus?"
Still a bit startled to hear Sirius not call him by his surname, Remus nodded. He let them pack up his books and papers and march him to his bed. They forced his pajamas at him, turned down the covers, and drew the curtains with well wishes and an extra handkerchief or two.
His sneezes did not go unnoticed the next day, either. Peter frequently suggested Remus drink more tea, and Sirius frequently suggested that both James and Remus skip classes in favor of a nap which he, himself would have preferred to lessons anyway. Remus admitted defeat during their last class, potions, which was his worst subject and always made him a little depressed. But facing potions with a nasty head cold made him feel even worse. He headed over to the infirmary straight after classes and did not return that night.
Sometime the next morning, Remus found himself being awakened by Madam Pomfrey. He had drifted in and out of sleep all morning, still not quite used to the hospital cots the way he was with his own bed. He had insisted he was well enough to go back to classes, but Madam Pomfrey forbade him to do so once she saw the severity of his head cold. "I hope you're feeling up to visitors, Mister Lupin!" she said, once she'd seen to Remus. She gave him a very motherly smile and strode over to the door. "He's awake, you can come in. But don't tire him out!"
Remus was hidden behind a hanging white sheet, forced to wonder for a moment as to who might visit him. Dumbledore had visited him one morning during his first month there, just to see how Remus was feeling. And surely James, Sirius and Peter wouldn't be paying him a visit. It was only a head cold, after all. The idea of them bothering to visit him just because they were now forming a friendship was laughable.
But all seriousness aside, they did bother. They came with smiles and bearing armfuls of get-well sweets. They showered Remus with these, laughing. Remus laughed back. "Where'd you get all..." he trailed off, suddenly realizing exactly where they had gotten these.
"Don't worry," whispered Peter, tilting his head over towards Sirius and James. "I stuck up for you and made sure they left a proper amount of money for it all."
Remus smiled. "Thags," he patted the bed and gestured towards the chairs. "Go on, have a seat." They sat beside his bed, except for Peter whom Remus scooted over in bed to make room for as there were but two chairs nearby. Peter immediately helped himself to a bar of chocolate where each square was a different color. Remus picked up another chocolate frog, unwrapping it. "This is all really great," he said, glancing at the chocolate frog card. "Adyode deed Circe? I've got three of her already."
"Oh!" Sirius grabbed for it.
"Hey!" protested James, trying to snatch it away from Sirius, who was dancing away with it. "You've got that one already, I know you have!"
"I only wanted it because you need it," taunted Sirius, holding it away, just out of James reach as he held the other boy back with a hand on his chest.
"Not fair!" laughed James, struggling for it. But he broke off, pulling back, buying his nose in his handkerchief. "ahh-HAHShoo! HetChooo!"
"Mister Potter?" came Madam Pomfrey's firm and suspicious voice from across the room. "I heard that sneeze!" James quickly stuffed his handkerchief away to hide the evidence. But his nose was running and he couldn't not sniff from it as she crossed the room, which gave him away completely. "Ah-ha!" she said, putting a hand to his forehead and pulling his mouth open so she could inspect his throat. "Mister Lupin wouldn't tell me who he caught this from, but now I see." She looked critically over at Sirius, then Peter, asking them quite sternly, "Either of you have a sniffle?" They both shook their heads emphatically. "Hrmph! Well then, Mister Potter, get into that bed there and I'll make you some Pepper-up Potion." She looked at Lupin apologetically. "Wish I could give some to you, too, Dearie, but I'll get you some tea instead and you two," she pointed at Sirius and Peter, "just five more minutes or you'll tire them out." They nodded in agreement.
"Hey, Remus, toss me a chocolate frog?" James called from the next bed over. "I'll get Circe without your help," he said, sticking his tongue out at Sirius.
"Why can't you take Pepper-up Potion?" asked Peter, helping himself to a box of every flavor beans and carefully rooting through to take out the bad ones before handing the pack over to Remus.
"I'b allergic," explained Remus, rubbing a finger at his nose. He reached for a fresh tissue. "hehIhsh! ehhChhhh! hihhShhh!"
"To dust and to Pepper-up?" asked Sirius, who had waited patiently until he was done sneezing. He was listening to the conversation while trying to lean over and see what card James had got from the chocolate frog. He grinned to see that it wasn't Circe.
"To a lot of thigs, actually," Remus admitted. "But I feel sick edough as it is without goig through the list."
Sirius nodded and reached over, selecting a lollypop of a bear that danced and wiggled every time it was licked. He lowered his voice to a whisper, leaning over towards Remus' bed this time. "There's a rumor that went around at breakfast this morning," he said. "Seems there were noises coming from the shack last night again. I think one of the teachers was in town and heard it."
"So it really is haunted!" Peter exclaimed.
"Shhh!" said James warningly. Madam Pomfrey was still in plain sight, just across the ward, hovering over a cauldron.
"We'll go back again another time," said Sirius, his tongue bright blue from the candy.
"Dow that we've got the route blad add bracticed," said Remus, sighing at his own stuffiness and trying to think of some other way to say what he meant.
"Planned and practiced?" guessed Peter. Remus nodded gratefully.
"We should probably go," said Sirius, catching Madam Pomfrey's eye from across the ward. He put a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Come on, Pete. Let's see what's for breakfast."
"Feel better!" said Peter, sounding much too chipper, giving them both a wave.
Peter and Sirius headed out, but Sirius stopped in the doorway, hands gripping the doorframe as he thought. Then he swung back around. "Oy! Remus!" he called over. Remus looked up. "We'll clean up that dust and make it easier on you next time."
Remus grinned, looking at Sirius and Peter, then over at James, and back to Sirius again. "Thags." Madam Pomfrey closed the door after them, and brought tea and potion over to Remus and James, respectively. James drank his quickly, steam gushing out of his ears as a sign that it worked. He wished Remus well, and promptly fell to sleep. And Remus noticed that among the cards he'd placed on the bedstand was the Circe one. Sirius had left it for him. Remus smiled and snuggled beneath his covers with the cup of tea and a book, glad to know that when he got out of the ward later that day he'd have more than just a book to keep him company up in his dormitory.