1. For the space of one entire month (from full moon to full moon), a single leaf from a Mandrake must be carried constantly in the mouth. The leaf must not be swallowed or taken out of the mouth at any point. If the leaf is removed from the mouth, the process must be started again.
• • •
"What," said Remus, "is wrong with you three?"
James, who had tried to prepare himself for this moment, gave him the blankest look he could manage. Sirius raised a vague eyebrow. Peter covered his mouth with both hands. None of them said anything.
Remus had just returned from the hospital wing. Though he was paler and thinner even than usual, and he wore heavy creases under both eyes, he stood in the doorway of their dormitory as if he fancied himself a bulwark, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked each of them up and down, the space between his eyebrows crinkled.
"Look," said Sirius finally, and James could tell he had shifted the (impossibly awkward; only slightly smaller than a piece of lettuce; highly uncomfortable whilst sleeping) Mandrake leaf from one of his cheeks to the other. "Shumshing happened."
"Something happened while I was gone?"
"Yesh," Sirius confirmed, and his eyes finally met James'. To James' vast relief, they were glittering with the spark of an idea. And this brand of Sirius Idea—the kind that came after Sirius was backed into a corner by Filch, or when McGonagall had caught him chucking Dungbombs at Mulciber—was usually utterly stupid, but it also usually worked.
James nodded in agreement. The stem of the leaf was poking at his gums. He tried to fold it in half using the roof of his mouth, but Mandrake leaves were notoriously tough, and it sprang back into his left cheek. He shoved it backwards and nearly swallowed it.
"Mulshiber curshed ush," Sirius explained. "Shnivellus tried to jinksh Peter after Potionsh becaush he shpilled hish Wart-Growing Potion all over hish shoesh. Sho I got out my wand and Jamesh called him a berk and den he curshed ush."
"You're telling me," said Remus, "that Mulciber cursed the three of you to… to sound as though you've each lost your two front teeth all over again? Brilliant. Except," he added, suddenly frowning at Peter, who was determinedly trying to stop his Mandrake from shooting out of his mouth, "is that lettuce?"
"No," said Peter, green leaf protruding from his teeth. "It'sh Shinesh Shomping Cabbadsh."
Remus' frown deepened.
"Dat'sh de cursh," said Sirius triumphantly. "It'sh growing out of our moudsh. Madam Pomfrey manadshed to shtop it from shomping our tonguesh off, but she couldn't get rid of it; it only grew back. She shaid it might lasht for a few weeksh."
"You weren't in the hospital wing," Remus observed.
Sirius evidently hadn't thought of this flaw in the plan. He glanced over at James, his eyes popping in desperation.
"She had to come to ush," said James quickly. "Apparently Shinesh Shomping Cabbadsh can really shomp. Almosht took off Shiriush'sh noshe. Total dishashter. Blood pouring everywhere—can you imadshine what Shiriush would look like widout a noshe? We dought he'd have to turn to a life of crime—totally unemployable, looking like dat."
"Well," said Remus, looking vaguely impressed at the thought of a noseless Sirius. "All right, then." He uncrossed his arms. "I'll warn you now, though. If you three sound like that for a few weeks? I have every intention of enjoying this."
• • •
It turned out that there were several things they hadn't counted on.
First of all, there was food, which James had just assumed he'd reserve one cheek for, resting the Mandrake leaf in the other. But he hadn't realized this would only work if he had two jaws as well as two cheeks. It was almost impossible to keep himself from turning every meal into a Mandrake burrito, and every book on the subject had warned them that the spell could go horribly wrong if any of the leaf was missing. Eventually, James gave up and just took soup he could slurp through the rolled-up leaf.
Peter took this about as well as James did, which was to say that they were both always hungry and a little bit grumpy. Sirius, on the other hand, took it very badly indeed. He had the kind of metabolism that begged for more food every time he finished a meal, and he had always regarded the lavish Hogwarts dinners as his rightful reward for a prank well done or a Snivellus well-kicked.
"I dream of shteak," he whispered to James, as they stood in the soup line for the umpteenth time. "Shlabsh and shlabsh of shteak, wid millionsh of potatoesh and pilesh of gravy." After a week and a half, he was almost as thin as Remus, his long hair tangled like a dark pile of straw, an expression of abject pain on his face.
"Only sheventeen more daysh," said James, spooning some broth into his bowl, trying to reassure himself. "Dat'sh—dat'sh only a couple daysh longer dan de winter holidaysh. And dey went by fasht, didn't dey?"
But this did not seem to help, especially as it was October, and the last winter holidays seemed hundreds of years ago.
Then there was Professor McGonagall, who was an Animagus herself, and was certainly familiar with the process. In former whispered discussions, James, Sirius, and Peter had decided that they would have to lie low in Transfiguration. Refusing to speak up for a month wouldn't matter—James and Sirius could take the hit to their marks, and Peter didn't care; he agreed Remus was far more important.
But somehow they'd failed to realize that magic itself—at least magic when you were a fifth-year—kind of required speech. They'd managed to hide their problems in Charms and Defense Against the Dark Arts—Remus was good at the first and excellent at the latter, and was more than willing to help (although he did keep giggling every time James attempted a spell with an "s" in it)—but Remus had only ever been average at Transfiguration. And James and Sirius had always been top of the class.
"Pishiforsh!" whispered James, looking hopefully at the frog he was supposed to be turning into a fish. "I shwear to Merlin—pishiforsh—"
Sirius wasn't even trying. He was leaning limpidly back in his chair, his eyes closed. James could have sworn he could hear his stomach growling.
James jabbed his wand at the frog's bowl again. "No—you shtupid leaf—pishi—pisca—blaaaaargh—"
The Mandrake leaf, which had turned rubbery and even less yielding after the second week, bounced up from where James' tongue had been holding it back. Unfortunately, McGonagall chose this time to stride over to their corner of the classroom.
Before she could examine their work, however, Remus jumped to action. Surreptitiously pointing his wand at James', Peter's, and Sirius' frogs in turn, he muttered "Piscifors!" three times, and then looked up at McGonagall, who was leaning over them, her nostrils flared.
James didn't understand why until he felt a peculiar wriggling at the end of his wrist. He glanced down at it. Remus had missed his frog completely and turned James' hand into a large perch. It was flopping desperately back and forth on his desk, looking for water.
"I've told you again and again," said McGonagall, every word imbued with deep exasperation, "that messing around in my classroom will not be tolerated. Hospital wing, Mr. Potter. I expect you to make up every bit of the practice you'll be missing while you're there. I suppose you can accompany him, Mr. Pettigrew."
"Shanksh," said Peter, before his eyes widened and he began to cough loudly. Apparently he'd nearly choked on his Mandrake. It had happened to them all by this time, but it took longer than usual for Peter to recover his breath. In that time, James caught a glint of green from between his lips.
McGonagall's expression froze for several seconds. Then she squinted at Peter, glanced at the still-Untransfigured frog in his fishbowl, looked back at Peter again, and shook her head. "I expect to see you working much harder next class," she said. "I trust you don't need to be told that's your final warning."
The fish on James' wrist flipped backwards and died.
They decided they'd better just skive off Transfiguration after that.