Author's note: I wrote this for the MWPP fuh-q fest some time ago and have been (im)patiently waiting to post it up for a while. I know Remus isn't in it very much this chapter and I apologise but he'll be in the next 3 alot more I promise. Er... yes, I don't think I have much else to add to this except that I have the other chapters written and ready and they will be posted every Monday until I don't have any more. If you can't bear to wait that long (look just humour me) the whole thing should be up at my livejournal (aralias) although I'm not too sure where. Leave me a note there and I'll get back to you.
Extra note: appears to have changed since I was last here. It has a neat (ugh 50's slang) quick edit thing which is good but it won't let you do stars any more to break up sections which is horribly bad. So I have used the letter A (for alteration you see.) Yes, it looks stupid but I have no other choice!
Enjoy : )
There was a soft 'plop' and what had been a wet-start firework, until Dr. Filibuster had been foolish enough to let Sirius Black anywhere near any of his products, quietly disappeared under the crimson surface of Snape's potion. Fortunately, Snape was engaged in a sniping match with James Potter and didn't notice or Sirius would have been unable to walk back to his own desk as if nothing had happened. In fact, he probably would have turned green or sprouted an extra head had Snape heard the tell-tale sound of a modified firework entering his perfect, half constructed potion; but he did not, and Sirius sat back down in his seat with his skin the colour he was normally accustomed to seeing it, with the usual number of heads and watched James complete his carefully planned diversion.
"Do you know what your problem is, Potter?" Snape eventually snapped.
"I'm sure you're about to tell me," James drawled, leaning casually against the desk next to Snape's, his hand in something rather unpleasant that he had not meant to put it down in.
As Head Boy he was not really supposed to antagonise people, but the Marauders in general, and Sirius in particular, had decided that Snape was an exception (even, and especially, after the incident now known only as 'The Prank') and that it would probably be all right as long as James didn't do any of the actual mischief making.
Well… not in public at any rate.
"You're an arrogant, obnoxious git," Snape told him unpleasantly, as if nothing in the world would have pleased him so much as to see James Potter squashed into a greasy stain on the floor.
"Severus," James said, apparently wounded deeply, "I thought we were friends now…"
"Forgive me," Snape continued, once James had tailed off forlornly. "I must have forgotten to add 'stupid' and 'blind' to my list of your bad qualities… To which end I would like to point out that you have your hand in Pettigrew's tube worms, did you know?"
"I know," James replied casually, as if he had intended this all along. "They're good for your cuticles I hear."
Sirius caught James' eyes, rolled his own and smacked his head lightly against their desk, half suppressed laughter bubbling from his lips.
"Anyway I'd… better be going," James finished, removing his hand from Peter's ingredients with a quick: "sorry Wormtail; Nice talking to you Severus."
"The pleasure was entirely yours, I assure you."
James grinned. "I fear so."
He slid into the seat next to Sirius who was now pretending to be deeply absorbed in his text book. "Good for your cuticles?" he murmured under his breath, trying not to grin broadly. "How the hell do you know what cuticles are anyway?"
James tactfully ignored him and started to chop up the root in front of him. "It's in the cauldron?"
"Are you sure this is going to work?"
"Prongs,"Sirius said, in a pained sort of voice. "Have I ever let you down before?"
"Sometimes, but not generally when fireworks are involved, I suppose."
James raised his eyebrows.
"Alright, alright, don't trust me - just be ready to heap praise on me when-"
The cauldron exploded.
Sirius and James were miraculously unharmed of course: Sirius having reacted quickly, and above all, innocently, when he saw the first droplets of the, now indigo, potion hit the air and casting a shielding charm around their desk. Unfortunately, Sirius and James were always miraculously unharmed after these incidents and, as the chance of Severus Snape accidentally having made a sweating solution instead of a Pepperup Potion was slim to none considering his consistent O's, they were both kept behind after the rest of the class had been dismissed to the hospital wing: Snape, having caught most of the blast, sliding dangerously across the floor.
For a while Sirius argued valiantly that it was perfectly feasible Snape might have added the extra bubotuber puss by mistake himself, and that it was, in fact, really, very unfair of Professor Rowley, their middle aged, amiable potions mistress, to suspect him of sabotage when there was no concrete evidence that indicated either he or James had been involved in the incident as anything more than casual observers with unusually quick reflexes.
"In fact Professor, I-"
"Mr Black," Rowley interrupted, a tinge of amusement colouring her voice.
Sirius stopped and tried to look innocent. "Yes, Professor?"
"As impressed as I am that you spent so long researching a potion that was so similar to construction and so different in effect to the Pepperup Potion, and as baffled as I am by the disappearance of the firework that must have been inserted into Mr Snape's cauldron, I have no doubt that this particular crime was the work of yourself and Mr Potter." Her eyes flicked to James who had been skulking in the corner, trying to keep a straight face throughout Sirius' protestations. "Do you deny it?"
"No, I suppose not," he said with a smile. "I apologise for disrupting your lesson, Professor."
She waved it aside with a smile. "Perfectly alright. Ten points to Gryffindor for your impressive knowledge of potion work."
"Why thank you, Professor," James said with a smile and without surprise. "You are too kind."
"However, I am going to have to take fifty away for your unprovoked attack on Mr Snape and you each have a detention."
Sirius bowed his head. "Expected and justified." He grinned. "Have I ever told you you're my favourite teacher?"
"Frequently," she said ironically. "Though I am not foolish enough to believe you."
He laughed. "And that's why you're the best."
"Indeed." She smiled. "I'm afraid your detention won't be for several weeks, as I haven't the time at the moment: I hope you don't mind."
"I'm sure we'll manage," James grinned.
"I'm sure you will. You may go boys."
They started towards the door and Sirius had his hand on the handle before Professor Rowley added almost as an after thought: "Oh and I don't want you partnering each other again in my lessons."
"What?!" Sirius exploded, stricken with shock. "You… you can't do that."
"I think you'll find I can, Mr Black," Rowley added, more firmly. "Whilst you may be able to pass this course without ever listening in my lessons there are others in the class less fortunate than yourself and I would like the environment to be fit to work in without any of the…ah, amusing distractions you two seem to find so necessary. You will both find new partners before the next lesson."
"That's final Mr Black."
Remus met them as they passed the Arithmancy corridor.
"How was potions?" he asked, falling into step with the other two. "I take it Peter's in the hospital wing along with everyone else foolish enough to keep taking that class with you two."
Sirius nodded. "Casualty of war… regrettable, but at least he doesn't have detention."
"Neither would you if you hadn't insisted on tormenting Severus 'one last time,'" Remus reminded him. "It is the last time, this time?"
"Sure," James said after a suspiciously long pause.
"Unless he does something to us," Sirius amended.
"He will," Remus told them, frowning. "He always does."
"Then it's not my fault, is it?" Sirius said happily, linking his arm around Remus' shoulders briefly to draw him back towards the centre of the group again. "Come on Moony, you know you want to ask what happened. You would have loved this one: it involved researching…"
"I do not like researching-" Remus protested, laughing.
"Don't lie to us Moony," James grinned, catching hold of Remus' arm and steering the other two down the corridor. "We know you do really. Let's go and see Pete."
"Hello Wormtail!" James called enthusiastically, dumping himself down on top of Peter's feet. "How are you?"
Peter smiled. "Better than when Madam Pomfrey tried to stop the sweating with Pepperup Potion."
Sirius whooped. "I knew she would! Did she try it on Snivellus first?"
"I'm sure Peter appreciates your concern," Remus remarked dryly; Sirius made a face at him and turned back to Peter.
"Yer, he was first… it took a while for her to realise it wasn't working so I had some too though."
Sirius started cackling. Remus coughed meaningfully and he managed a brief: "sorry Wormtail."
Peter waved the apology aside and focused on James. "Why didn't you tell me you were going to pull something in Potions?"
Although they were one distinct group: the Marauders, and theoretically each of them played an equal part in anything the others thought up, this was not always the case. James was the un-appointed leader and all of them knew it, even Sirius who liked to think he was in charge. It was James who organised things and James who quelled any petty disagreements. If Sirius tried to suggest something ridiculously dangerous it would be James who told him that it probably wouldn't work and coerced him into thinking up something equally ingenious that they had a better chance of carrying out, all limbs in tact. And, of course, it had been James who pulled Severus Snape away from the Whomping Willow half a year and a lifetime ago. It probably shouldn't have surprised his friends when he was made Head Boy and indeed Remus had gone around looking rather smug for the next couple of weeks making Sirius suspect he had known all along, but it had surprised Sirius; it was still surprising him in an unpleasant way that suggested it was almost time to grow up or James would leave him behind.
But if James was the leader Sirius was the planner: he had a 'gift' for exploiting the situation. Somehow he knew what would work, how it would work and what they would need to accomplish it properly. Unfortunately, he also knew what they wouldn't need. In this case he hadn't needed Peter and so hadn't included him. Remus, of course, might have merited a role had he not dropped potions like a hot cauldron the moment it became an option, but Remus was useful and Peter would have been in the way.
It wasn't that Sirius didn't value Peter: it was just hat he knew his value. Peter was good and kind and loyal; he would force himself to walk through fire or face down McGonagall, if James asked him to; he was so talented at chess that Sirius had stopped playing against him because it was humiliating to lose to Wormtail so often and he knew more about astronomy than any one including Remus. But he wasn't intelligent: he wasn't stupid either he was just average; but average, when compared to Sirius Black and James Potter, suddenly dropped in value until it became almost… worthless.
Sirius knew he should respect Peter for the things he was good at, but had never fully managed it and so, today's prank had been carried out by only two of the Marauders; Sirius telling James that the plan was based on simplicity: that they would only need two, and knowing privately that if Peter were included on this occasion he would ruin it.
"We didn't want you to get in trouble needlessly," James said diplomatically, helping himself to the compulsory grapes that had appeared next to Peter's bed. "Rowley or Snivellus might have noticed if there three people moving round the classroom at once, y'know?"
"Oh," Peter said, trying to reconcile the slight hurt he felt about being left out with the logic James had presented. "Well, I suppose…" He brightened. "It was a really good prank."
"Wasn't it?" Sirius grinned modestly, dumping himself on the bed next to James since Remus was already in the only chair in the near vicinity and didn't appreciate being sat on. "I - am a genius."
"Hey!"James exclaimed, affronted, as Sirius tried to steal Peter's grapes and his glory. "I distracted him. You just had to shove a firework in his cauldron."
"Yer," Sirius acknowledged. "But you were crap. "You only managed to get away with it because Snivellus is as stupid as he is ugly-"
"What?!"James exploded. "My distraction was a work of genius!"
"You said tube worms were good for your cuticles, Prongsie!" Sirius said, seriously as if James were a small child. He grinned. "Don't hear many genius' saying things that moronic: 'Hello Dumbledore, how're you?' 'I've just been soaking my cuticles in tube worms' 'Really?' 'Oh yes, Young James Potter, our Head Boy'-"
He was cut off as James tried to suffocate him with Peter's pillow.
"Argh - James you're killing me, you git!"
Peter watched the fight taking place on the end of his bed with interest and started eating his own grapes.
"Good, you deserve it: you credit-stealer."
There was something comforting about fighting with James, once one ignored the pain blossoming in one's nose as the pillow squashed it unnaturally to the side; something that suggested whatever happened, however much time passed the Marauders would always insist on battering each other with pillows at the slightest provocation.
Remus' lilting laugh distracted James long enough for Sirius to kick him off the bed.
"Merlin that hurt!"
"And he is triumphant!" Sirius bellowed and aimed his pillow at Remus instead who gave up being dignified and hurled himself into the fray.
All in all it had been a very good day.
Nothing happened for a very long time.
It worried Sirius that nothing horrible had befallen him after a week. Two explanations existed to explain this: Either Snape had finally decided to concede to the inevitable: that he was always going to be second best to the Marauders. However, that seemed excessively unlikely which only left the second option: He needed a long time in order to think up something extremely nasty and carry it out with the precision he was famed for.
After two weeks Sirius was jumping at the slightest noise; after the third he and James were tailing Snape everywhere just in case he was planning something secretive that might be successfully ruined with the proper detective work; by the fourth he had begun to accept Remus' assurances that maybe Snape had grown up and wasn't going to react childishly just because Sirius would have in the same situation.
In other words: he was completely unprepared.
Potions had become distinctly dull once he had been forbidden from sitting with James. Peter, of course, was overjoyed to have been so unexpectedly promoted to James' 'lab partner'. He seemed to think it was some kind of reward for years of suffering in silence as James claimed they were all an equal group whilst clearly favouring Sirius as some kind of brother. The new, caring and understanding James had offered to partner someone else ("Lily perhaps… what?... Alright, alright: not Lily… but it was a serious offer. I don't mind Paddy: you can be with Wormtail if you want") but Sirius, whilst still being in a perpetual state of vague distaste when it came to Peter's worship of James, could not bring himself to be so obviously and callously cruel and had ended up partnering the pretty Ravenclaw who had, until this moment, sat next to Peter and corrected his average potions. She had also dated Sirius very briefly some time in fourth year and, if he remembered correctly, despised him for being an "arrogant, selfish berk" who had forgotten her birthday whilst they were an item.
"Hello Isabella," he said in what he hoped was a pleasant, non-berk-ish voice. "How are you this fine morning?"
"Go to hell, Black" she said in what he presumed was not her pleasant non-berk-ish voice, and doodling viciously on her notepad in an effort to ignore the minor problem of Sirius' existence.
"Oh wonderful… My day? Well, it wasn't bad, how lovely of you to ask though," he murmured. "I can see this is going be another one of those enjoyable lessons."
He swung in his seat and slid a hand across his throat towards James, who grinned helpfully and gave him a thumbs up. "Woo her with your charming ways," he mouthed.
"Go to hell," Sirius replied cheerfully, out loud.
"What?" Isabella snapped.
"Not to you, dear," he said absently and started copying down the instructions that had just appeared on the board.
Professor Rowley gave him a sunny smile filed with irony; Sirius returned it, shaking his head and concentrating on the potion. It didn't need concentrating on, not really, but he had nothing else to do except possibly taunt Snape who was now only a desk away and that would be frowned upon because, according to the rules of engagement, it was now Snape's turn and he seemed to have opted to be mature for once.
Sirius sighed. Damn him to the eterrnal depths of hell.
The lesson passed silently and slowly. Nothing exploded; Sirius produced a turquoise potion that was supposed to be turquoise and packed away quietly, trying not to antagonise Isabella with any sudden movements.
"Thank you for another peaceful lesson Mr Black," Rowley called after them.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," he replied, looping his battered school bag over his shoulder. "Come on James, Peter… let's go."
"Mr Pettigrew… if you would stay behind I'd like to discuss your last essay."
Peter sighed and sat back down his seat. "Of course, Professor. You two go on without me; I'll only be a moment… right?"
Rowley poked her head out from her desk in which, presumably, Peter's essay lurked. "What? Oh… yes, I promise I won't keep you more than five minutes."
"See you soon then, Wormtail," James said, clapping a friendly hand on the smaller boys shoulder. "Escape Paddy!"
They did not escape very far. James slumped into a seated position on the floor to wait, upholding his personal philosophy that there was no point standing when you could bloody well sit down, and Sirius ambled down the corridor half heartedly expecting to run into Remus eventually coming the other way. Instead he ran into somebody quite different.
"Sirius Black… what an unexpected pleasure."
Sirius turned lazily on his heel and smiled disarmingly at Snape. "Snivellus," he drawled. "What an unpleasant surprise. I was beginning to think your slimy little brain had run out of ideas."
Snape smiled dangerously. "Hardly."
Sirius felt his fingers flex involuntarily; his wand stuck out of one of his back pockets but he could probably reach it. "Well I hope its good," he said pleasantly. "And I hope you're faster with your wand than you were last month… don't want do go away with our ears on backwards twice in one life time, do we? Well, when I say 'we' I really mean 'you'-"
"Your arrogance is overwhelming," Snape said silkily, fingering his wand. "Where are your little friends this time?"
"Padfoot, what the hell is going on?" James yelled down the corridor.
"Nothing Prongs," Sirius bellowed back. "Snivellus is trying to hex me but don't worry."
He heard James swear and then the sound of Peter and James pounding down the corridors, even though as Head Boy James should not only not be running in the corridors, but should also be actively stopping other people from doing the same.
Sirius looked back at Snape whose wand was now dangerously close to his throat.
"What no more banter?" Sirius drawled, unconcerned. "Do your worst Snivellus: I promise they won't interfere… but you know it's terribly bad form to not even insult my family lineage or my attitude first."
Snape had turned involentarily at the sound of James' voice and, feeling distinctly flippant, Sirius called: "bloody look at me won't you."
"Padfoot-" James yelled again as Peter shouted:
"Sirius, don't do anything stupid!"
They skidded round the corner.
"Inflecte!"Snape intoned, quickly. "Unus muto Unus; Corpus muto Corpus."
"Expelliarmus!"James shouted, aiming roughly in Snape's direction.
"Inflecte!"Snape screeched again, swinging around almost involuntarily to avoid James' disarming spell and catching Peter in a jet of green sparks.
"Expelliarmus!"James bellowed again and this time Snape's wand flew from his hand and into James' as Snape himself was hurled from his feet and into the opposite wall.
"WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?"Professor Rowley roared, emerging from the corridor. For a rather small woman she suddenly looked extremely dangerous and James pointed quickly at Snape who was sprawled across the floor. "Snape attacked Sirius, Professor. I was just disarming him."
Rowley's eyes flickered to Snape and then back to James who was smiling his most charming Head-Boy smile. "Well, there was no need to disarm him quite so violently Mr Potter," she said seriously.
"No, Professor," James replied, looking contrite. "Sorry."
"Hmm… There will be twenty points from Slytherin. Mr Snape I suggest you come with me, and I'll speak to you, Mr Black, during your detention this afternoon which I trust you've remembered."
Snape picked himself up of the floor, scowling darkly.
James gave him a cheery wave once Rowley's back was turned: "Bye Severus… better luck next time."
Once they had gone he started laughing. Neither of the others joined in. James stopped.
"Hello?"he said, waving his hand in front of Sirius' face. "Padfoot, what the hell is wrong with you?"
"I'm not… me," Sirius said slowly from behind him.
James swung around, slightly baffled. "Pete-"
"No, he's right," Peter said with a slight air of wonder. "I'm him."
James looked back, growing angry. "What the fuck are you on about?"
"I'm not me anymore," Sirius answered with Peter's voice, in Peter's body; the panic, he knew was there, hidden under layers of disbelief. "Snape's… he's bloody done it, Prongs… found the ultimate revenge…"
He looked down at the wand, which was Peter's, in his hands, which were Peter's; back at James who was staring at him in amazement and across at the other boy who was pushing Sirius' long black hair out of the way of his face because it obscured his view.