Ç Topic: A rather picky, but possibly serious, MWPP challenge

Fowl Play

"A rematch!" Sirius burst into the fifth-year boys' dormitory, awakening his nearly-comatose best friend and three other Gryffindors (with whom he was not on such friendly terms). "McGonagall says we'll have a rematch!"

When James didn't respond, Sirius went and shook him, shouting all the while and ignoring the furious glares of a sleepy Frank Longbottom. The Chaser stirred slightly, as the magic words slowly penetrated his pummeled brain. He sat up and opened one eye, the other squeezed shut by a livid bruise. Though it was nearly breakfast-time, the sky outside the tower windows was pitch black, intermittently shot with bolts of lightning.

"Well thas' good, inn'it?" James slurred, through teeth magically re-implanted the night before with Madam Pomfrey's new experimental Den-Sure Cream.

"We can still win the Cup!" cried Sirius. "All of the other House moderators voted that Slytherin had cheated by growing themselves dragon tails, so we get to play again."

James ran an unsteady hand through his hair. "Yes" he murmured, with an uncertain glance out the window. "The weather hasn't improved, has it? What time is it?"

Sirius took him by the arm and pulled him up. "Time for breakfast, old buddy. I'll be watching you like a hawk today, that's for sure—there's no telling what Severus might do."

Sirius had never made the Quidditch team. It wasn't for lack of flying skill—far from it—but he was completely incapable of respecting authority in any form. If the team captain said show up at 6, Sirius showed up at 7. If told to climb, he dived. And so on. Loyalty, however, he could do, and he'd been James' faithful watchdog ever since the Slytherins had singled the Chaser out for dirty tricks and secret fouls.

Last night, though, had been especially bad. A team full of horn-tailed Slytherins had torn through the pitch until finally Sirius had managed a counter-spell that turned the appendages into huge, wormy rat tails. Peter picked up a rather unfortunate nickname in the process, and the damage had been done. As James removed his night robes, he revealed large red welts speckled across his body.

"Wow," Sirius remarked, impressed. "You look worse than Moony after a night in the—" He stopped suddenly. "Howling hellhounds, it's that Special Time tonight, isn't it?"

James shook his head, knowing their friend would be bitterly disappointed at missing out on only the third full moon since they had become Animagi. "It slipped my mind completely. We haven't seen the sky in weeks. Well, you and Peter can keep him company, can't you?"

"Yes, I suppose," Sirius said, somewhat disappointed. "I hate to miss this match, though. What if they try another dirty trick? They might breathe fire, or send a boggart or a rain demon after you. Really, James, I think you need me."

James finally succeeded in dressing himself, although one shoulder hung limp and he couldn't button his robes all the way because of the gashes in his neck. "Well, you break it to Remus, then," he mumbled as they headed towards the Great Hall. "He'll be devastated: there's not a Ravenclaw on earth who cares about Quidditch."

The enchanted ceiling showed a phantasmagoria of black thunderheads, swirling purple cumulus, and bolts of lightning that made half of Hufflepuff House eat their breakfast under the table. James staggered to his seat and accepted the ministrations of his housemates, failing to notice that several of the Slytherins darted their eyes rather frequently in his direction.

Sirius, however, picked up on this right away—and he quickly appropriated a suspicious-looking platter of red-glazed doughnuts from the center of the table. "Where did these come from?" he demanded. "Don't touch them, James! It behooves me to taste any food of which you may partake." He stuffed a doughnut into his mouth. "Delicious!" he exclaimed. "Delicious yet suspect. These stay with me." Producing a paper bag, he filled it with the pastries, munching all the while.

Sirius' vocabulary was beginning to wear on James. Since discovering Shakespeare, he had become quite insufferable. "Have we eaten on the insane root/ That takes the reason prisoner?" he wondered snidely.

"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a Slytherin's doughnut," declared Sirius. "Oh, and speaking of which—I'd better go talk to our, ahem, moonstruck friend." Still clutching the bag of doughnuts, he approached the Ravenclaw table.

Remus was sitting between a tall, pale girl with coke-bottle glasses and a boy whose florid pimples had turned his whole face red. All three were completely buried in thick books.

The girl was Remus' particular protegee, a first-year Voldemort orphan who'd wandered the castle like a lost soul until he took her under his wing. Now she was tops in just about everything— except, of course, Potions and fashion sense. Their robes were equally wrinkled, their hats askew, and Remus' Prefect badge was even pinned on sideways.

"Ahem," said Sirius.

There was a rustle as the Ravenclaws each turned a page simultaneously.

Then the girl looked up—but only to address Remus. "I understand the Hexagonal Hex," she said, gesturing towards Unsolved Problems in Arithmancy, "but what on earth is a Curvilinear Curse?"

Remus peered out from an enormous scarlet tome entitled Playing Fetch With the Dark Side: The Canine Face of Evil and grabbed a piece of paper. "It re-maps the victims' coordinate system," he explained, drawing a quick sketch, "so that they can't see straight lines. Sirius here, for instance, would appear to be a misshapen blob much like this"

"Hey!" Sirius grabbed the sketch, wincing at how his sculpted torso was rendered into something much like a pregnant hermaphrodite troll (don't think too hard about how that works). "Don't go giving people ideas! If the Slytherins—" He paused. Having captured the Ravenclaws' attention at last, he reached into his bag and produced a doughnut. "Does this look like anything to you?" he whispered.

"Hm," said Remus thoughtfully. "A breakfast pastry?"

"Your table didn't have a plate of these today, by any chance?" Sirius pursued. After making sure everyone had seen the suspicious item, he ate it.

"Er no," Remus admitted. "But—"

"Wait," declared a seventh-year girl from the end of the table, nose still buried in Nosology: 1001 ways to Transfigure the Proboscis. "House-elves fear hot grease, remember? They can't make doughnuts!"

"You're right!" exclaimed Remus. "Ever since the goblins spilled boiling oil on them in Sigfried the Smelly's rebellion of 1321!"

There was a meaningful silence. "Then it's a good thing I kept James from eating them," remarked Sirius, wolfing another. "There's going to be a replay of the Quidditch match tonight," he explained in a low voice. "It's our chance for the Cup. Oh, and Remus— about me going with you to visit your mother—"

"Oh, it's all right." Remus tried but failed to smile, darting an anxious glance at his fellows. "She's, er, getting much better."

"Perhaps yonder feckless beast will join thee," Sirius suggested, pointing to where Peter and an equally short and chubby girl were cowering under the Hufflepuff table.

"Not so feckless as you might think," Remus remarked. "I think he's taking the opportunity to score with Bertha." He turned bright red and went back to his reading as, in fact, a stroke of lightning suddenly revealed the Hufflepuff couple engaged in a passionate kiss.

__________

There were no further incidents at breakfast, and soon the Gryffindors were off to Transfiguration. It was right in the middle of explaining to Professor McGonagall what distinguished an Animagus from a wizard transformed into an animal by other means that Sirius turned into a duck.

McGonagall started and dropped her glasses. "Mr Black!" she exclaimed.

"Quack quack!" said Sirius.

"Hey, it rhymes!" James exclaimed. "Quack quack Mr Black, quack quack—"

"Potter!" scowled McGonagall. "I realize you've taken a Bludger to the head several times too many, but we do NOT transfigure our friends into waterfowl in class!"

James sobered quickly. "But I didn't do it," he objected. "I think it was the doughnuts."

The professor raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Duck Doughnuts, Potter?"

After explaining as best he good, James picked up the quite handsome white Peking drake with the orange bill and bright red feet and took him to Madam Pomfrey.

"It's my fault," he exclaimed. "Sirius was trying to protect me by tasting my food now he's stuck a duck"

"Stuck a duck," Madam Pomfrey hummed, going to her cupboard for a variety of horrid-looking potions. "Well, I can try a Bird Banishing Balm, but there isn't much left not after that last episode with the roc, which I'm sure you'll recall. Potter get yourself back to class."

"Quack quack," said Sirius.

"Quack quack, Mr Black," trilled James as he headed for Potions. He completely forgot about the bag of doughnuts in the Transfiguration classroom.

___________________

Not being able to see the sky made Remus irritable. During the two weeks of stormy weather he had missed the first crescent of the waxing moon that set with the sun, the half that rose at noon at set and midnight, and the increasingly bulging disk that warned him of the magical night to come. He hated and needed the celestial clock as much as a laborer does his time card, and without it he was lost and confused.

He'd known since he was old enough to say the word that there was prejudice against his kind what he hadn't known until he got to Hogwarts was that there were legitimate reasons for it. According to everything he'd read, one of the most dangerous symptoms of lycanthropy was that its victims grew increasingly forgetful as the full moon approached—so that no matter how well-intentioned they were, they were likely to go running off to a party or restaurant at sunset with no thought of what was about to happen. For a long time he'd refused to accept this, trying to train himself out of forgetting the way he did his other inhuman habits, like sniffing and biting. He knew he wasn't perfect, but he had made progress but standing at the library window looking out at the purple clouds, he felt like the Bay of Fundy might if it suddenly lost its tides.

It was all he could do to not snap as someone came up and slapped him on the back from behind. It took even more effort when he realized that person was Severus Snape.

"D'you ever cut your hair, Loopy?" Severus demanded.

"Once a year at Christmas," Remus responded mildly, considering himself lucky that that was all Snape could find to tease him about.

"Look at that!" Severus took a handful of Remus' hair. "You look like a sheepdog!" He pulled out a few strands and pocketed them.

"Ouch," said Remus, a vague smile twisting the corner of his mouth as he watched Severus go.

He told himself to warn James, but he forgot.

___________________

"He swoops he SCORES! Now it's 50-20 Gryffindor, Slytherin has the Quaffle— FOUL! I've never seen such a foul!" Frank Longbottom leapt in the air, signaling to Madam Hooch who ignored him.

"Quack quack!" agreed Sirius from the bleachers, hoping they weren't talking about him.

Madam Pomfrey's jar of balm was even emptier than she'd thought, so all she'd managed to do was rub a dab of it onto Sirius' head. Now he was a cute white Peking drake with a little cap of black curls. She'd tried to make him stay overnight in the hospital wing, but he wasn't about to miss the game since, after all, not only was he not sick, he was also waterproof.

He was probably the only one truly enjoying the game. While everyone else huddled under their robes and cloaks against the storm, Sirius dabbled happily in the grass and enjoyed the sensations of the pounding rain slipping easily off his warm feathers. He kept his sharp bird eyes open for any, er, foul play against James, but so far it had been restricted to Lestrange attempting to plow into him and Malfoy grabbing his broom twigs. Nothing the Gryffindor Chaser on his own couldn't handle.

"And after a deliberate act of sabotage by Lestrange—"

"Mister Longbottom!"

"—Sorry, professor—after that act of fine, upstanding Quidditch, Slytherin takes the Quaffle—but no, it looks like the Chasers have gotten confused—Potter passes the Quaffle to Lestrange—?!"

"Foul!" screamed the Gryffindors. "A Confundus Charm! A Clueless Curse!"

"Potter takes the Quaffle," Frank went on bravely, "but can he get it past Goyle the Slytherin Keeper, who looks as though he spent his evening being Engorged—"

"Longbottom!"

"Potter fakes right then left and he—what is the Gryffindor team doing?"

___________

Fifty feet above the commentary, James wasn't sure who'd gone insane—himself, Frank Longbottom, or his best friends.

Because the player in the green robe that said LESTRANGE bore an uncanny resemblance to Sirius Black.

Had Sirius decided to sabotage the match by taking the Slytherin Chaser's place? If so, he hadn't told James and his plot had backfired, since he'd instinctively shot the Quaffle towards a familiar Gryffindor face--not noticing the color of the robes in the darkness and rain.

And then he saw something that made the bottom drop out of his stomach. Severus Snape, Slytherin Beater, had been replaced by Remus Lupin—who looked small, confused, and vulnerable as a Bludger whistled by his head. James didn't think Remus even knew the rules of Quidditch.

But there was no time to think about the game. They had started at sunset—Remus should've been inside the Shack half an hour ago.

_________

"Potter attacks Snape!" bellowed Frank, incredulous. "He's brought him to the ground now he's dragging him across the pitch--"

"Time OUT!" yelled Madam Hooch.

"Foul!" screamed the Slytherins—just as a duck flew through the crowd and knocked Sally Bones, Gryffindor Seeker, off her broomstick.

__________

"Remus what the name of Godric are you doing?" were the only words James managed to get out as he ran at full speed between the Quidditch pitch and the Shrieking Shack, dragging his struggling friend under one arm.

Someone came running at them from the other direction. It was Peter.

"James!" he wailed. "He got out!"

"I know," James called out as he and Remus left Peter behind. The stunned Hufflepuff boy made no attempt to follow.

The Willow was shut off, so he managed to push Remus into the tunnel and drive him down it, hoping he wouldn't be forced to transform before they made it into the little house (who ever would've thought antlers could hurt when you bumped them?).

They faced each other, wet, muddy, and panting. Remus had an angry sneer on his face that looked so out of place on his human form it made James tense in anticipation of the change.

But all Remus did was press his hands against his stomach and groan softly. "I don't feel so good," he murmured.

Amazed that Remus would forget not only his transformation but also his grammar, James led him gently to the four-poster bed and helped him off with his shoes. "Just lie down," he urged. "It shouldn't be long."

____________

With one last backward glance at James, Peter tore off towards the Quidditch pitch. He didn't know where James had been hauling that body in Quidditch robes, but he did know where he'd last seen Remus heading.

The pitch was a chaos of confusion and screaming voices and quacking. Peter pushed his way through the crowd to find Sally, covered with mud and dazed from her fall, an enraged bird biting and clinging to her arm.

"But Professor McGonagall," Frank Longbottom was insisting, "clearly the Slytherins enchanted this duck. As well as casting a Confundus Charm on James"

Zebulon Malfoy folded his arms in a haughty manner that made Frank ball his hands into fists. "Proof, Professor," he purred, "they have no proof. The simple fact is that James Potter physically attacked one of our Beaters, and then deserted the pitch. A Gryffindor forfeit if I've ever seen one."

"Forfeit?" shrieked Frank and Sally—the latter as well as she could while shaking the bird off her arm.

The heated voices continued, and they all ignored Peter as he elbowed his way in, choking and crying too much to make any sense.

But someone up in the bleachers had begun to figure it out. Suddenly, there was a second bird in the fray, a black-haired duck who pulled the enraged creature off Sally and wrestled with it on the ground. Soon the birds had their beaks at each other's throats in a very un-ducklike manner, and in what might have been his bravest moment, Peter raised his wand.

"Stupefy!"

The others noticed him at last.

"Suppose you explain yourself, Pettigrew," said Professor McGonagall. "I imagine your friends put you up to this?"

Sally and Frank were a little less tactful.

"Idiot!" screamed Frank, as Peter retrieved the comatose birds, holding them by their scaly legs and trailing their bills on the ground. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"

"Stupid move, Peter." Sally rubbed her arm, which was covered with deep gouges. "Now why don't you tell us where James is so we don't forfeit the game?"

"James?" stammered Peter. "But I don't but I can't" he shot a nervous glance towards his limp burden and started to edge away.

"A Gryffindor forfeit if there's ever been one," smiled Malfoy.

Sally and Frank shook their fists as Peter cowered in the downpour.

____________

Remus lay in the bed in the Shrieking Shack, screaming in abject terror as though he had no idea of what was happening to him.

James had never seen the transformation before. Unlike Sirius, he was low in morbid curiosity, and didn't relish the thought of seeing one of his best friends in pain. Besides, Remus had forbidden them from coming down the tunnel to join him until half an hour after moonrise, with some intellectualized reason about why that was best that hadn't fooled James for an instant.

Still, he hadn't expected it to be this bad. It was as though Remus were four years old again, thinking he was going to die, instead of the controlled fifteen-year-old prefect who'd explained the Curvilinear Curse not twelve hours earlier. Had someone put a Memory Charm on him?

"Moony, buddy, I'm here," James mumbled weakly, embarrassed. He reached to loosen Remus' collar and wipe the sweat off his forehead. Pointy ears were already sticking out of his head, and he'd grown whiskers James tensed himself, and got on his knees preparing to change.

But Remus didn't transform any further. Instead, he turned to James with a hideous sneer. "Get your filthy hands off me, Potter."

James sat up, his mind swirling with an aborted Animagus transformation. It was all he could do not to bray like a wounded buck. "You're you're not Remus!" he exclaimed.

"Good going, genius," snarled Remus' voice.

"But then you're then you're" It was so obvious that James felt he must really have taken a Bludger to the head one time too many. It was right in front of his nose, in fact—written on the emerald Quidditch robe. "SNAPE!" he bellowed furiously, kicking the ground in a rather deer-like manner. "Snape, you slimy, slithering, parseltongued git!"

Snape smiled evilly, still clutching his stomach and groaning. "It worked, didn't it?" he crowed, in the quiet voice of someone trying very, very hard not to throw up. "You passed the Quaffle right to me more than once and to Lestrange"

"You nitwitted Kneazle, you'd risk your life to confuse me in a Quidditch game?"

Snape sat up in the bed, Remus' wolfy ears laid back angrily and whiskers twitching. James would greatly have preferred a real werewolf at this point. "Taking Polyjuice Potion is hardly a risk at least if your friends are human, Potter," he said in a low, dangerous whisper.

_____________

"I have to what?" quavered Peter, avoiding the broom that Sally thrust in his direction.

"Fly for Gryffindor," replied Frank, looking very pleased at the thought of Peter suffering on a broomstick in the rain.

"But but" Peter stammered. "I'm not even in Gryffindor."

No one was on his side. "It's an ancient rule of Quidditch, Pettigrew," said Madam Hooch (rather smugly, he thought). "A player from a neutral house can be exchanged if both opponents agree. It was necessary in the Middle Ages, of course, when the death toll in the games often ran very high."

Peter winced, and didn't even try to ask the Slytherins if they'd object to his presence. They'd probably enjoy beating up on him even more than they would a forfeit.

"Besides," Sally added, "if their team doesn't object to you, we won't object to the fact that Slytherin has Sirius Black."

"I'm not Sirius Black!" objected Sirius Black (in a robe that read LESTRANGE).

"Funny, you look a lot like him," remarked McGonagall dryly, with a scornful glance at Peter that he knew so well.

Everyone was starting at him, waiting for him to wimp out, or call for his friends, or cry. But James was gone, and his other friends were comatose barnyard fowl.

Putting the ducks down carefully by the bleachers, he took a deep breath and mounted the broomstick.

_______________

"My friends are perfectly human, Snape," James declared with a bravery he didn't feel. "Or at least until your goons get done with them."

"Oh, yeah?" Severus-Remus turned around and hiked up his robes. "How do you explain this, then?"

James shut his eyes automatically—then told himself that this was Remus' bottom he was being asked to inspect, and carefully opened them again.

True, the snake-patterned boxers were several sizes too tight, but what he thought was really bothering Snape was a familiar long, fluffy grey tail.

"How should I know?" he responded, still keeping up his bravado. "It was your teammates who tried to turn me into a duck!"

"If you don't recognize a Poultry Potion when you see one, Potter, that's hardly my concern," Snape sneered. "The red color is classic, even if it is mixed with powdered sugar and peppermint flavoring." He pulled his robes back down over the tail and turned around again.

"Well," James spat back bravely, "maybe you weren't paying any attention at breakfast either. Maybe we fed you um Alsatian omelets!"

A slow smirk spread across Snape's borrowed face, with something in it that James really didn't like—even apart from the inch-long werewolf fangs. "An Alsatian, Potter?" His hand went to the neck of his robes, and he began to unbutton them.

"What is this?" James wondered, only slightly nervously. "A vaudeville act?"

"Don't play the innocent with me, Potter, not with what goes on in the Prefects' bathroom!"

Remus' voice was frighteningly suited to quiet accusation, and James turned very, very red until he realized who the only person was who could be feeding Snape his information not a person at all.

"Don't listen to everything a ghost tells you," he snorted. "Especially a thirteen-year-old ghost. Myrtle doesn't know the difference between a I mean, she didn't even know that Lily was oh, hang it!" James clamped his mouth shut before he could implicate himself even further, and told himself that he'd really better warn Remus and Sirius in case they—oh, no, but surely they weren't?—but just in case

Snape paid no attention to James's embarrassment. He dropped his robe to the floor, standing in his underpants with an imperious air that matched the situation badly and his borrowed body not at all.

Then he turned around, and James realized why Remus never undressed in front of his friends. Two long, parallel white scars ran from his neck all the way down to the small of his back—exactly the pattern you'd expect from a canine, a very large canine, trying to bring down running prey.

James silently thanked the gods for his antlers, and made a mental note to always keep them between himself and Moony. And sharpen them.

"Well, Snape, what did I tell you?" he tried to sneer. "Remus' family has big mean Alsatians. Where'd you get the hair for your Polyjuice Potion, anyway? His pillow? It probably came from the dog."

"I pulled those hairs right out of his head, Potter!" shouted Snape.

Blessedly, James was saved from having to reply--for at that moment the body in front of him began to twist and melt. The small, freckled nose grew a good half inch, the wild ruff of brown hair around the doggy ears drooped into black tangles, and the body grew taller and thinner but at the same time more flabby. Snape had a bit of a belly that hung over his waistband, and some kind of hideous black tattoo on his left arm.

He did keep the ears, the tail, and the pointy teeth.

"For the love of Venus, put your clothes on!" yowled James, shutting his eyes. "You should've tried to get a date as Remus, while you had the chance."

"Hm," said Snape, reaching for his Quidditch robe, famous sneer returning. The whiskers suited him: he'd have to grow a moustache when he was older. He twiddled them, cutting his lip on a fang with an incautious smirk. "A date, you say? I'm sure there are plenty of parents of innocent young girls who'd have something to say about who or what is consorting with their beloved offspring."

"Shut up, Snape." It was much easier for James to be rude to the real Snape instead of the Remus/Snape, and didn't give him any twinges of guilt. "I don't know what you're implying, but whatever it is, you're wrong."

Snape glanced lazily around the room, as if noting for the first time the chewed furniture, the bloodstains, the mummified remains of a half-eaten rat. "And I suppose an Alsatian lives in the Shack, does it? The same Alsatian, perhaps? Raised by Remus' parents—who are wizards, of course, of long Ravenclaw stock yet they can't heal an ordinary dog bite?"

"You prat, of course there's no Alsatian in the Shack," James snapped. "Hasn't Dumbledore told you? There's a very unhappy ghoul in here, along with two poltergeists and a zombie." Something caught his eye, and he suddenly knew exactly what to say. "I was only worried about Remus because I knew what he'd been eating, and I figured he'd turn into a bird at any moment. In fact—there he is!"

The trapdoor finished creaking open, and sure enough, in came two wrestling waterfowl.

Now, gentle reader, do give James credit for all the effort he went through to preserve Remus' secret.

He understood how important it was.

That having Snape find out would be no less than a disaster.

He even worried, just a little, that Remus was contagious even in duck form.

Nonetheless, all he could do as the wereduck set on Severus with quacks and pecks of rage was roll on the floor and laugh.

Sirius joined in, kicking his webs in the air, and emitting a series of bizarre gasping quacks. Soon, however, he learned it was even more fun to join Remus and poke at prod at Snape.

"Help!" Severus cried. "He bit me! He BIT me! Oh, Potter, you will pay for this help help"

James kept laughing even when Remus turned on him, too, grabbing the back of his hand as viciously as he could with his cute orange bill.

"Oh, Moony" gasped James, choking as the skin was twisted off his hand. "You're such an adorable little ducky"

The werewolf's mind trapped inside the little ducky was not at all pleased.

___________

James knew they had to stay in the Shack until sunrise. He didn't know how much Poultry Potion Remus had gotten, and didn't want him turning back into a werewolf while strolling through the corridor to Madam Pomfrey. Sirius seemed to have the same thought, trailing after Remus with a beady eye constantly fixed on him--the tablespoonful of bird brain remaining to him didn't seem to have altered Sirius' personality at all.

James made a mental note to rub it in.

The problem, though, was getting rid of Severus. Even dripping wet, mocked by James, and bitten by ducks, he remained, waiting. James didn't dare ask what he was waiting for, and having come from the Quidditch pitch, he didn't have his wand to threaten to turn him into a wolfy-eared slug if he didn't leave.

Not only did he stay, but he began to make a slow, methodical, yet thorough search of the Shack. James said nothing, certain that Remus didn't leave things in here that would implicate him. Sometimes he was here for hours, too funny-looking to be in the castle even long before dark, but James knew he wouldn't bring his books for fear he'd chew them up. He watched Severus intently but tried to stay casual.

"Looking for the zombie, Sev?" he wondered, starting a small fire in the never-used fireplace. "They don't like noise, you know--it makes their ears fall off."

"You are a liar, and our esteemed Headmaster isn't much better," sneered Snape.

Suddenly he gave a crow of triumph, pulling something out from under the mattress of the four-poster. The ducks dove at him and James reached to snatch it away, but Severus levitated himself and hung right next to the ceiling, gloating as he unrolled the sheaf of parchment. Apparently Snape kept his wand with him when he played Quidditch.

He was quiet for a long moment, then began to read out loud. "`There were many centuries during which our kind were not considered monsters,'" he began, with a sarcastic emphasis on the words. "`During the late Middle Ages, the condition was so common that it became associated with all witches and wizards. It is only in the past twenty-five years, since the creation of the Registry, that we have been expected to deny our species to our employers, our friends, and even ourselves.'" Severus gave a scornful cackle. "`How many readers would be surprised to learn that there were once five of us in a single Gryffindor class in 1526? How many know of the heroism of Ivan Volkhovsky, the Russian leader who--'"

James stomped his foot. It was all he could do not to transform so he could jab Snape in the back. "Sirius, dammit!" he yelled. "You can fly!"

Sirius finally caught on--or else he thought it was a game--and flapped up to the ceiling, where he tore the parchment from Snape's clutching fingers.

Snape stayed floating, smiling evilly down at James. His tail--or Remus' tail--slapped the ceiling when he laughed. "A lovely literary style your zombie has," he cackled. "Or perhaps it was the ghoul? Or maybe--"

James hadn't been in a fistfight since his first year of primary school. He also knew that Snape was armed and he was not. Nonetheless, he lunged at the floating Slytherin, pulling him down to the ground by his robes and pounding at his large nose. "GET OUT SNAPE" he panted. "JUST LEAVE NOW"

Sirius was back to laughing again, and proved absolutely no help as Snape wriggled free and pulled out his wand. His bruised, whiskered face was contorted with hatred. "Fine, Potter. But don't pretend I don't know your quacking friend's dirty little secret. I'll be watching the bookshelves for when his sob-story masterpiece Hairy Snout, Human Heart comes out."

"Fine!" spat James, "you do that!" Struggling for a cleverer retort, he added almost as an afterthought, "And I'll be watching for I Was A Junior Voldemort Supporter."

The effect on Snape exceeded James's wildest imaginings. Maybe it was because he had a hard time hiding emotions in his half-werewolf form: his ears lay back; his lip curled; and his tail shot straight up into the air (whatever that meant). His eyes drifted guiltily off James's face and down to his own left arm (that was puzzling, too).

Finally he got control of himself. He still said nothing, staring straight into James's eyes with such loathing that the Gryffindor Chaser began to seethe with hatred himself. He knew at this moment that in three years each would gladly have the other denounced, imprisoned, or killed but that now they were forced into a semblance of cooperation by their one common goal: to graduate from Hogwarts.

James swore to himself that he wouldn't tell Remus about this scene, that he would protect him from Severus' suspicions and make sure they never became anything more than that but he also knew that he couldn't tell Dumbledore that Snape knew something about the followers of Voldemort.

Just you wait, you murdering scum, he thought. An hour after graduation "Get out, Snape," was all he said, very, very calmly.

Snape went.

James put his head in his hands and plunked himself wearily onto the hairy, clawed four-poster bed.

He didn't even wonder what had happened with the Quidditch match.

_________________

The next morning, little had changed; except now Remus had a gleam of quiet intelligence in his beady eyes.

"You in there, old buddy?" James wondered.

"Quack," said Remus.

Fortunately, Madam Pomfrey had spent the night restocking her stores of Bird Banishing Balm, and was able to restore Remus and Sirius with no harm done. Off in the corner was a bed with the drapes pulled; while his friends were being cured, James made a point to determine that this contained a still-whiskered, semi-furry Snape.

Then he ran down to breakfast, found the Ravenclaw table, and begged Remus' little protegee to take him to the common room. When his friends emerged from the hospital wing at last, he was ready.

"Finally," he exclaimed, messy hair even more vertical than usual from panic. "I hope you're ready to work."

"Work!" cried Sirius, a bit of squawk still left in his voice. "Me? Work? Are you crazy?"

Remus yawned. "Geez, James you know how it is though I admit I feel less tired than usual." He shook his head. "Definitely not worth it, though... I didn't even have TEETH. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy." He shuddered.

"Not even on Snape?" James suggested. "Just wait till you hear about how he borrowed your body and put on a strip show"

"WHAT?" Remus all of a sudden didn't look tired at all.

"That's right," said James, "and that's why I need your help." He thrust Playing Fetch With the Dark Side under the others' noses. "Sirius, you'll be gathering herbs and Remus, you get a cauldron. We have to turn the Slytherins into Alsatians before breakfast."

_______________

"It was a hard game, played with passion if a few irregularities." Dumbledore beamed. "Madam Hooch has personally asked me to play the role of referee because of an incidence of, er, foul play."

"Quack quack!" yelled Sirius.

Remus looked very, very confused, sitting between his Gryffindor friends at their table so as to get a direct view of the spectacle under the Slytherin banner. "How did this happen? Did I eat something funny yesterday?" he wondered.

"When do you not eat something funny, Moony?" Sirius retorted. "I've caught you in the Owlery I swear you fight your cat for what she drags in"

"No, no, never owls," Remus objected. "I did chew up Peter's bookbag, I admit Leather," he added, as if that explained why any sane person would find it delicious. "But still"

Peter was with them too. He was scraped and bandaged from the night before, a clumsy splint on his right index finger. "Oh!" he cried. "Those doughnuts I found in Transfiguration! I put them in my bag How many did you eat, Remus?"

"Well, all of them, I suppose," Remus replied. "But shhh"

"And although the winning goal was aided by a member of Hufflepuff House, I must give the final victory to Gryffindor."

There was a brief pause, then raucous cheers from Gryffindor. The Hufflepuffs joined in and then, after laying down their books, the Ravenclaws.

Sirius leapt on top of the table, one foot in a platter of scrambled eggs, and began to sing.

Gryffindor, oh Gryffindor

So glad I'm sorted there!

Our girls are better looking

Our guys all wash their hair

We're loyal, just and honest

Don't stab you in the back

(Well, maybe now and then, but

That's prob'ly Sirius Black!)

We don't use Unforgivables

Or put you in a Bind

We always welcome Muggle-Borns

And to outcasts we're kind!

So if you're not in Gryffindor

That really is too bad

You're just a wimp, a swot, or

A stinking, slithering cad!

James interrupted before they got to the infamous Fifth Verse.

"How'd you do it, Peter?" he asked.

"Well" began Peter modestly. "Quidditch really isn't so bad after all, if you got past the terrifying height and those awful little balls"

"I bounced a Bludger off him, and it knocked out Lestrange," smiled Sally Bones, who was bandaged all over but showing no signs of becoming a wereduck. "You're a hero, Peter."

James leapt up, raised his wand and levitated Peter in the air, passing him among the shoulders of the Quidditch team, then to his best friend. Sirius had no need of the levitation charm, bearing the chubby boy's weight on his shoulders and raising his bandaged hand in the sky. "So well thy words become thee as thy wounds: they smack of honor both," he quoted. "Wormy my pal, every time you look at that twisted finger of yours, you'll remember the day you saved the Cup for Gryffindor."

Peter turned a very deep shade of red.

____________

The Slytherins, meanwhile, were learning something that Remus had known for many years: eating off of fine china with dog lips can be a messy business.

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A/N: I put the Marauders in different houses for this one, because it worked better--and, yes, face it, I love the idea of Remus as a nerdy little Ravenclaw ^-^

I swore to myself I was cured of my MWPP obsession, but who could resist a challenge like Princess of the Ruby Throne's? Here's hoping for more respondents

Disclaimer: JKR owns Harry Potter, Nancy Stouffer owns her delusions, and I own nothing besides a 3-legged cat and too many textbooks, so don't sue me.