Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Rowling, infinitely more awesome than I, owns it all.
Spoilers: Anything is game up through Half Blood Prince. Only very, very indirect Deathly Hallows spoilers.
Notes Before the Fact: Takes place during fifth year. The Marauders are animagi already, but Sirius has yet to run away from home. Also, I am going on the premise that the Marauder's Map was completed early sixth year. I am also not British. If I happen to make glaring mistakes, gentle correction is much appreciated.
The Salacious Slugs
There was, of course, gradations that ranked just how well a prank had been carried off…although, the converse was also true – and very much applicable to certain situations – that there were gradations of just how badly a prank had been carried off, as well.
This had decidedly gone into the stage that Remus had christened "Such an unmitigated calamity that the most legitimate Seer in history couldn't have foreseen the results."
And Sirius – wedged firmly between two unyielding enchanted suits of armor so that he couldn't so much as perform a spell if he tried – could only grin rather impudently and say to his companions, "I could use a little help here, mates," as a number of fireworks whizzed within inches of his head. Standing by and scratching his head in deep concentration, James was attempting to think of a way to extract his friend from their metallic embrace as Peter paced nervously by and tried to bounce ideas off of him.
"Padfoot," James said after giving it the effort of a few futile waves of his wand, "Your charm work is, as always, impeccable…the armor is holding you as if it wants to snog the life out of you."
Sirius shifted, causing the armor to clank loudly for a moment and quipped, "I really would have preferred that Ravenclaw…in fact, I think even Snivellus would be less cold and clammy than this."
James muttered another incantation, causing nothing but a small tremor that ended in a faint fizzing noise.
"Almost wish you could have done a shoddy job on it, for once. Then you might have been able to sneak out with that Ravenclaw…Pennington, was it?"
Sirius utterly ignored that last line, "Wish my wand work could have chosen a better time to be-" he drawled the word arrogantly "-impeccable, Prongs – say, exams and the like. Although we did figure out - rather I figured out - that that particular recognition spell is pure rubbish."
"I dunno, mate," smiled Peter merrily, not having much of an opportunity to have a laugh at Sirius' expense, "You may look a bit like Filch."
James nodded in exaggerated agreement, "I think it must be the hair."
Sirius, no doubt had a retort to this, but at that moment a whizzing firework erupted, zoomed past his prone form, and ended up singeing a small tuft of Peter's sandy hair with a heatless flame.
"Well," James observed lightly, dodging the next waves of whizzing flames easily, "Stage two has gone off without a hitch, it seems."
"Pity stage one was unsalvageable," growled Sirius, who was now attempting to regain the feeling in one of his legs by squirming awkwardly about. One might have thought, if no one knew better (and of course, knowing Hogwarts, perhaps no one did in actuality know better…Remus had mentioned on more than one occasion that he thought the old castle had its own sense of humor) that the suits of armor rather seemed to enjoy capturing Sirius Black as they did.
"Do you think we could stop this?" Peter squeaked, and when awkwardly attempting to duck another barrage and tripped, launching himself into James – who was, at that moment attempting another spell for use on the suits of armor. The spell volley went wide and ended up hitting Sirius straight in the middle of the forehead, causing him to sprout neat ringlets in orange and turquoise.
"Not really my color, Prongs…" he muttered.
"Can't stop it, Wormtail," James responded with firm certainty (although, for lack of any better things to do, he was contemplating conjuring a straw hat with a large pink flower to match Sirius' current coiffure), "That was Moony's part in it."
There was a collective sigh…now there was impeccable charm work.
"And," with the reflexes of a Seeker, James dodged two more bursts of flame in quick succession, "Moony did a time restriction charm on it as well…more importantly - " with a flick of his wand he put out one of Sirius's ringlets who had not escaped the firestorm unscathed " – There's only so long that this can go unnoticed."
"Moony's on watch with the newest experimental map," Sirius commented as he attempted - rather unsuccessfully - to free one of his arms from his armor clad embrace in order to brush his remaining ringlets out of his eyes. Finally he gave up and continued, "Provided it doesn't go mental and begin labeling everyone 'Snivellus is a Greasy Git' again, we may have some chance of not being caught in so compromising of a position."
James raised an eyebrow as if to say We? but geared his mind back to fixing the problem at hand. Peter, evidently thinking of something, ducked under a wayward burst of flame and muttered a spell while tapping his wand against the offending captors.
There was a deep groaning noise of metal on metal and the armors' hold on Sirius clinched up significantly more. Peter immediately began apologizing profusely while Sirius responded by letting out a rather feral growl before saying "If I do –" he tried throwing his weight to one side in an attempt to take some of the awkwardness out of his position " – manage to get out of this – irk – predicament…I don't want to have to – ugh – explain to Madam Pomphrey how I managed to – irk – splinch myself in a place that you can't even Apparate."
He balled his hands into fists and nearly shouted, "Really, try a - "
"Problem!" Interrupted Remus Lupin's disembodied head as it seemingly materialized from out of thin air, followed by a hand holding up a ratty piece of parchment.
"Moony," said Sirius with apparent irritation, "We don't need to try a problem…this – not a tutorial! In fact, we – erg – have a problem!"
Pausing to take in the utter ridiculousness of the situation, Remus responded dryly, "I can see…but, if we can trust this particular recognition charm – and I'm not sure that's an option as it has Padfoot labeled as 'Argus Filch'…and if that's the case the dot 'Sirius Black' in the third floor corridor might be something more to worry about – but, Slughorn is also probably coming this way at this moment."
"No doubt on his way to nick some mulled mead," stated James with far less concern than Remus evidently thought such news should be received with.
"Or some left over treacle tart begged off some of the house elves," supplied Peter, echoing James' nonchalance.
"Well, its not like we can bloody run away," growled Sirius.
This did not receive the immediate response that Sirius thought that it might deserve. Rather, all three of his fellow Marauders were trying to ignore their captured companion…Remus, in his defense, however, was busy ignoring him in favor of watching the approaching map dots. Finally, looking up at Sirius James said, "That's not precisely the case, Padfoot."
Sirius looked very incredulous at such a statement.
Remus and James exchanged a look and nodded.
"Well," said James at a length with a bit of gusto, "Wormtail, Moony…shall we be off?"
Thinking this was in the usual vein of pranks, Sirius chuckled lightly.
Agreeing that it was a very bad idea indeed for a prefect to be caught out of bed – even without the more than slightly suspicious addition of magical fireworks and a good friend caught between two suits of armor – Remus readjusted James's invisibility cloak about his shoulders and made ready to leave. Throwing another increasing worried and slightly distrustful look at the bit of parchment in his hands and said, "Assuming he's not already heard - "
"Slug's not deaf, only a bit dodgy," interrupted Sirius with his usual disdain for Slytherins of all kinds.
Remus gave him a look that clearly said that this was not the time and finished, "Well then, we have about three minutes."
With a short laugh, James clapped Remus on his shoulder – at least ostensibly where his shoulder should have been – and gave Sirius a rather gallant bow before turning to his other two friends and gesturing to them to obey the first rule of pranking: Don't get caught.
The smirk that had been playing at Sirius' lips throughout the evening – even during his capture – began to waver a bit as Peter nodded and he and James consulted Remus as to the best escape route.
It completely faded when the three began walking off down the corridor.
"In case you didn't realize – or, perhaps I'm confunded and you lot are right prats – but you do seem to be leaving someone behind."
Not a single one of his companions slowed their pace. Remus, in fact, took the opportunity to disappear completely beneath the cloak. James, however, gave a friendly wave of parting and drawled, "Would have left ages ago had it been anyone besides Slug – he doesn't exactly scamper along, does he now…unless there's a good roast at the other end…Now had it been McGonagall - "
Sirius twisted so violently in his armored clutches that his captors began to clank loudly enough that they drowned out the end of the jibe.
"It should be a rule! Don't leave fellow Marauders behind!" Sirius bellowed down the hall, throwing caution to the winds.
"The rule is don't get caught – you made that one!" James shot back, prompting more clanking.
"Well, then, I'll bloody change it! We've broken it loads of times, anyways. Doesn't seem to really count as a proper rule anymore."
"Overruled!" Came a chorus of voices.
"Well," floated back Remus' disembodied voice from an ever lengthening, "Filch has heard all of that at any rate…Sirius, your dot is now scampering straight for here."
"Wonderful," came the reply from near the armors, "Have him down to tea here – just me, Slughorn, Filch and his flea bitten cat…some nice lace doilies, sipping from the armor's helmets…alone."
He gave the last word particular emphasis…his friends thought that they should, perhaps, feel guilty if they hadn't other things to worry about at that moment. In lieu of a response, Sirius continued on with his grumpy monologue: "In fact, when I get down from these I'm gonna find a spell that disassembles these metal bitten gits and place them in odd places all over the castle whe- OUCH! I wasn't being serious!"
Evidently the armor had taken exception to such a comment.
At the other end of the corridor, however, he thought he heard, "In fact you were…Always are, really" in the pattern of their perennial joke.
"Now, really," mumbled Sirius to himself, seeing that the other were out of all but shouting range…not that he really cared whether they got caught at all anymore, "What happened to that Muggle Moose-Cat-Ears nonsense that Moony was going on about first year – 'One for all and all for none' and the like."
His somewhat bitter reverie was interrupted by the outraged bellow of "Students in the corridors, Professor! You'll have to move quicker to catch the little insects – probably Potter and Black again by the sound of it" followed by Filch himself, loping with manic glee.
Slughorn soon followed – already breathing deeply from the quick jaunt. Filch's face spread into a nasty grin as he spotted Sirius, who he was overly familiar with and on whose behalf he had applied numerous times to make a smidgen of torture legal for repeat offenders.
And Filch was familiar enough with Sirius to know he rarely worked alone. Jerking a thumb down the other side of the corridor he shouted, "There'll be more than this one here! Round the corner and catch Black's nasty little friends, Professor!"
Filch rounded on Sirius, only to be met with a great barrage of fireworks. Meanwhile, looking tired and mutinous, Slughorn followed his directions and found that – at the very end of the corridor, were the backs of two delinquent Gryffindors. Before they could round the corner he whipped out his wand and cried "Petrificus Totalus!" twice in quick succession.
He caught James in mid step, but by sheer dint of luck he managed to avoid awkwardly falling. Peter, on the other hand, was not so lucky. He was hit squarely in the back and, immobilized, tumbled forward, straight onto Remus' concealed form, somehow ripping off the invisibility cloak in the process.
Hurriedly, Remus managed to cram it into the pocket of his school robes while he was fairly certain that Slughorn was more than a bit distracted by another sudden burst of noise (accompanied by both Filch's and Sirius' yells) and wouldn't notice the gesture. Somehow, he also managed to free his wand arm just enough to mumble "Disobedience done!" leaving, for no perceptible reason, a dot labeled "Snivellus Snape is an oily prat" where the Slytherin dungeons had previously been displayed.
The sounds of Filch attempting to bodily extricate Sirius from the suits of armor and his answering yells of pain and subsequent taunts from the caretaker's efforts. Feeling Peter's elbow digging into his back, Remus mumbled, "Disobedience done, indeed. Done for awhile, I think."
An image of a rather irate McGonagall in her tartan dressing gown stirred within his head (a very familiar image for any one of the Marauders), as Slughorn muttered "Enervate" and gestured for them all to follow him back to where Filch was alternatively avoiding becoming increasingly singed and angrily telling Sirius exactly what he would do if not for the headmaster's disapproval.
"Reckon we might be able to try a bit of a memory charm on them?" James whispered without much hope.
Peter's eyes flickered for a moment contemplating this and he was about to voice his approval when Remus responded with a glance that meant he thoroughly thought he should have remained studying back in the common room this evening.
Slughorn gathered them just outside of the perimeter of where the fireworks reached and cut short Filch's heated exchange with Sirius with a "Now, Argus, I believe I can handle this from here."
Regarding the Potions master with a look of thinly veiled contempt and disgust, he growled, "You don't know Black and his lot like I do, Professor."
"Actually," he replied thoughtfully, "I seem to recall an incident with one of my Slytherin students and a biting cauldron that occurred two years ago…"
James and Sirius exchanged a look that clearly read "Snivellus" to anyone acquainted with it.
"As I said," Slughorn continued pompously, "I do believe I have the situation very much in check…although, Argus, if you go and fetch Minerva for me I will be very much in your debt."
Turning back to give a look of intense disappointment to the Marauders (especially Sirius), Filch muttered something that sounded very much like "a pity" and "the rack" and walked very slowly (perhaps to the beat of a funeral dirge) and unwillingly away - Mrs. Norris in tow.
This left only Slughorn, who turned back to him with a thin smile on his lips.
"Now," He said, taking out his wand with more flourish then, perhaps, was necessary, "we shall have to clean up what we can of this mess."
He utterly ignored Remus as he began to protest and stated, "Finite Incantatem."
For a moment the balls of fire hovered with sinister innocuousness in the air, their blue tips pulsating with a blue tinged light. Then, they began to shiver in place before, following a loud exploding noise, shooting off at twice their original speed in every which direction. After leaping out of the way more spryly than any of the Marauders thought him capable of, Slughorn looked rather…impressed.
"Time restricted spell," he mumbled appraisingly, "That's N.E.W.T. level."
"Professor, I don't mean to interrupt your glowing admiration of Remus' spellwork - " here Remus sent Sirius a sour look " – But even though we seem to be prodigiously skilled, I am not sure that my fellow companions and I have the skill necessary to…" he paused dramatically, "liberate me…so I can hex the lot of them."
The last bit was added in an undertone.
Slughorn looked like he did not know whether to be insulted or amused at this form of address. Instead, he settled for replying, "Unfortunately, lad, either the headmaster or deputy headmistress will have to free you from your current situation, " it looked suspiciously as if he was more amused by this than he should have been, "…those suits of armor are a direct line of defense for the school…so you and your companions must have been doing something highly interesting – to say the very least – to engage them. Obviously they wanted to cut you off prior to whatever mischief you had planned being managed."
"And, in the future, Mr. Black," responded another all too familiar voice, "You should refrain from practicing your charms on school resources."
Looking forbiddingly severe and a bit disheveled – long black hair in a tight plait over her tartan dress robe – McGonagall, without so much as raising her wand, commanded the suits of armor, "Your duty to the school has been fulfilled…let this…" she seemed to be struggling for a number of possible terms to pin on Sirius, "troublemaker down."
At the mere sounds of her voice, the armors' grips retracted and Sirius was dropped unceremoniously – and none too gently – to the ground. He stood up and rubbed his bruised bottom with an incredibly disgruntled look on his face.
"Professor, you might have been a little more gentle."
McGonagall's eyes flashed and Sirius' companions grimaced at their friend's usual lack of tact.
"And you, Mr. Black, might have – for once in your academic career – shown a bit of judgment!" She whipped out her wand and cast a shield charm to fend off an oncoming burst of lurid purple flame, "Chronically irresponsible, Mr. Black! As usual."
Her sharp gazes swept past Sirius then, to the awaiting forms of her other offending Gryffindor students…all of whom were trying to make themselves as scarce as possible.
Potter she always took to be a given – he and Sirius were as thick as two overly clever thieves and came all too often as a matched set. Sometimes it was a wonder to her that they hadn't thought to magically bind themselves to each other at the hip. Slightly behind Potter, the sandy haired Peter Pettigrew – who was, as usual, looking sheepish - was trying to surreptitiously disappear behind the taller boy or disillusion himself into the wall. He flinched slightly under McGonagall's probing glance.
At this moment, two ornate fireworks rebounded off one of the walls and blazed gloriously within an inch of the head of Gryffindor House's nose. Not so much as flinching, she turned with a severe scowl to Slughorn.
"I believe, Horace, you have quite forgotten to clear up a bit of this."
Slughorn – unable to keep a bit of admiration from coloring his voice as his eyes traced the arc of one of the sparklers – explained, "They're under a time delay spell…tried the Finito charm and it didn't work…in fact, it sped up the speed of the glorious little sparklers. It'll have to wait until the allotted time is up."
And, armed with this bit of information. She looked back at the last individual in her line up of students, eyes widening a tad bit as she felt slightly betrayed.
"Mr. Lupin, I would have expected a good deal more from a Gryffindor prefect."
At this, much of the color drained from his face and his expression turned guiltier than the rest of his comrades combined. Unable to meet her eyes, he trained his eyes on the slightly fraying hem of his robes.
"Yeah, no high expectations for us, though," muttered Sirius under his breath.
James visibly grimaced as McGonagall advanced on him, "As a matter of fact, Sirius Black, I have very high expectations of you provided that you stop this frivolous waste of your gifts and display some much needed maturity. However, you have repeatedly shown my assessment to be severely pessimistic at your decorum to be very much practical and well founded. I do not believe it wise to hope for something so obviously beyond your limits at the present time!"
Although, the smugness had rather begun to drain from his face, for a horrible instant it looked as if he might keep up the row with McGonagall out of pure pride (or, in a thought that made Remus want to severely lecture him, amusement).
However, James had chosen that particularly unwise moment to chuckle at his friend's reprimand, bringing McGonagall's wrath down on him.
"The same, I am afraid, goes for you Mr. Potter. You and Black seem to be a mutual poor influence on each other. Now," she said with a tone of decided finality, as if daring any one of them to so much as utter one syllable more, "Twenty points each shall be taken from the lot of you. And," she paused, giving Sirius a very hard look, "Thirty extra shall be taken on Mr. Black's behalf for pure, unadulterated cheek."
Sirius had the good grace to look almost repentant.
"In my office, Thursday evening, I shall decide on an additional punishment for you four…and, due to the disturbing rate of reoccurrence of such activities, I also shall inform your parents of your continued poor choices. For now, bed!"
Without so much as a glance between them (it was quite certain there was no room for discussion), they gave up the ghost of the plan and trudged back to the common room, leaving Slughorn looking thoughtful behind them.
Two things became abundantly clear at that moment: Firstly, that Remus' level of how cataclysmic a prank might become was particularly salient to the evening's events and, secondly, for the fifth year running, Gryffindor might encounter a fair degree of difficulty in winning the house cup.
Breakfast, as usual, brought a peck of owls through the windows of the Great Hall, dropping letters on the tables in front of various students (the ancient and half-blind Lupin owl, however, missed the table and Remus' letter landed with a plop! in his goblet of pumpkin juice and had to be dried magically). Due to the fact that each of the Marauders had received a separate letter from their home – which was such an incredible rarity in Sirius' case that even to call it a "rarity" was an understatement – it had become obvious that news of their botched midnight exploits had finally reached beyond the castle.
Peter, munching on his toast and listening with rapt interest to James' and Sirius' heated debate on the new acquisitions of the Chudley Canons, was the first to receive his. The scarlet envelope that fell down in front of him was treated with almost as much trepidation as many wizards treated a Grim sighting. After a moment of shock, Peter took in hand and immediately ran to the corridor outside the hall to open it. The last thing to be heard before the Hall's massive wooden doors shut was the shrill word "AGAIN!?!?" that echoed throughout the hall and caused an immediate flurry of gossip around the house tables.
Remus' letter was the next to arrive, falling into his goblet as if it were the punch line to the joke James had been telling to lighten the mood of the room. As it was not a howler it did not attract undue attention, but its muted expressions of disappointment affected Remus far more than any shouting possibly could. Throughout the rest of the meal, he picked with moody guilt over the remains of his eggs.
James and Sirius then spent a good portion of time and energy trying to bring him out of his ennui, until James' own letter arrived. Unlike the evident dissatisfaction with their son's behavior that had colored Lupin's parents letter or the severe anger that Peter had been greeted with, James' had only been gently (and almost half-heartedly) reproving. It ended with a note from his father that read: "Please suggest that Sirius plan something less…ostentatious next time. And, in the future, the both of you should study more…conventionally."
Sirius' reaction to this bit of censure was far more telling than his response when he received his own letter from the most pompous, stuck up owl to ever grace Gryffindor's table. The great, ebony bird alighted on the table, hooted disdainfully as if it found the very wood to be offensive, and then handed Sirius the letter while nipping his finger maliciously.
He swore and hissed that if his mother was capable of teaching the owl to say something like "dirty blood traitor" he was sure she would have by now.
However, once his own letter was in front of him, Sirius had merely remained lounging about - occasionally popping a kipper into his mouth – staring with apparent boredom at his own name written upon the brilliantly scarlet envelope.
"If you don't open it soon," said Remus mildly, pensively chewing on the remains of his breakfast, "It will start to smoke."
"Smells amazingly foul," added Peter morosely as he returned to his seat at the table from his own struggle against a howler. He stated this bit of information with the distinct air of someone who had found out such a thing the hard way.
Sirius frowned, his bored expression wavering decidedly, "I already know what the damned thing will say."
His three companions exchanged a slightly worried glance over the marmalade.
"Same old thing that she always does – shame on the family name, stain on the Black honor – not that it needs my help in the slightest – be more of an insufferable git like your brother, cavorting with mudbloods and blood traitors is inevitably leading me to folly and inevitable ruin…with enormous amounts of love and devotion, mum…oh – by the way! – Dad also sends his warmest regards and deepest admiration for significantly increasing Slytherin's odds at the house cup…" he trailed off and stabbed the last bite on his plate quite savagely with his fork, following this act up by tapping the tip of his wand against the angry red surface of the envelope.
He looked up and said humorlessly, "You fancy a Reductor curse might work on it?"
Peter, ever the expert on such matters, shook his head vehemently with a completely horrified expression upon his face.
As if sensing the strife it was already causing by simply sitting there, the letter began to smoke and give off a faintly acrid smell.
Opening his copy of The Daily Prophet, Remus began to read, while placing his sleeve over his nose to block at a smell that seemed to be vaguely related the odor of burnt hair. Everyone but Sirius followed suit with a similar gesture.
After a seeming eternity of overpowering stench, the letter finally burst open and a dramatic, "Shame of my flesh!" echoed magnificently up to the very rafters of the room, garnering stares and a few grimaces at the more choice words Walburga Black was now using to scold her son.
When the tirade of insults, the usual threats to disown him, and comments that insinuated he might improve by more careful observation of his brother's behavior (who looked up in vague mortification from the Slytherin table when his name echoed solidly across the room) – more or less covering the topics that Sirius had already outlined – ended, Sirius was, curiously, smiling rather brightly.
"Well gentleman," he declaimed gallantly, getting up from the bench and sweeping into a bow in their direction, "the rest of you lot -" another sweeping bow to the other house tables "-oh yes, Professors," he gave a final flourish to the front of the room where McGonagall arched her eyebrows at him and Dumbledore nodded politely back, "Thank you all for taking part in that moment of familial closeness with me. I shall have to be off now."
He made a sweeping turn and marched very purposefully up to the door, the rest of the Marauders exchanging a perplexed and incredulous look in light of Sirius' hurried departure.
"Reckon he's up to more fireworks?" Asked Peter with no particular conviction.
The others didn't answer and merely stared after him rather warily.
During the classes that followed breakfast – notably Transfiguration – the Marauders were on their best behavior in an effort to regain lost house points and assuage the temporary irritation of their fellow Gryffindors at another sharp drop in their position within the house competition. This, unfortunately, meant that there was no easy way to query Sirius about what he had been up to after breakfast.
By the time the Marauders had arrived at a class in which no professors were likely to care about interruptions – specifically a soporific double History of Magic lesson – Sirius was so thoroughly asleep throughout the entirety of the class period that, as he had a rather bad habit of hexing people who awoke him without warning (a bad habit that had caused James to violently belch up lurid pink hair balls for an entire day the last time he had been so unwise as to try such a thing), no one really wished to hazard it.
After classes Sirius disappeared entirely until dinner that, for a moment, it appeared as if he might skip as well. But, he finally sauntered in fifteen minutes after the portions had magically appeared and broke his fellow Marauders out of the intense speculation they were having as to his current whereabouts.
He sat down with such an aura of smug impudence that, when Remus looked up from his book, and, seeing his friend's glib expression linger on as he served himself a large portion of Cornish Pasty, he immediately snapped the tome shut and asked, "What exactly have you done now, Padfoot?"
In response, Sirius' grin became all the wider as he said nebulously, "I've just sent them off."
Remus frowned all the more, waiting for an explanation. Unfortunately, Sirius was not in a particularly forthcoming mood, and merely sat impudently tearing apart a piece of bread in a decidedly canine fashion.
With a sigh, Remus turned back to his book, knowing that reading would certainly be more profitable than waiting for Sirius' gloating phase to end. If pressed, he knew that the most volatile member of their group would first feign deafness at any questions and then strategically place large gobs of food in his mouth and make gestures that dictated that good manners – which he, of course, normally wouldn't care about displaying – dictated that he couldn't answer at the present moment. No, it was much better to wait for Sirius to talk until he wanted to. Or James made him.
Which, from the look of curiosity mingled with annoyance that colored the face of the other boy, might be very soon.
"So," drawled Sirius at a length, evidently moving to steer the conversation away from the previous topic, "You think Pennington heard that bit from my mother earlier?"
"I don't think anyone didn't hear that bit from your mother earlier" said Peter with a shiver.
"She's still being all evasive, then?" Asked James lightly.
Sirius placed an elbow on the table and leaned his head upon his palm.
"You know Ravenclaws…all cold, and evasive and bookish. Rather like Saint Moony over there."
"For your information," replied Remus without any indication he was interested in the conversation at hand, "I am not cold. And you're only characterizing Pennington that way because she doesn't buy the airs you put on."
Sirius answered as if the last bit of critique wasn't even said, "Not cold, says our Moony, but he will own up to evasive and bookish, it seems."
The sound of paper crinkling as the pages of his friend's book changed were his only response.
"Bookish and evasive," drawled Sirius again in an attempt to goad Remus into the conversation.
After a period of silence, the werewolf responded, "While no one can accuse you of being bookish – "
"-No need for books," Sirius shot back with a grin, evidently glad to be causing a row with someone.
"-'Evasive,' however, is an excellent descriptor for you," Remus paused, and a look of annoyance crossed Sirius' face as he realized his diversion had doubled back and was about to attack him, "What were you doing after you received your howler?"
"Classes, bit of a nap in Binns' class, thought I might interest the giant squid in a helping of Snivellus…turns out it's a vegetarian, at any rate - "
His carefully edited itinerary was cut off by the chorus of his three companions taunting, "Evasive."
"Fine," he spat, stabbing his last piece of pasty and rising to begin the walk to McGonagall's office, "I sent some letters."
Making a loud scraping noise with the bench upon the stonework of the floor, the others rose as well.
Suddenly, as if he were struck by an idea, James' eyes narrowed.
"Sirius, you didn't do it again, did you?"
Unaccustomed to hearing James say his actual name when only in the company of fellow Marauders except in very grave situations, Sirius immediately turned around to face his friends with an expression of carefully constructed ignorance. Everyone immediately took this as a very bad sign that he had ostensibly done whatever James thought he had.
"Which version of the stunt did you pull this time?" asked James testily.
"I…" Sirius answered with practiced carelessness, "Merely sent dear old mum a howler of my own."
While this answer seemed perfectly satisfactory (Indeed, Remus rolled his eyes at his friend's characteristic defiance and Peter looked at Sirius all the more admiringly), James wasn't convinced that this was all there was to it.
"You said 'letters,' I believe."
Sirius gave him a long and very unhappy look.
"The other one I sent was to the Ministry."
Raising of eyebrows commenced.
"…Telling the auror office that they might find some rather interesting dark artifacts at 12 Grimmauld Place."
James' only immediate response was to knead his forehead.
"I suppose," he said at a length, "that I should write and tell my parents that they should expect you for at least part of the Christmas holidays again, then?"
"My mother said you are also welcome back as long as you leave her tea cups along this time," Remus said pointedly, sighing a bit, "She told me that the novelty of having to run and catch them wore off a week after your visit ended."
Sirius gave a sheepish smile at both the memory and the offer.
"My parents would have you, too," piped up Peter, "Dad reckons he could beat you at Exploding Snap next time you came."
Sirius turned around whilst making a gesture that looked suspiciously like he was wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his robe and said in a soft voice, "Thanks, mates, for being willing to take in a lovable stray."
"You may mean," quipped James, "a right immature git."
He waved his hand as if to brush off the comment but responded, "Yeah, you've probably got that bit correct."
By then they had reached the door to McGonagall's office and walked in when bidden.
Her usual disavowal of their behavior, surprisingly, did not commence immediately. Rather, she looked over her square glasses straight at Sirius and stated in a strange tone, "Mr. Black, should you need someone to speak with your parents…" she trailed off for a moment as if she was well aware that there was more than one thing that the Blacks could do with being told, "I am more than happy to speak with Walburga and Orion on your behalf."
Her tone made it clear that there might be a rather interesting history between the parties involved.
Sirius, for a moment left without a witty comeback, finally managed to raise his hand and say, "No need, Professor."
"Yeah," jumped in James with a lopsided grin, "Even if he's got himself a wish to be kicked out on the streets by his parents, we have him covered."
McGonagall looked as if she didn't know exactly what to make of this comment so, letting the issue go for the time being, she let them know the terms of their week's detentions.
…The terms of their detention happened to be such that at least two of the Marauders would much rather wished that they had been told to clean bedpans in the hospital wing without magic again.
"For whatever reason." McGonagall had said, sounding less than convinced, "Professor Slughorn particularly wanted you for some work he has to do this week."
James and Sirius had both fought a groan at this news, as they had been dodging a full induction into the infamous "Slug Club" for all of their years at Hogwarts. Indeed, the excuses they had been using to skive off Slughorn's various parties had grown more and more elaborate by the year. As Sirius lacked the convenient excuse of Quidditch practice that James exercised regularly, he had been forced to do everything from joining the Gobstones Club for three separate intervals (After each of which he declared that he didn't appear to have talent for the game, but might return if the need for novelty compelled him to) to scheduling impromptu dates with girls who had been quite obviously fawning over him (as he categorically avoided these girls after the fact, Lily Evans had dismissively called his behavior "disgusting and opportunistic" on more than one occasion).
Detention, particularly during the last few years when their more ambitious efforts more often went awry, also afforded them quite an air tight alibi. So much that sometimes they planned pranks that they were sure would fail a few days before one of the parties was to take place.
"Sluggy's going to make us his real good friends," said Sirius with morose dramatic flair as they traipsed towards the dungeons.
"There's always a chance he might just make us clean old potions vials," said Remus, who, by virtue of his rather shabby appearance had never been collected for one of Slughorn's gatherings.
"Yeah," said James, "He's been trying to collect Padfoot and I for years…you think he'll let some grimy potions bottles get in the way of that?"
Slipping back into the rhythm of the game, Peter exclaimed, "Whatever would they want you two for?"
Mussing his hair head replied, "I bet you he is quite taken with my skills as a Seeker."
"And Padfoot?" queried Remus with an arched eyebrow.
The rest of his friends threw Sirius an appraising glance.
"Talentless, that one is."
"Don't have any clue what anyone would want with him."
"Might be the Slytherin bent in him – all the pure blood must make old Sirius Black practically destined for greatness."
"Must be my excellent pedigree," he stated loftily.
By the time they had arrived at Slughorn's office door they had descended into laughter and, gasping for breath with red faces, jumbled on through the door and into detention.
As they spotted Slughorn's corpulent form, sitting almost daintily on a posh looking and heavily embroidered chair (all the while warily noting the rather smug grin on his face), they all reverted to something vaguely resembling proper decorum (although James' and Sirius' form of decorum was far more like a mockery of the actual thing than anything). Remus nodded slightly to himself – although the gesture was notable for him – as they saw a large crate of potion vials before them in various states of grimy ooziness.
When they had seated themselves, Slughorn clapped his hands merrily and exclaimed, "My dear boys! A pleasure to see you this evening, a veritable pleasure!"
Peter – mostly by virtue of the fact that James and Sirius were about to snort with laughter if they had to make the mandatory reply and Remus looked rather like he wanted a proper detention – tamped down his own grin and said with a polished display of false contriteness, "As much of a pleasure as detention is likely to be, Professor."
Guffawing, the potions master gave them all a wink that the Marauders supposed was intended to be a supreme act of subtlety.
"Well," he said in an equally unconvincing conspiratorial tone, busying himself with the crate in front of him, "We shall get through this entire business of penalties, I think. Professor McGonagall, of course, wants me to quite impress upon you - what was the wording? ...Ah, yes – the severity of your actions."
Remus continued to look more and more guilty, as he knew he should ostensibly have been cleaning out bed pans and the like, but was utterly thwarted as, with another conspiratorial wink, Slughorn directed them to clean the box of vials…with full use of their wands.
Between them all, the task took a matter of minutes, slowed only by the sheer volume of bottles and a rather vile orange crust caked to a few bottles that took multiple charms to remove. This left more than forty-five minutes of "punishment" left.
To Remus' increasing – though well concealed to all but his school mates - horror, Slughorn conjured a large decanter of amber colored mead and offered glasses all around. Both James and Sirius gave overly elaborate speeches of acceptance and Peter, looking a bit bemused at having been offered such a thing, managed a "yes, thank you" as he took a glass and compulsively took a deep swig. Remus, with a very dubious expression that remained firmly in place despite Slughorn's best attempt to goad him, politely refused.
("First time he's turned a Professor down on anything," Sirius whispered rather too loudly.
"Even takes those awful biscuits from McGonagall all the time," responded James in a similar tone.)
"So, dear boys," Slughorn began expansively when glasses had been distributed, "Do tell me about yourselves."
One of those awkward silences that are always a product of someone asking an egregiously broad question was the sole answer to his query.
After a few moments where all that could be heard was James noisily sipping from his glass simply to make noise, Sirius, with ripe enthusiasm, began, "Well, I'm tall, with a deeply casual elegance, I simply adore moonlight strolls, am adept at both crocheting and brewing up a peppery roast…I also absolutely dote on a good rawhide che-"
"And," James cut him off neatly, "You also resemble quite the middle-aged witch on WWN's Cauldron of Love."
Shrugging and smoothing the hair out of his eyes, Sirius deadpanned, "Easy mistake to make, I suppose."
Slughorn looked from one to the other for a minute (the Marauders assumed most Slytherins couldn't think fast enough to keep up with their pace of verbal wit and therefore, what certified as a normal exchange for the Marauders must be fairly mentally trying for old Slug) and then, as if he wanted the last laugh himself, the Potions master gave a large rumble of mirth and changed his tactics.
Wavering for a moment between the two more subdued Marauders, Slughorn evidently decided that Remus might just be the most compliant of the group.
"What brings you here, Mr. Lupin?" he asked rather tactlessly, adding insult to injury by tacking on, "Being a prefect and all."
Lupin colored slightly before saying mildly, "As you can see, I'm in was a bit of a rough crowd."
Slughorn laughed heartily at this.
"But aside from your rather rough acquaintances - " here James and Peter quietly snorted as Sirius mouthed and acted out McGonagall's habitual refrain of "Chronically irresponsible!" "- That was rather impressive work with those sparklers. Even dear Filius – that would be Professor Flitwick to you, of course – was gazing upon them with deepest admiration," Slughorn waggled a finger in Remus' direction, "Keep up work like that, my boy, and you'll go quite far in this world. Yes, quite far…"
He trailed off at the end, although it sounded as if he wanted to add something and changed his mind at the last moment (the Marauders were, however, fairly certain what it was) and, despite it, Remus did quite an admirable job of looking extremely gracious throughout the spiel.
"Thank you, Professor, but it really wasn't much," he responded with pointed politeness.
"Ah, no need for modesty, Mr. Lupin! Such behavior in excess rarely motivates one to Apparate for the moon, as they say. Not becoming in one with such talent."
The Marauders exchanged a glance that indicated both that Moony no doubt wanted to stay far apart from his namesake (even had there been oxygen there) and that they certainly couldn't think of a behavior that was more becoming to their friend (which was, with their imaginations, indeed, a feat).
So, James saw it fit to come to his rescue.
"Professor, who you really want to speak with is Peter over there," in absolute surprise at this statement, the short boy flinched and succeeded in sloshing a good portion of the contents of his glass down his front. "He's the true mastermind behind the whole endeavor."
"Right brilliant mastermind, at that," jumped in Sirius, eyes twinkling and precisely on cue.
However, in response to such praise, Peter found that he was quite unable to form so much as a coherent sentence in corroboration…his best efforts were a string of disjointed syllables that made him sound like a Zonko's product with a bad charm.
For a moment, Slughorn frowned rather incredulously, examining Peter carefully…however, since both Black and Potter had brought the affair up – and they seemed trustworthy enough, despite a penchant for troublemaking – he eventually decided that the evidence of two pure bloods was more than enough. Clapping the smallest Marauder on the back and taking another deep draw from his third or fourth glass of mead, Slughorn nearly bellowed, "Now there's a good lad – so much the genius he can't even articulate it!"
Despite how erroneous such praise might have been (and also, combined with the fact that by this time the tips of his ears had gone pink from nervously sipping his mead throughout the evening), Peter felt a warm glow of pride at being recognized by a professor who would otherwise have paid him no mind.
"And," exclaimed Slughorn suddenly, turning to those who might have been his desired targets all along, "Let us not forget about Mr. Black and Mr. Potter! Two excellent families! Excellent pedigrees, indeed!"
The rotund professor, despite his jovial mood, was a bit perplexed by the rush of laughter his comment elicited, but, regaining his momentum, continued on, "Quite the talent at Quidditch you have, Mr. Potter! Give my Slytherins a run for their galleons every time!"
Self-consciously ruffling his hair, James grinned and remarked, "Oh, believe me, Professor Slughorn, I do try."
Slughorn matched his grin with one of his own and turned to Sirius. "Ah, quite the talent for transfiguration, I've heard you possess…from no less an authority than Professor McGonagall herself -" James whispered loudly to the others that they had discovered his very hidden talents at long last " – very bright, she says. And enormously clever."
For a moment, Sirius wondered at the fact that she had said anything about him other than the usual complaints about his lack of motivation and positive direction in life.
"It's a pity," went on Slughorn thoughtfully, "that this Black generation doesn't have such a talent in the craftsmanship of potions - although it is a pleasure to have your dear brother grace my house. But a definite pity you, my boy, decided to be…well," he evidently was about to say something he thought very clever, "Black sheep of the family."
Ignoring the last part of Slughorn's speech entirely, Sirius leaned forward and said very gravely, "How many cauldrons has Reg managed to melt in Potions this year?"
Slughorn looked particularly smug for a moment, evidently believing he had mastered all the ins and outs of the verbal warfare of this particular group of students, "Not as many as you have yet, my dear boy."
His jibe was rewarded with burst of raucous laughter from the rest assembled.
Looking as if he was going to make another joke at someone, Slughorn casually looked down at his watch and suddenly exclaimed, "Dear me! Where has the time gone? Off to the common room with the lot of you or Minerva will have my head," he made a languid gesture to the door and gave them another wink, "Back here tomorrow at the same time, I believe!"
They all left in considerably higher spirits than they expected to be in – although for perhaps the wrong reasons – all arranged around Peter, who had handled old Slug's mead decidedly poorer than his friends, and went off towards the portrait hole.
At the end of the corridor, Sirius' voice echoed back as he said, "I suppose I should take up gobstones again" and was followed by another chorus of laughter.
"I bet," said Slughorn to himself as he watched them go, "that everyone of that group shall be wildly famous."
He then busied himself with making up "punishments" for the rest of the week's sessions.
Even with a talent for such things, Horace Slughorn himself couldn't have predicted just how wildly famous the four of them would be in later years.
A/N: Nothing deep and earth shattering here…just much needed normality and happiness (although there are some serious sections…no pun intended) in the world of so much beautiful but thoroughly depressing post-DH fic.
My particular Sirius bias is incredibly evident (although, I will say that was the request). I also wonder how many fics I can make McGonagall!biscuits a running gag in…And, does Slughorn not get much fic coverage, or is it just me? He's pretty pompous and fun to write! And when he gets increasingly drunk I can abuse exclamation marks!
Oh Marauders, I hope you do get canon prequels someday. I want to find out why Sirius would play such an awful joke on Snape without having to resort to rampant speculation on my own (my own personal Sirius fanon will one day give rise to an incredibly lengthy fic, I think…I can't get enough of him.)
Anyways, for dear caesyrian! Hope you (and the rest of my readers) enjoyed! Comments are, as usual, highly prized.