Flavor of the Month

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It was a typical afternoon in Diagon Alley, late in August. The narrow street was bustling with activity and buzzing with background noise as students bound for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, along with their parents, made their way through the ever- thickening throng of shop-goers looking to do their back-to-school shopping.

Chance meetings of old friends cropped up here and there, and happy greetings and salutations periodically broke through the noise made by the large gathering of magicfolk.

"Hey, Biggs! How are ya, mate?"

"Alice! Over here, Alice! Oh, we thought we'd never find you in this crowd..."

"Good summer, then, Reg?"

The pace today was perhaps a little slower, a little more sedate than it normally was this close to the start of term, most likely because of the heat. August was doing her sultry best to remind everyone that summer had not quite ended, despite the fact that the new school year was about to begin.

Although most of the shops were doing a brisk business on such a crowded afternoon, several of them were absolutely packed to capacity with patrons, including Flourish and Blotts bookstore, and Madame Malkin's Robes For All Occasions.

It was in the dusty cobbled street outside the bookstore, well away from the busy entrance that Sirius Black waited, leaning lazily back against the wall behind him and holding a hand over his eyes to shade them from the intense summer sun as he searched the multitudes for his companions.

"Sirius."

Black dropped his arm and glanced at where Remus Lupin had made it back from picking up last minute items at the stationery shop. He straightened up from where he'd been leaning. "You get everything?" he asked Lupin.

Remus shook his head. "No. After standing in line all this time for a couple of new quills, I decided that I could do without extra supplies for Potions."

"Yeah, don't even worry about it," Sirius said, a smile now edging its way across his face. "Just do what I do and bum some off of Evans. Little Miss Potions Mistress always has plenty."

"Don't let James hear you say that," Remus answered with his own grin. It rapidly became a slight puzzled frown. "Speaking of James...where's he gotten to, Padfoot?"

Sirius rolled his eyes and looked meaningfully at Remus. "Where do you think he went?"

Remus's smile returned. He knew James was probably off looking for Lily. He would have commented, but at that moment there was a small commotion at the Flourish and Blotts entrance, and the two friends looked at where a short, heavyset boy was edging his way out of the store against the tide of shoppers with a great armload of books precariously stacked in his arms.

Remus and Sirius watched his graceless acrobatics trying to balance the pile and avoid running into people hurrying to and fro in the street as he tried to make it across to where they were standing. Sirius looked incredulously at his companion and snorted derisively. "What is he doing?"

Remus shook his head and held up his hands in a gesture of mild surrender. "Beats me," he replied.

Peter had almost staggered his way to where his two friends were waiting for him when his foot caught on an uneven cobble, and tripped him up. The entire stack of books went sailing into the air as he stumbled, and he watched as they cascaded and tumbled to the g......

Peter's eyebrows shot up his forehead as the books stopped in mid-air and then stacked themselves rapidly one by one into a neat pile.

"Oi, Wormtail!" Sirius was striding across the alley toward him. "Are you a wizard or what?" he asked, slight exasperated with his clumsy friend. Sirius pointed his wand again at the pile of books that immediately shrank into a fist-sized package that he directed into Peter's pocket with a flourish.

Pettigrew looked up from the parcel tucked away in his pocket and grinned. "Thanks, Sirius."

Black merely waived him off and continued his search for James. They were all supposed to have met back here by now, and this blasted heat was making him irritable. "Where is Potter, anyway?"

"Right here, Padfoot," James's voice panted from where he was trotting up to the threesome. He stopped in front of them, resting his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath. He glanced up at them. "Sorry I'm late," he huffed.

His three companions looked at one another and broke into wide grins, but Sirius spoke up first. "I see you found Evans, after all."

James straightened up, still somewhat out of breath. "Yeah." His expression turned slightly puzzled. "Did you see her?"

Sirius shook his head. "No, but the lipstick on your face is sort of a big clue," he said with a smirk.

"Guess she was glad to see you," Remus added teasingly.

James felt his cheeks burn even as he started to laugh, and he wiped the pink smudge off his face with the back of his sleeve, edging out of the way of a group fourth year girls that were giggling their way by the foursome.

Peter shook his head. "It's way too hot to be that giddy," he commented as he watched the girls fall together and giggle even louder while they cast glances back at Sirius and James.

"It's too hot for much of anything," Remus added in agreement.

The color had finally faded from James' face, and he clapped a hand on the arms of Peter and Remus, and peered over his glasses at Sirius. "I have just the thing we all need in mind," he said confidently.

Sirius raised a questioning glance. "And what is that, Potter?"

"Ice cream," James pronounced.

The other three broke into simultaneous groans and protests.

"You must be mad," Sirius said incredulously.

"James, do you know how long that line is going to be on a day like today?" Remus asked.

Potter gave them his most winning smile. "Yeah, but trust me, we wont have to wait long. I've got Lily holding a spot in line for us."

They continued to stare at him, unmoving.

"Alright, look...I'll treat," James finally said.

"Excellent." Sirius swept his arm out in a dramatic gesture as he offered for the others to go first, and fell in behind them as they headed for Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor.

The small staff at Fortescue's knew by the climbing temperature early in the day that today was likely to be one of their busiest, with the combination of the heat and the number of back-to-school shoppers invading Diagon Alley. They had therefore devised a strategy that allowed them to set up a wide counter outside the small confines of the parlor proper, upon which were lined large containers of sauces, sprinkles, nuts and other toppings, that would allow them to serve a larger number of customers at a time. All of the ice cream vats had been set up outside under multiple cooling charms to keep it from melting under the hot August sun. Signs overhead posted the long list of flavors and proclaimed the flavor of the month to be 'Strawberry surprise'.

The throng gathered around the little shop would have daunted all but those with the greatest love or craving for ice cream, unless, of course, someone was going to save you a spot in line about two thirds of the way to the front.

The four Gryffindors had scribbled their orders down on a piece of parchment, and it was going to be up to James to slip it to Lily so that she could order for them. If any of them had tried to actually join her in line, the angry glares from the witches with screaming children would have been enough to drive them off.

Sirius, Remus and Peter watched as James slipped into line close to Lily and whispered something in her ear. She nodded at him and then glanced over her shoulder at the three onlookers. She gave a little wave, and turned back to where James was surreptitiously slipping the list and a small handful of sickles into her other hand.

James trotted triumphantly over to where the others waited for him. "It's a done deal," he said cheerfully. "I'll just pop back over to help her when the order is up and...." he broke off as he heard Lily calling out from back in the line. It wasn't his name she had called out, and a quick look at the expression on Sirius's face confirmed what he thought he'd heard.

"Severus!" It was Lily's voice calling out, and James looked in time to see her waving at the owner of that dreaded name. His insides went as cold as the ice cream behind the counter.

All four of them stood rooted to the spot as they watched their nemesis slip into line next to Lily to engage her in conversation. James and Sirius shared a look and settled for monitoring the situation from a distance instead of confronting Snape. It wasn't because either of them were the slightest bit intimidated by the Slytherin, but those mothers with the screaming children were going to be a force to be reckoned with if they thought any one was cutting in line.

Sirius groaned and let his head fall back against the wall he was leaning on. "Snivellus even manages to suck all the fun out of getting ice cream," he complained.

James nodded absently in vague agreement as he watched where Lily was laughing at something Snape had said. Their friendship had always remained unfathomable to him, and he cringed inwardly when he saw Snape take a step closer to her as she stepped closer to the ice cream counter.

The ice cream counter...hmmm...now that was a thought. James perked up a little as the idea began to sprout. Did he dare?

Maybe he shouldn't.

That line of thinking died a sudden death when he saw Snape touch Lily's arm briefly as they talked together in the slowly moving line.

"You know, Prongs," Sirius said from where he'd leaned forward to whisper in James's ear, "this might be an opportunity that we can't pass up."

Remus and Peter glanced at each other and started to shake their heads. Somehow they knew this was no longer about getting ice cream.

James turned from where Snape had shot a cold level stare at him for a moment (Lily had obviously indicated they were waiting for her) and then resumed his conversation with her. "You know, Sirius," he said, returning the crooked smile that Sirius had flashed his way, "I think I'm in the mood for a sundae."

"Me too," Sirius agreed. He flung a glance back at Remus. "Moony, what's that sign say the flavor of the month is?"

Remus sighed resignedly. "Strawberry surprise," he answered.

"Ah," James replied, "Strawberry surprise it is, then," he said, eyeing the large buckets of toppings on the countertop.

Peter giggled with gleeful anticipation, while Remus merely rolled his eyes at his friends again.

"On three, then?" Sirius asked, leaning conspiratorially toward James, who nodded and reached toward his wand.

"One...." Sirius said nearly under his breath. "Two..."

He never reached three.

Over in line, on the count of two, Snape made two quick gestures in rapid fire succession; the first was his wand flicking into his hand from where he kept it up his sleeve, and the second a sweep of his arm that sent enormous containers of chunky strawberry topping and whipped cream sailing over his head, across the street and splattering over the heads of all four Marauders in great messy gobs.

Potter and Black never had a chance to even draw their wands, and the four friends stood there in complete shock and horror, sputtering and wiping large handfuls of sticky sweet stuff from their eyes.

James had cleared enough off his face a moment later to be aware of Snape staring icily at him from a short distance away.

"Enjoy your ice cream, Potter," Snape said smugly. He flicked something in James's direction, and then turned and was gone quickly down the alley.

James, Sirius, Remus and Peter all looked at the layers of strawberries and whipped cream covering them all and then at the item Snape had flung disdainfully at James's feet.

It was a maraschino cherry.