"Stuck" suggested a sequel…
(Please do read "Stuck" if you haven't… It takes about two minutes to read and it will make this vignette funnier!)
http/ characters and places are not our doing. The vignette is. Please don't sue us, we spent all our money on chocolate chip cookies.
vJinxv and rabbit
Stuck in the Muddle With You
They could hear Snape's tantrum coming all the way down from the dormitory, echoing along the corridor that led to the Slytherin Common Room.
"Divinations," Vincent Crabbe bet, fumbling a galleon out of his pocket.
"Charms," countered Gavin Goyle, who was neatly copying over the Potions assignment Snape had done for him.
Lucius Malfoy smirked at them both and wagered, "Lily Evans."
The other boys groaned and handed over their coins; trust Lucius to make a sure bet.
A lanky boy whose school cape made him resemble nothing so much as a neglected bat stormed into the room, hauling several ponderous tomes, and flung himself and the books along the length of the nearest couch.
The others waited politely for the inevitable outburst.
"Transfigurations!" snarled Snape, from deep among the cushions.
"You lose, Lucius," Crabbe noted with some surprise.
"Yes, to me." Snape's hand, knuckles red from cauldron steam, was raised demandingly over the back of the couch. "Transfigurations was my wager, and indeed that is the source of my frustration. Pay up, all of you."
Malfoy laughed and handed over the galleons, while Crabbe and Goyle looked on bewilderedly.
"Thank you," Snape's hand vanished, along with his winnings.
"Didn't think you were anticipating any difficulty, Sev," Lucius said in cool, transparent tones, "seeing as you weren't out here, with the rest of us, concentrating on our… conundrum."
"What?" Goyle yelped excitedly. "Did we manage to turn it into something besides a footstool?"
"'Conundrum'" Snape sighed from the couch, "is another word for 'problem.' But of course, dark wizards don't have mere problems, right, Luke? Too common by half."
Malfoy bristled. "See what I turn you into, when I assume my rightful power," he growled.
"Oh, your wretched associate who excels at potions, I expect," snapped Snape. "No change, really, except I'll be, what, your Dread Architect of Insidious Doom or somesuch…"
Crabbe and Goyle laughed; Lucius did have a tendency to overwork his shadowy musings about his dark future. Often before breakfast.
"I don't suppose," Snape cut above the merriment, "that anyone has made any progress with that wretched footstool?"
"No," moaned Goyle.
"No luck, Sev," Crabbe shook his head.
"I tried setting a fire beneath it," Lucius said, the edge in his voice turned against Snape. "I thought the unbearable heat might motivate it to become something that might flee the discomfort."
"And?" queried Snape.
"We have a scorched and rather damp footstool," admitted Lucius, templing his hands so that they would cast an ominous shadow across his face.
"Well, it's not as if it has to be the bloody bellwether!" Snape pointed out, hoisting himself up to glare around the room. "It just has to be a sheep! That's what the assignment says."
"Did I hear shouting?" Narcissa Beauregard inquired lightly from the doorway. "Oh, hullo, Sev," she greeted rhetorically, and made her way over to snuggle into the corner of Lucius's armchair. "I take it we've had no luck with the sheep."
"Footstool doesn't want to charm. Change," corrected Crabbe, who lately became tongue-tied every time Narcissa walked into the room.
"Think of it as a sheep, that's the first step," Lucius advised determinedly, curling a possessive arm about Narcissa. "Like… a sheep that's got stuck as a footstool."
"You don't think it is," mused Snape. "Be dead helpful."
"No, unfortunately. I think it's just an ordinary, if battered, school footstool and we have to convince it to become a sheep." Lucius hooked a foot around the object of their frustration and kicked it tumbling into the center of their study area.
The footstool was indeed battered, rather moreso after a week of the group's misguided attentions, and looked absolutely nothing like a sheep. Its blue and fuchsia patterns remained cheerily uninspiring; its dented legs showed blond wounds of revealed pine; but of wool or flesh there were no signs.
Malfoy turned a baleful glare upon it. "The only things it's got right are having four legs and no brains."
"If that's all that's needed, we could turn Black and Pettigrew into a sheep," grumbled Snape.
"Wouldn't count," sighed Crabbe.
"Then it wouldn't matter when we pushed it off the parapets," Snape returned.
Narcissa rolled her eyes and interrupted before the discussion could degenerate yet again into the endless competition for Best Insult Offered A Gryffindor. "Well," she said, sharply enough to scratch glass, "if this footstool's been used like this before, perhaps it's got, you know, memories of being a sheep. Maybe that'll help."
"Depends on what happened to it while it was a sheep, I suppose," ventured Goyle.
They stared at him, surprised by this insight.
Goyle shrugged. "Mum's got a canary that lost a wing when her brother turned it into a music box. Now it won't sing a note, and it bites Uncle Nigel whenever he goes near it."
"Marvelous," grumbled Snape. "So now we face an irate sheep, which has suffered who-knows-what at the hands of generations of Hogwarts students…"
"Assuming we can convince it to become a sheep at all," Lucius reminded.
"If only it were the other way round," sighed Crabbe. "Bit of work, bit of sawdust, and there you are."
"I'm certain that is why this assignment requires us to proceed from inanimate to animate," grumbled Snape, dropping back down and clenching his arms across his chest.
"I don't see why we have to learn this," confessed Narcissa. "It's not as if I'll ever have any use for a sheep." She frowned prettily in distaste.
"Oh, certainly it sets us up for even more ridiculous quandaries," growled Snape. "The Seventh Years' final exam probably involves changing one of the towers into an elephant."
"But then where would we sleep?" puzzled Goyle.
"In our beds," Lucius said smoothly. "We'll transfigure Gryffindor Tower."
The assembly laughed unkindly.
"Can you manage it while Potter and Black are in there?" said Snape, still grumbling. "Good place for them, the inside of an elephant's digestive tract."
They laughed approvingly at this, too, but in the end they still faced the problem of how to convince the footstool to become a sheep.
Narcissa frowned into the silence which had fallen, then turned her keen gaze upon the couch. "I don't suppose you've found anything helpful in all those books you're lugging about, Sev?" she wondered. "Or are they just for show?"
"Books contain knowledge," Snape explained helpfully. "When one opens them and reads them, one can extract that knowledge. You might try it sometime."
"Thanks, no," she declined with a delicate moue. "Why should I bother, when all we have to do is ask you, and you'll tell us?"
"At length," muttered Lucius.
"So? Anything?" she prompted Snape, while the rest of them rolled their eyes in anticipation of another lecture or two from their resident swot.
"Well, if you must know, this one," Snape intoned over the others' groans, "concerns the anatomy of sheep… this one is an exhaustive history of wool… this is our current Transfigurations text, so I don't wonder you've not recognized it… and this one, admittedly, is a stretch, but it covers illusion magic…. If we can make old McGonagall think we've turned it into a sheep, we might pass…"
Lucius laughed, not unappreciatively. "Oh, now, Sev, that is grasping at straws."
"The test is tomorrow, first thing," Snape reminded him. "Reduced to its essence, the matter is this: if McGonagall perceives a sheep, we will be given credit for producing a sheep, and therefore, we will pass."
"It's got wool ticking inside," noted Goyle, who had checked. "If we could make that grow out, it would be all woolly… just like a sheep!"
"Only a bit quiet, maybe! Here we are -- !" Crabbe flicked a Chatterbox charm onto the footstool, which began bleating monotonously.
"Right, now charm it to make it move," prompted Goyle, grinning.
Lucius shrugged and aimed an Everdance curse at the footstool, which commenced clomping about noisily and running into the chairs.
"Oh, keep it out of the fire!" warned Narcissa.
"Whups! Yes… a pile of ashes won't save us," Crabbe allowed, herding the conundrum back into the center of the ring of chairs, which they closed about their project.
"Better," Goyle opined, watching the bumbling thing.
"Though there remains significant room for improvement," cautioned Lucius drily. "Still, if we can make it look real enough…" he mused guardedly. "Old McGonagall's not likely to cut open the sheep and find out if it's got actual guts…"
Narcissa snickered. "Not her, she's too soft-hearted."
"We could get some, what, badger guts or something from the potions stores, right?" offered Crabbe, looking to Snape, who nodded reservedly. "Tuck them inside."
"I'm certain she would investigate the innards of a stinking sheep," Snape said flatly.
"Charm them to be fresh," proposed Narcissa.
Snape was still shaking his head. "The odor would be detectable through the fabric.. and she is a cat," he added, "at least half the time."
"Yes, when she's not busy being a sour old bitch," sneered Lucius.
They laughed heartily at this, and at the footstool which continued to clump about emitting plaintive baas.
"Oh, shut up, ewe," growled Snape good-naturedly.
Lucius laughed. Alone.
"So," Narcissa resumed the topic at last, "do we believe this illusion magic idea will work, really? I mean, it's two in the morning, and we've got a long way to go from where I'm sitting."
"It might," Snape said hesitantly. "Crabbe, do shut that thing up." He waited until the footstool fell silent, then looked at Lucius and Narcissa. "You two are good at charms… and hexes," he said thoughtfully. "Can we find some way to.. to hide it, really, sort of like… putting it under a sheep-shaped umbrella of magic?"
"Possibly," replied Malfoy. "But what if she reaches for it? Inspects it? She may not touch the insides, but the outside – well, you know how McGonagall's keen on detail."
"Fine. Then we… we make it as sheep-like as possible," fumbled Snape. "So it fits the 'umbrella' precisely…"
"Hmm," Lucius narrowed his eyes in thought. "Not a bad idea at that. We could… if we could change only the shape of it… make it stretchy, pull it out like taffy… that'd get us to the basic form…."
"Oh, good grief, that's almost as bad as the assignment!" moaned Crabbe. "Even if we use the ticking for the wool, d'you know how many different things we'd have to affect? You're talking about stretching and shaping all the bits at once: wood and cloth, not to mention nails – and you know iron's hard!"
"Yes," cut in Snape, who was clinging to the back of the couch, staring at the footstool and calculating wildly. "So you have to affect them all…have to unite the elements in a harmonious combination and convince them to submit to the catalyst's influence…" Nodding once to himself in affirmation he scrambled off the couch and raced off to his cauldron.
"Right," Lucius slumped back against his chair and kicked the bumbling footstool over towards Crabbe. "That's lost us him for the next few hours. What other ideas have we got, in case our resident muck-meddler manages to poison himself again?"
"Well," Crabbe said, putting a heavy boot on the footstool to keep it from trying to burrow under his chair. "If it's not too bad a poison, we could all have some and spend the morning in the infirmary…"
"It's certainly worth considering," allowed Lucius.
"Oh, no it isn't! Not for me," Narcissa scowled prettily. "I saw you lot with those horrible green spots! Even your owls had them!"
Lucius grimaced. "Well, we've had a little chat since then, Sev and I, about remembering to crack open a window…"
Goyle and Crabbe nodded agreement, looking grateful. Their room had smelled like charred mangoes for a week.
"Come on," Lucius cajoled the group. "Think! We need results, and we need them before breakfast!"
Called to battle, they resolutely took up their wands, and turned their attentions and spells once more upon the bumbling, woolly footstool.
By three-thirty in the morning the study group's ranks were nearing a split, with two in favor of stubborn exploration of all possibilities because they weren't going to look like fools in front of that desiccated Gryffindor bitch, two in favor of working some minor hex and spending the exam time in the infirmary, and one off probably lying senseless under a cloud of purple mist.
The footstool was not much improved.
They'd gotten the wool a bit thicker, and managed to knot some of it into the shape of a tail, but on the whole the thing still resembled an ambitious dustbunny trying to crawl back under the chairs.
Goyle groaned, watching the conundrum's antics. "It's still horrible!"
"We'll keep at it," Lucius informed him in steely tones.
Goyle sighed and nodded resignedly, with a yawn. "At this point I'm about ready to just go and find a sheep and use that," he muttered, rubbing his eyes wearily. "Be ever so much easier, and we'd actually get some sleep tonight…"
Lucius turned an aquiline gaze upon him. "You're absolutely right."
"He is?" Crabbe asked tiredly.
"Yes," declared Lucius. "Simple and effective. Well done, Gavin. We go get a sheep, turn it into a footstool – I'm more confident we can do that -- and tomorrow morning we simply… release it back to its natural form," Lucius expanded, spreading his hands to show the ease of it.
"Hey presto!" enthused Crabbe, grinning for the first time in hours.
"Where would we find a sheep?" inquired Goyle. "I mean, 'round here."
"In a field, I suppose," said Narcissa.
"There are sheep in the paddock near the castle," Lucius informed them. "They keep the lawns looking well."
"I thought that was House Elves," said Crabbe in confusion.
"No, they keep the sheep looking well," Lucius corrected him.
"You seem to know an awful lot about it," cooed Narcissa.
"I like to notice things," Lucius returned, casting an appreciative eye over her. "One learns all sorts of interesting things, that way."
She smiled up at him and kissed him sweetly enough to make the other boys pretend to gag, which made her grin.
Snape bustled back into the room, vial in hand. "Keep your mind on the assignment, will you, Luke? It's nearly three in the morning and we still need a sheep –"
"Good to see you on your feet, Sev," Lucius kept his grip on Narcissa as he greeted the other boy. "It's past three, and we're going to go and get one. You're just in time to help."
"Sorry?" Snape blinked at him.
"We're going to get a sheep from the paddock near the castle," explained Goyle. "Then we'll bring it back here…"
"Turn it into a footstool…" added Crabbe.
"I've got some boots with deliciously wicked heels…they'll convince it nicely," Narcissa interjected with a smile. "Easy as hedgehogs."
"And in the exam we just let it go back to being a sheep," Malfoy finished over Narcissa's shoulder.
Snape stared at them, then cast a calculating glance at the galumphing footstool and stashed away the vial in his robes for another time. "It does seem feasible. Just how do you propose we accomplish this?"
"Simply enough," Lucius took charge. "Here is what we're going to do…"
By four-thirty in the morning, there was just enough light to fly by, and four figures in black cloaks swooped low on their brooms, like a quartet of bats flittering through the pre-dawn haze.
It had taken Malfoy and Snape over an hour to sneak themselves and Crabbe and Goyle out of the school, evading the various nocturnal perils of professors, caretakers, ghosts, and accursed Things which prowled the hallways after sunset. Narcissa had opted out, claiming a need for beauty sleep and as usual convincing Lucius to do her work for her.
"Right… there they are!" Malfoy pointed to a fluffy mass roiling up a nearby hill. "We'll grab a small one and be back in no time!"
"Do you actually understand that these are not really small animals?" queried Snape, grimly clinging to his broom as they dove towards the rambling flock.
"I'd thought," Crabbe called, catching them up, "that they'd all be asleep at this hour!"
"I thought we'd be asleep at this hour," countered Goyle, lagging behind a bit. "Wrong on both counts!"
They came in low over the sheep, who were bleating in alarm and trotting in all directions… several of the animals promptly wheeled away from the airborne wizards and commenced hurrying back down the hill.
"Look out!" cried someone from the ground. "They're coming back!"
Malfoy and Snape shot one another a dark look. "Lupin," they identified in chorus.
"There'll be at least two of them," Lucius cautioned, gaining altitude quickly and motioning the others to follow. They convened at about sixty feet, out of the range of spellcraft. "Right," said Lucius, "are there any other sheep near enough?"
Crabbe shrugged, nearly losing hold of his broom. "You were the one who knew about these, Luke. I haven't seen any others."
"Not like you'd notice, really," said Goyle, shaking his head. "I mean, until tonight, we've never needed a sheep."
"Tonight is today, gentlemen," Lucius informed them with a grimace. "All right. There are at least two of those wretched Gryffindors down there, and I wouldn't be surprised to find all four of them. Here is the plan: we go in hard and fast, grab a sheep, and get back to the school. Try not to tangle with the Marauders, but defend yourselves if necessary."
"Do you understand that sheep are not really small animals?" Snape asked plaintively.
"Do you have a better plan?" demanded Malfoy.
"Look, we'll just levitate the beast," Crabbe said reassuringly.
Snape shook his head. "That's what I'm trying to tell you! If we use spells out here at this hour, the least we'll do is alert Hagrid, if not half the faculty. We'll be detention bound before you can say 'Quidditch!' We're going to have to lift the sheep up somehow… preferably in a cloak, or something, as I've been trying to say all alo –"
A rock hit him in the shoulder, startling the lecture to a close and knocking Snape off his balance; his broom rolled over twice before Malfoy caught his cape to stop the momentum.
"Morning, lads!" called Sirius Black, hovering on his broom some thirty feet away and grinning like a fool. "Out for an early flight? Better tie that cloak to his broom, Malfoy, before he falls off!"
"Very nice, Black," Lucius returned coldly, "get a bit of murder done before breakfast; start the day right…"
"All right for your family, maybe," taunted Black, "but we're a bit better than that!" He laughed and darted away as Lucius took a racing grip on his broom and headed after him like a stooping eagle.
Crabbe and Goyle were left to deal with Snape, who was now swaddled neatly in his cloak and cursing a blue streak as he tried to extricate himself without losing hold or control of his broom. They managed to untangle the furious wizard, and had just got Snape set properly upright again when the sounds of a fight broke out; Black was no match for Lucius's flying skills and had been run to ground.
"That's torn it," Crabbe moaned, then looked startled at the sound of Snape's cloak ripping as the other boy snarled and bent his broom towards the fray, vengeance in his eyes. He looked uncertainly to Goyle, who shrugged and led the way in pursuit of their angry fellows, arriving to the happy sight of Malfoy kneeing Black in the small of the back, forcing the taller boy to arch backwards in pain just in time for Snape to come in low and knock Sirius halfway into next week with the handle of his broom.
Snape halted his broom, turning to enjoy the spreading bruises on his downed rival. "How's that grass taste, Black?" he jeered.
"Let's find out!" James Potter blurred into the melee, snagging Snape by the torn cloak and yanking it over his head to flip Snape sprawling into the grass and muck.
Snape growled, but had the sense to stay down as the other Gryffindors arrived, grabbing his wand from his pocket and raising it defensively.
"Oh, go ahead and throw a hex, you little greaseball," blustered Peter Pettigrew, who had recently grown into some height, attendant girth, and regrettable attitude. "See what happens next!"
"Don't!" Lupin, who was helping Black pull himself upright, waved his free hand for caution. "We'll all get detention, and I mean awful detention! We're not just out of our dorms, we're out of the castle -- !"
"He's right," Potter pronounced, sounding as usual like he was sure he'd been anointed the voice of wisdom. "And we'd have detention together, so… best not risk it, gentlemen!"
"You attacked us!" charged Malfoy, voice muffled by the bloody sleeve he held against his nose. He had a marvelous black eye coming in.
"Bit of fun," tossed off Black, trying to remain blasé as he wobbled about. He had a terrific goose-egg rising on his forehead, and his eyes looked a bit unfocused.
"Bit of mayhem," grumbled Snape.
"Oh, Snape." Black eyed him unevenly. "Fancy you down in the muck. Expect it'll take a month before you think to wash it out of your hair."
"Now, the really interesting thing," intoned Lucius, signalling Crabbe to give Snape a hand up, "is that we've discovered no fewer than four brave Gryffindors out molesting sheep in these quiet hours before dawn… Seems all those nasty rumors are true, eh?" He'd gotten a grip on his broom, just in case flight might be needed, but with the wall of Crabbe and Goyle's muscle backing him, all the Gryffindors offered were outraged looks. He granted them an elaborate smirk.
"At least we're not inbred," said Pettigrew sourly.
The Slytherins burst into disdainful laughter at his pitiful effort. "Pettigrew," Malfoy opined dismissively, "your so-called family tree is a stunted weed. The sort of thing better people step on, and never notice."
Black took a stagger forward, fists cocked. Lupin and Potter hauled him back by the shoulders.
Something called eerily from off in the Forbidden Forest, and all eight boys froze, listening.
"You know," Lucius said, briskly when the call didn't come again. "As much fun as it might be to stand here taunting one another, I'm all for continuing the effort at a later hour. Inside."
"What's the matter Malfoy?" asked Pettigrew. "Afraid something might come flying out to bite you? Don't worry, it would just spit you back out."
"In two pieces if we're lucky," added Black.
"Which would give us time to run for it," noted Lupin happily.
"When you're quite finished?" demanded Lucius, impatiently. "We've got some 'business' to attend to…"
"You can get hung for sheep stealing, you know," said Lupin, with a grin.
"Not anymore," Snape snarled. "And don't start," he snapped, glaring at the Marauders. "You are also having difficulty with the assignment, and intend borrowing a sheep for the Transfigurations exam, or you'd not be here."
"We've got… possibilities," said Black vaguely, but he didn't look certain of them.
"Yes, possibilities of failing," sighed Potter, guiding his broom cautiously closer to the line of Slytherins. "Look, here's the way of it. We take a sheep, and you take a sheep, and nobody mentions this."
"Done," said Lucius.
"Right, here we go…" Lupin headed up the hill towards the sheep.
"Careful, Remus! You… you're approaching them wrong, or… something," cautioned Potter. "They get all nervous…"
"Guess we know who's been frequenting the sheep paddock," snickered Crabbe to Goyle as they moved up the hill. Goyle nodded absently, trying to figure out how the sheep could run in all directions and still stay bunched up as a flock.
Black, apparently recovering, smacked Crabbe on the back of the head as he passed by. "Let's get this done, lads!" he exhorted the rest of them. "I'd like to get some sleep before this exam!"
The two groups sorted themselves out and started up the hill after the sheep, who milled about anxiously and began trotting away in a nervous bunch that parted amoebalike to flow swiftly past their pursuers and escape whenever the boys got them near a fence or a corner.
"Hold still," Lucius crossly commanded the flock.
Crabbe and Goyle stopped. The sheep didn't.
"Get them!" cried Potter, leading an all-out charge.
This was easier said than done…especially without wands.
Pettigrew yelped. "It trod on me!"
"They do worse than that," grumbled Black, shoes squelching as he struggled back up the hill. "Don't grab them 'round the middle."
"The front end bites," noted Crabbe unhappily.
"Maybe if we put a cloak over one's head?" Potter suggested.
"Wrap another around it," added Malfoy.
"Definitely tangle the legs," recommended Lupin.
They attempted this.
Eight of them together could not manage it, although had they been cooperating, they might have stood a chance.
The sky soon pearled silver above a dismal tableau of eight harried boys outnumbered and thwarted by some forty-odd bedeviled sheep – which had definitely had enough of this nonsense.
Sheep did bite. Hard.
"How'm I going to explain this?" demanded Goyle, while Snape wrapped Goyle's injured fingers with a handkerchief.
"Transfigurations accident," Snape told him, firmly binding the swollen digits together. "Anyone else bitten?" he asked dourly, and then with more hope, "Black?"
"Not yet, Snape," Black assured him, stumbling when one of the sheep knocked him into another, and then barely keeping his feet as he slid sideways across the increasingly slippery mire. "You?"
"Quite fine," Snape replied, smirking.
"Yes, because you're not going near the things," whined Crabbe, slogging by.
Snape folded his arms and scowled. "I see no point in wading into chaos. If you'd all just hold still and be quiet for a few minutes, they'd calm down. Then maybe we could break a couple off from the rest of the herd and capture them."
"Spoken like a true predator," Lucius praised, huffing as he trudged up the hill once more. "Well done, Sev." He clapped his friend on the shoulder and stayed there for a moment, catching his breath and getting his bearings.
"It's worth a try," Potter agreed, stumbling over. His shirttails were out and his hair stuck up even more wildly than usual. "We're not having any luck chasing them."
The other hunters wearily agreed, and they tried holding still.
It was boring.
They couldn't even pass the time by trading insults, although they were all just saving them up for later.
At last, the sheep began to settle down. A few of the most enterprising bent their heads to graze upon what grass hadn't been churned up by their attempted abductions. The sky blushed rose. The sheep were almost idyllic, wandering peacefully closer to the waiting boys, their woolly coats softly tinted pink by the promise of dawn.
A horrible shriek split the air.
"What the hell was that?" Black cried, looking about wildly.
Everyone was looking about wildly.
"Nothing good," opined Potter.
"Dragon!" screamed Lupin, pointing.
It came spiralling distantly out of the roseate sky, golden scales gleaming in the new light, a hideously beautiful vision of power, soaring on wings of reflected flame… and its lazy path would bring it straight towards the flock of sheep.
The flock panicked, bunching up tighter around the terrified wizards in their midst and nearly knocking them over as it sought a direction to escape.
"It's after the sheep!" shouted Potter.
"It's after breakfast!" cried Malfoy. "We should leave!'
"We'll never make it! We can't outfly that thing!" shrilled Pettigrew.
"Merlin! We're trapped like rats!" Black struggled to keep his feet, tugging at the wand that had caught in his pocket, as the sheep pushed on past, leaving the boys between the flock and the dragon.
"Footstools!" hollered Snape. "It wants the sheep! Turn them into footstools! If they don't want to change now, they never will!" he screamed and hit the dirt, hauling his cape over himself and all but vanishing into the muck.
Lucius flung himself flat, only his wand-wielding hand visible from below his cape. "He's right! If it doesn't see anything moving, it should go away!"
Potter swung his wand and transfigured the nearest sheep, "Hurry up!" he exhorted, watching the dragon. "That thing's just looking the flock over, hurry up!" He threw himself to ground, hiding beneath his cape and aiming spells at terrified clumps of sheep.
The others followed suit, frantically changing potential meals into furniture as the sheep began to scatter, deeply confused by the appearance of upholstery in their midst. The last woolly lamb was hit by six spells at once, and there was a moment of intense silence. Then they heard the gigantic flap of wings, and the dragon swooped over them, its blast of fiery breath close enough to singe the ground and their sodden cloaks. It let out a horrible bellow of disgust and spiralled away into the sky, moving off in the direction of Hogsmeade.
It was quite a while before the boys collected themselves.
"I'm never sneaking out at night again," said Pettigrew quietly.
"Can't recommend it," muttered Black, prying himself out of the mire.
"Don't see what the problem is," Potter said cheerfully, brushing at the muddy hoofprints on his cloak. "No one's died, after all."
"No one's even been maimed," Lupin said drily. "For a wonder."
"That dragon shouldn't even exist," Malfoy said, charming his cloak perfectly clean.
"Oh, really?" Goyle's voice quavered.
"I mean it," Lucius snapped. "It shouldn't exist. I've never seen anything like it in my studies."
"Tell the dragon that, will you, Luke?" grumbled Snape. "We were better off with my idea. At least that wouldn't have been as likely to get us all killed!"
"I don't know about that," Lupin said, surveying the hillside with satisfaction. "Any road, now we've got footstools a-plenty. We'll just take two, change the rest back now, and change the other two to sheep for McGonagall."
"Hear, hear," sighed Pettigrew. "We might even have enough time for hot baths, before breakfast."
"For once we agree," said Malfoy. "Right. Get that one," he directed his lieutenants.
"There's a nice one," Potter said, selecting a nice pouffe.
The two groups collected their furniture and gazed at the footstools decorating the ravaged hills. At least, most of them were footstools. Some were hassocks, three were wicker moras, two were tabourets and just on the rise was a really fine mahogany credenza.
"Do you suppose we really ought to turn them back?" Crabbe said. "After all, we could get caught -- ."
"If no one's noticed us using magic yet, I don't want them coming out here for an early morning constitutional and starting to ask questions," Malfoy said, transfiguring the nearest footrest back into a sheep, which let out an offended bleat and trotted away down the hill.
It took a few minutes, but the sheep were certainly motivated to escape the young wizards, and soon the flock – minus two -- had retreated to the valley.
"Right," said Malfoy. "Back we go."
"And quickly," said Potter.
The two groups spared sleepy glares for one another, pried their brooms out of the mud, and raced the dawnlight back to the castle.
Well," Professor McGonagall said thoughtfully to the first two rows of her class, "those certainly are very filthy sheep you've created."
"Added verisimilitude, Ma'am," said Lucius Malfoy.
"I see," McGonagall walked slowly around first one sheep, then the next, wincing as she caught a whiff of unwashed wool, "to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative," she went on, with a sudden wintry smile. "Well, Daisy, Ellie Sue, this seems to happen to you every year."
Five Slytherins and four Gryffindors stopped breathing. Lily Evans shook her head with an "I-told-you-so" air.
"Class," announced McGonagall, "it seems some of your fellows have undertaken the most difficult route to transfiguration of a footstool into a sheep." She smiled at the rest of the study groups, even those whose animals were somewhat misshapen or still upholstered. "You will note that this has met with success, but the peril and cost were great…as you are about to observe."
She gestured with her wand, and a disc widened in midair before the class, its surface swirling like a scrying pool.
"Oh, no," moaned Black.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Black. Your little excursion was observed, and recorded for this morning's entertaining enlightenment." She cast a baleful, amused glance over the miscreants. "You didn't honestly think that the faculty wouldn't be watching over the sheep paddock on the eve of this exam, did you, gentlemen?"
Narcissa laughed, since she had excused herself before the trouble began in earnest. Lily Evans put her head down on the desk in despair of her housemates' judgment.
"Now, then," McGonagall invited the class, as the scrying disc smoothed into an image of a darkened hillside, "set down your wands and pay attention to this recollection of the morning's events. I'm sure we'll all find it most interesting…"