Characters: James, Peter, Remus, Sirius
Summary: Step by step instructions in the fine art of pranking, for those wishing to emulate the incomparable Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs.
A/N: In which the masters show you how it is done, and also there is comentary from the Slytherin peanut gallery. Many thanks to themostepotente for the beta, and to furiosity and midnitemaraud_r, both of whom read the first section of this, then promptly demanded I finish it at all costs. I believe Lisa may have threatened me with violence.
I solemnly swear I am up to no good
It wasn't supposed to happen this way.
"Potter! You're an arrogant, insufferable, gormless waste of space!"
James had fantasised about this quite often -- Lily Evans underneath him, with parted lips and flushed cheeks, her legs spread and her skirt rucked up just so -- the marked difference between then and now being that in his fantasies, Evans was rather less put out about the whole thing. Of course, in his fantasises, a lot more than his knee was pressed between her thighs, and he won that battle not with brute force, but with his wit, charm, and undeniable good looks. Heat did dust her perfect skin and her breathing did develop a pleasant hitch, because of his clever fingers and tongue.
Not because he'd stumbled over his own feet, dropped everything he bloody owned, stumbled again -- this time over his own rucksack -- and barrelled into her headlong, while roundly cursing the very air with the kind of blue language Sirius usually reserved for hostilities with his berk brother.
"You are unbelievable!" Evans continued, in a tone that suggested she very much wanted to peel him like a shrivelfig. "Not only do you lack common decency and a moral centre, you're also incapable of watching where you're going, proving once and for all that you've less good sense than God gave a goat!"
Here was rub: James had practically invented the Trip Jinx. He wasn't its true creator -- that honour went to one Barnabas Bottlesprout, a man whose tragic passing at the claws of an enraged Diricawl had been mourned by pranksters since sometime in the eleventh century -- but he was certainly the father of its modern application and use. He had taught it to duck, weave, change directions en route, and chase its intended target of six flights of stairs. Beyond that, he'd also been the mastermind behind some of the more epic Trip Jinx attacks, as evidenced by the sad case of Malecarius Rosier, who'd gone arse over tea kettle right into the lake. Or the Hallway Affair, which had resulted in a thirty-seven-person tailback at the foot of Ravenclaw Tower. Or last Wednesday, when James had aimed his wand at the sky and Nigel Nott had lost his footing while flying on his broom.
All of which only served to make his current predicament more embarrassing. Really, he bloody well should've seen it coming.
"Merlin's wrinkly toes, Potter!" Evans drove her sharp (but beautiful) elbow directly into James' spleen. "Get off me at once!"
James obliged with a sigh, and also with a rather loose interpretation of 'at once.' He paused long enough to give her rumpled shirt due consideration, as well as the thin stripe of smooth belly it framed. He let his eyes become acquainted with her navel, which earned him a sound smack in the head. His ankle hurt. A dull ache was beginning to settle in his knees, and they popped loudly as he heaved himself to his feet. He dared a quick glance at Evans' face; experience had taught him she was quite fetching when she was angry. Unfortunately for him -- and possibly his wedding tackle -- she had skipped over angry in favour of well and bloody furious. If looks could kill, Sirius would be offering a poignant and heartfelt eulogy while Remus and Peter wept into a stack of wee tea sandwiches and nameless birds hurled themselves from the castle's parapets in grief and despair.
He extended his hand, which promptly earned him another smack, this time on the knuckles.
"You've done enough damage, thank you very much," Evans snapped, glaring even more dangerously as she righted herself. "Darting around corners with no regard, knocking into people... you're a menace, Potter! An absolute menace!"
James quickly tucked away a smile. It was difficult not to puff up a bit, since menace was precisely what he'd been aiming at for the last six years, but right now, that was not the safest train of thought. Right now, that train of thought was liable to get him introduced to the business end of Evans' Standard Book of Spells, Grade Six.
"Oh, Evans," James began, going for abashed. He did a fairly good abashed. He privately thought his sheepish was much better than his abashed, but he'd done his sheepish for Evans nineteen times this week, and she apparently did not find it as brilliant as he did. "I'm really sorry." Her mouth twitched, and not in a good way. "I never meant to go banging into you like that, honestly. I was just walking along, and--"
She slowly lifted an eyebrow; as eyebrows went, it was rather expectant. His hesitation had been duly noted, but really, the truth would never do. She likely wouldn't believe that he'd fallen victim to something as obvious and ordinary as a Trip Jinx and, quite frankly, he wasn't in a hurry to admit it. Not now, with half of Hogwarts staring at him like Crups were jumping out of his nose, and not here -- just yesterday, he'd dressed a small gaggle of Hufflepuff firsties in pink feather boas with a gesture so discreet anyone looking would've thought he'd been scratching his ear.
"I just couldn't help myself," he finished, willing a faint blush to creep across his cheeks. And Sirius thought he was the master. "I saw you there, from across the hall, shining the way you do, and I was overcome by your beauty." Her face was rapidly approaching the colour of her hair, but in for a Knut, in for a Galleon. "If you'd just give me a date, Evans. Just one. I swear, I'd never toss you on your lovely arse again."
The look on her face was priceless. It was also murderous, and with the strange brand of calm that often preceded mortal peril, James realised he was probably going to die. Her eyes narrowed into furious (but adorable) slits, and James quickly reassessed -- he was definitely going to die. Sirius had best start rehearsing his woe; Evans just needed to decide if she'd rather use her wand or kill him with her bare hands.
She took a determined step toward him, but quickly stopped short. She breathed deeply, and her face formed into a fair copy of the 'I'm counting to ten so I don't throttle you and dump your lifeless body in the lake' expression McGonagall wore whenever she was in James' general vicinity. James ignored this for the way Evans was straightening her tie, because he loved it when she pulled at her clothes. Her hands fluttered down to her skirt, smoothing over the disordered pleats, and James watched openly. The hem was turned up just above her left knee; her fingers caught in the funny little fold, and she freed them with an irritated flick of her wrist.
"Where do you think you're going!" she demanded, fumbling for her wand as James began to inch away. "I'm not through with you yet!"
"I'm sorry, I really am," he said hurriedly. "As much as I'd love to let you kill me, I've got to see a man about some bedsheets."
Peter pushed through the door with a pumpkin pasty mostly in his mouth and three horribly large books hard on his heels. The dormitory smelled strongly of socks and vaguely of wet dog, and after seven flights of stairs, it felt unreasonably warm. He paused at his trunk, letting his rucksack fall to the floor, and started unbuttoning his robes. The books waited impatiently at his elbow, snapping their covers as they jostled for attention. Bodily Fluids of Creatures Both Magical and Mundane banged off his shoulder twice in rapid succession; he sighed heavily and directed the lot to his bed, where they clattered into a pile without further ceremony.
It had been a fairly good day. Granted, Quidditch practice had been cancelled on account of the weather, sending James into a state of high dudgeon that had lasted well past lunch, and Peter had nearly landed detention twice, because Sirius had hexed his quill to fart rude words each time McGonagall said swish or flick. On the other side of the Sickle, there were rumours of trifle for pudding. Fiona Thistlebottom had smiled at him during Divination, and he'd received a passing mark on his Charms essay, an essay he'd declared eleven inches of utter rubbish up until the moment he'd thrust it into Flitwick's waiting hands.
Yet, there was still Potions. In his second year, he'd begun to suspect Hogwarts taught the class purely to vex him. He'd been certain of it by his third, and he'd not revised his opinion since. Slughorn's walrus moustache framed an oily smile Peter did not like, and those smiles were rarely for Peter, anyway. He wasn't wealthy, famous, or ridiculously talented, and he wasn't related to anyone overly important, and unlike Wilfred Bones -- who'd avoided those same obstacles by dint of being the only Quidditch hero Hufflepuff had ever produced -- Peter was not the sporting type.
Sighing again, he settled himself on the edge of his trunk. He ignored its piteous creak, and began eating his pumpkin pasty in earnest.
"None for me, thanks," Remus said quietly. He was propped against a large pile of pillows, curled at the head of his bed with Defensive Magic for Intermediate Students open in his lap and a roll of parchment draped over his bent knees. "I'm quite all right."
"Good." Peter popped the last bit of pasty in his mouth and brushed crumbs to the floor without remorse. "I haven't brought you anything."
"Good," Remus countered, mostly to his parchment. Sirius was sprawled alongside him, snoring into what was very likely the Defence essay due tomorrow morning. It was on detection of Obfuscation Charms; Peter's was buried at the bottom of his rucksack and a good four inches short of the ten required. "I'm not obligated to ask about your puss, then."
Peter huffed, drumming his heels against his trunk. "I haven't got a puss. What do I care if Sluggy thinks there are sixteen known uses for Doxy piss?"
"How many have you got?" Remus asked. Peter held up nine fingers, and Remus shook his head. "That's barely half. Here, have a look at mine." He set Defensive Magic for Intermediate Students on Sirius' arse and rooted through the books and parchments surrounding him like a moat. A star chart was just visible under his Transfiguration text; since he'd dropped Divination last year, Peter suspected Sirius was bribing him to do his homework. Again. "Only, I don't know where I put it. Sirius' bed, maybe."
Peter's trunk groaned as he slid off; it rather sounded like a sigh of relief, and Peter smacked it with his wand. "Why is he in yours, anyway?"
"I don't know, really," Remus replied, shrugging. "He was here when I came in, and it was easier to budge him over than send him packing. And I certainly wasn't moving to his." He wrinkled his nose and poked Sirius' hip with his foot. Oblivious, Sirius continued to snore. "I'm not going near that mess until I know the house-elves aren't still refusing to wash his sheets."
Peter froze within spitting distance of Sirius' bed and peered between the mostly-open hangings. In the centre, a huddled mass of linens laid in wait. It rather looked like blankets, but it had been Peter's experience that blankets didn't growl.
"What did he do to them, anyway?" The blankets growled again, twitching slightly, and Peter bid a hasty retreat. "The house-elves, I mean."
"I've never asked. Knowing Sirius, I--"
Remus was interrupted by the door, which sprang open with the velocity of a rabid Bludger. James trundled through in its wake, shouldering it out of the way as it rebounded off the wall. Red-faced and dishevelled, he sputtered and gasped in a way that suggested he'd taken the stairs at a dead run, and his hair looked moments away from staging a coup. A strange gleam danced in his eyes and, deciding it was positively manic, Peter privately began compiling a list of the number and manner of detentions he would undoubtedly be serving in the near future.
"Well, you look a fright," Remus commented mildly. Sirius mumbled in what could've been agreement. "Been wooing again, have you?"
James disregarded this with two fingers and the sort of snort common to hippogriffs and McGonagall approaching a full strop. Remus swallowed a smile, his mouth twitching at the corners as he returned to his schoolwork, and James loudly cleared his throat. Peter slouched toward the safety of his own bed, doing his level best to avoid direct eye contact. The gleam had shifted into something that trumped manic in all categories; James' expression would not have been out of place on a Ministry wanted poster.
"Lads," James began grandly, "I have an idea."
Hefting his book, Remus turned a page. Sirius rolled onto his stomach and flopped his arm over the side of the bed.
"It's wonderful," James continued, gesturing like his hands had crossed paths with a rather sturdy Tarantallegra. "Best idea I've had in ages."
Somewhere, a cricket chirped.
"Come on, men. Hear me out. It's positively brilliant!"
Peter really didn't like the sound of that. James' definition of 'brilliant' was very different than the one printed in Wyvernshire's Wizarding English, in that James generally equated it with things like 'dangerous' and 'explosive.' Or 'grounds for expulsion.' Peter considered the detentions quietly queuing inside his head -- a list that already totalled five, and ranged anywhere between trophy polishing and degnoming the Forbidden Forest -- and added another three. He shuddered. The Hospital Wing had more bedpans than it knew what to do with; if James kept on, it would only be a matter of time before Peter was forced to face a stack down, armed with good intentions and a Muggle scrub brush one bristle from going bald.
That was the killing stroke, that high and whiny tone better suited to a seven year-old girl who'd just dropped her ice lolly. Remus looked up, making a valiant attempt at what passed for his Prefect Face, and Peter silently wished him the best of luck. James wheedled like a champion; Evans was the only known exception. Also, Remus' Prefect Face wasn't very good. He clearly aimed for something as smooth and blank as the castle's leeward wall, and while he fancied it frightening -- and it was, to lost firsties and Hufflepuffs caught snogging in the Library -- he mostly looked put upon. Or constipated.
"Please?" James asked hopefully. Peter thought his lower lip might be quivering.
"Go on, then," Remus muttered, his Prefect Face folding like a Flobberworm under a stern glare. "Let's here it."
"Right." James grinned brightly and approached Remus' bed. "This is what we're -- huh." Realising he lacked Sirius' undivided attention, James pulled his wand and poked Sirius in the cheek. "Wake up, you lazy sod."
"Piss off," Sirius mumbled, mostly to one of Remus' pillows, but his bleary burr quickly ratcheted into a yelp as James traded his wand for a wet finger and applied it liberally to Sirius' ear. "Plonker." Delighted, James did it again, and Sirius kicked him in the shin. "Knobface." James gave it one more go, but Sirius dodged him at the last moment, and he caught Sirius in the nose. "Dirty rotten fuckstick."
James cackled like the madman Peter was fairly certain he was. Sirius leaned up on his elbows and groaned, glaring murderously at James, then slightly less murderously at Remus.
"Moony," Sirius said slowly, with the confused blink of someone who'd fallen from his broom and landed on his head. Repeatedly. "Where'd you come from?"
"Oh, don't mind me, you're no bother at all," Remus grumbled, flattening a parchment Sirius had wrinkled in his flailing. "It's my bed and that, but I'm just passing through."
Sirius sat up a bit more. "Your bed?" He peered suspiciously at his own; the hangings gave an ominous rustle. "How did that happen?"
"Well," James said, favouring Sirius with an arch smile, "Remus must have shagged you to sleep."
"Jealousy really doesn't suit you, James," Remus countered airily. "Besides, you've nothing to worry about. He screamed your name the entire time."
"I hate you both," Sirius declared, flashing a rude gesture to all and sundry as James and Remus dissolved into snickers. "And you," he added savagely, when he caught sight of Peter, who was laughing so hard he was pink-faced and gasping for air. Peter ducked just as one of Remus' books was hurled in his general direction without regard to incidentals like aim, and he buried his face in his hands. He was very nearly crying. "I hope you all die in a terrible, smelly Potions accident."
Remus snickered into his Defence essay. Peter sank down onto his trunk, despite its grunt of protest, and tried to breathe normally.
"All right," James said importantly. "Now that we are all here, or as here as we're ever going to be --" he glanced at Sirius "-- I must tell you about my idea."
"Yes, please." Peter did his best to steel himself. At this point, the detentions were unavoidable; he might as well learn the cause, before his imaginary list started falling out of his ears.
James paused for dramatic effect, which caused Sirius to call him a ponce, and spread his hands wide. "Apple pie beds."
A peculiar silence followed, during which James preened with the haughty air of a unicorn being approached by a complete slapper and the others pointedly looked at anything and everything but him. The storm picked up outside, wind shrieking and rain rattling against the windows, and a soft hiss sounded from the general area of Sirius' bed.
"Well?" James demanded.
"Sorry," Remus began, in what was very likely his Prefect Voice. It lacked a true air of authority, and Peter studied the shadows Sirius' broom cast on the clothes-littered carpet. "I think you said apple pie beds."
"That's precisely what I said! Apple pie beds," James insisted. "It came to me when I was... when she, uh... while I was, um -- never mind that. It's brilliant, and you can't tell me it's not."
"Well, it's interesting," Remus ventured.
"It's daft, is what it is," Sirius complained. He rubbed irritably at his face; the side that had been pressed to his schoolwork was bright red, and three or four mirrored sentences slanted up toward his temple. "It's complete rubbish. Firstie stuff."
"Not if we do it properly," James argued hotly, spots of colour blooming on his cheeks. "Not if we--"
"Everyone," Peter cut in, his mouth running off without stopping to ask permission from his brain. James had that effect on him, sometimes. "We'll have to do everyone at once."
"What do you mean, everyone?" Sirius asked. He leaned in a bit, and a thoughtful expression crept over his face. "The professors, and that?"
Remus cocked his head to the side, his teeth creasing his lower lip. "And the hospital wing?"
"Yes," Peter said, despite the bedpans looming large in his mind. "Everyone."
"Of course," James said, with a smile that made a good argument for him being criminally insane. "Everyone."
"Well?" Peter asked anxiously, just as he had every two minutes for the last twenty. He dry-washed his hands as he peered at James, looking quite like a girl about to find out if her boyfriend had indeed got her up the duff. "How many is it?"
James ignored this latest breech in his concentration by slouching closer to his parchment. His quill twitched. Peter sighed nervously, and went back to whatever it was he'd been doing before, which seemed to be studying the contents of his rucksack with extreme interest.
In Peter's defence -- not that Sirius defended Peter all that often; he preferred to leave that sort of chivalrous rubbish to Remus -- the number of beds inside the castle was rather important to the task at hand, and presently, it was a question without an answer. Counting the beds would never work, given the amount of time it would take, and the margin of error involved when asking Peter to play nicely with numbers greater than ten, not to mention that wretched boy-repelling hex that guarded the girls' dormitories. Sirius had thought about counting the dots on the Map, but that idea had also failed to take flight, since there was no way to make the little buggers stand still. Remus had spent the better part of yesterday afternoon abusing his Prefect privileges in the name of locating a complete roster of the student body, but if such a thing existed outside the morass of Albus Dumbledore's twinkly mind, it hadn't been left where Remus or his badge could find it.
James was currently trying to solve the problem, but Sirius rather doubted his chances, mainly because he was going about it all wrong. From what Sirius had gathered in the last excruciatingly long hour, James hoped to find the answer through a curious combination of rough estimations fuelled by mad fancies and complex Arithmancy equations based on numbers pulled squarely out of his arse. He also seemed to be sweating a lot. Sirius chewed his thumbnail and did his level best not to think about the last time James had waved off the details: a damp and somewhat squelchy night during which Peter had got stranded up a tree, Remus had developed bumps on his arms the same size and shape as the knobbly bits on a Mimbulus Mimbletonia, and Sirius had been sucked into a rambling conversation with Benjy Fenwick -- about starting a Shuntbumps league, of all ruddy things -- while he'd waited for James to fetch the dung beetles.
That Shuntbumps conversation had wasted a full forty minutes of Sirius' life, and James never had turned up.
The Library carried on in its usual fashion, persisting in a brand of quiet Sirius found bloody unnatural. Prolonged exposure to silence and stillness made him restless, and his hands itched for his wand or his broom or his secret stash of Stinkpellets. For anything, at this point; he didn't much care. Hectate Hettledown's arse would do nicely, or the soft curve of Margery Applewaite's hip. Of course, Hectate was no longer speaking to him, for reasons known only to her, and as a seventh-year Ravenclaw, Margery was in Ancient Runes, and would be until lunch. Pince wasn't helping the situation; he resented the suspicious glower she was casting in his general direction, mainly because he hadn't done anything to deserve it.
Not today, anyway.
Grinding his teeth, Sirius suppressed the urge to scream. Or fake a seizure. Pomfrey had a face like the back end of a Clabbert, but she was pleasant enough, and she harboured a soft spot for Remus that was visible from the top of the Astronomy Tower. Remus found it horribly embarrassing -- of course, Remus was also embarrassed by fart cushions, naked house-elves, and that portrait of flirty, half-dressed nymphs in the Transfiguration corridor -- but Sirius thought it was brilliant, because it also extended to his friends. A bit of eye twitching and a spot of drool around the mouth could have him eating ginger biscuits and chocolate for dinner, and sleeping in a bed that didn't want to eat him alive.
Sirius glanced at James, and his eye very nearly did twitch. James was hunched over, his hair bristling out at several improbable angles and his nose almost pressed to his parchment. He sat up suddenly, then mumbled something under his breath and made a violent notation in his margin. Peter just watched him, blinking at James slowly with one hand lost inside his rucksack, and Remus was no use; he seemed content to do his blessed schoolwork until such time as James discovered what was apparently Hogwarts best kept secret. Sirius turned his attention back to Nifty Spells for the Newly-Married Witch and their first -- and possibly bigger -- problem.
The thing was, it bloody well looked like the spell they needed didn't exist. If it did, the inventor had neglected to record it in any of the books to which Sirius presently had access. He was willing to bet he could find something useful in Curses, Cantrips, and Calumny: A Compleat Compendium of the Contemporary Charlatan, but Snivellus would pull a date for the next Hogsmeade weekend before Sirius got his hands on that. McGonagall had confiscated the school's only copy in their third year, after James taught the Squid some ghastly ditty about Kneazle races, and upon its return to the Library, Pince had declared it would remain off the shelves until those four finished school. Possibly until their children finished school, or their childrens' children, until the seventh generation of the seventh generation.
Yawning, Sirius flicked his wand. "Accio--"
"Sirius," Remus warned quietly.
"What?" Sirius demanded. Nosy git hadn't even looked up from his book. Pince's beady eyes narrowed, suggesting his tone was not at all suitable for the Library, but Sirius ignored her in favour of Jeanette Everard, whose side profile he subjected to a slightly wistful look. If those knickers had been pink, James would've owed him two Knuts. "I wasn't doing anything."
Remus hummed tonelessly in reply and continued to fill his parchment with waffle. The measured scritch-scritch-scritch of his quill made Sirius' skin crawl.
"James?" Peter asked, despite the fact he was crowding his two minutes by a good thirty-six seconds. "How many is it?"
"It's, you know... I just, um... well, I think -- bugger," James spat, squinting down at his work. His tiny, illegible writing scrawled drunkenly across the page, forming into something that resembled the pattern on the robes Dumbledore tended to wear on Fridays. "It's... well, it's a lot of sodding beds."
"A lot?" Sirius asked, with a magnificent snort. Pince leaned over her desk, ready to swoop down like the great, bespectacled bat she likely morphed into a sundown. "You utter knob, we've been here hours, and all you've got is 'there's a lot of sodding beds?'"
"Well, what about you?" James asked, pulling at his hair like it had done him a personal wrong. "Did you find anything?"
Sirius scratched the back of his neck. "Not really."
"Oh, not really," James muttered. "Hours, he says, and he's had his hand down his trousers the whole time."
"Children," Remus said lightly. He still hadn't looked up from his book. "Sirius, what did you find?"
"Well, there's this, but I don't know if it'll work," Sirius said, sliding Nifty Spells for the Newly-Married Witch across the table. "It's for making up beds."
"Properly?" Peter asked, mostly to the inside of his rucksack.
"Yeah, I guess," Sirius said, as James scanned the page with a frown. Waving James off, he flipped back to the previous chapter. "There's also this, for folding laundry."
James favoured Sirius with a look reminiscent of a goblin who thought he'd been short-changed. "Gormless, prancing tosspot." He attacked his hair again, with the same homicidal intent. "Folding laundry, I ask you."
"You got something better?" Remus asked.
"All right, all right," James conceded. "Mark them both. We'll try them when we go back -- bloody hell, Peter! What are you doing?"
Peter, who was prodding the contents of his rucksack with his wand, froze and looked up at James guiltily. "Nothing."
"Nothing? What've you got in there, then?" Sirius demanded. The way Peter had been acting the last hour, it ought to be the Holy Grail. "More nothing?"
"Chocolate Frogs," Peter admitted. Fishing about inside his rucksack, he produced one as evidence. "My sister sent them to me," he explained, ducking his head. His nose twitched. "Five pounds of them."
"Five pounds?" James asked, in what was possibly the furthest thing from his indoor voice. A distinctly unimpressed rustle sounded from the desk Pince used as a perch, and across the aisle, a small group of Ravenclaws were staring openly. "Five whole pounds?"
"James, please," Remus said, a faint blush creeping over his cheeks. "You'll upset Madam Pince."
"Oh, bugger Pince on a hired broomstick," Sirius hissed. If there was five pounds of chocolate to be had, Pince was the least of his concerns. And right now, Sirius figured they should be the least of hers; Stoatley and McKinnnon had just retired to the Restricted Section -- in a manner that lacked any form of subtlety, in Sirius' opinion -- and when those two got anywhere near each other, it came down to partial nudity and an enthusiastic exchange of tongues. Sirius gave it ten minutes before an entire shelf of dusty tomes was irreparably ruined. "There's chocolate, and Peter is hoarding."
"Wormtail?" James asked slowly. "Have you forgotten the terms of the treaty?"
Peter's nose twitched. "Which treaty? The one about wanking and Silencing Charms and putting a tie on the doorknob when you're, you know... entertaining?"
"No, that's the Secrecy of Goods and Services Act," Sirius said, waving his hand. "He means the one about curtains, furry animals, storing monkshood at room temperature, and that broom cupboard down in Slytherin that only opens on odd-numbered days of the month."
"Fartparcels," James grumbled. "I mean the Profit and Loss Agreement of 1973, the one that goes..." he nudged Remus with his elbow. "How does it go, Moony?"
"Whereby, all punishments meted, including but not limited to detentions, banishments, and letters written home, will be served by the accused, without regard to innocence or guilt, lest a fellow Marauder betray one of his comrades in arms," Remus recited, and if he didn't stop reading that book, Sirius was going to beat him about the face and head with it. "Furthermore, all spoils earned, given, or otherwise gained shall be shared equally and without reservation, with the exception of Marmite, tinned fish, invitations to Slughorn's office, and the favours of Lily Evans."
Sirius chewed his lip thoughtfully. "I thought there was something in there about Snape's underpants."
"Codicil Three, Sections Sixteen and Seventeen," Remus said. "And, if it is noted that Severus Snape, hereafter known as Snivellus, happens to--"
"Right." James reached for Peter's rucksack. "Under the treaty, there is no hoarding."
"I'm not hoarding, honestly," Peter insisted. "They only just came, at breakfast." Sighing, he pulled out three frogs and passed them around. "I've been trying to figure out what I'm going to do with them."
"Share, obviously," James mumbled, as he stuffed his frog in his mouth. One of the legs kicked feebly at his chin.
"Hey, Remus, what's that one spell?" Peter asked. "You know, the one that copies things?"
"The Geminio Curse," Remus replied slowly. "Why? Fancy ten pounds?" He laughed and shook his head. "It won't work that way. The duplicates won't be edible."
"Oh." Peter shrugged. "I was just wondering."
Remus would never admit it out loud, but he really didn't mind Prefect meetings.
They tended to run a bit on the boring side, and the Prefect's lounge was uncommonly stuffy, but in all honesty, Remus could easily think of worse ways to spend the afternoon. Double Potions while partnered with Snape came to mind, as did listening to Sirius sing in the shower. He'd also happily forgo being trapped in a tiny broom cupboard after Peter had eaten steak and kidney pie, or having James' regrettably naked thighs in his hands, because Evans -- in a somewhat justifiable fit of pique -- had hexed his trousers with a positively scorching infestation of Chizpurfles.
Granted, Malecarius Rosier was a puffed up swot in a nice set of robes -- a lack of personality that had not improved with James pouring the lake on his head, or whatever had happened there -- but Remus didn't exactly find that surprising. Head Boys were generally cut from the same inflated, self-important cloth, and never mind that Rosier was in Slytherin. After sharing a dormitory with James and Sirius for nearly six years, Remus was mostly immune to things like posturing and entitlement. Besides, Prefect meetings were quiet. Madness was not allowed to roam free, hurtling toward a messy and untimely demise while dressed in little more than a grotty pair of pants.
Remus appreciated a little normalcy now and then. He still had nightmares about the Chizpurfles.
He also had nightmares about that voice, due to the frequency in which it haunted James' dreams, and James' utter inability to cast a decent Silencing Charm.
"Afternoon, Evans," Remus said, slowing as she fell into step beside him. Faced with two Prefects from an opposing House, a small knot of lower form Slytherins scattered from where they'd congregated near a statue of Angbar the Abhorrent, doing their level best to look innocent. "Are you going my way, or are you just using me to escape Sluggy?"
"Both," Evans replied cheerfully. "I normally don't mind, but he's been awfully grabby, today." She linked their arms, leading Remus down the hall as Slughorn's jovial baritone nipped at their heels. "He's having one of his luncheons on Saturday, but it's Hogsmeade this weekend."
"What do you lot get up to, anyway?" Remus asked. He'd never been invited to one of Slughorn's parties, but if James could be believed, he wasn't missing much.
"Nothing special, really," Evans admitted. "He feeds us candied pineapple and Butterbeer and talks about a good deal of nothing."
Remus laughed. "And you'd pass that up for an afternoon of avoiding James by hiding in Scrivenshafts?"
"Don't get me started on Potter," Evans said, her voice souring at the edges. "Besides, if the storm doesn't let up, I'll be hiding in Scrivenshafts, just the same." She wrinkled her nose as they passed a window at the bottom of the stairs. "Dreadful weather," she noted, and Remus could only agree. The sky was roughly the colour of the castle walls, and the rain looked like it was striving toward the heartfelt goal of reaching Biblical proportions by morning. "I hear they cancelled Quidditch practice, again."
"Yes." Remus hated these ruddy stairs; with the full moon less than a week off, a slow ache was beginning to spread through his bones. "Much to my misery and despair."
She gave him an odd look. "But you don't -- oh. Of course. I suppose Potter and Black haven't been fit to live with."
"Not recently, no."
"Ever, you mean," she said tartly. "I can't imagine what they get up to in that lair of theirs. I'm sure I don't want to."
Remus considered some of the events that had occurred this week --
(Sirius running starkers out of the loo with an angry and purple hand print charmed across his arse, an event for which he'd had no logical explanation; James-as-a-stag poking his fat, antlered head between Remus' bed hangings at bollocks o'clock in the morning for no apparent reason, other than to offer Remus one of Peter's dirty magazines by mouth; Peter having a glorious row with a bloody house-elf while sopping wet and wearing nothing but the smallest towel Remus had ever seen, over a pile of broom twigs, three mismatched socks, and what might've been a peanut butter, banana, raisin, and Marmite sandwich.)
-- and it was only Tuesday. He quickly decided Evans had the right of it; she really didn't want to know.
"I don't understand how you put up with them," she continued, as they reached the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. "I can't say I understand why, either."
"I drew the short straw. Dumbledore would insist at least one person in each dormitory know how to read."
"They're just so... so... despicable." Evans nodded firmly, her hands planted on her hips. Remus wondered if women learned that gesture from their mothers, or if it was just natural instinct. "They're despicable, and--"
"Bowtruckle," Remus said shortly, at a cough the Fat Lady had likely thought was discreet. "They needed a social secretary. At least, that's what they said. I should've known better than to answer an advert out of the Quibbler."
She lifted her chin and stalked off without a word. Remus rubbed his hand over his face and started for his dormitory, a trip that involved more ruddy stairs.
On a normal day, when Remus walked into the room, he would be greeted by a large amount of nothing. James and Sirius would be at Quidditch practice, unless McGonagall had forced them to clear their schedules in the name of righteousness and detention, and Peter would be asleep amidst a hopelessly large pile of school work, his face pressed to his book and his place marked by his pointy, little nose.
Today, however, was not a normal day. Remus had already been aware of this on some level, but he'd also been choosing to ignore it. Unfortunately for him, as soon as he pushed through the door, the truth smacked him square in the face.
Peter tumbled to the floor, yelling his head off as he went, with Sirius' ankle in one hand and two wands clutched tightly in the other. James, who was somehow shrieking like a girl and cursing like a marooned and drunken pirate at precisely the same time, tackled Peter quite mercilessly and pinned him down by clamping his hand to the arm not tangled up in Sirius' legs and pressing his knee just north of his groin. Sirius attacked at once, his limbs flailing in all directions as he dove at Peter and fell lengthwise across James' back. Peter bellowed like a Nogtail in heat and loosed a full-armed slap that glanced off James' ear before catching Sirius' hip. Hissing, James made a desperate grab for Peter's hair; this overbalanced Sirius and, with a noise that suggested he'd been a banshee in a former life, he crashed loudly to the ground. He righted himself and clamoured over Peter's head as best he could with half his foot in James' mouth, shouting smelly nancing fuck of a wanksack to no one in particular as he shoved James into the wardrobe.
The three of them were -- for reasons known only to themselves, and reasons on which Remus did not care to speculate -- wearing nothing but their pants.
"Have I come at a bad time?" Remus asked quietly.
They promptly began shouting at once. Remus closed his eyes against the waved arms and tossed hair and flared nostrils, but it didn't really help. He could still hear them. There were a few enraged squawks, a couple of irritated huffs, and the unmistakable sound of someone being kicked soundly in the behind. After that, the yelling reached a fever pitch; he caught a few choice phrases, including complete maniac and total ruddy mutiny and a rather vehement sodding pervert just wanted to see me bollocks naked.
"McGonagall sends her regards," Remus commented, as the din began to die down. "Particularly to you, Sirius. She trusts you won't be late for tonight's detention." Sirius nodded; his pants hung off his hips crookedly, and a reddish bruise was blooming on his side in the exact size and shape of Peter's fist. "I trust you'll locate your trousers before then."
"It wasn't my fault!" Sirius insisted.
James made a noise like a trodden-on cat. "The bloody hell it wasn't! That spell was your idea!"
"It was not my idea!"
"You marked it in the book!"
"You told me to mark it in the book!" Sirius shouted. "I never said it'd work. I told you it probably wouldn't!" He ran his hand through his hair roughly, treatment which, in its current state, it did not need or deserve. "I told him, Remus. It's a cleaning spell, and cleaning spells only work for birds and house-elves. They're not meant for blokes. Do you know a married bloke who folds his own laundry?"
"Oh, for -- you lot did this with a bloody laundry spell? Remus asked, snorting as he tried desperately not to laugh. James' eyes went flinty and murderous, and Remus bit down on the inside of his cheek. "Let's see, then."
With more grumbling than Remus thought was strictly necessary, the others straightened themselves out and slouched toward the spare bed. It had belonged to Aramis Pyke until their second year, when his cousin gave him spattergroit for Christmas and he failed to return. The room would've been larger without it, but they'd never bothered to mention it to anyone. It was as good a place as any for all the rubbish that would've otherwise ended up on the floor, and Sirius slept in it occasionally, when his own bed was being disagreeable and James wasn't in the mood for his snoring.
Currently, it was completely barren, stripped of both its blankets and hangings. The top sheet was savage in its whiteness; it lay perfectly flat across the bed, and had hospital corners so sharp the angles made Remus' eyes cross.
"You do lovely work," Remus said airily, brushing his hand over the sheet. "You lot will never want for a summer job."
"Arsehole," James muttered, as he wrestled his wand away from Peter. "That was the first spell." Turning, he tore back the sheet until it was mostly puddled on the floor and aimed his wand. "Vestiso Tersusius."
After a soft puff of yellowish smoke, the sheet wound and wrapped itself around the bed with alarming alacrity and single-mindedness.
"We've tried it fifty times," James explained shortly. His glasses slipped down his nose and he righted them with a sigh. "Doesn't matter what we do, it only makes up the bed."
"Properly," Peter added, peering around the bedpost like a stick of wood six inches around was willing and able to hide twelve stone of boy. Four ragged scratches stretched away from his navel; Remus placed the blame on James' fingernails, which were in sore need of cutting. "It won't --" he made a circular and somewhat floppy gesture that would've prompted Sirius to make a dirty joke, if he wasn't busy picking carpet out of his teeth " -- fold the sheet up, and that."
Remus looked from the bed to James, then to Sirius and Peter, then back to James, and then back to the bed. "How does this explain the nudity?"
"It doesn't. That was the other spell, the sodding laundry spell." Sirius jabbed his wand at the bed. "Induvio Plicos!"
The bed did not deign to reply. Remus' clothes, on the other hand, rapidly took leave of their senses and began departing his body in the swiftest and most efficient manner possible. He grabbed quickly at his shirt, attempting to hold it closed, but the buttons continued to slip through the holes. His collar flapped against his neck, and he heard the pained rasp of a yanked-on zip. He rescued his wand from his pocket just as his robes peeled away from his shoulders and, growling a Finite Incantatem, he narrowly escaped being strangled by his own tie.
Peter was still cuddled against the bedpost. James and Sirius seemed somewhat smug.
"Well," Remus said slowly, "that was different."
"There's something wrong with it," Sirius insisted. "I'm telling you, it's meant for birds." He pointed to James' bed, where three sets of perfectly folded school uniforms sat in a prim line along the foot. "All it did was take our clothes and fold them up!"
Remus glanced around the room, pausing at the pile of rubbish that had been swept from Pyke's bed, a tangle of books, shoes, inkwells, Quidditch rags, owl treats, and balled-up parchment. Peter's trunk was open, and a quick look showed the contents to be of a similar vein: scrolls, quills, a box of Dungbombs, a ridiculously large bag of Ice Mice.
With that, Remus started to laugh. It was the violent, dangerous sort of laugh common to rabid Erklings and men who had run well and truly mad, and he did it wholeheartedly and without remorse. He laughed until his sides began to ache and his breath came short, until his jaw became possessed with an involuntary twitch and tears began prickling at the corners of his eyes. He laughed for what felt like hours, until he was slouched on the floor, and he was positively gasping when James listened to the voices that so obviously plagued his brain and toed Remus sharply in the arse.
"You cackling tosspot," James said. "What's so bloody funny?"
"Tuesday," Remus managed, through a sudden encore of sniggers. "It's Tuesday. The house-elves do laundry on Wednesday." Shaking, he pushed himself upright, and leaned against James' legs. "There aren't any clothes in this room -- clothes to fold -- so the spell took yours."
"That's no good!" Sirius complained, moving to Remus' other side. James shoved at Remus' shoulder, and Remus bumped his head on Sirius' knobby knee. "That's no good at all! Two spells, and neither work. One would make Pomfrey wet her knickers, and the other just wants to see my arse!"
Peter coughed. When James and Sirius didn't look over, he coughed again. "I was thinking," he said slowly. "What about a gift-wrapping spell? Those bend the paper however you want."
"We're trying to short-sheet the beds, Peter, not do them up in ribbons and bows," James said. He paused then, his eyebrows racing toward his hairline. "Although--"
"Maybe if we change the object," Sirius cut in, waving James off. "Wrapping spells are meant to append differently, for different kinds of paper, and that."
"You know," Remus said, with a slow smile, "it just might work."
"Now that we are all here," Nigel Nott said, with more gravity than Regulus thought was strictly necessary, "I will call this meeting to order."
Regulus snorted quietly and did his best to ignore the dust quietly creeping inside his nose. Filthy things, broom cupboards were, and scarcely enough room to turn around. Regulus would never understand why his brother frequented them, but that was to be expected, as there was very little about Sirius that made any kind of sense. Presently, Regulus was standing a good deal closer to Cecil Wilkes than anyone in their right mind would care to be, given that Wilkes had about as much body hair as the average Quintaped and the unpleasant habit of smelling like pickled turnips. A dull ache was spreading through Regulus' shoulders; space constraints were forcing him to hold his arms at an awkward angle, lest he accidentally touch something both mouldy and alarming.
An ugly, pockmarked bust in the corner was giving Regulus a healthy dose of the Evil Eye, which was a fairly impressive feat, considering that both had been removed. By force, if the kitchen knife wedged into one of the gouged sockets was any indication.
"Connors?" Nott asked, addressing a spotty third-year who bore an unfortunate souvenir from a recent confrontation with Potter. Pomfrey would insist that the only known remedy for the Cauliflower-Ears Curse was patience and time; thankfully, Connors had taken to wearing his hair long while he waited. "Have you got it?"
"Yes." After a bit of anxious shuffling, Connors produced a small parchment from the depths of his robes. "I've got it."
"Good," Nott said importantly. "We will now hear the minutes from the last meeting."
Regulus was breathless with anticipation. Or possibly the dust.
Fortunately, the door creaked open before Connors could really get going, ushering in a whiff of fresh air that was quickly followed by Severus, who slouched inside with his wand in one hand and his lank hair hanging in his eyes. He was wearing his favourite scowl, but Regulus thought it looked rather sharp around the edges.
"All right, there?" Regulus asked, as Severus shut the door and leaned back against it with a sigh.
"Pettigrew," Severus muttered darkly. "I think I still have fluxweed in my teeth."
"Not to worry," Nott said, clearing his throat. "You haven't missed much. Connors was just reading the minutes from Sunday."
"Right." Connors swallowed nervously. "Our last meeting was called to order at seven, Nigel Nott presiding, and--"
Regulus flicked his wand and Connors' parchment dissolved into a cloud of ash. "Never mind that rubbish."
"It's not rubbish!" Nott insisted, in the sort of fussy and exacting voice that suggested he stored his school books in alphabetical order and drew up complicated, colour-coded revising schedules in his spare time. Regulus often thought the Sorting Hat was completely off its tree; Nott made a fantastic case in point. "This is very serious business."
"Hardly," Regulus countered. "There is nothing serious about colluding in a broom cupboard."
Wilkes came to life with a grunt. "Is that what your brother says? He's always getting--"
"Silencio," Regulus replied, because that conversation wasn't going anywhere he cared to visit. Especially since Wilkes likely didn't know what 'colluding' actually meant. If there was anything Regulus wished to discuss less than Sirius' disrespect for his family's ideals or his obvious emotional issues, it was his rather disturbing tendency to snog dimwitted Hufflepuffs in dark corners. Frowning sharply, Regulus rounded on Nott. "Let's get on with it, shall we?"
"I, um... I don't... you -- we can't, now," Nott mumbled, blinking at Regulus with wide eyes. He darted a quick glance at Wilkes, who was working his mouth with his hands clapped around his throat, and Regulus waved him off. It wasn't like Wilkes would've had anything useful to contribute. "I don't know where to start."
Regulus sighed. "I'm sure you'll think of something, if you try."
Nott promptly began to fidget. Behind him, Connors looked ready to wet himself, and Regulus was pointedly reminded of why he didn't participate in group activities that weren't Quidditch. He didn't play well with others, and he had very little patience for neurotic behaviour. Regulus looked over at Severus, hoping he could get some assistance from the only other person in the room with at least half a brain, but Severus was avoiding the sorry situation by examining his fingernails with extreme interest.
"The minutes are gone," Nott said finally.
"Do we really need them?" Regulus asked. This was the last time he accepted an invitation to a secret society with the morning post. He should've known something was wrong when Hesperus dropped the note directly into his porridge. "We're plotting petty revenge, not campaigning for the Wizengamot."
"Perhaps we could skip to the part where we accomplish something," Severus ventured quietly.
"Oh, yes... that might... we will start with crimes," Nott said, nodding slowly. "Last week, Potter caused me to fall from my broom."
Having seen Nott fly at Quidditch trials, Regulus doubted he needed any help in that department, but he bit back the comment rising in his throat. If Nott wanted to place blame, Regulus wasn't going to throw away a perfectly good excuse to hex Potter with a ghastly case of pustules.
"We all know about Connors' ears," Nott continued. Connors tugged at his hair self-consciously. "He also Charmed Avery's pet Kneazle pink, and he -- Snape, what did he do to you, again? Spots or Boils?"
"Black gave me the spots," Severus replied tonelessly, as Wilkes made the sort of rasping, burbling noise that brought drowning Graphorns to mind. Regulus idly decided he should've made the spell a bit stronger. "Potter hexed my Transfiguration book with a parchment-eating fungus."
Nott favoured Regulus with a wary but somewhat considering look. "What about you, then? Any trouble with Potter?"
"Not particularly," Regulus murmured, exchanging a sidelong glance with Severus. There had been a fairly disquieting incident a few days ago, but he wasn't in the mood to discuss it, and since Severus had managed to sort him out before anyone noticed, Regulus also didn't see the point. "Potter mostly leaves me alone."
"Your brother doesn't," Nott pointed out needlessly.
Regulus didn't feel that deserved a response.
"Black caused ferns to grow out of Rosier's nose and mouth," Severus offered. "He also caused the Slytherin Quidditch team to come down with athlete's foot before the season had even started."
"He tripped me the other day," Connors admitted softly. "It might've been Lupin, but Black was the one laughing about it."
"Yes." Nott nodded his head. "On Monday, Lupin hexed Wilkes with laryngitis."
"How unfortunate," Regulus commented, his mouth twitching as he recalled the somewhat murderous look on Wilkes' blessedly silent face. If he didn't dislike Lupin on general principle, he might have thanked him for granting the Slytherin common room a full day without Wilkes' pointless braying.
"Well," Nott said, pausing thoughtfully. Regulus hoped he didn't strain himself. "What about Pettigrew?"
Snape's usual scowl twisted into something approaching a sneer. "What about him?"
"Harmless," Wilkes croaked, finding his voice at last. He glowered at Regulus, and Regulus smiled at him over the tip of his wand. "Not too bright, neither."
"You'd be surprised," Regulus murmured. Pettigrew wasn't flashy or quick or overly clever, but he was the reason Regulus had taken to checking his shoes for insects and vermin every morning, which certainly said something. "He can follow orders, if nothing else."
There was an extended silence, dotted by the occasional whir from the derelict clock lurking near the door. Wilkes continued to glower, Connors chewed at his lip, and Nott divided his time between picking lint from his robes and frowning at the floor. Severus was engrossed in his fingernails again, but once Regulus began tapping his foot, he looked up with a loud and irritated sigh.
"Well?" Severus demanded. "What are we going to do about it?"
"Oh," Nott replied, surprise dancing across his face. Connors' shoulders developed a defeated slump. "We haven't got that far yet."
Really, an invitation to a secret society had seemed like a good idea at the time. Retribution, and that. He'd also been promised tea and biscuits.
"Regulus," Severus whispered, leaning close and curling his fingers in Regulus' sleeve. "Gryffindor is practising right now, but they might come in early, if the rain keeps on." He almost smiled, his mouth quirking just slightly. "They'll be tired."
"Why are we still here, then?" Regulus asked, aiming his wand. "Alohomora."
The door did not appear to hear him.
"It's Wednesday," Severus prompted.
"Right. Of course. Abiertus."
A good pound of dust followed Regulus out, but the hallway smelled a right sight better than Wilkes.