The Boy In The Bubble
The Owlery was a strange place. In the four years that Maitri had been a student at Hogwarts, and three years as Hagrid’s assistant, she had never entered the actual place. It had been necessary for her to, since all mail she’d had to send was to either her parents or Andromeda Tonks, one of which was to be given to Dumbledore, and another always ended in a reply owling procedure.
She tentatively climbed into the doorway after her friends. Her new friend and her old best friend. Sirius Black and Alex Messiers – the two beings who could terrorize even Peeves if they pranked together, but wouldn’t, because of the Marauder Rules.
Maitri had had a hard time trying not to laugh as Sirius Black had repeated to her the Rules One Needed To Follow Were He A Marauder. She could remember only a few, though:
1) A Marauder is first and foremost, only a Gryffindor.
4) A Marauder should never be a girl. Not even Polyjuicing into a girl is allowed.
31) A Marauder should worship the founder of Zonko’s with all of his heart.
45) No Marauder should date the girl of another Marauder (, whatever the word “girl” may mean).
107) All Marauders must praise the other Marauders to professors and himself to the public.
Needless to say, Maitri had a good time trying to hold back her laughter. She and Alex had shared a look when the rule number 1 had been repeated twice in the list, but Sirius convinced them they were for entirely different reasons.
“Ri-i-i-ight, Black.” And they shared the same thought; you’ll have a real hard time making that sound believable.
Maitri looked up at the hundreds and hundreds of nocturnal birds roosting up at the tower. The floor was littered with droppings and rodents bones, making it kind of sickening to walk across it, so she stayed at the threshold while Alex and Sirius went in. A magnificent looking eagle owl fluttered down to the Black boy’s outstretched arm. The girl watched as he tied down a letter to the bird’s leg, while Alex tried to manage a hoot-filled communication with two other school barn owls before one of them opened a bleary eye, shot an irritated look at him and balefully flew up to another, quieter perch. The other one hooted back to Alex.
“It’s really wicked!” Sirius commented as they left the Owlery. “With Zonko’s introducing their owl-post products, they’ll soon become the singly most successful wizarding joke-shop.”
“Because you instigated this system?”
“Initiated it, Ms. Harys,” Sirius corrected her smugly.
“Stop sounding like a house-elf, Black,” Maitri and Alex scoffed him immediately.
“It’s called etiquette, my dear people,” he answered. “To make sure that the others around you are perfectly treated with the right amount of respect-”
“Merlin,” Alex muttered quietly. “I never thought he’d-”
“Lose his mind at such a young age,” Maitri agreed. “But, seeing what he has to live with-”
“- and who he has to put up with,” Alex continued for her. “Especially my sister and that James Potter, it’s not-”
“That big of a surprise, yeah,” they both completed together. The Gryffindor boy looked at them awestruck, his jaw slightly slack with his incomplete sentence.
“Wha- are you two, like, secretly, twins or something?” he croaked.
And then, Maitri did the one thing Sirius Black hated. She leant over and whispered into his ears - the secret he hadn’t found. “It’s called common sense, Black. You might want to try it sometime.”
“We’re serious about that, though,” Alex affirmed her suggestion.
“No, you’re not,” Sirius Black chided him. “I am Sirius. You are Messiers and Harys.”
Maitri slapped herself on her forehead unnoticed by the two boys who walked in front of her, laughing uncontrollably.
“He’s usually not that conceited,” Regulus Black assured Maitri on the way to the library. Whether he actually worked in there – other than pick off books on magical fighting techniques – or if he just wanted to walk and talk to his friend at the same time, Maitri wasn’t sure. But he did indeed have quality friendship speeches prepared for those five-minute long walks.
“Understandable,” Maitri replied. “It probably is the atmosphere of Hogwarts that makes him so.”
Regulus scrunched up his face as though he couldn’t decide whether to scowl or smile.
“He’s different around different people,” he said hesitantly. “Sirius feels that he ought to be the person others expect him to be, at least, before them. After all his years with the family, all of us are taught to become that way.”
“Oh,” Maitri said softly. “How did you manage to turn out so wonderfully sane, then?”
Reg grinned. “You don’t expect things out of people,” he explained. “It’s easy to say anything to you because you won’t fuss about it.”
“Wow,” Maitri said. “It is really heartening to know about oneself that the said oneself is like Birbal’s third doll.”
“Who is this Beer-Ball?”
“A very wise man, who had three very nice dolls,” Maitri replied. “One that would gossip, one that would ignore, and one that would keep its mouth and mind shut.”
“Aha,” exclaimed Regulus. “He is indeed a very wise man, then, if he discovered the three predominant types of humans.”
Maitri stopped walking and stared at her friend. Regulus stopped two paces ahead and turned back to her, his eyes puzzled. “What is it?”
“No… thing,” Maitri replied quietly, her mind wondering if she’d met the youngest, cleverest person in Wizarding United Kingdom. “You were right about the human types.”
Regulus sighed, and gave in to a tight smile as they continued their walk.
“All I want to know is,” he asked a minute later. “If the Beer-Ball guy was a wizard.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know,” Maitri admitted. “He might be, for all that I know… though, you have to admit he’s too smart – smarter than even you, maybe.”
“Who, me? Coz I know I am!”
Regulus scowled his Slytherin best at the new apparition that popped up in front of him and his friend. Alex Messiers just grinned back.
"Now you look exactly like your brother,” he commented appreciatively. “I just left him with that stuck to his face for the time being, so don’t make me do it to you, too, Black.”
“Whatever, Messiers,” Regulus said, sighing, taking the boy’s annoying entrance as cue for his timely exit. “Maitri, please see to it that this airhead Veela does not turn you into himself for your extraordinary likeableness.”
And with that, he left two people with very deep thoughts.
"I’m extraordinarily likeable?” Maitri asked Alex when they began their dream diary project for Divination.
“I could turn you into me?”
Maitri looked at her parchment skeptically. “I think the question you’re looking for is ‘can magical creatures turn others into themselves?’”
Before Maitri left the library, about fifteen minutes before the pre-OWL students’ curfew began, Madam Pince gestured her to stay back for a moment, and disappeared behind her bench, into the Restricted Section.
Maitri looked around as she waited for Madam Pince, and found that she was the only occupant other than a very studious looking Sixth Year Ravenclaw she’d once met at the Quidditch Pitch the year before, who’d been a Chaser then, and an Indian who had been born and brought up in London. As if he sensed her looking at him, he looked up and nodded discreetly, recognizing her. Maitri bowed her head once before turning back to Madam Pince’s desk.
For a strict librarian whose skin looked deathly pale, and lips far too thin for somebody as young as in her thirties, Madam Pince looked strangely flushed when she reappeared.
“Now, Harys,” she whispered. “Here’s the book you asked for.” She handed a book down to Maitri, who was completely confused; she hadn’t requested any book out of the Restricted Section.
“The authority signature you provided me with is perfectly acceptable, Miss Harys,” the witch said enigmatically, tapping a piece of parchment and handing it to Maitri, who took it and stared at the signature. “You may very well wish to leave now if you do not want to get caught, Harys.” And then, in a lower tone, she added, “Good luck; the professor tells me you can have it for as long as you wish to.”
It wasn’t until Maitri was out of the library and halfway down the Hallway of Broom Cupboards that she realized that she found it a bit odd for Professor Nostradamus to send Madam Pince a permission note for Maitri to procure a book entirely unconnected to Divination. She glanced down at the thick, hardbound volume in her hands again.
Faded golden letters were scrawled across the aged leather, clearly proclaiming the book as “The Complete and Ultimate Book of Advanced Charms
Once she reached her secret room, she opened it, sitting cross-legged on the floor across the Founders’ portraits. When she did, she found that it had been bookmarked in several places. The topmost one was marked as ‘All Parchment Charms and related theories’.
She shut the book close and rested her head on her fists. Perhaps, a long conversation with one certain, ancient-looking professor was hovering close.
Sirius Black always found the Gryffindor Commonroom too quiet for its own good. Lily Evans always thought it was too loud for anyone else’s good. James Potter always found himself wishing he could control all the pandemonium to impress Lily Evans, but Remus Lupin, the practical one, always had to drag him away from terrorizing first and second years with his heart-felt confessions about his affinity to redheads. Peter Pettigrew always agreed with his friends when he looked up from the chess board and cheese cake that almost always accompanied him into the common room. Otherwise, he was left to his own world of fantasies.
“Pass the gob-feed, Pete!” he unnecessarily yelled to Peter, who was two feet away from him. The short boy frowned as he looked up from his chess match with Adriana Derby, and tossed the extra chocolate cake to his friend before resuming his play. Sirius caught it deftly and shoved it into his mouth, and adjusted himself into a comfortable position by putting his head on the cushion on the floor by the hearth, and rested his legs on his favorite armchair and settled down to review his last Muggle Studies essay. The Derby girl sneaked a glance at him sideways while Peter was busy moving his one of his knight pieces forward, and wondered how someone could look so relaxed and aloof at the same time.
Sirius sensed the girl’s look and nodded to her once, mechanically, startling her, and continued reading his essay, with a smirk. Though the smirk was only an ornament, Sirius was well aware that it did its job in enhancing his Gryffindor-reputation.
“You go on proving you’re lesser a human every day, Blackie,” a voice commented somewhere behind his parchment of essay. Sirius lowered it and found himself looking back at James Potter, who had a wide grin spreading across his face. “Perhaps, that could be our lottery ticket for Friday.”
Sirius couldn’t help the grin that was now pushing itself into his cheeks. The Friday next was a novelty he and the Marauders had planned. Perhaps their Best Prank of the Year 1974 (Before Christmas Break) – which was how he had said it should be awarded. It was a piece of ingeniousness that involved the teachers’ hats, the floating candles and the Slytherins’ cutlery and a set of unmentionable things he’d owl-ordered that morning with Messiers and Harys – whom he’d questionably found breakfasting at the crack of the dawn, down at the kitchens.
“I’ve been thinking,” he contributed. Remus Lupin, from his armchair nearby, looked down at his odd position before shaking his head, muttering that it meant no good to the betterment of the world.
“No, listen,” Sirius insisted, pushing himself off the floor. “Remember that portrait up there on the seventh floor? That one with the dancing trolls?”
“Barnabas the Barmy?”
“Yep – that one,” Sirius clarified. “There’s a room across it that’s… er, convenient.”
James Potter bit his lip, watching off into the corner of the common room where a certain Lily Evans sat, muttering furiously about the noise. Remus Lupin frowned over his newest scar, a silver line now, on his wrist, wondering if he could remember how it came by. Peter Pettigrew whooped with joy as he won the chess match. A few onlookers called out their congratulations to him, and Peter beamed. Sirius looked at his smallest friend, and realized that he was not so much popular for his magic, as for his logic or practicality. He sighed and got up.
“C’mon, I’ll show you,” Sirius declared. “James, cloak.”
James Potter sighed and got up from his seat and made his way up to their dormitory, while Sirius and Peter followed him. Remus Lupin rubbed his eyes once and slipped a vial of the Painkiller Potion into his coat pocket from his schoolbag, and, carefully avoiding further attention, quietly made his way to the portrait hole. The moment he felt something brush him from behind, he pushed open the portrait, and found himself face-to-face with Frank Longbottom, a Prefect from a year above them.
“Curfew, Lupin,” the older boy reminded him.
“I know, Frank,” Remus told him. “But, you see, Madam Pomfrey asked me to come by when I had a headache, and, er, I’m having one now…”
“Oh, something from your fall the other day?”
“Ah, yes,” Remus nodded. “It was quite careless of me to ride a school broom towards the Whomping Willow; especially when it literally beat me up.”
The older boy laughed and slapped on Remus’ shoulder, at which Remus Lupin winced. Frank Longbottom immediately apologized, and made way for the boy.
“Future prefect, eh, Moony?” a voice whispered into Remus Lupin’s ears, and he grimaced.
“I don’t know if I approve of that name, Black,” he whispered back viciously, before he, too, slipped into the wonderful envelope of what was usually called James Potter’s Invisibility Cloak, which was a garment that allowed you to stay completely and absolutely invisible – though, unfortunately, not intangible – and even deflected minor hexes (the last part had been tested by an irate Lupin himself on a very sneaky, very guilty duo of Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew, who had taken it upon themselves to be his personal, invisible Cupid counsels last Valentine’s Day).
"We all do, though,” Peter asserted, from somewhere near Remus’ shoulder, his voice slightly muffled. Although he was definitely the shortest of the four, he was usually the blunt one who was the most talkative. If everyone in Gryffindor thought Remus Lupin was a quiet, responsible boy, Sirius Black a happy, goofy, good-looking prankster, and James Potter a cool-but-arrogant Quidditch star, they usually had no thoughts about Peter Pettigrew, who kept his nature shaded from all but his best friends. Remus had always felt sympathetic towards Peter, but had been scared when the boy had known he was a werewolf, and had been completely grateful when Peter had thoughtfully asked in a completely straight-forward manner, “It does not mean we all become werewolves simply ‘coz we are friends with you, right?”
“The day the three of you decide that you’re authoritative enough over anyone to even name them, will be the day Dumbledore’s beard turns blue with red stars,” Remus countered drily, and was horrified when he was met with three identical, evil grins.
“Perhaps we should include that into the prank!” Sirius exclaimed happily, but was shushed by James Potter when they came close to the Astronomy corridor. They knew, over time, which professor patrolled when, and where. Today was Professor Sprout’s turn, and she usually shuffled around, humming to the pot plants that were hidden from the students’ view, but placated for their benefits. The Marauders hadn’t actually seen these plants, but Peter had told them that Alex and Alice Messiers could see them easily.
They finally reached the right corridor with the portrait of the dancing trolls. But there was no door opposite to it.
“I thought you said it was here!”
"I can’t see a thing, Blackie!”
Remus scoffed loudly as the other two berated Sirius, who appeared unfazed and deep in thought when he raised his hand to silence them.
“Let’s search for it,” he suggested. “It ought to be here somewhere, and I know I’m not wrong about that.” And when he was answered with stony stares, he frowned. “Just as I was not wrong about the fact that the Kitchens were right below the Great Hall!”
The other Marauders sighed, and remembered the day when Sirius had triumphantly discovered the entrance to the Kitchens in their Second Year, a little while after the four of them became close to each other. He had been completely over the hill, basking in their praises for his clever sleuthing abilities. It was their first greatest mistake, elevating him to a level that led Sirius to inevitably think he was always right about everything and anything under the sun… or even above it.
And so, they walked the entire stretch of the corridor up and down, looking for the room. A few times after scouring the area, James Potter cried out softly.
The others immediately rushed to their bespectacled friend, who was staring at a door that had definitely not existed a few moments ago.
“Open it, Pete,” James Potter ordered his friend immediately, which was very convenient for him, because the shortest boy was the closest one to the door’s handle.
“No! You do it yourself! Who knows what’s in there!” Peter’s voice had grown shrill.
“Whiny little Pettigrew!” Sirius mocked Peter, grinning widely, his voice raised to the same pitch. “Scared little Pettigrew! Bitty, frightened-!”
“I think we get the picture in your mind, Sirius,” Remus Lupin interrupted him, groaning slightly when the Black’s eyes moved onto him, twinkling madly.
“Boring old Remus! Dreary old Moony…”
“You know, Peter,” James Potter told his short friend quietly, nudging him slightly. “You could just open it before the Apocalypse senses its soul-mate in Sirius Orion Black…”
Peter still looked disgruntled and frightened, but he understood that once Sirius Black began his ridicule of others, he wouldn’t stop until he fell down asleep, after all his adrenaline gets used up, days and detentions later. The Marauders had undergone this torture once, in the previous year, when they had unwittingly started Sirius off on his rant, refusing to bend to his earlier requests or pleas… and he had been through it for a week, before starting to snore in the middle of Transfiguration class, and not waking up for the better part of two days. The memory terrified him more than whatever unknown danger the other side of the door could hold.
Grimacing heavily, Peter Pettigrew pressed down the handle of the door and pushed it open, expecting a great force to oppose him.
But it swung open at his touch, without even making so much as a squeak, and the beautiful half moon greeted them from behind a wall of glass.
Sirius Black fell silent, a result of the surprise that had now pressed upon his wind pipe, and elevated the beating speed of his heart. Where Remus’ gaze had fallen upon the half-moon, and James on the shelves and shelves of books on wizarding crime, and Peter’s upon the comfortable looking couches spread out around the room, Sirius’ strayed away and took in the single, huge portrait that covered half a wall on his left. It was of a girl in shimmering robes diving into the lake, and transforming into a mermaid. She looked strangely familiar, like someone he knew, but hadn’t seen much of.
The four Marauders split and moved into the room, towards the objects of their interests. Lying scattered around the painting were rickety shelves of old, disused objects of pranking that their predecessors had used in the yesteryears. Sirius picked up an old tin box and overturned it. Someone had etched in child-like lettering at the base: Zonko Zooper Ztuff
Excited with the fact that the box had actually belonged to their mentor, Sirius eagerly lifted the lid. He sniffed; it smelled like ash and rosewater. And the next moment, he fell unconscious, the box slipping out of his hands, and its contents spewing out of it onto the carpet.
"What the – Black…?”
The other three Marauders, too, sniffed the momentary perfume of ashy rosewater, and fell down asleep where they were standing, or sitting, as in Peter’s case.
A/N -Yes.... it's only one half of the chapter... I split it coz it was a little bit too big to fit in, and this was one chapter that I could work a looooot upon, and I wanted to make sure you read it a little by little, you see. Oh, and thanks for reading! :D