Another Year Ends
James’s thirteenth birthday dawned on Tuesday, the twenty seventh of March. It was a cold, stormy morning. Rain lashed against the windows and the torches were lit early in the corridors. The wind swirled, noticeable by its incessant whistling and the branches of every tree in the Forbidden Forest being whipped about. Even the Whomping Willow had recoiled under the furious gale. The second year boys’ dormitory was freezing, as Sirius had been on a sugar high the night before, having digested more than the suggested amount of chocolate, and had accidentally, or so he said, thrown James’s container of daisy roots for Potions out the window. As retaliation for being treated so cruelly, the window refused to mend when Sirius had tried to fix it. Remus had made a makeshift cover for the window with his pillowcase, though it proved a futile effort. The case was drenched within seconds of the first drops of rain.
“I – hate – you - Sirius,” Remus snarled through chattering teeth. Remus’s bed was closest to the broken window and he was currently being sprayed with water.
“Get off your bed, then,” Sirius said, his own teeth clenched together as he feverishly rubbed his arms.
“I’d - love – to - but - I – think - I’m - frozen – like - this.” He pulled his blanket over his shoulders and pulled his knees up to his chest. He cast his gaze over to James’s bed. The curtains were drawn around it and they had yet to hear James stir. He must have been able to sleep through the cold and raging wind. “Birthday Boy can sleep at least.”
“That reminds me.” Sirius hopped off his bed and dug for something under his mattress. He withdrew a package and tossed it to Remus. “Sign the card. Peter and I did last night.”
Remus crouched forward to shield the card from the rain, sticking his hands out from the folds of his blanket, and opened the card. It contained a rather crude joke of Sirius’s, involving a Banshee, a Hippogriff and a Flobberworm. He quickly scrawled his name and threw it back at Sirius. They had been stumped on what to get James. He hadn’t hinted on anything in particular. However, one night when they were flipping through Peter’s catalogue of Quidditch memorabilia they spotted the uniform of Puddlemere United. It wasn’t one that actually belonged to a player, but they could get it personalized for James. They sent away for it and it had been delivered only the morning before.
Peter came out of the bathroom, stepping aside to let Frank in. He threw an angry glare at the broken window, and sat down on his bed. “We should really wake him up.”
“You know he’s going to complain about going to class on his birthday, like he did last year,” Remus pointed out, pulling on a pair of socks. Bending forward, his entire back got sprayed with another gust of rain. “I really hate you, Sirius.”
“I love you too, Remus,” Sirius laughed, jumping off his bed and trying, once more, to repair the window.
The window still refused to budge, unless Sirius apologised for breaking it. Sirius gave the window a strange look, but apologised. However, when he tried to mend it, it still stayed as it was, claiming that Sirius didn’t really mean it.
“Bloody hell!” Remus shouted, waking James up in the process. He was soaked to the skin with rain and wanted it fixed. “He’s sorry! He’s mental; he can’t help the stupid things he does. Please let him fix you, otherwise I’m killing him and breaking you more!” He put a hand to his forehead. “I’m yelling at a window… You!” He pointed an angry finger at Sirius. “If I ever go to therapy, you’re the reason.”
Sirius, who had no idea what therapy was, looked imploringly at the window. Grudgingly, the window allowed Sirius to fix it. Sirius pocketed his wand and looked in awe at Remus. “You would kill me over a bit of rain?”
“When I get pneumonia, you better watch yourself after I get better.”
“What went on while I was sleeping?”
“Quiet, Birthday Boy,” Sirius said, tossing James’s present across Remus’s bed and onto James’s. Shrugging off his curiosity, James ripped the packaging open and let out a shout of delight when he saw the shirt inside. “This is awesome, thanks!”
“Sure,” Remus said, grinning. “You know, I was thinking of getting one for Sirius so when I kill him, he’ll have something nice to wear when they bury him.”
“What were you all arguing about?”
They did not have much time to celebrate at the moment, as they were running late for class. They had already been late for Transfiguration twice in the past week and McGonagall was hinting detention if they did it a third time. The boys dressed at top speed and made it to the classroom just as Professor McGonagall was calling the class to attention. They spent a rather enjoyable period transfiguring a rat into a drinking glass. James managed to get it on his first try, earning five points for Gryffindor, and spent the rest of the class watching his friends try and achieve their goal. Sirius got it after three tries, Remus succeeded only after poking his rat in the eye with his wand, and Peter ended up sending his rat flying across the room.
Once classes let out for the day and they had had dinner, the boys took to wandering around the corridors in the basement. James had begged them to do something interesting on his birthday, but they did not know what they could do. As they walked down an empty corridor, they noticed the paintings on the walls had become more food-orientated. Intrigued, they continued in their current direction. Surely all the portraits of food meant that the kitchens must be somewhere nearby, but they couldn’t see any doorways leading to them. Stumped, the boys stopped and looked around.
“I was so sure,” Sirius said disappointedly.
“It has to be around here somewhere,” Peter said confidently, leaning against the portrait of a fruit bowl. Suddenly, they heard a high-pitched giggle. “What was that?”
Remus gaped at the portrait. “The pear laughed.”
Before Remus could repeat himself, the portrait swung forward, almost taking Peter out in the process. The boys were shocked to find themselves standing in the entranceway to the kitchens. All around, they could see the House Elves bustling about, cleaning up after that evening’s dinner. They elves didn’t appear to notice the boys at first, so they walked about, taking in the thrill of finding the kitchens. There were four tables that must have been directly under the house tables and were filled with the leftovers. The air was scented with that evening’s roast and they could smell, very faintly, something made of chocolate.
“How may Twinky help you sirs?” A House Elf had appeared behind the boys and was looking expectantly at them.
“Oh,” the boys said, startled.
“Is you boys hungry?”
“I could definitely go for something,” James said happily, casting a glance around to see what food was at their disposal.
“James, you just ate half of everyone’s dinner and your own,” Remus said.
“It’s my birthday, I deserve something else.”
“Would Master James like a piece of chocolate cake?” the elf offered.
“Sure, thanks!” Twinky buzzed off across the room with another elf and came back moments later with a tray bearing a large piece of chocolate cake.
“That looks bigger than my head,” Sirius observed disbelievingly.
“If your head ever turns into chocolate, watch out,” James said after a large swallow. The boys spent another fifteen minutes in the kitchens, stocking up on sweets for the coming week. By the time they left the cheerful House Elves, their arms were laden with doughnuts, cakes, and éclairs. Entering the second year dormitory, and tossing Frank a few éclairs in the process, they continued to celebrate James’s birthday in as loud a manner as possible.
As the exams loomed ever nearer, the teachers began piling on the homework. The second years knew to expect this, and at a worse rate as the previous year, but the overall scale of the work caught them by surprise. Professor McGonagall now gave them an essay, a set of questions, and a spell to practise after every Transfiguration lesson. Professor Flitwick was doing much the same, except that he had only one question for them to answer, whereas McGonagall had five to ten. Professor Slughorn had them analysing every ingredient they used in each potion they concocted. Even Professor Binns managed to acknowledge his students long enough to assign them an essay after every lesson. It was madness. In fact, the only teacher who had taken pity on them was Professor Jones.
They were not entirely sure whether this was pity or because of his health. Remus, who had contracted a fever the day after James’s birthday, saw the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor in the Hospital Wing, looking worse for wear. Remus did not get an opportunity to inquire about it, as the professor was in and out the door after receiving a potion from the nurse. Madam Pomfrey had kept Remus for a few days and he saw that Jones returned every day to take a new potion. When he reported this to James, Sirius and Peter, they could think of no plausible reason for this other than he must be dreadfully ill. All Jones managed to give them as homework was a chapter to read in their textbooks. He didn’t even give them a follow-up essay.
April brought sunny and warmer weather. The boys had taken to studying and lazing about under a beech tree beside the lake. One particular day they had sent Sirius off to find the Golden Snitch that James had lost around Hagrid’s hut, or at least that was what he claimed. James had pocketed the Snitch in order to get Sirius away so they could discuss what his birthday present would be.
“He was pretty impressed with my phonograph,” Remus mentioned, rubbing his eyes. “But they’re expensive.”
James, who was not entirely sure what a phonograph was, nodded.
“They play music, James.”
“Whatever you say.”
“We can save up for that… and give him some records until then.”
“What’s the point of having them if he can’t play them?” Peter asked, looking up from the blade of grass he was tearing.
“It’ll get him excited for Christmas.”
So on the tenth of April they presented Sirius with a few of Remus’s old records that he did not listen to anymore. Sirius took the same stance as Peter, but was grateful nonetheless. He stored them at the bottom of his trunk, certain that his parents would never stumble upon them if they were there. Remus mentioned that his father would be able to put a spell on the phonograph that would disguise it as a particularly large book of Sirius’s choosing, and when he wanted to listen to it only he could hear the sound. As they had done on James’s birthday, they paid a visit to the kitchens and the House Elves were more than happy to whip something up for Sirius.
As far as training to become Animagi went, James decided that it would be best if they did not do it in school until they found a suitable practising room. They thought about doing it sometime during the summer, possibly at James’s house. The Potter mansion was filled with rooms that were rarely used and it was not likely that Mr. or Mrs. Potter would stumble upon them. And so they decided on meeting at James’s during the week after the full moon, when Remus was well enough to join them. They had thumbed through the book and found that their Patronuses, whatever they were, would show them what animal they were most linked with, though it was not always entirely accurate.
With their summer plans set, the boys were now engulfed in studying for their end-of-the-year exams. James and Sirius, who had spent the previous year being obnoxiously loud while their fellow Gryffindors studied, could now be seen poring over their textbooks. The Gryffindor second years could be seen holed up in the common room, practising spells and muttering theories under their breath, their fingers plugged in their ears to block out disruptive noise. Their first exam, which happened to be Potions, was shaping up to be the easiest, as it was only on a Swelling Solution. All of the second years, even Remus, felt that they could successfully brew it.
The students found out only one thing about their exams before they were set to take them. On the morning on May twentieth, Remus returned from his recovery in the Hospital Wing after a particularly nasty full moon, with some deterring news for his friends. He found them sitting in their usual seats at the Gryffindor table and noticed they were in a heated discussion about the properties of Cornish Pixies. Folding his arms across his chest, Remus went over and sat down beside Peter.
“I don’t think that’s going to matter very much,” he said, pushing away the plate of sausages Sirius had placed in front of him. He could still not stomach anything.
“What are you talking about?” James asked, looking up from his History of Magic notes.
“They’ve sent Jones to St. Mungo’s.”
Peter dropped his fork with a loud clattering on his plate. “What? Are you serious?”
“I heard Madam Pomfrey telling McGonagall.”
“Did they say what was the matter with him?” James asked concernedly.
Remus shook his head. “They just said he’s not coming back.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess we’re getting a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.”
The departure of Professor Jones was officially announced that night by Professor Dumbledore, who only said that it would be better for the man’s health if he left the school. This news was met with many said reactions; they had all loved Professor Jones. Unlike the previous year, when the school went into an uproarious cheer at the thought of Crane resigning, now went into a melancholic gloom. James, Sirius, Remus and Peter were starting to wonder if what the seventh years who had helped them in last year’s prank had told them was correct – the Defence Against the Dark Arts position was really jinxed.
With one less exam to worry about, the students studying load lessened only somewhat. When time finally came for them to sit their exams, they found that they were not nearly as bad as the professors were making them out to be. Potions proved to be just what Slughorn had prepared them for – a session of brewing a Swelling Solution. The Charms they were tested on turned out to be fairly simple. All Professor McGonagall requested of them was to transfigure their animals into a set of matching water goblets. The students were beginning to suspect that the overall simplicity of them exams was due to Professor Jones’s hospitalization and the way it had affected everyone. Whatever the reason, no one could pretend they were ungrateful for this.
Of course there was the Quidditch Final between the age-old rivals, Gryffindor and Slytherin. Both sides had devised a strong, almost impenetrable defence and neither side was willing to back down and let the other achieve victory. Hamilton had been running his team ragged, practising day and night, whenever the Quidditch Pitch was unoccupied. The Slytherin captain, Francis Flint, had the same idea. Both captains wanted the pitch so badly that it erupted into a duel that had to be broken up by the twelve players watching. Professor McGonagall and Professor Slughorn had to remedy this problem and did so by equally dividing the pitch for both teams. The only hitch was that it had to start after the set of three detentions each captain had been assigned.
When the day of the match arrived, the stands were decorated with red and green rosettes. Cheers and boos followed each team member as they were announced. It was clear, however, from the moment that the teams took flight, they were out to kill each other. The referee, Madam Sparks, later commented that she had never seen such a violent match. Hamilton suffered a broken nose, no doubt an intention to impair his vision so he could not see the Snitch. James was almost thrown from his broom, though managed to hold on and only twisting his wrist in the process. The Gryffindor Keeper, Oliver Pulliman, winded a Slytherin Chaser when he missed his intended target with the Quaffle.
Hamilton’s broken nose did not prevent him from seeing the shimmering Golden Snitch as it hovered around the commentator’s box. Before the Slytherin Seeker, Flint, could even register what was going on, the Snitch was beating its wings against the inside of Hamilton’s hand. The game was over; Gryffindor was victorious with a score of two hundred and fifty to one hundred.
With their victory in the Quidditch Final, Gryffindor also won the House Cup, beating out the other houses with a total of four hundred and thirty one points.
“Pass me a Cauldron Cake, would you, Sirius?”
“How can you eat those? They give me stomachaches.”
“I have an iron stomach, Sirius.”
“Iron skull, more like, James.”
The four boys were sitting in their compartment on the Hogwarts Express, going through the snacks they had bought off the lunch trolley. Sirius threw James three Cauldron Cakes, one of them hitting James on the bridge of his nose.
“Git, you could’ve broken my glasses.”
“Because pudding can do that.”
James shoved Sirius in the shoulder and ripped open the wrapper of the cake with his teeth. “So you’re all coming to my house?” Sirius and Peter nodded. “No furry little problems?” he added to Remus.
Remus gave James a strange look. “Yeah… no furry little problems. You make it sound like I’ve got a rabbit that likes to beat me up.”
“Well, you did always blame your dog.”
Remus ignored that comment. He had already written to his parents and told them that he would be at James’s that week. They had not written him back, but he was sure they would let him. “I’ll be there, don’t worry.”
“Good, because practising to become Animagi wouldn’t be as fun.”
“I don’t know how much help I’ll be. I’m not the one doing it.”
“Can werewolves become Animagi?” Peter asked, breaking the tip off his Licorice Wand.
Remus thought for a moment. He wasn’t entirely sure. “I don’t think so. We’re already forced to become an animal, why would we want to become another? I don’t think it’s possible.”
Peter nodded, chewing on the end of his candy. They passed the remainder of the ride trading Chocolate Frog cards, playing Exploding Snap, and discussing any potential mayhem they could cause in their third year. Sirius and James felt that they had been too quiet that year and were not living up to the title they had earned themselves in their first year after they had driven Professor Crane from the school. True they had pulled of some pranks; they had been far too wrapped up in the mystery of Remus’s secret and then learning to deal with it. They could not possibly think of pranks while they were helping their friend.
“We can do more stuff next year,” James said, leaning back in his seat and folding his arms across his chest. “Unless anyone else has some dark secret they’re not telling us?”
“Oh, wait, I forgot,” Sirius said, sitting up suddenly and grinning. “I’m a pixie, didn’t think it was important.”
“Now that we have that out in the open,” Remus said, laughing. “Who wants another match of Exploding Snap?”
The Hogwarts Express pulled up to Platform Nine and Three Quarters in the late afternoon. When the boys exited the train, Sirius immediately bid them farewell. Regulus was not too far away and he knew his parents must be close by. They watched as Sirius disappeared through the throng of students and set out to find their own parents. The Potters, the Lupins and the Pettigrews were waiting by the platform entrance and waved their sons over when they spotted them.
“Come on, Remus,” Harry Lupin said at once. “We’ve got to be visiting your grandparents.”
“Okay,” Remus said, startled. His father was giving him no time to say goodbye to his friends. “See you in a few weeks,” he added to James and Peter. Harry led his wife and son through the barrier.
“Just Floo to my house, Pete,” James said once the Lupins had gone. “Send me an owl with whatever time you’re coming.”
The Pettigrews and the Potters went their separate ways once on the other side of the platform barrier and in the Muggle World.
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