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A/N.
      Hello there readers of mine. I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who's reviewed so far. None of you have pointed out a flaw I have noticed myself, so I will point it out here. I FORGOT ANDROMEDA! In my version of events Bellatrix is younger than Sirius and she hasn't started Hogwarts yet; Narcissa is five years his senior, Andromeda left just before he started. But I was going to have her come and see him off, or write to him, or just mention her somewhere - and I forgot! Perhaps in a future edited version I'll put her in, but for now I'll leave the story as it is.


CHAPTER 9: TWO CUNNING PLANS.

    When lessons ended that afternoon, Sirius went up to the common room, where people were coming in in dribs and drabs, to start their homework. Sirius wasn’t going to do his that night. He had better things to do. He gathered his school books on his bed and drew the curtains around it. Settling himself comfortably, he began to flick through The Standard Book Of Spells: Grade 1. Quill in hand, he circled a couple of likely-looking charms. A plan began to form in his head. He grinned to himself - he’d already learned most of what he needed to know after all. He didn’t need to go any further. There was just one more thing he wanted, and he needed the library for that. He shoved all his books back in his bag, grabbed a quill, a bottle of ink and a couple of bits of parchment, and ran off to the library.

    With a pile of books on a table in the far corner of the room (as far from Madam Pince the librarian as possible), Sirius found himself quite enjoying his task. In the library books were far more interesting spells than could be found in his set textbooks. He made quite a few notes for future reference. Some of them, he knew, James would be very interested in. James’ dad worked for the Department of Charm Innovation at the Ministry of Magic; quite a few nifty little charms invented in the mid-twentieth century had a caption that said: ‘Developed by H. B. Potter.’
   
    It took a couple of hours before Sirius found what he was actually looking for - how to delay the results of spells, and how to set up a trigger so that they’d work when he wanted them to. He frowned. It was pretty advanced magic. But as he read through the instructions, another idea hit him. Surely he could have several spells work in the same plan, without the need for a trigger? What he needed to know was how to make one spell work on several objects. He soon found that: it was a similar technique to the trigger, but simpler. He finished making his notes and checked his watch. The others would be at dinner now. He shoved his stuff into his pocket and hurried towards the library door.
    ‘Hey! You! Black!’ snapped Madam Pince. ‘You don’t get away that easily! Go and put those books back! I’ve enough to do without having to clear up after you kids. Go on.’
    Worth a try, thought Sirius, trying not to look too sullen as he put the books back on the shelves, as fast as he could. He didn’t want dinner to be over by the time he got down there.

    He made it in plenty of time. He filled his plate with food and looked around for Hallam, but he wasn’t there. He couldn’t really talk to Remus and Peter with the others around, either, so he just joined in the general conversation. None of it was very mind-blowing. Apparently Joseph Atkins had gone too far with his girlfriend and she was now cold-shouldering him. Merlin was engrossed in a pocket Quidditch game she’d received in the post that morning. It looked like a photo frame, except you could actually control what the people in the picture were doing. Sirius looked over her shoulder. She was playing as Keeper of course, tapping the picture with her wand to make the player move. She wasn’t missing a single goal. Peter was disappointed over the marks for his latest lot of Potions homework, and Remus was trying to console him.

    Then Dumbledore got up and made an announcement that was far more interesting to Sirius. The ill students would all be back on Friday, if there weren’t any other reported cases.
    ‘Friday!’ he whispered to Remus.
    ‘So we reschedule the party for Friday night,’ Sirius heard Kingsley Shacklebolt saying.
    Good, thought Sirius. That’s perfect.

    As they were walking back up to the common room, someone tapped Sirius on the shoulder. Patrick Hallam was beckoning to him from behind a statue of a one-eyed witch. The tap had obviously been a spark from his wand.   
    ‘I forgot something,’ said Sirius. ‘I’ll see you lot later.’
    No one questioned him. When his friends had disappeared around a corner, Sirius went to join Hallam.
    ‘Hi Pat,’ he said, ‘is it instruction time?’
    ‘Yep,’ said Hallam grimly. ‘Now listen carefully, Black. Where we’re standing now is the entrance to a secret passage. It leads to Hogsmeade, where my rendez-vous is. At eight o’clock tomorrow night you will meet me here. I will go through the tunnel and you will keep watch. I shouldn’t be more than an hour. At nine o’clock, presuming the coast is clear, you will open the passage and let me out. Any questions?’
    ‘Just two,’ said Sirius. ‘One, how do you open the passage?’
    ‘Simple,’ said Hallam. ‘You tap the statue with your wand and say: “Dissendium!” ’
    ‘OK,’ said Sirius. ‘Two, I thought you already had the secret weapon, you mentioned it after Quidditch.’
    ‘I’ve got mine,’ said Hallam. ‘I couldn’t get more than one, and James said he wanted one. He’s paying me quite a bit to get it, hence me not minding the risk. Now is that all, because I don’t want to be caught hanging round here tonight.’
    ‘Yep, that’s all,’ said Sirius. ‘Assuming you’re not going to tell me what it is.’
    ‘James wanted it to be a surprise,‘ said Hallam with a shrug. ‘OK. You leave first, don’t wait for me. I’ll see you tomorrow night. Don’t talk to me before then unless I talk to you. And don’t chicken out.’
    ‘No fear!’ Sirius said indignantly. ‘I’ll see you later.’
    Cautiously he poked his head around the statue. No one was there. He moved quickly into the middle of the corridor, and sauntered up to Gryffindor Tower as innocently as could be. As soon as he reached the common room he was hailed by Remus - he and Peter were having trouble with their Transfiguration homework. With a sigh at the mundanity of it all, Sirius suppressed his excitement about tomorrow night’s adventure and went to get his school stuff.

*




    Wednesday went very slowly for Sirius. It was partly excitement and partly nervousness. He wondered how much James was paying Hallam; after all, if he were caught he’d be expelled or, at the very least, Gryffindor would lose an incalculable number of house points. And if he, Sirius, were caught, out of his dormitory at night, and lost the points that offense would incur, he knew the Gryffindors would never forgive him. His popularity, twice won and once lost, would disappear in a puff of smoke. On the other hand, the prospect of an adventure thrilled him. He just wished James could be with him to enjoy it. Maybe sometime, the two of them could sneak down that passage to Hogsmeade, do some exploring. First and second years weren’t allowed on the Hogsmeade weekends that the older ones took.
   
    Sirius wondered why Hallam, who could go to Hogsmeade on the designated Saturdays, had this meeting at such a strange hour of the night - was it something illegal? He hadn’t thought of that ... why hadn’t he thought of that? It seemed so obvious. But surely James, even reckless as he was, wouldn’t risk being arrested. Would he? Sirius had no idea what happened to underage wizards who broke the law, but he’d heard enough about Azkaban prison to turn him into a model citizen. Surely they didn’t send kids there ... surely they’d just put them under house arrest ... the thought made Sirius shiver and turn pale. Expelled from Hogwarts - eternity at home with his parents.
    Well, I just won’t get caught, that’s all, he thought firmly. And neither will Hallam. And it’s probably not illegal. It’s probably just rare, something you can’t get in the shops.

    He refused to think about it any more. He had something to do, anyway ... he’d barely been aware of where he was all day, but they were coming out of Defence Against the Dark Arts and heading for Potions, which they had with the Slytherins. Friday’s prank was going to take place in Potions. Sirius winked at Remus and Peter, who were in on the joke. While they mixed up laughter potions, they all took surreptitious glances around the room.

    Although in the lessons they had with other houses, everyone muddled in together, there was a strict divide between Gryffindor and Slytherin. The tables were arranged in rows, with a walkway leading down the middle from the door to Slughorn’s desk. The Gryffindors always sat on the left - Slughorn’s right. Everyone always sat in the same places.
    ‘Right,’ Sirius whispered to Remus. ‘It should be quite simple. Now all I have to do is get in here. We’ve got Potions straight after break on Fridays so finding the time isn’t the problem. I just have to convince Slughorn to let me in here. What do you think?’
    ‘He’s a soft touch,’ said Remus. ‘You’re good at Potions, he’ll listen to you. Just crawl a bit.’
    ‘Ugh,’ said Sirius, wrinkling his nose.

    But he knew Remus was right, so when Slughorn dismissed them, Sirius hung back. He went up to Slughorn’s desk, where the Professor was beginning to mark the homework they’d handed in at the beginning of class. Sirius took a deep breath.
    ‘Um - Professor - excuse me?’
    ‘Oh, Sirius, hello,’ said Slughorn, scribbling ’10/10, excellent’ on Severus Snape’s work, and then looking up and smiling kindly at him over the top of his glasses. ‘What can I do for you?’
    ‘I was just wondering,’ said Sirius, ‘it’s a bit embarrassing really, but I thought you’d understand ...’
    ‘Well, I’ll do my best,’ said Slughorn. ‘Spit it out, boy, whatever it is. It can’t be all bad, can it?’
    ‘Oh no,’ said Sirius innocently. ‘The thing is, Professor, I’m just a bit worried about Gryffindor ... about our house points, I mean ... I lost a fair few in Herbology the other day, and I was hoping to be able to win them back, so I thought maybe if I could do something to help you ...’
    ‘Ah,’ said Slughorn. He pushed his glasses onto the top of his head and looked appraisingly at Sirius. ‘Now you understand, it’s not usual for students to ask for house points - what did you have in mind?’
    ‘Well, sir, I know we bring our own basic ingredients to class, but you nearly always have things to add, and they’re always laid out so neatly on the tables before we arrive, and I thought maybe I could come early on Friday, since our lesson’s right after break, and put them out for you. Save you a job, you know.’
   
    ‘Oh,’ said Slughorn. He looked pleased - and tempted, Sirius noted with satisfaction. ‘Well, it is very kind of you, m’boy - we’ll be brewing a cure for boils on Friday, and there’s the unfortunate job of laying out stinging nettles and snake fangs. If you were to do that for me, I suppose I could see my way clear towards, perhaps, fifteen points, for being helpful? No more, mind.’
    ‘Oh no, that would be perfect,’ said Sirius hastily. Since he wasn’t really doing it for house points, there was no reason to negotiate. He thanked Slughorn and promised to be in the classroom at the start of break.
    ‘There’s one thing though, sir - how will I get into your store cupboard? I mean - if you were there to open the door for me, it’d almost make it pointless me coming to help.’
    This wasn’t necessarily true, but Sirius hoped Slughorn would fall for it. He did. He told Sirius he’d leave the key on top of the cupboard. Delighted, Sirius ran off to lunch, and whispered his success to Remus and Peter. They both gave a subtle thumbs-up in return, and all three of them pretended to be very interested in what Annie Cuthbert was saying, to divert any suspicion from themselves.

    ‘... and I saw Daisy Meadows come around the back of Hagrid’s hut, and I couldn’t help wondering, so I stuck around for five minutes, and lo and behold, there was Joseph!’
    ‘So they are back together,’ mused Vanessa.
    ‘And up to no good by the sound of it,’ giggled Annie.
    ‘I can’t believe she let him talk her into it,’ said Lily.
    ‘We-ell,’ said Annie slowly, ‘we don’t know what they were doing of course. But why else would they be sneaking off to the Forbidden Forest?’
   
    ‘Do you know,’ said Remus in a low voice to the other boys, ‘I think I’ll be very glad when Joseph Atkins leaves Hogwarts.’
    ‘Don’t get too excited,’ groaned Peter. ‘He’s got a brother or a sister or both in practically every year. Seems to me Joseph’s parents are as bad as he is.’
    ‘And they’re a nice looking lot, too, unfortunately,’ said Sirius with a grin. ‘D’you think Annie and Vanessa would be interested in them otherwise?’

*




    After dinner that night, Sirius rushed through his homework just for something to do. At ten to eight he pretended he’d forgotten to return a library book (he’d got one out that day, especially) and hurried out through the portrait hole. He shoved the book into his pocket and went down to the one-eyed witch statue. It was about a minute to eight when he reached it - it took quite a while to get down from Gryffindor Tower.
    Checking to make sure no one was coming, Sirius ducked behind the statue. Hallam was already there. He was wearing a satchel slung across his body, and a fat money bag hung from his belt.
    ‘Oh good, I was afraid you’d be late,’ he whispered. ‘Now, you should be well hidden behind here. Got a watch? Good, you’ll need it. Remember - nine o’clock sharp, open the statue. Not before. If I’m not there, close the passage and wait ten minutes before opening it again. Keep doing that until I arrive.’
    ‘How did you get the money from James?’ Sirius asked.
    ‘I didn’t, he’s going to pay me back,’ said Hallam. ‘And by the way, if he doesn’t he’s not getting his ... what I’m going to get for him tonight. Plus I’ll give him a good thrashing.’
    ‘I’m sure he’ll pay you,’ Sirius said.
    ‘Right,’ said Hallam. ‘Here goes. And Black ... if you’re not here to let me out I’ll give you a good thrashing.’
    ‘Can’t you get out on your own?’ asked Sirius.
    ‘Of course,’ said Hallam. ‘But I’m not risking that. Anyone could be walking past.’
   
    He tapped the statue and said: ‘Dissendium!’
    Noiselessly, the one-eyed witch’s hump moved, revealing a sizeable space in the floor, and a flight of stone steps leading down.
    ‘OK - just tap her again to close it,’ said Hallam. ‘Wish me luck!’
    But he was gone before Sirius could say anything.

    Looking furtively up and down the corridor, he gave the witch a tap, and the passage closed. He settled himself down behind the statue to wait. He took out the book he’d borrowed and flipped through it - it had an interesting hex on page fifty-two, how to make someone’s feet grow slowly bigger, so they didn’t notice it until their shoes were crippling them. It was a combination spell, a mixture of a basic engorgement charm and a more difficult bit applying it to the human body and specifically to the feet. An engorgement charm on its own, the book said, had a crude, fast-acting effect on body parts, but for anything more subtle, it got more complex.
   
    Sirius remembered someone asking Professor Pringle, their Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher, if they’d ever learn how to do two spells at once. He had replied that the most basic combination spells were OWL level, and they got more complicated during NEWTs. He wasn’t sure that even he would be able to accomplish any OWL level stuff. He laid the book aside and looked at his watch, groaning softly when he saw it was only ten past eight.

    He decided to think through what he had to do on Friday. It hadn’t ended up being nearly as complicated as he had originally thought. He was glad to know, for future reference, how to compose a spell trigger, but what he’d come up with in the end consisted of three quite simple spells. First there was the one that made an object change colour and flash. Most people knew that one; they used it to make eye-catching banners for Quidditch. Secondly there was the faithful old Effrego charm, and lastly, something called the Chameleon Charm, which did exactly what it sounded like it did. He had sent for an essential prop via a catalogue that promised forty-eight hour delivery, so he was expecting it to arrive with the Thursday morning post. The most difficult part was bewitching the objects in question - there were going to be ten of them - to start flashing at a certain moment, all at the same time. But reading up on composing a multiple charm trigger, a much more advanced version of what he actually intended to do, made that seem quite easy to Sirius. He patted the pocket that still had his notes. Definitely not a wasted library session.

    Going over his plan took up another ten minutes. Sirius shifted uncomfortably on the cold stone floor, and then froze in horror as Filch walked past with his cat slinking at his side. He held his breath until they’d gone, and forced himself to let the air out of his lungs quietly, not the usual relieved huff. He shivered. It was getting towards the middle of October, and it was already starting to get chilly. The nights would be drawing in soon, and there would come the day that Sirius dreaded the most: the half-term parents’ visit. He hoped that Dumbledore would find his parents so horrible that he’d cancel it forever. But at least his teachers would have good reports about him - perhaps Sirius’ mother and father would be nicer to him at Christmas.

    Despite himself he wondered if they’d bring his brother with them. He hadn’t dared to write and ask Regulus what he wanted to know, because if their parents read it they’d both get into trouble. But he couldn’t help being a little concerned. Regulus had seemed genuinely scared to be left alone, particularly with their mother. And if she’d hurt him more than usual ... Sirius gritted his teeth angrily at the thought. Despite his intense dislike for Regulus he knew he loved him, not in the fond way most people loved their siblings, but in a fierce, protective way. It was the only thing he could have felt, growing up the way they had.
   
    In his rational mind he often felt quite satisfied to see Regulus victimised, because more often than not it was Sirius, not his younger brother, who got it in the neck. But there was also that nagging emotion, somewhere deep inside him, that made him want to step in front of him, take his place, though he knew it’d be no good to try, so he never had. And at the various times when he had heard his brother cry out in pain, a violent, murderous anger rose up inside him, almost choking him. It was frightening. But it only ever lasted a second or two. It would crash over him like a wave and disperse. And his rational self would take over again, saying, truthfully enough, that Regulus did not deserve his sympathy.

    For all that, Sirius hoped Regulus wasn’t having too bad a time at home. But he cursed Hallam for putting him in a situation where he had nothing to do but think of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, and the horrors that awaited him there. He could manage to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas and Easter, but there was no avoiding going back for summer. He shuddered. Two whole months with his mother’s violent outbursts, his father’s indifference, his brother constantly irritating him and scheming to get him into trouble, and the inevitable punishments ... he remembered being locked for hours in a tiny, cramped cupboard with hardly any air, and he felt a sudden fit of claustrophobia and longed to get out into the corridor ...
    Sirius shook himself out of the memory, and to his relief, his watch showed five to nine. He watched the seconds tick by. Three minutes to ... two minutes to ... one minute ...

    A clock in the distance chimed nine o’clock. Sirius stood up as quietly as he could, stretching, twitching from side to side to make his cold, numb backside feel normal again. But then the familiar sound of pattering feet made him shrink back against the wall ... but it was no good this time. Mrs Norris had his scent. Sirius had nowhere to run. He watched in horror as her face appeared around the side of the statue, looking at him with those huge, too-intelligent red eyes. She hissed softly at him, turned around and left him alone.
   
    No! thought Sirius in panic. She’ll be off to get Filch ... Pat, you’d better be here ...
    He tapped the witch.
    ‘D-dissendium!’ he whispered shakily.
    The hump opened, and to Sirius’ intense relief, Patrick Hallam grinned up at him with the end of his wand alight, and came quickly and silently up the steps to stand beside him. He didn’t seem to notice the urgent look on Sirius’ face.
    ‘I got it,’ he said, patting the satchel. ‘Not a hitch.’
    He tapped the statue with his wand, and the passage closed.

    ‘Never mind that!’ Sirius hissed. ‘We’ve got to run! Mrs Norris saw me just now, she’ll have gone for Filch!’
    ‘Oh, damn,’ whispered Hallam. ‘You idiot! What’d you let her see you for?’
    ‘I didn’t let her,’ Sirius snapped, ‘she came behind the statue and looked straight at me. It was just as I was about to let you out.’
    But Hallam didn’t look worried, he just looked a bit annoyed.
    ‘Oh well,’ he said, ‘I suppose James’ll just have to lump it. I’ll have to spoil the surprise I’m afraid.’
   
    Sirius frowned; he couldn’t help being curious even above his panic. He expected Hallam to reach into the bulging satchel. But instead he reached into his robes, and pulled out a strange, shimmering object. He threw it over both of them ... and they promptly disappeared. Sirius almost laughed out loud in recognition. As it was, he just grinned.
    ‘So that’s what all the fuss was about!’ he said. ‘But how did you ...’
    ‘Later,’ whispered Hallam. ‘Come on, let’s get back.’

    As quickly as possible without tripping over each other, the boys made their way down the corridor and up to the next floor, covered by Hallam’s secret weapon - his Invisibility Cloak. Sirius went over it in his head: rare object, Hallam must have found a seller in Hogsmeade, bought one for himself, confided in James during one of their Seeker training sessions, and James must have begged Hallam to get him one. And tonight had been the only opportunity. Sirius couldn’t help feeling excited. If James had meant it as a surprise for him, surely that meant they’d both be involved in using it. Sirius could only imagine the adventures they’d have, sneaking round the castle, unable to be seen even by Filch and his cat! He supposed Hallam had meant to use it to nick food from the kitchens, for the party. But by the time they reached their common room, Sirius had already thought of fifty more interesting uses for the Cloak. If only he’d known about it, he wouldn’t have had to butter Slughorn up to get into the Potions room early on Friday..
    ‘Where did you get them? Who from?’ Sirius demanded, when he and Hallam were seated together in a secluded corner of the common room.
    ‘I’ve got a cousin in Egypt who deals in antiques and rare goods,’ said Hallam. ‘Rare things sometimes aren’t so rare, in Egypt. But anyway, he was over here on business, and we met up for a drink in the Three Broomsticks. He told me he had a couple of Invisibility Cloaks on him, and was I interested in buying one? I said I was, and I bought one straight off. I wasn’t sure who to tell, but I trusted James, so I told him while we were practicing for Quidditch. I happened to mention that my cousin had more than one for sale, and he begged me to get him one. And I don’t think he got them through strictly - shall we say orthodox means? So he couldn’t exactly send it through the post. So he agreed to meet me. He’s ex-Hogwarts so he knew about that secret passage. We planned it all out. I’d decided to use Potter as a lookout, but then he got ill, so I asked you. Simple as that.’

    ‘Wow,’ said Sirius, shaking his head and laughing. ‘James will be happy that you managed it, anyway. I’ll hide the Cloak in my trunk until he comes back, if you like.’
    ‘OK,’ said Hallam. He opened his satchel and took out a soft, lumpy parcel, which he handed over.
    Sirius said goodnight to Hallam, and raced up to the first year dormitory. Only Peter was up there yet, and he was fast asleep and snoring. Sirius suddenly felt very tired. He stuffed the Invisibility Cloak into his trunk, locked it, and hid the key in his bedside cabinet. Then he changed into his pyjamas, and much earlier than he usually did, he went to bed. He fell asleep almost straight away.

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