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    CHAPTER 10: THE MARAUDERS UNITE.


    When Sirius and the others woke up on Friday morning, James was there, getting dressed.
    ‘Hello!’ Sirius said warmly, with a big grin. ‘Glad to be back?’
    ‘You bet I am,’ said James, grinning back. He finished putting on his robes and threw himself across Sirius’ bed, squashing his legs under the blankets. ‘I hate being ill. I’m never ill. Bloody Mindy Hampton. But it wasn’t her fault, I suppose. So what have you lot been up to?’
   
    ‘Not much,’ lied Sirius, but inside he felt like jumping up and down with excitement. ‘We postponed the Quidditch party so you and Mindy’d be able to come.’
    ‘Hey, great!’ said James. ‘I didn’t dream Bolt would do that.’
    ‘Well, I talked him into it actually,’ said Sirius. ‘And since the party was partly in my honour, he agreed. Plus, you and Mindy are on the team.’
    ‘Thanks,’ said James. ‘So, um ... did Pat ...’

    ‘Oh yeah!’ Sirius said, jumping up. He lowered his voice. ‘I’ll show you at lunch.’
    ‘You’ve got it?’ whispered James. ‘Can you guess what it is?’
    ‘I know what it is,’ Sirius replied, as he began to dress. ‘We had to use Pat’s one to get away from Filch and that awful cat of his.’
    ‘What do you think?’
    ‘I think it’s brilliant,’ said Sirius, grinning again. ‘It was still a pretty good surprise, even if it was a bit early.’
    ‘I've always wanted one,’ said James. ‘My dad's got a really good one, he says it's been in the family for years and I can have it one day ... but of course I couldn't go past the chance of getting one of my own. Dads never understand why things are important now. We'll use it tonight. I bet Hallam’s planning to sneak down to the kitchens. We’ll follow him and see where to go. Then we can go whenever we want.’
    ‘Sounds good,’ said Sirius, lacing up his boots. ‘Come on, let’s get to breakfast.’
    ‘Hey, wait for us!’ Peter said petulantly. He was only just starting to get dressed.
    ‘Don’t rush on our account. We’ll see you down there,’ said James carelessly.

    ‘So anyway,’ he went on, as he and Sirius climbed out through the portrait hole ‘why lunch? We can nip up here at break, before Potions, can’t we?’
    ‘Sorry, no,’ said Sirius. ‘I’ve got to do something for Slughorn. I’ve got to be there early.’
    ‘Not another detention?’
    ‘No, I volunteered for this,’ said Sirius. On the spur of the moment he decided to use the same story he’d spun on Slughorn. ‘I thought I’d try and get some extra house points. I’ve lost quite a few so far this term. Wouldn’t hurt, would it - I mean, they’re all treating me OK now, but I thought I’d do a bit extra.’
    ‘That doesn’t seem like you,’ said James with a frown.
   
    ‘Well, you haven’t known me that long,’ said Sirius. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to say, but he wasn’t surprised when a flicker of hurt crossed his best friend’s face. They both knew how quickly they’d become close; in fact, Sirius felt that James knew him better than anyone. But at least James would know by lunchtime why he’d made the remark.
    ‘Fine,’ James said with a shrug. ‘Do you want me to help you?’
    Aargh! thought Sirius. I didn’t expect that. Damn you for being a good mate.
   
    ‘Um - no, you need all the freedom and fresh air you can get after being sick,’ he said feebly. ‘Remus and Peter already agreed to help me. Why don’t you grab a broom and have a quick fly, or something?’
    ‘I could,’ mused James. Sirius smiled inwardly - he’d learned quickly that the way to James’ heart was through flying and/or Quidditch.
    ‘Yeah, do,’ he said. ‘Seriously, I mean, I got myself into this, didn’t I?’
    ‘And Lupin and Pettigrew are helping? Are you pretty good friends with them now, then?’ asked James. Sirius detected a hint of insecurity in his tone. He wanted to laugh; as if he would abandon a friend like James! He often wondered why James wanted to be his friend, shy and subdued as he knew he often was, even though he’d improved considerably under James’ influence.
    ‘I’ve been knocking round with them a bit, yeah,’ he answered. ‘But it’s not like they could replace you,’ he added quickly. ‘You’re still my best friend.’
    ‘Well that’s all right then,’ said James. He looked reassured; Sirius wanted to laugh out loud again, but of course he didn’t. They took their places at the Gryffindor table and grabbed some toast.

    As the post came in, Sirius was reminded of what had come the day before. He patted the inside pocket of his robes. He felt butterflies in his stomach, and crossed his fingers under the table. It had to work - it had to! He was not all there at all in their double Herbology lesson, and he was supposed to be helping James catch up. Luckily James didn’t really need help. He scribbled down Sirius’ notes from the past week in about quarter of an hour, and was answering questions better than anyone else in the class by the time the lesson was over.
    ‘Boff,’ Sirius teased as they left, giving James an affectionate push.
    ‘Blockhead,’ retorted James. ‘And teacher’s pet too, off to help Slughorn now aren’t you?’
    ‘Shut up,’ said Sirius with a grin. ‘You’ll thank me for it later.’
    He ran off before James could ask him what he meant.

    Sirius was out of breath when he reached the deserted Potions classroom. Remus and Peter were both waiting for him.
    ‘OK, Pete, you stand guard,’ said Sirius. ‘Knock on the door as soon as you hear anyone coming. I don’t want anyone knowing we’re here, someone might get suspicious.’
    Peter nodded and sat down outside the classroom as if he was simply waiting for the teacher to arrive. He opened his book and pretended to study.
    ‘Upside down, Peter,’ Remus said gently.
    ‘Oops,’ said Peter with a grin. He turned the book the right way up.
    Sirius and Remus went into the Potions classroom. Remus shut the door behind them, and Sirius stood on a chair to get the key from the top of the cupboard, which good as his word, Slughorn had left for him.

    ‘Poor innocent Slughorn,’ Sirius said as he opened the cupboard and looked for the right ingredients. ‘He’ll probably take back his fifteen points when he sees what I’ve done. But it’ll be a laugh.’
    ‘Too right,’ said Remus. ‘James’ll love it. I don’t know how you think of these things.’
    ‘And you don’t mind helping, right?’ Sirius asked. ‘I’ll take all the blame.’
    ‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Remus. ‘This is too much fun to pass up.’
    ‘Great,’ said Sirius. ‘I’ll get the stuff.’
    Sirius was so engrossed in the plan that he almost forgot to don his dragon hide gloves to handle the nettles, which were in a large jar at the front. They looked freshly picked. He got the scales from the top shelf and measured out the three ounces he knew they needed each. That made quite a lot of nettles. He and Remus laid the stems in neat piles at each place - twenty bunches of nettles. Sirius decided he wouldn’t like to be a teacher when he grew up. Then he went back to get the snake fangs; these were already sorted into the amounts people needed, on glass slides. The boys put those out, too.
    They worked as quickly as they could still to do a good job. Sirius didn’t need to displease Slughorn any more than he was already going to. He shut and locked the cupboard, put the key on Slughorn’s desk, and then ... it was time to start putting his plan into action!

    Sirius took the small packet from inside his robes, and opened it. It contained a number of extra-strong water balloons. Sirius counted out ten. Taking out his wand, he cast the water jet spell into each, filling them as full as he dared. He concentrated extra hard, hoping that the water would retain the properties given it by the spell. Remus took each balloon as Sirius handed it to him, and tied it off carefully. Then, with a bit of double-sided Spellotape, they fixed each one to the bottom of each of the Slytherins’ cauldrons, which had already been put out for the coming lesson. On each one, Sirius then cast the Chameleon charm; sure enough, the balloons seemed to disappear, looking just like the flat bottoms of the cauldrons. Sirius grinned to himself. He performed the finishing touch - a tricky little charm that meant only a subtle swish of his wand would set the balloons glowing.

    ‘Genius,’ said Remus admiringly.
    They’d finished with just two minutes left of break. Breathing hard, not with exertion but with anticipation, Sirius put his wand back in his pocket. He and Remus hurried out of the room, hoping that Peter hadn’t been lax in his guarding. He hadn’t. No one else had arrived yet.
    ‘Everything in place?’ he asked.
    Sirius and Remus nodded.
    ‘Brilliant,’ he said.
    ‘Now just promise neither of you will laugh. It’d give the game away, it’s essential no one knows something’s up.’
    ‘Promise,’ said Peter.
    ‘Lips sealed and hanky ready to stuff in my mouth,’ said Remus with a smile.
    ‘Right,’ said Sirius.

    Presently the first of the students began to turn up for class. The Slytherins muttered insults in Sirius’ direction, but for once he didn’t react. He just thought of what would happen to them later. Then, as James strolled up, Severus Snape took his revenge for the week before, hitting Sirius with the lightning bolt curse ... taken by surprise, Sirius fell over.
    ‘Ow!’ he growled, more embarrassed than hurt. ‘You snivelly little git!’
    James’ eyes flashed and his face became livid. He shot a Leg-Locker curse straight at Snape. The Gryffindors began to laugh - all except Lily.
    ‘Stop it!’ she said, shoving James out the way. ‘Leave him alone!’
    She performed the counter-curse. Snape got to his feet quickly, straightening his robes and glaring daggers at James and Sirius.
    ‘Keep out of this, Evans,’ snarled James, but Sirius held him back. He had to stop the fight before Slughorn arrived - he had to believe everything was normal.
    ‘He’s not worth it,’ he said in a low voice. Leaning close, he added in James’ ear: ‘Not today. Trust me.’
    James shot him a curious look, but he took the hint. They turned their backs on the Slytherins. Remus, who knew exactly what was going on, launched into a joke. By the time Slughorn arrived, everything seemed normal again.

    ‘Good morning, good morning!’ Slughorn said jovially. ‘How are we all?’
    He opened the door and strode into the dungeon without waiting for an answer. The students followed him inside and took their seats. Sirius and Remus couldn’t resist exchanging an conspiratorial look. James, on Sirius’ other side, saw it, and looked a bit jealous again. Sirius nudged him and smiled. James nudged him back.
    ‘All right everyone!’ said Slughorn, settling himself behind his desk. ‘Today we shall be curing boils! Open your books at page twenty-three and follow the instructions carefully. You may begin by putting on your gloves, chop your nettles finely, and grind your fangs to a powder. Don’t slack off. If the mixture is too lumpy it’s more likely to cause boils than cure them. You may talk quietly. Get to work then, come on!’

    Chattering in low voices, the children all put on their gloves, picked up their knives, and began chopping nettles and crushing fangs. They studied the instructions in their books and worked quickly. Sirius was distracted. He watched the Slytherins carefully. He had to pick his moment. It had to be when they were about to put their nettles into the cauldrons. Then he thought of a nice extra touch. He closed his eyes, imagining the water that filled each balloon. Slowly, under the table, he swished his wand from side to side.

    Oh well, he thought, only time will tell.
    He watched Snape out of the corner of his eye. He was easily the best Slytherin at Potions. And it looked like he’d finished ... he was leaning over his cauldron ... Sirius swished the wand again.
    ‘Lumos rouge multi,’ he whispered, his hand in front of his mouth to hide his words.
   
    ‘Hey,’ said Snape to Morgana Rosier, who was next to him. ‘Look at that!’
    ‘What?’
    ‘My cauldron, look! Why’s it doing that?’
   
    Sirius clapped his hand to his mouth to hide the enormous grin that was threatening to spread across his face. Composing his features, he went on chopping his nettles.
    ‘Mine’s doing it too!’ said Morgana. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw her point into her cauldron.
    ‘Hey,’ said Snape, ‘who else’s cauldron has a red spot?’
    Simultaneously, the Slytherins all stood up and peered into their cauldrons.
    ‘Now!’ hissed Remus. Sirius nodded.
    ‘Effrego!’ he whispered, pointing his wand surreptitiously across the room.

    There were ten cries of surprise, as the balloons burst, sending the compressed jets of water shooting up into the Slytherins’ faces. And Sirius’ final touch had worked - the water was now glimmering in the Gryffindor house colours, scarlet and gold. Boys swore and spat; girls shrieked and their hands flew to their faces, dashing the coloured water from their eyes and wringing out sopping wet hair.
    The Gryffindor first years erupted with laughter. Slughorn leapt to his feet.
    ‘Enough, enough! Sit down, everyone, please! Remain calm!’
    ‘Ugh, what is it?’ Morgana shrieked. ‘Is it poison? Am I coming out in boils?’
    ‘No, you were always that ugly!’ shouted Sirius. Peals of Gryffindor laughter rang out in response. Three of the girls reached for pocket mirrors, just to make sure. Even the boys tried to borrow them. Slughorn’s shouts were to no avail; for about a minute, the Potions dungeon was utter chaos. Finally the Professor managed to quiet them. He came forward to taste a drop of red liquid.

    ‘Never fear, it’s only water,’ he said reassuringly, making calming gestures with his hands. ‘Sit down, all of you. It’s just a harmless practical joke.’
    They all seemed convinced at last. The Gryffindors’ laughter subsided too, and soon everyone was sitting down, still and silent.

    ‘Now,’ said Slughorn sternly, staring intently at the Gryffindors. ‘Would anyone like to own up to this?’
    For one small moment, they all stared back at him, intimidated. Then Sirius stood up.
    ‘Please sir,’ he said, trying and failing not to sound cocky. ‘It was me. I did it.’
    ‘I thought so,’ said Slughorn, eyes narrowed behind his glasses. ‘You tricked me, Sirius. I’m afraid I won’t be able to award you those points now.’
    ‘I guessed as much,’ said Sirius. He knew his eyes were twinkling - he couldn’t stop them.
    ‘Was it just you? Was the plan and execution your own?’
    ‘Yes sir,’ said Sirius. He nudged Remus with his foot to stop him from saying anything.
    ‘Well,’ said Slughorn. ‘Your prank seems to have been rather ingenious for a first year. And it was, as I said, harmless. But you have nevertheless disrupted my lesson. Twenty points will be taken from Gryffindor, and you will come back here at lunchtime and scrub out the cauldrons - for this class and the next. Do I make myself clear?’
    ‘Yes,’ said Sirius. He wrinkled his nose. A nasty job, but he had been expecting something of the kind.
   
    It was then that James jumped to his feet.
    ‘Please sir,’ he said hurriedly. ‘I can’t let Sirius take all the blame. He wanted to, but I won’t let him. I helped.’
    ‘I did too,’ Remus added, standing up.
    ‘And me,’ Peter said reluctantly, responding to a kick from James.
    ‘Then you three will help Sirius at lunchtime,’ said Slughorn sternly. ‘Slytherins, you will each come up here and I will cast a drying charm. Single file now. Gryffindors, you will continue your work in silence, please. If I hear a peep out of anyone for the remainder of this lesson I will take twenty points from your house.’
   
    Both houses were as good as gold for the rest of the hour. When they departed the dungeon for their next classes, the Slytherins did so sullenly, their faces streaked with red and gold. The Gryffindors, on the other hand, were light on their feet as they walked up to their Charms lesson. Several people banged Sirius and his friends on the back or shook hands with them.

    ‘I never thought I’d laugh that much in lessons!’ said Merlin.
    ‘Nor me,’ said David.
    ‘I must admit, it was good,’ conceded Lily. ‘How on earth did you manage it?’
    She was looking at Remus; she got on best with him of all the Gryffindor boys. But Remus held up his hands and grinned.
    ‘I just tied the balloons up. Honestly, it was all Sirius.’
    ‘Yeah, I wasn’t in it at all,’ said James. ‘I just didn’t think Sirius ought to have all the punishment, when we’d all had fun.’
    Sirius smiled his thanks, feeling rather overwhelmed by all the attention.
    ‘It was just you? Wow!’ said Annie Cuthbert admiringly. ‘I can’t wait to get to Charms so we can tell the Ravenclaws. I bet they’d never have the guts to do something like that!’
   
    They all demanded a blow-by-blow account of how Sirius had thought of the trick, what had gone into it, how he’d convinced Slughorn to let him into the classroom - every detail. As Sirius launched into his tale he forgot to be shy. He found himself enjoying all the admiring faces looking at him ... James’ best of all.
    ‘So welcome back, invalid!’ Sirius finished with a laugh.
    ‘Thanks heaps, Sirius!’ said James, incredulous that the whole thing had been for his benefit. He threw an arm round Sirius’ shoulders as they walked. Sirius, who couldn’t remember receiving so much as a peck on the cheek in his entire life, stiffened for half a second before he returned the gesture. He felt as if some door inside him had been unlocked. His shyness had melted away; he had entertained the people around him, made them laugh. He was as cheerful, confident and appreciated as James was.

    And it was because of James. Sirius knew that, not that he would be comfortable saying it out loud. James, his friendship and loyalty, and Gryffindor ... Sirius truly felt like a Gryffindor at that moment. He continued to feel it all the way through Charms, as he was made to recount his tale to the fascinated Ravenclaws. They laughed like anything when they heard Sirius had been at the Effrego charm again.
    ‘We’re fine with that one, since you didn’t use it on us this time!’ quipped Carl Bertram.
    ‘Just watch it, Bertram, or I will blow up a pineapple!’ Sirius retorted good naturedly. Several people laughed.
    ‘Blow up a pineapple? What the hell are you talking about?’ demanded James.
    ‘Tell you later,’ said Sirius, with a conspiratorial wink.

    Even though they had an unpleasant job ahead of them, Sirius, James, Remus and Peter talked and laughed exuberantly as they trooped off to the dungeon that lunchtime. They’d all been working together in Charms, and Sirius noticed that James stopped being jealous when he saw that he was being made well and truly welcome. Sirius wouldn’t have had it any other way, of course. But although James was his best friend, he didn’t mind having two other boys to give them a hand with a bit of mischief-making every now and again. He liked Remus a lot, and he enjoyed drawing him out of himself, making him join in the fun - exactly what James had done with him. Sirius began to understand why James had been so determined to be his friend. It gave you a warm feeling, knowing you were making a difference to someone, making him feel good about himself.    
    (What Sirius didn’t know was that he had the same effect upon James.)
   
    And Peter? He just tagged along, really. But he admired Sirius and James so much that Sirius for one found it quite flattering. And he was quite good fun, in his way. He shared their sense of humour. He was the only one who could beat James at chess, which Sirius felt was good for both of them. So what if he wasn’t as clever as the others? Remus wasn’t anywhere near as clever as Sirius or James, but they still got on well with him. Sirius found them all good company as they scrubbed out the cauldrons, before stacking them neatly in the large storeroom behind the dungeon. He and James taught the other two the water jet spell to help things along. But Remus only managed a feeble trickle, and Peter couldn’t get it to work at all until they were almost finished.

    ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it,’ Sirius reassured them. ‘Keep in with me and James and you’ll probably get plenty of practice.’
    ‘Thank goodness we’ve finished, I’m starving,’ said James. ‘Come on you lot.’
    He opened the door and waved them all out into the corridor.
    ‘But don’t eat too much,’ warned Sirius. ‘I’ve a feeling we’ll be well fed at our party tonight.’
    No matter how much they pressed, Sirius and James wouldn’t tell the other two why they found that so funny - ‘you’ll have to wait until tonight,’ James said. ‘I’ll show you then.’

    When Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black and James Potter entered the Great Hall together for lunch that Friday, in October 1971, some people who saw them thought they had a different air about them. They were no longer just a bunch of Gryffindor first years thrown together in a dormitory and in lessons. They were a cohort. In years to come, they would be known as the Marauders. And out the front, leading the way, ever inseparable, were Black and Potter, the brightest boys in their year, with their heads full of enough schemes for magical mischief-making to last a hundred years.


THE END



A/N.

Well, that's it! I hope you enjoyed the story. Please leave a review, especially if you haven't yet done so. I'd really appreciate your feedback.

If you liked this story, try my Marauders Trilogy. :-)

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