- Chapter Fourteen -
"Oh, Merlin," Remus whispered, watching in terror as the screech owl soared closer and closer over the heads of the murmuring students.
Every other person of wizard descent was looking at the envelope with similar expressions.
Sirius suddenly felt as though a very large piece of scrambled egg had lodged itself in his windpipe. He knew exactly who the owl was going to deliver the letter to and he didn't know how to prevent it. He watched, horrified, with everyone else as the owl flew the last couple of meters...
And landed directly in front of him.
Peter squealed loudly and slopped orange juice all down his front.
James looked from Sirius to the red envelope, feeling more alarmed with every second.
Remus had dropped his toast on the floor. "Is that a-? Is that a Howler?" he whispered hoarsely as Sirius simply sat there, gazing at the envelope in his hand.
The letter began to smoke ominously.
James cleared his throat. "Open it," he urged. "Just open it quickly. It'll be over soon."
Sirius did as he was told, fingers trembling so much that the entire letter shook.
"What's a Howler?" Lily Evans whispered to Frank and Alice. She was one of the few people that looked confused.
No one answered her. They were too busy staring at the letter.
But a split second later, Lily knew exactly why the letter had been called a Howler. A scream loud enough to burst eardrums had filled the Great Hall, causing many of the spectators to stuff their fingers in their ears.
Sirius' mother's voice was issuing from the envelope, screeching about how he'd brought shame on his whole family.
"-FILTH, HALFBREEDS, SCUM! CLOGGING UP THE WIZARDING WORLD WITH THEIR UNWORTHY EXISTANCE! AND MY OWN SON HAS JOINED THEIR RANKS LIKE SOME COMMON GOBLIN! I AM DISGUSTED BY YOU!"
"HOW DARE YOU LET YOURSELF BE SORTED INTO A HOUSE OF MUDBLOODS! HOW DARE YOU BRING SUCH SHAME ON US ALL! YOUR FATHER GOT THE NEWS LAST NIGHT - NARCISSA WROTE TO HIM! I NOTICE SHE HASN'T DISGRACED THE FAMILY!"
"No," muttered Sirius darkly, casting a scathing look at the Slytherin table. "Darling Narcissa, with her dainty pureblood ways and her perfect manners..."
" YOU SHOULD BE SETTING A BETTER EXAMPLE TO YOUR BROTHER, YOU UNWORTHY TRAITOR, YOU REVOLTING LITTLE HAG, YOU FILTHY PIECE OF-!"
But Walburga Black's last words were drowned by a storm of laughing from the Slytherin table. Apparently Narcissa Black and her friends found the situation too hilarious for words.
James saw Lucius Malfoy slump over on the table, banging his fist and howling with mirth. He rolled his eyes. It wasn't even funny. He didn't think Malfoy'd be laughing if he'd been sent a Howler.
As the letter finally exploded into ashes, Sirius stared glumly at his plate of scrambled eggs, wishing more than anything that he could sink into the floor and never be seen again. He didn't know whether to feel miserable or angry. Something heavy seemed to have lodged itself in his stomach, weighing him down as though he was made of lead.
Peter, Remus and James were looking at him too, along with the rest of the school, their eyes filled with sympathy and concern.
But Sirius turned away from them, unable to face their expressions. He didn't want their pity. It wasn't like they could give him a new family, one that loved him and cared for him and didn't mind that he was in Gryffindor.
Over at the Slytherin table, meanwhile, Malfoy was still laughing, imitating the voice of Walburga between evil-sounding snorts.
Hatred burned like fire in Sirius' stomach. He turned back to his own table, keeping his eyes on his abandoned plate of egg, trying to act cool and unbothered...
"Sirius, mate?" James had spoken first, his voice low, unable to bear the pain of watching his friend any longer. "Are you-?" He glanced at Remus and Peter, unsure what to do.
Then a hand, cool and slightly scarred, found its way to Sirius' shoulder. "Come on, Sirius. Let's get out of here."
The four boys stood up and began to walk down the aisle between the house tables. Peter led the way, with James and Remus walking on either side of Sirius.
A couple of people still stared at them as they left, but Remus' hand stayed on Sirius' shoulder.
And, for that, Sirius was grateful.
"Let's find somewhere quiet," said Remus to James, leading his friend up the marble staircase.
They took refuge in an empty classroom on the first floor. James, Remus and Peter perched on the end of a desk, watching Sirius closely.
Sirius groaned and massaged his temples. Some of the feeling was beginning to return to his limbs. "Thanks, guys," he said finally. "I'm okay, honestly. I just..." He slumped. "Yeah."
"We don't care what your family think of you," said James firmly, sliding off the desk to stand next to Sirius. "We like you no matter what."
Sirius smiled faintly. He felt better. "Cheers, mate."
Remus and Peter slid off the desk too.
"I hate Howlers," said Peter, picking at his chin and scuffling his feet. "They're horrible."
"Yeah," agreed James. "It's one thing when you've done wrong, but another when a dirty great envelope turns up and starts shouting at you."
Remus laughed. "Sometimes I envy the muggles."
Even though he knew his parents hadn't finished with him yet, Sirius grinned back at his friends. "I know. It's so much more convenient to have your parents lecture you face-to-face." He crossed to the classroom door and pulled it open. "C'mon. Let's go back to the common room. We've got Potions next."
Potion lessons were held in the deepest part of the school: the dungeons.
After collecting their bags from Gryffindor tower, the four boys made their way down the stone steps to their classroom.
Peter kept tripping in the gloom.
"It's spooky down here," admitted Remus, clutching the strap of his bag more tightly.
"Yeah," said James. He gazed around at the place they'd emerged in. Torchlight shivered over the dark, stone walls.
"Hello," said an unfamiliar voice next to them. A blonde-haired Gryffindor girl had come over to introduce herself. "You boys have had an eventful week or so, haven't you?" She pushed a strand of hair behind her ears and looked at them, her eyes twinkling with mischief. "First, you were late, then there was that thing with the Slytherins... And this morning, there was that Howler. I'm Marlene, by the way," added the girl. "Marlene McKinnon."
James, Remus, Peter and Sirius looked at her. She oozed confidence and mischief, but she didn't seem to be unfriendly.
"Uh, hi," said James at last. "I'm James Potter. And these are my friends - Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew."
The girl laughed. "Nice to meet you. My friend's over there." She gestured over her shoulder to a brown-haired girl standing nervously against a wall. "She's Mary. Mary MacDonald."
Sirius waved at Mary.
Mary, looking incredibly shy with her large brown eyes, gave him a very small wave back.
Sirius grinned broadly and cupped his hands around his mouth to shout across the dungeon. "Hi, Mary! I'm Sirius! Why don't you come over and say hello?"
Remus tugged on Sirius' sleeve. "Leave her alone, you moron. She's terrified of you."
But although Mary did indeed look terrified, she inched her way across the room to talk to them.
Marlene threw her arm around her. "Hey, Mary! See, I told you the boys aren't scary."
Mary blushed crimson.
"We're really not," said Sirius, still looking maddeningly cheerful. "We might look intimidating, but we don't bite." He winked at Mary. "Much."
Mary blushed even harder.
"Sirius, stop," said Remus firmly, looking sympathetically at Mary. "I've already told you to leave the poor girl alone. She doesn't need your weird personality."
Sirius pretended to glare at Remus. "Oi! Watch who you're calling weird, Lupin!"
At this moment, the dungeon door opened and a vast stomach appeared. A velvet-waistcoated man proceeded it, a man with silvery hair and a drooping walrus moustache.
His booming voice echoed around the dungeons, bouncing off the torch-lit, stone walls. “Welcome, welcome! Welcome to your first potions lesson. If you would like to step inside and find a table…”
The class did as they were told, squeezing past the professor into the classroom.
James, Sirius, Peter and Remus found a table to themselves at the back of the room.
All around them, strange things floated in jars, brightly-coloured feathers lay on shelves and boxes were labelled with ‘snake fangs’ and ‘powdered root of asphodel’. The blackboard at the front of the class said ‘Professor H. E. F. Slughorn, potions master and head of Slytherin house.’
Once the whole class had settled and taken out their things, Professor Slughorn turned to look at them all.
To James, the teacher looked like an overgrown walrus - a walrus with a taste for velvet smoking jackets.
“Oho!” said Slughorn as he studied their faces. “Why don’t we start by taking the register?”
He began to read out the names, ticking them off and occasionally pausing to address a student. “...Ah, Avery, your parents were excellent students… Another Black, hmm? Pity you’re in Gryffindor… Lyall Lupin was never much of a potioneer, I’m afraid… Potter? Oho! Your father still makes his potions... A Snape? Your mother Eileen married a muggle, did she not? Pity, pity. She was one of the best I ever taught. Such a waste of talent...”
On and on it went, until Slughorn finally called the last name. He stood up from his desk with a loud creak - the buttons on his waistcoat strained a little - and hurried to the blackboard.
“So. Potion-making. Who can tell me the ingredients of a shrinking solution?”
One person put their hand up, while the rest of the class just sat there blankly.
James and Sirius were infuriated to see that the one person was Snape.
Slughorn looked a bit surprised himself that a first-year knew the answer to his question, but he nodded at Snape anyway. “Go on, Mr…?”
“Snape, Professor,” said Snape curtly, his thin mouth twisting into a smirk. “Severus Snape.”
“Oho!” said Slughorn, looking delighted. “Of course! How could I forget? Well, then. What’s your answer?”
Snape took a breath then said very fast, “Shrivelfig, caterpillars, daisy roots, rat spleen, cowbane, leech juice and wormwood.” He stopped, slightly breathless, looking up at Slughorn.
James sniggered behind his hand and Lily Evans turned in her seat to give him a particularly nasty look.
There was a moment’s pause.
“Quite right,” said Slughorn, an expression of impressed amazement crossing his face. “Very good, Severus! Those are all ingredients in the common potion known as the ‘shrinking solution’. I assume you know what the potion does?”
Looking bored, Snape leaned on his elbow. “Well, it shrinks things, doesn’t it?” he said, with the air of explaining that one plus one equals two. “And, in the case of animals and people, it reverts them back to their youthful forms.”
Peter glanced blankly at Remus.
He wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand. A couple of Slytherins at the front of the classroom, all of whom were big and thuggish, were shaking their heads.
Slughorn, however, was staring at Snape as though he was the most interesting thing he’d ever seen. “Yes, it does do that. Again, you’re quite right. Take ten points for Slytherin! And it’s clear as day that you’ve inherited your mother’s talent!”
Beside Snape, Lily looked immensely proud. She squeezed his hand and whispered, “Well done!” in his ear.
Snape merely smirked.
James snorted with disgust. “The slimy little git…” he muttered, clenching his fists under the table.
Remus put one hand on his arm. “Just leave him. He isn’t doing anything wrong.”
But James ignored him. In his opinion, Snape had done something very wrong. Even the idiot’s existence was a crime.
Slughorn set them to work brewing a simple potion to cure boils. While he said it was simple, however, many of the students still had a lot of difficulty with it.
Within ten minutes, Peter’s potion had turned murky brown, Marleen McKinnon was frantically trying to put out the sleeve of her robes - which had set on fire - and Remus’ cauldron was emitting bright purple sparks.
“Oh, dear,” he said as he hopped on the spot, squinting through the sparks in an attempt to see the blackboard. “I haven’t done this right, have I? Was I supposed to add a dash of leech juice? What does ‘a dash of leech juice’ even mean? It’s not very definite…”
James looked up from his cauldron, which wasn’t quite the recommended thickness. “I think you just have to estimate,” he told Remus. “That’s what I did and I think mine’s turned out okay… It’s a bit runny, but at least it’s the right colour.”
“How do I correct this?” Remus whispered urgently to James, as his cauldron made an alarming popping noise.
Slughorn was approaching to examine their potions, getting nearer and nearer…
“Sorry, I don’t know,” James whispered back, stirring his potion in the hope that it would thicken. It didn’t.
The potion master’s loud voice boomed out to them. “And how are you four getting on? All right?”
“No,” said Peter, looking slightly irritable. “It’s going terribly.”
Slughorn chuckled and leaned over to ladle up some of Peter’s potion. He winced as it splashed back into the cauldron, still a horrible brown.”I see. Oh, dear. Not to worry, m’boy, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it soon… Oh, Merlin!”
He had spotted Remus’ potion.
Remus stepped away from it as Slughorn approached, eager to get away from the dangerous-looking sparks.
Slughorn frowned as he peered into the cauldron. “What did you do?” he asked Remus, shaking his head and tutting.
“Er… I don’t know, sir,” Remus admitted, watching the cauldron emit another loud pop. Some more sparks shot out of it, narrowly missing Slughorn’s drooping moustache. “I got confused when I read the bit about the leech juice. What does it mean by ‘a dash’?”
His silver hair gleaming, Professor Slughorn glanced up and squinted in the direction of the blackboard. He read the instructions a couple of times and sighed. “Looks like you forgot the daisy roots,” he said. “And, yes, the leech juice seems to have been measured out wrongly. Maybe next time you’ll get it right…”
He moved away, leaving Remus alone by his cauldron, still looking doubtful. “But how much leech juice is ‘a dash’?” he hissed, watching Slughorn examine Sirius’ cauldron.
James and Peter merely shrugged.
Remus sighed. Then he smiled. “I don’t think Potions is my strong point,” he said cheerfully.
Thank you so much for all your support! You are honestly the best and I still can’t believe that this story has been given ten new reviews since the last update!
Shout out to Charlie_Lupin who is working on a new fan fiction - please check it out; I’m sure the support would be appreciated <3
I’m also working on some character aesthetics, which I’ll be posting soon.
Thanks again for reading! More dedications will come in the next chapter :)
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