Sirius and James awaited the start of term with gleeful anticipation; their first full-scale prank at school would be a momentous event. It was with great excitement, then, that they welcomed Remus and Peter back to school.
“Hi, Remus,” yelled Sirius, as soon as the coaches drew up at the castle, and Remus’s head emerged.
“Hi, Remus, how’s your mum?” asked James.
“Fine,” Remus answered, jumping down from the coach. “I mean, as fine as can be expected,” he amended quickly.
“Sirius, did you really get a toad-flavoured Bertie Botts?” Peter asked, as he clambered out into the wintry air, which made his nose turn red.
“Yeah, it was wicked. I could only croak for an hour, and I grew warts on my hands,” Sirius said. Remus and James laughed at Peter’s awed expression and, joking and jostling, the four made their way to the Entrance Hall.
James and Sirius had decided not to tell Remus and Peter about the planned mischief; they wanted it to be a total surprise. In any case, four people wouldn’t fit under the cloak at once, and they needed to add the powder to the Slytherins’ food. Just before supper, James looked at his watch and gave Sirius a significant glance. Sirius, who had been playing chess with Peter, lost with indecent haste.
“Right, well, I think Sirius and I will go the library for half an hour before supper,” James said, getting up.
Peter looked at them with narrowed eyes. “But we don’t have any homework.”
“Well, you know,” said Sirius airily. “Exams coming up and all that.”
Remus snorted. “Fine, then. Come on, Peter, I’ve been practicing chess over the holiday. I want to see if I can beat you now.”
James and Sirius darted out of the portrait hole and dodged behind a statue to put on the invisibility cloak. Careful not to bump into anybody, they crept towards the kitchens, Sirius clutching his tin of sneezing powder.
James and Sirius watched in ecstasy as Lucius Malfoy pulled a large silk handkerchief from his robes and buried his nose in it.
“Bless you,” grunted a nearby seventh-year Slytherin called Crabbe. Immediately, Malfoy’s sneezing became more violent, earning him a frosty glare from Bellatrix. Then, James and Sirius waited as Bellatrix spooned gravy onto her roast-beef. She lifted a forkful to her mouth.
“What are you two up to?”
Remus’s voice caused the two to turn back to their food. Sirius’s hand was still holding his fork halfway between his plate and his mouth. Remus and Peter were looking at them in wonder; James and Sirius usually paid every attention to their meals.
“You’ll see,” James said with a smirk, craning his neck to enjoy the sight of Bellatrix sneezing over and over again.
“Look…Snape’s going for it,” Sirius whispered. Sure enough, their research had paid off. Snape had reached for the bowl of mashed swedes, his favourite dish, which just happened to be the food most heavily dosed with sneezing powder.
Snape chewed, swallowed, began to lift his fork again, and then his hand stopped, his eyes bulged, his nose twitched.
“Wait for it…” James breathed.
Snape let out a most magnificent sneeze. It drowned out the other afflicted Slytherins and rang through the hall, causing a ripple of titters.
“Bless you,” several people called. And then the mayhem began. The laughter of the other students didn’t quite cover the monstrous sneezes coming from the Slytherin table. At the staff table, Professor Asch looked as though all the air had been sucked out of his throat and lungs. Professor Whall, the Potions Master, appeared quite unconcerned and was the only person still eating, while Professor Dumbledore seemed to be smiling to himself, even as he held up his hand to stop the laughter. At the Gryffindor table, meanwhile, the culprits could not quite manage to keep straight faces.
“What did you do?” asked Peter, who was squirming in his seat with glee.
“Sneezing powder,” James said. Sirius, who was clutching his sides in silent paroxysms of laughter, was incapable of speech.
“How…” said Peter, but Remus spoke at the same time.
“I take it you found the kitchens, then?”
James looked around the hall, from the Hufflepuffs, some of whom were bright red in the face, to the Ravenclaws, who were giggling in groups and pointing, to his fellow Gryffindors, who were banging their fists on the table, to the Slytherin table and particularly to Severus Snape. Snape’s eyes were watering, and his nose seemed even larger than usual as he sneezed with such force that James half-expected cutlery and dishes to be blown into the air. Snape obviously didn’t carry a hanky, either, and James watched in awed revulsion as his enemy tried to dab his nose with his sleeve without attracting attention. This was all his and Sirius’s doing, James thought, and a mix of exhilaration and power coursed through his veins. It was the best he’d ever felt.
“You see, whenever anyone said ‘bless you’, the powder would make the sneezing worse,” Sirius explained to Peter later that evening. Peter was listening with a rapt expression on his face.
“Can we do it again tomorrow?” he begged.
Sirius looked scandalised. “We can’t do the same trick again!”
“Well, can we play another prank tomorrow?” Peter asked.
James shook his head. “Let this one die down first. They mustn’t know when the next trick will come.”
“Oh,” Peter said. He looked down at his hands, and then stared at a far corner of the room, where Frank was practicing the hovering charm by levitating Alice Walker’s homework over her head. His gaze shifted back to his hands. “Well, I wish you’d told me and Remus.”
“If the powder is that powerful,” Remus said, “won’t it still be activated when someone says ‘bless you’?”
“Yeah, it lasted for days last time I used it,” said James.
Peter dived for his timetable. “We’ve got Potions with the Slytherins tomorrow morning,” he said, perking up.
“What d’you reckon, James?” asked Sirius.
James thought for a moment. “I’ll sneeze when Whall starts to give us homework,” he said. “Then you can say ‘bless you’, Peter.”
Peter could barely sit still through the morning’s lesson. He kept giving James obvious nods and winks, which Sirius found hugely amusing.
“Do you have something in your eye, boy?” Professor Whall asked at last.
“No, sir.” Peter squeaked, and James noted with relief that he dropped his ‘conspiratorial’ air.
“Good. For next time then, I want a roll of parchment on the…”
Peter pricked up his ears. James had sneezed. His moment had come. He took a deep breath, and…
“Bless you, Mr Potter,” Mr Whall said.
James saw Peter sag over his desk and couldn’t help smiling.
Several of the Slytherins began to sniff. Professor Whall glared at them.
“As I was saying, before Potter’s nasal interruption, I want a roll of…”
“HA- tISHoo!” Snape clapped his hands over his nose. Behind him, Narcissa Black was pinching her nose in an attempt to keep herself from sneezing.
Peter tensed again. ‘What if I said it now?’ He opened his mouth.
“Bless you,” shouted Sirius.
Narcissa succumbed to a loud sneeze. Snape’s shoulders shook. One side of the classroom was raining sneezes. Students were frantically patting their pockets in search of handkerchiefs; others had their hands clasped over their faces, with frightened eyes peering above their fingers. On the Gryffindor side, James, Frank, and Sirius were in fits of laughter, while Remus and Alice chuckled. Peter was torn between mirth and disappointment, and in only Lily Evans’s face was the amusement tempered by a look of sympathy, as Regina Farrows fled the room, tears streaming down her face. As the door swung shut, they could hear her sneezes echoing down the corridor. In all, it was a very satisfying lesson.
Not everyone was satisfied, however. Peter said little for the rest of the morning, and at lunch he only had one helping of stew. He couldn’t even finish his second bowl of rhubarb crumble. No one noticed his preoccupation, and this further irritated him. James and Sirius were messing about as usual, and Remus was joining in as though everything was normal. Peter fumed. They didn’t like him at all. They weren’t proper friends. If they were real friends, they wouldn’t have spoilt his chance at making the Slytherins sneeze. It wasn’t fair.
On his way back to the common room, someone brushed past him. Peter got even crosser. People thought that he was such a nobody that they didn’t even see him anymore. He turned to glare at the person who’d hit him. It was Severus Snape. Peter carried on, but as he walked an idea formed in his head. He looked at the others. They were walking in front of him, three abreast. Sirius said something and they all laughed.
‘Right,’ thought Peter. With a newborn determination, he turned round and hurried off to catch up with Snape.
James waited to let Sirius climb through the portrait hole.
“Hang on,” he said to Remus. “Where did Peter go?”
Remus looked behind him. “That’s odd; he was here a minute ago.”
James shrugged and followed Sirius into the common room. “You didn’t see Peter go anywhere, did you?” He asked.
“Peter? No. Has anyone done McGonagall’s homework?” Sirius scrabbled in his bag for parchment and a quill and looked hopefully from Remus to James. Remus handed over a neatly-written scroll. James and Sirius hunched over it.
“You sure you’ve got that bit right?” James asked after a minute. Remus snatched back his homework and scanned the offending paragraph.
“I was away when you did that,” he said. “I just read about it in the book. I didn’t quite understand it.”
“But it’s simple!” Sirius said.
“Well, why don’t you do your homework yourself if it’s so easy?”
“That would take the fun out of life,” said James, reaching for his quill and starting to write.
“Besides, this way we can check yours,” Sirius said.
“How kind,” Remus muttered.
Meanwhile, Peter caught up with Snape in a deserted corridor not far from the library.
“Bless you!” he said, triumph making his nerves tingle. His plan had worked perfectly. Snape stiffened and sniffed. He had not considered the possible repercussions, though, he realised, as Snape wheeled round, snarling, with his wand raised.
“You,” he hissed, before giving way to a sneeze. He pulled out a hanky without lowering his wand.
Peter wished he had James and Sirius and Remus with him. They would have known what to do.
“Bless you,” he said, hoping Snape would be distracted by sneezes. It was the wrong thing to do.
“You little…” Snape snarled. He was cut off by a sneeze, but he waved his wand, and Peter found himself hurtling backwards into the wall. Still sneezing into his handkerchief, Snape advanced towards a cowering Peter.
“Bless you,” Peter whispered in desperation.
But Snape seemed to be beyond caring. His eyes showed a malicious pleasure as he slammed Peter over and over into the wall. Peter heard the crack of his own head against the stone and closed his eyes to shut out the image of the other boy’s face, transformed with power and hatred. He felt the blows to his body, but could do nothing to shield himself. He was paralysed with fear, his wand was still inside his pocket, and he would have no idea what to do with it, anyway. He wished for his friends as the breath was knocked from his body. Yes, they were his friends now, his dearest, most wonderful friends. This would never have happened to him if they had been there. They would have protected him. Everything was a whirl. Snape’s fists in his face, Snape’s knee in his stomach. The wall at his back slid out of place, and he tumbled to the floor and lay there, sobbing and moaning, as Snape’s sneezes echoed in his ears.
Severus’s handkerchief and wand lay forgotten on the floor, as he used his hands to throttle, punch and smash the pathetic little figure in front of him. Peter became the embodiment of all that Severus loathed. Severus was paying back his debts from every time he’d been ridiculed, humiliated and bullied by those arrogant Gryffindors, by that wretched Potter and his friends. Once Peter had fallen, Severus kicked him, picturing Potter or Black lying, whimpering in pain, at his feet. Severus was possessed by some demonic power of rage, revenge, and anger. He wanted to cause pain, to break bones, to rupture flesh, he…
The ice-cold voice of Lucius Malfoy snapped him out of his fiery passion and brought him back to reality. The Slytherin prefect was leaning against the wall, viewing the scene with distaste.
“You’ve forgotten yourself, Severus,” he said. “A teacher might have walked past, and you would have lost Slytherin points.” Malfoy prodded Peter with the toe of his shoe. “It’s not worth the bother.” He casually summoned Snape’s wand. “Never lower yourself again,” Malfoy hissed. “Revenge should be taken…effectively and cleanly. Never touch them; otherwise, you are no better than a brawling Muggle.” He handed Snape his wand. “Five points from Slytherin for fighting in the corridor.” He shaped the word ‘fighting’ as though it was particularly disgusting.
Severus lowered his head and glared at Peter’s inert body with renewed hatred.
“And ten points to Slytherin for hurting him,” Malfoy said. “Get rid of him, will you? He’s blocking the corridor.” With that, he stepped over Peter and strolled away.
Peter woke up, feeling that he had forgotten something very important. His brain began to register the signals of pain being sent from all over his body, and he remembered what had happened. Resentment and shame flooded through him. ‘Someone could have helped me,’ he thought.
He hated himself for needing help. He tried to open his eyes. One lid was stiff and heavy and wouldn’t move. He must have a black eye. He examined his face, running his fingers over the swollen tissue. He bet it would look impressive. Well, that was something. He could say that he’d been in a fight. Opening his other eye, he made out the shadowy lines of broomsticks. He wondered what he was doing in the broom shed. Slowly, achingly, he eased himself up and banged his head on a shelf, dislodging a pile of old dusters. He had a better look and saw that he was, in fact, in a broom cupboard. His body screamed protest at every movement as he opened the door and crept outside.
It was dark. The halls were illuminated only by guttering candlelight. The poker-playing wizards in the picture opposite were slumped over their table, bar one who was peering at his snoring neighbour’s cards. Peter was afraid. He had been around the castle many times at night, but only with James and Sirius and Remus. On his own, the shadows of every corner were terrifying. Every statue, every suit of armour was Filch or a teacher waiting to leap out at him, and every noise coming from the portraits gripped at his heart. Worse, Peter soon realised that he was lost. The nighttime excursions had always been navigated by one of the others, and although Peter had vague impressions that he had seen that tapestry or this statue somewhere before, he had no idea how to get from it to the safety of Gryffindor tower. He didn’t know how long he’d been wandering about, getting more and more tired, his bruises becoming more and more painful, when he heard something that made him forget it all.
The voice was hushed and indignant. It sounded familiar to Peter’s ears, but what scared him was that he could see nowhere for the voice to have come from. All the surrounding portraits were asleep.
“Well, if you weren’t taking up all the room…”
A new voice, in the same cross whisper. Peter looked in terror at a nearby suit of armour. What if someone was hiding in it? He debated with himself whether to flee and risk the owners of the disembodied voices being alerted to his presence, or to stay where he was and hope that whoever it was didn’t notice him. A third voice made the decision unnecessary.
“Ssh! There’s someone there.”
“Is it him?”
“Well, how am I supposed to know?”
There came sounds of shuffling, and Peter let out a frightened yelp as James appeared from nowhere, followed by Remus and Sirius as they took off the invisibility cloak.
They were surprisingly near Gryffindor tower. A secret passageway behind the tapestry that Peter had thought he recognised took them almost straight back, and within ten minutes, James and the others were in the common room.
“What happened to you?” asked Sirius, eyeing Peter’s injuries.
“I was in a fight,” Peter said.
“Beaten to a bloody pulp, more like,” said James. “Who were you, erm, fighting?”
“The slimy little…” James looked dangerously close to leaping out of the portrait hole in search of Snape.
“I’m going to go over there right now and…” Sirius growled.
“Do either of you even know where the Slytherin common room is?” Remus asked.
James and Sirius calmed down a little. “But I’m bloody well going to show him a thing or two tomorrow,” Sirius grunted.
“Why did you have a fight?” Remus asked Peter. James and Sirius turned to Peter, too, as though they’d just remembered him. Peter felt his face grow hot as he relayed the story.
“Well, that was stupid of you,” Sirius drawled, once Peter had finished.
“Honestly, Peter,” said James in a cutting voice. “You got us really worried.”
“ We wondered what had happened when you didn’t turn up to Transfiguration,” Remus began.
“We knew something was wrong when you missed supper,” said James,
“And all the time you were lying in a broom cupboard!” Sirius began to laugh, and the others joined in.
That second term sped by in a rush of lessons, homework, visits to the kitchen, flying practice and illicit adventures, and was punctuated only by Remus’s visits home and occasional run-ins with Bellatrix and Snape. James went for days without even remembering his home or parents, and he found it hard to believe that he had ever lead a life that wasn’t centred around Hogwarts. To go home during the Easter holidays was unthinkable; he and Sirius wanted to explore the Forbidden Forest. They had abstained from doing this during term time as four of them couldn’t fit under the cloak (they had tried), and they thought it unfair to leave anyone behind. However, both Peter and Remus went home as before, and the long evenings made exploring a lot easier. Apart from one occasion, when they’d huddled together under the cloak in abject terror as a spider the size of a bull scuttled past, their forest walks were great fun. In the daytime, when not playing Quidditch in the hopes of being talent-spotted and invited to join the house team, they took to visiting the gamekeeper, the enormous Hagrid who had met them off the Hogwarts Express.
All too soon, the holidays were over, and exams loomed on the horizon. While Gryffindors such as Lily Evans, Alice Walker and, to James and Sirius’s disgust, Remus, spent an increased amount of time studying, James and Sirius had a bigger preoccupation; the final of the Quidditch Cup was drawing near. To their disgust, Gryffindor had lost their matches 120-50 and 90-30, but the fact that they weren’t in the final didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for it. Hufflepuff were facing the Slytherins, and James was desperate for Hufflepuff to win.
It was a breezy April day, perfect Quidditch conditions, thought James as he, Sirius and Peter strolled down to the Quidditch pitch on the Saturday of the final. Remus was with his mum again.
“But it’s the Quidditch final!” James had said, on hearing that Remus was going home. Remus had looked uncomfortable.
“Yes, well, I’m not that much of a fan.”
“But it’s the final,” James spluttered. He couldn’t believe that anyone would miss Quidditch. Moreover, Remus had watched the first two matches with interest.
“It’ll be amazing,” Sirius added. “Can’t you see your mum on Sunday instead?”
“It’s all arranged,” Remus said. Tension was knotting the veins in his wrists as he turned and marched away.
The others watched him go, James mouthing, “But it’s Quidditch,” to his departing back.
And Quidditch it certainly was; Quidditch in its most exhausting, nerve-wracking, nail-biting form. The teams were evenly matched, and goal followed goal followed goal, with no sign of the Snitch. Midday came, and the audience had to shield their eyes as the sun sat high in the sky. James was itching to join in, and, next to him, he could see Frank searching the sky for the Snitch as avidly as any of the Seekers. Four hours later, Rosie Honeyduke, whose father owned a famous sweet shop in Hogsmeade, was the first to fall from her broom in sheer exhaustion. The Hufflepuff Keeper had suddenly lurched and slipped off into the cloudless sky. Luckily, Eddie Abbot, a Hufflepuff Chaser, had caught her, and a time-out was called. The players were allowed some water, and several substitutions were made. By this time, even Lucius Malfoy’s pale face was pink with the heat, and his blonde hair was slicked with sweat.
“Is it over?” Lily Evans asked Frank.
Frank laughed. “No way. It doesn’t finish until someone catches the Snitch. Quidditch can go on for months sometimes.”
“Months?” Lily slumped back in her seat. “I wish I’d brought a book.”
A book? To a Quidditch match? James shook his head in disbelief. Even so, by seven o’clock, James found himself rather wishing that the Hufflepuff Seeker would hurry up and catch the Snitch, and that he could go and get some supper. Peter was snoring gently, and Sirius was amusing himself by burning small holes in Peter’s robes with his wand. Suddenly, the depleted, sleepy crowd began cheering. Peter jerked awake, and Sirius jumped and set fire to his jumper in surprise at the noise.
“Look,” James yelled, pointing to a mere speck in the distance. The Seekers were diving, a shot of yellow, closely followed by one of green. Malfoy had the better broom, but the Hufflepuff Seeker was just hanging on to her lead. A few more seconds, and the crowd roared in delight as the Snitch was finally caught, and the tired teams flew slowly down to earth.
“That was amazing,” Sirius said, as they joined the crowd that was swarming back to the castle.
“It’s a pity Remus wasn’t there,” Peter said.
James said nothing. Instead, he was staring up at the clear sky, in which the shape of the full moon was beginning to emerge, and something tugged on his memory.