DISCLAIMER: Nothing’s mine except the plot and the OCs. G.M. Fraser tributes are his [cookies to those who spot them], the rest belongs to JKR.
As he lay in bed, limbs tired from a night of pacing, James’ mind raced round the same pattern. Less than twelve hours ago, he had challenged Snape to a formal duel of honour. Seconds after the challenge, the full implications of those few French words had hit him – a potential Azkaban sentence merely for speaking the words of the challenge, anything up to and including a life sentence depending on what happened next. Not to mention having to duel Snivellus, who knew more Dark curses than Professor Thornabee. He wasn’t scared, he told himself. Definitely not. More like concerned. He had every right to be concerned about duelling with a sneaky, conniving Slytherin – Snivellus wouldn’t think twice about pulling something illegal to start the duel in his favour. James needed something, someone, to give him an advantage. Someone smart and sneaky. Someone like…
Sirius! If anyone knew how to arrange a formal duel, stack the odds without actually cheating and get everyone off scot-free, Sirius would. His family had probably done it a thousand times since the ban was introduced. With this thought cheering him up very slightly, James hauled himself out of bed and set off for the Great Hall. Plotting on an empty stomach was unnecessarily painful and Sirius, lecherous bastard that he was, might well be there after his night with Selene Stanger, or Gretchen Vane, or...
As he entered the Great Hall, James gave a sigh of relief. Sirius was sitting alone at the Gryffindor table, eating sausages. Looking as unconcerned as he could after a long day and sleepless night, James joined him.
”Morning, Prongs, good night?” Sirius said in an infuriatingly cheerful voice.
“No, actually,” said James. “I don’t know what you and your girlfriend were playing at in the library, but it doesn’t’t matter now. We’re in trouble. Big trouble.”
Sirius looked slightly shocked at this, but carried on being flippant. “I wasn’t even in the library, it didn’t go far enough that you have to worry and we’ve been in trouble since our second day here. Good idea though, nobody ever goes in the library after hours.”
“How can you be gone all night and not get far?” James asked, momentarily distracted.
Sirius just shrugged and carried on with his sausages. Realising that James wanted a response, he grunted, “Slept inna Come-and-go, not with S’lene. Talks too much. ‘Sides, we’re related.”
“What’d you go and do that for? Never mind. Anyway, the problem is that – well, I can’t talk about it here. Let’s go to the crone and talk in the passageway; we won’t be overheard there. Come on.” James lifted the taller, heavier boy by the collar of his robes and practically dragged him out of the Great Hall. Several minutes later, they slumped down in the wide secret passageway, having collected Peter on the way.
“Right guys, we’ve got a problem,” James said as they crouched in the tunnel. “I Challenged Snivellus last night.”
The capital letter was unmistakable. Peter gasped and turned white. Sirius looked briefly excited, then concerned. As neither seemed likely to say anything, James carried on.“He was with Lily, ‘working’. I know it was a daft thing to do, but damn it, I can’t let him get away with it! He was insulting her more than me as soon as she was out of sight. It’s done and I wouldn’t get out of it, even if I could. Now, are you with me? Padfoot, your family does this stuff all the time; got any ideas? Peter?” As he said this, James’ voice took on a pleading tone he would never have let anyone else hear. His friends answered very quickly.
“With you, James,” said Peter, sounding panicked. “A bit scared, but with you.”
“Don’t be an idiot, Prongs. Not any more of an idiot than usual, anyway. My beloved family may not be good for much, but Father made sure we were taught the formalities. Never know when some uppity blood-traitors might have to be put back in their place. You’re stupider than Wormtail Confunded for getting us into this mess, but we’ll get you out somehow. Take it I’m your second.” It was not a question. As if anyone else would be.
“Hey, I’m not stupid.” Distracting Peter was never a hard job.
“Never mind. Yes, of course you are, Pads. Who else? Now, other than brush up on my hexes, what do we do next? I’m sure there’s, you know, stuff you have to do. Find a referee, for one.” James had been told a bit about the duelling code by his father, just enough to recognise [or issue] a Challenge and know it was Bad News, illegal and quite likely to happen if he hung around with and annoyed Blacks for too long.
“Not quite. First thing we need is terms. What happens if he wins, what happens when you do, where, when, the ref, the rules and so on. What’s Snivellus got that you want? Not going to be much, is it? Nothing worth duelling for at all, you great pillock.”
”He leaves Lily alone. That’s it.”
”WHAT? You can demand anything you like, more or less, and all you want is for him to do what Saint Evans is going to make him do anyway? I know you’re nuts about her – just nuts, if you ask me – but I don’t see what’s wrong with you.”
”What else is there to ask for? It’s Snivellus – we can do anything to him we like without his permission; he’s skinny, unpopular and hasn’t got anything to lose. All he can do is hurt Lily, and I won’t let him. Besides, losing to me is going to hurt him more than any amount of demands. Tell you what; we’ll get a formal apology out of him for being a git as well.” James’ earlier irritation had temporarily vanished; now he was all business and absolute, shining conviction.
“Fair enough. Right, what do we offer him if you lose? How about we leave him alone until we all leave, you hand over that super-duper Potions kit and that should cover it. He’d sell his soul for that thing back and it’s no use to you, is it Mr. I-only-do-Potions-cos-Lily-does?”
“No, we need that kit. I had a great idea in detention. It’ll wait now. Maybe we could promise to buy him another one. That do?” James wasn’t too worried about what to offer. If he lost, he probably wouldn’t be able to worry for a while. “What was the next thing? Oh right, where and when. Middle of the night, I reckon – a few detentions won’t make much difference if we’re caught. Maybe over the other side of the lake, in that little clearing? It’s far enough from the doors to hide us from someone looking out. If we can’t be seen there’s only Dumbledore to worry about. The next night Dumbledore’s away, we go. Snivellus doesn’t like it, he’ll live. If I challenge him, I get first call over the details, right?”
”More or less. He has to agree though, and he gets to choose weapons.” Sirius didn’t seem at all concerned about the latter, but James’ face was a picture. “Don’t worry, it’s not so bad. All he gets is to choose between swords or wands; no Muggle stuff - no staffs, no brooms, none of the other equalisers he’d like to try.”
”Yes, long pointy things. Blunt end goes in your hand; sharp end goes in Snivellus’ gizzard. Got that?”
”D’you think he knows how to use a sword? Never seen him with one.” James was more intrigued than worried by the idea of fighting with cold steel rather than wands. Snape was so proud of his Dark curses, surely he couldn’t resist demonstrating them.
“Nah, how would he learn? I doubt there’s a Snape Sword hanging about somewhere. I mean, there’s a Black one, and an Avery, and Osebert I think has a Staff, but he’s not even pureblood, is he?” The latter lacked the sneer which would have been expected of a Black; even of Sirius with respect to this particular half-blood. Here, it was nothing but a statement of fact.
“Suppose not. We’ll stick to worrying about his hexes for now. Hang on. Are any of your cousins any good with Potions?” This complete non sequitur caused Peter to jerk in surprise as Sirius looked about for trouble. Any mention of the Black sisters usually led to his being called upon to do something dangerous. James didn’t notice; once the stray memory hit him his mind was far away, racing on a tide of possibilities and plots. He ran one hand through his hair as he waited for Sirius to answer.
“Eh? No, Trixie doesn’t do it and Narcissa’s thicker than your mum’s custard. Why the hell are you asking about them? You didn’t... no, you can’t Challenge women. Snape’s the Potions genius, unless you’re planning on involving Evans. Not a bad idea, hexing her while you’re at it.”
”Excellent. We have another demand. Tell him I want the bottle of Dionaea Sarcophagi sap that Bella is going to steal tonight from the Potions stores. I don’t even know what the damn stuff is, but if Bella can’t use it she must want it for Snivellus and I really don’t want to be poisoned.”
”Right, now I’m confused. Why is my beloved cousin going to steal anything, why do you want it and more to the point how do you know if she hasn’t done it yet?” It took a lot to make Sirius lose his cool and admit confusion. Even as most of James’ mind crackled with energy, a corner noted that confidently predicting the future was just about enough. He gave a succinct description of what had happened during his detention, and then went on to explain how he ‘knew’ Slughorn was going to be robbed that night.
“She couldn’t do it tonight, see, because the Slug said he’d check the stores after I left. Today he’ll be in there doing whatever he does, but tonight he’ll be asleep then busy teaching for a few days and as he just checked he won’t bother doing it again for a while. What would you do, if we needed something from those stores?”
”Get Wormtail on it, of course. He can get in anywhere, can’t you, Pete?” Peter, who had been gazing at James with awestruck admiration, bounced back into the real world at the mention of his name..
”Yes, but Bella hasn’t got Wormtail, has she?” continued James. “Unless one of her friends can turn into a snake or something. No, I’d do what I just said. Even if she did get caught she’d blame me and the Slug would be happy to believe her. I’m not one of his precious influential Slytherins. No danger of me sending him pineapples.” As he said this, Peter looked uncharacteristically eager for him to shut up. The smaller boy was almost bursting with enthusiasm when Sirius waved to him to get on with it and say his piece.
“Er, wouldn’t this duel be a bit easier if we knew what Snivellus was going to do? His plans, when he’s going to cheat, who’s coming with him, what jinxes he’s practicing, that sort of thing? Only, I think I can find out.” Having unexpectedly volunteered this idea, Peter turned even paler, with an expression somewhere between apprehension and abject terror.
”How are you going to do that? Charm Trixie into telling you everything?” Sirius’ tone was dismissive; his opinion of the rumours about his cousin’s sex life had never been a secret. In fact, his final departure from 12 Grimmauld Place had been largely caused by a memorable put-down of one of Bella’s admirers. Well, perhaps telling him he’d not only have a better chance seducing a Quintaped but would be safer too [because the Quintaped had been human once] wasn’t the wisest thing to do. Especially in a carrying voice, in the Great Hall, during dinner, with Bella listening. Under threat of death [maybe she had liked the guy] Sirius had just happened to decide it was time to leave for good. The only way in which he allowed himself to needle her now was calling her ‘Trixie’, which she loathed and the rest of the school found quite horribly inappropriate. James smiled as he remembered their summer together, and then returned to the point at hand.
“I think Wormtail might just have a point. Are you a Marauder or not, Sirius? Sneaking around is supposed to be what we do, but any Slytherin would hex us on sight, Prongs might stand out a bit, sightings of the Grim in Slytherin would be fun but not exactly discreet and Moony has a couple of pretty major disadvantages, like trying to kill people.” James knew he was being a bit unfair, but was it too much to expect his best mate to stop being Sirius and be, well, serious about something?
”Oh yeah. Sorry, Wormtail. Are you sure it’s a good idea, though? Snivellus and Trixie would torture a rat as soon as look at it.”
”I’m not scared. You really think I’d let you down just because I might get caught? You weren’t’t worried about Sirius, were you?” Peter sounded insulted, as well as, for all his bravado, terrified. Sirius had the grace to look abashed. James grinned in delight. Having a cheering section was nice, but a friend was better. With Peter and Sirius behind him nothing could go too wrong.
”Thanks, Wormtail, good thinking. Where was I?”
“Demands. We’ve got ours. He leaves Evans alone, a formal apology and one bottle of Diana’s whatsit, assuming my dear cousin gets ‘round to stealing it, as Mr. Prongs confidently predicts. In the unlikely event that the greasy git manages to cheat undetectably and successfully, you buy him a new Potions kit and we all leave him alone for the rest of time. You fight him the next night Dumbledore’s away, over the other side of the lake at midnight. We still need to agree a referee and the Protocol. Oh, and figure out what to do if it all goes wrong.” Evidently, Padfoot could be sensible. Of course, James thought, he was the expert on all things Pureblood and insane, which summed up duelling quite well. Attacking Slytherins, dirty tricks and charging brick walls head-first also came naturally to him. Perhaps too naturally, now.
“What do you mean, ‘if it all goes wrong?’ I’m not going to cheat just to beat Snivellus. Gryffindor, Marauder, Potter, remember? Honest, noble, and all that. Jolly good show, may the best man win and who’s for pumpkin juice and hot scones?” James’ imitation of their disturbingly strait-laced room-mate was spot on and drew a high-pitched giggle from Peter. The undertone of concern was not lost on Sirius. James’ pride would not allow him to contemplate cheating against Snape.
“Don’t be daft; I know you’d flatten him in a fair fight. What if he decides to cheat first? You can’t trust a Slytherin with his back to the wall. We need Moony for that sort of thing; it can wait ‘til tomorrow. Wormtail’s info would be nice too. Where I’m stuck is referees. Who can possibly be neutral between us and Snape? It’s like being undecided whether you think all Muggle-borns should be Kissed, you’ve got the lunatics on one side and the rest of us on the other.”
”I reckon Moira Lees ought to be kissed, but I’d prefer to do it myself.” No, Peter still wasn’t too good at tact.
”Save it, Wormtail. This is really not the time. Sorry Pads, spoke too soon. You’re right. Parkinson would have done it, he never took sides in anything if he could help it, but he’s left. Sita would be better yet and nobody trusts her, but I don’t suppose we can ask anyone to come in from outside. No Slytherins. Snape won’t have any Gryffindors, who else is there?” James leapt up and began to pace, unable to sit still for another moment. Considering his luck lately, it was quite possible he’d be forced to back down because no neutrals could be found.
“Got it! What do you think of Dung? No more jokes, Wormtail.”
”Hates Snape. Dunno why, unless it’s because he’s competition for the Dirtiest Student award. Besides, he won’t know the rules and good luck teaching him.” James had never had much time for Mundungus Fletcher himself. There was a funny smell about him, and he had an annoying habit of borrowing other houses’ teaching brooms to practice his Keeper moves. True, Hufflepuff’s brooms were even ropier than Gryffindor’s, but that didn’t mean he could take other people’s.
“OK, then. Pevensie, Kosigan, Harrington, Stanger, Avery.” Sirius had an air of desperation as he listed possible names.
“Peter’s too much of a teacher’s pet, he’d turn us in. Cossie’s too Muggle, Snape would never have him. Harrington’s scary, hates all Gryffindors as bone-headed glory-hounds and I don’t trust anyone who likes History of Magic so much. Stanger’s what, a fourth-year? She’s your girlfriend, so she won’t do anyway. Avery, though. Which one? Our broomstick-up-the-arse mate or the Slytherin scumbag who thinks the sun shines out of his house’s backsides?” At the prospect of facing the horrible consequences of a Challenge without getting to fight James was growing positively murderous. He told himself that the guys were only trying to help and there was no need to bite off heads. It didn’t help.
“The broomstick one. He really believes all that kid stuff about never snitching, stainless honour and a fair fight. He’d love a duel and he’d rather shag Dung than allow any cheating. Snape knows that, and that Ben doesn’t like you too much.” Now that he had a Plan Sirius was perking up by the second. “If you don’t want him, you can always try Evans. Evidently Snape can tolerate her and he knows how much she loves you.” James blushed deeply with a mixture of embarrassment and fury. He might be annoyed with her, but he wouldn’t wish the referee’s job on her. The whole point had been to keep her away from Snape, not to put her in the middle of a duel. His brief attempt to calm himself failed miserably.
“NO! I am NOT having Lily anywhere near this. Avery’s going to have to do. Sirius, this is the sort of thing Seconds do. Who’s Snape going to choose, do you think? Rosie and Jim are the obvious ones.” To their surprise, Peter started humming something. “What are you doing, Wormtail?”
“Sorry. Muggle thing. Saw it on TV last holidays at my cousin’s. You can’t imagine how much they’d hate being called that if they knew.”
”No idea what you’re on about, mate. Any idea which one’s Second?” James didn’t expect Peter to answer; the question was directed at Sirius. Both were a little shocked to hear Peter speak up with absolute confidence.
“Wilkes. Snivellus and Rosier don’t trust each other at all nowadays. Something about a Potions kit.” James realised it wasn’t odd that Peter should be confident about something like this. He heard everything about people, and remembered it. Funny how they’d never thought to make use of that skill before.
“Ah yes. That was us, but nice to know he hasn’t figured that out yet. So, Padfoot, you go and see Jim Wilkes this afternoon and give him the terms, or throw some gloves at him, or whatever it is you do. Make sure you get them back though; they’re mine. Wormtail, I think tonight would be a good time to start the spying, so Padfoot and I can handle Moony for the night.” James wasn’t feeling a great deal better, but decided it wouldn’t be fair to make the others put up with his mood. “Oh, and I’lll go and see Remus. He ought to know what we’re up to and I need a crash course in not-quite-lethal duelling tactics. Yes, Padfoot, I know you’re a Black of sorts with huge experience of this stuff and a Dark library the size of a Quidditch pitch, but Moony would kick your arse in a duel and you can’t really use the library, can you?” Sirius looked a bit taken aback, then eager to disagree, but held his tongue. Grateful, James turned to leave. “See you all at lunch, OK? I’ve got to go and explain to McGonagall. Never mind Wormtail, I’ll survive. Talk fast enough and I might even get out of detention. Say it was a misdirected Banishing Charm on her shirt, maybe.”
James’ levity had the desired effect; Peter smiled and looked a little less pale, whilst Sirius grinned and winked. Although he felt far from calm inside, the discovery that he could fake it was heartening. Peter also jumped up, saying that he had History of Magic homework to do, which provoked gentle teasing from James and Sirius. Both were of the firm opinion that Professor Binns’ class was good only for devising pranks and had dropped it at the first opportunity. Sirius merely stretched and pulled out a piece of tattered parchment from his robes.
“Aren't you two forgetting something? We’re in a secret passage. Fortunately for you, Mr. Padfoot foresees all things and so can assure you there are no ghouls, ghosts, Professors or other nightmarish creatures out there. I’m off to Honeydukes. Bye.”
James almost asked him how he was going to avoid being recognised, then remembered Sirius’ genius for Glamour Charms. The slip shook him; if he was forgetting dodges that old he must be losing it. Snarling to himself that he was not going to crack up for anything concerning Snivellus, he hauled himself out of the Baba Yaga’s hump and strode off to face the world. More specifically, the wrath of Professor McGonagall, primed by her other favourite student.
A/N: Yes, I know it’s very dialogue-heavy. Sorry about that. I was really trying to get Sirius and James right in that chapter; did I do OK? Peter, strangely, didn’t seem too hard though I’ve never been able to write him at all in the past. ‘Rosie and Jim’ is a British kids’ cartoon and comic; it was on in the 70s and AFAIK is still going. You can learn a lot about Professor Thornabee if you look carefully at his name – think of the Sheriff of Nottingham. The idea of Bellatrix being nicknamed Trixie and hating it is Jeconais’, I think. Next chapter sees Wormtail reporting back and both sides devise a demonically complicated second strike. Also up soon is a short fic in this universe set at Malfoy’s wedding. It’s great fun to write, complete with enough skeletons to fill Paris Hilton’s closets, suitably Slytherin schemes from a disaffected Black or two, some very welcome [to us] wedding crashers and a ‘strange’-ly inappropriate competition.