Just Like Acid Pops by SugarQuills
Disclaimer: JKR's! 'Nuff said.
Three hundred kilometers away – at the exact same moment that the Muggle breathed his last – the tiny, wrought iron gate of an elegant cottage in Godric’s Hollow creaked open. There was a muffled thud as a large wooden luggage trunk whizzed by, barely avoiding crashing on the front porch.
“Shhh!” hissed a male voice, rough with sleep.
“Sorry!” a second one answered. “So much for inconspicuous.”
“That’s always been a lost cause with you.”
“Right. Look who’s talking. You really ought to put an Anti-Creaking Charm on that gate.”
“I doubt that even exists.”
“Where’s Remus when you need him?” the second said, amused. He pushed his long, shaggy black hair impatiently off his face, deep gray-blue eyes searching the darkness for his friend.
The first boy moved into the glow of the streetlamp, grinning from ear to ear. He, too, had black hair, but his was wild, disorderly, and unmanageable. His honey-colored eyes were framed with round glasses that flashed under the light.
They sauntered forward, clapping each other on the back and embracing like long-lost brothers.
“Planning to keep me out here all night, Prongs? I see how it is,” Sirius said. James laughed, and they broke apart with identical grins.
“How’s your mum?” Sirius asked as they loped with a comfortable, easy grace to the front door.
“Alright. Been spending an awful lot of time with Mrs. Vance discussing gardening. Merlin knows why she wants to start all that. She’ll be right surprised to see you here.”
“Your mum loves me, Prongs.” Sirius said as he followed James through the door and let it slam shut behind him.
“Don’t reckon she’ll love you much if you wake her up with all that noise. C’mon.”
They crossed the entryway and continued down the hall, past the kitchen, the dining room, and into the living room towards a wide staircase.
“Wingardium leviosa,” James whispered, pointing his wand at the trunk and floating it up the stairs through an open door at the end of the upstairs hall. The two boys climbed up after it, and at the landing, James stopped abruptly. “Hang on,” he said. He turned the handle to the first door on the left, the master bedroom where his parents still lay sound asleep. “You’re lucky they’re so deaf,” he whispered, scowling jokingly at Sirius, who shrugged. “But just for good measure…” James pointed his wand at each of his parents in turn, quietly muttering, “Muffliato.”
Sirius raised a quizzical eyebrow at him as they backed out, shutting the door quietly and continuing down the hall to James’s room.
“That’s a new one,” he remarked, referring to the spell. James answered with a mischievous smile, which Sirius promptly returned when he understood. “One of Snape’s inventions?” he guessed.
“We owe him a lot, that git,” James replied.
He grimaced as they entered his room. It was of modest size, painted emerald green, and had a large window on the farthest right wall under a low, slanted ceiling. The curtains fluttered in the chilly night air; James had left the window open in anticipation of Sirius’s arrival. (It looked out on the front yard, where the creaking gate was still ajar.)
Consistent with his unkempt hair, James's bedroom was a mess. It had an air of carelessness to it, as if he just couldn't be bothered to return things to their proper places. All the drawers of the dresser on the opposite wall were left open a few inches, each only half full. Most of the clothes – jeans, socks, boxers, t-shirts – lay in crumpled piles all over the wooden floor. There was a small desk cluttered with torn, ink-stained parchment. The wall adjacent to it sported a medium-sized, ebony bookshelf, from which spellbooks threatened to tumble out of whatever sliver of space they’d been shoved into. The off-white sheets of the bed were unmade, and the walls were cluttered with moving posters of Puddlemere United. It seemed almost unfit to live in, but James managed.
Sirius didn’t seem to mind the mess (his own room rivaled James’s) but he wrinkled his nose at the bookshelf.
“Turning into Alice Jones, are you?” He asked, snickering. Alice Jones was a fellow Gryffindor in their year, famous for being the most overachieving girl at school.
“Only because you lot made me keep all of them after our…erm…escapades.”
“Did we really use that many books? I know the Transfiguration was a bit advanced, but that’s half the library!” Sirius said incredulously.
James looked rather pleased. “I know. We stole all those without that bird-banshee even noticing.”
“What can I say?” Sirius said, flipping his hair dramatically. “Pince just loses herself in my charm.”
“Or in Filch’s,” James snorted.
"Speaking of Filch, his cat looked rather peaky last I checked,” Sirius said, mockingly somber.
“As good citizens, we really ought to kick it out of her,” James agreed. “He’ll thank us one day.”
“We truly are quite the gift to society.”
“Never ceases to amaze me,” James replied, grinning. He pulled out his wand and waved it a few times, conjuring a makeshift bed across from his own. It looked a bit old and hard, and the sheets felt thin and rough, so James brandished his wand again and summoned a tattered, lopsided quilt. He glanced apologetically at Sirius. “Best I could do, mate.”
“’Spose we ought to wait till your mum finds out I’m here.” Sirius replied, snickering at the mess in front of him. “She’s a whole lot better at all this household stuff than you are.”
It was impossible to miss the appreciation in his smile as he mentioned Mrs. Potter – warmth he never expressed for his own mother.
* * *
The next morning, James woke up at a ghastly hour: nine o’clock. Nine o’clock in the morning. On a Sunday. A holy day. He proceeded to spend the next five minutes glaring at his ceiling, as if admonishing it for waking him. Realizing then that it was probably the fault of whatever bird was chirping noisily near the still open window, he turned instead to glower at its nest in the birch tree in the front yard.
He gave a little start upon discovering the sprawled out form of his best friend, drooling gracefully a few feet away. Why was he still sleeping? James felt around for his glasses and wand on the closed trunk that he was using as a bedside table. Finally finding both, he levitated crumpled parchment pieces from his desk to throw at Sirius, repeatedly tapping his head. When it became quite obvious that Sirius’s skull was far too thick to recognize such motions, James set his sights on an old Transfiguration textbook. He hovered it high above Sirius’s head, then let it crash down with a loud smack.
“Bloody hell!” Sirius cried, sitting up and looking around wildly. Finally spotting James through tiredness, he scowled. “And I was expecting Voldemort.”
James rolled his eyes. “Get up. I’m hungry.”
Muttering under his breath about “abusive mates”, Sirius stretched and rolled grumpily out of bed. Two minutes later, they entered the kitchen to the smell of sizzling sausages and buttered toast. James's stomach growled loudly.
“James, darling, you’re up!”
His mother emerged from a nook near the stove, a flowery apron covering her purple robes, her head free of the black witch’s hat that normally covered her graying curls. She smiled cheerily at James, who let out a startled cry as she whizzed past him and engulfed Sirius in a fierce, motherly hug. The two boys blinked confusedly at each other over her head. She finally broke away and held him at arm’s length.
“You’ve grown so much,” she said fondly. “An inch taller than James now, are you?”
“Thanks so much, Mum,” James remarked dryly from behind her.
“Oh hush. Daniel’s just gone to get the paper. He’ll be quite pleased to see you.”
James had been slightly apprehensive about his mother’s reaction to Sirius’s arrival. He wasn’t sure if she would contently harbor a fugitive of sorts, but it was, after all, Sirius, and he’d always been part of the family.
“You’re hungry, of course,” Mrs. Potter continued. “All that growing’s left you rather peaky. I’ve got sausages in the pan, and the eggs are already on the table.”
Mrs. Potter led them to the dining room through a doorway on the other side of the kitchen. It was a warm room, painted a light orange, with a six-person mahogany table in the center and two glass showcases displaying the Potters’ finest china. A chandelier hung low from the ceiling, its teardrop crystals throwing rainbows on the wall as sunlight poured through the windows.
All this, James never found interesting. What did catch his eye were the four plates lying on the table. Four, not three, places set for breakfast. Which meant…
“You knew?” James asked incredulously, turning to his mother.
Mrs. Potter returned his gaze with a grin so like the one almost permanently affixed to his own face that he did a double take.
“I’m not as old as you think, you know,” she said.
“I don’t think you’re old, Mum, just-”
“The gate is rather loud, dear. Not that it matters,” she said, addressing Sirius now. “You’re always welcome here. Merlin knows you need a real mother once in a while.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Potter,” Sirius replied, slightly embarrassed by the affection, but no doubt agreeing with her.
“Well, eat, will you? And mind you, don’t give any to Prince Howard. He’s terribly allergic.”
At the mention of his name, the Potters’ white Irish Wolfhound trotted into the room, his odd green eyes searching the trio curiously. He lifted his nose, hopeful to catch a whiff of meat, but was instead met with another, far more interesting scent. Suddenly excited, he bounded over to Sirius, rattling the chandelier with his heavy paws, and began licking him fervently.
Sirius laughed and patted Prince’s head affectionately.
“How’ve you been, old boy?”
James snorted. “Sirius Black charmed by a dog…oh, the irony.”
Mrs. Potter missed Sirius’s answering smirk as she firmly tugged Prince Howard away and unlocked the sliding glass door that led to her vegetable garden in the backyard.
“Breakfast is on the patio, Prince,” Mrs. Potter said, sliding the door open.
Prince obediently made for the bushel-sized bowl that stood near an array of bright flowers. With a wag of his tail, he began sloppily attacking his meal. Mrs. Potter stared worriedly after him.
“He’s gotten so big he doesn’t know what to do with himself. Poor dear,” she said.
The words had barely left her mouth before they heard a crash, the tinkling of glass, and frantic barking. They peaked outside in shock, only to find the wolfhound covered in dirt, a broken glass vase at his feet and a few white petals clinging to his fur.
Mrs. Potter let out a furious shriek. “Prince Howard, you devil!”
“Looks like your anti-gnome daisies, Mum,” he said sadly, already feeling sorry for Prince, who'd just managed to ruin his mum’s favorite exotic flower.
Mrs. Potter stormed out the kitchen and onto the patio with her wand brandished, her shrill scolding painfully audible. Prince whimpered abashedly as she shot a strong jet of water at him to clean the dirt off. Sirius gaped after her.
“And here I thought she was sweet and good-natured,” he joked.
Despite his continuous jesting remarks and accompanying grins, James discerned the underlying weariness, loneliness, and bitterness etched into his friend’s face. Sirius glanced up and noticed James’s critical stare. His grin faded and for once, for just a fleeting moment, he didn’t bother keeping up any pretenses to conceal his pain.
* * *
The streets of London, glittering with light and life, wound themselves into a tangled mass as they led away from the city, morphing into narrow alleys lined with shoddy townhouses. With front yards barely four square feet, framed by concrete sidewalks and scraggly stone steps, the houses were dull and lifeless. Number 3181, Autumn Way was identical to its neighbors, distinguishable only by the scarlet and gold fabric tied permanently above the door. Through this door and up a few creaky stairs, Peter Pettigrew escaped to his bedroom, crawling under the sheets and praying for sleep. His eyes were just closing when the front door flew open with a loud clang. A yellowish cat streaked out from under the bed, meowing indignantly.
Peter cringed and pressed himself closer to his mattress, breathing slowly in a fruitless attempt to calm himself. Heavy footsteps thudded around the dingy ground floor, stopping near the kitchen.
“Where are you, y’ lazy squib?” bellowed a man’s voice.
Peter swallowed. The footsteps resumed, nearing his room. A minute later, Mr. Pettigrew appeared in the doorway, still clad in his blue working robes.
He had wispy blond hair and watery blue eyes quite like his son’s. His weight gathered heavily around his midsection, giving him the appearance of an unemployed drunkard, a manner that had carried into his speech after years of living among riffraff.
He was not, however, actually unemployed. In fact, he could quite truthfully boast about working for the Ministry of Magic, a “mos’ noble profession fer a Gryffindor loyal to servin’ wizard kind,” as he enjoyed telling company. What he did like to keep more hushed up was his position as a Magical Maintenance worker. It was grueling work, really, running around the Ministry, checking the Atrium fireplaces for enough Floo powder, repairing the lifts, vanishing the owl droppings (as this was before the invention of Interdepartmental memos), and monitoring the enchanted windows. Nevertheless, he showed true dedication to his job and was duly rewarded when one day the Minister of Magic, Mr. Nobby Leach Jr., called at his home, looking around at the unimpressive surroundings and saying with all the proper disdain of a true leader, “Mr. Pettergrow, I am, er, pleased to inform you that in light of Mr. Alfred Notterbum’s recent retirement, you have been, er, promoted…to Head of the Magical Maintenance Squad…congratulations?”
Mr. Pettigrew now earned three galleons more per year. He was still, however, unsatisfied (despite his grand estate and favorable living conditions), so like any father, he pushed his son to live a life better than his. He stood now in Peter’s doorway, arms crossed angrily in front of him as he glared at his son.
“What’ve you been doing all day, eh, you lazy mutt?”
“I’ve…I’ve been…been helping…” came the feeble stutter of a reply.
“Been helpin’, have y’?”
“Been helping Grandmum.”
“Been helpin’ yer grandmum?” his father cried, torn between incredulity and fury. “Yer Grandmum? How many times do I gotta tell y’ the old bat’s gunna die any day now? Yer wastin’ yer time with her, boy. Help summun who’ll help you.”
“She needed me,” Peter insisted defensively.
“Oh pish posh,” Mr. Pettigrew scoffed. “Loads o’ people’re gunna need y’. Y’ gotta know which ones to help. Y’ wanna end up here, boy?” Mr. Pettigrew gestured around. “Y’ wanna live like a pig the rest o’ yer life? Naw, yer a Gryffindor. Y’ gotta make sumthun ov yerself an’ make yer house proud, y’ hear? There’ll be no wastin’ time under my roof. Y’ keep on like this and yer gunna end up a filthy squib, beggin’ like a Muggle on the streets.” He stood and made for the door, pausing to throw a last warning glance at Peter. “Y’ help the people who’re gunna help y’ win, son.”
* * *
Remus Lupin woke with a start, sweat beaded on his forehead and matted through his hair, thoughts of red eyes and lipless sneers quickening his heartbeat, wild growls still ringing in his ears. He moved quietly to his feet, shaking as he walked to the kitchen, careful not to wake his parents. He grasped the counter, hastily lighting his wand as he searched for a glass.
He drank hungrily, letting the water drain his fears. Momentarily relieved, he made for the stairs, anxious to get as much rest as possible before the full moon just days away. As he scrambled back into his bed, a small photo frame clattered to floor from his bedside table. Praying the noise went unheard, he reached for it and placed it back on the nightstand, purposely avoiding the faces grinning at him from behind the glass.
They were faces he’d cringed at frequently: four boys, arms around each other, healthy, carefree, and lively. Though figures of friendship, happiness, and inclusion to Remus, they also reminded him of every way he was different. They were the three whose lives he’d endangered just by association, the three whose fate he feared for more than his own.
Remus fell asleep with thoughts of battle and despair, the war feeling more real to him with every passing moment. The Marauders, he realized, must fight, too.
* * *
They would fight, and one by one, they would fall – fall, perhaps, for a greater good. The Marauders were marked from the beginning, destined for greatness and consequently for tragedy. Their tale is bittersweet, wrought with passion, love, sorrow, and betrayal. Their happy ending lay not in their own stories, but in the future they created, the future that saw the demise of the Dark Lord. But before the world claimed their laughter, the Marauders were just four teenage boys – the kings of their time and symbols of power, intelligence, rebellion, and, above all, brotherhood.
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