Chapter 15: Song of the Jobberknoll
Saffron sunlight trickled gently through the tower window onto the stone floor. Five four poster beds neatly circumscribed the Gryffindor boys' dormitory; two remained empty and lifeless. Liquid dawn smeared over Sirius, who pulled a black felt hat over his face in retaliation. James, Sirius, and Peter were the sole occupants of the room over the holiday, which resulted in boisterous nights and groggy mornings. A frosty chill ebbed at their blankets, remnants of yesterday's blizzard. Peter was the first to brave the icy floor. Aptly prepared, he dressed his feet in wooly red socks and hobbled out of bed toward the lavatory. Sensing movement, James rolled over and pointed at the skittish boy.
"Be a chap and stoke the stove, will you Petey?" His hand returned to the comfortable warmth of the blanket. Inconvenienced by the simple task, Peter grumbled. He grabbed his wand from a lopsided nightstand. Sirius's muffled voice stirred from under his hat. With great difficulty, James uncovered his mouth to address his awakening friend. "What's that you said Sirius?"
Tilting his head to become more audible, Sirius responded, "Don't call him Petey. It's sickeningly sweet to hear endearments so early in the morning." Peter lit the central stove with his wand and the temperature of the room rose by a degree.
"Do you mind being called Petey?" James turned toward the retreating boy.
"No. That's alright." To adjust his bladder, Peter waddled from side to side.
Once Peter was dismissed from the conversation, he hurried off to relieve the pressure. A powerful stretch encouraged Sirius to sit up and take in the morning crispness. He repositioned his headpiece, crawled out of bed, and looked out the window. James, on the other hand, resisted the idea of leaving his sanctuary. With sleepy eyes, Sirius noted the snowcapped trees of the distant and sinister Forbidden Forest.
"Last night was entertaining." Peter commented as he returned to the silent room. Reference to the previous night's sabotage stirred emotion. The mood lightened and James emerged from his cocoon.
"That's right! The Fungiface Potion!" James threw his hands into the air with excitement and conviction. "I can't wait to see their snotty faces blistering with mushrooms."
The three howled in wily merriment, as imagination animated visions of Slytherins becoming aware of their mildewed affliction. James brought a mask to his face and mimicked a moaning Regulus, as Sirius named off the different types of fungi they had learned in Herbology over the weeks.
"I have to say though. That party was brilliant." Sirius admitted after having a good laugh.
"Oh, sure." James agreed sarcastically. "It was a great time. While Peter and I tried to keep a low profile, you peacocked your dance moves in the center of the room with girls hanging off your elbow."
"Just one." He corrected the statistic.
"Suave bastard." Peter grunted. In genuine support of the insult, James nodded.
The taunting rolled off Sirius, unable to cling to his conscience. Blending in with the revelry and celebrating with the enemy gave him a sense of superiority. Behind the sheep's mask was a wolf. There was, however, a moment of uncertainty. The shepherd, Regulus, had come too close for Sirius to feel comfortable amongst his frolicking prey. He refused to dwell on his weaknesses and quickly changed the subject.
"I have a secret to share with you two."
"Will I have to request a room change?" James joked. Sirius threw an old candle stub at his friend, who ducked reflexively.
"You're a cheeky bugger in the morning." The room fell silent with anticipation and Sirius continued his suspenseful confession. "Remember the day you groped Lily in Defense? The day with all the smoke?"
"How can I forget that? My eye is still tender."
Pretending to occupy himself with making his bed, Peter chuckled to himself remembering the incident. Sirius waved away the details. "I pinched something from Greer's old briefcase before I ditched it behind a suit of armor." James was instantly fascinated, but Peter looked a bit sick. Stealing from Professor Greer caused the boy to feel queasy and flustered.
"What do you have?" His partner in crime beamed. The curiosity in the room fizzed uncontrollably.
In a quick motion, Sirius pulled out a meager timbered box from the rear of his wardrobe. Facetiously and with dramatic pause, he held the lid closed. His audience's attention abating, Sirius reached into the box and extracted a fragile horseshoe-shaped bone. He handed it over to James, who meticulously examined the artifact.
"What is it exactly?"
Proudly, the Gryffindor continued his devious anecdote for the entertainment of his peers. "Who knows? Some sort of animal bone I wager. Greer probably doesn't even realize it's gone missing. But to be sure, I put an anti-summoning charm on it. The old codger won't ever find it on me, I'll tell you that much." James tossed it back to him and Sirius returned his trophy to its case. The brittle bone was effortlessly camouflaged between thumbscrews and the other pilfered objects.
"I don't know about collecting bones, mate. Dead stuff freaks me out. But it's all in good sport, so congratulations on your mischief." After a short pauses, James scratched his armpit and stretched. "Breakfast, anyone?" Before the cold could sting him, he pulled a sweater over his head. Naturally, his hair became tussled.
Freedom for Jezebel was nonexistent. Imprisoned in her cage under a permanent sentence, the white bird was subjected to Taylor's constant verbal abuse and distressed pleas. Beak pressed through the bars, Jezebel spent her incarceration practically muted. She only braved the occasional husky caw. Pray as Taylor might, however, the stone remained in the caverns of the raven's belly. To ease her mind from the situation, the exasperated first year wrote a detailed letter to Lily. As the writer spewed the description of her adventures out onto paper, she gradually realized the abnormality of her words. For those unaccustomed to magic, her entry was an elaborate work of fiction. She was Mina Harker from Dracula or Oliver from Oliver Twist.
In order to protect her friend, the Slytherin omitted Regulus's proclamation against muggleborns. Instead, Taylor vaguely mentioned the argument with Fionn, which culminated into her dramatic exit and the eventual dog attack. Eager to escape Jezebel's gaze and the confines of the empty dormitory, Taylor visited the owlry to send out Lily's letter with befitting promptness.
Like the flight of her messenger owl, Christmas swiftly landed after only a few days of patience. Despite the recent mishaps at the Winter Solstice party and her digesting opal, Taylor felt cheery on Christmas morning. On her way to the Great Hall for a traditional breakfast, she observed the freshly cut pine garland and red holly bushels which decorated the Slytherin common room. Silver candles blazed merrily in between the natural decor. A tall evergreen sprouted from the stone, near the exit of the room. Tame, argent snakes lay lazily across the branches, like sparkling tinsel. They flicked their tongues at passersbys brave enough to whisk away their gifts. Not expecting to have any gifts under the tree with her name on it, Taylor quickly sidestepped the spruce to claim her plate of bacon, poached eggs, fried tomatoes, toast with butter, bangers, and baked beans. A mug of earl grey tea helped to wash down the hearty meal.
After a midmorning walk of the grounds, Taylor returned to the Slytherin common room to look over her History of Magic notes. Fionn sat on a couch, surrounded by an unwrapped bounty. A few days and a drop of dittany had healed him entirely.
"Happy Christmas." Notwithstanding of his haggard appearance, he made an effort to appear jovial. Around his neck, he sported a new black and green scarf. Taylor responded with warm wishes and moved toward the girls' stairwell. Fionn called out to her disappearing form. "Did you open everything already?"
"I didn't really even look to see if I had anything." Taylor turned to face him and shrugged.
"Were a hermit prior to Hogwarts?" His comment insensitively jabbed her spirits. "Well you have at least one over there. Grab it and sit down, would you? I feel gawky all by myself."
Abashed by his observational skills, she moved toward the tree. The serpents squirmed as Taylor drew near, but they remained pleasantly silent. I have a present? From who? Taylor squatted to examine the pile of multicolored boxes strapped with ribbon. After a moment of searching, she discovered four boxes with her name scrawled across the wrapping paper. With new fervor, Taylor picked them up and sat down next to Fionn, who cleared away the remnants of his destruction. The first box was from Lily, shrouded in a conspicuous silver tissue paper. I should have known Lily would have gone through the trouble of sending something. Guilt smothered the feeling of excitement. She had neglected to send her friend a gift for the her irresponsibility, Taylor ripped into the gift. Beyond the wrapping and cardboard exterior was an expensive quill and ink set. I'll use this for my first exam. Fionn leaned back in his seat and played with the tassels of his scarf.
To her astonishment, a package from Remus was next in the sequence. Tearing away the tacky Christmas patterned gift wrap, she exposed the dark red cover of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy. The cover of the book, though worn with age, propelled tears to her eyes. Taylor flipped through the pages, launching a folded note to fall to her feet.
"Are you crying?" Fionn held his witty tongue, for fear of insulting her honor.
"No." Taylor lied quickly. Picking up the note, she unfolded it, and scanned Remus's handwriting.
Taylor— I meant to suggest this to you sooner. It will suit your love of history. Happy holiday. –Remus
The note was placed carefully into the classic, which Taylor stacked atop Lily's quill set. I need to send Remus a book that he'll love. She looked down at a box from her adopted parents. Disappointed that they could not spend the holiday season together, Mr. and Mrs. Lupin opted to share their love and familial offerings from a distance. The Lupins sent warm emerald sweaters, along with an enchanted bookmark. The placeholder emitted enough light to read in the dark without straining one's eyes. Taylor slipped the bookmark into The Divine Comedy, and shifted the articles of clothing to her side.
In cursive, her namesake held an elegant air. The final box was neatly wrapped in green paper, with silver and black ribbed. Taylor searched for the sender, and hesitated when she ascertained Fionn's signature in the bottom right corner.
"Blasted, Fionn. This is how you knew for me to look under the tree." Obnoxiously, she tried to place the box in his lap. "I can't accept this! I didn't get you anything."
"I have plenty." Defensively standing up, Fionn gestured at the pile of dragon memorabilia, books, and sweets. "Open it." After a bit more urging, Taylor unwrapped the gift with restraint. She lifted the lid of the cardboard box and peered in curiously. A pair of cinnamon brown gloves nestled neatly next to each other amidst white tissue paper.
Amazed by their beauty, Taylor pulled them from their display. "They are beautiful."
"Griffin skin gloves." Fionn stated. "Elegancy seems to suit you, but you don't seem to have very many choices in your wardrobe." Speechless, she did not take the minor insult to heart. Her fingers slid into the gloves, and radiating warmth tickled her body. Griffins have the front legs, wings and head of an eagle, but the body, hind legs, and tail of a lion. I never thought they actually existed.
"I'd hug you but—"
"I'd rather not." Fionn coughed stiffly. "A simple thank you will suffice." The girl smiled at her mechanical classmate.
Looking at her small pile, Taylor felt loved. She stewed up ways to give back to her friends during the semester, and secretly promised to write to the Lupins on a regular basis.
The school semester began again after a concise celebration of the New Year. Classes inconveniently started on a Tuesday, which meant Lily and Taylor would only have lunch to catch up on the latest gossip. Similarly, Remus returned to Hogwarts in high spirits, but was only able to greet his sister when they passed in the halls. Although the lack of initial communication was frustrating, the challenge of new material excited Taylor's thoughts away from the past two weeks.
During her first Astronomy class of the New Year, Taylor utilized her new griffin skin gloves. The pelt was soft and instantly warm upon contact, which gave her an advantage in the cold wind. She was able to hold the lens steady and point out the constellations, while others complained about their freezing digits.
Escorted by a prefect, Taylor walked back from Astronomy with a group of chatty Slytherins. Concentrating on his notebook, Fionn was quiet. Her friend's silence gave Taylor little reason to join in the others' conversation. Instead, she followed in silence.
In her peripheral vision, Taylor noticed the ghostly silhouette of a dog. The hairs on her neck prickled and her hand flew to her wand. With a flick of its forked tail, the animal dissolved into the darkness of a side corridor. No one else noticed the animal's infrequent appearance. Its haunting presence lingered with the Taylor for the remainder of the journey, until they were finally safe inside the Slytherin common room.
Impatiently, Taylor waited for Lily to enter the Great Hall the next morning. The enticing waft of bacon and eggs could not distract her from the gnawing anxiety brewing in her skull. These hounds cannot be part of Hogwarts. Something about this situation is wrong. She could not even bring herself to sit down at a table. After several antagonizing minutes, Lily entered the hall balancing her books like a circus performer. The Slytherin girl gave her friend a hand and followed her to the Gryffindor table.
"I need an extra pair of eyes to find a book on ghostly dogs." Taylor began.
"I am sure there is a spell for that extra eye business." Lily selected a crisp red apple from a batch, proud of herself for the witty reply.
Exasperated, Taylor ran a hand through her hair. "I am serious, Lily. Will you help me?" Seeing the gravity of situation, Lily reached over the table to extend a caring gesture.
"Of course I'll help. Are we researching the ghostly dogs that attacked you and Fionn?" When Taylor nodded, Lily continued alarmed. "Have you seen them again? Maybe we should get the headmaster or a professor involved."
Taylor quickly scrapped the idea. If I tell a teacher, I will have to admit at one point I was out after curfew.I don't want to risk expulsion or suspension in my first year. "We can go to the library after our classes end."
The pair momentarily split up for classes, but reconvened in Defense Against the Dark Arts. When Taylor entered the room, she saw Lily talking to Severus. Severus escorted Lily home for the holiday, where they evidently spent time catching up. A roar of laughter erupted from across the room as a pink rat skittered out the exit. Taylor felt a twinge of irritation at the sound of Sirius's cockily droll. Ignoring the antics, she took her usual seat. Stacking her books at the farthest most corner of the table, Lily joined Taylor.
Several minutes late, Professor Greer entered the classroom. Sweat beads rolled from his forehead onto the floor. His demeanor was angrier than usual. He waved his wand and all of the students' books flew off their desks into the windowless side wall. With a heavy breath, he patted down his hair and wiped away his perspiration.
"Today, we will be taking an exam." A few students groaned, but were silenced by Professor Greer's insane roar. "Oh, don't you worry! It will be simple and painless almost for the majority of you. Take out some parchment."
The class obeyed. Taylor grabbed her new quill from her knapsack and placed it on the desk.
"Don't bother Ms. Lupin. For this test, everyone will be using the quills and ink I provide." Quiet and fearful, Taylor dropped her writing utensil back into the confines of her bag and looked at Lily who was pale under the man's rage.
Eyeing the slow progress, Professor Greer ambled up and down the aisles. Without a sound, he supplied each student with a blue flight feather and black ink. Sirius examined the quill, expecting a trick.
"I want everyone to write a single sentence describing what a gnome is. First week material, so everyone should be comfortable with the subject." Professor Greer leaned on his desk.
"That's it?" A bold Slytherin asked.
"What if we don't know the answer to the question?" James queried, feigning stupidity. The instructor's eyes flashed red at James's question. Taylor, alarmed by his irises' frequent color change, analyzed the man at the front of the classroom.
"If your mind is so fragile that it cannot comprehend the simplicity of this question, Mr. Potter, I will allow you to write down your name or your favorite color. But you will turn something in."
Fear descended over the class, but no one dared to challenge Professor Greer with a blank sheet of parchment. Each student touched their quill to paper and wrote a single sentence about gnomes. Gnomes live in burrows underground, known as gnomeholes. Taylor could not fathom the horror in writing a single sentence. As she curved the first S, blood dripped from the pen all over her hand. Globs of the slimy liquid poured onto the paper and desk. Mortified by the travesty, Taylor tried to wipe the blood away, but it poured from an invisible wound. This is a nightmare.
Alarmed by the mess, Lily shrieked. "Taylor!"
Sirius and James behind her both yelped in unison as the vital fluid poured from their hands and quills, soaking their wizarding robes. Professor Greer, who made no motion to ease their suffering, waited for the class to finish before he settled on his targets.
"You three will see me after class."
It was not a request. Professor Greer disposed of the mock exams and proceeded to give his lecture. Taylor's heart raced and Lily tried to calm her down. What did I do? What is going to happen when everyone leaves? Can I run fast enough to make it to Slughorn's office without Greer blasting me to the underworld?Behind her, James and Sirius complained about Greer's tendency for drama and over exaggeration.
Professor Greer's final word lingered long enough to give Taylor a false hope that class would never end. As students left the classroom, reality sobered her dreams. Fionn was the last to exit. Closing the door, his apprehensive eyes connected with Taylor's.
"Let's make this quick, right? I need to get some lunch before—" Sirius was silenced, when Professor Greer pointed his wand at him menacingly.
The room darkened as the instructor sat down at his desk to look over the quills. "I am not surprised to see the two of your in front of me." He motioned to Sirius and James. Taylor heard the door lock. "My shock stems from seeing Ms. Lupin with you. My opinion of you wasn't high, but now I think significantly less of you." Hurt by both his words and stare, Taylor looked at the ground. Professor Greer paused before he continued with his lecture. "This quill comes from a small, blue speckled bird which never makes a noise until the moment before it dies. In this moment of death, however, it lets out a long scream, consisting of every sound it has ever heard backwards. Are any of you familiar with the Jobberknoll?"
Dead-air suffocated all forms of intellectual response. The inquisition progressed unhindered.
"You see, Jobberknoll feathers are used in a variety of Truth Serums and Memory Potions. Practitioners of defense, however, can enchant the elegant plumes to stain the hands of thieves, liars, or murderers with blood. I narrowed the spell to detect any thief who has committed a crime within the last three months. If you haven't come to a conclusion yet, I will be blunt. One of you has something of mine and I want it back."
I never stole anything from Professor Greer. Taylor wracked her mind for potential scenarios. Any excuse to dismiss her from the interrogation. I am not a thief. Stealing makes me feel guilty, so why would I… The solution blossomed in her mind like spring flowers. I took ingredients from the potions cabinet to help Jezebel. The Essence of Dittany and the Flobberworms are on my hands, not Greer's missing item. Relief was within grasp. The Slytherin opened her mouth to prove her innocence, but Sirius cut her off.
"That spell proves nothing. I could have easily stolen something from a friend. You've been trying to peg James and me for weeks for any old crime."
Professor Greer's lip twitched. Taylor piped up. "Sir, I assure you. I am not connected—"
"Apparently, this will be harder than I expected." Professor Greer imitated concern. He fiendishly dotted a piece of parchment by stabbing the Jabberknoll quill through the paper. "Until my items are returned, all three of you will have detention. Indefinitely. If that isn't enough to put a damper on your chaotic spirits, your Quidditch privileges are revoked for the remainder of the year."
Outraged by the punishment, James clenched his fists. "You can't forbid us from watching the game!"
"I can, Mr. Potter, and I have. I'll also file your names to the headmaster for eventual suspension, if my items are not returned by the end of January." The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor waved his wand and the classroom door unlocked. "You are all dismissed. I expect to see you as soon as your classes are over."
The three chastised students filed out the door, which closed behind them with a snap. As soon as class is over? I won't be able to research the ghosts with Lily later. Professor Greer has to be told that I am innocent. Pangs of hatred boiled beneath her epidermis for the criminals in her company. Taylor rounded on Sirius and James, who were calmly debriefing their situation.
"I hope this doesn't stain—"
"Whatever you stole from that man, I suggest you return it." Intrigued he raised an eyebrow at her. "I am not going down with you, just because you thrive on illicit activity."
Holding back his sauciest vocabulary, Sirius leaned in close to reprimand her. "Don't act so innocent, Salazar. Your red hands are obvious. Whether you took part in my crime or your own, you're paying the price for it. That has nothing to do with me."
"I didn't steal anything from Professor Greer." Taylor insisted.
"You stole something from somebody." James snorted.
Unable to argue, Taylor turned away from their accusations and hurried to find Lily for lunch. I got caught for a crime I did not commit, by a man who seems capable of murder. Embarrassedly, she recounted the situation to her friend and admitted to stealing from the Potions cabinet. Lily assured her that the situation would blow over, once the miscreants rationalized their legal position and return the stolen article. Sirius and James don't seem too rational to me. Much to Taylor's relief, however, Lily promised to research the hounds and report her findings at breakfast.