Finally, the last chapter to VIRUS. Sorry it took so long. I've been very busy, and there was a lot I had to tell, so it's a mighty big final chapter. Again, thanks so much for all your reviews! I might have pulled it off without them, but it would have gone soooo much slower, so thanks a lot! Zetta, I got sick and tired of Gryffindor always winning at Quidditch. Let them win with Harry. With James, they can lose once in a while. Sorry, but this really is the last chapter : ) Lunard---bingo! There's another article in this part, and it's boring, but I had to put it in…thanks, you too, for your many reviews! Just wait for the sequel. Lisande, you're just in time to have to wait for the final chapter! : ) Thanks for reviewing and your sweet words. I wish I really were, then I'd have thought up this scene and these characters… I fear lots of evil women like to torture the boys. I'm one. You, obviously are one too! Grin. Go evil women! attempts to shake Sakura Blossom from legs I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'll write a sequel! I'll explain about the tag and make Remus suffer more, okay? : ) You too, thanks for reviewing! Okay, I'm not going to react to MorganD here, because I already sent her an email and the chapter would become six pages longer. Everyone I haven't thanked by name, don't feel left out, please. I read all your reviews (it's almost an addiction, really) and appreciated all of them! Here is the final chapter:
35. Souls and Mirrors; the end.
Even though he had gone to bed late, due to the comfort-booze-up after the Quidditch fiasco the previous day, Sirius Black woke up long before James's Quidditch clock would have struck a quarter past seven. At first he didn't know why he had woken, lay blinking sleepily in the darkness, but then he thought he heard something and peeked through the slit between his bed curtains. It took some time until his eyes decided to focus, but what he saw then made him smile. A small figure stood on tip-toe near Remus's bed, a roll of paper beneath one arm, long nose thrust between the boy's curtains, simply observing him and pulling his bedspread straight. A house elf. Libby, to be exact.
Figures, Sirius thought affectionately. Leave it to Remus to find a house elf to look after him. He did wonder what Libby was doing here, but a hint of an idea crept into his mind as the elf left Remus after a final pat, turning to Sirius. His huge green eyes reflected what little light there was back like torches. In that light, Sirius froze like a rabbit—or a discovered Marauder, and Libby froze with him.
"S-Sirius Black is awake!" the elf squeaked. He sank to his knees. "Please forgive Libby! He didn't mean to wake you!"
"Sssh!" Sirius hissed. "Keep it down! You didn't wake me."(a small lie for Libby's peace of mind) "I was awake already."
Libby was still tear-eyed. Sirius sighed.
"It's my birthday today."
The tears miraculously dried, and a huge banana-grin split the creature's gnarled face.
"Your birthday?" Sirius tried to keep from wincing. Libby looked as bad smiling as Dorkham did.
"Yeah, my birthday. I'm seventeen now."
"Shall Libby bake you a cake? Especially for Sirius Black? For your birthday?—oh, Libby almost forgot. Great Wizard wants you to have this." He held out the roll of paper. "He told me to make sure you got it, so Libby…Libby is very sorry you had to see him, sir."
Sirius accepted the paper, frowning a little.
"That's okay. But who's this Great Wizard? Dumbledore?" Libby bowed and nodded like a puppet on a string.
"Yes, yes, Albus Dumbledore. Great Wizard. Always so kind to Libby…always finding him errands to run."
"Yes, he's a great chap, isn't he?" Sirius muttered distractedly. The roll of paper felt like a newspaper—the early edition of the Daily Prophet perhaps, or some other paper. He had a vague idea why Dumbledore would want to send him a paper before breakfast—problem was, that idea filled him with dread.
I'll read it later, he decided, and thanked Libby. The house elf bowed again, smiled, and disappeared.
And Sirius lay awake, staring at the cloth of his four poster. Thinking about the paper, which seemed to shriek shrilly on his night stand.
Today I've become 17 years old, he told himself. Old enough to apply for official functions. Old enough to vote for the Ministry. Old enough to…Blast it, I need to know!
Creeping out of bed he quickly struggled into his jeans, sweater and shoes, flung his robes over his shoulder, grabbed his wand and the newspaper and silently made for the door. Of course he could make a light there in the hallway, or down in the common room, but somehow he was convinced that he needed a place more secure to read what Dumbledore had sent him, than here. The Fat Lady didn't even wake up as he pushed open her portrait. The castle was eerily silent, and for one moment he wished he had taken James with him, or at least the safety of the Invisibility Cloak, but then he clenched his jaws together and jogged doggedly down the stairs, and then past the statue gallery to the left wing of the castle, out of the small door on the side, over the grassy path along the Quidditch pitch, straight to the Astronomy tower. It was locked, of course, but a simple alohomora took care of that, and a few minutes later he dropped down behind one of the stethoscopes. Once there, he took some time to catch his breath and gather mental strength before lighting his wand and gazing at the now-unrolled paper.
It wasn't the Daily Prophet. It wasn't a newspaper at all, he thought. At least none he knew of. It was titled the O. P. Judicial Bulletin, and the O looked as if it were wreathed in flames, while the P seemed as if it were flying out of those flames, like a bird. The image made him feel vaguely disquieted.
Never mind that, mate. Read the bloody story.
He scanned the first page, but found nothing interesting (a man he didn't know had been accused and found guilty of illegally transforming muggle money into wizarding money; a madwoman had been fined for memory charming muggles—so many and such strong memory charms that now twenty eight muggles had been taken to Saint Mungo's to be un-charmed because they kept crying for their mummies; and a wizard had been convicted for illegally breeding hippogriffs in his backyard), so he skipped to the second page. And there it was, the news, covering the entire page, the first word alone like a fist of ice in his stomach.
Sirius did the bravest thing he had done in years. He read on.
Yesterday, the much-discussed Cynthia C. stood trial for the Grand Jury, a mere six hours after her arrest near the outskirts of Hogwarts. C., a seventh year student of Hogwarts, has been accused of creating a killer virus that has exterminated a large part of the Hogwarts Forest wildlife; as well as the theft of one or more books from the recently recovered section of Saint Mungo's library. She has been found guilty on the first subject. The second, due to lack of evidence, could not be proven.
The trial was, in all aspects, an odd one. Firstly because of the accused's young age, and secondly because of her defence. Miss C. possesses, situated on her right forearm, a symbol known as a 'Mark', which is a charm which links the wearer with the caster, who has a likewise charm. This Mark can only be cast by high-ranking wizards, and has always been considered Dark Magic. It is forbidden to cast the Mark-spell in Britain, especially on those not yet fully out of adolescence. When asked who gave her the Mark, Miss C. replied that she could not tell and no one could make her. Attempts to make her reveal the caster indeed had nil result. When accused of letting loose a killer virus on the populace of the Hogwarts Forest, Miss C. confessed immediately. However, she could not or would not answer why she had done so. Again, spells cast on her to make her tell the truth, were nullified. A.D., chairman, suggested that this unusual reaction was the effect of the Mark. D. posed the following theory.
What came next was the short version of what James had thought up, that night when they had been sitting in Dumbledore's bedroom. That Voldemort had instructed Cynthia, the last Mungoon on earth, to make a virus to test her, and to give her an opportunity to go to Saint Mungo's and there steal the book on Immortality. The only exception was that A.D. never mentioned Voldemort's name. To protect him, Sirius, and James, probably, Sirius mused, but at that moment he only felt angry. Angry, and sickened, and hurt, especially as he read on.
The theory was noted, but the accused refused, or was unable to comment on it. A.D. further more spoke up for C.'s youth and the doubtless influence of a more powerful wizard through the Mark, claiming that Cynthia C. had been used as a pawn in a much larger game. R.V., counsellor, agreed that it was unlikely that the accused had thought out such an elaborate scheme on her own, but since she refused to name her partner(s) in crime, he decided to try her on the crime alone. Miss C. was found guilty and convicted to 20 years in Azkaban.
Sirius took a deep breath, and read the last sentence again.
Miss C. was found guilty and convicted to 20 years in Azkaban.
He rubbed a hand through his hair, upsetting the thick mass until it stuck up just as wildly as James's mane.
20 years in Azkaban. Oh fuck, Cynthia…20 years! They can't…they can't do that! She'd die!
-As Remus would have done, a small voice in the back of his head spoke up. If Snape hadn't found a cure. Like all the animals. Remember the unicorn?
But still, Remus was still alive, and the animals were long buried. And he'd known Cynthia—hell, he'd loved her. He still did, in a twisted, painful kind of way. The thought that she would be locked away in that hell…he couldn't bear it. Somehow, he still refused to see Cynthia as a bad person. The whole story about her family and her aunt Mercy made him belief that she had been tricked; used, as Dumbledore himself had said. And twenty years…that was longer than he had been alive so far!
"No," he said aloud, and pushed himself to his feet. "No, I won't accept this. Okay, she's been a bad girl, and she deserves to be punished, but twenty bloody years in Azkaban! And Voldemort not so much as a scratch! No way I'm going to let this happen."
"What were you planning to do?" a soft voice came from the darkness, startling him half to death. "Testify, yourself?"
Sirius whipped around; wand light bounced off of spectacles and a single shining button. He unconsciously pressed the hand holding the O.P. Bulletin against his chest.
"James! You…you scared the hell out of me." James cracked a smile, and let the Invisibility Cloak slide from his shoulders.
"Sorry. Habit. I woke up when you left, and when you didn't come back after ten minutes I decided to check whether you were okay." The smile wavered. "After Remus, you know…."
"I'm fine." James smirked.
"I can see that. You're standing on top of the Astronomy tower in pitchy darkness, waving a newspaper around and talking to yourself. Moment I saw that, I knew I could go back to bed."
Despite himself, Sirius barked out a laugh.
"However," James continued, walking up to his friend and hopping between two crenels, "I choose to remain here. That the paper?"
"No. I mean, yes, it's a paper, but it isn't a newspaper. It's some sort of judicial news letter. Libby brought it. Dumbledore'd told him to."
"News about Cynthia?" Sirius nodded.
"They caught her. James, they've sentenced her to Azkaban—for twenty bloody years! Twenty years, James! And the Mark obviously prevented her to name Voldemort as an accomplice. She's taking all the blame herself." James dangled his legs, peering at him from the corners of his eyes.
"And you want to go to court and tell the judges that Voldemort's behind all this?"
His friend said nothing.
"It won't work, you know. Otherwise, Dumbledore'd already accused him. The fact that he hasn't…"
"Will result in Cynthia going to Azkaban for twenty years."
"Which she deserves." James stated flatly. Sirius stared at him, totally flabbergasted.
"What…did you say?"
"She deserves to go to Azkaban," the more slender boy repeated. He kicked his heels against the wall. "And I'll tell you why."
"That's nonsense," Sirius interrupted angrily. "She may have committed a crime, but to punish it so severely…"
"Not one crime, Padfoot." James said softly. "Loads of crimes. First the virus, later that incident in the hospital…"
"They couldn't prove that."
"But we know that she must have done it. Christ, think with your head for a change, will you? This isn't just your love interest Cynthia we're talking about, it's a cold-blooded murderer who wanted to become immortal! Her virus almost killed Remus, and who knows what else it might have done if we hadn't found a cure! And delivering a spell of immortality to an egomaniac who wants to rid the world of muggle-born wizards…what was she thinking!?"
"And don't even start about Voldemort using Cynthia," James snapped, as usual all but reading his friend's mind. "Remember what Dumbledore told us about the Mark? It only works properly if you allow the other person to place it. Snape didn't want one, right? So, if Voldemort has so much power, why not force one on him? Because it doesn't work as well if it's done forcefully." He took a calming breath, looked Sirius straight in the eye.
"Cynthia willingly took responsibility for everything she did when she accepted the Mark. She must have known that, if she got caught, she would be on her own. That that was the price for immortality."
"A terrible price to pay if you haven't got the prize yet, isn't it?" Sirius said harshly. "There's no way Voldemort could have cast that spell on her yet." James shrugged.
"I actually think it's quite fitting."
"So you're not sorry for her at all."
"Of course I feel sorry for her. And I'm pissed off at Voldemort getting away unscathed. But I don't particularly feel like intervening, and I don't think that you should try to do so either." Sirius thrust his fists into his pockets.
"Then what do you think I should do? Send her a postcard?" James smiled, and immediately tried to hide it. Sometimes, he thought his sense of humour might cost him his best friends—but luckily Sirius was just as bad as he was, and the left corner of his mouth twitched slightly as he, as well, could not help but appreciate his own quip.
"No," James murmured. "I don't think she'd appreciate a postcard. And it wouldn't do you much good writing one. Just…try to come to terms with it. Try to forgive her and at the same time accept that she isn't the cute helpless girl you insist she must be. Because she isn't, and you'll only tear yourself up if you keep defending her.
"Hell, Sirius, I don't know. I could memory charm you, if you want. You make me talk like the bloody town's vicar! Why couldn't you keep hating her? It was much easier to talk you into forgiving her than trying to make you stop blabbing on about how unjust this all is to her."
"Love's a very strange thing."
"Yeah, it has all the symptoms of a virus. And we've had enough of those." Sirius winced, and fought a smile.
"You're bad, Jamie. That was a really nasty remark." James shrugged.
"You taught me. I used to be so nice and civilised. Your despicable influence completely spoiled me.
"Which reminds me. Happy birthday."
He pulled a square package out of his pocket and pressed it into Sirius's hands, deftly taking the Bulletin away from him and hiding it in his sleeve.
"What's this, then?"
"Your birthday present. I'd like one, if you don't mind."
He watched his friend unwrap the package, which fell apart into seven small packs.
"Cigarettes?" Sirius murmured. James clacked his tongue.
"Yes, cigs, but not your ordinary everyday cancer sticks. This, my friend, is the latest invention of Zonko's. That's why I bought so many of them; they'll probably be taken out of the shops in no time."
"'Zonko's multromorphial cigarettes'," Sirius read from one of the packs. "Create all you ever wanted to see simply by blowing out smoke." He smiled. "Thanks. Just what I needed to forget the terrible fate of my ex. Have you tried them out yet?" James shook his head.
"I only bought them yesterday. I was just in time; there was a real rush on it. If I hadn't used the underground passage I'd never been there in time. Come to think of it, if I hadn't used the passage I'd never have come to Hogsmeade, so…but you like them? Personally, I'm dying to try one out right now—but they're your present, so if you want to be a mean bastard and save them all, it's your right to do so."
In the end, they sat up there on the Astronomy tower until seven, smoking multromorphial cigarettes and creating the weirdest things in the air, dramatically lighting them with their wands. Cows, flying elephants, Dorkham in a tutu, Professor McGonagall in high leather boots, body stocking and a whip, a whole team of Quidditch players and several other things drifted in the sky, towards the slowly lightening horizon.
"I'm going down," James finally said, extinguishing his last cigarette. "Take a shower and get warm before breakfast. You coming too?"
"Soon as I smoked this one up," Sirius nodded, gesturing with his almost-finished fag. "You go on ahead and find me a towel." James grinned.
"Sure." He made to turn around, but his friend's voice called him back.
"You're welcome. Always."
He gathered his Invisibility Cloak, shot Sirius a last smile and quickly descended the stairs. Sirius stood up as well. He brought the cigarette to his mouth, inhaled deeply, and closed his eyes. He held his breath until his lungs began to ache, then exhaled. A smoky pale image of a girl with long hair spread her arms and flew into the sky. Sirius coughed.
I really should try to quit, he thought ambiguously. Now, where's that bulletin?
He searched for a minute, but couldn't find it and concluded that James, somehow, had stolen it. Ah well. It was probably for the best as well. He stretched, yawned, and followed James down the stairs.
As he stood in the shower, Sirius felt odd, as if he were living in a play, instead of interacting with people who were just as clueless about life and the future as he was.
Is this the after effect of losing your innocence? he wondered, rubbing his hair dry. This feeling of estrangement, of not-belonging here? But then he laughed at himself. He had lost his innocence say, a year ago, when he'd purposefully had attempted to kill one of his fellow students. Or maybe shortly afterwards, when Remus told him to get out of his sight before he tore his throat out. Or maybe even years before that, when he first saw Azkaban.
Or maybe this is only the after effect of too little sleep, too much booze and too many cigarettes. Probably. The romantic inside of him preferred the lost innocence.
When he returned to the bedroom, Peter and Will both gave him presents (a book on rare creatures and where to find them—with a map; and a Weaver record) and hugged him, before speeding downstairs for breakfast. Remus was nowhere to be seen.
"Do you know where he is?" James shook his head.
"He was already gone when I came back. We'll probably see him at breakfast."
They did see him, but only at the very end when everybody was already packing their bags to set off for class. He came running in, launched himself at the table and managed to salvage two rolls before the food disappeared.
"Remus! Where've you been?"
"Oh, you know…" Remus replied vaguely. He stuffed the rolls into his mouth, effectively shutting himself up, and made a wide gesture at the hall. "Awowm."
"I think he said 'around'." Lily provided. Remus touched his nose with the index finger of his left hand, pointing at her with the index finger of his right. Peter raised his eyebrows.
"What on earth are you doing 'around' before breakfast? I didn't even know you could think before breakfast." Remus shrugged. Then he slapped his hand against his forehead, muttered something that could be 'happy birthday' to Sirius (it sounded like 'hukky muhfey'), picked up his bag and ran away again.
"It really is scary when he does that, isn't it?" Peter mused. "Do you think he's actually a quiet user? That he takes Blue Heaven behind our backs?"
"I don't think so." James said. "As far as I know, he doesn't do drugs. W…er, metabolism and stuff, you know."
"He could have said that just to mislead us."
James sighed. Lily sighed. Sirius grinned, patted the smaller boy on the shoulder and said,
"Peter? Shut up."
They all left for Care of Magical Creatures, which, with the virus beaten, had been taken up in the curriculum once more.
When they met up again for Charms, Remus had his mouth empty and grinned widely when he saw his fellow Marauders.
"Hello. Did you have fun with those spiky newts?"
"Those were mud-dragons, thank you very much," Sirius said, sucking on a puncture wound in his hand. "And yes, they were great fun. Fast critters. It only bit me, but you should've seen what it did with Hickson from Ravenclaw. He looked like a hedgehog."
"Sounds like fun indeed. Oh. Happy birthday."
He handed Sirius a small, flat package, about as big as a cigarette case.
"Zonko's?" Remus frowned. "No, this isn't from Zonko's. Although I'm quite sure you'll have just as much fun with this as with anything from Zonko's."
Flitwick called them in, then, so they had to halt their conversation, but Remus sat down next to Sirius to catch his reaction as his friend opened his present. He did this discreetly beneath the desk, making the wrapping paper disappear with a charm learned in this very room. He usually used the spell to accelerate the undressing of girls. In his palm now lay a small, flat box of a dull grey material.
"What on earth is this?" he whispered. Remus smiled
"Open it." Sirius opened the box. Looked at the contents. And then he gazed at Remus with wide eyes and a guffaw climbing up his throat. Remus grinned back.
"Is this really what I think it is?"
"I hope so," Remus whispered back. "It took me quite a while to collect them. Of course…"
"Mister Lupin? Would you mind showing how the spell is performed?" Professor Flitwick asked, a hint of vindictiveness in his voice. He pointed at a large, empty carafe in front of him.
"Water-creation spell. Aquarite concretio," Lily murmured from behind him.
"Certainly, sir," Remus beamed, and filled Flitwick's carafe to the brim, without spilling a drop.
"Of course," he went on to Sirius, "I can't be sure they're of good quality. I haven't tried out any of them. It'd severely screw my head up, so…"
"And this is Blue Heaven?" Sirius pointed at three small light blue pills lying between a rainbow of other pills.
"Yeah. The green ones are Green fury, those are Purple passion—I thought you'd like those, though I really don't know what exactly they do—, those are relaxants, those are some kind of morphine, I think…"
"And the black ones?"
"Mister Black? Could you please repeat what I just said?" Professor Flitwick said, a trifle snappishly.
"He said that water-creation spells can save your life in the desert provided that there is enough moisture in the air to let you conjure water and that the static field over the Nairobi desert disables the spell." Lily murmured from behind Remus, and Sirius repeated it flawlessly. Flitwick sighed.
"What do the black ones do?"
"They make you sleep, I think. I really don't know. Just don't take them on your own before you know what they do—and otherwise make sure someone's near you, so if you accidentally overdose they can help you."
"I will! And thanks!"
"That's okay. Ummm," he bit on the tip of his quill.
"I wanted to ask you something."
"Would you…I mean…oh, never mind."
"The Mirror. I…I want to go see it. And I thought you might like to come with me."
"The Mirror of Erised?"
"Mister Lupin?" Flitwick whined. Remus frowned, and repressed the urge to shout "Could you keep it down, I'm having a conversation here, you midget!"
"What are you conferring about with mister Black?"
"Your charms, sir." Sirius cut in smoothly, and snapped the little box closed. "We were wondering whether we'd be able to lift that static field above the Nairobi desert."
"Oh," Flitwick said faintly. The Marauders grinned.
"Oh sure," Sirius said. "I'll go with you."
"Great," Remus said, and they finally concentrated on their charms.
"Let's go during Potions," Remus suggested, as they walked out of the Charms classroom. "Dorkham won't miss us anyway."
"What makes me think that you already had your little chat with Dorkham?" Remus shot him a rather wicked grin.
"I don't know, but whatever it is, it's right."
"You talked to him?"
"Well, let's say that I don't think he'd bother me anymore. Until he resigns or gets sacked."
"You blackmailed him?" Sirius asked with more than a little awe. Himself, he considered capable of blackmail. Remus, he did not. But then, his friend had changed quite a lot these last two months—and since Dorkham was the cause of it, he thought it only just that said teacher was Remus's first victim. But still, to outright skip classes…
"I don't know, Moony. I really need to crank up my marks for Potions…"
"Chickening out?" Sirius frowned, piqued.
"Of course not!"
"Then come with me during Potions. I promise you won't get detention."
For one moment Sirius hesitated, then he nodded.
"Okay. But do you know where the Mirror is? I mean, Dumbledore probably moved it after my little stunt—if he didn't lock it away for good."
"He didn't lock it away." Remus hoisted his satchel into a more comfortable position. "He just brought it to another room. I found it this morning, that's why I was late."
"You found it? Why do you want me with you, then? Finding the thing is the biggest part of the fun!"
Remus shrugged again.
"I didn't look into it yet."
"You chickened out?"
"Something like that. So. Are you coming or not?"
"We do have Potions now, don't we?"
"So come on, then. The others can make up an excuse for us."
"Shouldn't we tell them what we're doing."
"Because I want to go there with you, and not with the whole lot of them. So come on, Sirius."
The Mirror now stood in an empty classroom much like the previous room, on the third floor. Somehow, Sirius thought it had grown bigger. The clawed feet seemed to tap their nails on the floor, and the surface flashed bright silver in the few rays of light coming in from the window on the far side of the room. The moment they had entered that room, the play and banter they'd kept up all the way to the third floor melted away like snow; Remus pulled up his shoulders, and Sirius balled his hands to fists inside his pockets.
"We're here," he said pointlessly.
"Yes." Remus agreed. He took a deep breath.
"Me first, I guess."
First? Sirius wondered, but then he smiled to himself. Of course Remus first. Not to look into the Mirror while he was here was unthinkable. Even though he was scared to death of what the thing might do to him after what he had done to it.
"Okay," he said. "Go ahead."
Remus nodded tightly, straightened his back and walked to the Mirror of Erised. He opened his eyes wide, far wider than was necessary, and looked into it. From where he was standing, Sirius couldn't see his face or even his profile, but it seemed to him that once he'd looked into the Mirror, Remus's tense figure relaxed a little.
"Is it…is it okay?" The werewolf nodded, slowly.
"Yeah…Amazing, isn't it? This Mirror?" A laugh bubbled up in his voice, but bled away before it could become more than a smile. He turned around, walked back.
"I'm not sure I should do this."
"Don't be an ass. Of course you should look into the Mirror. You of all people." Something, maybe fear, maybe excitement, stirred in Sirius's stomach.
"What do you mean by that?"
Remus looked away; one of his eyes was almost gold in the light from the window, the other was nearly black, part of the pupil reflecting green.
"They caught her, didn't they?"
How do you know? Flashed inside Sirius's head, but his friend already explained.
"I could smell it on you. And…I saw that O.P. Bulletin. When I went back to get your present. Did you give it to James? He must have lost it when he got dressed. I found it lying under his chair. I thought it was my Palmistry essay," he added apologetically. Sirius said nothing, not knowing whether to feel relieved that Remus knew, or uncomfortable.
"I didn't mean to pry," Remus said softly. "It's just…I thought you should know that I knew. And I think you should look into the Mirror."
"What did you see?"
"After you've taken a look as well." A hint of irritation darkened the other boy's eyes.
"Alright already. Jeesh!" He took a few steps forward and placed himself squarely in front of the Mirror, gazed into it, daring it to curse him again. The Mirror did no such thing. It just showed him—him, and Remus, standing just behind him, and James, holding hands with Lily, and Peter, and…
"What do you see?"
"Me." Sirius touched the glass with his fingers, almost caressing it. He wasn't caressing his own image, however. "And you. And James, and Peter, Lily."
"And Cynthia?" Remus asked softly. His friend stiffened, then nodded, his shoulders sagging a little.
"Yes. Cynthia as well. Same as the last time. She's…older. But she is there, still…"
"You sound as though you're sorry to see her there." One corner of Sirius's mouth quirked up.
"Ah well, you know, after everything she's done…"
He felt Remus's hand clasp his shoulder, and when he looked in the Mirror, he saw the boy that was Remus step out of the background and come to stand next to him, just as the real Remus had just done.
"Why do you think she's still there?"
"Because…because I still love her. Or at least want her. I think." He shrugged. "I don't know. She never really belonged to our little group, not like Lily does. But…" He sighed. "I really did love her. And I…wanted to protect her. Isn't that what a man wants to do? Protect his woman? I wanted to do that, even though she didn't need me. But…"
"Isn't she in the Mirror because you wished she hadn't done what she did?" Sirius shrugged.
"Maybe. Although I'm afraid it's a lot less…nice." He stared into the shining eyes of Remus's reflection. "Why else would I only see her as a woman about ten years older than I am now? I wanted her to be there, Remus. When I was ready to commit myself to her. Otherwise she'd stand next to us, wouldn't she?
"It's odd," he pushed his hands into his pockets. "Even though I loved her I wouldn't ever have left the Marauders for her. Not if she'd make me choose. But I did love her, and I did want to protect her, even when I found out what she'd done. Reading about that sentence in that paper—hell, I thought I'd be sick. Even after all she's done."
Remus patted his shoulder.
"Hey. Don't get emotional, that's my business. Besides…In these past years I've bitten you, hit you a concussion, shouted at you and changed you into a grasshopper. Not to mention the things I made you go through when we were teamed up with Potions. And we're still friends, aren't we?"
"That's something entirely different," Sirius muttered, but Remus shook his head.
"Not entirely. Different, but not that much more different." Sirius tore his eyes from the reflection and looked at the real Remus. His thin profile was still sharp as a knife-cut, lit from the side Sirius was standing on and cast into shadow from the dark side of the room.
"What are you trying to say, Moony? Okay, you bit me, but I almost made you eat Snape. And I've hit you too, and because of me you broke your leg last year…but that's something different than willingly killing more than a hundred creatures to gain immortality."
"You'd refuse, if someone offered you immortality?" Remus smiled. "I wouldn't. Even with my curse, I'd grasp the opportunity to become immortal with both hands."
"Would you kill for it, then?"
"I don't know. Maybe." A soft chuckle escaped Sirius's throat.
"Dream on, Remus. You wouldn't be able to kill an ant if you had to. You conscience is way too prominent to let you live with a crime like that on your head. Imagine, you'd live forever feeling guilty all the time. You'd commit suicide within a week."
"So you wouldn't kill for immortality."
"I don't know. I don't think so." He took a deep breath. "Do you want to know what I saw in the Mirror when I did my little experiment?"
Remus made an inquiring sound.
"I saw…the moment I looked into Lily's little mirror, I first thought that nothing had changed. We were still standing there, the five, no, six of us: you and James, Peter, Lily, Cynthia and me. But then I saw you all…die. In a terrible…way. There was blood all over you, and James looked as if he were really, really ill, and Peter…But that wasn't what was so terrible. It was the fact that I knew that it was my fault. That I was the one responsible for your deaths."
"It was just…"
"It was just a stupid hex," Sirius interrupted him harshly, "but only a few days afterwards you became ill, and I don't know if you know how close you came to dying, but damn it, Remus, it was so close! Too damn close by half. I was so…I was scared, you know. That I'd done something that would kill you, and later would somehow kill one of the others. I saw the world in silver half of the time, even though Dumbledore had taken the curse from my eyes long ago." His eyes strayed back to the Mirror, where Cynthia made small braids in her golden hair.
"It's a bit of a shock to find that the one that you love is responsible for your nightmares coming true. And for that, and for what she did to you and to the animals in the Forest, I hate her. But at the same time I still…miss her. Want her."
"It's a Mirror of Desire, after all," said Remus, half-flippantly, half seriously. "And she was lovely."
They were silent for a while, staring into the Mirror, shoulders barely touching. Finally Sirius cleared his throat.
"Why did you want me to come anyway?" Remus smiled.
"I didn't want to come on my own. And I thought…well, the last few weeks we've continually misunderstood each other, and I barked at you and behaved like a selfish git. So I wanted to talk to you. And I wanted your support," he added quickly, before Sirius could speak, "In case I'd flip after looking into the Mirror. So you see, it was purely for selfish reasons that I tagged you along."
"I've been just as selfish as you, if not worse," Sirius insisted on being repentant. "After all, you were right from the beginning."
"Oh please," Remus whined, "Don't start again! I just told you I was sorry, and it's taken me quite some time to get that out, so please don't spoil it by saying it was your fault."
Sirius grinned, like a flash of sunlight.
"I didn't say that."
"Ah." They both chuckled. Then Sirius once again studied his friend's profile.
"So why did you think you'd flip if you looked into the Mirror? And what did you see? Why'd you want to see it anyway?"
"Because I wanted to check on something. My…desires, I guess. And I didn't think I'd flip out. I just didn't want to go alone." Sirius frowned.
"Because sometimes seeing your desires doesn't make you happy. Especially if you can't have what you want. That's why I didn't want to go back when you and Peter found it again. I'd finally forgotten the blasted thing with its promise of an ordinary, painless life." For the first time since they'd entered the room, he met Sirius's eyes and what he read in them made him smile wryly.
"I hate the pain and the humiliation of it, Padfoot. I hate everything of my curse. Everything. I still hate it now I've got you and the others to run with me every month. Don't get me wrong, I love going into the Forest and exploring the Map, but I still hate being a werewolf. I hate it now, but it almost killed me when I was younger. And the Mirror…it showed me a life without the curse, without the pain and the fear. It almost broke me, when I saw that. I wanted to be normal so badly…"
Remus blushed a little.
"The only one I saw in the Mirror was me. Just me. It could have been an ordinary mirror for my reflection."
"And that means what? That you've finally accepted Moony?"
"It means that I'm worth something as Moony," the other boy said softly. "That even though he's dangerous, he, no, I, can help you too, if needs be. Even though it's my fault that Cynthia got caught, and that you had to let her go—it hasn't necessarily been a bad thing. Right?"
"I guess not…"
The blush grew more vivid. Sirius sighed, then shook his head.
"Look. I'm not particularly grateful to you for leading us to Voldemort and his little conspiracy, even if it is for the greater good. But that doesn't mean that I don't appreciate you. We all do, werewolf or not. Hell, we don't know you in any other way, Remus. You wouldn't be the man you are if you weren't one. And if Moony's a bit rough, well, I can handle that. You shouldn't blame yourself for things that aren't your fault and can't be helped anyway." He grinned suddenly.
"Wise lessons from James Potter, taught to myself just before we almost killed ourselves diving two men a broom from the Astronomy Tower."
Remus didn't grin.
"You still blame me for what's happened?" he asked thinly, and suddenly Sirius finally saw why Remus had been so angry with him all the time, and so—in Sirius's eyes—selfish about the whole Cynthia business. He knew that Sirius blamed him—not himself, as James thought, but Moony. And MOONY, not Remus—directly for all that had happened: Sirius's own unhappiness, and Cynthia's escape and now imprisonment.
"Oh hell, Remus…" He turned away from the Mirror, clasped the boy's thin arms in his hands. "No, I don't blame you. I'm just…adapting, you know. I feel really shitty about this whole thing, and…" he sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to take it out on you."
"You haven't. That's what worries me." A lopsided grin crawled up Sirius's face.
"Have you ever been in love?"
"Still, you like her."
"If she found out you were a werewolf, and screamed it out in front of the whole school from the top of the Astronomy tower, then slipped and fell to her death, wouldn't you be sad?"
"I don't know," he confessed. "I really wouldn't know. But what's that got to do with you not taking it out on me?" Sirius sighed.
"I'm still adapting," he repeated. "Still figuring out how much of me is sad and how much of me is angry. I expect the anger to win out in the end, but now…"
"You're still suffering from a broken heart." Remus finished. He managed to stay serious for three more seconds before starting to giggle. "Sorry."
"I knew I should have confided in Lily," Sirius muttered. "She, at least, understands my tortured soul."
"Padfoot, if there is someone in this school who understands tortured souls, it's me. I'm as tortured as they come."
"That's not what the Mirror said," Sirius retorted, pointing his thumb at the Mirror of Erised, shining innocently against the wall. "Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who's the most tortured soul of them all?—well, it ain't you for sure, mate. So sorry to disappoint you."
Remus fixed him with a stare.
"Let's leave the Mirror out of this, shall we." Sirius grinned, evilly and wholly like himself.
"Yes, let's. Shall we go and see whether your blackmail was successful?"
The word 'blackmail' made Remus's large mouth curl like a cat's.
"Okay," he said, and following Sirius, he closed the door to the Mirror quietly and carefully behind his back.
So. That's it. Please tell me what you think about it. In a few weeks I think I'll re-edit the whole thing—I have a Beta now! Wheee! And post the whole thing again. I will probably take all the author notes out, though. I will write a sequel, I just don't know when it will be finished. I'll try as soon as I can. I will not, however, send it to people separately because I know I'll forget it some day (I use several computers to update and write, and to email, so I lose email addressed frequently) Just check the Net now and then and you'll find any newly written stuff.