And here's the last chapter. It's been a good run :)
I was actually toying around with the idea of leaving this last chapter until after my vacation, but decided that I couldn't possibly be that mean. Well, I could be, but I'm in a good mood :)
This chapter is brought to you by you, the reviewer, because without all your encouraging comments, I probably would not have finished.
Mm, Zetta? Good questions—yes, you would think that they'd have gone to get help first, but for all they knew, Remus might be already dead. They figured they couldn't waste any time. And if anybody can cast that killing curse, it'd be boys that practice dark arts everyday, or really smart and talented ones. Perhaps not the best reasoning, now that I give it a fourth thought. Thanks for giving such insightful reviews! I always looked forwards to hearing from you :)
Shameless Plug: Right after Washington, I'll be bringing you some brand spanking new stuff!
And oh—there's an eensy bit of Christianity in the first paragraph. Don't like it: you don't have to read it. :)
The House of Wolves
It was cloudy and hazy. He wondered briefly if he was in heaven, or just on his way there—he didn't see any golden light quite yet; no pearly gates were greeting him. Everything was a little cloudy, including his mind, which could do nothing but wonder just where those pearly gates were. He wondered what he was going to say when he met Him. It was a strange thought to be meeting Him so young, not having had quite enough time to grow out of his awkward years.
After what seemed like an eternity, a light did emerge from the fuzzy gray shadows, but it wasn't golden. It was blindingly white, so white that it was uncomfortable and made his eyes sting and a pounding headache settle in his head. It was not a pleasant glow, but rather a harsh light that assaulted his senses and made him wish that he was back in the fog.
Distorted shapes swirled in and out; memories flashed by of that horrible scene; he tried to close his eyes and mind to them, but they invaded both and haunted him…and then they were gone, and blurry, solid forms took their place.
James blinked his eyes again as the room came slowly and painfully into focus. His eyes stung and burned as though looking straight into the sun, so bright was the room's light. In reality, it was rather dim, but was nonetheless almost impossible to bear and made his head dizzy.
But he was dead, he was sure of it. He had watched himself die. It hadn't hurt really; he had been beyond pain and went with a sort of peaceful security. Yet he was sure that he had not survived that battle, but he didn't seem to be approaching any celestial city quite yet.
In fact, his surroundings looked rather like…a hospital room.
Reality hit with a sudden unpleasant thump and James tried to groan. The best he got was a slightly heavier exhalation. He experimented with moving, and found that his body was so stiff and sore that it was quite difficult. He tried wiggling the fingers on his left arm, the one that had been separated, it seemed like years ago that it happened—and found that other than being nearly mummified with aching muscles, it otherwise responded to his commands.
But Pomfrey had said that it would be about two more days before…good Lord, how long had he been out?
James tried forcing open his eyes again. They were met with the same white glare as before, but he stubbornly kept them open until the light was more bearable. He chanced looking around, getting dizzy by his efforts. Shapes came into focus.
Remus was staring off into space, his face drawn and tired and looking older than ever. Peter was sitting next to him, clearly distraught and with red eyes.
Sirius was in a corner, his head in his hands.
James suddenly realized that he was hungry. And he was thirsty. And he had to pee like a hippogriff.
And an absurd thought came to him—how best to let his friends know that he was awake?
James shrugged as best he could with his butt engraved into the mattress. Slowly and tunelessly, he began to sing "Yankee Doodle" backwards and in Chinese. The result was roughly like a chicken with stomach pains.
The reaction was instantaneous—Remus abruptly woke up from his silent gazing, Peter hiccupped and stared at James.
Sirius' head snapped up. His eyes were not red, but his face was pale and sick.
As one, they rushed to James, who sat up, thankfully without too much difficulty. The pounding in his head ceased little by little and everything became sharper and clearer.
"I believe I was dead," he said conversationally.
"You were," Remus said seriously.
"This isn't a séance, is it? Don't tell me it was a séance. I don't believe in those."
Remus shook his head, a smile creeping up on his weary face. "No. You died…for about thirty seconds. Dumbledore gave your heart a jolt to start it beating again." The words sounded surreal to Remus, as though someone else was saying it.
James had nothing to say to that. His breath was cut short as he was abruptly hugged by a teary Peter.
"I'm so sorry," he whimpered, quickly pulling away. James patted him awkwardly on the back.
"Er—now, now, uh, don't get weepy. People freak me out when they get weepy." Peter nodded and James grinned.
His attention was then turned to Sirius, who was still sitting in a corner, his eyes hollow, still haunted. He looked old.
Sirius stared at nothing. His confidence was sorely shaken, even now with it all over.
Dumbledore came in a flash of bright light, brandishing a wand as the Lupi members dropped their own. Another word, and a bright shield wrapped around the Marauders, who all blinked at the sudden turn of events. Their eyes were transfixed at the scene before them. McGonagall was beside Dumbledore, her wand raised and steady.
They braced themselves as the cult followers picked their wands back up. Sirius raised his own again, ready to fight. But he and Dumbledore were protected with an impenetrable spell. Lupi knew it. Defeat rang in their eyes and faces. They knew they were beaten. It was all over for them; they would go to Azkaban for the rest of their lives. Their dreams were completely ruined. There was no more Lupi.
Sirius watched in horror and fascination as they raised their wands to their own throats. He knew what they were going to do before they even said the words; so did Dumbledore, he tried to stop them, but was too late. Sirius said nothing, did nothing to try and make them stop. It was useless anyway.
Thirty-nine boys fell to the floor, to join the other eleven that had already died from crossfire and were bleeding on the ground, rusty red blood staining the stone and creeping into the very foundation. Thirty-nine boys committed suicide, afraid to face the consequences of their own damned stupidity. The cowards they were. Sirius felt another hot stab of anger at their gutless action; the ultimate mark of weak cowardice.
Lily stood among the fallen bodies. A light was flicked on in her mind and she blinked, like coming out of a coma. She stared around at the bodies, stumbling in shock as she did, her hand closed over her mouth. A sick look passed through her eyes and she doubled over as though with stomach pains, but it was a horror that she could not define. She knew but did not know how it all came about; she did not witness it in her right mind, but could replay the battle like it had been a dream.
She remembered striking Remus, but did and did not do it. She had no self then, under the curse; she knew only what her Leader told her, and adopted his orders as her own desires, forming her personality to echo his wishes. He wished for her to bring Remus, and then she wanted nothing more than to do that.
But now, as she realized what she had done, she sank to the floor with tears silently streaming down her face, staring around at the corpses that stared with open, vacant eyes that were as those sewn onto a doll; seeing but not seeing, there but lifeless. She tried to shut her eyes and force out the image, but it was still there in her mind. It would always be.
A gentle, smooth hand gently guided her chin back up. Dumbledore was there, smiling kindly. "It's not your fault."
Lily nodded miserably, and her eyes settled on Remus, Sirius and James. Remus smiled, also kindly, reassuring her that indeed she wasn't to blame. Sirius wasn't looking at her, but rather the bodies, with a horrible sort of fascination, staring at them and beyond them.
James had a small smile on his face. Lily's eyes widened. James was swaying, bleeding profusely from his head and chest, a blanket of blood coating his body and soaking his clothes. There was no agonized pain on his face, just a peaceful smile, contended and secure, and he slowly sank and fell to the tomb's floor, falling limply onto the crypt-cold stone floor.
Lily cried out and stumbled to her feet. Remus and Sirius followed her tearing gaze to James, lying lifelessly on the floor. They rushed to his side, and Lily, through swimming eyes, saw his chest rise one last time and finally stop. Sirius staggered back as Remus felt for a pulse, cursing profusely as there was none. Lily let out a dry sob.
In a flash Dumbledore was kneeled by the fallen boy, cradling his head and listening intently. McGonagall was at a loss, hand clasped over her own mouth, eyes wide and disbelieving.
James was gone.
It was surreal. Lily felt like a limb was cut off. James was a rock, something that everyone thought would always be there, cracking jokes even when he was bleeding and in pain. He was a solid foundation, something someone could always lean on when they were weak—and yet Atlas had fallen.
Sirius stood back. He did not cry. He did not rush to James, nor did he deny his brother's death. But his face was ashy and pale, haunted, as though he too had died internally with James. He was an empty shell, devoid of thought or emotion.
Lily had felt that a limb was cut off—Sirius' soul was ripped in two.
Dumbledore had an annoyed look on his face as he stubbornly leveled his wand with James' chest. He prodded it gently.
Spasms ripped through the dead boy and he convulsed, his back arching. He let out a tremendous gasp as air flooded back into his lungs and his heart woke up, but he did not wake. Sirius watched blankly, looking with unseeing eyes.
James' chest rose and fell, rose and fell. Color crept back into the deathly pallor that had greedily claimed his handsome features for a precious few moments. His pulse was active again.
Lily let out another sob, this one from relief. Remus rocked back on his heels, eyes closed and lips moving silently, chin tilted towards the heavens. Lily, too, closed her eyes and looked up, sending her thanks in a silent, powerful wave.
McGonagall had by then recovered and conjured up a stretcher. Remus and the headmaster gently lifted James onto the stretcher. Sirius still said nothing, but followed them out to the entrance where Peter stood, having watched the scene with horror.
Sirius paused, looking down and back at the grisly scene behind him, and then closed his eyes and shoved away the cold fingers that had clamped around his heart for those wrenching thirty seconds. He followed up the stairs.
Sirius stared blankly at James, who knew immediately what his brother felt. "Hey," he said.
"Hey," said Sirius. It was the first word he'd spoken for the past two days.
"You know what, Sirius?"
"I have got to pee something awful."
Sirius blinked and the words registered, and a smile, faint, ghostly, but still there, appeared. "I'd imagine," he said.
"I have got to go like a hippogriff."
"Like Snape when he wets himself whenever he gets caught crossdressing."
"Like the Slytherin team when they have to play us in Quidditch."
"Like Remus whenever he has to speak in front of the class."
"So go already," said Remus, sighing, but smiling also. The battle seemed decades ago…this was now, this was real. It was like it had always been. Peter blinked and grinned at the familiar, nonsensical exchange of words. James shrugged and swung his feet out of the bed, testing them on the ground before standing up. He briefly looked down.
"I'm wearing a dress," he said simply.
"A hospital gown," said Remus.
"A dress," said James stubbornly, securely holding the gown in place so his derriere wouldn't taste fresh breeze. After all, Lily wasn't there. Speaking of Lily…
"She's fine," Remus said. "It was some curse controlling her—I guess that when whoever cast it…died…the curse was lifted. She didn't even know where she was." He hesitated before mentioning her current mood—best to leave it for later, when James had rested a bit.
He just didn't want to tell him the other thing…
James sagged in relief, and tottered off to the loo before Pomfrey could spot him and make him use the bedpan.
A few hours later, James was still sitting in the hospital room. He had come to loathe the place over the last few days—it smelled strongly of disinfectant and various potions, and there was absolutely, absolutely nothing to do.
It was better this time, though, because his friends were there. Even though it was a Saturday, they probably would not have been allowed to keep him company had not they suffered injuries as well, although Sirius whispered that they were milking it out a bit so they could stay longer.
James was still full of questions that everybody was hesitant to answer. He despised the topic as much as anybody—who wanted to remember all that?—but not knowing left him a little frustrated.
"What are they going to do about…you know…the bodies?" He asked over a game of chess.
Sirius took his rook but did not answer.
"They're going to give them back to their parents and tell them the truth," said Remus, shrugging. "That's what the headmaster said. He thought it wouldn't help to hide it; he's already told the school…"
James nearly dropped his bishop. "What?"
"Yeah," said Peter. "Told them all about it. He didn't tell them anything about Remus, though," he added. "They left us out of it—the story went something like: Dumbledore found out about the cult somehow and he and Professor McGonagall went down there…he didn't mention us at all, I don't know how, but nobody questioned him.
James nodded. "Good…" He shook his head, amazed that it was all over.
"I can't believe they did it," he murmured. "They weren't under a spell? How can so many guys just kill themselves like that?"
"Just like you said," muttered Sirius darkly, "they were nuts. Insane. Killing themselves so they wouldn't go to Azkaban…they weren't under a spell, Prongs, they were cowards."
James looked at him cryptically. "You really think that?" he asked, watching.
"Yes—they were blind sheep, James, they were lemmings." He said this without any trace of humor. "They followed their leader and he led them right off a cliff."
"Without jumping himself," Remus sighed. James gave him an odd look, having a bad feeling about what he was going to hear.
"What don't I want to know?" he asked guardedly.
Remus didn't meet his eyes, clearly not wanting to answer the question. "A search was done among the…bodies," he said. "Vargas…Vargas wasn't among them."
James furrowed his brows, attention completely abandoning his game. "That…what? I saw him kill himself—oh." He realized, and slammed a fist into the mattress. "Damn!" he seethed. "The cowardly little bastard! I should have known! He wasn't acting like himself; didn't talk like he normally did, he was overexcited—Let me guess," he said nastily. "'Daniel Vargas' was Shiloh Shanks—no wonder I didn't see him in the dungeon!"
"They've been looking all over the countryside for Vargas," Peter said. "Nobody's caught him yet."
"Left his comrades to die," said Sirius. "Leader of lemmings."
James was in a thoroughly irritable mood and sourly moved his pawn. He sighed, just wanting to hear some good news; something that made his prolonged stay in that damned hospital room worthwhile. Worthwhile…he thought of red hair. Immediately he felt extremely bad—he had a pretty good idea of what was probably running through the redhead's mind. She had been used and abused—she'd been forced to do things she didn't want, both to the Marauders, and maybe forced to do things in the dungeons for the leering boys…
James had a white-knuckled grip on his queen.
A few days later, when James had managed to force his way out of the hospital room by clever words against the nurse's sputtering protests, he went searching for Lily. People were thumping him on his back, telling him they hoped he and his friends felt better after that nasty accident they had with experimenting on that potion…James just smiled weakly and didn't wince as their hands clapped particularly sore spots.
He searched with all of her friends, none of which had spoken to her recently. "She's gone all mopey ever since you boys had your potions accident," one girl said, winking. "We think she fancies you."
Somehow James, though he would always say otherwise, doubted this.
He finally found the redhead sitting on a snowy knoll outside the grounds, on a big rock in a secluded corner with a great willow tree hanging protectively over her. James ambled over discreetly, knowing that she knew he was there, but walking quietly just the same. He stopped a few feet behind her, and looked out over the grounds. People were outside, enjoying the gorgeous winter day, hurling snowballs where the sun didn't shine.
"Nice day," commented James. Lily nodded mutely. James came over.
"Mind if I grab a bit of rock?" he said pleasantly. Lily shrugged and scooted over. James eased himself down and grinned at the minute figure of Largo Ingles who had just managed to impale Terry with a barrage of snowballs. The Head Boy sputtered and yelled, and tried to throw some back.
It was a comfortable silence between them for James. He had no doubt what Lily was thinking and wanting to say, so he waited patiently for her to speak.
Five minutes later, she did, with severe hesitancy: "I'm sorry."
James didn't have to ask what she meant. "I'm not going to accept your apology, Lily, because there's nothing to apologize for."
"There is. I led them to knowing that…that Remus is a…werewolf."
"Does it bother you?" The answer suddenly mattered to him.
"Of course it does," Lily said, not looking at him. James sighed, but Lily continued. "It bothers me that such a terrible thing could happen to such a good person. He doesn't deserve that, he's never done anything to anybody…"
James smiled, relieved. "That's why he's got us," he said.
Lily finally adopted a ghost of a smile, and she nodded, drawing her legs up and wrapping her arms around them. James hesitated a moment before speaking again. "It's not your fault," he said. "Remus has already blubbered about how sorry he is for being a werewolf and making me nearly—well, making me get killed—" Not the best choice of words… "Peter's already apologized over and over about joining in the first place. Don't you start up on me."
Lily nodded again, and seemed to breathe easier. James had no doubt that it had plagued her ever since…the incident, and he knew how she felt…privately, he blamed himself for Remus almost getting lynched, but forced the delusion away.
They sat in silence, watching the fiercely escalating snowball fights. Largo had managed to commandeer a small army of first-years and was leading them with whooping battle cries, merrily flinging row after row of snowballs. The first-years giggled and did what they were told—Largo knew fully well that Terry would never hit underclassmen.
"He's a basketcase," James said, watching. Lily nodded, her smile a bit wider.
It was strange to think of one of the only positive things had had come out of the whole situation. Two weeks ago, he never thought that he would be sitting there with a girl who had then despised him. And now, he was the one comforting her, smiling and joking with her.
Largo let out a particularly confusing battle cry.
The pair grinned as the first-years, now hopelessly lost, began pelting each other with snowballs in response. Largo chortled and skipped off to convince Terry's small army to mutiny.
James began to laugh. Lily looked sideways at him. He really does have a nice laugh, she decided, when he's not laughing at the wrong things. She considered him for a moment, looking at him like she never had before; appraising him, and finally making up her mind.
James noticed her gaze and gave her the fish eye. "What?"
"James," said Lily pleasantly, with the air of cradling a large bomb—James loved that—"On the next Hogsmeade trip, would you like to get a butterbeer?"
James' mouth worked like a fish. "You're asking me?" he said, dumbfounded.
Lily raised an elegant eyebrow. "Something wrong with that?" she asked.
"No, no," said James hurriedly, stumbling over his words. "Nothing wrong at all." He wondered briefly what had changed Lily's mind—oh, who knew, he could never figure out girls; one day they wanted to dropkick you off a cliff, the next they wanted a butterbeer…he had to admit, though, it was a pleasant surprise…
James blinked and smiled as Lily turned her attention back to the snowball fight, where Largo was being unmercifully walloped with snowballs from both sides.
They sat there, watching.
All in all, it was a happy day.
All right! The end :) I had fun with this.
First off, I have to apologize: this is my first MWPP story, and my very first story with more than four chapters. This may be shorter than most fics, but to me it was bogglingly long, so being as long as it was to me, I was bound to make a few errors and mistakes. If you see any, sorry :) I haven't quite gotten the hang of many-chaptered stories just yet.
Secondly, does it bother you that I had so many original characters? I tried to give each of them a distinct personality to make them blend into the story and seem like they belong—I hate it when an author simply puts in a name and doesn't give them a persona; I tried to be creative. Largo's a nut who loves chaos, Terry's a Head Boy that desperately tries to be mature but can't help giving into occasional temptations; Micker's a midget with an ego that tries to make up for what he…er, hasn't got, and Wossy's a complete basketcase of nerves. I try to make them fit. If you don't think I did a very good job of that, please inform me of where I went wrong. :) Thank you kindly.
Well, kids, adios—I'll have more up soon; I'm having fun with this next story I'm writing. Off I go to Washington. :)