Author's note: Yeah... so I havent updated this in (ahem) a few years... Sorry about that. I can't promise faster updates... but aren't you happy that the fic isn't dead?
Disclaimer: Harry Potter isn't mine... obviously. I mean, if I were J.K. Rowling, why would I write alternate universe fictions of my own universe?
Chapter 21: The Event Horizon
By the time Sirius was well enough to get out of bed, everyone had already left for Christmas holidays. His friends (still such a foreign concept) had wished him a Happy Christmas before they'd gone, and had left him presents: A book about potions from Remus; an enchanted quill from James, to help with "difficult" assignments (Remus had groused about that one); a muggle camera from Lily, which, to her dismay, would not work on Hogwarts' grounds; and some sort of fruitcake from Hagrid that felt like a brick. Sirius had stuck that one in with Snape's gifts when the other Slytherin wasn't looking.
Mostly Sirius spent his free time practicing quidditch or wandering around the castle poking at things with his wand. Some of the statues weren't well warded, and fun modifications were possible. One quite boring statue of a witch now sported quite the hunchback, for instance.
Other times, he tormented the portraits. A few now avoided the Slytherin hall whenever possible, forcing the boy to be more creative, and hunt around the other House wings as well. He left the Fat Lady alone, though. He was still a little afraid that she'd bar him from the Gryffindor common room if he caused her too much trouble.
Every evening, he dined in the Great Hall with Dumbledore, a few other professors, and the six or seven other students who had remained at the school over the holiday. It was a comfortable pattern.
Within a few days, Sirius was bored out of his mind.
Even visiting Hagrid lost its thrill when he realized that the groundskeeper's new pets were a horde of oversized, salad-eating slugs. Hardly enough entertainment for a twelve-year-old wizard.
It wasn't until his last few days along, poking at yet another statue near one of the girls' bathrooms, that he found the book with the blank pages. Nothing memorable. Just a boring-looking little journal. He didn't pay it much mind, and it wound up crammed into his school bag with a dozen other useless things. He could always use it as spare parchment.
"Sirius!" Lily threw her arms around him, before he even knew she was behind him. "You're better!"
There had been almost no one to share breakfast with in the Great Hall for the past week, so Sirius had not expected any sort of a greeting at all, let along a stranglehold. He practically choked on his breakfast. After a great deal of hugging on her part, and coughing and sputtering on his, Sirius managed to disengage himself from her cheerful hug.
"I was better until you cut off my oxygen," he growled. But there was a small smile tugging at his lips that didn't escape her notice.
"Oh, shut it," she said with a laugh. "You missed me and you know it."
"Yeah. I think it was your ladylike behavior I missed the most. Does that come from your muggle background, or do they have special classes for that here?"
Lily ignored him. "Are James and Remus back yet?" she asked, glancing around the nearly empty Great Hall. It was still decorated with Christmas holly and several fir trees. Candles floated about the tables as snow gently drifted down, only to fade before reaching the floor below. It was rather pretty, and Lily paused to admire it.
Sirius, however had grown sick of it several days ago, and was more interested in regaining his over-exuberant friend's attention. He shrugged, pushing aside his half-eaten food. "I haven't seen them. They weren't on the train?"
She shook her head, tucking a few strands of her red hair that had escaped her ponytail back behind her ear. "I don't think so. At least, I didn't see James. And I haven't spotted Remus since we got off. Then again, Jenny and I were in the first carriage to the school, so I guess they could have been behind us." Her expression turned serious, as she plopped down in an empty chair beside him. "But enough of that. How are you? Were in in the hospital ward long?"
"I'm fine," he answered shortly.
She was going to say more when the sound of approaching footsteps from behind drew her attention, and she turned.
"Nice of you to snub us on the train," James said, pushing his glasses up his nose.
"I did not!" Lily snapped. "I didn't even see you!"
"I was saying your name."
"So were ten other people."
"You talked to Remus."
"He was right in front of me!"
At the mention of the Ravenclaw's name, Sirius tuned the ever increasing argument out to focus his attention on the silent form who stood just beside James. Sirius quietly studied him for a moment.
Remus was too thin and looked exhausted. To top it off, there were a few nasty looking cuts on his neck. Remus smiled faintly when he noticed his friend watching him. "How are you doing? Better?"
Sirius nodded. "Yeah. Got out from under Pomfrey's thumb a few days after you left. But what happened to you? You look like a vampire turned you."
Remus winced, breaking eye contact. "Flu," he replied simply. "Dad thinks I picked it up from a muggle. No one knew how to treat it until they took me to a muggle doctor. Now I have to take medicine." He made a face.
Sirius didn't buy it. Granted, he knew absolutely nothing about muggle illnesses, so the story was entirely plausible, except that it sounded too mechanical. Like Remus had rehearsed it a few times.
The Slytherin narrowed his eyes. "Do they treat the flu by cutting your neck open, then? I'd assumed even muggles had stopped with the bloodletting by now."
Remus stiffened, staring intently at the floating candles above them as though he expected them to do a trick. "Cat," he choked out. "It scratched me when I picked it up."
Sirius snorted. "What kind of cat? A tiger?" He was being cruel, and he knew it. But he hated being lied to. And he hated not knowing why Remus was lying. Or what he was lying about. And he hated caring about it, because that meant he cared what happened to Remus. He didn't want to get caught in that trap again. It would end badly. "You're having an awful lot of bad luck this holiday." He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at his friend.
"Sirius..." Remus looked back at him.
Sirius' mouth was open to keep at it, but then he saw the desperate look in his friend's eyes, and he clamped it shut, unable to continue. He looked away, studying his half-finished breakfast as it congealed on his plate. Finally he muttered softly, "I hate cats." Then, after a moment of awkward silences, broken only by James and Lily's incessant bickering, he glanced up and asked, "You going to be okay?"
Remus nodded, obviously relieved. "Yeah. My dad fixed me up as best he could. I'm supposed to check in with Pomfrey later. I just wanted to be sure you were okay first."
Of course, after hearing that, Sirius felt even worse. "You shouldn't worry about me," he said stiffly. "I can take care of myself."
"Oh, shut up," laughed Lily, startling Sirius. He hadn't even noticed that she and James had finally quieted down. "Of course we're going to worry. We're your friends. You can't get rid of us just by being a grump!" Her eyes grew serious. "And you can't always take care of yourself. Not alone. You can't always be your own hero."
His eyes flashed dangerously. "I'm not a hero."
Lily said nothing, but her eyes were defiant, daring him to continue.
Sirius sighed, and motioned to the table. "Why don't you guys sit down and actually eat something?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Remus squirmed, obviously still uncomfortable after Sirius' interrogation. "I couldn't sleep on the train, so I think I'm just going to check in with Mme. Pomfrey and then get some rest." He smiled weakly, finally allowing his gold eyes to meet Sirius'. Then, without another word, he hurried out of the room.
Sirius and Lily exchanged worried glances. James, as usual, was completely oblivious. He tugged on Sirius' ponytail and grinned. "You know, this thing is getting longer than Lily's. Think maybe it's about time for a haircut?" A wicked gleam shone in the Gryffindor's eyes. "I could do it for you..."
"No, thank you. I'd rather not be bald."
James yanked again, eliciting a growl and a glare from his friend.
Lily smacked him. "Leave him alone, you jerk!" she snapped, green eyes flashing. "I think it looks nice. Much better than your mop." Before James could even think of a retort, she flashed them a winning smile and said brightly, and jumped up to her feet. "Well, anyway, I'm off. I have to unpack. I despise waiting and having a thousand things to do before bed, don't you? See you both at supper!" One quick, friendly wave and she, too, was gone.
The boys just stared after her.
Finally James spoke. "You're her friend. Does she always do that?"
James shook his head in amazement. "Strange. They're like a completely different species."
Sirius managed a weak smile. It faded quickly. "James," he said softly. "Did Remus tell you what's wrong with him."
The Gryffindor sent him a blank look. He glanced between Sirius and the door their friends had just left through. "What do you mean?"
Green eyes locked with blue for a moment before Sirius sighed in exasperation and looked away. "Honestly, James. Are you completely blind?" He made an all-encompassing motion with his hand over his face and body, jerky and rough in his irritation. "The scratches and back-from-the-dead appearance? Or did that strike you as normal?"
James relaxed, smirking. "Oh, that. He said it's the flu. I thought he just told you the same thing." He sat down next to the Slytherin, straddling the chair and leaning his chin against its back. Something he would never do if any professors had been present, Sirius couldn't help noting. Not the perfect little angel. He rolled his eyes.
"You believed him? You really believed that. The flu? I mean…" He groped around for the right words. "He's always sick! Always! No one is always sick unless something is wrong! That idiot, Pettigrew can see it, and half the time I don't think he notices anything unless it makes people focus on him. How can you, his friend, be this dense?"
James just blinked at him, looking for once like he was really thinking it through. He paused a moment, considering. Then, a puzzled look on his face, he asked, "Wait a minute, Sirius… who's Pettigrew?"
"Forget it," Sirius snapped, standing up, beyond annoyed. He didn't know why he had expected anything different. This was how it always was when he talked to James about Remus. Either the Gryffindor blew up on him, or else he feigned idiocy. Because Sirius knew that's exactly what it was. James was brilliant when he bothered noticing things. His problem was that if he didn't like something, he pretended it wasn't there. Remus wasn't sick. Pettigrew apparently didn't exist. Sirius wasn't Slytherin. James just wanted everything to always be good, so if it wasn't, he pretended until it was… at least to him…
"Sirius… Come on… I don't want to fight again…" James sounded awkward. He wasn't used to asking favors, and that's really what this was coming down to.
Sirius took a deep breath, and then sighed. He didn't want to start a fight up again, either. But he couldn't talk with James right now. He was quiet for a moment, then said in a calmer voice. "Look, I'm fine. I just had a rough vacation, so I'm on edge, okay? Give me a little while to cool off. No worries." He glanced back at his friend. "Okay?"
James nodded, looking a little worried. "Sure. I'll see you at lunch, then."
Sirius managed a faint smile. "Right. Lunch." He turned and left the room.
He was bored again, sitting in the library, doodling badly on some spare parchment in his bag. His housemates had been slowly trickling into the Slytherin common room all morning until he couldn't deal with it anymore and had to leave. Snape alone was bad enough. Lucius and his little snake were beyond his endurance. So, here he was in his old haunt, drawing pictures of the vampire cat that had apparently attacked Remus while he had the flu.
"Why the hell were you playing with a cat if you were that sick… that's what I'd like to know," he muttered, making the cat's fangs as long as its ears. The thing looked ridiculous. It didn't even look like a cat. He crumpled up the parchment and flicked it across the table, reaching into the paper to grab a fresh page of parchment. Instead, his fingers found the journal. He'd forgotten it was in there, buried under the mess of broken quills and crumpled papers in his bag. Carefully, he pulled it out and took a look at it. The cover was old and leathery, the pages yellowed. A quick flip through the book, showed that they were all blank. He sighed. It was probably just a poorly thought out gift to some kid who didn't want it years ago. Boring…
He considered making it a sketch book for his atrocious artwork. At least then James could stop crabbing at his sketches completely taking over his notes in astronomy class. And no one could yell at him for doodling on Remus anymore… not that he'd done that in ages. Smirking, he picked up his pen and touched it to the paper.
"Sirius! There you are! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
Sirius jumped at the sound of Lily's voice, snapping the journal shut and tossing it into his bag. Quickly, he turned to see her hurry over. He managed a quick smile, but that faded as soon as he saw the look of concern in her eyes.
"Prof. Meadows…" She stopped and took a shaky breath.
Sirius noticed for the first time how flushed her face was. That she looked… frightened.
He was on his feet before she could say any more. "What happened?" Bloody auror… Sirius already knew what she was going to say. He must have heard Sirius talk in his sleep. Figured out what was going on, and spread it. The Ministry would be on their way for sure… or worse…
He shuddered, trying not to think too hard on that "worse"… failing as fragments of recently surfaced memories came back to him.
"Sirius?" Lily's concern had momentarily shifted to the Slytherin, and he realized how he must look.
Shaking his head, he asked in as level a voice as he could manage, "What has Meadow's done?" His voice was hard, older.
Her emerald eyes widened. "Done?" She blinked. "He hasn't done anything yet, though he's been talking about it. Did you already know?"
He didn't answer, shoving everything into his bag. "I need to talk to Dumbledore. I need to tell him…"
"Tell him what? He already knows. He told the professor…"
That stopped him. "He told…?"
Lily nodded, her eyes looking a little red. Had she been crying? "Dumbledore was the one who told the professor. I just overheard. I feel terrible for him…
She paused. "Oh," she said softly, sadly. "You don't know, then."
"Know what?" He was fighting the intense desire to shake the information out of her.
"The professor's daughter was killed over the holiday."
Author's Note 2: Thanks for reading this. I appreciate it... a lot. Especially those of you who might have actually been reading this since it started. I REALLY appreciate that you stuck around. Either way, please review. And please accept my apologies for the ... er... delay in my update...