Secret Keeper - Chapter Nine
He kept watch from the window, only a little reassured by the promises of countless charms on the building to shield him from curious eyes. His grip on his broom was so tight it was certain to leave splinters lodged in the soft meat of his palm, but he scarcely noticed. If things went well, everything would be different from here on out. Here was where he proved himself.
On top of the building across from him, he could see them milling about. Although he couldn't make out their faces from this distance, he knew they were knit in concern and worry and at the same time a wild sort of hope as much as his was. Though they gave their alleigiance to different factions, at heart they were still the same, kids hoping to carve out a niche for themselves in the world and finding it wasn't as easy as they'd thought.
There was a soft murmur from behind him, a command in a quiet tone, and suddenly his palms were slick with sweat and anticipation where before they'd been dry with fear. There was no time to think, no time to balk; instantly, he slung a leg over his broom and kicked out with a yell, arm raised before his face to protect himself from the shower of glass that ensued. It was a bold attack, one lacking in complex magics, and that was what they relied on.
The figures they sped towards froze briefly, wether in surprise or anger he didn't know, but the next they were airborne, yelling grim challenges of their own in voices tight with fear and anger. He barely recognised the face that met him first, or maybe he refused to recognise it beyond the tousle of dark hair and glint of moonlight on glasses as he flung out his wand arm, bellowing into the night, not caring who might hear, "AVADA --
Peter sat up with a jolt, constrained by sheets and flailing against them. For a moment, he was certain he saw the room lit by a blinding flash of green light, but certainly the other Gryffindors would not sleep so soundly -- Healy snoring loudly somewhere off to his left -- if that had been the case. The room was dark, and when Peter nervously scrubbed a hand through his hair, it came away slick with sweat. Another dream, then -- he'd been having them so frequently lately that although they still frightened him, he was never surprised when he woke with a start to find himself clutching his pillow against his chest.
Fumbling beside him on the bedside table he shared with another seventh year, Peter found his wand and whispered, "Parvus lumen," breathing an inaudible sigh of relief when the room was faintly lit by the dim glow coming from his wand. He climbed out of bed, grimacing as his feet touched the cold floor, and began to make his rounds.
Sirius Black, asleep on his back in a disconcertingly funeral state of repose, hands folded on his chest, face unusually grim in sleep as it never was when he was awake, although that was nothing strange. His breathing was deep and even.
Gardener Truitt, long limbs akimbo, breathing noisily through his open mouth, his small brown cat laying between his shoulder blades. The green eyes of the animal regarded Peter briefly with mild curiosity before it turned around and settled into better position to sleep.
Donovan Healy, one hand trailing along the floor, snoring softly with his sheets tangled about him, pillow on the floor next to his hand, a thin book -- Quidditch Through The Ages -- open on his chest.
And . . .
The curtains around the last bed were drawn, and Peter approached them slowly. He knew what he'd find; the same thing he'd found on the last five nights when he'd crept out of bed to reassure himself. Still, there was an unpleasant flutter of doubt as he took hold of the curtains and pulled them back.
James Potter, curled on his side.
James Potter, alive and well, of course.
Peter didn't realise he'd been holding his breath until he felt his lungs ache with relief with he let it out. Of course he's alive, twit, he chastised himself mentally. The last shreds of the nightmare had already left him, dispelled by the familliar shapes and faces in the room and rythmic sound of windblown snow outside. He'd been having the nightmares for a while now, brought on by the stress of exams as well as heading home, nevermind the looming threat grimly reported by the newspapers, he figured, and he hadn't bothered to mention them to any of the others.
After all, they were only dreams. And dreams, of course, didn't mean anything.
Nevertheless, Peter stood quietly at his friend's bedside, listening to the even breathing, until the light from his wand caused James to stir uncomfortably in his sleep, and he retreated to bed.
The remaining week of school before the holidays seemed to drag by, and the teachers suddenly found themselves presiding over rows of increasingly fidgiting students, last-minute Christmas wish lists passed with hopeful murmurs. Professor Prichard's classes, after the first depressing day, seemed to become more and more mundane; the Professor herself didn't seem to have any interest in the subject beyond a grim fascination with death omens, and often seemed to drift off when not adressing the class through her lessons, read straight from the books . . . which, it was rumoured, Headmaster Dumbledore preferred over needless worrying.
Judging by Remus' account of class, Peter agreed. He himself had quite enough to worry about without having a teacher trying to convince him everyone he loved was suddenly going to keel over dead into their Christmas soup. He had managed to dig a sizeable trench through the homework he had been assigned, setting determinedly to the task and forgoing after-class excursions with James and the others, and was pleased with the results. However choppy his nighttimes might be, at least the loads during the day had been lessened, even if he thought of little more these days than the proper wand motions to use when banishing the tusks from a boar in Charms (last class he had only succeeded in enlarging them to the point where the animal's alarmed squeals had been deafening as it struggled to lift it's head while Professor Flitwick fought his way through the amused crowd.).
Peter hurried through the library now, arms laden with heavy texts for some last minute studying, only to find himself met with a long winding line at the front desk populated by distraught students doing the same. Far ahead, he could hear the librarian calling shrilly and irritably, "Keep it organised! Keep it coming! And for Merlin's sake, keep it quiet!"
With the possibility of finding a bit of free time before his next class to review his History of Magic notes with Remus, Peter resigned himself to the line with a sigh. Although Madam Pince, the librarian, was a force to be reckoned with, many of the students were still murmuring nervously and fidgeting uncomfortably, bemoaning late assignments and difficult classes to one another. The strain seemed to be getting to everyone, and, craning his neck around, Peter actually saw a dishevelled looking Slytherin comforting a sobbing Hufflepuff who was waving a long list of assignments in despair.
"That's always the way, isn't it? A little pressure, and they just fall apart."
Peter jumped at the low feminine voice spoken behind him and turned to find Narcissa Black had taken place in the line. His tongue turned to putty in his mouth, and before his brain could come up with a sufficiently witty reply, he heard himself say, "Who? Hufflepuff?"
"No. Everybody." Affecting a look of great boredom, Narcissa balanced the single slim volume she was waiting to check out -- Exotic Enchantments by Mercutio Valblander -- on her hip and peered down at him. She was a tall young woman, strikingly pretty and slender, gleaming auburn hair falling in perfectly styled ringletts about her slender neck. Even her robes seemed of a better cut than the other students', although Peter might have thought that was an illusion created by her bearing; Narcissa always tended to carry herself as though she were striding before a discerning court. "It's silly. If they'd been paying attention all year instead of playing the fools, they wouldn't be laden down with work as they are now."
"You aren't?" Peter asked, still feeling wrong-footed. He'd always fancied Narcissa, at least for her face if not for the perpetually bored mind behind it, and he still found it difficult to believe she was speaking to him. Narcissa seemed to keep to a small knot of coiffed girls from the Houses, although mostly recently she seemed to be spending more and more time with Lucius Malfoy. Sometimes Peter could still hardly believe she was related to Sirius at all.
"No. I finished all my assignments ages ago. Haven't you?"
"Er . . . well . . . mostly." Peter lied, shifting his books so she couldn't read the titles.
Narcissa made a noncommittal sound, pale gaze sweeping over the students. Her expression had always been hard to read; Peter was never certain if she really was that bored, or just preferred to look that way. After a moment, she looked back at him. "Heading home for the holidays?" she asked, the question seeming to take a great deal of effort. Before he could respond, she'd shaken her head. "I imagine most everyone is, even those with work to do. And they'll forget all about it while they're stuffing their faces. Listen, have you seen Sirius lately?"
The change of topic came so fast, it was as though she had taken a hatpin and punctured the slowly swelling balloon of hope in his chest. Had he really thought she had been interested in carrying on a conversation with him? Sighing, Peter shook his head. "You might try James or Remus. I haven't had time, really. Studies."
Surprisingly, Narcissa smiled. Even more surprisingly was the way it seemed to sit on her face, as though it never left. "That's good. That's good to hear. Dilligence is always to be rewarded in our future endeavours."
"You . . . you, uh, take Divination, don't you?" Peter asked, shuffling ahead in line, eager to keep the conversation going. "I don't think Sirius likes that new teacher."
The smile had gone already, but Narcissa's tone was light and absent. "Professor Prichard? I think she's a fine woman. She fills the position quite nicely, none of that coddling Professor Fensworthy used to do." She paused, then added almost as an afterthought, "Tragic, what happened to her. Listen, Peter . . . when you see Sirius later, would you tell him I need to speak to him? I have a friend I want him to meet."
Peter was so pleased to know she knew his name -- Of course she knows your name, she's Sirius' cousin, his brain said, unheeded -- he would have agreed to walk on his hands for the rest of the day if she had asked. "Sure. Sure, of course I'll tell him."
"Thank you. You know, I really don't think I need this book after all." Narcissa placed the book on a nearby counter, but her gaze remained fixed thoughtfully on Peter's face. "You're a good student, aren't you, Peter? Lots of potential, I imagine. Maybe we'll all have to get together sometime. We might have something in common." With an absent nod of her head, she turned and swept out of the library, head high, hips swaying ever so slightly.
Peter found himself staring blankly after her. There had been an odd sort of emphasis on her words, and he wondered if he wasn't maybe being set up; Lucius Malfoy was notoriously vindictive and jealous, and although Sirius often referred to Narcissa as "at least tolerable", there was a possibility she was only toying with him.
Still, the way she had smiled at him . . .
"Keep it moving please!" Madame Pince snapped, slamming her palm on the top of the desk he hadn't even realised he'd finally come to stand in front of.
Author's Note: I am the least happy with this out of all of the chapters thus far. It was written at the end of holiday funk, and the tone is more like one I would use to write Fade to Black than potterfiction, although I don't feel it's badly written (I hope). Before anyone has anything to say about Narcissa's hair colour, I don't remember if it was ever mentioned anyway, and I imagine Draco could have gotten his from his father.