Velvet Rouge avec Black Wine
Chapter 7: Review
Disclaimer: Names and property rights of Harry Inc. are confined to Madam J.K Rowling.
Author's Notes: Just something to tide me over.
The final touches done over and over again until a masterpiece is formed from an intricate design of banality.
The days following the Student Council meeting, the Investigation Board began to call on students who had appeared on Groundskeeper Fitch's list for questioning. There seemed to be no deliberate order to the list and some students found themselves spirited away for several hours at a time, while others were released in a matter of minutes. Despite the presence of the Review Board during the interviews, rumors began to circulate about Lucius' provocative manner of questioning—so much so that students now referred to it as the Inquisition Board.
Nothing was deemed off limits to the Board and with the Malfoys' connection to all manner of government institutions, it wasn't a problem for Lucius to procure the records of every student that came in for questioning. The Academy was thick with salacious gossip and suspicion, made worse by the fact that the one student they all believed to have been responsible had yet to be called upon.
Remus, however, was under no such disillusions. The fact that he had yet to be asked in only reaffirmed his belief that the Investigation Board was making inquiries into his past to build up a stronger case against him. It was only a matter of time before Crabbe and Goyle would appear to escort him to the Investigation Board. The thought of Malfoy making public his private scandal was enough to make him break out into a cold sweat. He had thought that the events of that warm April morning had been safely buried with his father's money and influence. However, under Lucius' close scrutiny, the lies that had been so carefully fabricated stood to be unraveled at any moment. Remus' feeling of anxiety was made worse by the fact that he had no one to confide to. Every night, he was visited with terrible dreams of being found out, and being inevitably shunned by the people he now called friends. The accusing stares and malicious whispers of his nightmares kept him from sleep. But instead of succumbing to exhaustion, he spent the nights in frenzied production, refining his submission piece.
It had taken him weeks to settle on a suitable subject. Curiously, it had been Sirius who had helped him make the final decision. Remus would freely admit that there was something about the dark haired boy with his careless arrogance that he found intriguing. The planes of his face and the animation his expressions lent were utterly fascinating to behold and left an impression long after the older boy was out of sight.
It embarrassed Remus to use Sirius as his subject matter without first asking the other boy's permission, but since Sirius seemed to be preoccupied as of late, he had no other choice. Peter had informed him of Sirius' position as head of the Review Board and James had confirmed it, taking particular note of the long hours the dark haired boy now kept writing long missives which were posted by the morning carrier. No one but members of the Student Council had seen the dark haired boy longer than the few seconds it took to pass by him in the hallways—those who did were surprised to find the oddly serious expression that seemed to be fixed on Sirius' face.
And yet, despite the uncertainty he faced, something about painting the other boy excited Remus. The longing expression that had been on the Sirius' face while he stood, bathed in the refracted light of the cathedral's stained glass windows, haunted Remus. It was a combination of desire, fear and despair like nothing he had seen before and yet so wholly perfect that it had left him breathless.
That was the emotion he wanted his painting of Ganymede to impart as he was raised into the heavens. Half ecstasy, half anguish, it would be Remus' finest work which would correct the emotional defects of his past compositions and add a depth that critics had always said he lacked. And so he worked into the nights, trying to perfect each nuance of Ganymede's expression even as he waited anxiously to be summoned by the Investigation Board.
Remus thinks it's ironic that the day his submission is completed is the day that the Investigation Board finally decides to call on him. After days of seclusion, he had ventured forth from his room in the wee hours of the morning, just as the first rays of daylight peeked through the clouds. The halls seemed eerily empty, devoid of the warmth that was usually generated by the press of student bodies within the corridors. He had just placed his folio on Professor Essex's desk when he became aware of the presence of two very large individuals on either side of him.
"Est-ce que je peux vous aider? May I help you?"
Goyle, the larger of the two, grunted jerking his head to indicate that they should leave the room. "Come with us."
"And if I don't?" Remus asked, more curious than challenging.
Crabbe cracked his knuckles ominously. "You don't want to know."
And so that was how Remus found himself being shepherded down the freezing corridors, sandwiched between Malfoy's escorts, unable to do much but shiver underneath his thin robes. Luckily, it didn't take long before they arrived at their destination. The room itself was down an obscure corridor, but was much more spacious than it looked on the outside. It was also, Remus was happy to note, equipped with a fireplace.
A large wooden table took up the better half of the room and seated at the head was none other than Lucius Malfoy, staring balefully at Remus with his icy blue eyes. A handful of other students were similarly present, seated on either side of the table, with expressions ranging from bored indifference to outright dislike. Remus had seen them all in passing, most of whom kept company with Malfoy. If James' description of the Student Council was accurate, then the seven who sat before him were the seven most powerful students within their respective Divisions, if not in the entire school, with the ability to see him expelled if they deemed it necessary. The Council's power of expulsion had not been called into action for almost a decade, but Remus knew that they would have no qualms against using it against a dangerous outsider whose presence threatened the integrity of the Academy.
After weeks of worrying, Remus found that he felt oddly detached to the scene at hand. There was little else he could offer to counter the accusations that were to be levied upon him other than his word. There was no doubt in his mind that his guilt had already been decided beforehand and his presence now was merely for show. Once this hearing was over, he would be placed on the next coach headed to France, if not placed into police custody for destroying school property.
McNair, from his seat in the corner cleared his throat. "Now that the subject in question is present, I believe we should carry on with the hearing."
The sandy haired boy on Lucius' far left looked pointedly at the empty seat across from him. "It seems that Master Black has been delayed. Perhaps we should postpone this hearing until a later time."
"Councilman Black was made aware of the time of this hearing beforehand," Lucius Malfoy replied coldly. "The fact that he has failed to make an appearance will not affect the ruling of the Investigation Board. Furthermore, as a member of the Review Board, his presence is not mandatory by Student Council law, and so this hearing will proceed as scheduled. Black may peruse the minutes of this meeting at a later time at his leisure."
Remus could not stop the rush of disappointment that washed over him as he heard Malfoy's announcement. Sirius had known of his upcoming hearing and had chosen not to come. Of course the older boy had no obligation to do so, but Remus had thought that their friendship—if such a tenuous relationship could be called that—had meant more.
Somehow, the thought of Sirius believing the malicious gossip being spread about upset Remus more than the fact that his future as an artist was now at an end. No respectable European institution would take him after his expulsion. He would be forced to return home to the suffocating quiet of the countryside to languish in ennui until he went mad. And despite the horrifying future in front of him, the only thing Remus wanted now was for Sirius to believe in his innocence.
"Remus Lupin, third year transfer student of the Painter's Division." Sturgis Podmore of the Review Board nodded. "You have been brought before the Investigation Board to aid with a pending investigation regarding the vandalism that occurred in the East Wing of the Academy, specifically the classroom and office of Professor Essex, a highly regarded instructor of the Painter's Division. Please be advised that it is in your best interest to be completely forthright with the Investigation Board. Now, if you would be so kind as to recount, to the best of your ability, your movements on the day of November 26th."
"I spent the entirety of it in my chambers, confined to my bed. Meals were brought by friends as I spent most of the day catching up with my studies, with an occasional social call."
"Forgive me if I find that difficult to believe," Councilman Parkinson sneered, his pug-like nose crinkling with distain. "From what I understand, you were excused from classes because of an unexplained malady for over a week. Do you mean to tell me that this illness was so serious that it had you incapacitated to the point of being bed-ridden?"
"That is correct."
"And yet you were lucid enough to complete late assignments?" Montague, another Investigation member, commented with a raised eyebrow. "Didn't you find such activities strenuous in your poor condition?"
"I may have been physically bed-ridden, but my mental faculties were fully functional, I assure you," Remus replied.
"Then why is it then that school records only show of one doctor's visit?" Parkinson asked, continuing his questioning. Lucius, who sat to his right simply regarded Remus with cool distain, evidently satisfied with allowing his attack dog to carry on with his interrogation. "Surely such a serious condition warranted doctoral supervision to check on the progress of the patient's health?"
"Since childhood, I have had a poor constitution—a result of having weak lungs," Remus explained. "This, unfortunately, has made me more susceptible to the cold. It is not uncommon for me to miss several days of class every month because of this. I'm afraid that this particular month, my health has been severely taxed by extensive travel and brisk English weather. Illness was inevitable. I had informed Doctor Wolscroft of all this during his visit and he believed that my condition did not require constant supervision, recommending several days of bed rest."
"Who can verify this account?" McNair asked suspiciously, narrowing his eyes.
"Sirius Black, Headmaster Dumbledore, James Potter and Peter Pettigrew," Remus replied softly. The names were duly noted by the secretary. "The last two were with me well into the night. Immediately afterwards, I retired for the day."
"And how late was that?" Kingsley inquired.
"I can't say I recall," Remus frowned, trying to remember. "A few candle marks past midnight I suppose."
"And so you would have had time to leave your room and travel down the East wing to Professor Essex's classroom?" Parkinson pressed.
"Entirely circumstantial," Kingsley made a dismissive motion. "I dare say any student would be capable of leaving their rooms after hours."
"Ah," Parkinson tutted, his eyes still fastened on Remus. "Perhaps it is fortunate then that Lupin does not have a room-mate. It would make any after-hour excursions easier to hide."
"It is true that I do not share my living quarters with another student," Remus admitted. "I felt my illness would inconvenience anyone who was assigned to room with me. The Headmaster agreed. However, I did not request it for the purpose of sneaking out after-hours."
"You seem to have a close relationship with the Headmaster," Councilman Warrington remarked slyly from Lucius' left hand side. His dark blue eyes glimmered with amusement at Remus' discomfort. "Perhaps he has been giving you preferential treatment…?"
Remus felt his ears turn red. "Of course not!"
"This line of questioning will get us nowhere," Catwell interjected, slightly annoyed. "I suggest we move on from this topic."
"Agreed. Councilman Malfoy, you spoke before of having supplementary information that may assist in the pending investigation," Podmore raised an eyebrow. "Would you happen to have this information at hand?"
"Unfortunately I do not. My source has been inexplicably delayed," Lucius said frostily, his icy gaze narrowed. "It seems that I am having some difficultly extracting the necessary papers from Lupin's former school. Apparently, they have been taken out of public circulation. No one apart from select family members is allowed access to his files. Quite convenient, is it not?"
Amidst the general murmur of agreement, a voice from the doorway spoke up. "I think I can provide an explanation for that."Seven heads turned to see the Headmaster standing at the doorway with an amused expression on his face. In his hands were a thick stack of papers, bound together by a leather cord. At the top was the official seal of the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. Remus' eyes widened at the sight. Surely not!
"I had requested that they be transferred once Master Lupin was enrolled," the Headmaster continued, seemingly oblivious to Lucius' stormy expression. "I'm afraid the Registrar has been lax in updating the school records, which is why I felt it was my duty to bring them personally. Fortunately, it seems that I am just in time," Dumbledore said cheerfully, taking a seat beside Remus. He did not address the light haired boy directly, choosing instead to direct his gaze towards Malfoy who looked very much displeased at his presence.
At the sight of Dumbledore's calm expression, Remus found himself unconsciously relaxing. He had promised that he would take measures to prevent Remus' past from being brought to public. There would be nothing to worry about.
"I was not aware that the Headmaster had so much interest in the affairs of the Student Council," Lucius drawled. "Or perhaps it is the subject in question that the Headmaster has taken an interest to?"
"I assure you, Councilman Malfoy, that my participation here ends with the delivery of Master Lupin's files," Dumbledore smiled to the group. "However, I am curious as to the outcome of this hearing, and so I believe I shall stay on to hear of it first-hand. Please do not allow my presence to affect your decision-making, gentlemen."
"Indeed it will not," Lucius smiled smugly. "For surely, the Investigation Board and the Review Board members have sufficient evidence to name the culprit responsible. I move to call for an immediate verdict rendering."
Remus was momentarily confused until he realized the reasoning behind Malfoy's urgency. With the members as they were, the Investigation Board, who were under the thumb of Lucius Malfoy, were in the clear majority. Even if Remus had managed to convince all the Review Board members of his innocence, the vote would still be 4-3 in favor of Malfoy. He felt his stomach churn sickeningly. Would this be how the hearing ended?
"Wait a moment," Kingsley said abruptly, forestalling any action. "In light of this new evidence, I believe a recess is in order to review all the available material. No decision will be made during this period, after which, Remus Lupin will be called again to continue questioning."
Lucius' eyes flashed angrily. "I see no point in extending this hearing. I believe it is clear to everyone--"
"Perhaps," Kingsley said shrugging. "But I'm sure if the decision is clear, then a candle mark or two will not make a difference either way. I would hate to have the credibility of the Investigation Board questioned by the students."
Lucius' lips pursed into a thin line as he realized he had no other choice but to agree. As a member of the Review Board, Kingsley was within his rights to call for an extension to evaluate new evidence. "Fine," he said shortly, sounding displeased with the turn of events. "The hearing will resume after one candle mark—no longer."
Remus had barely stepped foot outside of the Investigation Chambers when he was grabbed by one Sirius Black.
"Keep quiet and follow me," Sirius hissed, dragging Remus through the back corridors, avoiding the larger crowds of students milling around the main hallways. Taken aback, the light haired boy kept silent, allowing him to be tugged along. It wasn't until they arrived to his room that Sirius rounded on Remus with dark eyes flashing.
"Would you mind telling me what the hell is going on?"
"That's right. You weren't there, were you?" Remus said dully, shivering slightly. He walked to his dresser and dug out a heavy winter cloak. Compared to the previous room, his chambers were bare, lacking heating appliances and a fireplace that most dorm rooms boasted. The temperature wasn't what had Remus shaking, but it was a plausible excuse nonetheless. "Still, I'm sure you can piece together what happened."
"Humor me," Sirius grounded out, annoyed by Remus' recalcitrance.
The boy in front of him shrugged. "I was called in, Malfoy questioned me about my missing school records, and Dumbledore supplied them. Now they've called for a temporary recess to look at the new material. End of story."
"What did you tell them when you were questioned?"
"You know," Sirius frowned. "That kind of evasive, insubstantial codswallop might work on Malfoy and the Investigation Board, but not me. You know perfectly well that the papers Dumbledore gave to Malfoy were forged."
At the last part, Remus' head whipped up and he shot a guilty look at the boy in front of him.
"You knew all along?" the light haired boy paled. "Then you must think I'm guilty." The last part was said in subdued tones, more to himself than Sirius.
"What makes you think that?"
"You weren't at the hearing earlier," Remus said with downcast eyes. "I thought…"
"I thought you had abandoned me," the light haired boy whispered.
"I never doubted you," Sirius said gravely, lifting Remus' chin so that the younger boy met his gaze. Something in his eyes must have reassured Remus for he seemed to relax a fraction. "In fact, I was the one who forged them in the first place."
"Wha-?" The expression on Remus' face was priceless. Sirius was almost tempted to smile.
"I knew Malfoy would try to use whatever resources that were at his disposal to uncover any information he could about you, so I tapped a few of Uncle Alphard's connections in France to see if they would be able to obtain your files before Malfoy got his hands on them," Sirius said frowning slightly. Remus was struck with the memory of what James had said earlier about Sirius writing missives well into the night. Had that been all for him?
"But despite my best efforts," Sirius continued. "It seems that your records had already been sealed—buried underneath so much legal tape that my source was flagged and called in for questioning by the French police. He was detained for several days for showing an inappropriate amount of interest in a closed case. Once I heard this, I realized then that Malfoy would also have difficult time obtaining those records, so I decided to take matters into my own hands and have your papers forged. A few modifications here and there and it seems that Remus Lupin was quite the sickly child whose parents withdrew him from school after a nasty bout of pneumonia to recuperate in the warm countryside. "
"That's quite a tale," Remus shook his head.
"But plausible, which is the only thing that matters," Sirius insisted. "I thought Malfoy would have some suspicions if I had been the one to provide the papers, which was why I asked Dumbledore to deliver them. I was also conveniently absent, so that the Investigation Board couldn't declare the decision of the Review Board biased since we're such good friends."
Remus found himself blushing at the last two words. Good friends. How foolish he had been to doubt Sirius. For all of his jokes and flippant remarks, the dark haired boy was surprisingly dependable in times of crisis.
Sirius' eyes narrowed speculatively at Remus' thoughtful silence. "Tell me what really happened."
"I can't…" Wide golden eyes pleaded Sirius not to ask and the dark haired boy couldn't help but wonder just what Remus was trying so very hard to hide.
"I'm simply trying to help, Remus," Sirius tried to assure him. "I can't do that if you're not honest with me." He wasn't sure if he was gratified by Remus' expression, which was held an equal amount of confusion and shame. It was as if the light haired boy hadn't expected such loyalty from a friend, and was unsure as to how to react.
Remus was silent for a time, and Sirius wondered if the fair headed boy trusted him enough by now to share a little of what was on his mind. Their budding friendship hadn't been exposed to the most favorable conditions, but Sirius believed that his relationship with the Frenchman would be one of the most important ones of his entire life. This very moment could possibly make or break their friendship, depending on Remus' response. For if there was something Sirius Black could not abide, it was liars.
Remus seemed to sense some type of urgency behind Sirius' request, for he hesitated only for a moment before finally nodding slowly.
"There was…an incident…a few years ago, involving myself and another year mate. As you might expect, competition at L'École is quite cut-throat. A painting couldn't be finished without the risk of some minor sabotage. In my third year, a complaint was brought up against me and through some strange circumstance, I was thought to be the guilty party. The Board of Governors discreetly asked that I take an extended leave of absence for the remainder of the semester, with the assurance that I would be able to return after the scandal died down. But after a few years of languishing in my parent's country cottage, I finally realized that I would never be called back and so I found myself here, trying to start anew."
Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Did you do it?"
"Everyone seemed to think so. Nothing I said otherwise seemed to make a difference. Not even my parents believed me." Remus sighed, rubbing his eyes tiredly. His eyes took on a far away look, momentarily disconnected with the present. His face was completely blank, except for the shadows that flitted through his golden orbs. Sirius realized then the full import of Remus' earlier statement, 'I thought you had abandoned me.' It was a wonder that the light haired boy had any capacity to trust after being forsaken by the ones closest to him. Blood was supposed to be thicker than water and so it hurt all the more to be turned away by the very people who were supposed to love you unconditionally. Sirius himself had experienced a similar feeling, and he doubted, if he would ever be able to wholly trust another person again without reserve.
"What happened to your real records?"
"Like your source said, they've been sealed," Remus said softly. "After I was dismissed from school, my father pulled a few strings and had the entire case and everything related to it covered up so that the press couldn't get a hold of them. He threw money at the constables and officers involved to keep them quiet, and everything seemed to be solved. It was damage control, more than anything else. He was more concerned about the family's reputation than he was about me."
The last part was said with a surprising amount of bitterness and Sirius nodded sympathetically, reaching over to squeeze Remus' shoulder reassuringly. "I know. You don't have to explain. Uncle Alphard's done his part to prevent the blackening of the family name." Sirius was rewarded with a mock grimace as Remus smiled at him half-exasperated, a warm feeling of affection reflected in his burnished eyes.
Hesitantly, Sirius slid the hand resting on the other boy's shoulder so that it rested against the column of Remus' neck. Gently, he brushed his thumb across Remus' jaw, marveling at the delicacy.
Beautiful. The thought came unbidden and Sirius leaned forward, in an effort to close the distance between them. Remus' eyes widened in alarm at the unexpected action and his lips parted to stop the dark haired boy, but he found that the words died unspoken as he sat transfixed under the intensity of Sirius' gaze, which was drawing inextricably closer.
Their faces were only inches apart when an insistent knock on the door alerted them to company outside.
Sirius froze, coming back to himself. Hastily, he pulled back, stepping a good distance away from the bed, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. He shot an apologetic look at the light haired boy, who still had a stunned expression on his face, before clearing his throat. "Come in."
The door opened to reveal the two figures of James and Peter standing at the door. At the sight of Remus, James' face broke out into a grin.
"Have you heard it then?"
"Heard it?" Remus echoed, with a confused look on his flustered face.
"Kingsley's just told us the good news, mate," James smiled from ear to ear, his hazel eyes dancing merrily. "You're officially off the hook."
"Wha-?" Sirius and Remus looked at each other, mirroring expressions of disbelief. Had Malfoy given up so easily after seeing the forged papers? It all seemed too good to believe.
"Seems awful suspect," Sirius said looking skeptical, giving voice to Remus' doubt. There had to be a catch.
"Well, it seems that Professor Essex received your Winter Exhibition submission this morning and approved it on sight," the gangly boy explained. "The announcement of the final entrants was just made to the entire school. You and Malfoy won the last two slots."
"Which means Essex doesn't believe you're the vandal," Sirius breathed, putting two and two together. He grinned excitedly at Remus. "You received his official endorsement."
"Plus," James continued. "The angle Malfoy was trying to work by claiming that Remus was seeking revenge for not being selected to participate in the Exhibition is now null and void. In addition to the files Dumbledore supplied, Remus' innocence seems pretty clear—not that I ever doubted you, old boy. The Review Board has now moved to dismiss Remus from the list of suspects and halt further questioning and the Investigation Board has no choice but to comply or look like asses. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Fantastique," Remus said weakly, as if he was still unable to convince himself of his good fortune. "Really, spectacular." The reality of the situation had barely sunk in. A few candle marks ago, he had been ready to pack up his belongings and say good-bye to the few friends that he made. Now, he was being told that he would be allowed to stay, with a full pardon. Remus shook his head. Everything seemed to be going so fast, and then there was Sirius still looking at him with that strange glint in his eyes.
"Must have been quite the sketch," James mused aloud, interrupting Remus' thoughts. "What did you pick as your topic?"
A light blush colored the bridge of his nose as the fair headed boy as he shook his head, unwilling to share his subject. "C'est un secret."
"No matter," James said dismissively when he saw Remus giving Sirius a strange look. Sirius, for his part couldn't seem to meet the younger boy's eyes, the tips of his ears reddening suspiciously. "We'll see it sooner or later. But for now, I believe a celebration is in order."
Sirius' eyes flashed at the mention of possible festivities and he was back to his old mischievous self. "How right you are, James. I suppose you already have a certain tavern in mind."
"Why, Sirius Black, I do believe you've become a clairvoyant."
"A drop in the bucket," Sirius assured him. "My other skills are similarly impressive."
"Then I suppose you already have a plan?"
"Don't I always?"
"Well there was that one time with the old suit of armor on the second floor…"
Sirius looked wounded. "I thought we weren't ever going to mention that again."
"Oh, quite right. I do apologize. Now, what were we discussing?"
"Fireworks," Sirius said promptly. "And copious amounts of alcohol."
"Really, that's not necessary--" Remus tried to cut in, but his objections were overridden as James and Sirius continued to plan his congratulatory party discussing the feasibility of lighting a couple of the new Filibuster's Wet-Start No-Heat Fireworks inside of the Three Broomsticks. The pair seemed quite adamant and Remus eventually gave up protesting and resigned himself to his fate, inserting a few comments here and there as to the best way to sneak in a sack of fireworks past the ever vigilant Madam Rosmerta. He found himself smiling for the first time in days.
No one noticed as Peter sat quietly off to the side, voluntarily absenting himself from plans of merrymaking. From the moment he had entered the room, he had yet to speak a word. Really, if he had been given a choice, he would not have come at all. James was the one who had insisted and Peter had found himself plastering a fake congratulatory smile for Remus' sake. Even now, he would grunt his agreement from time to time, but he spent the most of it staring at Remus with unblinking eyes, reflecting ill-concealed resentment.