A/N: Mucho gracias to Shorty51, aurelie1, nanachama, silence kills me, amanda14, Aelan Greenleaf, Pottermaniac, lilian, kamers and pSyChOtIc-dOrK for reviewing. Your comments mean the world to me!
The Ebony Files
Chapter Six: All Hollow's Eve
"Moony, I'm so sorry..." Sirius moaned. "I didn't know what I was doing-"
"Don't worry about it," I grimaced, unraveling yet another layer of bloody bandages from around my middle.
It was the next morning - a Saturday, hence all the happy voices of students outside coming in through the window of our dormitory. In contrast, James, Sirius, Peter and I were all sitting (somewhat cramped) on my bed, surrounded by various bandages and tonics and ointments.
"So what happened exactly?" I asked, trying to divert their horrified attentions from the bleeding gash on my chest. "Sirius didn't exactly just bite me because he got hungry, did he?"
They exchanged nervous looks.
"Just tell me," I said impatiently. "I promise I won't get mad."
"You're really not going to like this one," Peter muttered in a low voice.
"That's obvious," Sirius snapped. "Look at him - he's bleeding like there's no tomorrow."
"Uh - you're the one who bit him," James reminded Sirius.
"Well, you're the one who came up with the dumb idea in the first place-" Sirius fired back.
"It wasn't dumb-"
"Why don't you all tell me what this 'dumb idea' was before you start arguing about it?" I interrupted.
Sirius and James stopped talking, but were still shooting slightly dangerous looks at each other, so I turned to Peter.
"Um," he said nervously. "What happened was - James had the er, idea of going into the Forbidden Forest. I mean, it wasn't unreasonable, we didn't think there was anything in there that could've hurt us-" he said quickly, glancing over at James, who looked rather pleased. Sirius' scowl deepened.
Encouraged by James' approval of his version of the tale, Peter continued. "Everything was great at first - but er, I guess the centaurs could still tell that we were human - except for you, of course - and they uh, they weren't too happy about us running around in their forest, so they started shooting arrows at us, and we all turned to get away, but you er, kind of attacked one - no, you didn't bite him," he said quickly, seeing the alarmed expression on my face. "But you would've ripped him to pieces if Padfoot hadn't er, stopped you-"
"With his teeth," I finished.
"Hey, it wasn't my choice," Sirius protested. "If you ask me, somebody needs to shower more often-"
"Oh, that's hilarious, Padfoot," I rolled my eyes. "Why don't we all just take a dip in the lake next time? See if we can provoke the giant squid?"
"He was kidding, Prongs," Sirius said loudly. James' excited expression fell.
"Honestly, mate," Sirius continued in an apologetic voice. "I didn't mean it to be that bad, you weren't really even bleeding when we headed back to the Shack-"
"It's okay,"I said hurriedly. "It's stopped anyway."
Three pairs of eyes turned to the growing red stain on my fresh bandages.
"Sort of," I blushed.
"Why don't you just take it to Madam Promfrey?" James asked. "She can fix this kind of thing in her sleep."
"Yeah, right. I'll just march up and tell her that one of my illegal Animagi pals sank his teeth into my skin when we were running around in the Forbidden Forest, terrorizing centaurs in the middle of the night. She'd skin me alive and then feed me to threstrals."
Peter laughed, but James still looked anxious.
"Prongs, stop looking at me like that, I'm fine," I insisted one more time, tugging a shirt over my head. I swung my legs off the bed, ignoring the sharp pain in my chest.
"Come on, guys, breakfast isn't going to serve itself. Not even here at Hogwarts."
The next day was Halloween, which meant two things - the first Hogsmeade trip of the year, and in the evening, the traditional Hogwarts Halloween feast. With these two events in queue, it was almost guaranteed to be a perfect day.
After an unusually noisy breakfast, almost all of the third years and older students filed out of the castle in a long winding line, us toward the end. A gaggle of third year girls had deliberately stationed themselves very close to Sirius; they kept trying to catch his eye as he stared determinedly in another direction. James, Peter and I tried not to grin to much.
Once we were out of the building, I talked and laughed alongside James, Sirius and Peter as we made the walk down to Hogsmeade village, but I couldn't help myself from glancing at a certain group of Gryffindor girls every few minutes or so...
"Moony, what do you keep looking at?" Sirius asked after the eleventh time I'd tried to catch Lily's eye. I turned around so quickly that I felt something crick in my neck.
"I think somebody's taken with Amelia Bones," James grinned.
James, you're the stupidest, most oblivious bloke on this planet - I'm taken with the girl you're taken with! I wanted to yell.
"Sod off," was what I said instead, rather unenthusiastically.
"Oooooh, he's upset!" Peter giggled.
"You know, I've had quite a few girls ask about you, Moony." Sirius winked.
I snorted. "Yeah, probably just as an excuse to talk to you."
"He's not kidding, mate," James smiled. "Chicks love the quiet, smart, gentleman-ly type. They think it's romantic. And plus, you're pretty good on the eyes too. Ruggedly handsome? Is that the word for it?"
I quickly clamped a hand over Sirius' mouth before he could make the gay joke.
"Ionnaickoo," he said, his warm breath ticking my palm.
"What - oh Sirius, that's disgusting-" I quickly wiped my wet palm against Sirius' robes.
"I said, 'I'm gonna lick you'," he grinned.
"Thanks for the translation," I rolled my eyes as I pushed open the heavy door of The Three Broomsticks. "Now that we're in a public area, you can stop acting your shoe size."
Peter went to get drinks as we settled ourselves on the familiar stools. For a few blissful moments, none of us said a word as we closed our eyes, cleared our heads and allowed ourselves to simply inhale in the heavenly aroma of freshly brewed butterbeer.
Then, James' eyes snapped open. "Merlin. I just had a bloody ingenius relevation."
"Revelation," I corrected him.
"Yeah, whatever. So get this - we're all seventeen years old!"
Sirius and I simultaneously shot him a look that clearly said, no duh, James.
"Do you know what this means We're legal, guys! We can order firewhisky!" he said excitedly.
"Like you didn't have enough at the Quidditch victory party," I muttered darkly. "I still have nightmares of your drunken renditions of David Bowie."
James acted like he didn't hear that last comment. "But this time it's legal," he protested after Sirius and I had stopped snickering.
"My mom let me'n Regulus have as much firewhisky as we wanted at home," Sirius said airily. "'Course, I didn't want any, you wouldn't've either if you'd ever seen my mom drunk. Let's just say it's not pretty, watching her slop it all over herself and then blaming the filthy, unworthy half-bloods," he smirked. "Ah, Pete, great, you didn't spill everything on the way back. Drinks're on me this time, boys..."
We wound up staying in the cozy tavern for the better part of two hours. At noon, I set down my mug of butterbeer and licked my lips nervously.
"Sorry to cut this short, guys, but I've gotta go meet Severus," I announced unconvincingly.
"Eh?" Peter burped, and then giggled.
"Severus," I repeated, rising from my stool. "I have to work with him."
"Snivelly? Where?" James cried, looking around wildly. His hands kept slipping off his drained firewhisky mug handle and he was sporting a thick foam mustache. I felt horribly guilty as I watched him begin to hum David Bowie songs again, his normally sharp hazel eyes unfocused and glazed over. Under normal circumstances I would never have let my friends consume so much alcohol - but it was a crucial part of the plan, and besides, the bartender wouldn't serve them more drinks if they reached the legal limit, which indeed all three of my friends looked like they'd accomplished.
"Yeah, uh, we've simmered the bowtruckle juice for three weeks now, so now it's really uh, important for us to see what's happened," I said quickly. "Um, since I'll be back at Hogwarts, if I could have the Map-"
Sirius obligingly reached into his robes and handed me the old folded parchment.
"Thanks," I said, pocketing it.
"Hafun with Snivy," James called drunkenly as I pushed open the door to leave.
"Oh, rest assured, I will," I smiled back, though none of them heard me.
Stepping outside, I was glad to see that there weren't many students on the streets. I hurried along, head bent, wondering if we could pull this off without anybody seeing...
I soon reached the front of the gates leading up to the Shrieking Shack, our meeting place. Nobody, not even the villagers, liked to linger here - they were all too superstitious. Lily hadn't arrived yet, but that didn't come as a surprise to me - it's much more difficult to convince your friends of something when they're sober.
Five long minutes passed before I heard footsteps. I turned around to see Lily striding towards me, smiling, her long red hair rippling behind her. In denim jeans, a thick wool sweater, a colorful tasseled scarf and leather boots, Lily could've passed for one of those beautiful American muggle girls you see in fashion magazines. Looking down at my own linen shirt rippling in the wind and torn jeans, I felt my cheeks burn a little. My family didn't really have the money to buy luxurious clothes, and most of the time I really didn't care one way or the other, but it was occasions like these that I wished I had something nicer to wear.
Lily didn't seem to mind, though. "Sorry I'm late!" she said, grinning apologetically.
"It's no problem. You look really nice today," I said truthfully. At this, she blushed, and I suddenly felt my happiness level soar, knowing that my words could have this affect on her. "Did you make that scarf?"
She nodded, absent-mindedly tracing its patterns with her fingers. "It took ages without magic. Do you like it?" She playfully unwound it and draped it across my neck, where its colors clashed horribly with my shirt.
"I do, but truthfully, I also think it looks just a bit better on you than-" I stopped suddenly. Another figure was approaching from down the road, and here we were, the two of us alone, standing in plain view.
"What is it?" Lily said, seeing my expression.
There was no time to explain. I reached into my pocket and grasped the first thing my fingers touched - the Maruader's Map. I shoved at Lily, who looked very confused.
"Remus, what are-"
"Thanks for letting me borrow your notes," I announced in a deliberately loud voice, keeping my eyes fixed on the nearing figure. He was tall, pale, dark-haired-
"Severus?" I said, astonished. "What're you doing here?"
He stopped walking. "I might ask the same of you," he said in a low voice, his black eyes darting from Lily to me, then back to her.
"Remus was just giving me the notes he'd borrowed from yesterday's Charms class," Lily said, catching on. She held up the Maruader's Map. Unfortunately, it was blank.
"Is that so?" Severus' lip curled. "I don't recall Professor Flitwick lecturing us on absolutely noth-"
"You can't see the writing because she used Invisible Ink," I interrupted.
From the expression on his face, it was clear that Severus didn't believe a word I'd said. However, sensing that neither of us had anything more to say to him, he only sneered, "Nice scarf, Lupin" before turning around and leaving as abruptly as he'd come.
"What was that all about?" I turned to Lily once Severus' thin figure had disappeared down the road.
"I don't know," Lily frowned as she handed me back the Map. "I don't think he believed us at all, though. It's really strange, though, that he came here at this time, when nobody else ever does."
"I think he followed you from the village," I said. "I think - he's - I think he fancies you, Lily."
At this, she laughed. "Remus, you need to get your head checked. Severus hates me, remember? He called me a mudblood-"
"Yeah, but that could've been a ruse, and he wasn't exactly in the greatest situation either, hanging in the air like that. Lily, he's always staring at you in Potions-"
"It's probably because he wants to see what you're looking at," she grinned.
"Not funny," I bit my lip, willing the color not to rise to my cheeks.
"Anyhow, I think someone's afraid of competition," Lily said in a singsong voice. She sounded so much like James had this morning. "You should lighten up, Remus, I'm not going anywhere. Besides, I prefer werewolves over vampires."
"Brilliant," I said. "My species is above Severus' on the hierarchy of Lily Evans' taste in blokes."
She laughed. "Exactly. But you know, that could change if you're planning for us to stand here in front of this crumbling shack on our very first date, Mr. Lupin," she teased.
"Yeah, I could go for a cappuccino right about now," I admitted. "Coffee sound good to you?"
"When does coffee sound bad?" she grinned. "What about that café you told me about? The one in your hometown? You promised you'd take me there one day."
"Indeed, I did," I said, extending my arm.
"Wait," she said, frowning. "This - this isn't illegal, is it, Remus? We're not really supposed to just - I don't know-"
"Oh come on, take a break from your Head Girl duties, Lily, it'll be fun-"
"I'm not sure, if Dumbledore doesn't really want us to be you know-"
I laughed. "I was teasing you, Lily. You sound so much like I do whenever I have to convince James and Sirius out of something. Before I even came to Hogwarts, Dumbledore arranged two special Apparation spots for me - one in a remote part of the castle, another on the Shrieking Shack grounds - to prevent me from transforming outside when the full moon was out - so although this is probably bending a few rules in the book, I can assure you that we won't have Ministry officials hexing us the moment we try to get out of here."
Lily nodded, looking more at ease as she took my arm. "Right. It's a good thing we both have some Muggle blood in our veins."
"Butterbeer in Hogsmeade, coffee in London," I grinned. "Best of both worlds. Hold on, now." I felt her grip tighten on my arm as I forced myself to concentrate on the quaint little café where I'd spent so many afternoons of my childhood reading and sipping coffee...
And then just like that, the two of us Disapparated from Hogsmeade village.
"Uh, Moony, you okay? You look like you're on something." Sirius asked concernedly.
I blinked, snapping out of my reverie. I was back in Hogsmeade again, walking alongside Sirius up the long path up towards Hogwarts Castle. All around us were excited, rosy-cheeked students, all chatting animatedly with their friends about the upcoming Halloween Feast.
"Yeah, I'm great," I said faintly. It was true. Spending those hours with Lily in the Muggle streets of London had been incredible. There had been no people to avoid, no words we couldn't say, nothing to be afraid of. For two blissful hours, Lily and I were just a carefree, happy couple, the kind that make elderly ladies smile and think fondly of their past romances when they see us...
My head was still spinning from everything. Her easy laugh, her delicate touch, the way she smiled...I was enamored by her every move, drunk on her very presence...drunk?
"Where's James and Peter?" I asked suddenly.
"Ahh, thought you'd wonder about that. For your information, Prongs and Wormtail are currently suffering major hangovers," Sirius grinned proudly, as if he'd been responsible. "Turns out their alcohol tolerances aren't that high- they completely passed out before right before you got back. The bartender swears he didn't serve them a drink over the limit, but Dumbledore wasn't too happy about it. He accompanied them back up to the hospital wing, where I imagine Madam Promfrey yelled her lungs out," he snickered.
"How come you're in such great shape, then?" I said accusingly. "You weren't exactly too self-disciplined either, calling for more firewhisky every three minutes-"
"Yeah, but how many of those bottles did I actually drink, Moony?" Sirius said quietly.
I stopped on my tracks. "Come to think of it, I didn't really see you-"
"I didn't want to get wasted," he said. "Especially when my friend wasn't acting the least bit himself. I know you well, Remus, and you wouldn't've normally let James and Peter have that many drinks, which made me keep an eye out. My suspicions were confirmed when you suddenly announced that you were going to leave for no good reason."
"I - Severus - I went to Hogwarts -"
"Moony, I'm a good enough of a liar to tell when other people are hiding things," he said smoothly. "And besides, you've always sucked at lying," he added on an afterthought.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Sirius." I said, suddenly angry. "There's no way you can prove that I wasn't at Hogwarts."
"The Maruader's Map helps," he said lightly.
"Yeah? Well, too bad you gave it to me," I retorted.
He arched an eyebrow. "Did I?"
I opened my mouth, and then closed it again.
"Check your pocket, Remus," Sirius said. His voice didn't sound angry.
With a sinking feeling, I pulled out the parchment, unfolded it, and tapped it with my wand, fearfully whispering the words. Nothing happened. By this point, I didn't know what to say anymore except "How could you deceive me like that?"
He shrugged. "Speak for yourself. You surprised me, Remus. I thought you would've chosen James over her."
There was silence between us as my brain shouted a billion things but my lips would not say any of them. I could only stare at the tall boy standing before me. Sirius was looking at me seriously, searching for a reaction.
"You don't need to look so surprised, Moony," he said at last. "It wasn't too hard to figure out. I spend a lot of time with Lily working on our project and she thinks her questions about you are subtle."
He gave me a small, almost apologetic, smile. "And no offense, but you kind of stare at her a lot when you don't think anybody's looking."
At these words, I felt all my previous elation crash down and shatter into a million times. It was as if somebody had physically reached into me and wrenched out something, something that belonged only to me, something that I cherished beyond belief. And as I bled from this wound, he stood calmly before me, holding it, holding the knowledge...
Sirius knew about my betrayal. He knew about my secrets. He knew about us.
It was all over. Over after our first real date. Over before it'd really started.
I suddenly had the urge to run away, to hex Sirius, to do anything to escape, escape from my own anguish, escape from those beautiful blue eyes fixed on me, escape from the truth...
But something else in me was saying no, countering every wild thought I had. I couldn't run away from it. I'd failed to keep it a secret - it wasn't Sirius' fault that he knew, it was mine and mine alone. I had to accept the consequences of what I'd done.
"Did you tell him yet?" I said dully, staring down.
"Tell who?" Sirius said, peering closely at me. "James?"
I nodded, swallowing hard. Hot tears were pricking my eyes. Were they tears of anger, sadness or fear? I didn't know, and I didn't care - I only blinked furiously and willed them to not spill over.
Silence between us. It was so awkward, so alien to me.
"I didn't say anything to James," Sirius said quietly.
I nodded again, staring down at my sneakers. "You want me to."
"No, I don't," he said.
I looked up and opened my mouth to say something, but Sirius wasn't finished.
"Look, Moony. Everybody may know that James and I are best mates, but I consider you to be my best mate, too. I know that doesn't make any sense," he said quickly before I could protest. "But honestly, you know what? I don't give a damn. I'm the luckiest guy on this planet, having you two as friends, you guys are like the antidote to my shithole of a family-"
"Sirius-" I said.
"Don't Sirius me yet, I'm not done, Moony." he said fiercely. "I've watched James, James with his bloody awesome parents and his enormous reputation and his talent at Quidditch - I've watched this guy earn enough glory and happiness in these past years to last him the rest of his life, but you, Remus - you're always hiding behind your heavy books and your perfect grades and your stupid neatly folded clothes." He pulled a face before continuing. "You've got everyone fooled into thinking that you're just another normal teenager, and you may be a zillion times smarter than me at everything else, but you can't fool me on this one, Remus. I know how unhappy you are. Because of - because of it - you're always sick or worrying your head off, but above all, you're scared that if people will find out, then they won't continue to like you or something, which is a really dumb idea, I might point out, because me and James and Peter found out and we're still here for you. For these six years, I've watched you suffer each month, feeling horrible because there's nothing I could ever do to help-"
"But you and James and Peter, you learned how to become Animagi, and that took ages-" I blurted out.
He smiled. "Yeah, well, what good was it, all you got was a big dog bite. Point is," he said quickly before I could protest again, "Remember that talk we had two nights ago, when you were talking about how people were changing because - because they - they had people to care about? I didn't know what you were talking about until I thought about it afterwards - and then I realized, Remus, that you, you were changing, you were different...for the first time, you looked happy. It didn't take me long to add up two and two - it's so obvious now that I think about it - god - Lily Evans, mate, she and you - oh, I just don't know why you two didn't get together earlier."
"Join the club," I said, smiling timidly. "But I still don't get it, you're all about being noble, Sirius, I thought you would've been upset knowing about Lily and me, because the world knows that James has dedicated his life to pursue her.
Sirius laughed. "Remus, you're acting like what you're doing is illegal or something. The fact is, Lily doesn't like James, she likes you, and you fancy her too, and since you obviously make each other happy - which James obviously doesn't - I don't see anything wrong with it at all. I wouldn't dream of ruining this for you - you deserve to be with Lily, mate, and if James finds out, it sure as hell isn't gonna be from me."
"Sirius, you-" I began.
"It's no problem," he said, looking away. "I just - just wish you would've told me first."
"I'm sorry, I kind of thought you'd take James' side," I admitted. "But believe me, it wasn't easy, keeping it to myself. I feel better knowing that you know."
"Yeah, well, I feel better knowing that you know that I know" he smiled a little. "So where'd you two sneak off to, anyway?"
I began to tell him everything from our meeting place to the strange encounter with Severus to the blissful, perfect evening spent in the streets of London. If I hadn't been so happy and relieved at the time, I might've noticed that Sirius' smiles were a bit too wide to be genuine, his laughter too loud...
"Sounded like fun," he said when I finished.
"Yeah, it was," I agreed. We walked in silence for a few minutes, our steps stirring up small clouds of dust on the dirt road, making our shoes dirty.
"Sirius," I said suddenly, for a worrisome thought had just occurred to me. "Does James suspect anything, you know, about Lily and me?"
Sirius shook his head. "He might play Seeker on the field, but James isn't exactly the most observant guy when it comes to these things, so I'd be really, really surprised if he noticed anything unusual."
"If he uh, ever says anything-"
"I'll let you know," he said quietly.
I looked at him. "I'm - I'm really grateful, Sirius."
Something changed in his expression. "You really shouldn't be. It's the least I could do, after all these years-"
He was interrupted by a loud, high scream that came from ahead. For one still, pure second, everyone went silent as the scream exploded in the air, ringing incessantly in my sensitive ears and making my head pound. Next to me, Sirius' face had gone very white and up close, I could actually see the gooseflesh rising on his skin.
The confused murmurs around us were drowned out when the scream was soon joined by many others. Then, without a warning, hundreds of terrified students turned on their heels and started sprinting at full speed back down the road, towards Hogsmeade and away from the castle, their horrible cries echoing in the air, their faces distorted in fear-
Instinctively, I grabbed Sirius by the arm and pulled him off the path before we could both get trampled. We rolled clumsily into a hedge off the side of the road, the prickly branches and leaves tearing our clothing and skin.
"What's happening?" Sirius shouted angrily into the throng of people as he got up, brushing himself off, but nobody was paying any attention to him - they were all too busy fleeing.
It was then that I turned and saw it - a large cloud had passed overhead, revealing something suspended in midair over - over Hogwarts-
I tapped Sirius and pointed weakly the glimmering image, the enormous, empty skull...the glinting serpents...their malicious green eyes...
"Sirius - oh god," I murmured, my throat tight. "Oh, we only saw it in the newspapers, I didn't think it'd be so - so -"
"Beautiful," he said softly, staring up at it. I nodded. Although we both knew perfectly well what it meant, there was something fascinating about it, something mysterious and powerful and completely beyond our comprehension. Thus, for a brief moment, we stood entranced as we gazed up at the Dark Mark looming over our very own Hogwarts castle.
By now, everybody around us had long fled back down and we were completely alone on the empty road. McGonagall's magnified voice could be heard over the chaos behind us.
"ALL STUDENTS ARE TO IMMEDIATELY PROCEED IN A CALM MANNER DOWN TO THE THREE BROOMSTICKS," she yelled, but her voice was tinted with panic, too. "DO NOT, FOR ANY REASON, APPROACH HOGWARTS CASTLE, I REPEAT, DO NOT..."
I blinked out of my trance and turned to face Sirius. There was something hard in his eyes, something blazing, and I knew immediately that at the moment, we were thinking the same exact thing.
James and Peter are still in there.
Before I could even open my mouth to say something, Sirius pounced on me, pinning my shoulders down on the ground. I was so shocked I didn't even struggle to fight him - I just laid there, panting furiously and staring up into Sirius' wild blue eyes.
"Remus John Lupin," he said calmly. "Would you ever, ever forgive yourself afterwards if you walked down that hill right now, knowing that James and Pete were in there?"
"It never crossed my mind to do so in the first place, Padfoot," I said, irked. "Now get off me, get out the map and let's go."
The two of us set off to the castle at a sprint.
A/N: This was really, really long, almost twice as long as the usual length, and also really, really painfully difficult to write. The good news is that the Ebony Files will now definitely be introduced in Chapter 7, and after that, there won't be any more "backstory", per se, to introduce - it's just gonna be all plot, plot, plot. I'm estimating that this story be roughly 15 chapters when it's done, so we're almost at the halfway mark, whoohoo! Don't forget to leave a review!