Twenty minutes of searching the mansion's grounds yielded little.
James discovered a slew of protective wards only Peter could circumvent, but the fear in Peter's eyes told Penelope that once Peter skirted the wards, he'd hide in the deepest crack he could find instead of looking for Lily's family.
Can't really blame him. Penelope hugged herself as Peter's tail disappeared into the wall. Everyone assumed he'd come. He didn't even seem like he wanted to go in the first place, but he never said anything—or maybe he was too afraid to. He'd have been justified in staying behind. This is dangerous. If he didn't want any responsibility in it, he should've said something…
Well… James and Sirius still have faith in him, though I can't imagine why. He's a little coward—no imagination—and can't figure things out for himself. He has to ride his friends' coattails. He might be the only Marauder who's actually as dim as the rest of Slytherin makes them out to be. But I suppose he doesn't have much of a choice since no one listens to him, and it can't be easy to have such smart, powerful friends when you're unimpressive. Can't really sympathize though. I was the weak one—so I did something about it.
But… if Remus, James and Sirius—all smart when they want to be—see something in him, there could be something there.
Still in dog form, Sirius padded around a clump of shrubs and sniffed the air again for Severus' scent.
James kept a firm grip on Penelope's wrist—as per his promise not to let her out of his sight.
I'm not a lost child—I don't need people clambering to protect me, and I can defend myself. I'm not that scared little girl I was at the start of last term. I've worked to be the best I can be, and I've learned a lot!
"Find anything, Pad?" said James as Sirius trotted over.
The black dog nodded and morphed back into a boy. "It's not what we're looking for, but I think you'll like it." Sirius broke into a slightly evil smirk.
Why can't he just spit it out? Regulus would have.
"Remember how much you wanted to take Professor Spinner down a peg or two?" said Sirius.
Penelope rolled her eyes. Boys. Just get on with it.
"Come on." Sirius started back the way he'd come and led the group into the bushes.
Wait. What? Penelope stifled a gasp—something between horror and profound amusement.
Spinner, unconscious and clad only in underwear, sprawled in the dirt, magically bound and gagged Muggle style.
"What is he doing here?" said James. "Why's he bound? And who did this? Why?"
"At least you're asking the right questions," Penelope muttered as she inched closer, only to be held back by James' firm grip.
"Don't try to be smart," Sirius said.
Penelope couldn't hide her scathing tone as he said, "The house is a Death Eater meeting place, isn't it? Obviously, he's here because he's a Death Eater."
"He is?" Sirius' brows shot up. "I mean, he's evil—I know that—but Dumbledore would never hire a Death Eater."
"You-Know-Who probably hid the mark for him," said Penelope. "Oh, that's right. You weren't there when Severus told us. Spinner's a Death Eater all right."
James nodded, still a bit dumbfounded. "But why's he like this? If we knew who tied him up, we'd have our answer."
"Isn't it obvious?" said Penelope with a huff.
"Yes," said James. "Had to be Snape."
Anxiety crept over Penelope like a hundred little spiders in the dark. "He's inside, disguised as a Death Eater!"
"What is he thinking?!" Sirius kept the outburst to a loud whisper. "He thinks he can just blend in? He doesn't know their codes, or how they usually behave. He hasn't grown up as a full blood. He doesn't know the customs. And he doesn't even sound like Spinner."
Penelope tucked her tongue into one cheek. "It's not like him to do something so stupid. He must have a plan."
James nodded. "Should we just leave it alone? We could mess up whatever he's planned."
"No." Penelope shook her head. "You-Know-Who's planning to let a new Death Eater kill a Muggle tonight. It's an initiation ceremony—the new Death Eater has to kill either a Muggle or a Muggle-born before they can receive the mark. And… You-Know-Who's going to kill the old man himself… Severus will surely reveal himself before that happens. That'll mean all of You-Know-Who's anger focused on Severus. He'll be dead!"
James raised a skeptical brow. "Sorry, but you know this… how?"
"I—I saw it. For just a moment. I was inside You-Know-Who's head. Severus was too. That's how we both know…"
"How?" James' grip on Penelope's wrist tightened.
"I can't tell you that." She squirmed as his fingers dug into her skin. "He made me promise! But, Potter… James… Severus isn't himself. He's not in his right mind. Something's really wrong."
James hesitated. "You're not trying to trick us, are you?"
"What? Why would I do that?"
"Now that I think about it…" Sirius crossed his arms. "Two Slytherins coming up to our tower and bringing us to a mansion filled with Death Eaters… Pretty suspicious."
"Are you kidding me?!" Penelope jerked against James' grip again but couldn't break free. "And you!" She pointed at Sirius with her free hand. "Regulus is your brother! You really think he'd want you dead?! Have some faith in him!"
"You don't know our family. They'd be all too happy to kill me," said Sirius with a sneer.
"I know Reg," she shot back. "Yes, he hates you. Sometimes he wants worse than anything to choke you! But he respects you—admires you. Why do you treat him so badly?"
Visible confusion clouded James and Sirius.
"He doesn't admire me," said Sirius. "He obeys Mum and Dad and runs to them when he's in trouble. Ever heard him in the school yard? 'My dad'll make you pay.'" Sirius' mocking impression of Regulus sounded all-the-more grotesque spewed from a face that looked hauntingly similar. "'I hate mudbloods. Stupid Muggles should die!'" Sirius continued the horrific impersonation.
Penelope cursed, but managed not to yell. "You don't know anything about me and him! People change!" She hid her face, shame tinting her cheeks.
"Oh, really?" Sirius crossed his arms and raised a brow. "So, he went around calling people mudbloods and worthless, but it's all fine?"
"You really want to discuss this now?" Tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them back and clung to her composure. "While there are lives at stake?"
"We don't know that, do we?" said James. "We only have your word, so, please, tell us about Regulus. I know him too, and what Sirius says is true. Convince me he doesn't want Sirius dead."
"Fine," Penelope spat. "I suppose we have nothing better to do before Remus gets here with his team. But you—" she pointed at Sirius "—promise me you won't tell Reg I told you. He wants it to be a secret."
Sirius snorted. "Whatever. Doubt I'll believe you, anyway."
Penelope swore again. How can they stand here and trash Reg to my face?! "Reg is right! You're a narrow-minded, pig-headed idiot! When he was a kid, he looked up to you—his big brother. You were his hero! He couldn't understand why you hated him. How do you suppose he should react when you hate him for no reason? You abandoned him to that horrible woman who calls herself your mother."
Sirius wavered, caught off-guard.
Maybe I can get through to him. "Oh yes, he told me about her. He doesn't like her either, but he had nothing else to do but try to earn her respect, because you wouldn't give him yours." They look so alike—with those gray eyes. Even if Reg shows restraint and Sirius doesn't. "Then, to his face, you say you only have one brother—James Potter. Isn't Reg interesting or fun enough for you? You should be ashamed, Sirius Black!"
Fueled by Sirius' newfound embarrassment, Penelope tossed her hair over her shoulder and drew her strongest argument. "I'm a Muggle-born. And Reg knows it. Why would I support You-Know-Who when I'm someone he wants to kill? Why would Reg—if he is what you think he is—want to be with me at all since he knows I'm a Muggle-born?"
James and Sirius didn't say a word.
"Look at the two full bloods. You're oh, so good just because you're in the red house." Penelope straightened her green robes. "I've got Muggle parents and two Muggle brothers. That should be reason enough for me to want to see You-Know-Who go down!"
Sirius snapped his fingers. "That's why I couldn't find anything on you or your family in the library books. Because you're Muggle-born! Wait… you're a Muggle-born?"
"That's what I said."
"And you're a Slytherin?" The blank expression on Sirius' face made him look like a kid who'd just walked into a pole he didn't know was there.
Reg would never look so dumb. "Now you sound stupid," said Penelope.
"And you're dating my brother?" Sirius' expression didn't clear.
"And he knows you're a Muggle-born?"
"I already told you he does. I can't believe you're letting your prejudices make you so ignorant! If you don't get over yourself, someone's going to get hurt!"
Sirius nodded, three stuttered jerks, like he was thinking very hard while trying to listen to her at the same time.
James' cluttered thoughts leaked over his face. "Padfoot, a word. Penelope, stay right here, where we can see you. Got that?"
"Of course," Penelope grumped. "I'm not stupid. Like him." She cocked her head toward Sirius, who looked like a tea kettle about to explode.
James harrumphed and for the first time since they'd landed at the mansion, he let go of Penelope's wrist. He and Sirius stepped a few feet away. "Okay, Pad," James whispered. "What do you think? Should we? Or should we not trust her?"
"I… don't know…" said Sirius. "This situation is too weird—too dangerous."
"Agreed," said James. "Judging by the last two months, she's okay. Remus and Lily both trust her."
"Yeah," said Sirius. "But they trust Snape too. They're doing this for Snape—if they're telling the truth… Do you trust him now?"
"Don't know. He might have truly changed. He cares for Lily. That much is for sure. And he doesn't seem interested in gaining power anymore. What about her story?"
Sirius bit his lip. "Sounds like a tale spun to lure us into a trap. Saying she's a Muggle-born is just the sort of story to convince two blokes like us. And you know Slytherins. They're good liars. Snape could've learned some things from her tactics. But… if what she says is true… I've got a truckload to make up for."
"Then we're together on this. It's about whether we trust her. And we need to make the right decision. If we trust the wrong person, it could mean the end for us."
Sirius shook his head. "I'm not ready to put that much faith in a girl I don't know—or in Regulus—especially not Regulus."
"Me neither," James mumbled. "But we can't just leave."
"What're we going to do?"
James took a second to think. "We need to know if Lily's parents are really in there. They're our new priority, and we need to ditch Penelope and Regulus—maybe even Lily. Thoughts?"
"I always trust Moony. He's one of us," said Sirius. "But Lily… She's still heartbroken over Snape. She'd do about anything if there's hope for her to help him."
"Right." The bitterness in James' tone could have chipped concrete. "So, we've got to ditch her too?"
"Yes," said Sirius through clenched teeth. "What do we do?"
James' brows furrowed. "Trouble is… Remus trusts them too. What do we do with him? What do we say?"
While Penelope waited for James and Sirius to finish talking, she studied Spinner. No clues! Severus knew what he was doing. I'm just tired of it all! Tired of being hated because I'm Slytherin—tired of being hated by Slytherins because I'm Muggle-born. What's wrong with either of those?! So, I have ambitions—and I'm smart enough to achieve them. I'm proud of that—proud of the things I can do! And I love my family. The Sorting Hat's words returned to her.
"How interesting. So much ambition. The nerve to drive it through, and a gleaming cunning too. You could go so far, oh, so far, in the right house, but it would mean playing dangerous games, dangerous indeed. Are you prepared to face that danger? You will do fine in any house, but here, you will be able to find true greatness. It's up to you."
Without a second thought she'd responded, "What's life without challenges and danger? Bring it on!" She'd realized less than a month later that reply hadn't been a great idea.
I'm fed up with people thinking I'm insignificant! A fourth year and a girl. Apparently, that combination means no one thinks I'm worth bothering with. Not even Severus listens to me. Haven't I proven myself already? Why is everyone else viewed as important, but I'm useless?
What's taking those chatterboxes so long? Penelope sat on some dry leaves. They rustled just enough to scatter a few insects. And why can't I be included? I want to barge into that ugly old mansion, cast a tracer charm for Severus, and drag him out by his skinny neck! But… I can't… I need help.
She picked up a dead leaf. In the scarce light, she couldn't see the hundreds of tiny lines scattered over the leaf in intricate patterns, but she knew they were there. Collecting people means drawing from others' strengths. It's like Slughorn and his Slug Club. Everyone's important. People change. Even the most insignificant can become someone extraordinary. She dropped the leaf. It fluttered to the ground as James and Sirius finally shut up.
Feet, just peeking from under the invisibility cloak, shuffled toward them.
"Penelope?" Reg's voice seemed to form out of thin air.
"Hey, Reg." Penelope stood and brushed off two stubborn leaves.
"Moony," James called. "Come here. We need a word."
Remus ducked into sight and joined his friends where James and Sirius included him in the conspiratorial whispers.
"What do you gather from that?" Regulus—followed by Lily—popped out of the cloak and crooked a thumb at Spinner.
"That Severus was here, stunned him, and took his clothes," said Penelope.
Lily paled a little.
"You okay, Pen?" Regulus reached for her, an embrace clearly his intent.
"Fine!" Penelope pushed his arm away.
"What're they talking about?" said Lily with a glance at the whispering Marauders.
"They won't tell me." Penelope sighed.
"Where's Peter?" said Lily.
"He's… uh… Scouting…" Penelope said.
"Alone?" Regulus looked skeptical.
"It's fine," Penelope assured. "The Marauders have so many gizmos they're keeping secret, but it helps them get around."
Lily looked puzzled and worried. "It's not… illegal stuff, is it?"
Penelope wasn't sure what to say. Being Animagi was very illegal they way they were doing it. But why are they Animagi? She shook her head, but before she could mutter some semblance of an answer, the Marauders interrupted.
"We've decided," James said. "Me and Sirius will go inside under the invisibility cloak. The rest of you will stay here."
"But –" Lily began.
"I'm in on the decision too, Lily," said Remus. "It's for the best. They need to be able to move around under the cloak, and two people will be ideal."
"But why not me?" Lily said. "They're my family! And he's my best friend!" She teetered on the verge of tears.
"That's exactly why," said Remus. "You're not thinking rationally. We need people with clear heads."
"Like Siri's the man for that." Regulus snorted, though Penelope caught a hint of relief as he edged closer to her.
"Well, why not you?" Lily said to Remus.
"I've got to stay with you. And Sirius knows the house," Remus said.
"No, he doesn't," Regulus protested, but one stern glare from James shut him up.
"Why can't I come?" Penelope said. "I'm small. You could fit me under the cloak with you."
"No way!" Sirius blurted.
Regulus flashed his brother an appreciative smile—probably the first in his life—but Sirius missed it as he stared down Penelope.
"Come on." James grabbed the cape. "No use hanging about arguing."
Remus blocked Lily, Penelope and Regulus from trying to follow his friends. "Stay. Here."
Lily scowled. "So that's why they wanted to talk to you, because they knew they could convince you to turn on us."
"Calm down," said Remus. "Even before we left you promised to do what James or I said, so sit down."
Lily grudgingly obeyed. She glared at Remus every few seconds, but he held his ground. Penelope and Regulus sat too, sending more insects skittering in all directions.
Minutes—or hours—passed. Penelope couldn't tell, but it felt like forever. Worry clutched her gut like locked pliers. The night air bled through her robes and she scooted closer to Regulus. He wrapped a warm arm around her.
Lily didn't seem to notice the cold. She stared into the night sky, eyes busy with a flood of thought Penelope couldn't ever hope to sort. "I don't like this." Lily's breath fogged. "It's been too long. Something's wrong."
Remus glanced toward the mansion. "I admit… we should've gotten a sign by now."
"What if Death Eaters caught them?" Lily whispered, horrified.
"Then there's nothing we can do," said Remus.
"Maybe there is…" said Regulus.
"Yes?" Remus raised a brow.
Regulus pulled Penelope closer. "I could go knock on the door."
Remus looked at him as though a dozen billywigs had just started dancing atop his head.
"They're my family," said Regulus. "I'm a Black, and a loyal one, as opposed to other people I could mention." He glowered at Remus. "Supposedly, I'm welcome any time."
"That's so simple… it might actually work," said Lily. "Who'd suspect someone who knocks on the door?"
Penelope shook her head. "I wish Potter and Sirius had trusted us long enough to hear that plan. Sirius could have done the same thing."
"No, he couldn't." Regulus shook his head. "He's a blood traitor."
"It's too dangerous. We're staying here," Remus said.
"Why? I have to go. I can't keep sitting here!" Lily rose to her knees.
"Yes, you can." Remus loomed over Lily and awarded her the sourest look he could muster.
Lily stood, forcing Remus to take a step back. "We'll be going now. I need to get in."
"I don't want to fight you," said Remus as he drew his wand. "But we need to keep cool heads. And you're not going inside."
"I don't want to fight you either," Lily said. "I'm sorry, Remus." She drew her own wand.
"Somnus!" The spell shot through the face-off.
Lily swayed, blinked, and sank to the ground, asleep.
"L—Lily?" Remus hovered over her.
"I'm… sorry…" Penelope swallowed hard and lowered her wand. "I just… We can't afford to fight each other! What would she do once she got inside? Lily can't just barge in there. She…"
This time Remus crumpled, sound asleep.
"Reg!" Penelope covered a gasp.
"They'd both be in our way," said Regulus as he tucked his wand away. "You want to get inside, right, Pen? I'll get you in. Just follow my lead."
"Reg…" Penelope pointed at Lily and Remus. "We need to hide them first."
"All right." Regulus sighed and helped Penelope move Lily and Remus out of the open.
Edited by Dtill359