Well this is the last chapter for this piece - but fear not! If you check out my updated profile, you can see a link to some beautiful artwork that was created for this story. I'd put it here, but FFnet strips out any links in stories. And if you're really itching for more Marauders fiction, I've linked to the rest of the Big Bang entries, which all center around at least one of the Marauders. If you like the art or any of the stories you find, I know the authors/artists would really appreciate it if you drop a comment, even anonymously. =)

Hope you all enjoyed this!

Chapter 9: Cleaning Up

Detention. For all of them. The humiliation of it all was almost too much to bear. Severus was now known as the local damsel in distress, and picking his way back to the Slytherin common room he kept getting reminded of his being held captive by the so-called Dark Lord. Lucius was having problems even speaking to Narcissa now. She'd gotten this ridiculous idea that somehow the three of them had indirectly caused the whole incident, which was absolute nonsense. But somewhere in the night Lucius had evidently threatened Rodolphus, who was planning to propose during the dance as well. It certainly helped explain why Bella had been such a pain in the ass all night.

In a mass the Slytherins were heading down the hall away from the Great Hall after Dumbledore declared the festivities to be finished. The night had started with such promise and now he'd be quite satisfied with just a good night's sleep so he could forget the humiliation for a few hours. He looked to his side and saw Lucius had fallen in line next to him, looking perhaps more depressed than he was. Severus looked down at the clutched box in his hand and pursed his lips. So Narcissa hadn't agreed. Or she'd been so distracted by the night's events that she'd forgotten about it, which Severus doubted. She was probably just making his poor friend wait for a response, which was downright torture for such an egomaniac. He thought maybe a change of topic might cheer him up.

"So Lucius, I need your advice."

Lucius didn't say anything, but lifted his head slightly. Good, at least he was paying attention.

"I was working with Regulus earlier, as you recommended I might add, and he told me the strangest thing."

Severus was watching him carefully for any signs that might indicate what he was thinking. Lucius was quite good at hiding his thoughts, but Severus was also good at reading him. He thought he saw his eyes light up for just a moment, but then vanished.

"Lucius… I… I think Regulus was coming on to me…"

Lucius smirked. "Oh you do, do you?"

Severus blinked, "What, you think this is a joke?"

He snickered, "You know, I'm always amazed at your perceptive mind, Severus. Have I told you that? You absolutely astonish me."

"Shut the hell up! I'm serious; he said I smell good."

"Well, do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Smell good? Personally I think you smell like the Potions classroom, but I suppose if Regulus is into that sort of thing…"

"Lucius…" Severus' eyes narrowed. "You knew already, didn't you?"

Lucius shrugged awkwardly, shaking his head at his dark friend, speechless for but a moment. "Look, it's not as though he told me. It was quite obvious really. If you were a bit less obsessed, you would have noticed it too, I'm sure."

"I am not obsessed."

"Oh really?" Lucius grinned that annoying holier than thou grin. It made Severus want to punch him.

"I'm not! I don't even know what you're talking about."

Lucius rolled his eyes and sighed. "You must not have checked in on Lily yet."

Severus stopped dead in his tracks. "Lily…" he breathed. "I didn't see her. She wasn't at the dance – but she told me she would be there! Lucius, you know something I don't. Where is she, you sick bastard!"

His friend was now clutching at his sides he was laughing so hard, "Damn but you're easy. You do realize that, don't you?"

"Don't play your stupid games with me!"

"Oh Severus, calm yourself. She's in the hospital ward. Apparently she was injured in some potions accident that happened shortly before the dance. In fact, she's been there all evening."

Severus spun around ready to barge down to the wing as quickly as his feet would carry him, but Lucius grabbed his arm. "Don't Severus, they won't let you in. Not at this hour, and especially not after the spectacle you made in front of Dumbledore. If you push too many rules and regulations tonight, they really could expel you."

"That wasn't my fault! Black was holding me up there. What was I supposed to-?"

Lucius shook his head, lowering his voice. "Do you really think Dumbledore would let you? You know how he views our House."

Tears were welling in Severus' eyes, but he didn't want Lucius to see them. Instead he shoved past him toward the Slytherin dungeons. He'd known. The entire party his friend knew exactly where she'd been and thought it best to keep it to himself. But then again, if he hadn't assisted Lucius he never would've been able to see that prat Black quake in front of Dumbledore about ready to piss himself. Sometimes you just had to enjoy the little joys in life.

Peter lifted a tentative hand to his aching head and felt the large bald patch where Madam Pomfrey had spread the healing salve. "It's a nasty bump," she'd told him. "But you'll live. Goodness knows you've dealt with worse!" But honestly, a whole week before he was allowed to regrow it? That simply wasn't fair! It had been bad enough that he hadn't gotten any time to flirt with the ladies at the dance, and now this.

"It's alright, Peter," Remus was walking with him back to the Gryffindor Commons. "I'm sure you'll be back to a full head of hair in no time."

Peter smiled weakly. He knew he meant well, but he just didn't think Remus fully understood the situation. Pomfrey had said something about Remus having a broken arm, but Peter knew it was all an act. Since Lily was in the room, they all had to pretend that Remus didn't heal as quickly as he did. It was a silly notion, really – pretending his friend had injuries like a normal person. And now he was pretending he knew what it was like to have a bald spot, or even be wounded! But he kept his mouth closed as they walked. The evening had been disappointing enough without adding to it.

"James is going to be pretty pissed about Lily, isn't he?"

Peter felt his stomach drop, "Yeah, and I bet he'll somehow be mad at us for not letting him know about it."

Remus shook his head, "He's going to have a hard time pinning the blame on us. I mean we aren't the ones who lost his girlfriend!"

"I know," Peter sighed. "But I'm the one that lost the map, remember?"

He grimaced, "Oh yeah, that's right…"

They instinctively got quieter as they passed by the entrance to the Great Hall. The entire room was dark and all the tables looked as though they had been put back in their respective places. In fact it was hard to tell that there had been a dance or a Dark Lord. But then there was slight movement within, and they realized that a few of the Professors had been staying late. Possibly helping with the clean up, making sure there weren't any lagging students, or maybe just gossiping about the evening. Remus and Peter tried to slip by unnoticed, but had to halt when McGonagall called out to them.

"Mister Lupin, Mister Pettigrew, you'd best be heading off to the Common Room. I don't want any lollygagging this evening!"

"We were just on our way there," Remus quipped. Peter nodded nervously. Of all the professors, McGonagall always made him nervous with her quick reactions and suspicious eyes. God, her small squinted eyes were the worst part. It felt like she could see every dirty, disgusting thing you'd ever done.

"Excellent. Oh and Remus," she lowered her head, peering at him from over the tiny spectacles, and clipping her pronunciation. "Professor Dumbledore wanted to see you."

"Oh," Remus laughed nervously. "Oh, of course. It's a bit too late now though, isn't it?"

Minerva shook her head decisively, "Not at all. And you'd best not keep him waiting."

"Yes ma'am." He shared a nervous glance with Peter before heading off in the opposite direction from the Grand Staircase. Peter had to admit, as much as Remus' fake persona frustrated him, he didn't envy a late-night visit to the Headmaster's office. He watched as Remus shuffled out of the entrance hall.

"Mister Pettigrew?"

Peter jumped.

"I certainly hope I don't need to accompany you to the Common Room myself!"

He let out a squeak and rushed up the stairs

Regulus stretched his legs out on the long forest green couch, letting his long legs hang over the edge. Damn, it had been a long night. Lucius was sitting in a loveseat in front of the fireplace staring into the flames. Ironically he was by himself since that was his and Narcissa's favorite make out spot in the Common Room. Regulus thought about bringing up conversation, but stopped short finding it hard to find anything to say. The entire room had been buzzing with energy after the party, several of them went over and apologized to Lucius for the fumbled proposal. Even more were outraged at the obvious beating Regulus had taken at the hands of the heartless Marauders. For a few minutes there he'd been the center of attention, and Regulus ate it up.

But as the night ticked on the students had slowly dispersed into their various rooms for the night, until it was just the two of them. Regulus had tried to catch Severus' eye when he'd come in with Lucius, but he'd practically sprinted up the stairs obviously not in the mood to chat. Or even hear his apology for not helping out. He sighed, staring at the high ceiling above his head, and noticing for the first time the dark silver paneling embossed with tiny silver snakes. Why couldn't his mom have the same excellent taste in décor?

Then he noticed Lucius had turned around in the loveseat, and was staring at him. "Why haven't you gone on up?" His voice sounded almost indignant.

"Uhh, because I hadn't felt like it yet?"

Lucius simply stared at him.

Regulus gulped, this guy was insightful. "Because I wanted to ask you about Severus?"

He sighed, raking a hand through his loosened hair. "That's what I thought. Did you not think it might be better to talk to him yourself? You do sleep just a few doors away."

"Uh," truth be told, he actually hadn't even considered that. He didn't have the guts to face him after he'd just stood there like a complete idiot watching Sirius punch him in the gut. For some reason, he just hadn't moved. It was… it was worse than embarrassing or humiliating. It angered him. "I didn't really think he'd want to talk."

"Mmm, well he might be in the morning," he stood and stretched, his shadow falling upon most of the room. "I'm sure he's asleep by now, so it ought to be safe."

Regulus sighed, getting to his feet. "You're probably right. But I don't think he's going to want to see me again." He went over to put out the fire, but Lucius stopped him.

"Don't worry, I'll get that in a moment. Look, I truly doubt Severus will judge you poorly for not helping him. He does have a heated temper, and is prone to rash, foolish, spur of the moment decisions, but he can be quite amicable when the mood's upon him. I'm sure once he's had time to cool off, he'd sit down and discuss this… situation with you."

"Wait? So he's spoken with you about it?"

Lucius put a hand wearily to his head. "Just go to bed. Look, as prefect I have to make sure everyone's in bed before I can get any sleep, understand? Severus will be fine trust me, he always is."

Regulus sighed and started heading toward the stairway. "You think he likes me?"

"Hmm?"

"Severus – do you think he likes me at all? You all talked earlier. Does he even notice I'm around?"

"Oh, I think he notices you," Lucius grinned, leaning against the mantelpiece. "I think he notices you more than you realize."

Regulus rolled his eyes and ascended the stairs to the boys' quarters. He wondered why Lucius had to always be so bloody cryptic. It's as though he refused to give a straight answer. As he pulled the door closed behind him, he suddenly had a thought. He pressed his ear against it and waited. After a few minutes he heard the door for the girls' quarters open and close quietly. He waited a few minutes more until he thought he could chance opening the door just a crack, just to prove his suspicions.

At the foot of the stairs, Lucius and Narcissa were in a tight embrace, and the emerald engagement ring shone on her left hand. Regulus just chuckled to himself, shaking his head. He supposed if he ought to take anyone's relationship advice, it might as well be from Lucius. It looked like he was pretty good at ensnaring the people he desired.

Remus sat patiently in the hall next to the giant golden phoenix entrance he knew all too well. The hallway was completely dark and even the portraits were slumbering soundlessly. The place seemed a lot less inviting than it did during the day. He couldn't help but worry as to what Dumbledore was planning. They'd already been doled out their punishment for the acts, detention for two weeks for causing chaos and confusion during a school function. What more did he want to say? And why only say it to Remus?

In all honesty detention wouldn't really be that bad. In essence it meant the four Marauders would be staying in McGonagall's office for two weeks to sort through old papers. Last time it had actually been lots of fun because it gave them access to all of her Transfiguration books when she wasn't around. Sirius had spent most of his time trying out different spells on an unwilling Peter. And poor Peter, though he had thought it amusing at first, had quickly grown tired of the fun.

Remus nearly jumped when the golden phoenix lowered itself to reveal the tiny stairwell. He took a deep breath, then started up the stairs. The refreshingly cozy and quirky headmaster's office greeted him; a roaring fire waited in the hearth and the various candles situated throughout the room gave just enough light to give it a mysterious touch. Then he saw Professor Dumbledore behind the desk.

His fingers were steepled, and his gaze was unreadable though he did motion for Remus to sit opposite him. He sighed, his long silver beard lifting and lowering on his chest. "Lemon drop?"

"Um, no thank you," Remus whispered. Dumbledore wasn't smiling; there was no cheer in his voice. It was the same tone he'd used in the Great Hall earlier, if at a lower volume. Whatever the reason Remus had been summoned was serious indeed. He felt his hands start to shake but held himself firm.

Dumbledore began pacing back and forth behind his desk, his footfalls muffled by the thick ruby carpet at his feet. Behind him, Fawkes' eyes cracked slightly as though also curious as to how this punishment would go. Remus tried to steal himself for the worst. Detention? Suspension? Even expulsion? He knew Dumbledore was taking a risk keeping a werewolf at Hogwarts, even finding a secure shack for his monthly transformations. Had tonight's prank been the final straw? He couldn't imagine being told to leave Hogwarts and his friends forever. They'd come to rely on each other so much over the years. They were the only ones who truly accepted him for who and what he was. Even his own family tended to distance themselves from him due to his condition.

"Mr. Lupin, I know I could ask you a great many questions about this evening. But I also know your answers wouldn't have a shred of honesty to them."

Remus grimaced. The headmaster was not pulling punches tonight. Sirius' Dark Lord getup really must have hit a nerve.

Dumbledore continued pacing, not looking at him. "You're very good at getting your friends out of trouble, and for that I must commend you. It demonstrates much bravery to come to a headmaster and outwardly lie, though I know you do it. Frequently."

Remus shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the Headmaster circled him. He clenched his hands together to keep them from noticeably shaking.

Dumbledore sighed, placing his hands on the back of Remus' chair. "I know I tend to hold you to higher standards than the other students. But I stand firm in believing that you can achieve those standards."

Remus bit his lip, steeling himself for wherever this was leading.

"Throughout all your years with us you have excelled in academics," Dumbledore walked over to look at his table of golden metallic objects. The gears twirled and the seesaw-like contraptions moved up and down endlessly. "You've impressed almost every one of your professors, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well you've excelled in these classes since coming to Hogwarts."

He turned to face Remus directly. "However, the company you keep, the friends you've made… Remus they're quite the troublemakers and I'm not sure if you want to head where they're going. Their futures are bound to be dangerous, and you may wish to keep your distance." Dumbledore saw the words of dissent on Remus' lips, and continued quickly. "As much as you like each of them, you must keep your own future in mind. You're not as well off as they are, and you must remember that incidents like this may hold you back once you've graduated."

Remus' mouth was still open in protest, but he knew Dumbledore's meaning. James, Sirius, and even Peter had a chance of making something of themselves either through family relation, wealth, or by simply being an average sort of wizard. But, despite whatever his parents had or what he did, Remus knew his lycanthropy would always hold him back. Once he graduated and was really looking for work, disciplinary issues from school might reflect worse on him than on any of the other Marauders. It wasn't funny when a werewolf was involved, no matter what Sirius and James said. Sometimes it was difficult to remember that.

But the headmaster wasn't finished. "Any mention of you associating with a Dark Lord, even as a light-hearted Halloween prank, could have serious ramifications."

Remus felt the tears well up in his eyes, but he fought them back. An entire night of running around with Sirius and the others, and he had never seen it in this light. They were just wearing costumes, not really joining a band of dark wizards. But as he imagined trying to explain that to his father, or worse to a group of Aurors, he knew exactly how they'd see it.

"Now Remus, please tell me, my boy." He leaned over the desk toward him, but Remus couldn't bring himself to meet his gaze. "What exactly happened tonight? Where did Sirius retrieve the costume and why on earth did they decide to pull this prank?"

Remus gritted his teeth. He knew this trick, this play on emotions. He was trying to shake his calm demeanor, make him crack under pressure. Interrogators in the muggle world did it all the time, if the detective books he read were any indication.

"I'm afraid I can't answer that, Headmaster."

"That particular cloak looked very familiar to me. Perhaps it was once used when Grindelwald was in power?"

Remus kept his mouth closed, and simply shook his head.

"Remus…" Dumbledore sighed. "The truth shouldn't be a difficult thing to give me."

He bit his lip. "Well then you obviously don't understand my position here!"

"Oh I completely understand your position. Likely better than you do. You simply have to think of your future."

He stood up quickly, turning on Dumbledore with fiery determination. "Even if I can't find work after I graduate, I don't care. I'd rather have all my friends and be penniless than have all the money in the world and no one there with me."

Dumbledore backed off slightly, nodding in agreement though Remus could swear he saw the faint flicker of a smile. "I thought you'd say as much." He sighed and went back to his high backed chair, "Well, I might as well try to get the truth out of you occasionally. Now run along."

Remus narrowed his eyes. Why was Dumbledore backing off so suddenly? Nonetheless he wasn't going to turn down the unexpected dismissal. He nodded stiffly and turned to head toward the door. His eyes were stinging but he was glad to see the golden phoenix was already lowering for him.

"And Remus? Just know that I'm proud of you."

Remus chuckled, shaking his head in disbelief. That man could be so damn confusing. One minute he was as sweet as the candies he offered you, the next he was unearthing emotions you never wanted to feel again. Remus took the Grand Staircase two steps at a time, not needing a Lumos charm to find his way quite easily. He considered waking the others, talking it out with Sirius and James. Even Peter would be a welcome ear right now. But honestly, they would probably just say Dumbledore was riled tonight. In a few days they'd just figure he was in a mood, but they'd remember what Remus said. And they'd remember that he wasn't like them, that he was a true monster deep down. Every day he tried to be normal, just like all the other students. Why did Dumbledore keep reminding him that he wasn't?

As Remus stormed out of the room, Albus pulled out the leather-bound notebook from his desk. He pushed his chair back so that he could stroke Fawkes' head with one hand as he flipped through the pages with the other.

"He wasn't bad, was he my friend?"

He stopped at a page with the word Phoenix scripted at the top, and hovered his pen over the names, stopping next to Remus Lupin's.

"Yes, I think in a few years he'll work out just fine."

Fawkes lifted his head so his friend could scratch that pesky spot beneath his beak. Albus placed a small check next to the name and wondered who the next candidate would be and how long he should wait before calling for an appointment. As upsetting as the evening had been, Albus had to admit that it would be a very useful tool as he tested his other unsuspecting applicants.

-Fin-