It's been a long time, folks! Here's the latest installment of "The Map Never Lies", and the longest chapter in this collection yet! Hope you enjoy! And Merry Christmas to all! (It's not a Christmas themed chapter this time, though, unfortunately)

A shift back in time, to when Remus Lupin once again gained possession of the Marauder's Map after many, many years in "The Prisoner of Azkaban".

After Harry had left, Remus returned to the privacy of his rooms in order to give proper attention to the nostalgic artifact that had been deposited back into his hands, seemingly by chance.

He stared at the now blank surface. And stared. And stared.

"Now what was the password again?" he murmured, perplexed.

With the years that had passed, and the events that had conspired during those years, it was no surprise that he had forgotten. Yet Remus still felt a little guilty, the type of feeling that he would have gotten had he forgotten an important date. Frowning, he racked his brain for some faint recollection of it. Something that ended with... no good?

"This is no good..." he muttered, the corner of his lips twitching slightly at his pun. At the same time, his heart ached a little at the absence of the three friends who would have teased him about it. Sighing, he leaned back in his chair, feeling suddenly weary.

"Just what were you thinking, Padfoot?"

Staring sadly out of the window at the inky sky, he failed to notice words blossoming on the parchment.

Mr Prongs is astonished that this individual appears to believe that Mr Padfoot can think.

Mr Padfoot is offended.

Mr Moony suggests that Mr Padfoot might like to answer the question.

Mr Padfoot states that he is thinking of their next prank. Of which the mastermind shall be the genius Mr Padfoot, of course.

Mr Prongs would like to hear of this great plan.

Mr Padfoot does not feel inclined to share.

Mr Prongs believes that Mr Padfoot had no such plan.

Mr Padfoot kindly requests Mr Prongs to shut up.

Mr Wormtail is amused.

Mr Padfoot kindly requests Mr Wormtail to shut up as well.

Mr Moony wishes to know who might be the one asking?

When no response was forthcoming, the parchment fluttered a little as if blown by a breeze. This unexpected movement brought Remus' gaze abruptly back to the map. His eyes were wide as he took in the words that had appeared.

"Remus Lupin," he managed in a rather strangled voice. He waited with conflicted emotions for their reply to appear.

Mr Prongs congratulates Mr Lupin on his recovery of the Map.

Mr Padfoot is amused that Mr Lupin has apparently forgotten the password.

Mr Moony states that a great many things must have happened in order for this to be so, or a great amount of time.

Mr Prongs suggests that it is both, and wonders if said "things" may perhaps been unhappy.

Mr Wormtail feels somewhat apprehensive.

Mr Padfoot offers to beat up anyone who has upset Mr Lupin.

Mr Prongs and Mr Wormtail echo that statement.

Mr Moony is touched.

Remus' chuckle was painfully empty. Had days like that really existed? Their former bond almost felt like a dream now. "If only everything could be solved with just that. But I would rather not talk about that tonight, please."

Mr Prongs understands.

Mr Wormtail understands.

Mr Padfoot understands as well, but doesn't like it.

Mr Moony reminds Mr Padfoot that violence is not always the answer.

Mr Padfoot suggests that violence may be the answer in this case, even if it not always is.

Mr Moony is exasperated.

Mr Padfoot is serious.

Mr Moony disbelieves that, and would like to remind Mr Padfoot that the joke is positively ancient.

Mr Padfoot is hurt.

Mr Prongs laughs.

Another chuckle, this one more real than the one before. Remus felt the dark mood that had been plaguing him since he heard of Sirius' escape - no, since James' death all those years ago - lighten ever so slightly.

"So anyway, what have you guys been up to for the past fifteen years?" he asked, fishing for a more cheerful topic to distract them. For all that they were nothing more than personalities imprinted in the Map, they were awfully astute. He felt another tug at his heartstrings at this reminder of his old friends.

Mr Moony is startled that such a long time as passed, even though he would have guessed it.

Mr Padfoot is of the opinion that it felt like centuries instead.

Remus was inclined to agree with that.

Mr Wormtail comments that the Map was used quite well by their various successors.

Mr Prongs believes, however, that there will be no one quite as brilliant as the Marauders.

Mr Wormtail expresses his agreement on that.

Mr Padfoot comments, "But of course."

Mr Moony suggests that Messrs Weasley may have come the closest to succeeding their legacy.

Mr Padfoot adds that although Messrs Weasley were by no means their equal, they had been quite the promising youngsters.

Mr Prongs thinks that Mr Padfoot sounds like an old man.

Mr Padfoot ignores Mr Prongs.

Mr Moony would also like to mention a time in the possession of another Mr Weasley and a Miss Tonks that had been quite amusing as well.

"Tonks? As in Nymphadora Tonks? Your cousin Andi's daughter who we used to babysit?" Remus' lips turned up in a small smile. That sure brought back memories. He wondered idly where she was now. She must have grown into a good woman.

Mr Padfoot feels proud of his young cousin but was quite disappointed when the Map got confiscated under their care.

Mr Prongs is also very proud of young Prongs Jr. Of course, it was to be expected of one who had inherited his father's genius.

Mr Padfoot requests Mr Prongs not to have an inflated head.

Mr Prongs ignores Mr Padfoot.

Mr Moony is of the opinion that what was passed down was instead a penchant for attracting trouble.

Mr Padfoot is suddenly reminded of their recent brilliant comeback against Snivellus, and wonders how that snivelling git became a Professor.

"Now, now, Padfoot, he's perfectly qualified for the job."

Mr Prongs and Mr Padfoot are appalled.

Mr Moony thinks that it would do well for Mr Prongs and Mr Padfoot to not be prejudiced.

Mr Prongs and Mr Padfoot are very much appalled.

Mr Wormtail is inclined to agree with Mr Prongs and Mr Padfoot.

Mr Prongs expresses his great sympathy that Mr Lupin has to deal with such an unsavoury character on a regular basis.

Mr Padfoot would also like to add greasy and miserable to that description.

Mr Moony washes his hands of them.

Remus felt an uncharacteristic wave of annoyance at their childish prejudices. "At least he's a hundred times better than a dirty traitor who betrays his friends." He shocked himself with his vehemence, and it appeared that he was not the only one. No new words appeared on the parchment, almost as if the personalities had been stunned into silence. Afterwards, even the written reply seemed tentative.

Mr Moony thinks that Mr Lupin may be speaking from some past experience.

Mr Padfoot wonders who Mr Lupin may be referring to.

"Who do you think?" he couldn't stop himself from snapping back.

Mr Padfoot is startled.

Mr Prongs feels very much concerned.

Mr Moony would like to know just what is going on.

Mr Wormtail seconds that.

Looking at them, one would never think that those terrible events could ever come to pass. His heart ached for those four friends who knew nothing of what was to come. It pined for the trust that they had once shared, never doubting for a moment. Oh, they had been so young and naive!

He buried his face in his hands, wishing that he could turn back time. "Why did you do it, Sirius?"

Mr Padfoot would like to know just what was it that he did.

"You want to know what happened? I'll tell you what happened! You betrayed James and Lily, Sirius! You killed them!"

Feeling a surge of rage overtake him, Remus shot to his feet, knocking his chair to the ground in the process, and started pacing in great agitation around the room. A moment later, the energy seemed to drain out of him. Remus ran a hand over his face tiredly. With the full moon so near, it was hard to keep his emotions in check. Sighing, he picked the chair back up and sank into it bonelessly. After leaning back and shutting his eyes briefly, he glanced again at the Map. As expected, new words had replaced the previous correspondence.

Mr Padfoot would die rather than betray his friends.

There was irony at its finest right there.

Mr Prongs finds it hard to believe that Mr Padfoot would betray him.

"You trusted him and gave him the responsibility of keeping your location secret. But he sold that information to Voldemort anyway. He sold his soul to the enemy. He fooled us all."

Mr Padfoot would die for Mr Prongs.

The statement felt hollow somehow, as if even Padfoot was starting to doubt himself.

Mr Prongs doesn't want Mr Padfoot to die, dammit.

That seemed to cause something to snap in the Map persona.

Mr Padfoot thinks that if he was going to betray his friends, he was better of dead.

Mr Prongs is of the opinion then that Mr Padfoot shouldn't talk of dying in such a flippant manner.

Mr Padfoot isn't going to change his opinion.

Mr Prongs would trust Mr Padfoot with his life.

Mr Padfoot points out that it doesn't seem to have done him much good.

Mr Prongs thinks Mr Padfoot is being a bloody idiot.

There was a nagging feeling at the back of his mind at that exchange. Just what was it? What was it that was bothering him? He was missing something, he knew that at least.

Watching the interactions of the Map personas brought back endless memories of their schooling days. How many times had he been caught between a fight between these two best friends? Both had been notoriously stubborn and strong-willed, and woe was the one who was foolish enough to come between them. They had always made up eventually though, after the heat had died down. Remus - no, not just him, but everyone else as well - had expected them to stay as friends forever.

And it was being spelled out clearly before him, on the aged parchment, that Padfoot didn't want Prongs to trust him if it was going to hurt him in the end. One might argue that these were just imprints of their personalities that they had woven into the mechanisms of the Map. Mr Prongs and Mr Padfoot were not James Potter and Sirius Black... yet they were at the same time. A shallow copy unable to capture the full complexity of the human heart... but a copy nonetheless. Could a man change so much in just a few years?

Mr Padfoot wants Mr Prongs to be safe.

Mr Prongs retorts that he doesn't need protecting.

What if, for some reason, Sirius had felt that the secret wouldn't be safe with him? Would he have told James to choose someone else?

Yes. The answer was probably yes, Remus realized.

Sirius was a paradox in that he was both reckless and crafty at the same time. Sirius had been the one who came up with the most outrageous prank ideas, but had been amazingly adept at avoiding detentions when it suited him. He had also been the one to suggest the password-triggered locking charm for the Map, along with most of its anti-outsider mechanisms. James had once commented that Sirius was like a madman on the Quidditch field, you never knew where he would turn up, but he was somehow always there when you needed him.

That unpredictability was what made up his personality, but what if it had also played a hand in this situation?

Remus' heart was hammering in his chest. Dumbledore would have talked over the matter of Secret Keeper with James for sure, and probably offered to take up the role himself. James had clearly declined, opting instead for Sirius. At least that was what everyone, including Dumbledore, thought. Because it was the obvious choice. But what if that hadn't been true?

Everyone who knew them would have know about the close bond between James and Sirius. Sirius would surely have been the first to be suspected as the Secret Keeper, aside from Dumbledore. He would be the first to be targeted. If Sirius had considered that, and was worried that he might break under pressure...

Mr Prongs thinks that Mr Padfoot is a self-sacrificial prat.

Suggesting that James choose a different Secret Keeper, and planning for himself to act as a decoy... The more he thought about it, the more Remus thought, 'That's just like something Sirius would pull.'

Everyone had assumed that James had chosen Sirius as Secret Keeper.

Remus had thought so as well, especially when he had not been offered the position.

No one had ever considered the role of that last, all-too-easily overlooked person.

Could it be?

Mr Padfoot wants Mr Prongs to stop being so bloody stubborn about this.

Peter had confronted Sirius after finding out about James' and Lily's deaths. Peter...small, weak Peter who had always trailed after James and Sirius... All who knew of the incident had hailed him as a hero. But it was so, so uncharacteristic of the boy that the Marauders had known. Remus had briefly thought so when he first heard of the incident, but had pushed the doubt aside, feeling guilty about disrespecting the dead. His grief had clouded his mind, but he could still recall the disbelief about Sirius' betrayal.

Because the Sirius he knew would never do that.

The Sirius he knew would never betray James. Never James. Never a true friend.

Mr Prongs trusts Mr Padfoot.

Yet with all evidence pointing towards the same direction, there had been no room for doubt. But what if... What if the Sirius he had known was the true Sirius after all? What if they had all been fooled in a different way than they thought?

A leopard did not change its spots. Likewise, a rat did not become a lion overnight. But Peter Pettigrew, Death Eater and spy? The idea seemed so ludicrous that he almost felt silly for thinking of it.

But if that was true... If something like that was really the truth... And it seemed more likely the more he thought of it.

For years, he and the world had believed that one man's betrayal had led to three friends' death. But what if one man's deception had led to two deaths and an innocent man trapped in a nightmare for more than a decade?

"I need to check the Map," Remus said anxiously, cutting into Prongs and Padfoot's still ongoing argument. He hoped that the Map personalities would comply. This is no longer the time for guessing games. The life and freedom of an innocent man could be at stake. "Please. It's important."

Mr Prongs feels concerned about Mr Lupin, but would like to advise Mr Lupin that he should solemnly swear that he is up to no good.

Mr Padfoot hopes that with the use of the map there will be mischief managed.

The Marauders wish Mr Lupin a good day.

The words disappeared immediately after, spiraling into the intricate lines that made up their greatest creation.

"Oh, it's mischief indeed," Remus breathed as his eyes tracked the movement of one Peter Pettigrew, unmistakably alive, unmistakably in Hogwarts. There was a mystery afoot, and he would get to the bottom of it.

For years, he thought that he had the puzzle solved, but only now did he know that there were more puzzle pieces hidden under the carpet. Hidden there by a rat.

Did this scene live up to your expectations? I would love to hear what you think about this chapter. Do leave a review! I appreciate it a lot. Thank you for reading!

Again, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!