Author's note: I once again apologize for my extended absence. Happy Halloween! Enjoy!
26. The Headless Horseman
After Professor McGonagall heard of the Dark Lord's inappropriate harassment of Sirius, she took away the boy's cell phone. Phones didn't work inside of Hogwarts anyway, but she felt safer knowing that Voldemort's only means of contacting the boy were no longer with him. The phone was now safely powered off and locked in her desk drawer.
James and Sirius adjusted to life back at school without a hitch. Returning to their dorm had felt like coming home in many ways. Yet that isn't to say there weren't without surprises.
For one, Peter was now much bigger than he was in June, yet he hadn't grown upwards an inch. The rotund boy was now even wider, and with his new, deep voice, the other boys had trouble reminding themselves that he was the same Peter. For in fact, he was rather changed. Quieter and more withdrawn, he paid his roommates little heed when he was around them and preferred to spend his time with a group of Hufflepuffs he had befriended that summer. They met whenever they could and played role play games.
Remus gave them the biggest surprise when, just one week into their new school year, he walked through the common room hand in hand with Susan Pevensie (not the one you're thinking of from a certain wardrobe… but feel free to picture her!). James did a double-take as the two gave each other gaga eyes and slipped out through the portrait.
"Whoa," he said to no one in particular, though Sirius was nearby on his window seat and Lily was reading within earshot. "Did anyone else just see that?"
"See what?" Sirius asked.
"This," James said emphatically before dropping his quill to link his hands together. "With Remus and Susan."
Sirius continued to stare with an unchanged expression and James realized the younger boy didn't have a clue.
"Since when do they even know each other?" James asked.
"Honestly," Lily muttered from her corner.
James' head snapped to her. "Wha?"
Lily set down her book. "They started going out yesterday."
"How do you know?" Sirius asked, as if she'd just revealed the location of the next Death Eater attack.
"Because Susan is in my dorm, that's why," Lily answered.
James and Sirius exchanged a skeptical look. "Remus wouldn't start dating someone without telling us," James reasoned. "I mean, he's never even mentioned her."
Lily shrugged and picked her book back up. "Maybe he didn't want you to gossip."
James adjusted his glasses. He didn't gossip… did he?
At length, the three headed down for dinner and James was surprised to find that Remus was sitting in the middle of the Gryffindor table, next to Susan, instead of on their end. The two were giggling and taking bites of food off of each other's plates. James was embarrassed for him.
Sirius, for his part, didn't notice Remus' preoccupation with Susan and instead focused on scarfing down food. In fact, the reality of the change to their group of friends didn't hit him for another week when he realized that he now had no one to spend time with when James was maniacally practicing Quidditch, often on his own.
He knew that Remus and Susan spent most of their time together in the library, but he didn't quite feel like cloistering himself with books and silence and the two lovebirds. So it was that he often found himself alone on his window seat, looking out at the grounds below, waiting until James came in from throwing the snitch to himself.
On one such afternoon a few weeks into the school year, Lily realized that she also had no one to spend time with. Marge was more often than not hanging out with her fellow Slytherins these days, and her Hufflepuff friend wasn't very interesting on her own, for the girl did little more than agree with everything Lily said, never offering her own opinion.
Lily slumped into the small space beside Sirius on the window seat. "Not half as exciting as this summer, is it?"
Sirius turned his gaze to her with a crooked smile. "Not nearly."
"Where's your other half?"
Sirius looked down, as if worried that he'd been truncated.
Lily arched a brow. "James."
"Oh! He's out playing fetch."
"Shouldn't that be your game?"
"Only if I have someone to throw the ball," he said moodily.
"Well," Lily said as she stood up. "Let's go then."
Sirius swung his legs over. "Where?"
"Anywhere. It's a beautifully sunny day. We don't have many of those left!"
Smirking, Sirius hopped off his seat and followed her out. As they walked side by side, Lily noticed a few other students glancing her way. She knew they were wondering why she, Lily Evans, was walking with none other than Sirius Black, her sworn enemy. But so much had changed this summer, and not only was she unashamed to be seen with the boy, but realized that she was rather proud to have him as her friend.
Sirius grinned when he saw Fang sniffing around outside of Hagrid's hut. Lily followed his gaze.
"Is he your friend?"
"Watch this!" After making sure no one was around to see, Sirius surprised Lily by morphing into Padfoot and darting off down the hill, barreling towards Fang. The larger dog let out a loud, resonating bark then fell into a play bow.
Padfoot slowed as he approached then walked slowly towards Fang, as if he were stalking him. Fang kept his eyes locked onto Padfoot's blue ones. Then suddenly, Padfoot darted and Fang tore off after him, and the two chased each other around on the grass, play fighting and snarling. Lily laughed as she watched the two wrestle, and wondered what it must be like to turn into a dog. Padfoot must have a lot of dog instincts, she realized, for him to know how to play with Fang so expertly.
Seeing as the two canines showed no sign of letting up their wrestling, Lily sat down on the grass and closed her eyes, letting the weakening sun warm her face. This summer had felt endless, and had been so wrought with panic and adventure that it was nice to return to Hogwarts and the old routines.
She was so lost in her musings and memories that, nearly an hour later, she didn't notice Padfoot morph back into Sirius. The boy crept up behind her then pounced, tackling her onto the grass. Lily let out a surprised squawk that morphed into a giggle.
"Jerk!" she scolded, even as she smashed a handful of grass against his cheek, staining it green.
Sirius rose to his feet then helped her up, his hair going every which way, held in place by Fang's slobber..
"Did you see what he did?" Sirius asked, suddenly indignant. "He bit my…" He peered over his shoulder, searching for an appendage that wasn't there. "Tail."
"Well, that's not very nice, is it?" Lily asked as she dusted the grass and pebbles off of her hands. "Does it still hurt?"
"Yeah…" Sirius rubbed his backside, looking perplexed. "Even though it's no longer there."
"Is it normal for dogs to bite each other's tails?"
"Only on Tuesdays and bank holidays," Sirius said as he scampered ahead of her, heading back towards the castle. Lily rolled her eyes as she followed him. If only I had half that energy… she thought.
They had been right to go out in the sun when they did, for the next day it was raining. Not that the watery air stopped James from heading out to yet another solo Seeker practice. By the time he called it quits, the sun was setting and he was soaked to the bone. Trudging up the stairs to the common room, all he could think of was getting out of his wet clothes and warming by the fire.
On his way up to the dormitory, he dimly registered Sirius and Lily sitting on the window seat together. On his way back down, however, he couldn't look away… because Lily's hip was touching Sirius' as they laid side by side. How did Sirius always get the girls? It was like he was secretly one of them. What James would give to trade places with him right now… because Lily was laughing and resting her hand on Sirius' forearm as she did so, and the git seemed oblivious, as if he didn't realize that he was being blessed by an angel.
Slumping down in front of the fire with a huff, James folded his arms over his knees, catching the attention of the two.
"Hi, James," Sirius greeted, sounding far too chipper for James' liking. He merely grunted in response.
"A bit miserable, huh?" Lily asked, taking in his sodden hair.
"A little, yeah," James muttered.
"Lily," Sirius drawled in a voice James had never heard before. "I wish you were always here."
James chanced a glance over at the two and outright stared when he saw that Sirius' arms were around the red head's waist.
"I am always here, Sirius. I have been since I was eleven." She stroked one of Sirius' arms and James felt his stomach turn to jelly. He was half convinced that he'd been sucked up in a tornado while in the wind outside and had come out in an alternate reality where his best friend and the girl of his dreams were… dating.
"No," Sirius continued. "I mean right here. It's much warmer with you here."
"Because you're lying on the side by the window, you doof."
Sirius's giggle and James's frantic race to rein in his thoughts were cut off by Helga Juicer, a Ravenclaw, entering the common room with one of her Gryffindor friends.
"Anyone wanna watch a scary movie?" she asked, holding up the DVD of Sleepy Hollow. "It's my special edit of only the scary scenes. It's wicked cool."
A few of the Gryffindors agreed and meandered over to the table where Helga set up her laptop. Lily and Sirius could see from their cozy nest on the window seat and didn't budge. The action, or lack of, wasn't unnoticed by James.
He glared furiously at the rug beneath him, telling himself over and over that what he was seeing wasn't happening. That his best friend wouldn't betray him like that. It was just normal old Sirius being cluelessly affectionate, right? Then why did Lily seem so… comfortable with it? No, no, no, no, no, no this wasn't real…
It was five minutes into Helga's Sleepy Hollow edit that James realized he was nearly hyperventilating. He knew he was overreacting but he couldn't help it. His whole world had just been turned on end, and even though a small, logical part of his mind reminded him that that probably wasn't the case, he couldn't listen to it. He'd lost Lily. It was all over.
Sirius' scream jerked James out of his spiraling thoughts. The boy was now a ball behind Lily, curled up as if in an earthquake drill. It took James a second until he saw why. There, on the laptop screen, was the headless horseman decapitating people. James watched the murderous scenes with surprising numbness. After all, what were a few dead strangers in the face of his eternal suffering? The headless horseman wasn't so far off his rocker after all, was he?
Another squeak came from the window as Lily shushed Sirius, focusing on the film, completely nonplussed.
"It's not that scary," she whispered.
"It's horrifying!" was Sirius' muffled reply.
"It's all just pretend. He isn't real."
"How do you know?"
"Because it's a movie. He's an actor who some Muggle paid."
Sirius slowly uncurled and cautiously stole a peek at the screen again. Johnny Depp, to whom Remus' special telephone inexplicably connected, was investigating one of the murders. Calming down, Sirius was just beginning to enjoy himself when the scene suddenly changed to a woman screaming as her door was broken down by the headless horseman, carrying the head of her husband. Helga cackled at her edit while Sirius cowered behind Lily once more. The red head patted his shoulder and held his hand while she watched.
James had seen enough. Rising, he headed up to the dormitory where he found Peter immersed in a comic book. The round boy gave him an annoyed look, as if the dorm were his own room and James had just trespassed, then rose and left, muttering something about having a role play meeting anyway.
Sighing, James sank down onto his bed. What in the name of Merlin was happening to his friends? Peter was unrecognizable, Remus was suddenly a ladies man and was rarely apart from Susan, and now Sirius and Lily? It was all too much.
After some effort, he managed to calm his breathing and his racing heart so that he could try to reason out what he had witnessed. Sirius was rather affection-starved, and even if he wasn't, he was still an affectionate guy. Maybe this was just him being himself and treating Lily as if she were James (it was) and not a budding romance (it wasn't). But that brief rational thought was flung from his mind the moment Sirius darted through the door and dove under his covers.
James found himself glowering at his friend and had to shake his head to change the expression. What was wrong with him?
"Don't go out there," Sirius whined. "It's terrible!"
"What, cutting off heads a bit much for you?"
The edge in James' voice made Sirius peek out. "You don't think it's scary?"
"No. It's pretend. Scary is facing down the Dark Lord because he's obsessed with you. Scary is having to fight Death Eaters when I'm not even legally allowed to use magic. Scary is thinking your best friend just got kidnapped by a pedo."
Sirius furrowed his brow. "What's a pedo?"
"And after all that… after my sacrifices… letting you stay with us… you… you…" He didn't know where he was going with this but he knew it wouldn't be kind, and the memory of the fight he and Sirius had that summer stayed his tongue. "Just…" James sighed and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses. "Sometimes I feel like I have nothing to show for it all."
"Of course you do. You're the bravest person I know, James," Sirius said, sitting up.
James smirked a little despite himself. "Really?"
"Of course. You've done loads of brave things. Like sneaking that biscuit off Dumbledore's plate."
"Yeah…" James smiled stupidly. "Guess I am pretty manly."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far."
James' eyes flashed and he looked Sirius up and down. "So, since when are you and Lily besties?"
Sirius shrugged. "You're always off playing fetch with yourself."
"And? It's called becoming a professional Quidditch player…"
"And Remus is off with Susan. Peter acts like I smell every time I see him, when really, he's the one who smells. Like rotten eggs and mildew."
James winced. "I know what you mean."
"You know how nice Lily is."
"Yeah, I do, which is why I like her," James said, blushing as he did so. It was no secret, but somehow saying it with such a definitive air made it more real.
"I do, too."
The color drained from James' face. His worst nightmare was coming true before his eyes. His best friend was stealing his almost-maybe-but-not-really-ever girlfriend. In fact, Sirius had, in his Sirius way, interpreted James' comment at face value and responded in kind. So he was quite confused when James' fists clenched.
"You all right?" Sirius asked.
"Sirius… you knew I liked her. You knew it all summer. This isn't fair. After everything I've done for you?"
Still missing the point, Sirius rose and combed a hand through his hair. "And didn't you notice that I noticed this summer how nice Lily was? Of course I like her. We can both like her, you know. I mean, she likes both of us." Sirius listened at the door to see if the film was still being played. Instead, he heard Helga bragging about how much she loved gore. The coast was clear. "I'm going to dinner. See you there."
Sirius slipped out, leaving a very confused, and very enraged James behind. The tall boy had no idea what to do with the hatred that had washed over him from Sirius' statement. How could his best friend so nonchalantly mention that he also had feelings for Lily? As of he wasn't stealing her from James?
With a growl, James punched his pillow. Emotions and hormones were swirling inside of him, more so than normal for a teenaged boy. There were many reasons young people were not supposed to become animagi, and one of them was the risk of their biology being tampered with by that of their animal form. In this case, deer and the rut.
"Look out," a voice said behind James and he turned around to spot Remus entering the room, adjusting his tie. "It might fight back."
Huffing, James sat down on his bed.
"Anything you want to talk about?" Remus asked.
"Not particularly," James replied through grit teeth.
Remus nodded, taking in his friend's taut shoulders and tense spine and decided to try small talk. "Did you hear about the haunted maze?"
"Dumbledore's setting one up as a sort of autumn carnival. Like how the yanks have Halloween. Only this one is just a spooky maze, like a haunted house, but there'll be candy stands and such outside for when you make it out the other side."
"Huh," James grunted, trying to sound interested.
"Anyone can sign up to be an actor in maze. It sounds fun but, it'll be close enough to the full moon as it is, so I figure I ought to sit it out."
James nodded, an idea forming in his mind. "Yeah… doesn't mean I have to, though."
Remus grinned. "Go for it."
"I just might. And I just might go headless."
And so it was that when October 1st and the haunted maze arrived, James was suiting up behind the scenes as none other than the headless horseman with the specific intent of scaring the wits out of his best friend. He didn't fully understand his motivation, but the idea of seeing Sirius screaming and running from him made him smile, and the insurmountable urge to chase off the competition for his doe was paramount.
Sirius, for his part, had noticed James' recent aloofness and as such, instinctively gravitated towards his one friend who wasn't behaving strangely: Lily. As such, the two headed down to the haunted maze together and stood in line.
Lily tugged on his arm. "Look."
There ahead were Susan and Remus, their arms intertwined. Susan rested her head on Remus' shoulder. Remus kissed the top of her head then slung his arm around her waist. Sirius and Lily exchanged an uncomfortable look. Lily was about to say something when a child in a mini car sped past. The two stared in shock over what they had just seen.
The girl drove her small car, for which she was almost too big, up to Susan and Remus and honked. Cringing, Susan looked down at the girl, who bore some resemblance to her (and possibly a passing resemblance to one Lucy Pevensie…) then immediately looked away.
The girl huffed then honked her little horn again. "I want to go in," she whined in a baby voice that was completely ill-suited for her age.
"I'm sorry, Mario Cart, but you can't. You have to be over twelve. It's too scary."
Mario Cart, as the other students had nicknamed the first year younger sister of Susan due to her obsession with riding around in a small car all the time, was eleven. The theory was that the girl had a handicap that prevented her from walking, hence her only mobility was through the cart. The girl could walk just fine, but she had a severe case of arrested development and preferred to have everyone think of her as a goofy child rather than a tween.
"But I want to," Mario Cart huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and sticking out her lower lip as if she were in a play.
"You can't," Susan snapped. "Now take your cart and drive away. You're bothering me."
"You're mean," Mario Cart whined. "I'm only six!"
And with that, she peeled out and headed up to the castle.
Sirius growled lowly as the cart sped past. The dog in him couldn't stand things with wheels like that. He didn't know if he wanted to chase it or run from it, but he certainly knew he didn't like it.
"Have you seen James?" Lily asked, attempting to divert his attention lest he run off after the cart.
"I think he's worried he won't make it on the team this year or something, because he's always practicing and when he isn't, he's grumpy."
"Why wouldn't he make it? He's a great Seeker."
Sirius shrugged. While he enjoyed Quidditch, he would never understand James' obsession with the sport.
At length it was their turn to go in. Filch was running the entrance and sorted the students into groups of four. Lily and Sirius were relieved to find themselves in Susan and Remus' group. Whimpering was coming from off to the side, and Lily assumed it was a sound effect for the haunted maze, until she realized that it was a boy.
Jason White, the Gryffindor oddball, was standing on the sidelines, crying quietly as he twisted his shirttails, muttering barely audible "Ohmigod"s over and over again. Whatever was in the maze had thoroughly frightened him. Sirius followed Lily's gaze and gulped. He clomped onto her arm.
The gates opened and Filch ushered the four into the maze with a wave of his lantern.
"Oh Merlin, Remus…" Susan whined, hugging her boyfriend.
Remus merely chuckled. "Relax. It's only other students."
"But still. Things will pop out at –" A Hufflepuff sprang out from behind a corner. "Me!"
Sirius and Lily both jumped then laughed over how high Susan had sprung. This wasn't so bad.
They followed the twists and turns in the dark, occasionally hearing eerie sounds and being startled by students in costumes. Near the end of the maze was a wide wooded area.
Susan looked around suspiciously, but relaxed once nothing showed any sign of popping up out of the trees.
"This must be the end," she said.
Lily was about to agree when she heard it. Hoofbeats. Echoing behind them.
Sirius' face turned white as the sound registered.
Then, out of the shadows, charged a hippogriff. A flash of lightning revealed a headless horseman on top, carrying a jack o' lantern for his head.
With a unified scream, the four scattered, each sprinting to get out of the way. To Sirius' terror, the horseman swerved his mount and followed him. Sirius screamed again, running as fast as he could. If he'd had half a rational thought, he would've morphed into Padfoot and escaped much faster. As it was, he tripped on a root and was sent tumbling down a leafy embankment. Scrambling to his knees, he looked up to see the horseman rearing on his hippogriff in the lightning wings outstretched.
"Lily!" Sirius screamed, but the others were nowhere within earshot.
Just then, footsteps sounded to his left and Sirius got to his feet just in time to see none other than Severus Snape barreling towards him. Only the boy wasn't on the prowl. In another flash of lightning, Sirius noticed tears streaking his cheeks. Snape was terrified out of his wits.
The hippogriff bellowed out a caw and reared again as the headless rider raised his jack o' lantern, which was suddenly on fire. Snape collided with Sirius and the two grabbed each other and screamed in unison as the horseman charged them.
The flaming jack o' lantern flew through the air and splintered at their feet, causing the two boys to run. The horseman once again charged after Sirius, and he screamed as a hand reached down and grabbed him by the scruff, lifting him off his feet. Kicking wildly, trying to free himself, he was suddenly flung into a pile of leaves. He landed on his side and looked up but couldn't see anything in the dark. Then he heard the sound of the hippogriff's hooves fading.
Snape wailed as he raced past and Sirius sprang to his feet and followed him. The two boys sprinted out of the exit and collapsed on the ground.
Lily had been waiting outside for Sirius, giggling with Susan and Remus over how thrilling that final chase had been, when she saw the state of her two black-haired friends. Snape was still quietly sobbing and Sirius looked as if he'd just been at a sleepover with his cousins.
"Are you all right?" Lily asked, falling to her knees beside the two.
Snape shoved away her helping hand, got to his feet, and sprinted off, ashamed to be seen in such a state.
"It tried to kill us," Sirius gasped, his eyes wide. "It was real! It grabbed me and tried to run off!"
"What did?" Remus asked, his shoulders stiffening, as if prepared to fight off the attacker.
"The Headless Horseman!"
Lily helped Sirius to his feet. "It was just pretend, Sirius. Part of the maze."
"No, it wasn't. He really was after me!"
"This is why we don't let him watch Muggle movies," Remus muttered.
"Let's go get some caramel corn," Lily suggested with a smile as she plucked leaves out of Sirius' hair. He nodded and followed, but was hugging her arm the whole time.
Later that night, when Sirius, Susan and Remus were playing a carnival game of whack a gnome, Lily spotted James sipping cider and laughing with a group of fellow Gryffindors. And he was in the headless horseman costume. He glanced over in Sirius' direction without a hint of guilt in his eyes.
Lily narrowed her gaze. She didn't know what sort of game he was playing, but she didn't like it one bit.
Please let me know what you think!