Chapter 1 : one
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The four boys stood facing each other in a circle.
Peter Pettigrew: his pallid, narrow face drawn into a grimace, his sensibly-combed hair contrasting sharply with his shabby school uniform.
Remus Lupin. His soft features wearing a mask of composure and togetherness, while inside his conscience screamed at him.
James Potter. Dark, ruffled, broody features which were still handsome in the grey, misty afternoon light that seeped through the age-worn walls of the Shrieking Shack, bathing them all in spidery threads of sunlight that left their faces colourless.
The last: Sirius Black. Tall and steadfast, he held his arm out in a direct line at the air between Remus and Peter. The wand was cracked, slightly bent at an angle from a split about three-quarters along its length near the tip. It had been crudely bound with sticky-tape, and it is this that Remus Lupin stared, at the way the light was gleaming dully off the tape affixed to the cracked wand.
He stared until the wand became the only thing he saw. Shadows and light played, rippling, across the folds of sticky-tape; he saw daylight from the cracks in the boarded-up windows.
It’s funny how important details suddenly became when you were afraid. Things had a certain special kind of clarity.
Remus watched Sirius’ arm, almost expecting it to waver, but the other boy held the wand steady. It was dead level.
Their eyes met across the circle, dark grey on muddy brown, and they searched each other. Travelled back and forth between Peter and James.
“Ready?” Sirius said, his voice smoothly penetrating the deep silence as each of them held their breath in their throats, for fear that it would betray their unease.
“I don’t think we should,” Peter said abruptly. There was no mistaking the tremor in his voice, slight increase in pitch, the way his voice always rose when he was anxious. “If someone gets hurt…”
It was James who cut him off, though his words were low and his eyes remained fixed on Sirius. “If you can’t handle it, then leave.” The broken wand flashed mischievously in Sirius’ hand. “We won’t stop you.”
Remus looked at Peter, frowning a little, but silent.
“No-one’s going to get hurt,” Sirius said. “I’ve tested it. It hardly ever works.”
“Hardly ever,” Peter repeated dryly. He was now standing a foot or so back from the circle.
“That’s right.” Sirius’ eyes glinted at him across the room. “Almost never, in fact. Now are you staying or what?” He was almost smiling, but far from being comforting, the expression chilled Peter to his bones; there was something black and destructive in the other boy’s gaze that frightened him badly.
He fought the urge to shudder, and looked restlessly from Sirius to James. Finding no reassurance there, he met Remus’ gaze, and the boy inclined his head a bit in a silent nod.
“Step into the circle, Peter,” Remus said quietly. “We should all do this.”
Great. Instead of three musketeers, there’s four, Peter thought sarcastically, perhaps as a way to retaliate against Remus’ soft, supportive order. All for one and one for all. But wasn’t there a kind of comfort in that thought?
Wasn’t that what he wanted?
He fought against the tumult of his own thoughts. “But… do you know what sort of damage this spell might do? I don’t think.... just because Sirius wants to prove something—”
“We all decided, remember? We agreed. Are you a Marauder or not?” James interrupted. Though his voice remained low, it stopped Peter’s words as effectively as a shout. “Don’t be so wet. It’s not like we’re using Unforgivable Curses; the worst it can probably do is give someone a headache.” He flexed his wrists in a nervous gesture.
Peter hesitated, both repelled by the sight of the wand but strangely entranced by the look of concentration on Sirius and James’ faces. They were hypnotically focused on the wand, which remained pointed at the gap between Remus and Peter’s shoulders, held out as if in offering on an altar of worship.
Peter stepped forward and closed the circle again, but stared at the floor to avoid meeting Sirius’ dangerous stare.
“Great,” he heard Sirius say. “Now we can start.”
“Who goes first?” Remus asked, unable to keep a note of reluctance from creeping into his voice.
Silently, Sirius crouched on the floor and placed the wand in the middle of their loose circle. It sat ominously in the middle of the floor for a few moments before Sirius, pinching it between finger and thumb, twisted it sharply and let it spin.
The wand came gradually to rest, its tip pointing halfway between James and Remus. Both boys glanced uncomfortably at each other.
“Spin it again,” James mumbled.
Sirius knelt and spun the wand once more, with more force. It skittered away from his hand, spinning wildly, and as its arc began to slow it came to rest against Peter’s left foot.
His face fell.
“Oh, come on…”
“It’s you, Pete.”
“This is stupid,” Peter said, frowning at the wand, but if anything, the half-smile on Sirius’ face deepened, pulling shadows into the cracks of his face. His eyes glinted.
“Just get it over with.” The words were gentle, even fondly spoken, and for just a moment it was enough to make Peter pause. His skin crawled with a chill as he slowly knelt to pick up the wand.
He breathed, a shaky sound, and realised that every pair of eyes was on him; Sirius’ were the most intense, and he felt the boy’s stare even though he wasn’t looking at him. It was like a white, hot needle burning into the centre of his forehead.
Are you a Marauder or not?
Well are you?
He raised the wand until it was level with his head, pointing at his temple. He met Sirius’ eyes for a brief moment, before squinting his eyes shut so tightly that white spots danced behind their closed lids.
The silence in Peter’s head swelled to an unbearable degree as he stood there waiting for the spell to hit. He realised after a long time, that a gentle breeze at his temple was the only reaction… the spell had not worked.
He let out a shaky laugh and cast his eyes around the circle. One by one, each of them un-tensed; James let out an airy snort of relief, while Remus smiled, his eyes darting from face to face, but unable to completely hide his reluctance.
Sirius didn’t smile, but he gave Peter a single grave nod, and Peter breathed out slowly. He had passed.
Whatever kind of test this was, he had passed.
His sense of relief was absurd, and completely inordinate to the response he had elicited from Sirius, but he didn’t try to hide the fact that his hand trembled slightly as he knelt to place the wand back in the middle of the floor.
They could all hear each other breathing, so silent was the house.
A shiver of wind moved the hangings over the four-poster in the corner of the bedroom, dislodging dust in a little silvery cascade.
Peter spun the wand.
It rattled as it circled around on the floor, unbalanced by the wad of sticky-tape that was wrapped around its middle. As it slowly stilled, everyone’s eyes turned to James.
Its’ tip was pointing nearest him, the handle pointing at Sirius.
A wry smile played on James’ face as he looked at the boy standing opposite to him. “Does this mean we have to kiss?”
There was another ripple of laughter. Peter shuffled awkwardly. Remus looked intently at the ground.
Without waiting for anyone to answer, James picked up the wand and stood. He wriggled one of his wrists which had gone stiff, but raised the wand to the side of his head in a clean, smooth motion and levelled it at his temple. His eyes were calm behind his glasses. He did not close them as Peter had, but simply spoke the word.
James held the wand up for perhaps three seconds and then dropped his wrist, smiling.
Peter wiped his nose and let out a tittering laugh. He gave no explanation for it, and the others needed none; they were all feeling the same thing.
Sirius looked over at Remus, standing next to Peter, and took the wand off James. He didn’t put it on the floor right away, but stared at Remus very intently for a few long seconds, his dark eyes burning. Still with that smile which was not quite a smirk, but was becoming unsettlingly close to one, he drew the silence out, fiddling with the sticky-tape on the wand as if to make sure it was not coming unstuck.
Remus’ tongue darted out to wet his lips, which felt dry and cracked. He looked at James, but James was not watching him, James was watching Sirius place the wand carefully on the floor, pinching it as if it was delicate enough to break.
Remus watched him. He understood at last… but with understanding came only a wave of cold dread. This was not a game anymore. It was a religious rite. It was about a bond that could not be made any other way.
Sirius was testing them all; testing their loyalty.
Are you a Marauder or not?
Before he knew it, the wand was spinning again, and this time it landed clearly on Sirius.
Unhesitatingly, Sirius took the wand and straightened up with it, pointing it almost carelessly at the side of his own head. It was so close that its end was almost touching the wisp of dark hair above his ear.
With no ceremony, and his eyes fixed flatly on Remus’, Sirius said:
It seemed that all of them held their breath, despite the fact that much of the tension had lessened with each successive turn of the wand, and even when nothing immediately happened they did not relax until Sirius lowered his hand.
It took a while for Remus to realize that they were all looking expectantly at him, and smiling. No need to spin for the last person. It was his turn.
“Lucky last,” Sirius said, and held the wand out to him, resting in the centre of his open palm.
Remus took it, brushing his skin with the tips of his fingers, and Sirius’ hand flinched as he drew it away. His expression, however, remained fixed. Remus could see the faith in his eyes, and it was radiant, dazzling, even muted as it was by the stifling air of the Shack and the dismal grey hues of the room.
That kind of faith made him feel sick to the pit of his stomach. Somehow he raised the wand to his head and, frowning, having momentarily forgotten the spell.
Sirius, watching him.
James and Peter, smiling in relaxed anticipation.
He found the courage; it simply filled him like a sigh as he realised, if it means this much to him, then I’ll do it.
He spoke the word, and for a brief moment he observed an expression of near-comical shock register on the other boys’ faces as something bright and blinding twisted out from the end of the wand and into the side of his head, and then all the world bloomed violently black.
Though he couldn’t remember falling, Remus opened his eyes to a sideways view of the doorway. Combined with the odd angles of the Shack’s ceiling which weren’t quite perpendicular, it looked like something out of an Escher drawing. His face was pressed into the hard floorboards, and the smell of dust and mould was so thick after his period of total senselessness that he began to cough, his squashed lips picking up some of the dirt on the floor. There was an odd, liquid feeling in his nose which made him feel like he was uncomfortably close to drowning.
He heard a single pair of footsteps. A warm hand curled around his shoulder and squeezed it tightly.
“Hey, hey.” The voice was Sirius, but it didn’t sound entirely like him. Though Remus couldn’t see him from this angle, it sounded like Sirius’ throat had been rubbed raw with a cheese grater. He was kneeling somewhere at Remus’ back. A shadow fell over him. From the lack of sound aside from the creaking which travelled occasionally through the walls, it was evident that they were the only people in the house.
Remus tried to raise his head, and something leaked out of his nose. It only took him a few instants to realize it was blood, when some of it seeped into the crack in the corner of his mouth.
Sirius was leaning over him, still holding his shoulder, but removed the hand when Remus moved one arm to touch the side of his own face tentatively. He groaned, squinting.
“Remus.” The hand landed on his shoulder again. “You all right?” Though the answer was obvious, the question seemed needed.
“Never better,” the other boy replied from the floor. He had only raised his head a few inches, but the dizziness had begun to fade, and after a while he remembered to wipe his nose. There was blood all over the side of his face.
“God. I’m sorry.” Sirius barely choked the words out. In spite of the concern in his voice, his eyes were dry – for which Remus was extremely grateful.
“How’s your head?”
“Doesn’t hurt,” Remus replied, but winced as more blood flowed over his finger, which had plugged his nose at the knuckle. “I think it looks worse than it is.”
“Yeah. Listen… help will be here soon.”
“You shouldn’t have bothered,” Remus said through gritted teeth, and finally sat up. He pinched his nose tightly, but the blood seemed to have slowed to a trickle.
Now able to look at Sirius fully, he could see the guilt written deeply into the lines in the other boy’s face. He was about to speak again when another wave of dizziness rolled over him, grey and blanketing. He had to blink fiercely before his vision cleared.
“Can you hear me?” Sirius was saying, his voice rising with panic.
“Yeah, yeah,” Remus whispered in reply. “It’s better now.”
Sirius lowered his voice, but every note shook with suppressed fury. “I swear, I didn’t think the wand would work. I tested it myself.”
Remus couldn’t muster a reply. He sat on the floor beside Sirius, blood drying on his cheek and underneath his fingernails.
“You could’ve fucking killed yourself for all I knew.”
Remus closed his eyes briefly. “I’m all right, Sirius. It doesn’t even hurt. It’s just a nosebleed.”
The hand was still on his shoulder – it had been there all along, and he had barely noticed. Now it squeezed again with comforting pressure.
“Had to do it,” Remus said, his voice watery.
“No you bloody didn’t.” Sirius was staring hard at him, and Remus reluctantly met his eyes. “I don’t know what I was trying to prove. I knew already—”
He bit off the end of his sentence and brushed clumsily at Remus’ face with a hand – something which might have been a caress, had it lingered more than that brief moment, but it did not. His fingers came away wet. Awkwardly Sirius pulled back from him to wipe it on his shirt, leaving an ugly red smear.
Remus watched the other boy intently; he seemed to be trying not to cry, increasing both their discomfort, but in the silence that followed Remus again felt the strength of Sirius’ faith in him. Not for the first time he realized how dangerous that kind faith could be.
It had been Sirius’ idea. His stupid game. But perhaps it had been necessary.
They sat together on the floor in a wordless truce as the shadows lengthened, sneaking across the dusty floorboards, and the broken wand lay discarded in one corner of the room where Sirius had, at one point, thrown it. The fading light glinted off its sticky-taped end like an accusation, but neither boy acknowledged it.
Sirius was the first to hear the beat of approaching footsteps, filtering up from the floor below. He climbed to his feet as if to put some distance between himself and the other boy as voices filled the stairwell outside the room, but offered Remus a tender smile.
Remus turned to the doorway, letting his hand drop away from his nose, whose leaking had subsided. He stared at the four figures in the doorway; a dark-haired woman whose hair was pulled brutally into a bun stepped into the room first in a swish of tartan skirts and a hastily mumbled “ohmygod” as she took in the sight of Remus’ blood.
Following her was a shorter, plump woman carrying a bag and two boys in school uniform. Their pale faces were tight with concern and exertion, and as they followed the two teachers into the room, the messy-haired, bespectacled boy met Remus’ eyes with a tremulous smile; his relief so powerful that Remus saw his eyes start to water before he hastily wiped them.
Remus turned his head, which creaked stiffly, and looked at Sirius, his face openly questioning. His words were still muffled by the blood in his throat, but everyone in the room heard him when he spoke.
“Who are they?”
It was a full five seconds before the question finally registered, and the smile fell from Sirius’ face.