Chapter 1 : An old, battered photograph
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Who wants more Snape: check out my finished novel: the Tainted. It is a HG/SS ship, full of adventures and action.
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The bright October sunlight blissfully filled the History of Magic classroom, gently increasing the overall drowsiness that took hold of the pupils. Only one parchment-butterfly circled feebly beneath the ceiling instead of the usual twenty; the only interest it excited was that of a spider, which greedily followed its moves.
A raven black head in the very back row rocked back and forth, as if it couldn’t decide which side it would like to fall. Sirius Black was suffering the torments of utter boredom, and was doing it without making the slightest effort to conceal it or at least to keep a civilized appearance.
Professor Binns’ semi-apparent body floated along the blackboard perfectly undisturbed, and pretty much heedless of the fact that he had accidentally stopped in the middle of the teacher’s desk.
He had a unique talent to completely ignore his pupil’s reactions to his tedious lessons; that’s why Sirius had given up pulling jokes of the old spook a long ago. Those pranks used to be the only method of eliminating numb boredom, no matter how feeble though. The problem was that with time those pranks had become just as boring as anything else related to that wretched classroom.
With a heavy sigh Sirius decided on leaning forward on his desk. With a lazy move he conjured a neat little pillow of a horrid red colour. He accurately shook it up – a several seconds’ salvation from the deadly monotony – and finally nested his elbows and head on the cushion.
It was all because of that moron James and his stupid infatuation with Lily. Merlin’s holy socks! James was really off his hinges!
The reason for Sirius' bad-temper was simple.
James, in order to have a closer view of the above mentioned red-head, abandoned his usual place next to Sirius and took Konrad Fortmann’s, a tiny, blond boy's seat. Konrad made a few meek protests, but it was rather for the sake of preserving the illusion of dignity than really affronting James.
The poor boy soon found himself in a back seat, explaining to a rather uninterested Monique Montmornac, a girl with the longest lashes in the class, the innumerable benefits of the seat change.
Sirius snorted with scorn. According to his view, girls were a simple source of amusement, who should never gain priority over friendship. And that was exactly what happened that moment; he, Sirius was abandoned for a haughty red-head in such a crucial moment, when his only mean of surviving that lesson was James.
“Hey, Sirius!” came a quite sharp whisper from the left.
It was Lenny, Lenny Morco, a boy, whose beautiful Spanish mother was unfortunate enough to marry an academic professor, named Elmer van Hoofgard, a small, short-sighted, mouse-like wizard, whose son nevertheless had grown curiously handsome and dark-skinned, and was soon granted with the nickname, The Moor.
“Whazzup?” Sirius growled, moodily.
“Wanna bet?” Moor asked, flashing his usual, dodgy smile.
All of a sudden Sirius was wide awake, straining his ears like a blood-hound. A nasty grin spread on his face.
“It depends on what you can offer, Moor,” he said, lowering his voice.
The Moor had a great hunger for life, and as such he was blessed with several passions, one of which happened to be betting. There was nothing he would not bet on, from snail races to dubious pranks, and he soon became the heart and brain of the Hogwart’s underground gambling industry.
The secret of his success laid in his unerring instinct to find the softest points of his clientele.
His smile now attained a confidential character, which was usually the sign that he and his partner had reached the second stage of their business – the mere formality of agreeing on the terms.
“I think it’s time for a more substantial bet this time. You’re a big player, such as I am, so why don’t play big?”
Lenny knew perfectly that, Sirius, who was already tortured to death by boredom, was on his hook by now.
Sirius narrowed his eyes with satisfaction.
“Let’s play big,” he purred.
“Excellent,” the Moor said and slightly licked his lips. He lowered his voice, so it was reduced to a slight breath.
“It’s a task worthy of your talents. I want the portrait of Filch’s mother. The lovely lady hangs in the old Squib's sleeping room.”
Sirius stayed silent, tasting the new idea. He had serious doubts about the loveliness of the above mentioned lady, but that only spiced the whole thing. Lenny patiently waited.
“So,” Sirius slowly started, “what’s with her?”
“Bring her by tomorrow night,” the Moor replied, adding a pause for the better effect, “before midnight. If you’re late, you loose your fancy little knife.”
“You damn shark,” Sirius couldn’t keep his voice down. A few drowsing pupils stirred with fright in his vicinity and Remus, who sat in the front turned back with a horror-struck face to see his friend.
Scratching his scalp behind his right ear to gain time, Sirius leant to the dark skinned boy again.
“And what do I get for that?”
“Apart from eternal fame and glory?” Lenny asked ceremoniously, “This.”
He pulled a huge, hairy bat out of his pocket.
“Wow! It’s a real Vampire-Hunter” Sirius started, but he was immediately interrupted.
“It is.” The Moor quickly hid the thrashing animal away.
“So? What do you say? It’s an exclusive offer. First I thought of Mackenzie, but then I decided he was not up to the task.”
Sirius grinned. He resembled a fox that was locked up in the hennery.
“It’s a fair deal. I’ll do it.” Sirius reached out his hand to his partner.
“It’s a deal then,” the Moor agreed, shaking the offered hand.
Remus Lupin followed the events with growing anxiety; that handshake meant nothing good, not mentioning the satisfied expression that now reigned over Padfoot’s face.
Sirius Black liked things properly done. Well, we are not talking about homework or any work associated with his official studies, but about things, which he considered important.
And there were many things he considered important.
At the moment it was that particular bet with the Moor.
He had elaborately arranged a twenty minutes engagement for Argus Filch in the fifth floor lavatory, so he was finally free to enter Filch’s office.
The room smelled just as dusty and mouldy, as always, and Sirius’ sensitive nose wrinkled with disgust just as soon as he stepped in.
The old cupboards towered to the ceiling; their heavy doors could no longer be closed properly, so Filch had propped several brooms against them.
In the far end of the office a surprisingly small door blackened. It was surreal to imagine Filch’s tall frame struggle through that hole day by day, but since there was no trace of any other doors, Sirius decided to check.
The door opened into a narrow tunnel, which after two sharp turns led to an even smaller door.
'Damn! Who could’ve built that,' Sirius wondered and for a moment he considered feeling sorry for the old caretaker.
The door opened with an unpleasant creak.
A room appeared before Sirius’s eyes, a cold, high-ceilinged room, with a massive table worthy of Hagrid’s hut and a huge bed with impressingly filthy sheets. The place smelled of stale tobacco and sour wine. There were leftovers on the table and Sirius didn't need to sniff at them or look at their hairy surface to tell that they had a long history.
Filch's kingdom must have been positively forbidden for the House-elves to enter.
Sirius clenched his teeth and concentrated on his task.
He needed the portrait. Where could that be? There were no paintings in the room.
“ACCIO FILCH’S MOTHER’S PAINTING!”
As he stepped closer to the battered bed, he noticed a doorknob high above it on the wooden wall panel. No, not just one, there were many doorknobs and handles of all shapes and sizes growing out of the wall; they reached up to the ceiling.
Padfoot licked his lips with excitement. It was a pity that James and Remus were on a duty, making sure that Filch didn’t return early; they would have loved that place!
Reaching out his wand he pointed it at the closest doorknob.
The hidden door opened and revealed an enormous stack of old papers and files.
“Shit,” Sirius growled turning to the next doorknob. Old schoolbooks appeared on the loaded shelves.
“It has to be here somewhere,” he muttered, throwing a hasty spell at the next knob.
Ten minutes passed and Sirius had apparently found all the forgotten lumber of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry that had piled up during its long years of existence, yet there was no sign of the old witch. Excitement started to give way to desperation as he realized that the few minutes he was left were hardly enough to recover the status-quo and vanish.
Suddenly he heard a muffled muttering. Sirius jumped into the air like a frightened cat, looking franticly around.
“You good-for-nothing fool! You came back, at last! You old shame of a son!”
Sirius’ lips pulled up to reveal his sharp white teeth. Just how familiar that was! It reminded him of his own mother, and that brought Argus Filch, the Squib closer to his heart than he had ever considered it possible.
But time was pressing and he darted for the source of the voice. It came right from under a pillow and Padfoot unwillingly took a deep breath before plunging his hand beneath it and grabbing the picture.
The old hag continued her long monologue, heedless of the fact that she was roughly tucked into a rucksack by a stranger. It didn’t take long for Sirius to realize that the ‘lovely’ old lady was blind as a bat.
The spell refused to work, just as the formerly cast Accio. The painter must have provided the picture with some charm-protection.
Superb, now he had the luck to get acquainted with the vast vocabulary of the charming mother.
With a few flicks of his wand he closed the hidden cupboard doors and was just about to leave when he found an old photograph lying on the floor. It was a blonde girl, leaning back coquettishly in an armchair. Sirius’s first thought was to send the photo back to one of the cupboards, but the girl smiled at him, and called him closer with her finger. She teasingly pulled up her leg and her tartan skirt revealed her slender tight.
Unceremoniously, Sirius tucked the photo into his pocket and left Filch’s private room.
“Wow, she’s HOT!” James moaned.
“Hey, I thought you’re not interested in any girl, but Miss Perfect Evans,” Padfoot snorted, as the four of them watched the photo of the unknown girl, in a deserted broom cupboard. She shyly smiled and leant back in her cushioned armchair. Though the photo was yellowish and battered, it didn’t reduce the seductive magnetism of the blonde.
Her shoulder length hair curled in smooth waves around her chiselled face. Her heavy lashes shadowed her eyes, as she slowly started to unbutton her old-fashioned, yet fancy blouse.
Wormtail gave the longest whistle of his life. He trembled with excitement and licked his lips.
“Look, look she’s…” that was all he managed to say.
“Oh, damn! She’s a natural!” James finished it for Peter.
The girl slowly played with the second button on her blouse, and bit her lower lip.
“I love when she does that,” Sirius whispered, breathing faster than usual.
“What a witch! Who’s her?” These words were the first Remus had spoken, since Padfoot showed his friends the mysterious beauty.
The three boys looked at him with astonishment.
“Who cares, Moony? Just watch! Oh…” James got stuck in his train of thoughts.
The girl leant back her head, showing the smooth skin of her neck and lifted her right leg; with that agile move her skirt pulled up.
She slid her hands down her body to her hips.
“No wonder this picture had been confiscated! It rocks!” Wormtail gasped.
“Do you think she’s a former Hogwarts student? She can’t be more than 16!” Remus mumbled with a trembling voice.
“I hope she was not, because she would surely have been expelled for this,” Sirius replied not tearing away his gaze from the girl for a second.
Another button gave way to the long, graceful fingers. A tiny piece of lace appeared in its place.
“Merlin’s wretched cauldron! You do great! Don’t stop!” James breathed.
Suddenly the door of the broom cupboard was torn open, and bright daylight flooded the dusty little place.
“What does this mean, boys?” Minerva McGonagall’s voice felt like a whiplash after the sultry atmosphere of the broom container.
“Just homework discussion in a place, which provides the tranquillity and silence, needed for such absorbing work,” Sirius lied smoothly, while his hands hid the picture with the adeptness of a magus.
McGonagall’s eyes dangerously narrowed.
“Don’t you think I’m a fool, Mr. Black,” she hissed like an upset viper, which made Prongs swallow a smirk “neither you, Mr. Potter. I want to see you ALL in my office at eight in the evening. I’m getting fed up with your pranks. That vomiting statue on the fourth - don't you tell me you had nothing to do with it! And now, OUT!!!”
Remus wanted to protest, but his mouth closed on its own accord at the sight of Minerva McGonagall’s flaring nostrils.
Sirius woke in a good mood the next day, which actually happened to be Halloween Morning. The enormous Vampire Hunter Bat fluttered in a huge bronze cage next to his bed, and as it did so, it sent bat droppings flying in all directions.
It was definitely a nice day, Sirius decided.
A perfect day to try his bat on Snivellus; yes, there was a big chance that Snivellus would turn out to be a vampire after all.
If Snape proved to be human, well, that would make no difference. It would be fun, anyway.
He deliciously stretched and suppressing a last yawn, he jumped out of his bed.
It was Saturday and this evening held a special treat for them: Halloween Party!
James said he had smuggled a bottle of firewhisky into the castle. Well, if that was the case, that would be definitely a beautiful ending of a beautiful day.
The boys were still fast asleep. All the better. Sirius had some time to indulge with his extra bonus prize for breaking into Filch’s office, the pretty girl in the short skirt.
He reached under his pillow and took the photograph in his hand.
A horrified gasp left his lungs.
His fingers were sticky with a dark, sticky thing. It was blood.
Sirius stared at the piece of paper. There were blood smeared letters rudely carved into the picture:
The girl lay in the armchair unconscious… or perhaps dead.
Caring little about his friend’s dreams, Sirius roughly shook James’ shoulder.
“Prongs! Get up, Prongs!”
According to the signs, James was not in the mood for getting up early. He turned over and pulled the blanket over his head.
“Shit, Prongs! Get up, NOW!
A head with messy hair appeared above James’s bed. Remus looked frightened.
Relieved that he can share the terrible news, Padfoot reached out the photograph to the boy. It slightly trembled in his bloody fingers.
“I have no idea,” Padfoot whispered, looking anxiously at the other beds, where people started to stir.
Suppressing a gasp, Remus, quickly retrieved his wand and clothes.
“Let’s go out,” he mouthed, throwing James’ clothes in a heap at him. The latter growled, but apparently the tinge of fright in his friends’ voice finally had its effect.
“Wormtail!” Prongs said irritably, jerking a plump heap of blankets on the next bed. “Stop being such a lazy bone! We’ve got to go!”
A few short minutes later the four left the dormitory.
“What the hell is that?” Peter asked with panic rising in his voice, “It is Dark Magic, I tell you! It is!”
James carefully observed the picture. The lines were carved deeply in the paper, and there was blood oozing from the gashes.
“Padfoot, has anyone seen this, apart from us? Could anyone get it?”
“Nope,” Sirius replied firmly, “I have no idea how it happened.”
“How do you make paper bleed?” Remus asked shocked, “You know, I have a feeling it’s highly advanced magic. None of us could do this.”
James made a few attempts to heal the wounds, as if they were made on real flesh, but none of the spells worked.
“REPARO!” Wormtail’s wand emitted a flash of light, but nothing changed.
His friends stared at him in disbelief. Peter shrugged confusedly.
“Well, I thought perhaps the most obvious solution might work.” He turned red and stayed silent.
“Anyway, we know two things,” James started.
“Two?” Remus looked perplexed.
“Two. First is that whoever did this, was pretty familiar with advanced magic. Second is that he or she considered this girl a murderer,” Prongs explained.
"You're kidding, Prongs! That's stupid! It's must be a stupid prank, something similar the pranks that the three of you usually consider funny," Remus butted in.
“No, Moony, you don't get it! It's real Dark Magic! It makes me feel that this someone, who wrote that word on the picture, wants to take revenge on the girl,” Padfoot said, narrowing his dark eyes.
“Well, if you refuse to think reasonably, and stick to your creepy stupid theory... I know a way to find out if that is true,” Remus said with slight amusement in his voice, “If your theory is right, then whether or not she was a murderer, one thing must be sure: there was a murder. Now all we have to do is to find out if there was a murder in Hogwarts, apart from the one, when the Chamber of Secrets had been opened.”
“It won't be that easy, Moony, as you think. What if it took place outside the school? Besides, we have no idea, when it happened. Look at the paper on which the picture was taken. It must be really old. It could have happened anytime, anywhere.” James shook his head, but the fire in his eyes betrayed his enthusiasm for the investigation.
“It's not necessarily old. Any picture can be made to look old. It’s not a big deal. A drop of Aging Potion does that. Just think, why would anyone take a revenge on a photograph now, if the murder happened many years ago? Besides, those who could have known about that would surely be adults by now. But don't forget, we are merely considering a hardly probable theory of a hardy probable murder,” Remus replied, ruffling his hair.
“It could have been a teacher, I mean who discovered the murder,” Sirius murmured to himself, heedless of Remus' words.
“A teacher would not put the picture back under your pillow!” Wormtail butted in again.
Sirius stared at him for a while, which made Peter turn the colour of a beetroot again.
“Wormtail has a point,” Sirius finally said, “which makes me believe that there is something very fishy about this whole thing. I suggest that we all do some investigation. Moony, Wormtail; you go into the library and look for murders in the former issues of the Daily Prophet.”
Wormtail’s face slackened; the prospect of spending the morning in the library killed his enthusiasm. Remus on the other hand smirked.
"Waste of time," he started, then seeing Sirius' face, he added, "but of course I have nothing against wasting my time in a dusty library, instead of enjoying sunshine by the lake for the sake of my friends."
“I’ll also check all fatal accidents connected to Hogwarts, so that you can see that I'm devoted to the case,” he added.
“Fine! I’ll try to break in to Hogwarts archives, and see if there are any signs of murder,” James said. His eyes told that he had already built up the most improbable versions of a hair-raising murder story.
“Okay, that leaves Filch’s office to me again,” Padfoot grimaced. He didn’t quite like the idea, but some instinct told him that the girl’s picture was there for a reason. And he would find that reason!
A/N: Read and review, please! Can't wait to hear your opinion!
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