There's a light at each end of this tunnel
You shout cause you're just as far in as you'll ever be out
And these mistakes that you've made
You'll just make them again if you'll only try turnin' around
This was not happening.
I was not laying awake, thinking about Rigel. I was not the kind of girl who laid around, thinking about ...him.
The sound of an owl outside pulled me completely from sleep and I sat up, wiggling my toes on the cold wood floor.
It was just past midnight and the house was asleep as I crept carefully over the aged floors, avoiding the spots that tended to creak with a practiced step.
Father was acting oddly, lately and I was rather certain that if I was caught out of bed it wouldn't end well.
The house was oddly devoid of house elves as I made my way to the garden door and stepped out, shivering at the cool morning air. It was crisp and cool, oddly dry for spring, and fragrant.
At the back of the garden there was a small wooden bench where I liked to sit and think. Despite the cold, it was the only comfortable place I could think of.
I sat down and stared up at the inky night sky that seemed to swallow up everything. It was unusually dark, as if the blackness of the sunless sky had swallowed up the stars.
Suddenly, an almost imperceptible rustle of leaves told me that I was not alone.
Prepared for the worst, I didn't move, pretending that I hadn't heard a thing.
There was a long silence before I decided to take a chance.
Whoever it was, was trapped between the eight foot back garden wall and me. If any magic was done outside of our house at night, whoever had done it would regret it-unless they were a Crescent.
So I took a deep breath and held my wand tight under my robe. “Whoever you are, you can come out, now.”
There was a silence, and a muted curse before Rigel stepped out from behind a large bush with an oddly tortured expression on his face.
When his eyes fell on me, he closed his eyes and shivered. It was almost as if he'd rather be caught by my father. Strange.
I stared at him flatly. “What are you doing here?”
His face went blank as our eyes met, but I could sense something boiling beneath the surface.
I waited patiently for his response, making no attempt to hide my wand, aimed for his heart.
Whatever was bothering him-most likely getting caught- forced him to close his eyes again and take a deep breath. When he opened them, he seemed distant, almost empty.
“Rosaline.” He began, that thing boiling close to the surface again.
“Why are you here? Have you come to leaf through my families library?” That question implied theft. Not the theft of anything physical, but of information.
The Crescent family was well known for it's grand store of blackmail and invasive knowledge.
He took a deep breath. He wasn't himself. Where was the haughty, arrogant and endlessly amused man that I knew?
“Rosalyn, I just came to....to give you this note.” He said quietly.
I looked at the rumpled piece of parchment that he was holding out for me to take and just stared at him.
“I don't believe you.” I said flatly.
He ran a hand through his hair. “Why would I steal what I'm supposed to receive legally after I-” He didn't seem to be able to talk about marriage, suddenly.
That was fine with me.
“Why are you acting so oddly?” I asked, standing and stepping over to take the note.
He held it back and looked at me like a man looking into his own grave. “First, just answer one question. Answer it honestly, please. If you ever speak a true word in your life, it should be this one.”
I nodded. “One question.”
He stared into my eyes with an intensity that surprised me. “Would you be truly unhappy if we were married? Do you hate me as much as you say?”
I blinked. “Two questions. Do I get to choose which one I answer?”
He winced. “I already know the answer. I should not have asked. I just-...”
I sighed and looked up at him. “I do not hate you, Rigel. But I don't want to marry.”
He smiled, it was a hard, humorless smile. “Sometimes I wonder if everything that you say is not designed to torture me, Rosalyn.”
“What is this about?” I asked quietly.
“Just take the note. I-....Goodbye, Rosalyn.” His voice sounded forced.
“Stop right there, Rigel. You are going to explain yourself right now. I am still not convinced that you're here for me.”
He seemed to be biting his tongue for a moment. “If I was here to steal from this family I would not have gotten caught. And I wouldn't have allowed you to stand here with a wand aimed at my heart. You know what my job is, Rosalyn. I know how to do that job.”
Rigel was the Black family spy. He was the one who snuck into castles in the dead of night to find secrets and deliver blackmail. In short, he did the dirty work that required finesse and strategy.
He was also an infamous dueler and he had a memory charm that could have confounded Merlin himself.
“Or maybe you have been caught. And this was your cover story. My knees will not turn to jelly over a flowery love letter, Rigel.”
He let out a hard laugh. “If you read this I think you will believe me.”
“Then say what you have to say to my face instead of hiding behind a piece of paper.” I said, becoming rapidly frustrated. Who knew what kind of charms could be on the parchment?
He stared at me for a long moment. “I came here to tell you...” He took a deep breath. “to tell you that I am going to set you free. You...you do not have to marry me.”
His voice was halting, like the simple act of speaking was causing him pain.
I blinked. He couldn't be serious.
“Do not play games with me, Rigel.”
He closed his eyes, then opened them quickly, as if he was trying to see where he was as much as possible.
“Please, Rosalyn. Just take the note and let me go home.”
Now that was laughable. I couldn't keep him anywhere and we both knew it. Why did he pretend that I had any kind of power over him?
“I'll read the note. But you have to stay until I'm satisfied.” I appeased, wondering if I was falling into a trap.
He groaned. “You were put on this earth to torture me, Rosalyn Crescent.”
I ignored that and took the note.
After reading only one line of the letter I looked up at Rigel in horror. What was he doing? Was it a lie? Did I want it to be?
He stood there with his eyes closed, an air of determination about him.
“Explain this.” I said flatly. “You've been proposing to me twice a day for a year. And now....this?”
He opened his eyes and I took an involuntary step back. He was empty.
People in this state always disturbed me.
“You don't want to marry me. So you don't have to. It's very simple, Roz.” his voice lacked...everything. His words were empty. Toneless.
“I didn't say that I didn't want to marry you. I said that I didn't want to marry anyone.” I whispered, realizing that I was afraid. Not afraid of Rigel, but of what would happen once he was gone.
His lips turned up at the corners, but it wasn't a smile. His eyes were still like a flat, endless plain.
“I can do my best to scare off potential suitors, but I can guarantee nothing except your freedom from me.”
“Stop this.” I ordered.
The tiniest hint of an edge entered his voice. “You don't....you don't want me. That's fine. I don't...care. I...I don't want to marry you. This whole thing was a charade.”
I rolled my eyes. “Stop. Rigel, you were right. We're trapped. I don't have a choice-”
Suddenly, Rigel exploded. “A choice? I'm giving you a choice! I'm ripping out my heart and throwing it in the sty to give you a choice! Why-?” He took a deep breath.
The empty shell was gone. Before me stood a very angry Rigel Black.
“Rigel, I can't turn into my mother. It has nothing to do with y-” He cut me off, acting like himself for once.
“No! Don't you dare say that. What did I do to make you hate me so much, Rosalyn? It must have been terrible for you to torture me so.”
I took a deep breath. “I never realized that you felt-”
“Felt? Rosalyn, I think you make me feel more than anything on this earth will ever do. Right now I think I'd prefer being burned alive to this. I know that you don't care for me. If you insist on hurting me, then use your wand. I'm begging you.”
I opened my mouth, but he cut me off again. I could suddenly tell that he'd been dying to say this.
“All I know is duty, Rosalyn. Duty, whether I wanted it or not. Well, for the first time, I wanted it. I was supposed to marry you. It was amazing, Rosalyn. For once in my life I got something I wanted. I didn't have to marry some mindless shell while I was in love with you. I could have you and do my job. But that isn't what you want. And I think I'd rather die than force you into this.
“Maybe I have bad judgement for falling for someone who hates me so much, But I can't help it. So there, now you know. And I'm going to leave you in peace. Goodbye, Rosalyn.”
I blinked and realized that I was crying.
“I don't hate you. I never have.” I managed, stopping him in his tracks. “I have always known that I would end up married to you. I just wanted to choose. You know what it's like, Rigel. There are no orders that are safe to disobey. I always knew how this would end. I never thought that you'd give up. So you are what I resisted.”
He stared at me with untrusting eyes.
“I never realized that you actually wanted me.” I whispered, closing my eyes and sinking back onto my bench.
“I never wanted you to know that I did.” He said with a hard laugh. I opened my eyes to see him staring up at the stars.
“We're both fools.” He added, shaking his head.
I remained silent because I couldn't disagree.
My worst nightmare had always been marriage, mostly because I knew I couldn't avoid it.
Somehow, knowing that Rigel cared didn't make it better. I felt like I was walking into a trap even now.
And the worst part was that I was right.
** * * *
I hadn't wanted to call the aurors, because it only gave them more reason to be suspicious of me. But the lives of my friends were at stake and they were more important than my secret.
“So you went in and the locket was sitting in your trunk?” Remus asked quietly as he watched the aurors leave to set up a perimeter.
My brain felt like mush after the hours of dodging questions-and outright lying.
I waited until the front door shut before I answered.
So much for honesty.
“Yes.” I said, making my face into a mask of pensive concentration. It was disturbing that I was more comfortable behind this lie than I was out in the open.
They would argue that a vampire didn't equate a monster, but what about a liar? What about someone who could lie more easily than they could be honest? If that wasn't a monster, then I didn't know what a monster was.
Sirius was sitting next to me looking worried and the others were all piled on the opposite couch, including Lily.
“What could be the point of that?” Sirius asked, already reading into subtleties.
“He wants to prove a point.” I whispered.
“The point being?” Lily asked.
“The point being that I'm still his daughter. He's saying that he isn't going to leave me alone.” I said, surprised at the frustration that colored my tone.
Sirius's hand tightened on mine.
“And that's it? He didn't do anything else?” Remus asked, digging.
“That's it.” I agreed, finding it difficult to lie-which relieved me.
The house was being locked down by the aurors. Nobody could come or leave, which meant that Lily was stuck here.
To the inexperienced, it may have appeared that I was in the middle of the ocean without a boat or a plan, but I had one.
My potion was gone, and nobody knew. Luckily, the aurors would be lifting the lockdown after three days. I could go that long without food.
I had to.
And that way none of the aurors would be able to find out my secret. None of the guys would make misguided attempts to feed me that way, either.
“Cassie?” Sirius asked.
“Sorry, what?” I replied, giving him an angelic smile.
“We were wondering what you were planning on doing.” Remus said, raising an eyebrow.
I frowned. “I am...going to do nothing.”
There was a shocked silence and I took a deep breath to ensure that my lies remained undetected.
“What do you expect? The man can practically walk through walls. The most important skill in a fight is knowing when you're outmatched. I have that skill.” My voice was rational, reasonable.
They didn't buy it for an instant.
“Stop trying to convince yourself that you aren't secretly plotting for vengeance. Admit it. You already have a plan.” Sirius ordered, wordlessly invoking the no plotting rule.
“I have no plan. Honestly, what would the plan be? Walk around everywhere with a wooden stake? Take Kaelyn hostage? He hates her.” I asked flatly.
“No, but we were expecting something. Why does he hate Kaelyn?” Lily said, looking at me carefully.
I smiled at her. “The aurors have set up magic that should keep vampires out. Hogwarts is getting the same treatment. We'll be safe for now. Let's just enjoy ourselves while we can. And I just remembered a while ago that Kaelyn and I have different fathers-her existence is an embarrassment to him.”
Everyone seemed to take my last revelation as a matter of course, because it wasn't brought up again for a long time.
Remus groaned. “Who are you and what have you done with Cassie?”
I blinked incredulously. “Excuse me for trying to be positive!”
“I've noticed something.” Sirius announced laying back on the couch, forcing me to scoot forward and lean against his chest.
“What?” I asked.
“You're only positive in negative situations and vice versa.” He told me with a grin, putting his arms around my waist.
I leaned back against him more fully, enjoying the safety I felt in his arms-even if it was irrational. “It keeps everything balanced.”
“Quiet, you.” I ordered.
“So what are we going to do now?” Remus asked the room at large.
“About the situation? We'll take it one step at a time. First we'll take care of my family and try to save Remus from the anti-werewolf legislation. Then we'll figure out how to deal with all the vampires.” Sirius said, all confidence.
“Well at least one of us has a plan.” I grumbled.
He chuckled and pulled me down next to him, kissing my cheek to James's obvious disgust.
“This really bothers you, doesn't it?” Sirius asked in amusement, obviously to dig at Lily.
Lily sighed, making me smile. Eventually, she'd have to admit to herself that this irrational jealousy of hers was a sign of much deeper feelings.
“It's just different.” James grumbled, unwilling to explain the brother-sister dynamic that we'd always shared again.
“Don't worry, James. You're still my favorite.” I promised.
“What?” Sirius gasped, turning my face to his with a playful smirk. “What is this?”
“Sorry we kept it from you Padfoot, but we knew that it would bother you.” James said with a grin.
“I see how it is.” Sirius pouted, planting a kiss on my neck just to irritate James.
“Knock it off.” I ordered as sternly as I could. He was turning me into a pile of mush.
“Fine.” he replied dramatically, flopping over on his back.
“I'm...bored.” James said, sounding almost shocked. Sometimes, I wondered if there was anything that could keep him entertained for longer than an hour.
It was amazing, really, the way we could relax in situations like this. Maybe it was a bad thing.
“There's a crazed vampire out there somewhere, lying in wait, we have aurors keeping the entire house on lockdown, and you're bored?” Lily asked in astonishment, thinking along the same lines as me.
“Pretty much.” James said with a grin. “Let's fight in the library.”
I realized that he was trying to calm everyone down by downplaying the situation. Clever.
Clever and illegal. I wasn't the only one breaking the rules.
“Mum will kill us.” Remus pointed out as a deterrent.
“Hasn't stopped us yet.” Peter replied, already standing.
I had to conserve my strength. I wasn't hungry yet, but I would be soon. “You guys go. I'm going to try to relax.”
I closed my eyes, wondering how long I could hide it-or if they would even buy it in the first place.
“Sirius?” James asked pointedly.
“Nap.” Sirius announced stoically.
I knew that James was rolling his eyes, but he left with the others with Lily trailing after them.
There was a long moment of silence and I relaxed.
“Finally.” Sirius whispered with a smile in his voice, pressing another kiss to my neck.
“I thought you were going to take a nap?” I asked quietly, unable to stop myself from smiling.
Even in this stupid situation, he could make all my problems seem smaller.
“That was a lie. I figured that since you were doing it...” His voice wasn't accusing, just amused.
How did he always know? Sometimes, I forgot how good Sirius really was. It was a stupid mistake. He'd been raised to run an ancient family full of liars and schemers. He had to be the best. Maybe better than me.
“I am not-...How'd you know?” My voice was chastened, if only slightly.
He grinned against my cheek as his lips made their way toward my mouth. “I didn't.”
I groaned, feeling like an imbecile. “I cannot believe I fell for that.”
“It's a lot easier to trick you when you're distracted.” He said, kissing my nose for emphasis.
I had to change the subject fast. I didn't want to think about the mushball he was turning me into. A thing that had been bothering me ever since we left Hogwarts occurred to me.
“What did you do that made you escalate so fast? And why aren't you worried?” I asked, glad to have the question off my chest.
He was too good at lying, now. I could see it in his eyes-the hardness that came with a lack of guilt. It was like a defiance of the very thing that made him human-a conscience. He was one step closer to losing the part of him that prevented him from turning into a monster.
Sirius could do a lot of things in a normal state that most people couldn't have done at their worst. I shuddered when I had to consider what he could become if he wanted to. It wasn't his fault. It was how he'd been taught. They'd hardened him up as much as humanly possible when he was too young to fight it. That kind of thing was permanent.
And all he had to do to turn into his father was act like him long enough. Would I force that to happen? Did I have a choice?
He didn't answer at first.
I raised an eyebrow, waiting for his reply.
“I may have leaned on a few writers at the Daily Prophet.” He said quietly.
“And by 'leaned on' you mean...?” I said, deciding that I was probably happier not knowing, but feeling confident that he'd never do anything too horrible.
“Yes. And I...I didn't want you to find out. I was confident that you wouldn't, since you never read the paper.” He sounded pensive.
“Why didn't you want me to know and why aren't you worried?” I questioned quietly.
The paper sickened me. It was stupid of me, but I knew that Remus and Sirius would catch anything I needed to know.
Nobody should have been able to profit off of the misfortune of others and that was what newspapers did.
“I don't want you to look at me differently.” he whispered. “I don't want things to change.”
“Sirius...I have four centuries of murder and twisted plotting behind me. There is nothing you could do to scare me away.” I promised.
“I'm not worried about scaring you. I'm worried about losing you-about losing myself. All these years...I've been doing what was necessary. I've done the best with what I've been given. But it's not enough. I do things...and I can't make myself feel anything.” He looked at me with tortured eyes.
“I'm scared that one day, I'm going to look in the mirror and see my father staring back at me. That you'll look at me and see a stranger. It's close. It doesn't matter if I've been doing things for the greater good. It just matters that I'm doing them.”
He paused and took a deep breath.
“I can feel it, Cassie. You told me once that you felt cold. I didn't really understand until now. It wasn't a physical coldness. It's like my mind is on ice. Everything is becoming analytical-detached. I'm turning into one of them. That's how I feel. Cold.”
I pressed my hand to his cheek. “Sirius, when I look at you I don't see good or evil. I see you. I see my best friend. I see someone who has been forced to make hard decisions. Someone who has done very bad things for very good reasons. And you'll always feel warm to me.”
I pressed my hand harder against his face for emphasis.
He just stared at me. “That doesn't change anything. We are the sum of our decisions. I do care about this. It's torturing me. But it doesn't even show unless I let it.”
I shook my head. “You are who you are. You are always second priority in your own head. You are brave and loyal beyond common sense and you expect the same of people that you give that loyalty to. You go out of your way to help people, but you're disgusted when they don't fend for themselves like you always had to.
“You make those decisions because of your high moral standards. The very fact that this is torturing you proves that I'm right.” My voice was pure conviction.
“It all sounds very noble when you say it like that.” He said with a half hearted smile.
“That's because it is. Why do you think I put up with you?” I teased quietly, stroking his cheek.
There was a moment of peaceful silence before he pressed his lips to mine and the room seemed to melt away.
He pulled away and smiled the smile that I rarely got to see. It was his happy smile. His face was unguarded and I felt like I could see the real him.
And right then, it occurred to me that his change hadn't happened entirely when we'd interrogated Regulus. It had been gradual, like an immense sloping hill.
I could tell that he wanted to move on. He wasn't forcing playfulness, but he was repressing his worry.
“So, who's your favorite?” He asked, shifting his arm so that his head was above mine.
“James.” I told him, unfazed.
He growled and kissed me again, more persuasively this time.
He pulled back and looked down at me with a lazy smirk.
“Who, now?” He repeated smugly.
“Y-...” I smiled at him, refusing to give in. “Remus.”
His eyes narrowed and he kissed me again, making my toes curl. He started to pull away, and then kissed me even harder.
I forgot where I was, I lost track of time-no, I lost track of the year- and he pulled away, smirking, but with dark eyes.
“Who-?” He began, but I leaned forward and kissed him again.
He didn't seem to have a problem with it.
With a groan, he pulled away again. “Admit it.” He managed before kissing me again.
“...mmm....no.” I whispered, speaking against his lips.
“Impossible.” He replied in turn, grinning and running his hands up and down my sides.
“What? That you've finally met someone who can't be seduced into doing whatever you want?” I asked with a laugh.
“Nope. That I've seduced you into doing whatever I want, and you have the gall to deny it.” He whispered in a low voice.
“Why do you keep accusing me of lying?” I asked, playing with his hair.
“Because you are.” he said reasonably.
I didn't answer and he shifted again so that he was lying on his back with my head on his chest.
“What is so important that you had to break the pact?” He asked, still slightly out of breath.
Of course, he had to come back to this subject. I hadn't really expected to deter him for long.
“It's important enough that I don't want to tell anyone.” I said pointedly.
He tipped my head up so he could see my eyes. “You can trust me.”
“Yes, but I can't trust me.” I replied, praying that I'd be able to keep it from him.
“I won't tell. Cassie I....” He paused, looking slightly bewildered. “I want to know you, Cassie. All of you. The good and the bad. Let me in.”
I closed my eyes. What was he doing to me?
“Sirius. I want you to know me that way too.” I left it at that.
“This is serious, isn't it?” He asked quietly.
I looked at him again, feeling that thing that was preventing me from being cold and rational flare to life again.
How could I be rational with him? Everything about him seemed to be exactly the opposite. And I couldn't lie to him anymore. It made me feel dangerous, like a real monster.
“My potion is gone.” I admitted, waiting for him to explode.
* * * *
“Rosaline?” My fathers voice asked quietly-almost nervously.
I sat up, blinking twice.
The room had been dark when I entered, but somehow it was easier to see. If not for the collection of unlit candles, I would have sworn that there was an extra source of light in the room.
I knew, suddenly, that I was anxious, but it was different from before. There was no knot in my stomach or cool sweat on my forehead. It was like knowing that someone else was worried.
“Yes?” I replied, blinking at the coolness in my voice.
“How do you feel?” He asked me, coming as close to fear as he ever did.
For the first time, I looked around the room and gasped. Everything seemed to tilt, reality shifted and I felt the crushing, suffocating grief with a disturbing detachment that should have made my own hair stand on end.
My mother was dead. Elayne Crescent lay on the floor not two feet from where I sat.
I should have been sobbing. I should be screaming. But I could almost see my own face. Calm-almost careless.
Kaelyn was sitting her her chair, looking shell-shocked. Her eyes seemed empty and there was something surreal about the set of her mouth, opened in a silent scream.
I opened my mouth-to shriek or to ask what had happened, I wasn't sure-when I smelled her blood.
Revolted and exhilarated I shot up, blinking at the speed that I managed to cross the room.
“Rosalyn, answer me.” My father said sternly.
I looked over at him, blinking as memories descended on me with a spiraling wrath.
“She tried to save me.” I managed, looking at the broken form of my mother in confusion.
“She tried to kill you, Rosalyn. She tried to prevent me from saving you.” He corrected gently.
I couldn't believe him. What was his version of saving? His eyes caught mine and for a moment I was paralyzed.
“What...why? Who.....what am I?” I managed, wondering why my voice didn't shake.
“You have become something more than you were, Rosalyn. You are a goddess among men, now. You are what you were born to be.” His voice was tinged with cruel amusement, though his words were sincere.
I stared not at my mother, but at her blood on the floor. I could feel it now-more clearly than the grief, more clearly than the pain in my shoulder. “You have made me a monster.”
The words should have come out in an anguished shriek. But they were relaxed.
“Monster? You know nothing of monsters, daughter. Monsters are muggles forcing us to conform to their way of life. Monsters are mudbloods stealing our magic. Do not pretend that you do not hate them. I know that you hate the way your life is so controlled. Whose fault would that be? No, we are not monsters. We are the saviors of pure magic.” He sounded divinely confident in his accusations.
Pure magic? The kind of monsters we'd become didn't even have magic. He must be mad.
Feeling like I should be shuddering, I turned to Kaelyn. She stared at me white-faced as though looking into an open grave. It could have been hers or mine, it didn't seem to make a difference.
“What of Kaelyn?” I asked quietly, unable to make myself feel more than mild concern for my sister, who sat in her chair, looking at my father like a minister would a demon.
“That,” Demetri Crescent said flatly, “Is your decision. I'm rather certain that the woman's misguided attempt to ruin you has derailed your perfection, but you should be capable of thinking clearly.”
I stared at him. “Mother....tried to stop you.”
“Yes.” He repeated slowly, sounding irritated at the repetition.
So she had stopped me from being changed completely. There was still a shred of humanity left in me, even if it was hard for me to believe it.
That gave me hope.
“Choose her fate, Rosalyn. You are smart enough to know that she is not my child. She is your younger sister, in any case. She is in your charge now. Kill her, change her, or keep her as a pet. I care not.” He smiled at me, revealing half-inch long fangs.
I looked at Kaelyn, feeling a detached panic. This was a test.
I opened my mouth to make a mistake, when suddenly, wrenchingly, my mind changed.
My memory cleared to razor sharpness, I could hear a mouse scurrying over the floorboards in the entryway two floors down. I could see every tiny detail in the stone floor, everything seemed to slow down and my thoughts sped up.
I realized that I was on my knees, holding my head.
I looked up and felt muted relief at my suddenly clear mind.
This was a test. And I knew that I would only pass if I did not hesitate. It did not matter what I did with Kaelyn as long as she wouldn't tell anyone and I showed nothing but impassive, cool logic.
So I stood, absently noting my father's victorious smile and cataloging it.
My face stayed blank with no effort on my part as I crossed the room and made the logical decision.
I loved my sister. But those weren't the reasons that I would reveal. Father had to believe my coldness. He had to feel it like ice pressing against his skin.
I was sure that I could accomplish it.
If I killed her, we'd have two corpses to explain away. If I cast her out, she would eventually give us up on purpose or by accident. If I kept her, there was always a chance that she would escape.
Logically, the only way to protect myself-and by extension my father-was to make Kaelyn equally guilty of being a monster.
Little did I know, I would regret my decision for the rest of my existence.
* * * *
Sirius did not flinch away from me or panic. He only frowned, looking grave. How much was hidden behind those guarded eyes? “How long?”
I closed my eyes again. “Just a few hours. I'll wait until the lockdown is over and I'll have Lily get more potion from Dumbledore. And until then there's no reason to worry anyone.”
“You haven't had anything in your system since yesterday morning. And you expect to last another three days?” Sirius said flatly.
“Yes.” I replied stubbornly.
He just stared at me. “This is the most hairbrained scheme I've ever heard of. You can't do this...I won't let you.”
I sat up. “You won't let me? I am going to do this. What other option do I have?”
He frowned and considered. “You can't tell the aurors. And you can't leave. Write to Dumbledore.”
I rolled my eyes. “Do you think that they won't read our letters? How long will they process what I send out? We both know that by the time it gets to Dumbledore the lockdown will be over-even if they don't read it.”
“You can't go that long without nourishment. It won't work.” He whispered harshly.
“You don't know that.” I argued quietly.
“I know that a real vampire needs to eat at least once every three or four days-if they don't they go nuts and start killing everything around them-or they just die. You are half that strong. And I doubt that a killing spree will be in the cards for you, so you'll....” He seemed unable to say the word. “I can't lose you-correction; I won't.”
I smiled soothingly. “If it comes down to it, I'll leave the house and apparate to St. Mungo's.”
“How? The aurors have this place locked up so tightly that I doubt Dumbledore could get in and out. And you aren't strong enough to apparate more than a few hundred feet in your normal state. How would you get to Hogwarts half dead?” He rebutted cooly. He was fighting with the same weapons I was, now. That meant danger.
He could win this argument, I realized, feeling leaden.
“What do you want me to do, Sirius? What other option do I have?” I asked evenly.
He just stared at me, his gray eyes hardening until they looked like granite.
I sighed, “I won't hurt anyone. That's all that matters. Promise me that you won't let me hurt anyone. Whatever it takes.”
He put his hand to my cheek. “Whatever it takes? I can't promise that.”
He tried to soften his voice, but his eyes were still stone.
I gave him a dangerous look. “Sirius Black, you will not put me before the others. Do you understand?”
He just smiled at me. “Don't worry. We'll figure this out.”
I glared at him. “Promise not to tell.”
“I promise not to tell unless it's necessary. You're being a little demanding, here.” He amended.
I nodded, still glaring at him. “Sirius you have to accept that you can't protect me from everything. Eventually, someone is going to get hurt. It's an occupational hazard.”
His eyes were suddenly smoldering. “I don't care. I helped you make this mess. And now I'm going to help you clean it up.”
He was referring to something that we'd sworn never to talk about-to even think about. Something that we were still doing, in secret. How long would it stay that way?
“Cassie, I won't let you get hurt. I already told you. I'm not being reasonable. And I've accepted it.” He smiled reassuringly. His eyes were still on fire.
“I am not as worth saving as Lily, James, Remus, Peter, or you. Don't be stupid.” I wanted him to tell me that he'd protect the others from me. I wanted to deserve his misguided feelings.
“You are worth saving! I know how you think, Cassie. Don't even consider this. None of us want that.” He said angrily.
I opened my mouth to argue, but footsteps down the staircase stopped me.
If they thought we were arguing, they would become suspicious. They would ask questions.
I leaned forward and kissed Sirius, who seemed surprised until he heard the footsteps too.
He sighed and quickly pressed me against the couch in an attempt to make it convincing.
For a second, I forgot what I was doing. This was getting out of hand. I knew exactly why I felt like this with him, but I refused to admit it. Denial had always been one of my strengths.
The problem was that Sirius was a very good kisser. He also knew me so well that he somehow understood every nonverbal cue I gave. He knew exactly when to stop-or go further.
“Hey!” James exclaimed, ignoring Remus's laughter.
Peter just sighed and I didn't catch any reaction at all from Lily.
I knew that it was time to stop, the charade had worked, but I didn't really care.
There was a sharp smacking sound and Sirius pulled away and looked over in irritation. I glared up at James who just shook his head.
“Try for a a bit of sensitivity, Padfoot. She's my little sister.” James managed, ruining my plot with the use of the word 'sister'.
“I tried, Prongs.” Sirius explained, sitting up. “But she just caught me off guard.”
I sat up quickly, glaring indignantly at him.
He only winked, concealing his former anger with disturbing ease.
Remus stepped forward, apparently getting to the point of why they'd returned. “The paper just got here. Which of you did it?”
Sirius smiled grimly. “I haven't the dizziest idea what you're talking about. Cassie?”
I ignored them and looked at the paper.
Lily frowned, also looking at the paper that Remus had thrown on the table and the spoof magazines next to it.
“The Theory? The Quibbler? Why are your parents getting these?” I asked, trying to derail the coming interrogation.
“Sometimes they say things that the Prophet skims over.” James said smoothly. “Did you know that every writer who printed anti-werewolf stories has printed a retraction? There are now six new stories with various angles about the corruption in the government. The editor of The Prophet resigned yesterday without comment.”
Remus continued. “And these...magazines are full of stories about a person who managed to threaten all of these journalists-some say that there were more than threats. What did you two do?”
Sirius blinked and tilted his head to the side, furrowing his brows. “We didn't do anything. Think about it logically. When would she have had time to do all of this? She couldn't have done it alone. We've been with you guys day and night for months.”
Admit nothing, deny everything. That was lesson number one in the world we all lived in.
“That doesn't mean much. You could have used polyjuice potion. And I don't think Cassie did anything. This was all you.” James reasoned surprising me again with his complete knowledge of what we were up to.
“Let me get this straight.” Sirius began with a grin. “You think that I managed to find someone who knows me well enough to impersonate me in front of you-my best friends-and then convinced them to take a disgusting potion and pretend to be me? Or did I blackmail this person as well? Then I managed to learn all about these reporters and their families? How did I leave the school undetected for hours at a time, then come back in? Even if I managed all of this, how could I have kept it a secret for as long as I would've had to? And on top of it all, why would I keep it from you?”
Normally, it would be dangerous to give out the plan, but James, Remus, Peter and Lily were all smart enough to figure out how it would be done.
His voice was full of amused skepticism, making the very notion sound completely absurd. If I hadn't known the truth, I would have believed him.
“You had Regulus do it. Or someone else. Cassie maybe. You managed to get all of that information because you've been trained to do it. It was probably easy. You snuck out of the school at night through the Honeydukes cellar. You have all of the skills and all of the ability. And now you're breaking our rules by lying.” James accused.
“Guys, this doesn't make any sense. Why would he do all of that without telling anyone? Why would he go to all of that trouble in the first place-politicians aren't exactly hard to bribe, right? Why would he bother to lie about it now. And why does it bother you so much?” I reasoned.
“Do you guys honestly think he's capable of this?” Lily asked, finally speaking up, surprising me when she actually took a side.
“Yes.” Remus, James, and Peter all said at the same time, without a second thought.
“He wanted to protect us. It bothers us because we are a team. You'll have to make him answer the rest.” James said quietly.
Sirius could have lied his way out of it. He could have. But I saw his eyes. He was sick of lying. He opened his mouth.
“I took the polyjuice potion.” Lily admitted softly.
Sirius looked at her in amusement. “If it makes you feel better, I expected you to cave a lot sooner than you did.”
She sighed. “I'm sorry. I don't know how you do it.”
I just sat there. “How did you pretend to be him without me noticing?”
Lily bit her lip and Sirius sighed. “She let me give her a personality adjustment potion.” He turned to Lily. “Don't be sorry. I shouldn't have asked you in the first place.”
“Talk.” James ordered sternly.
Sirius sighed. “I knew that the paper was turning the public against werewolves. The one thing that the Minister of Magic fears more than his political enemies is the public. Never underestimate the sway of public opinion on a politician. And I knew that we were getting worse. So I left you out of it. I conned Lily into pretending to be me. Getting the information was the easiest part-money makes people very talkative.”
Sirius paused. “...Then I just went out and did what I had to do.”
“How far did you take it?” Remus asked in disapproval.
“Nobody died.” Sirius said with a calm smile. It would never cease to bother me, I decided. My dwindling ability to sense his guilt-if he even had any-put me on edge like nothing else.
He wasn't directly lying of course, more like leaving out most of the truth. I only knew that because the spoof magazines would have reported deaths, making the suspicious situation more credible.
I tried not to remind myself that Sirius would have been aware of that fact as well, which would give him reason to behave himself.
I shook that thought away. Sirius wouldn't do that. He would cut off his own arm before he hurt an innocent person.
“Reassuring.” James said, rubbing his temples.
“What do you mean nobody died? Was that a possibility?” Lily asked, her tone making the question different than the words did.
She wanted to know if Sirius would actually kill someone. If he had killed anyone.
Sirius smiled reassuringly. “I wasn't planning on killing anyone. Burying bodies is a lot of work-and lets face it; I'm too spoiled for manual labor. Is that today's paper?”
His attempt to deflect her question with a joke had a very limited effect.
Remus, who already knew the answer to Lily's question, threw Sirius a bone. “It's from today.”
“Sirius, there can't be anymore solo missions. It's all of us or none of us. We're in this together.” James said, ignoring Lily's irritated look.
She should have realized by now that her question was not going to be answered.
Sirius frowned, but nodded.
“So...did you have actual blackmail or did you just make things up?” Lily asked, wanting to steer the conversation back into dark waters.
“A little of both.” Sirius said vaguely, leaning his head back on the couch and closing his eyes.
“I can't believe he got you to agree to pretend to be him and you didn't even know what he was doing.” Peter said with a chuckle.
“I can be very convincing.” Sirius explained absently.
“How'd he do it?” James asked curiously.
Lily frowned. “If he does turn to a life of crime he'll be very rich. He just...talked me into it.”
“He probably used magic on you.” Remus said with a grin.
“Nope. She's actually trying to push blame off on me. I told her-vaguely-what I was going to do and she actually suggested it before I could ask. And I'm already very rich, lucky for you guys.” Sirius said with a grin.
“We'll never know what he really did.” Peter said absently, looking through one of the fluff magazines.
“Probably not.” I agreed. “They're both lying through their teeth.”
“How did-?” Sirius began, stopping with a grimace. “I cannot believe I fell for that.”
I just smiled at him, ignoring the smirk Remus gave us.
Maybe I still had it after all.
I turned to look at Lily and grimaced.
She wasn't going to let it go.
I needed to do two things with Lily. First, I had to talk to her about Sirius.
And then I had to do something that I almost never did.
It would be hard, grueling almost. But I had to do it,
I was going to apologize.
* * * *
24 hours later
The house was oddly quiet as we all sat at the kitchen table, playing cards. The air of concentration rested mostly around Sirius, who was taking the game very seriously.
“I'm all in.” He told Remus nonchalantly.
The rest of us had wisely folded out. Lily had refused to play until she realized that we had replaced galleons with gummy bears.
Oddly, Cassie didn't seem to be trying-despite her sickeningly huge pile of candy.
“Are you sure about that? You're bluffing.” Remus said, tapping his pile of gummy bears knowingly.
“You're bluffing.” Sirius rebutted calmly.
Remus stared at him and frowned. “Fine. I fold.”
Sirius grinned at Remus's two pair and threw down a pile of junk cards.
Remus groaned as Sirius seemed to grow bored and began eating from his pile.
“Okay. I officially hate poker.” Lily announced with a grin, obviously decidnig that if Sirius could eat more bears than she had ever had, she was done. She gave all fifteen of her bears to me and stood.
I tried not to smile at her too warmly, but to make my appreciation clear. Maybe Cassie was right. We had to be friends first.
Cassie smiled and pushed her enormous pile of bears to Sirius, taking any advantage Lily had given me and then some. “I think I'm going to take a nap.”
He gave her a blank glance before he smiled at her and popped another handful of bears into his mouth.
She gave him a quick kiss before she walked off.
I glanced at Remus, but he was too absorbed in the new hand to notice-or maybee he thought it wasn't his business.
Cassie was walking differently. There were dark circles under her eyes and she looked even paler than usual.
I looked at Sirius, but he just smirked.
What was going on?
“Sirius?” I asked quietly.
“Yeah, Prongs?” He asked, picking up his cards and frowning pointedly at them-which meant nothing because he manufactured a random reaction to each hand.
“Why does Cassie look so tired?” I asked, expecting the worst.
He sighed. “She hasn't been sleeping very well-”
“and whose fault is that?” I cut in.
He smiled slightly at my reaction. “Not mine, actually. She's worried. And ever since the blood....she's been changing.”
I accepted that, but I knew there had to be more.
Standing, I decided to take a bet on more than gummy bears. “I'm tired of getting my butt kicked.”
Remus grunted and stood too. He was either joining me in my plot or he needed a nap.
He seemed to be struggling with himself. “Her potion is gone.”
I blinked, realizing with irritation that I wished my original conclusion had been right. “Oh. I thought that you were going to say-”
“I know what you thought.” Sirius interrupted absently.
“How long does she have?” Remus asked quietly.
Sirius's eyes were an odd mixture of worry and determination. “She says she can last. I think she has about twenty hours before...” He grimaced. “And she has to last almost another forty-eight.
“What are we going to do? Why didn't she tell us?” I asked irritably. Sirius was always the one who knew things about her first.
She was my sister. My best friend. Why couldn't she be honest with all of us?
“I had to drag it out of her. She wasn't going to tell any of us.” Sirius said, rubbing his forehead.
“She has a plan?” I asked.
“Not really. But I do.” Sirius said, the determination overcoming the worry.
“Sirius, no.” Remus said, realizing what he was thinking a split second after I did.
That option had already occurred to me. “Sirius, she'll kill you.” I said gently.
He shook his head. “She won't. She won't kill me. And I won't let her die. It'll work out perfectly.” He flashed an asinine smile, like he was proving something.
“Sirius. Saying that she won't doesn't make it true.” Remus argued quietly.
“I'm saying it because I know it's true.” Sirius argued.
“You haven't seen her drinking blood. She isn't herself. She won't know what she's doing.” I returned irritably. There had to be a way out of this circle.
“Then what am I supposed to do? Sit around and watch her die?” Sirius asked quietly.
“Tell the aurors.” Remus said quietly.
“If they realize that she's a vampire they'll arrest her for murder and have her dead faster than she can say 'not guilty'. Any other suggestions?” Sirius asked flatly.
“We'll think of something.” I promised. “We won't let her die.”
He laughed. “Well think of something soon. Because I already know how to save her. And I'm going to do it.”
“Sirius! She-” Remus started in exasperation.
“Yes! I know, she'll kill me! And I don't care. If it means that she's safe, I don't care.” Sirius said in that voice that had more anger in it than a shout ever would. Somehow, only he and Cassie ever managed to pull it off. “If I sit around and watch her die, I'll be as good as dead anyway.”
With that he left for the stairs.
“I'm surrounded by madmen.” I groaned, falling into my chair.
Sirius really didn't care. He loved her that much-even if he refused to admit it.
“What are we going to do?” Peter asked quietly, making me jump. I'd forgotten that he was there.
“We are going to talk Sirius out of this. Then we are going to do it behind his back.” Remus said with a grin.
“Why?” Peter asked, looking confused.
“She's attracted to him. That'll make it worse.” I clarified. “The odds are better if it's me.”
“Why you?” Lily hissed from behind the kitchen door, opening it about an inch so she could glare at us.
I glanced at Remus questioningly.
“I thought she deserved to know. So I didn't rat her out.” He said with a shrug.
I could remember a time when I would have laughed at the thought of Lily Evans sneaking up on me. I would have laughed at the thought of her eavesdropping on me. I wanted to go back.
“And it's going to be me because you and Peter are too small and Remus is a werewolf.” I added calmly.
I expected argument, as usual, but she nodded slowly. “Fine.”
Remus and I exchanged an incredulous glance. “How do we talk Sirius out of it?” I asked him.
“If he knows you're going to do it he'll insist on being the one, so I guess we'll just have to knock him out.” He said reasonably.
“You can't just talk to him?” Lily asked, shaking her head.
“No.” Peter said staring at the seat Sirius had just vacated. “Definitely not. Most of the time Sirius is reasonable but....some things just make it impossible for him to think straight.”
“So we'll have Lily distract him by asking questions and while he's evading her, we'll sneak in and stun him.” I said, nodding to myself.
“You can't beat him without resorting to that?” Lily asked skeptically.
“In fair fights we usually tie. I can't afford a tie in this situation.” I explained.
“So much for working as a team.” Remus said tiredly.
I ran a hand through my hair, “This is an internal affair. Part of the team is saving the other part.”
“But,” I added quietly, “After this there can be no more friendly fire.”
The others nodded without protest and I felt a realization come at me like a smack in the face.
It never really occurred to me that I was the leader until that moment. Sirius and I were mostly tied in that area, but I suddenly realized that everyone was looking at me for the solution, and that this was always the way things went..
“How long have I been in charge?” I asked, surprised that I sounded almost amused.
Remus laughed. “Five and a half years. It's good to see that you're aware of it now.”
Peter just grinned at me.
“Friendly fire.” Lily repeated quietly to herself, as if contemplating a very important question.
Oddly, it turned out to be the most important question of all.
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