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Chapter 23 : Unlocking Doors
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"A true friend stabs you in the front." -Oscar Wilde
After hearing Sirius admit to sabotaging the Daily Prophet, I'd tried to think of it as normal.
I'd been trying to do that a lot lately.
I nodded at James, Peter and Remus in the hall as I made my way to the room that Sirius was undoubtedly brooding in.
Why was I so easily manipulated by these people? Why did I put up with it? Was I just a tool to them?
The implications made me shudder as I realized that none of the people in this house probably even thought of me as a friend.
The door to the room opened before my preemptory knock and I blinked to find Sirius looking down at me with an unfathomable expression, obviously expecting me.
“I was wondering how long it would take you to make an attempt to interrogate me.” He murmured, walking to the window of the room. “I won't lie to you.”
“You won't?” I asked in surprise.
He frowned, “I owe you an apology.”
That floored me. “You apologize?”
He actually laughed at that. “Occasionally. I can count the number of times I've done it on one hand, so feel honored.” Then he sobered a little. “The sad part is that it didn't even occur to me when I conned you into that whole mess that it wasn't the right thing to do. And...I wasn't sorry. But I am now. I shouldn't have put you in that position...You're a good person. If I ever cross the line again...I probably won't realize it. Do me a favor and kick me, okay?”
I looked him over carefully, “That wasn't easy for you was it?”
“No. But if you're shocked now, just wait. I think Cassie even looked a little remorseful earlier too. And I'm willing to bet that she hasn't apologized to a non-marauder in her...uh....current life.”
That impressed me. “Well...thank you.”
He smiled grimly, noting my wording. “I wasn't expecting to be forgiven.”
I couldn't help myself. “Sirius, are we even friends?”
For a moment, he watched me with guarded eyes. “You shouldn't be friends with any of us. But I suppose the answer is yes.”
“Am I really that lowly?” I asked irritably.
He snorted, which might have been a first. “Not remotely. We're that lowly. James is about to isolate you from us for your own good. You see...don't take this the wrong way, because I'm on the ugly side of this comparison, there are different types of people. And we are a very...shady type. Especially me. You, on the other hand, are like a good, caring person, frolicking among...well, us.”
“I don't understand how you can think of yourself as shady. I mean, you have a very...prominent mean streak, but...” I said with a small smile. They were difficult to categorize.
His smile became hard, and I got my first glimpse of a real facial expression from him in days. “A very prominent mean streak.” he agreed quietly.
“Why?” I asked quietly, needing to understand.
He raised an eyebrow and all the questions that I'd been holding in finally exploded. “Why? Why do you have a mean streak? How is it possible that you can have so many friends who know absolutely nothing about you-outisde of the marauders, that is? And what exactly caused it all? I just...I need to understand. I've been trying, for Cassie, but it's impossible. It's like...it's like you guys aren't even human sometimes.”
He was silent for a while, and I thought that he'd evade or just leave, but he surprised me. “I suppose that after all the crap you've put up with, you deserve a semi-logical explanation of why things are like this. Honestly, it's the parenting-or lack-thereof.”
He smiled faintly. It wasn't a real smile. “Your parents...did they try to teach you right from wrong? Hammer little sayings into your head?”
I nodded, unsure of where he was going with this. “Yes. Like don't talk to strangers, you mean? Wash your hands, share, don't fib? That kind of thing?”
He nodded back. “I heard all of those too. But with a different understanding. Your parents said those things because they were trying to make you moralistic. Their definition of right and wrong was synonymous with good and evil. That wasn't true for me.”
He paused, looking out the window curiously, almost warily, before continuing. “For me right wasn't good-it was not getting caught. Wrong wasn't evil. It was failure-wrong was getting caught. That was the golden rule. 'Never Get Caught'. So when your parents said 'don't lie' they meant that lying was bad. When my parents said, 'don't lie' it meant 'don't get caught in a lie'. And trust me, I was expected to lie very frequently. See the difference? Kind of like saying that it isn't against the law if you don't get caught.”
I stared at him like he wasn't human. “That's....”
He looked grim. “Exactly. Now you can see what we're fighting against. For the longest time, I didn't understand right and wrong. For me, it was perfectly acceptable to lie, cheat, steal and manipulate as long as I didn't get caught at it. It took a lot of...work for me to realize that I was a little monster.”
Shock was the best describing word for me at the moment. “How old...I mean...how did they manage to brainwash you like that?”
He glanced at me. “Most kids never get any contact with people who don't believe the same things they do. I got lucky. Nobody is interested in you until you prove you aren't magically weak or a squib, which is usually around six or seven. At my house, however, there were higher standards. They scared the magic out of you early. I might have been a record. I was almost three when I started showing obvious signs of magic. From that day on, it was nothing but tutoring until I turned eleven. Eight years is plenty of time to...well look at me.”
He sighed, his eyes going dark.
“How do you teach a three year old anything?” I asked, aghast.
“By using...questionable magic, mostly. And a lack of distractions. While you played with dolls, I was learning rudimentary dark arts. They never teach the little kids anything too dangerous-they're too petulant-but from what I understand, my learning process was a bit accelerated, which only made me worse.”
So they used dark magic on little kids. So that they could learn more dark magic. I felt nauseous.
“Why's that?” I inquired, amazed at how open he was being.
“How do I explain this? You went to muggle primary school?”
“You know how there's always that one perfect, rich, well known family that always has all the smart kids and the star athletes? The family that seems too perfect to be real?”
I had experienced this.“Yeah.”
“Well that's the Blacks. Purebloods think of themselves as royalty. And the we think of ourselves as Pureblood royalty. Back to the perfect family, they always seem to have one kid that they decide is a prodigy. Everyone knows that this kid is going to take over the family standard. That kid was me.”
He laughed again, it was a dark sound. “When they saw the...talent I had with the Dark Arts, I was deemed a prodigy. Everyone was convinced that I'd be Voldemorts right hand man-some of them even thought I'd try to topple him. The only reason that I'm not that person today is because my cousin, Andromeda, managed to set me straight.”
“Oh.” I said, finally understanding what had happened in my first year. “That explains a lot. But how could they think that of a little kid?”
“I was never a little kid, Lily. Why do you think I act so immature all the time? Remember Bellatriix?”
I nodded. “Unfortunately.”
He smiled ruefully. “Here's a clue of the path I was headed down. When I was five she stole something-it was important at the time, but I don't even know what it was anymore- while we were having a playdate. I told her to give it back and she didn't. So I burned my own arm on a candle and then told everyone that she'd burned me with her wand because I'd caught her stealing.”
Shaking his head, he continued. “She got in huge trouble. Another rule was 'Never Leave a Mark'-which she'd done, plus she'd been caught red handed stealing, too. Afterwords, I was so proud of myself that I told my father. I was proud of giving myself a third degree burn. He was less than impressed. But it wasn't because of what I'd done to her. It was because I'd admitted to doing it. I was supposed to be above the need for gratification. Can you imagine?”
I shuddered as several things fell into place. “Before....before you explained all of that, I thought that you were...uhm...a less than good person. Now...I'm amazed at how normal you are. I thought I'd never see the day.”
“Glad you see it my way, Lily. And as for people knowing me...it's just a habit to keep secrets. I think you can figure out why. Even after years away from that house...I still have trouble seeing people as human beings. Sometimes, all I see are assets, pieces on a chessboard. That is why I had to apologize to you.”
I knew there was more, so I waited.
“Because...you are supposed to be an ally, and I've been using you. That isn't okay. I mean...I've shared a common room with you for years and do you know what I know about you as a person? I only-....” He trailed off, checking himself.
“You only what?”
“He only knows things about people that are useful.” James finished from the doorway. I wondered why he wasn't attacking. Had something gone wrong?
“Useful?” I inquired.
Sirius sighed. “Yes. Useful. I don't know you're favorite color or your birthday and I don't remember your parents names, but I do know that you're muggleborn. I know that you put salt on everything you eat, but that you hate pork. I know that your fingers still twitch when you lie, you ball your fists when you're scared and that you're left handed.
“I realize that you're good enough at potions to know how to make antidotes, but your knowledge of Transfiguration leaves you open to plenty of hexes. I can tell that the best time to attack you is when you go up to the owlery on Sunday mornings, because you don't bring your wand. And on that note, I know that you send letters to your parents up there and I know how to forge your handwriting. I can also tell that you that you're afraid of failure and you aren't fond of spiders. But I don't know the first thing about you as a person. I'm like that with most people.”
“That's the kind of person I am. I ignore people in general unless I'm looking for weak points.”
“Do you know why I'm glad we're friends?” James asked Sirius seriously.
“Not really. Probably because of my amazing good looks and charm.” Sirius said, teasing more out of habit than spirit.
“Because, having you as am enemy would freak even me out.” He said earnestly, ignoring the feeble attempt at humor.
I shook my head. “How does the food I eat count as a weak point?”
Sirius grinned. “If I was trying to poison someone aside from you, I'd go after the pork. If I was after you I'd poison the salt shaker nearest you-you never share it.”
I resumed my wary scrutiny of him.
“Don't worry.” He told me airily. “I gave up that route a long time ago. If I poisoned anything it would be the food that went up to the Slytherin table. Plus, poisoning is way too risky. It always seems to go wonky in the end.”
“But really, mate. I'd forgotten that you still had that habit. You might be as bad as Cassie. Though, she probably has detailed murder plots for us too.” James said, ignoring how really disturbing it all was. Maybe he was used to it. Maybe he had the same tendencies.
Trying not to shiver, I eyed James, feeling oddly concerned. Was he like that? I could remember him saying that he could lie, but he didn't like to. Was that true? Was he just as good at these messed up games as the rest of them? Did he really avoid them, or was that just a mask?
Turning from the window, Sirius sat on the bed. “I'm not that much better, that's for sure. You're easy. All I'd have to do is get a girl to sneak attack you. You'd hesitate. Remus would be pretty easy to blackmail, and if not that, he has to take a lot of potions every month and the hospital wing isn't exactly a fortress. I know where Cassie keeps her potion and what to put in it. And Peter....well he's a heavy sleeper.”
James laughed, which surprised me. Was this a normal type of conversation?
“So how do we take you out?” I asked him with interest.
“You don't. My body is a weapon.” Sirius teased.
I could hear Remus's low chuckle as he entered. “I think you have the same problem that James does.”
“Being?” James asked him lightly.
“Girls.” Remus said simply. “You don't take them as serious threats.”
“I am the only Sirius threat, thanks.” Sirius said with a grin.
He was obviously in a better mood, but I couldn't fathom why. I also didn't understand why James hadn't attacked yet.
“How could we spend time with Cassie and Lily and not take girls seriously?” James wanted to know. Was he stalling?
“I don't know.” Remus mused. “But I do know that if a girl pulled her wand on either of you, you'd take it easy on her. Admit it.”
Sirius shrugged. “You have me there-unless it was...well there are exceptions.”
I shook my head. Exceptions? Who? “So you don't like to feel like a threat to girls. That isn't a bad thing.”
“It is.” James insisted. “There are female Death Eaters too. And none of them are particularly fond of any of us.”
Remus sighed. “Why do we always congregate like this?”
“Bad coordination.” James admitted, stretching and suddenly pulling his wand at the same time Remus did.
“I knew it. It was bad enough that you sent Lily up here after she'd eavesdropped and joined in on your plotting.” Sirius grumbled, surprising us all when he didn't pull his wand. He seemed resigned. Maybe he knew that his tied status with James was too precarious, especially with Remus there too.“You want to save me?”
“You knew I was eavesdropping?” I asked, surprising myself.
Sirius snorted. “You should never let your perfume become part of your persona unless you're willing to be clever about when you wear it. Besides, you knew something was wrong and you were hoping that we'd talk about it if you left the room.”
I sighed, feeling defeated. I was a mouse playing with lions these days.
James sighed and surprised us by pocketing his wand. Remus seemed to feel that he couldn't do much without James, or he was just following his lead, because he stowed his wand away too.
“I want to save her myself. It's safer that way.” James said cautiously.
Sirius gave him a long look, calculating. To someone who hadn't spent the last two years trying to puzzle out his hidden thoughts, he merely looked tired. But I saw turmoil and worry. And even a hint of jealousy.
“You're....you're right.” Apparently, his logic was back, despite his reluctance. Maybe he realized that the only way to pull this off was as a group, like James had told him before.
And with that, they started planning.
* * * *
Lily was staring at me as Sirius and I began outlining our plan to keep Cassie from starving to death.
Normally, this would be a cause for celebration, but I had a feeling that her sudden interest was not a good thing. I glanced at Sirius, who had either not noticed or was too distracted to care.
Remus, however, was smiling at me. I widened my eyes at him and he only laughed. Some friends I had. We were in a crisis, but this was a pivotal moment for me.
Before I could point this out, the door to the guest room opened and Cassie strayed in with a ghost of a smile on her face, pulling Peter in behind her. Lily frowned, Sirius's eyes went flat and Remus shook his head a little.
I just stared at her, feeling more worried than ever.
She had bruise-like dark circles under her eyes and she looked paler than normal. Her cheeks were hollow and her eyes gleamed with unmistakeable hunger. She seemed so frail that a breath could knock her over. I wanted to hug her, but I felt certain that if anyone touched her she would shatter into a million pieces.
Peter was watching her like he couldn't decide if he was going to have to catch her mid-collapse or run.
And despite all of that, she was more beautiful than I'd ever seen her.
Maybe it was a defense mechanism? She was starving, so all of the little markers of her true nature that most people missed anyway began to disappear. She looked more innocent and fragile than ever.
Her icy eyes narrowed at us and then zeroed in on Sirius. “You told them.” Her voice made me shiver.
Even her anger seemed nonthreatening. Cute, almost.
He was unapologetic. “Yes.”
I interrupted whatever she planned on saying next. “Yes, he did. Even though you should have.”
I expected a calm, haughty response, filled with impregnable logic. Instead, she whisped over to a bed that was far away from all of us and closed her eyes. “You're right. I'm...sorry.”
That floored us for a moment, but she kept going. “I'm done lying to you guys. I mean it. I'm sorry that it took me so long to realize what I was doing. You deserve better.”
There was another moment of silence and she dragged her eyes open and looked at Lily. “Lily, I am sorry. I've been treating you like an asset instead of a friend. If I ever do it again, hex me into the next century. If I try to stop you, set James on me.”
Lily smiled, looking a little bewildered. “I don't think it will happen again.”
Cassie nodded, making it clear that she wanted it that way.
So Lily nodded. “You're forgiven.”
Sirius frowned at that, but masked it before Lily glanced his way. Unable to stop the grim smile, I looked at my friends. “There. Now we're all getting along again. Was that so hard?”
Cassie gave me a look that made it very clear how hard she thought it was. “So, which of you is going to try to feed me?” She asked, making her disapproval known.
Unsure whether it was wise to tell her, I shook my head. “Don't jump to conclusions.”
Ignoring me, she looked at Remus. “Tell me.”
Remus ignored her and looked at Sirius as a way of not looking at me.
Sirius, knowing how to play it already, smiled at her nervously. “I...I decided to let James do it.”
She narrowed her eyes, not believing the truth. “Maybe I can tell when you are lying.”
I smiled too. Clever. He was going to make her think it was going to be him. And when she couldn't talk him out of it, she'd turn to me. I'd let her think she'd convinced me, and when she thought she'd won...
It was perfect.
"Why'd you talk? You as good as told her.” Remus asked skeptically, playing into the con.
“Remus.” Sirius said, looking at his other friend with very genuine looking irritation.
“You just went soft on us, didn't you? Bad timing.” Remus grumbled.
Sirius's eyes flashed in a way that made me sad on the inside. He looked furious, ready to commit murder. But I knew he was calm, now that we were taking action. He was too good at acting for his own good. How long would it be before it hurt him? Or her?
“Guys, relax.” Lily advised, remaining very helpful in the con, since she wasn't really lying.
“Sirius, if you go ahead with this I'll end up killing you. Don't.” Cassie whispered. If it was anyone else, I'd swear she was pleading.
Sirius just looked at her, like they'd already had this conversation. Maybe they had.
And just like we knew she would she shook her head and turned to me.
I was, in a way, her last helpful chance. Peter was good in a fight, but we were all above his level now. Remus was also very good, but he wasn't as powerful as Sirius and I.
I was the only one who had ever bested Sirius in a duel. I was also the only one who had ever managed to get away with telling him what to do. He really was a Black, even if he didn't buy into their ideals. He was stubborn and immovable. It was a miracle that he listened to anyone.
“James, you've seen me with blood. Don't let this happen.” She said, talking to me like I was the only one in the room.
I had to blink a few times. Her state of near starvation had definitely magnified her abilities. She looked so innocent and helpless. Some strange instinct to protect and help weaker beings was being played with in my head.
But she wasn't weaker than me. Not if everything was taken into account. We were equals. I was helping her in the long run.
“Cassie...” I said, pretending to be swayed, still marveling at how much easier it was to lie to her. “What other way is there?”
She swayed a little, then held too still, as if she were trying to hide it. “I can last. I have to. Just two more days.”
I knew that I had to do this just right. If it was too easy for her to convince me, or too hard, she'd see through me.
“Can you last that long? You look like you're going to pass out any second.” I asked, not having to falsify the skepticism in my tone.
Lily was staring at me again. I wondered what kind of person she saw. Did she see a person trying to save his friends lives? Or did she see a liar? A monster worse than Cassie or Remus would ever be?
Cassie nodded forcefully, trying to convince herself more than me.
I stared at her helplessly. I wouldn't let her die. And I wouldn't let her kill anyone. That would destroy her just as much as starvation and we both knew it.
“James, this isn't even a tough call. Would you rather have me uncomfortable, or Sirius dead?” She asked flatly, making it clear that she wouldn't allow the latter to happen.
I looked at Sirius instead of her for a long time. Long enough to make her fidget and for Lily's stare to change for the worse.
Then I turned to face her again. “I'm...I'm with you, for now. But the second that I think you're in danger...”
She shook her head. “No. If someone has to die, it will be me. I'm the monster here, not any of you. This is my problem.”
“You aren't a monster, Cassie.” Remus said quietly, looking down at his hands.
He was wondering too, now. What was a real monster? Suddenly, the word meant something different. It had nothing to do with vampires or werewolves.
A monster was someone who only cared about themselves. A monster reveled in the pain of others. A monster lied and cheated for selfish reasons.
A monster would have enjoyed the perverse game we were all being forced to play.
A monster didn't know how to do good.
And nobody in this room was a monster.
I glanced at Sirius, who nodded minutely. We were in the clear. As soon as she wasn't suspecting, we'd do what we had to do to save her. Even if it killed us.
Suddenly, I remembered back to when Cassie had been poisoned. I'd thought about the things I was worrying about and I'd shuddered at the thought of what I'd worry about later.
I had been right to be freaked out. Today, one of the people in this room could die. It could be Cassie, me, Sirius, or even all of us.
But I'd do my best to make sure that if anyone died today, it would be me.
* * * *
I took a deep breath to keep myself from hyperventilating.
After a long hour of verbal sparring, Cassie had retired to her room and we were ready.
“Okay, she'll be asleep by now.” James said, looking completely calm despite the fact that he was the one risking his life.
Everyone else looked sick . Sirius was tensed, his eyes like little grey stones, his face devoid of anything that could have been remotely classified as emotional. His hand kept drifting to where he kept his wand in his shirt, as if he wanted something concrete to fight against.
Remus was paler than usual. He couldn't stop looking at James, and he looked regretful, as if he wished he could take his friends place.
Peter was looking at his friends helplessly, as if wishing that he were bigger or stronger. Big enough to help, to protect himself and others.
I had a feeling that if they were all in danger, they'd all be calm. And if the one who was going to feed Cassie changed, James would look similar to Sirius right now.
We stood in the hallway near her door for a long moment.
James suddenly looked down at me and I was surprised by the protective look in his eyes. “Lily, you don't want to see this. There's no need-”
I glared at him. “James, she's my friend too. Don't tell me that I can't be helpful. I know how to take care of myself and you know it.”
He looked tired and nervous for the first time as he nodded, and I couldn't stop myself from speaking. “Are you sure you want to do this James? What if she kills you?”
I couldn't stop the tremor in my voice.
He actually laughed, as if that were the last thing he was worried about. “Lily, she won't be able to if she wanted to-which she doesn't. Sirius, Remus and Peter...and you, are going to be there to stop her if she goes too far. And she won't. She doesn't know it herself, but she made a decision a long time ago not to hurt anyone. And she's too stubborn to change her mind now.”
“Uhm...how exactly are we going to stop her, again?” I asked nervously, wishing I could have even half of his nonchalance.
“Even she can't stand up to four stunners from us.” Sirius said, his voice still flat, as if he was afraid to sound worried.
Not even considering that it wasn't legal to do magic outside of school, I nodded and Sirius turned the doorknob, then grinned. “Now that is adorable. She actually locked the door. What is this? Pre-School?”
I stepped forward, “Alohamora.”
James sighed. “Okay. She really locked the door.”
Sirius grimaced, and pulled a hairpin out of his pocket, grumbling something about muggles.
“If alohamora didn't work, why would he be able to pick the lock?” I asked the group at large.
“Most wizards block their doors against all kinds of magic, but forget that there are more...mundane ways to open a door. It's actually how I break into most places.” Sirius said nonchalantly as the door clicked.
“Most places?” I asked, sighing when he didn't respond. At least their calm was wearing off on me.
“Sorry Remus, I should have had you do it, for practice.” He added with his hand on the knob.
Remus grinned as if he'd been challenged and mouthed 'later'.
Could they take anything seriously?
We trooped in as quietly as we could and James acted first, twitching his wand in a nonverbal spell and making ropes appear, binding Cassie very tightly to the bed.
She had been sleeping on the edge of the bed, facing the door, looking very peaceful.
Now, she was awake. And she looked mad.
“Don't you dare.” She whispered, struggling to move her hand from under her pillow.
Sirius beat her to it, and with no trace of surprise her wrenched her wand from her hand and reached under the pillow expectantly, pulling out a pocket knife.
I supposed I wasn't surprised, either.
“You guys, don't. This is a bad idea and you know it. James, you are a filthy liar.” Cassie hissed.
James actually winced as if the word burned him.
Remus waved his wand again and Cassie was silenced.
I raised an eyebrow at him. “She has a bit of a mouth, if you let her. And she could say some very...persuasively mean things to get rid of us. I'd rather not hear it.”
Nobody else seemed to notice.
Now that we were in action, none of them seemed worried, just focused.
James started rolling up his sleeves, and something occurred to me. “James, you can't let her bite you.”
He seemed to know what I was getting at immediately. “Yes, I can. She can't change anyone. She's technically not a real vampire. Just like she's not technically a real witch. She's weaker than the rest of them. And her bites aren't dangerous as long as she doesn't...well you know.”
“How do you know? And why risk it? Just get a cup, or something.” I said, still reluctant.
“She um...well...” Sirius muttered, glancing at James. “I know from experience. Okay? It's not dangerous. Don't worry about it.” He assured me.
James glared at his best friend and I pretended I hadn't heard anything. I didn't want to think about it.
Remus had no such qualms. “She's bitten you?”
Sirius's ears turned red, which floored me. “Not in a vampire-ish way....just forget I said anything. James will be fine. And it works better if it's very fresh. This way, we only have to go through this once.”
I decided to stop asking questions. James was fingering his wand and looking at Sirius in a dangerous way.
“Ready?” James asked, giving his wand to Sirius for safekeeping.
Sirius took it as if he handled it all the time, which didn't surprise me, and nodded.
Cassie struggled in vain and gave James a look that made me shiver.
He didn't seem fazed. “Now, Cassie, this is for your own good.” He said patiently, like a parent trying to get a child to eat her vegetables.
She apparently got the same vibe, because she looked at him in disgust.
He calmly went down on his knees next to her bed.
I looked away.
“Cassie, we both know that you'll die if you don't. And I'd really rather not cut my own arm. That's a little too horror story for me.” James said cheerfully.
My stomach rolled and I gripped my wand tighter. I wasn't a fainter, but maybe James was right, I didn't want to see this.
I looked at the others when James went silent. They were watching calmly, like it was no big deal, but their eyes were tight. Peter finally looked away too before anything could happen.
The room stood in silence. I didn't even know if anything had happened yet. I didn't want to know, either. This couldn't be real. We couldn't actually be doing this.
Sirius glanced at me. “He's fine. They're both fine. You can wait in the hall if you need to.”
I grimaced, but stayed in the room. I had offered to be in James's place. The least I could do was stay in the room. None of them seemed ready to run.
“Well that wasn't so hard, was it?” James asked, sounding tired, but very calm.
“James!” Cassie's voice was healthy again, but she didn't sound angry or happy. She sounded frustrated. She was most likely furious at them, but she knew she couldn't really get mad at him after he'd risked his life.
I looked at them. James was leaning against the bed, pale and smiling, applying a bandage to his arm. There was no blood anywhere.
I'd expected worse.
Cassie looked torn between fury and chagrin. The combination was almost comical.
I stepped forward and took away James's bandage. He looked at me in surprise, but allowed me to heal the two miniscule marks. They weren't even bleeding.
I frowned. “Did anything even happen?”
“Yes. What were you thinking? I could have killed you.” Cassie said curtly.
James chuckled. “No need to be angry, Princess.”
Sirius stepped forward and eyed James's wound carefully. There was barely even a scar. Once he was satisfied, he looked at Cassie.
“If I let you go, are you going to behave?” He asked with a grimace.
He wasn't asking if she was going to kill anyone. He was asking if she was going to get her wand back and hex us all into the next century.
She glared at him. “I am furious at all of you. But I can't really be mad, can I?” She made a frustrated noise in the back of her throat.
“How'd you do that so easily?” James asked tilting his head back to look at her, making no move to release her.
Her eyes softened a bit when she looked at James. “It wasn't easy. But you're my best friend, you idiot. If anything happened to you...”
She made the word idiot sound like a term of endearment.
“How much trouble am I in?” James asked her quietly.
She sighed, there was no anger in her eyes when she looked at him. “How can I be mad at any of you? None. If anyone is in trouble it's me.”
He shook his head. “Nobody's in trouble. Deal?”
She closed her eyes and nodded reluctantly.
There was an odd connection between them now. I couldn't understand it.
Sirius waved his wand and Cassie's bindings disappeared. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. “I can't believe you guys played me like that.” She didn't sound angry. She sounded impressed.
But I could see how wound up she was. Every muscle in her body seemed tense. Her eyes were focused, but she didn't seem to be looking at anything. She was furious. She was embarrassed. And most of all, she was sad.
James's mouth turned down at the corners and she looked at him. “This needs to stop, Cassie. We need to be a team. No divisions, no factions, no secrets. If we can trick you, then it's gone too far. Everything is in the open now, so lets keep it that way.”
Cassie and Sirius met eyes for the tiniest fraction of a second, it was such a quick glance that I wasn't sure if it had really happened.
And even if it had, I probably didn't want to know.
James's eyes narrowed, but he appeared to be the only one who noticed.
Cassie turned her silvery eyes on James. “...agreed.”
The way she said it told me that I was missing something, there was something leftover, something unspoken, as if their deal wasn't in effect yet.
His eyebrow quirked ever so slightly, but that was the only hint I ever got that something else was going on behind the curtain, until I was thrown into the mix too.
Remus watched Cassie and James speculatively. “You guys are acting...like you're in sync.”
Their heads jerked up at the same instant and I realized that Remus was right. All of the sudden, there was a link between them, like an invisible line, tying them together. When one of them started to talk, the other looked at them before their mouth opened.
I shivered, wishing it was from the cold that lay thick outside the house.
Cassie shrugged. “It will probably go away as soon as...well as soon as it wears off.”
Sirius frowned. “But what is it?”
“I don't know....Guys, I know this is going to sound weird, but I am more grateful than you'll ever know. Not everyone has friends that will...go to these lengths to help each other. I am furious at you, but I love you all. Now I need you to leave so I can stop thinking about killing you. Just give me an hour.” She whispered, shaking her head.
For a long moment we stood in silence, then Peter led the way to the door.
Remus smiled at her, and she smiled back, despite the tightness around her eyes.
Sirius, unafraid, stole a kiss before he slowly made his way to the door.
I smiled at her uncertainly, and she gave me a real smile, a smile that held no anger. I watched in fascination as James patted her head and stood, apparently feeling no after-effects.
As a group, we were different, closer. We were a bundle of tangled threads that someone had tried to pull apart. The attempt to destroy us by pulling out only one string had only tightened all of the knots.
Individually, we were worried. I could see a familiar haunted look in Sirius's eyes. Peter looked more frustrated than I'd ever seen him, James looked like he was a fighting a war with himself and Remus seemed almost angry as he looked at his own hands.
I had made my peace with all of them. We were friends and we cared about each other.
But suddenly, as I watched my friends wrestle their demons, I realized that Sirius was right.
They had all come into this group with their own problems, but what if being here gave me some of my own? What if instead of just helping them, I got sucked into a mess bigger than the one I was already in?
In the end, it wasn't just a bigger mess, it the mess that ended everything.
A/N...So. After a year, I've finally posted the next chapter. Sorry about the wait! Hopefully things will pick up now! Thanks to all the loyal readers who kicked my butt into writing this. ;)
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