"The best liars don't merely speak falsehoods. They act them out, leaving their victims without a doubt of the truth as they've seen it." -Anonymous
The morning of September first began with a chill calm in the air and a sense of beginning. Lily, my closest friend was head girl.
Miraculously, we had all survived the summer, despite a string of bad news that was hinted at by the Daily Prophet, then expanded upon by parents at the dinner table. Everything was looking up.
The morning had all the beginnings of a great start of term, of escape. I had even managed to completely avoid Sirius all morning. Just when I had started to smile, certain that disaster had been averted, we ran into him in the hall of the train.
“Good morning, ladies.” James grinned.
It had gone downhill from there.
“You don‘t make any sense! One moment, you‘re acting like a decent human being, the next-!” I managed, fuming.
“Don’t say another word!” Sirius interrupted quietly and dangerously, knowing me well enough to cut me off before I got into a rant.
“Lily-I mean- Evans, please-” James began.
“Don’t interrupt, me!” I snapped at Sirius.
“J-…Potter, you are not-?” Lily attempted, civilly.
“Will you let me finish?” Begged James, sending the glare in my direction instead of at Sirius, which earned him an icy look.
Lily and I were standing across from our verbal sparring opponents. Sirius and I were shouting, James and Lily were…simply trying to talk.
Clearly, the only problem in this equation was Sirius. As far as I saw it, I always met him at his level and he knew it.
“What is wrong with you? I swear, we can‘t even be in the same room!” I shouted through the confusion.
“Well, at least we‘ve found something to agree on.” Sirius hissed, looking more frustrated than I'd seen him in years.
“What, neither of us can stand you?” I snarked.
Sirius almost smiled, which made me blink, then opened his mouth to respond in turn, when he was stopped by an unlikely pair of voices.
“Will you SHUT UP?”
Sirius turned to stare at James and Lily, who looked at each other in shock, and then at Sirius and myself in annoyance.
At that moment, the train whistled quite loudly and abruptly. I jumped, hugging myself and caressing my wand. James exhaled tightly, his wand in his hand before he knew what had happened, looking tense.
Sirius found his back against the nearest wall, his wand trained on anyone who dared to move. He didn’t look funny or jumpy like James and I did. He looked ready to do murder, and his movement seemed more calculated, only half from reflex. The thought made me shiver.
Lily, who hadn’t reacted at all, stared at us like we were insane. Maybe we were.
I took a deep breath and walked away from the scene without a word, straining against the weight of my luggage. Lily would catch up with me after her meetings.
“Lindsey, wait!” James called, giving Lily a hopeful smile and jogging through the crowd of onlookers, who parted easily, to put a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m fine.” I said quietly, looking back at him and releasing the death grip on my trunk.
“Lindsey, you’re my sister. You know that you come first. The way Sirius acts with you…I’m sorry.” He whispered, looking conflicted. We were ignoring our nervous reactions, then. That was fine with me.
However, I knew my brother very well. Well enough to know when he was leaving out part of the story. Was he really sorry? What was I missing, here?
I narrowed my eyes at him, but decided not to ask what he was keeping about Sirius, preferring not to make him lie. James hated lying, even though he was good at it. Perhaps because he was good at it.
And if this was important enough to stretch the truth for, he would lie for it too, whatever it was.
“James…this isn’t your fault.” I said quietly, referring to more than just Sirius.
He smiled, knowing that he was being let off the hook for several things, the half lie included. “Lin, I know that it’s hard. I know that you thought there was something there.”
I gave him a warning glare that he ignored. “I know that you cared about him. Too much. Maybe…maybe you’re both better off this way.”
I caught that hint of a half lie again and James’s lip quirked. We knew each other too well.
I couldn’t force him to lie. Not outright, at least. It would upset him more than even he knew, especially when he got away with it.
“I know, James. See you at school?”
He nodded and turned back to Lily, who had already left for the prefects carriage.
“Good luck.” I deadpanned, walking away, keen on finding an empty carriage. Lily would cave this year, of that I was certain. What I wasn’t sure about was how painful a transition she would make it into.
“Thanks!” I heard him respond over the babble of voices. It was hard to tell if he sounded sarcastic or not.
Smiling slightly at my poor brother, I stumbled on. Trying to pull my trunk without looking like it was giving me trouble was getting me nowhere. In fact, I was probably making the whole thing look more pathetic in the attempt. But I did it anyway.
I handled enough overprotective nonsense from my family. The least I could do was drag my own trunk down a hallway.
My thoughts wandered sneakily to the argument I’d just escaped from, despite my avoidance. Sirius had been getting meaner to me as time went on. And this summer, when he’d discovered my boyfriend, Andrew Johnson, he’d gone from rude to cruel at a speed that would‘ve put my racing broom to shame.
I had two possible causes for his behavior in my mind. First, he was probably jealous. Second, he had a secret. Unless this secret was something enormous, neither of those was a reasonable excuse for his mood swings.
People didn’t act without motivation. What was his?
“Need a hand?”
Gripping my wand tightly, I felt a moment of shock at the voice before I realized that it was Regulus, not Sirius who stood at my side, watching my struggles with supreme amusement. He grinned at me, then at my trunk.
I smiled, wondering if it looked fake, and shook my head. “I’ve got it. Thanks, though.”
He smirked, reminding me of his older brother. “That was a pathetic lie.”
And with that, he took my trunk off of my hands and started pulling it down the train. Somehow, I was so used to that sort of behavior from James, Sirius and my father, that I allowed it. Blinking in mild confusion, I followed with hesitation.
Slytherin house as a whole was on my black list, especially since last winter. Trust wasn’t something that I could give easily, and no one who believed in the recent upsweep in pure blood mania deserved it. Regulus was a bit of an exception. I didn’t know if it was how much he reminded me of Sirius, or if it was genuine concern for his well-being, but I liked him.
Also, I knew that I was safe from any form of bad behavior from him-at school, at least. Being James Potter’s sister had it’s perks. And I was rather certain that Sirius’s mood swings would not favor his brother kindly if I got hurt.
He opened the door to an empty compartment and put my luggage on the rack.
Then, he turned to me and smiled. “I heard you arguing with Sirius. You know, you‘re the only one who gets away with yelling at him like that.”
I frowned. It wasn’t luck that let me get away with it. It was James. “It’s all we ever do anymore. Ever since that fight we had in fifth year…And he‘s getting worse”
It was true. Sirius had once been one of my best friends. But at the end of fifth year, he had crossed a line. And ever since, we’d been growing apart. I was still close to the other ‘marauders‘, even though the imbecilic name gave me pause. But at this point, my friendship with Sirius was all but unsalvageable.
James hated the growing rift, and he always made it clear that family came first. As far as I knew, Sirius had no problem with that.
“It’s odd seeing you fight with anyone.” Regulus said, making himself comfortable. What was he digging for?
He had a point, there. I had no problem with confrontation, and my anger was easily provoked, but I picked my fights. I hardly ever saw a fight worth having, unless Sirius was involved.
Why, though? Why was he so…angry with me? What had I done?
“He gets on my nerves.” I grumbled.
“And is there a special reason for that?” Regulus asked, sounding smug. He was convinced that Sirius and I would get together, and he was bent on teasing me about it.
Instead of answering, I scrutinized him. Regulus was a carbon copy of the sixth year Sirius-except this version was smiling. The physical similarities between the Black brothers were astounding. They were both tall, with black hair, grey eyes, and the look that came with arrogance and old money.
To a degree James even fit that profile, but this was different. Sirius and Regulus had both been raised under the delusion that they were all but royal. That kind of treatment left a mark.
The differences, however, were just as bold. Regulus had one small secretive, reserved smile. Sirius had a smirk that could send Peeves himself running for cover, and a smile that could dazzle even the most unwilling victim. Sirius was charisma embodied. Regulus was shy, the man in the background.
More subtly, Sirius was a bit of a con-man. Regulus had no such skills. Above all, Sirius was the lost Black, the blood traitor. And Regulus was the new pureblood prince. Maybe, just maybe, they were in the wrong places.
Immediately, my conscience smote me for the errant thought. Sirius could never-….well, he would never. That was what mattered.
We may have been almost-friends, but philosophy was something Regulus and I never discussed. Of course, my goal was to convert him, but that was a desire that I couldn’t really act upon safely. Could he even be saved? Did he deserve it? Why did I care?
“What happened between you two?” Regulus pressed, obviously peeved at my silence.
That happened to me, sometimes. Ever since last winter, it was hard to hold conversations, to remember to respond when spoken to.
How many days had I spent in absolute silence, refusing to let loose even the most minor detail? I had been so angry at my parents for letting things slip and putting me in the situation where I had to keep quiet. Now, I wanted to leave the room when they started talking about work. But then I would realize that it was too late for that. And I had already proven that I could keep my mouth shut anyway.
I just shook my head. To his question and my dark thoughts. “Forget about it. It’s not important. He’s not important. How…I mean…was it bad after he ran away?”
I hadn’t spoken to Regulus in months.
Regulus’s handsome face darkened. “It was a long holiday. Though, I suppose I deserved it. For all of these years, he‘s been responsible for my every mistake. I think we may be close to even, now.”
I grimaced at the news, turning my head as the compartment door opened.
“Hey, Lin.” Ana said, “ I heard some third years saying that you and Sirius had a duel. Is he alright?”
Ana was one of my dorm mates. She was of middling height, with short blond hair and kind brown eyes.
I ignored the joke, knowing full well that if Sirius and I ever dueled, they wouldn’t even be able to identify my body. “I hope not.”
Regulus, always the gentleman, helped Ana put her luggage away.
“So, does Ana have any thoughts about you and Sirius?” Regulus asked, teasing.
Ana smiled and sat down, her mouth quirking in the same instant that the compartment door nearly crashed open. Despite the dramatic entrance, Sirius stood in the gap where the door had been quite calmly, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow.
Regulus paled and stood, looking immediately contrite and highly uncomfortable in the presence of his older brother. He almost looked…afraid.
“Regulus,” Sirius said in a casually dangerous voice, lounging against the door frame. “What are you doing in here?”
Something about his demeanor made me shiver.
Sirius looked completely relaxed and his voice was light, even polite, but he seemed oddly…frightening. I was reminded forcibly of another time that he had looked this way, but I pushed that thought out of my mind, because I still wasn‘t sure if it had really happened.
It was easy to explain how I knew that this relaxed, dangerous version of Sirius was a ruse; Sirius ever didn’t relax. That meant that he was simply dangerous.
The thought didn’t surprise me.
Regulus smiled warily, “I was just helping the girls put their trunks away. I think I’ll go now, actually.”
Sirius smiled, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand. “Leave? Regulus, that may be the smartest choice you‘ve ever made. I know that‘s not saying much, but…” His smile darkened further. “We’ll have a little family reunion later.”
For some reason, that last comment made Regulus wince as Sirius moved out of his way so he could leave. I noted the tension as the brothers passed one another, one leaving and the other entering.
I raised an eyebrow at Sirius, who was eyeing our luggage with guarded eyes. “So, what are you doing here?”
He mumbled something, and for a moment, I thought that I felt magic in the air, but then it was gone. The whole thing happened so quickly that I couldn’t bring myself to comment without feeling more paranoid than usual.
Ana caught my eye for a second, then we both turned to stare at Sirius.
“Sorry?” I asked, wondering if I was losing my mind.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, he didn’t seem frightening anymore. He looked normal-which is to say, not relaxed at all. His voice was still cold, but I could detect a tinge of disgusted amusement. “I’m protecting you from an ongoing and highly pathetic attempt to convert you to Voldemort’s cause.”
Ana flinched, I didn’t. “You think that Regulus is trying to recruit me?” I asked skeptically.
Sirius laughed, but it wasn’t an amused sound. “No, he’s trying to recruit everyone he can get his spoiled hands on. You, Ana, James, Lily…”
My eyes narrowed. “Lily is a muggleborn.”
Sirius sighed, his eyes darkening. “Do you think that Voldemort really cares about that pure blood nonsense? He wants power, Lin. This is his excuse. It’s what he tells ignorant, power hungry people so that they’ll join his cause-people like my parents and my brother. They believe what they want to hear.” I watched his fists clench, wondering how much time he’d spent under that particular delusion, and what had pulled him out of it.
He looked at me with renewed force. “Not many people know about Lily’s parentage-and for good reason. I can guarantee that they’ll have a false pure-blood status ready for any idiot who joins up. Most of them are half-bloods pretending, anyway.”
Could I debate about this with him? He knew so much more about that world than I did. More than I wanted to know. “But Regulus isn’t like…” Like you. “…that”
He smiled darkly, clearly catching my meaning. “No. He’s not. But for some god forsaken reason he actually wants to be like…them.” Did he almost say ‘like me’?
“Any imbecile can act like a lovable fool, Lindsey. Please…if you-” He swallowed. “…if you ever trusted me, just stay away from him. He may be an imbecile for thinking you‘ll join, but that makes him all the more dangerous.” Sirius’s eyes were uncharacteristically open as he waited for my response. He seemed worried. And vulnerable.
That was what decided me.
I longed to refuse, but for some reason I nodded and he left without another word, trusting my nonverbal promise.
I nodded again when I realized that I would be keeping that promise and turned to stare out of the window. Ana seemed to catch my mood, because she pulled out a book and started to read, not pressing me.
Everyone thought I was so delicate, now. I hated it.
Partly to prove her wrong and partly because I was curious, I broke the silence. “Ana, wy didn’t you say anything?”
She bit her lip and carefully folded the corner of the page she was reading, spreading her fingers slowly over the crease. “He…I couldn’t.”
I frowned too. “You…couldn’t?”
“It’s just…Lin, I don’t know how you could. The look in his eyes….the whole compartment seemed to get darker when he came in. Something…something is wrong with him.”
Swallowing convulsively, I nodded. “Yes. He’s…different, sometimes.”
“Do you know why?”
“Actually…I’m glad that I don’t.” I whispered, thinking about the dead look in Sirius’s eyes.
There was a silence and another thought that didn’t make sense surfaced.
Regulus’s sudden appearance had confused me. We had been friends ever since Sirius and I fought. It wasn’t like he could replace his big brother, of course, but it was nice having him around. Having Regulus around was like knowing that some part of Sirius still cared.
Was that friendship all a lie? I frowned when I realized that it was far too easy for me to believe the worst in Regulus. Once, I would not have let Sirius say those things about anyone, even if they were probably true.
My faith in humanity, however, was no longer merely wearing thin, hanging by one last naïve thread. It had been obliterated. What kind of person did that make me?
I put thoughts of the Black brothers and everything that their world seemed to contaminate out of my mind, concentrating on the view.
A while later, the compartment door slid open and Lily entered, looking worried.
“How was it?” I asked, still staring out at the barren fields.
“Potter is either going to do a good job as head boy, or he’s pretending just well enough to ruin everything.” Lily said curiously.
“I’m sure he’ll do fine.” Ana said optimistically.
I snorted. “Yeah, but only to impress Lily. He couldn’t care less about patrols and school functions. He’s spent most of his school career trying to thwart both. And succeeding.”
This seemed to cheer Lily up. Whether it was because she knew James liked her, or that James was still irresponsible, she didn’t seem to know.
I smiled a little at her, and she shrugged away the accusation in my eyes. I wouldn’t tell James outright, of course, but maybe I could drop a hint that Lily was more pliable than usual this year.
Lily bit her lip and started asking Ana about her summer.
I grinned and turned to look out of the window, letting the subject drop.
Lily and Ana were both intriguing creatures. Lily was brilliant and disgustingly hard working. She saw people for who they were, often catching things that others didn’t. That was why she had been friends with Severus Snape. And why she had rejected poor James.
James, though, was a rare case. Somehow, she ignored his good qualities and only saw his bad ones. I knew there was a reason, but it still irked me. He was my brother, after all.
In any case, Lily was our dose of reason. Our conscience. We needed her.
Ana was usually hyper, crazy, beyond comprehension. But the events of last year had tamed her a little-at least for the time being. Between what had happened to me and her confused love life, she was still struggling to find her bubbly self.
She and Remus had dated. I’d warned both of them that it could only end horribly. They hadn’t listened. Sometimes, it wasn’t fun being right.
It seemed that we were all being irritated by marauders, these days.
* * * *
After a long train ride that involved equal measures of relaxed silence, gossip, and speculation about our least (and in Lily’s case most) favorite males, we arrived at our school.
When we entered the great hall, it hit me. After six years, of homework, classes, detentions, fights, and literal torture, we were done. “Guys. This is it.”
“This is what?” Ana asked, looking worried.
I blinked a few times, “That was our last train ride to school. We have one year left.”
We stood in shock for a moment. It had never seemed so real. It was the beginning of the end. Fear rose up in me, making me shudder. Nowhere was safe, but here, in this school, we were at our most secure.
“Oi! Potter, move. You‘re blocking the door.” Sirius called, making me turn and stare at him like he had grown a second head.
“What? Have you lost it, Black? A few hours ago I was ‘Lin’, and now I’m Potter again? Merlin, you are either the world’s best con man or the worst. I can’t decide which!” My voice echoed around the hall, and people turned to stare.
Sirius opened his mouth, but I cut over him savagely. “You know, I think I finally have you figured out. You’re only nice to people when you need something. That explains your mood swings perfectly, don’t you think?”
He opened his mouth again, his face oddly devoid of anger. In fact…he looked accepting.
That only made me more angry. He had to stand up for himself. I knew that I was out of line, and so did he. What I was saying didn’t hit the mark. It explained nothing.
Did he really think so little of himself?
I spoke again, cutting him off a second time. “I don’t want to hear it, Sirius. Just go.” I said more quietly, turning and following Lily and Ana into the hall. I could hear James and Sirius arguing quietly behind us, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.
Presently, Sirius called back. “Sorry, Potter! I just wanted to listen to your dulcet tones. Have you considered a career as a banshee?”
For some reason, his comment made me smile. If Sirius was being rude, then all was right with the world.
We took our normal seats at the table, and I blinked when the Marauders sat across from us. James smiled at me and winked, which I took to mean that Sirius was going to behave. Remus reached across the table and pinched my cheek, something he did to tease me, and Peter gave me a grin.
Sirius gave me a quizzical stare and looked around the table in confusion, then across the hall, still looking confused…and relieved? Why?
I ignored him and turned to James. “So, Jamsie, how was the Heads meeting?”
He just winked again. I took that to mean something good.
We sat in a stupor through the sorting, listening to James’s stomach rumble.
Dumbledore welcomed us back and ordered us to tuck in. We obeyed his order with enthusiasm.
The food was delicious, and everyone except Sirius seemed to be in high spirits, which was slowly becoming normal.
Something felt off. People seemed just a bit too exuberant. Maybe they felt safe here, so they were blowing off steam? Even through the palpable relief in the air, there was an unmistakable undercurrent of tension. We all knew that the world was slowly turning black. How long did we have left before everything began to unravel?
At that moment, Dumbledore stood, putting my sudden confusion out of mind. Before me stood a light in the ever growing darkness. The only man that Voldemort feared was smiling down at us.
Abruptly, I felt…not safer. Never safer. But maybe more hopeful. Safety wasn’t real. Not anymore.
He gave his usual spiel about rules and when Quidditch tryouts would be. I noted that he looked older than ever, as if all of his years were finally creeping up on him. It was inevitable, but it didn‘t seem real. Was the legend that stood before us even allowed to age? Was he real enough for that?
At the end of his litany, he glanced at the Gryffindor table, then his eyes swept the whole of the hall.
“Outside of these walls, darkness and hatred are rising. Take care not to let them inside. Some of you are new to this fine establishment, and some of you will be leaving the refuge of these halls in a few short months. Those of us who stand united will face the gathering storm with success, and those of us who are divided will fall. You would all do well to remember that greater and more terrible things than we know await us all outside these gates.”
I pushed my food away, no longer hungry. That speech summed up everything. And it hadn’t ended on a happy note. That was unusual.
Looking up, away from the sight of food, I caught Sirius staring at me. If I didn’t know better, I would have called the look on his face worry-even fear.
In the moment when our eyes met, something, some sort of understanding, sparked between us. Old arguments, petty words, inexplicable mood swings, they didn’t matter. In the end, when it came down to a fight…when it came down to life and death, Sirius and I were on the same side.
Not liking the way his eyes probed mine, I looked back up to Dumbledore, realizing that only a second or two had passed in silence.
It had felt like an eternity.
The twinkle in the old man’s eyes seemed to dim. “After the feast I would like James and Lindsey Potter, Lily Evans, Peter Pettigrew, Remus Lupin, Ana Mockson, Sirius Black, Marlene McKinnon, Frank Longbottom and Alice Kinshire to come to my office. And at that, you should all get to bed without delay.”
I looked at my friends curiously and we all stood, none of us hungry.
James and Sirius led the way to Dumbledore’s office, looking worried.
“What does he want with all of us?” Lily asked, as the few of us that weren’t in Gryffindor caught up.
“I don’t know. It’s a bit of a motley crew.” Ana said, her eyes sweeping the lot of us.
“Maybe that’s the point? But most of us are Gryffindor. What do we all have in common?” I asked, racking my brains.
My brother and his gang were silent, as Frank was with them. There was something knowing in the set of Sirius’s face. What was going on?
We walked nervously until we reached the entrance. Sirius already knew the password.
Before James could knock, the door to Dumbledore’s study swung open.
By two’s, we squeezed in, though the room seemed to bend outward on itself, so that we all fit comfortably, despite the fact that the room was not large.
“Good evening.” Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling again as he surveyed us with a grim face.
We all remained silent, somehow feeling the momentousness of the occasion.
He smiled and cut to the chase. “You are all aware that a man calling himself Voldemort has been gathering power. I believe that he is more dangerous than the ministry is letting on. Therefore, I have decided to start a group dedicated to stopping him. I have spoken with all of you about this in one form or another and I find you trustworthy.” He said this as if he were explaining how he planned on weeding a garden.
He continued more gravely. “Some of you have already suffered losses at his hands, and some of you know more about his followers than others.” his eyes rested on Sirius, then on me. I shuddered, forcing myself to stay in the present.
“In any case,“ Dumbledore said quietly, “I would be honored if any of you would be willing to join. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. Many have already died for our cause and even more will follow.”
He paused, to convey his seriousness. “I am asking for nothing more than a commitment of life. If you are not willing to die for this cause, you may find yourself gambling with more than you bargained for. I will not accept any of you unless I feel that you have given this due thought. Am I understood?”
There was a beat of silence that was too heavy to be broken. I looked up to see Sirius staring at me again with a look that was oddly pained.
The moment ended when James sighed. We all nodded in assent, being bright enough to understand that we wouldn’t get more information until we joined.
After he dismissed us, he smiled. “You will find that your classmates did not hear you being summoned here. You would do well to keep them in the dark.”
After we conveyed our general agreement and exchanged impressed and amused glances, we left his office and broke off into smaller groups.
The Marauders were just ahead of us when suddenly, James, Sirius and Remus stopped, leaving Peter standing uncomfortably by the wall, watching Alice, who was talking quietly with Frank.
The three exchanged a knowing and somewhat irritated glance before they approached us. Sirius stopped in front of me. James confronted Lily, and Remus smiled apologetically at Ana, who avoided eye contact.
“What do you want?” I asked quietly, willing to be as civil as he was.
He sighed, looking for all the world like he had some sort of deep ache. “Lindsey…Don’t join.”
“Excuse me?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “Is this another mood swing? Are you going for a record?”
“You heard me, Lindsey Potter. And you know that I have a reason for the way I act...You know more than anyone else, no matter what you pretend, or what you’ve blocked out. Don’t join. It’s too dangerous.” He was more intense than usual. A small part of my mind wondered if he ever truly relaxed.
“Dangerous, huh? That isn’t your concern.” I whispered. It was a little late for me to be considering my own safety. That hope was already dashed.
Did he have a brilliant reason for behaving like a madman? For the first time I thought that maybe he did. Was this all based on some strange secret that I wasn’t supposed to know?
I glared at him anyway and he frowned. Without another word, he stalked off, whispered something in James’s ear and left, his handsome face contorted with an emotion I didn’t recognize.
James shot me a quizzical glance, which I returned. Did he know?
One errant thought was burning through my mind.
Why did he care so much?
First, he was insulting me. Next, he was acting like he was ready to lock me away to keep me safe.
Only one thing was certain in the middle of this labyrinth of confusion and half lies that James and his friends were spinning around me.
Sirius Black was going to be the death of me.
A/N: I hope you like it so far. Please leave a review! They are helpful and they make me quite happy! :D