It actually wasn't hard to explain ourselves to the headmaster. Professor McGonagall, on the other hand, was a tough sell; then again, she always was. Professor Dumbledore simply asked us what we were doing in Hogsmeade village after dark.
Sirius and I looked at each other. "Well..."
The whole story came pouring out. We explained that Lily and James went on a date so we got stuck with each other, and that I had a run-in with a family member in Hogsmeade. We told the Professor that we snuck into Honeydukes cellar to get away from everyone and then lost track of time. We told him how we couldn't get out because the door was locked. Sirius glossed over the part about the two-way mirror, but he said that James and the others came to get us when we didn't come back before dark.
After that came the easy part; the story about the Dementors. We knew that they would be patrolling the village and possibly attacking anyone outside after dusk, but Dumbledore still wanted to hear our account. We all praised James and Sirius's leadership; even though everyone helped, those two really kept it together and drove the Dementors away.
Even though our little adventure had broken quite a few school rules, we got off the hook for sneaking into the cellar of Honeydukes since we were "smart and in control when it came to the Dementors." Even McGonagall didn't disagree with that, only taking off a few points each for coming back after dark. Although, I expect the Professors were so kind since it was the holiday season.
Christmas was coming up very quickly, and everyone was subscribing to diagon alley catalogues so they could pre-order gifts for friends and family. It was a bit dangerous to go out Christmas shopping at this time, not to mention that we wouldn't be having another Hogsmeade trip for a while.
The decorations around the castle were magnificent; fairy lights illuminated the corridors with a colorful glow and enchanted white snow flakes were falling, warm and dry, over each of the four house tables, disappearing before they could reach the students' heads. Not to mention the enormous Christmas trees set up in every common room, class room and meeting place in the castle. Winter break was only a couple weeks away, and classes would be ending soon.
The excitement in the air was tangible as I made my way to the common room with Lily and Lo one night. There were flurries of snow outside and the ceiling of the Great Hall was overcast and gray.
When we climbed through the portrait hole, we found the Marauders bending over a folder in front of the fire. Lo immediately glanced at Remus cheerfully and, as she always did, lead us over to the boys.
Lily and I were thrilled about Lo's new relationship with Remus, even though they were a bit too lovey-dovey for my taste. He had finally asked her to be his girlfriend after the whole Hogameade fiasco. I think he was really pleased to finally have someone who liked him so much and didn't care about his furry little problem. He deserved it, and there was no one better for the job as his girlfriend than Willow Addams.
As we approached the group, James jumped up. He was a little overenthusiastic when trying to shield the folder from us and he ended up tripping over Peter's outstretched legs.
"What'cha got there, James?" I asked innocently.
"It's nothing." He narrowed his eyes at me, but I just laughed.
"It's just our prank book, Letta," Peter said proudly. The other three boys shook their heads and groaned. Obviously Peter hadn't known it was a secret. Or maybe he just forgot. He seemed to do that a lot.
"Prank book?" Lily repeated, looking half amused and half angry. She was Head Girl, after all.
"Sorry," muttered James, who was now glaring daggers at Peter. "I'll put it away." Lily just shook her head, deciding to give it a rest for now.
"I'm excited for break," said Lo, changing the subject so that the other Marauders wouldn't murder poor Peter. "No classes for about two weeks."
"Speaking of break," James said as his usual vivacious energy returned, "What are you three doing?"
I snorted. "Staying here. I don't feel like going back to Aunt Mina's and listening to her tell me what a disappointment I am. It kind of ruins the holiday vibe."
"Oh, Letta, your aunt is really nice," Lo said exasperatedly. "She only says those things in your Howlers because you insist on being violent and breaking the rules."
"You sound like Lily," I joked.
"Anyway," huffed Lily, "I'm staying as well. I don't want to deal with Petunia and her walrus of a boyfriend." She frowned to herself for a moment before returning to the conversation. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, I always have friends over for Christmas break," said James casually. "And my parents were invited to some Ministry ball on New Years Eve. They told me I could bring a few friends. How 'bout it, girls?" He looked hopefully at Lily.
Lily hesitated, looking a bit conflicted. I had my suspicions that James was growing on her, but she obviously didn't want anyone to know that.
"Well, that's not a bad idea," I said slowly, glancing at James. Honestly, he needed all the help he could get. Although, after the Hogsmeade trip, he and Lily had been getting along a lot better. Lils even said she had a good time on their date.
"I dunno about this," said Lily uncertainly.
"Well, what else would we do?" I said, rolling my eyes. "Sit inside all day and have Christmas dinner with Dumbledore and McGonagall?"
"Well, I don't know if my parents would allow it..." she tried feebly. I just grinned, because I knew I was winning.
"Well, I'm in," I told James, knowing Lily would come now. Lo was going home for Christmas day, so if she came, it wouldn't be until a few days after the holiday. Lily would have no one to hang out with during break. "I'll have to write to my aunt," I said thoughtfully. "And if she says no, I'll come anyway." There was a chorus of laughter around the group, but I was completely serious.
"What about you, Lo?" Remus asked. "Peter and I will be there as well."
Lo smiled brilliantly. "I'm supposed to visit my parents for Christmas, but I'm sure I'll be able to stay for New Years."
"So that's everyone but you, Evans," Sirius piped up from where he was sitting on the couch.
Lily bit her lip, trying to decide. "Oh, fine." She rolled her eyes. "I'll come."
James grinned. "Excellent!"
"What about you, Sirius?" Lo asked shyly. "You live at the Potters now, right?"
"Yeah," Sirius replied. "But I'm going back to the hag's the day before Christmas."
"You're going back?" I nearly shouted. "You'll be killed! You prat, if you go see that hag, that will be the single most idiotic thing you've ever done!" Everyone looked at me. "I just...nevermind," I murmured, embarrassed. It's none of my business anyway, I told myself. Why do I care? I don't.
Yes you do, said that voice. The inner voice that made me want to shut off my brain. You know what they did to him. Why is he going back? Shut up, I told myself angrily. Shut. Up. Ask him, the voice, my conscience, continued. Ask him.
"Regulus came up to me yesterday," Sirius said to me, as if he'd read my mind. "He told me the hag wants to talk to me about something. He didn't say what. But I'll be back before the holiday, don't worry." His friends glanced at each other apprehensively.
"You don't have to go back," I said flippantly.
"I know that," he said quietly. "But I'm going." It was in that moment that I realized just how alike Sirius and I really were. He was closed off about his personal life, instead choosing to deal with things himself.
I don't really know why it bothered me that Sirius was going back to that house and those people. But for some reason, it did. I mean, a month or two ago I would have loved to see him get smacked around. I suppose things were different now.
"Well, good luck," I said coolly, standing up. I felt his eyes follow me all the way to the girls' staircase. I didn't look back.
Before I knew it, the last few weeks of classes slipped by and I was packing my things to leave for break. Lily was a blazing red tornado, dashing around the room and triple checking that nothing was left behind.
We left the school on the Hogwarts Express; our compartment was shared with the Marauders, of course. It was decided that Lo would arrive at the Potter's house the day before the New Years party. Her and Remus spent the entire train ride in a corner of the compartment, whispering Merlin-knows-what to each other.
When we got to platform nine and three quarters, James and Sirius immediately went to greet two people who had to be the Potters, followed by Remus and Peter. Lily and I hung back to say goodbye to Willow.
"I'll miss you guys!" she said, still a bit pink from the goodbye kiss Remus had given her.
"We'll miss you too," said Lily, throwing her arms around our friend.
"I'll send your present in the mail," I told her, winking and giving her a hug. "Tell your mum I said hello," I added. I had become very fond of Mrs. Addams ever since...it happened. She let me stay at her house for the summer.
"I will." Lo grinned and went off in search of her parents, with one last wave to us.
Lily and I made our way over to the boys; Lily was fidgeting, obviously a bit nervous.
"Scared of meeting your future in-laws?" I teased, getting a scowl from her.
"Shut up," she muttered as we approached the Potters and Sirius.
"Mum, dad," said James, "this is Lily Evans."
"Oh, hello dear," said Mrs. Potter, shaking Lily's outstretched hand. "I've heard so much about you. James goes on and on about how lovely you are."
Lily blushed slightly, also shaking the hand of Mr. Potter. "It's so nice to meet you."
"And who's this?" Mr. Potter asked.
"Violetta McKinnon," Sirius answered for me.
"Call me Letta," I said smiling.
"Oh, so this is the Letta that Sirius has been complaining about for six years," said Mrs. Potter with a twinkle in her eye. She was a very pretty woman with honey-brown hair and blue eyes. There were a few laugh lines on her face, and her eyes crinkled when she smiled.
As for Mr. Potter, James was the exact replica of him. They had the same messy black hair that stuck up in the back, the same hazel eyes and the same round, wire-rimmed glasses. They even had the same friendly grin.
"They've gotten better at controlling their anger towards each other," James said, rolling his eyes. "But they still manage to get into the most ridiculous fights."
"Well, it's about time someone put this boy in his place," said Mrs. Potter, squeezing Sirius's shoulder affectionately.
"You're one to talk, James." Sirius grinned. "I'm sure you and Lily could give us a run for our money." James just grumbled to himself. "Oh, Mr. and Mrs. P – "
"How many times have we told you, Sirius," interrupted Mrs. Potter, "you don't have to address us so formally. You're practically family."
"Sorry, Mum," said Sirius, grinning. "I was just wondering...would you mind if I used your fireplace? My, uh, brother told me to Floo back to Grimmauld Place for Christmas. My family wants to...talk." I noticed the respect in his voice when we was talking to his surrogate family. It was a tone I would never have associated with Sirius Black.
Mr. and Mrs. Potter looked at each other. "Yes, James wrote to us and said Mrs. Black wanted you to visit, which I find extremely suspicious," Mr. Potter said frowning. I also noticed that no one ever referred to Mrs. Black as Sirius's mother.
Mrs. Potter touched her husbands arm in warning. "Of course you can use our fireplace, dear," she said kindly. Her face was crumpled with worry but she motioned for all of us to follow her. "It won't do us any good to stand around here. Let's get to the house."
I could tell that my mouth was hanging open by the way the Potters and the Marauders were laughing at me, but I couldn't help it. James Potter's house wasn't a house, it was a bloody mansion.
It was six stories high with about two million windows – that's an exaggeration, but still – and they had a marvelous black gate that surrounded the whole estate. This place sure beat my aunt's cottage.
When we got inside, I was surprised to see how homey the Potter house was. The house I used to live in was about this size and my mother kept it spotless; my old house was cold, as if no one had lived there at all.
The Potter home was light and open. It was well kept, but there were still a few things out of place; it seemed very inviting. The smell coming from the kitchen was delicious and I assumed that Mrs. Potter had been baking before we came.
"You have a lovely home," I commented as we stepped into the large foyer.
"Thank you, dear." Mrs. Potter smiled warmly. "James, go on and show the girls where they'll be sleeping. You boys can help them get settled before Sirius leaves."
Lily and I followed the Marauders up a winding oak staircase to the second floor.
"The kitchen and living room are downstairs, past the foyer. You'll see them later," said James, bringing us towards a row of doors lining both sides of the hall. "A few of these rooms are my parents' studies. My dad's an Auror and my mum's a Healer. They normally do work in their offices when they have to do reports from home."
"Your mum's a healer?" I said curiously.
James nodded. "She works at St. Mungo's. She doesn't have a specific department, though. She's a senior Healer, so they usually just call her in for whatever they need. It's usually serious stuff."
We followed him up another staircase that led to the third floor.
"This floor is where the bedrooms are. Upstairs is mostly drawing rooms," James explained. "We have a few workout rooms so Sirius and I can train for Quidditch, and a small owlery for our three owls. They can fly in and out whenever they want. There's a dueling room up on the fifth floor; Sirius and I test out our pranks in there. Then there's the House elf's room in the tower. It's her favorite spot. Oh, and there's a library up there somewhere."
Lily perked up at that. "You have a library?"
James chuckled. "Yeah, but don't ask me where it is. I haven't gone in there since I was five."
He continued with the tour, leading us toward the third door on the left in the long hallway. "This is my room," James told us. It was medium sized and the walls were painted a dark green. His bed was pushed against the north wall, covered with a matching bedspread. There was a mahogany dresser against the wall beside his bed, and the carpet was also green. Posters of famous Quidditch teams were plastered on the walls and the closet door was open, revealing a bit of a mess.
Then we went next door to where Sirius's room was. He had the same furniture as James did, except it was re-arranged to Sirius's taste. The bed was at an odd angle in the middle of the room and the dresser was diagonal next to it. Everything was dark blue instead of green, and there were a few posters of motorcycles on the walls, plus various pictures of the Marauders. I was surprised to see that his room was spotless.
The rooms where Remus and Peter always stayed in were right across the hall from the other two Marauders. The furniture was opposite of James's room, and there were very different decorations. Remus's walls were painted a deep golden color while Peter's were a pale powder blue.
James and Sirius took us to the opposite end of the hall and stopped between two doors, side by side. "You two get the most extravagant rooms in the house." James winked.
"Letta," Sirius said proudly, "this is your room."
He threw open the door to reveal a huge, comfy looking chamber, almost as big as a suite. James was right; this was the most extravagant room I'd seen so far. The walls were a bright, startling shade of red with black trim around the door frame and wall molding, and the floor was black cherry wood. There was a black dresser as well, pushed against the left wall, and a bed with a red and black checkered blanket against the right. There were also double french doors leading out into a beautiful, majestic garden filled with every kind of plant imaginable. I could see the striking colors of the flowers from where I stood in the doorway.
"Your room is right next door, Lily," James told her. "It's pretty much the same, except all the red is replaced with green. Oh, and the doors lead onto the patio with an in-ground pool close by."
Everyone trooped back downstairs where Mrs. Potter was cooking up something to eat and Mr. Potter was occasionally sampling.
"Well, I should go, Mum," said Sirius. "I have to see what the hag wants, but I''ll be back soon." He grinned carelessly.
"Promise me that you'll be careful, Sirius," said Mrs. Potter, coming around the kitchen table to hug him. I was really starting to see how much the Potters cared about Sirius, and it made me...happy, for some odd reason. I was happy that Sirius had found such a great family.
"Aren't I always careful?" Sirius laughed.
"Take care of yourself," said Mr. Potter, clapping him on the back. Sirius stepped into the fire, turning so he could face us.
"See you later, Prongs." Sirius grinned impishly.
"Have fun, mate," said James.
Sirius took a pinch of Floo powder and and threw it into the fireplace. Green flames erupted around him as he bellowed, "number twelve, Grimmauld Place!" He started to spin; I saw him tuck in his elbows as he went faster and faster, until he finally disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Sirius's Point Of View:
The whirling green flames were starting to make me dizzy as they danced sickeningly in front of my eyes. I resisted the urge to put my hands to my head just as I started to slow down. I caught a glimpse of the musty interior of Grimmauld Place. I breathed in the stale aroma of the house that was never my home before I fell right into the nightmarish dump.
As soon as I stumbled out of the grate, I heard a bloodcurdling shriek. "You!" I turned my head and spotted the delightful lady of the house sitting in the parlor.
"Hello, mum," I said pleasantly. Revealing that we were related was a bigger insult than any obscene name or gesture I could come up with.
I looked at her closely; I'd always seen my mother from afar, but now that I was back in the house, up close and personal, I could see that she really did look a bit...well, frightening. Her crisp black hair was pulled into a bun that could rival McGonagall's, and it made her face look hollow and pasty. I smirked at her angry scowl.
"What's the matter, mum, didn't you miss me?" I asked innocently.
"How dare you - "
"You haven't changed a bit," I interrupted, grinning now. "I see you've ignored my advice on revising the decorations." I gestured towards the elf-heads that adorned the walls. "But I guess we're all entitled to our opinion. Aren't we, mum?"
"What are you doing here?" she snarled, whipping out her wand. "How dare you besmirch the house of my fathers - "
"Wait a second," I said, butting in again. "You didn't know I was coming? Regulus told me - "
"Don't you dare blame this horrid display of treachery on your brother!" the hag said shrilly. "I told you never to enter the noble house of Black again! You dare to defy me? Crucio!"
In that second, I knew what was going on. How could I have been so stupid? I didn't have time to brood on that thought because I was forced onto the ground by the relentless pain of her curse. It felt like thousands of needles were being shoved into every pore of my body. It was as if she'd set my internal organs on fire. I was burning.
As suddenly as it started, the pain stopped. I looked up at my mum, slowly rising to my feet. Damnit, Regulus, I thought angrily. You bloody prat. He'd tricked me; he knew what would happen if I came back. My mother had never wanted to talk to me at all. This was all his fault.
The hag was suddenly smiling, a wide, deranged smile. "I don't care why you're here," she said quietly, "because now I have a chance to teach you a lesson. This is what you get when you disgrace your family! Confringo!"
I had been reaching for my wand when she fired the curse at me. I jerked back and was suddenly scorched, the hex leaving marks on my skin. Old scars on my forearms caught my attention as new ones started to form.
I actually laughed. "You're still using the same curses from when I was ten? Come on, I thought you were good pals with ol' Voldy? He won't teach you any new spells?"
"Crucio!" she shouted, ignoring my comment.
I was on the floor again, on my knees in front of her, trying not to call out in agony.
"You're pathetic," I gasped when she removed her wand. I staggered to my feet.
Over her shoulder I spotted a shadow, just a hint of a figure. But I knew who it was. "Come to watch the show, Reg?" I called, grinning. He stepped into the parlor and before his usual glare came onto his face, I saw something else. Something that looked suspiciously like remorse. But then -
"Expelliarmus!" My wand went flying out of my hand and my brother caught it triumphantly.
"Good work, Regulus," my mother said crisply. "I'm glad you realize what an insolent piece of vermin this boy is. He's no better than the mudbloods he associates with.
Disowning him was the most prudent thing for the noble Black family."
"They're brainwashing you," I told Regulus. He took a step towards me. He got closer and closer, without breaking eye contact. "You can still get out," I said, keeping my voice neutral. "You still have time."
"Shut up," he said, swifty pinning me against the wall with a spell. The hag's wand pointed towards me as well.
He was really close now, almost in my face, aiming his weapon at my forehead. "I'm sorry, Reg," I said quietly, so only he could hear me. He looked surprised, and his wand pulled away for a moment. But only for a moment. "I'm sorry you turned out this way. I'm sorry I couldn't save you too."
"You made your choice, I made mine," he hissed. "And now you'll get what you deserve."
Letta's Point of View:
"You're off your rocker," I told James seriously. He was in the center of the Potter's living room, imitating the actions of some kind of animal. The boys, Lily and I were all playing some strange muggle game where you had to act something out and the others had to guess what you were. What was it called...Shermans? Parades?
"Yeah, James," giggled Lily, "you're pretty bad at Cherades." Cherades! That's what it was called.
James frowned, but continued to mime something at his teammates, Remus and Peter. He was doing some sort of tribal dance around the room, making Lily laugh harder and harder with each lap around the coffee table.
Eventually James gave up, but he refused to tell us what animal he had been imitating. Was it my imagination, or was James Potter blushing? His cheeks were definitely a little pink. After our failed attempt at the game, we ended up just hanging out in the living room, joking around.
We all heard the whoosh of the fireplace at around dusk, and turned to watch as green flames erupted in the grate. Now that I think back on it, I sort of wished I had closed my eyes. The shock of what was now tumbling out of the fire had me frozen in horror. I wasn't ready for what I saw.
Sirius collapsed on the ground in front of us. Deep gashes covered his body; every inch of him was bruised and raw. His eyes were closed and for a moment, none of us moved. We just stared at him as he lay in a pool of his own blood.
I had never seen him this way. He looked so...broken. So defeated. I never thought I'd see the day where Sirius Black would have that famous grin wiped off his face. But right then, I would have given anything for him to sit up and smile, or make a ridiculous comment. I would have done anything if it meant that he'd stop looking so...lifeless.
There was a dead silence in the living room. No one spoke and no one moved; I wasn't even sure if anyone was breathing. I know I wasn't. We all just stood there, gazing down at our wounded friend.