The tunnel was the colour of early evenings in winter; dark and gloomy, yet a slight glow of light was still present that illuminated our surroundings. The floor was uneven in places, and I heard Peter trip over several of the roots. James was at the back of the group, moaning about the mud and clutching his cloak tighter to his chest. My hands were coated in a slath of dirt and my knees were soggy from moments when crawling was necessary. Remus led the group, bending below the sticking out roots and peculiarly placed mini waterfalls; almost like he’d been here before.
I’d known Remus was lying about his ailing family for some time; it was heavy suspicion for quite a long time until he covered for Peter in Charms class during the week. The look he gave the Professor was the same one he gave us monthly; eyes down and fingers fidgeting with the nearest object. It was also the same look he gave within the previous hour when he claimed he’d overheard about the passage from the Professors. Lies.
It had been the perfect time to ask him. To get the answer to his frustrating riddle. But… he said the passage led to Hogsmeade. Andromeda was in Hogsmeade. I felt a wave of guilt when I gestured for James to remain silent, though I could see the reflection of the same burning questions within his hazel eyes.
“How much… further?” Peter yelled from behind, his breathing laboured and his robes sweeping over the damp pebbled ground.
“Not far now.” Remus called back instinctively. I paused for a moment and looked to his outline with my brow raised. Remus’ breathing also cut short. “I mean, if you think how long the carriages took in September, and how long the Hogsmeade visits are… we must be nearly there.”
I pursed my lips, but said nothing. I just started walking again, determined to think of nothing but finding my cousin. That letter had been one of those things that just plays on your mind, slowly raising your anxiety and deepest fears until it was the only thing I could think of. Over the last week I had become obsessive, I knew that. But I just couldn’t stop myself.
Andy hadn’t answered any of my letters; I know she would immediately if she could. What if they found out she was leaving? What if they stopped her by physical means? She’s of age now; any small limit they had would have been washed away. What if they caught her escaping? Was it mother? Or worse, Bella? Is she in pain? Is she locked up? Is she even alive?
Why did she need to leave?
“Up here,” Remus spoke ahead, offering his hand towards me. “I think.” He added, pulling his back for a fraction of a second.
Once again, I refused to say anything and sensed the others were taking my lead. I raised my left arm and felt Remus’ hand grasp around my elbow. “One, two,” I tensed my knees, ready to jump, “three.”
Remus sharply tugged on my arm as I jumped from the floor, so that I landed easily on the ledge that was previously at chest height. I nodded my appreciation towards our tallest friend and turned with Remus to help Peter up behind.
I bent over and braced myself for the weight. Remus took Peter’s left arm whilst I took his right. “One, two, three.” Remus repeated before yanking Peter upwards. I felt the breath rush out of my chest and desperately attempted to keep my gasp within; Peter was bullied constantly for his weight – as his friend, I urged myself to not bring notice to it. Though I noticed, with a feeling of pity, that his cheeks glowed red in the growingly lit tunnel.
I turned again, to help pull up James, but Remus shook his head. “I’ve got him. You and Peter should go ahead – check its all clear and all that.” I noticed that his eyes never met mine, but once again, I stayed silent.
“Sure.” I smiled slightly tightly. “Come on, Peter.”
“’kay.” Peter gasped, wiping his hands on his already dirty trousers. The ledge started to widen so that Peter and I could comfortably walk alongside each other, the tunnel lightening with every step we took so that the air was now a dull grey rather than a misty black. “Where’d you reckon?” Peter whispered, looking around the slope for an exit.
I joined him in the search for where the light was starting to come from. It appeared to be coming from the top right. “Another climb, I think.” I muttered to Peter, who sighed dramatically.
“Fantastic.” Peter muttered back, completely deadpan. He glared at the corner in annoyance. “Right, we better get on with it.”
Peter strode forwards and I felt a rush of appreciation for my friends. They were doing this for me. Because I’d asked them to. Even though we might get suspended if caught. They were still doing it.
I followed Peter and heard James and Peter rushing to catch up with us. James’ moans about his cloak echoed around the tunnel. “I’ll solve it when we arrive.” Remus sighed.
“Really?” James asked dubiously, looking at Remus in suspicion, before shrugging. “Okay.” I stifled a grin at my friend’s easy-going manner. When he wasn’t acting like a spoilt brat, it was nearly impossible not to like him.
There was a grunt ahead and I saw Peter clutching onto another ledge, his legs dangling precariously below; just a couple inches off the ground. His nails grated against the rough floor as he desperately attempted to pull himself up. I was about to rush forward and help him by pushing his legs up, when my eyes skimmed to the side.
“Er, Peter?” I said carefully, walking closer to my friend.
“Yeah?” Peter gasped, his grip relaxing for a moment but enough to force his hands to slide off the ledge so that he landed in a knotted mess on the floor.
I coughed, and bent over to help him up. “Er, there’s some steps over there.” I gestured towards a couple of odd placed stone ledges that formed a few steps onto the final ledge.
Peter stared at them for a long moment. “Brilliant.” he said, despair evident in his voice.
James started to chuckle, which in turn made me grin and start to join in. Peter looked at me, completely dumbstruck, before his lips twisted upwards and he joined in the laughter. Remus shook his head, but couldn’t withhold his snort.
I placed my hand on Peter’s forearm and he did the same, both of us still laughing, and I took a step back to pull Peter back to his feet. “Come on.” I laughed.
It wasn’t until we were all stood on the final ledge that the laughter died down; I wasn’t fully sure what was so funny, only that the laughter felt right in that moment. Remus stepped forward, as if the journey was old hat, and placed his hands on a square above us that seemed to be outlined by an eerie glow.
“Ready?” Remus whispered, though I had the distinct impression he was also talking to himself. I exchanged a look with Peter before a loud thud echoed down the tunnel as Remus shoved upwards.
I squinted painfully in the sudden surge of light and was aware that Peter took a step backwards as if recoiling from the light. My eyes slowly adjusted though large black spots spoiled my vision. I blinked several times and shapes began to take place. Remus was ahead of me, climbing upwards on a small wooden ladder – as if her hadn’t needed to adjust at all. I shook off the thought and stepped forwards, squinting even more as the light seemed to intensify.
Remus reached the top and placed his hands on either side of the square, lifting himself into the room above. The wind that blew down the gap, making my hair fan away from my face and a chill creep down my spine, wasn’t as cold as I’d expect in late November so I assumed the end of the passageway was sheltered in some way.
“Coming?” I twisted my head to that I was looking over my shoulder. James was grabbing Peter’s arm after he’d obviously recoiled too far and nearly fell from the platform.
“Right behind you.” James called as I turned to face the rickety ladder. It was a fairly easy few steps; much easier then the climbing from before. I copied Remus’ actions and placed my hands either side of the square, and began to pull myself up. A hand reached down and grabbed the back of my robes; Remus attempting to pull me up safely.
“Cheers,” I muttered, finding myself kneeling on dirty, wooden panels. After taking a moment to adjust to more light and regain a little strength, I turned back towards the hole in the ground to help Peter up as we had done before.
My arms strained and I grit my teeth as Peter familiar weight pulled against my arm. Remus was also reaching down, grabbing his collar, and pulling him upwards. Peter choked, and heaved, as we pulled. His fingers dug into the wooden panels, making a loud screech as they dragged along the floor. Finally, he landed with a heavy thump at my feet, gasping for breath and his cheeks a bright red.
“You alright?” I muttered.
“Great” he gasped back, shuffling forwards to James could come up. I scratched the back of my neck and looked up towards Remus who nodded in response, and walked over to where Peter had crawled. The glance up had reminded me to look around, a simple task that had simply flitted from my mind.
There were remains of ripped paintings spread across the floor. The door stood on only one hinge and every window seemed to be boarded up. In the far corner was a small bed, beside it was an odd assortment of old toys; most were shredded or chewed – like a dog had been led loose.
“Where are w-?“
I was interrupted by James calling from below. “A little help?”
I shook my head and immediately bent over to grab James’ flailing arm. “Sorry, mate.” I heaved with all my strength and James appeared from the small trapdoor.
“Bloody hell.” He muttered, dusting off the dirt from his robes and checking his cloak was still intact. I smiled, but otherwise returned to my inspection of the room. The walls and floor seemed to sway in tune, and the wind roared around the feeble walls like we were slightly high up. The place seemed to match a description from Andromeda, from the previous year. “Is this the Shrieking Shack?” I asked in confusion.
Remus said nothing, but approached me with his wand held high.
I watched as they explored the shack; my prison once a month. Sirius was bent over the pile of abandoned childhood toys – Madam Pomfrey had thought of the idea that a chew toy would distract the wolf from harming myself and would occupy the wolf until the full moon was over and dawn rose. Professor McGonagall, however, had rightly guessed that leaving a chew toy in the room whilst I transformed would be humiliating and make me feel more animalistic than I already felt, and instead searched through the lost property for suitable replacements.
Some of the toys were decades old, some possibly older. There were wooden objects that I had no use for, other than to destroy. There were painted dolls, which always ended in shredded pieces by the time the sun rose. And there were stuffed animals; strangely the only ones to often survive the night.
“Do you reckon this is a junk house?” Sirius asked, picking up a smashed doll by the remains of its curly blonde hair.
“I don’t know,” James was frowning, his eyes focused on the unmade bed. It hadn’t been re-made from the previous month. “It looks like someone lives here.”
I’d never slept in the bed; the night was the time for the wolf to play. But, sometimes, when the fear of the glowing moon and the night ahead just got too much to handle, I’d hide beneath the covers like a child hides from the monsters under his bed, in the small glimmer of hope that the moon wouldn’t see me – that, this time, it’s glow would glide over the place where I hid and allow me another night as a human rather than a beast.
Of course, it never worked. But a small child within me still hoped every full moon.
Peter’s brows furrowed even deeper at James’ comment. “But why would anyone treat their stuff like this?” He pointed towards the wardrobe, the ancient robes within were shredded and the door hung off his hook.
None of them had noticed the bloody wolf print behind the screeching door, or the large scratches along the bedpost; too large for a human of any kind.
“Sirius,” I started, deliberately not responding to any of their questions, “if we don’t hurry then we might miss your cousin – we need to get back to Hogwarts before anyone notices we’re not there.”
I felt immediate guilt at using my friend’s weak point to distract them all from my secret. Even more so when it worked. Sirius’ intrigued and curious face fell into one of instant fear and confusion. The shack had provided him with a few minutes of distraction, as the toys often gave the wolf, and I took it away for my own selfish means.
“Right.” Sirius said quietly, rising from the floor with his eyes distant. “We better find a way out, then.”
James shot me a look, his hazel eyes narrowed. I turned away from him, pretending I never saw his condemning look. “There’s bound to be a door somewhere, right?” Peter queried.
None of the wards were up that kept me in. It wasn’t full moon and Dumbledore had said that people would get suspicious if the shack suddenly became impenetrable all year round, so the wards only went up the night of full moon. However, the door had always been magically locked to deter curious students from exploring on Hogsmeade weekends; there was no way of using the door unless we smashed through it and Hagrid had said Dumbledore strengthened the door after last time. The door, sadly, wasn’t an option.
“I don’t reckon McGonagall would have made it that easy when everyone goes to Hogsmeade, do you?” Sirius scratched his nose and circled the room.
“We could,” James ran a hand through his messy hair, “try to windows?”
“The windows?” Sirius raised a brow, “the Shrieking Shack is supposed to be amongst the path to the mountains – it’s gonna be pretty high.”
“Yeah, maybe.” James lips were starting to pull into a grin as it always did when he sought an adventure. “Peter, come here.” Peter walked to James apprehensively. “Grab that corner and pull.”
“Are we ripping it off?” Peter asked, slightly alarmed.
“Yeah.” James grabbed the other side of one of the panels of wood that was boarding up the window. “On the count of three. One. Two.” James peeked a look at Peter who’d taken his place at the other side of the panel. “Three.”
Their backs immediately went tense; Peter’s breathing came out in laboured gasps as he pulled with all his might and James’ let out a series of grunts. Slowly, creakingly, the wooden panel started to part from the wall, the nails making loud popping noises as they were pulled.
Both of my friends fell backwards with speed when the panel snapped away from its base. Sirius and I both rushed forward to grab them before they hit the floor, but were a moment too slow.
“Er, guys?” Sirius coughed, looking down at James and Peter under a wooden plank and attempting not to laugh. “You know we’re wizards, right?”
Peter and James both looked at each, shell-shocked, before bursting out laughing. I snorted, and bent down to pull the plank off them, Sirius grabbed the other end and we threw it towards the bed where it landed with a heavy thud.
“Can we do magic here?” Peter asked standing up and dusting off his robes.
“Well, Remus cleaned the mud off our robes and we haven’t been arrested yet.” James said blaisely.
Sirius looked at me in alarm, and I returned the same gaze. “Damn. You did.” It had been instinctive to clean their robes; after all they were only muddy because of me. It was my fault. I hadn’t even paused to think about performing magic outside Hogwarts. “I didn’t even think. Wait,” Sirius turned towards James suspiciously, “you didn’t say anything.”
James shrugged. “I wanted to see what would happen.” I turned to face James with my brow raised, as Sirius and Peter both sighed loudly. “The older students can use magic in Hogsmeade,” James said defensively, running his hand through his hair again. “I assumed it was the same – besides I would have taken the blame if they came.”
My slight annoyance came to a halt at the last line. “W-Why would you take the blame, for me?”
James shrugged, turning to face the window again, a slight blush creeping up his neck. “You’re one of my best mates, why wouldn’t I?” He raised his wand and muttered ‘accio’ so that another plank of wood came fling from the window; only missing James by inches when Peter managed to push him out the way.
Peter rolled his eyes and James chuckled on the floor. I was still frozen, shocked. “B-but that doesn’t mean you should c-“
“Leave it, Remus.” James sighed, pulling himself back into a standing position and walking backwards so that he was a safer distance from the flying panels. He raised his wand to try again, but saw the look on all of our faces. He grinded his teeth, and looked at the floor in embarrassment. “My dad’s head of the auror department after all, and the Magical Law Enforcement seniors are all friends of my parents – I could play it off easy. It’s fine.”
I opened my mouth to retort, but Sirius just shook his head at me, before returning to watch James. His brow was furrowed, his eyes blank with surprise, but a small, grateful smile played on the edge of Sirius’ lips.
We made short work of the window and were surprised to find that we were only about eight foot off the ground. “We can jump that, easy.” James stated. Peter looked a lot less certain as he peered out the window.
“But how will we get back in?” Peter wondered, looking between the drop and us all.
“The sheets.” I said quietly, the others looked at me. “I’ve heard some Muggles use them to climb back in to their homes, sometimes.”
James nodded eagerly and Peter helped him start tying knots whilst Sirius and I looked out the window, planning where to go. It was Sirius who spotted the long overgrown path, running behind some large boulders and huge trees.
‘I’ll bring my old broom next time.” James muttered as he and Peter dragged over a thick rope of sheets.
“Next time?” I queried, uncertainty starting to flood over my body.
“’Course.” James said simply, throwing the end of the sheets out the window. “Oh, don’t panic.” James rolled his eyes when he caught by horror struck suspicion. “We won’t come often, I have detention most the time anyway – but sometimes, you know, when we want a break, why not?”
“Hm.” I nodded, but refrained from commenting – I was pretty sure that I could guilt James into promising they’ll only come when all four of us were present.
Sirius jumped out first, landing with and heavy thud. He spun back round and gestured for me to follow. I stepped onto the moulding ledge, looked back at James and Peter in a moment of doubt, before swinging my weight forwards and flying through the air. I seemed to have used too much strength, however, and landed several feet away from where Sirius had landed.
James and Peter both popped their heads out the window, jaws open, whilst Sirius ran over to me. “How did you get so far?” Sirius demanded, his eyes jumping between the window and me.
I shrugged, rubbing my neck self-consciously. What was I thinking? “Long legs, I guess.” I said lamely. There was a pause of silence and then-
“My turn!” James shouted. “I bet I can beat you!”
We turned to James, a smile appearing on both of our faces. My shoulders visibly relaxed. I needed to be more careful. But, for some reason, it was harder to pretend around my friends. I felt like I could be myself. Even if the thought was ridiculous.
We’d been to places like it before. But I’d only ever been to Hogsmeade once. It was for my sixth birthday; mum and dad had both taken the day off work and Sarah was wearing a new summer robe; an orange one that was covered in dancing unicorns, something that her four-year old self had highly objected to.
It looked the same as I remembered, though much colder. Gladrags Wizardwear was painted a deep purple, the shop front full of luxurious dresses. Dad had treated Mum to a new green robe for her birthday, which always followed the week after mine, that she had caught sight of as soon as the shop had first come into sight.
A couple thatched houses down was the ‘Post Office’, it’s writing faded and a shiny poster in the window reading ‘Owl Office’ instead. It had been Sarah’s favourite place in the entire office; Sarah had always loved owls and we’d had to drag an hysterical four year old away from the building after a long half an hour of her gazing open mouthed at the hundreds of different types.
We’d gotten a couple curious glances since entering the small village; it wasn’t a Hogsmeade weekend and the villagers weren’t accustomed to seeing teenagers amongst the shops on other days. But, thankfully, the witches and wizards had turned away, distracted by items in shop windows and pushing the curious thought away from their minds. It helped that there was only two of us; Sirius and James were both under the invisibility cloak.
Remus had pointed out that if someone were to report us, then the moment the Professors heard of four boys in Hogsmeade, we would be suspected instantly. Really, only two of us could fit under the cloak comfortably, and so I elected James and Sirius, pointing out that if, once again, we were reported than two dark haired boys running around Hogsmeade would be instantly directed towards James and Sirius. Out of the four of us, Remus and I were the least likely to have escaped.
I also thought, but didn’t share, that Remus’ and my clothes were much more worn than the other two. It would be easier to persuade people that we were home-schooled rather than James or Sirius who were obviously able to afford Hogwarts.
We walked past Zonko’s Joke Shop, my eyes instantly zooming onto the colourful products on display, and my mouth gaping at the various types of displays. “Not now, James.” Remus muttered, almost like he could sense James shuffling under the cloak. “Later, if we have time.” There was a loud sigh, and we continued walking, Remus barely stifled a smile.
“Alright, Dad.” A girl, looking to be of Seventh Year age, called over her shoulder into one of the thatched houses. Over the door hung a square sign reading, ‘The Three Broomsticks’. She was very pretty and had large green eyes, which she was currently rolling as she walked away from the inn, holding a bucket.
“Shall we ask her?” I whispered, gesturing to the girl who was now talking to a group of older witches, handing one of them the bucket.
“What if she’s at Hogwarts?” Remus muttered. “She’ll tell on us.”
I had no answer, but instead saw James and Sirius appear from one of the alleys between the houses, evidently just taken the cloak off. “What are you doing?” I asked, alarmed. “If there’s four of us then they’re much more likely to report us!”
James shrugged. “It’ll be fine. Besides, we hit more people whilst invisible, it’ll be less suspicious if we were visibly.” Sirius shrugged as well, both seemingly bored of being hidden for the moment. “So, what’s the plan?”
Remus scratched his nose. “We don’t know where Andy’s staying, right?” Remus looked at Sirius who shook his head morosely. “So we’re going to have to ask someone.”
“I reckoned her.” I gestured to the dark haired girl that was now walking back towards the inn.
“But she might be from Hogwarts, it’s not worth the risk.” Remus sighed.
James and Sirius both seemed to be glued on the girl. “I haven’t seen her around Hogwarts, have you, Sirius?”
“Sounds like we should introduce ourselves then, right?”
“James!” Remus hissed. “Sirius!”
But they’d already got out of reaching distance and were bounding over to the girl; I looked at Remus uncertainly before following. I was sure that no good could come of this.
By the time we’d caught up, they’d already gotten the girl’s attention. The girl was looking at James and Sirius questionably. “Aren’t you a little too young to be wandering round Hogsmeade by yourselves?
“Aren’t you a little too young to be acting like our mothers?” James replied cockily, flashing a cheeky grin.
The girl rolled her eyes, but couldn’t stop a small smile creeping on her lips. “Fair enough. How’d you escape out of Hogwarts then?”
“How do you know we’re from Hogwarts?” I asked, scanning over the four of us to check none of us were wearing any revealing clothing.
The girl grinned. “I didn’t.” James and Sirius both groaned, sending me annoyed looks whilst Remus fiddled with his buttons as he always did when he was nervous. “So?”
“So, what?” James smiled.
The girl laughed. “How did you manage to escape? It’s not a Hogsmeade weekend, and there aren’t often people your age here anyway.”
Sirius flashed her his most convincing grin, though failed miserably at hiding the mirth in his eyes. “Ask us no questions, and we’ll tell you no lies.”
“Rosmerta!” A man’s voice shouted loudly, from the direction of the Three Broomsticks.
The girl rolled her eyes. “Uhuh.” She grinned again, her whole face lighting up in the act. “Right, well I’ve got to go – good luck with running away and all that.” She nodded and started to move away from our huddle.
“Wait!” Sirius called, his hand reaching out to grab Rosmerta’s arm. She sighed and turned to face us, her hand resting on her right hip. “We’re looking for a girl.”
Rosmerta cocked her right eyebrow. “Really?” She said, her voice thick with amusement. “You’re looking for a girl? Aren’t you, like, 11?”
“No, we’re-!” Remus retorted, but was immediately interrupted by James.
“We’re old enough.” James winked, and I struggled to retain a snort.
Rosmerta laughed, a pleasant sound that seemed to echo. “Right.”
“No, no seriously.” Sirius pleaded, sending James an annoyed look. “She’s around your age. Andromeda Black. She has long dark hair and-?”
“Black?” Rosmerta frowned. “I know of her – she was a Slytherin in the year below. One of the better ones.” Rosmerta frowned, taking a small, discrete step back. “Who’s asking?”
Sirius looked around for nearby passer-bys before looking at us for our nod of approval. “I’m… Sirius Black. Her cousin.”
“Black?” She paused, her eyes scanning over us all. “No offence, lads, but you don’t exactly look like the usual type of Slytherins.”
“That’s cause we’re not.” Sirius said simply, putting his hands in his pockets, obviously counting this as a dead end. “We’re Gryffindors.”
“You’re a Gryffindor?”
“Yeah. Look, have you seen her? It’s urgent.” Sirius pleaded.
Rosmerta said nothing; just watch Sirius for a moment before, eventually, her resolve flattened. “She came knocking yesterday. We didn’t have room and besides – no offence – but with the current climate we didn’t need a Black staying…”
“Current climate?” James asked in confusion.
“Shh.” Sirius silenced James. “Do you know where she went?”
Rosmerta nodded, frowning in James’ direction. “I told her that there might be room in the Hog’s Head. She went off in that direction, at least.”
Sirius grinned. “Thank you.”
We turned to leave and Rosmerta called behind us. “No worries – and lads?” We looked back. “Buy the Daily Prophet at some point, yeah? You seem to be a bit uninformed.”
I’d never been to the Hog’s Head, and neither, it seemed, had any of the rest. After asking for directions, we were pointed towards the end of the village; we passed Scrivenshaft’s Quill shop, where I’d received the first quill of my very own, and Dervish and Bangs, that was emitting some loud bangs, before we reached the fence at the end.
I could see the station in the distance, a couple miles away - at the other side of Hogwarts. Otherwise, the landscape was barren, all held within the surrounding mountains. Remus pointed out a small run-down looking building at the bottom of a muddy path, and we grudgingly marched on, Sirius looking slightly guilty whenever he caught sight of us beside him.
By the time we reached the rotting door, the sky was starting to darken in the infuriating way it often does in winter. “What time is it?” I asked uncertainty.
“Er,” James reached into his pocket and pulled out a handsome bronze watch. “Three o’clock.”
“Right. So if we don’t find Andromeda in the next couple hours,” Remus said hesitantly, “then we might have to try again tomorrow?”
“The professors will get suspicious if we disappear again.” Sirius said miserably. “Hopefully she’s here.”
I nodded and went to push the door open, but my hand barely touched the surface when it was suddenly opened and a person walked out. She was fiddling with a bag on her shoulder, her eyes were down – she didn’t see us.
“Andy?” Sirius said immediately, his tone rising in excitement.
Andromeda looked up in surprise, her hand immediately flicking to her wand and her mouth open for an incantation. “Sirius?” She asked in disbelief after a moment. “What the hell are you doing here?” Her dark eyes flickered to the rest of us. “With friends?”
Sirius grinned and, after a moment, Andromeda responded with an almost identical smile. “We escaped – you didn’t answer my letter!”
“You escaped?” Andromeda repeated, her face clearly dumbfounded. “Wha- How? I-I was just about to drop your letter off in the owl office.” She pulled a thick envelope from her dark brown bag. “I only got here last night.”
Andromeda looked similar to when I’d last seen her. Her hair was a dark brown, almost black, as were her eyes – so characteristic of the Black family trait. She was wearing midnight blue robes with silver patterns, which pleated along her waist. I vaguely recalled the slim girl from several months previously; her waist was certainly bigger now. Sirius also seemed to notice as his eyes hovered over her larger stomach for a moment longer than necessary. Andromeda moved her bag over her front self-consciously.
“Do you want to come in?” Andromeda smiled pleasantly, though she looked at the rest of us slightly unsurely.
“Erm, we’ll wait for you in the village, Sirius.” Remus said slowly. “We don’t want to intrude.”
Andromeda frowned. “Nonsense. I’m not having a group of twelve year olds – yes, Sirius, I’m aware you’re thirteen – wandering around Hogsmeade in the current… times. And you,” Andromeda pointed at her cousin in a motherly manner, “young man, are not to be wandering around by yourself. Is this clear?”
Sirius rolled his eyes, but nodded meekly – fighting to hide a smile. I decided that I liked Andromeda Black – she reminded me, in a small indistinguishable way, of my mother. We followed the older girl into the dirtiest pub I’d ever seen. The floor seemed to have inches of dust, and the windows were so dirty that they now appeared opaque rather than transparent. There were unpleasant stains over both the bar and the tables, and the barman, an older wizard with a long grey beard, watched us with distain as we walked across his pub and up the stairs.
The room was small, and much cleaner than downstairs. “It took me nearly two hours to get rid of the dust.” Andromeda muttered. “Never had so much practice with cleaning spells in my life.”
It was a basic room; a double bed, a table, a mirror, which seemed to have been recently repaired, and a couple of chairs. “Take a seat,” Andromeda gestured to the armchairs, “I’m sure I can find us a late lunch from somewhere.”
“No offence, Andy.” Sirius muttered, a grin he rarely showed people other than us, stretching over his face cheekily. He gestured to her stomach. “But it looks like you’ve eaten enough.”
James clapped his hand over his mouth to prevent a sound, Remus’ brows raised into his hairline and I gasped aloud. But instead of the horrified retort I was expecting, Andromeda Black just laughed.
“Don’t be rude, you cheeky bugger.” She swotted Sirius over the head, still chuckling. “I’m… er… well,” Andromeda looked around carefully, lowering her voice as she unconsciously played with the strap on her bag, “I’m pregnant, Sirius.”
Sirius’ jaw dropped – he looked stunned. His grey eyes moved between Andromeda’s stomach and her face; ready for someone to jump out and shout ‘surprise!’. “Y-You’re p-p-pregnant?” Sirius stuttered.
I looked at Remus and James uncomfortably; sure that we should have used Remus’ offer. Instead, Remus picked up a couple old copies of the ‘Daily Prophet’ and handed them to each of us. A distraction from the conversation. “B-but when did you get married?” Sirius continued, his eyes landing on Andromeda’s hand which was burrowed under her bag.
Andromeda coughed uncertainty, a blush coating her cheeks. “I- er… I didn’t.”
“You-? Oh.” Realisation hit Sirius’ face and he looked at the floor in embarrassment, before he looked up angrily. “He hasn’t left you to it, has he? Who is he? I’ll find him and-!”
“No, no.” Andromeda smiled, ruffling Sirius hair lovingly. “We’re planning to get married after the baby, I just don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to the pregnancy until-“
“Until you can hide from our family.” Sirius finished slowly. “You’re going into hiding, aren’t you?”
Andromeda sighed, retracting her hand slowly. “Yes. We’ve only stopped in Hogsmeade so that Ted can say goodbye to an old friend.” She smiled at Sirius uncertainly. “It’s not just because of our family – having a baby out of wedlock would be reason enough for them – but, you see… Ted is a muggleborn.”
Sirius’ jaw dropped open once more. “Shit.”
Andromeda hit him over the head sharply. “Don’t swear.”
“Sorry,” Sirius replied meekly.
James coughed beside me, running his hand through his hair. Sirius and Andromeda both looked up, as if remembering we were still in the room. “Sorry,” James said sheepishly, “but why would that be any more of an issue?”
Andromeda frowned at James, and then at Sirius. Her confusion began to clear and she looked at us uncertainly. “How much do you know about You-Know-Who?”
“Voldemort?” I asked uncertainly; too many facts weren’t adding up. The paper in my hand was titled ‘You-Know-Who Strikes Again, yet the text within referred to the same act, but this time the culprit was referred to as ‘Voldemort’. I noticed that Andomeda flinched slightly as I said the name, and her hand gently slid past her stomach.
“Shh.” Andromeda said quietly.
“Why?” Sirius frowned, watching his older cousin cautiously.
Andromeda sighed. “This is up to your parents to explain.” She paused to look at Sirius. “Look, you must have heard about…”
“Voldemort.” Sirius prompted, shuffling closer and taking a seat next to where his cousin sat on the edge of the double bed.
Andromeda closed her eyes momentarily. “Yes.” She rubbed her arm uncomfortably, before taking a breath – seeming to decide on something. “I guess you best know the facts - so you don’t go misunderstanding or even joining the wrong side.”
“The wrong side?” Remus questioned, also abandoning his rubbish attempt at giving Sirius some privacy.
Andromeda sighed, gesturing for us to creep closer. “Asuio Regnete.” She muttered, pointing her wand in the direction of the door. “It’ll tell me if someone is approaching,” she explained, “because this is a highly sensitive topic. I don’t want to hear that any of you have been preaching in class, is that understood?”
We all nodded. “Right,” Andromeda started, “You-Know-Who has been in the news for a couple years now; at first it was assumed he was just another pure-blood maniac taking things a step too far.” She exchanged a knowledgeable glance with Sirius. “But soon things were starting to happen; two Muggle-borns disappeared within one month alone. Muggle baiting started to increase. My delightful sister put forward a petition to make Muggle hunting legal, it had been tried before of course, but this time there were nearly double the amount of signatures. Something, or someone, was riling up all the pure-bloods.”
Remus’ hands gradually closed into fists, and his shoulders tightened considerably. I suddenly realised that Remus’ mother was a Muggle. Is that what his secret was about?
“The Ministry said they were dealing with it. But more disappearances were starting to appear, and more Muggles died in unexplainable deaths. Apparently every time the Ministry got close to catching the culprits, all that was left was a piece of parchment declaring his wishes and signed…”
“Voldemort.” Peter squeaked, his hand against his chest and his small eyes fully focused on Andromeda.
Andromeda nodded, her lips thin and her eyes on the floor. “Bella used to laugh when it appeared in the papers. She’d take them over to your mother,” she nodded as Sirius, “and they’d talk about it over dinner – about the new policies, his campaigns” her voice turned bitter, “about the renewal of blood purity.”
I looked at Sirius, who was evidently avoiding our gaze. I… I hadn’t even considered that these things still happened. When people spoke of blood purity, I thought of the images in old books… not that my best friends grew up with a family still preaching.
“After a while, the bodies stopped being signed by… him, but instead with the line; ‘You-Know-Who’. The issue was that we did know. We all did. The name was used to spread fear – the majority refused to use this new name. But whenever his real name was published in an article, or spoken in a prominent speech, the witch or wizard who wrote it in the first place would all but disappear. In some cases, their bodies were returned. But not all.”
Andromeda looked up, her eyes starting to become glassy as she glanced at her younger cousin. “Three newly married couples; one Pure-blood and one Muggle-born in each, have disappeared within the last two months. It’s why we’re hiding.” Andromeda looked at Sirius. “I’m a Black. And I’m pregnant with a Muggle-born’s child. We’re not even married. We can’t risk that we’ll go unnoticed; they’ll kill us all.” Andromeda swallowed thickly whilst Sirius shook his head frantically. “As far as I’m aware, they’re still a relatively small group. But he’s powerful. And… I think Bella has joined.”
“But surely the Ministry will catch them?” I asked, my eyes wide in shock and my mouth ajar. “The Magical Law Enforcement… the Aurors – it’s what they’re there for!”
Andromeda shook her head sadly. “They’ve been trying. The trouble is that people don’t have physical marks that represent their beliefs – who’s to say that the Minister himself isn’t a supporter?”
She smiled at my look of disbelief. “It’s seems pretty unbelievable, doesn’t it? A part of me wonders whether it’s just the media creating a moral panic, like they did with the sneezing cauldrons, but the death toll seems to speak for itself.”
There was silence for a pause; Andromeda patted Sirius’ hand softly, which had reached out beside her own. “What about the others?” Remus asked quietly. “The magical creatures? The goblins? The elves? The…werewolves?”
Andromeda shrugged. “I honestly don’t know – I’d guess it’s too early to tell.”
“Too early?” Peter frowned.
Andromeda pursed her lips, a small line appearing between her eyes. “It would be my guess that this is going to get worse before it can get better. Hopefully it’ll be sorted within the next year, then we can re-join wizarding society and announce our news.” Andromeda smiled slightly as she gently patted her stomach. She frowned again, looking at each of us sharply – lingering on Sirius. “But, I’m not telling you this so you can give yourself some adventure or scare younger years, is that understood?”
I frowned. “Although they might have refused to share it, some of those pupils will have already lost family members to You-Know-Who, and some Muggle-borns may already be receiving threats.” My thoughts absent-mindedly drifted to Lily, who still used a Muggle pen to write in a diary and stuck photos that didn’t move to the back of her books. “They don’t need any of you bragging about how much you know, or coming up with obscure plans or how your connections will keep you safe. Is that understood?” Andromeda repeated, her eyes glinting with a passion that sometimes appeared in Sirius’ eyes when people mentioned his surname.
The idea of bragging about how much I knew to a room full of Lilys’ made me feel strangely sick. “Because it’s very likely that others will know far more than you do. I only got my information from understanding Bella’s obscure hints and reading the Daily Prophet. There’s a reason your parents have decided to keep a lot of the information back, but I don’t see that I had another choice if you’re all sneaking out of Hogwarts in god-knows-how ways. You can’t trust that everyone has your best interests at heart. Understand?”
We all nodded, deep within our own thoughts. Part of me was relieved; glad that someone had finally told us the truth rather than keeping us in the dark like infants. Another part of me was fearful; dad used to be the Head of the Auror department, and they’d always encouraged me to mix with people of all bloodlines – what if we were next? But the majority of my emotion was anger; who did Voldemort think he was? Why did he think he’d be able to make people fear him? All he did was hide behind a name and killed anyone who opposed him. He was a bully, hiding behind his friends and his powers. He reminded me of the Malfoy Prefect.
“Where did he come from?” Sirius asked, his hands wrestling with each other. “Which pureblood family?”
Andromeda shrugged. “Noone knows. He came from nowhere, and has easily gained an incredible amount of support – it’s part of what makes him so terrifying.”
“Is that why they sent me away in summer?” Sirius looked at Andromeda. “So I wouldn’t give away information?”
Andromeda nodded sadly. “There were more pure-bloods at Grimmauld Place than I can remember – just slightly more than there were for your initiation.”
Initiation? I looked at Sirius, and found Remus and Peter doing the same. Sirius looked up at the right moment and caught us all looking at him in curiosity. He scratched his ear uncomfortably, looking at Andromeda uncertainty. She looked at each shrewdly, before nodding at him.
“In – er – in my family… I was the first male to be born in this generation.” Sirius said sheepishly.
I looked at him blankly; I was clearly missing something here.
“The first male heir.” Andromeda added helpfully, before a small smile stretched across her cheeks. “Bella was furious.”
Well that cleared everything up. Thanks for that.
“Yeah, I don’t get it.” I shrugged. Peter nodded in support behind me, whilst Remus tilted his head curiously.
Sirius sighed. “The Black blood is the oldest and most pure Wizarding family around. You must have been told about the Christmas Ball, James.” Sirius gestured to me. “I’m the one who would inherit everything my ancestors had stored; I was supposed to be the hope for the renewal.” His voice had turned bitter, a grimace flashing across his face.
My parents had never let me go to the Christmas Ball; they always left me with Dondie. And no matter how much I plagued them, they never told me a thing. Just that Sirius was unlikely to have gone.
“On my tenth birthday… it was my initiation.” Sirius sighed, scratching his arm. “They all came – every pureblood family you could think of. They came to see me perform magic. To prove I was good enough.”
“But you were ten.” I said, my mind barely making sense of what Sirius was telling me. “You wouldn’t have known much magic.”
Sirius smiled, almost as if pitying my ignorance. “We had tuition for as long as we could speak. Regulus always struggled a bit more though, I tried to protect him as much as I could. I always took his punishments.”
“His punishments?” Remus repeated. Andromeda was looking the floor furiously.
Sirius looked ashamed. He instantly withdrew into himself. “Nothing too bad. I just – Regulus is just a kid.”
“So were you.” Remus stated.
Sirius just shrugged. “He’s my little brother.” Sirius looked at his cousin. “He won’t speak to me much now. Cissy takes him away most times.”
Andromeda patted him on the shoulders in a moment of affection. “I guessed as much. He’ll figure it out, eventually. He’s a good person.” Sirius nodded. Really? Regulus? No offence, but he seemed like a prat to me. “Just make sure you’re there when he needs you.”
“You’re really going then?”
Andromeda smiled sadly. “Yeah. It won’t be long though – as soon as it’s safe enough, I’ll be back.”
“I can still owl you though, right?”
Andromeda opened her mouth, before closing it. Remus coughed and put an arm on both of Peter and my arms’; dragging us away to the other side of the room. I looked back in time to see Andromeda’s expression falter and her eyes became glassy. “No, Sirius. Owls can be traced. They’ll be watching you. When Bella finds out… I’ve cut all ties, Sirius.” She stepped forward and pulled him into a hug. It was clear from how stiff he suddenly became, that this kind of attention wasn’t normal to him.
“I’ll find a way, Sirius. Just watch for me – I’ll make sure to find a way.” She pulled away and ruffled his hair affectionally. I turned to face the wall; suddenly very intrigued by the wallpaper patterns, but I couldn’t block the sound of Sirius sniffling from my ears. My stomach tensed.
“Right.” Andromeda said loudly, her voice full of a bravado that wasn’t there a moment before. “You lot. Get back to Hogwarts. Now. Before I call Dumbledore myself, understood?”
We smiled, and thanked her in turn. The three of us waited on the stairs, whilst Sirius said goodbye. He came out with his nose sniffling. “Dust.” He stated when he caught my eye. I nodded, but said nothing – something told me this wasn’t a moment for jokes.
We walked back down the many stairs and across the dirt-ridden pub. It was empty, but for one man in bandages, a woman with a shawl covering her face and a tall man in deep conversation with the barman. It was cold outside; the wind had picked up and it was starting to rain.
“I don’t think we’ll have time to celebrate your birthday.” I moaned, guilt flooding me. Sirius had helped give me the best birthday I could possibly have in April, and I’d forgotten his. It wasn’t fair.
Sirius chuckled drily. “James, forget it. Honestly.” He added as we turned to look at him in disbelief. “It’s just a birthday. Besides, you all pretty much just risked expulsion so that I could see my cousin. Do you honestly think that counts for nothing?”
Well, when he put it like that… I shook the thought away. “That was nothing. We’re your friends – it’s what we should do.” Remus smiled, and Peter made noises of agreement. “We’ll make it up to you.”
The wind howled as we started back up the pathway, clutching our robes closer to our chests. Sirius said it quietly; he thought no one had heard. But I did. “You already have.” The wind howled louder.
A/N: Well, hello there. And how are you this fine December? I hope you're well, because I am well... and I completed NaNoWriMo :O
I'll stop speaking odd... now. So, how did you find this chapter? Which Marauder caught your attention the most? Are secrets unravelling... or just getting better at being hidden?
Hogsmeade? (Let's face it, they were never going to wait for Third Year... and James didn't seem to sincere when he gave Remus that promise. ;) ) Andromeda? (For those who missed the A/N in the last chapter and have been reading from the beginning, Andromeda is now an eighteen year old witch. I originally copied the dates down wrong, and the earlier chapters have since been rectified (with a few extra details). I'm re-writing the Christmas chapter for First Year now... and am tempted to just do them all. How could my writing have changed to drastically over one year?!)
Anyway, I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this chapter, suspicions for the future... or general thoughts over the entire story. :D Call it a Christmas present! :D
I'm not sure if I'll have time to publish the next chapter before the queue closes, so if not, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year) and I'll see you in the New Year. Keira :)
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