Chapter 17 : To the Top of the Cliff
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His entire Saturday morning had been quite peculiar. After he approached his Head of House at breakfast, feigning a casual attitude as he indicated his interest in trying out for the Order of the Phoenix, Professor McGonagall escorted him up to her office. She reached into a glass cabinet by her desk and picked up a battered-looking Snitch, the one that marked the first match won by Gryffindor House during her time as its Head. She next marched Remus out to the edge of the Forbidden Forest, put the ball on the ground between them, and tapped it gently with her wand. “Be sure that you take care of it,” she instructed, smiling faintly. “Good luck, Mr. Lupin.”
The Portkey took him to the home of Dedalus Diggle. The ruddy-cheeked wizard showed Remus to the wooden door that led to the basement on the side of the house. “Go inside when you’re ready.” He tapped the Snitch with his wand, disabling it, and took it from Remus. “You’ll bring me a Quaffle when you’re done to prove that you finished. You’ll get this back then and I’ll charm it again so that you can return to school.” He chuckled. “Not that I’ll keep you here if you don’t make it, don’t worry.” Then, he took McGonagall’s Portkey and ventured back inside to read the Prophet.
Well, I’m here now. I’ve done it. I may as well give it a try, Remus decided. Not knowing quite what to expect, he took a deep breath and turned the doorknob.
The room went silent as the door closed behind him. Remus stood still in the perfect darkness for a few moments, wand at the ready. Suddenly, a bright pink streak whizzed past him, barely missing his ear. Remus heard it slice into something behind him, perhaps an item on a shelf. It was followed by an orange light that rocketed past on the opposite side and exploded behind him, causing him to yelp.
Quickly, Remus cast a Lumos charm, thankful that it was one of the spells he had learned easily as a second year student. He could now see a dark figure in the corner from where the barrage of spells issued. “Protego!” he cried, blocking a Reductor Curse and moving toward the figure. A house elf darted from behind the figure, escaping into a passage near the level of the floor with a borrowed wand in hand.
Remus took one step closer to the figure and it turned into a glowing full moon.
A Boggart, he realized. He should have known from the practice trial. “Riddikulus!” he said, hoping his voice contained enough boldness. Perhaps his practice had been sufficient to create confidence, because the moon turned into a balloon that sputtered slightly and then drifted calmly toward the ceiling, bobbing against it.
Where the Boggart had been, a table stood against the wall. On it were four glass vials, each one containing a black liquid. The liquids stood perfectly still in their containers. All four appeared to have the same consistency upon closer inspection. Remus could not smell anything around the vials, and he dared not taste them. Even if they weren’t poisonous, surely a move that stupid would earn him failing marks.
He pondered for a moment. Senses… let’s see, smell, taste, sight… not going to touch them, they might burn… sound. Remus pointed his wand all around him except near the table, murmuring “Quietus” several times. Slowly, the small noises around him faded out of existence—the dripping of a faucet, the rustling of bugs inside the walls, Diggle’s footsteps on the floor of the old house above him. Soon, all Remus could hear was the nervous beating of his heart, along with a soft fizzling noise. He walked over to the table, smiling triumphantly as he tapped the leftmost vial with his wand. The others disappeared, and in the one that remained the liquid drained away into an invisible hole. At the bottom, there was a note: Infusion of Wormwood.
The floor dropped out from underneath Remus quite unexpectedly.
He fell a few feet and landed on a mattress, groaning as he pulled himself upright. He appeared to be in a large underground chamber with green grass. He could see a stout tree at the opposite end from where he sat. A broom and bat lay to his left.
He picked up the broom and bat, bracing himself for whatever might come next. He had never been particularly adept at Quidditch and had been dreading this portion of the trial. So far, the things he had faced had been similar to those he’d practiced with, and yet the stakes had clearly been raised for the real trial. He could hardly expect them to go easy on him now that he’d gotten this far.
Remus flew toward the tree with some degree of unsteadiness. As he approached, he noted that the tree had several large branches. They were bushy with individually dangling pieces. The trunk was thick. It looked strangely familiar…
The tree swung its largest branch at him, barely missing the tip of his broom.
Remus swallowed. This Whomping Willow wasn’t as big as the one at Hogwarts, perhaps only a seedling, but he doubted it had a special knot he could simply prod. He glanced up, noticing a Quaffle stuck among its topmost branches, which were about ten feet higher than where he currently hovered.
He lifted his bat, contemplating swinging it at one of the branches, however inadequate it seemed. As if the Whomping Willow weren’t enough, though, two Bludgers came hurtling at him from either side of the tree. Remus moved quickly back. One of the Bludgers barely missed him, zooming back toward where he’d entered the room, and the other struck the tree trunk, leaving a sizeable dent.
Oh, Remus thought. Oh! He moved forward again, swinging his bat just in time to send the returning Bludger at the offending branch. He cursed slightly under his breath as it missed, ricocheting against the wall instead. He tried again with its brother, and this time he sank it into the branch, wounding it and causing it to go limp. Feeling energized, Remus knocked another Bludger into a smaller branch, barely dodging the leaves coming rapidly toward his head.
He flew up toward the top, hoping the Bludgers would follow him. There was one more branch protecting the Quaffle. If Remus hit it in exactly the right spot, the ball would drop where he could easily pick it up on the ground below. He took a swing, watching the branch crack with satisfaction. However, he appeared to need to hit it one more time, due to the complicated crossed nature of the supporting branches.
Remus took his aim and swung. The ball fell to the ground, bouncing jovially.
He flew to the ground, still knocking Bludgers away from him in an incessant attack, and took the Quaffle under his arm. He could see that a crude door had formed in the tree trunk between the first two branches he had conquered. He hurried to open and climb through it, dropping the bat behind him on the ground at the last minute.
When he emerged, he was standing in the front yard.
The front door opened to reveal a beaming Diggle. “You did it, my boy!”
Remus grinned, realizing with a start what physical exertion he had endured. He handed the Quaffle to Diggle. He had so many questions—had he qualified to join the Order? Would his friends have to face the same obstacles? But he only nodded. “Yes,” he said breathlessly.
“Well, back to class with you. I’ve got the Portkey here for you.” He set the Snitch on the ground, and Remus couldn’t help thinking of it as a shining Muggle gold medal. Diggle tapped it once with his wand, and Remus bent as if to pick it up.
Then, as a sense of relief replaced the adrenaline in his veins, he vanished.
“A toast,” Lily said, raising a cup of Butterbeer high and grinning.
“Isn’t it a bit premature to toast to our success?” Ellery asked, though she raised her glass in response along with Remus. Celestine had already tucked into hers, leaning back in boredom against the railing of the Astronomy Tower. It had been one of the few relatively secluded places where friends from different houses could meet.
“Nonsense, we’re going to do great,” Remus said, the evening wind tousling his hair. “I trust Lily hasn’t kept us all on such a strict schedule for nothing.”
“It’d best be worth it. I’ve read more this year than I have in my entire life,” Celestine groaned. “Anyway, enough academic chatter. Did everyone bring their treats?”
Lily nodded, taking a sip and putting down her cup. She sat down and reached into her bag. From it she withdrew a box of Chocolate Frogs. “I thought these would be appropriate. We could try to remember what each person was famous for as we eat them. It’ll help us prepare for History of Magic.”
Celestine rolled her eyes, but she snuck a smile at Lily to reward her for her creativity. “I brought Bertie Bott’s beans. If we really have to put them to use, I say we go through the trivia in the back of Witch Weekly. Losers eat the gross ones.”
No one was in favor of this plan except Celestine, given that she would probably win, so next it was Ellery’s turn. “I just got Licorice Wands and Sugar Quills. Most of my normal ones are splintered or down to nubs from taking notes all year, you know.” She spread the sweets out on the Gryffindor banner that was serving as a makeshift tablecloth, allotting one of each to every person. “I’ve always wondered when Honeydukes is going to come up with some kind of ink to go with the quills.”
“I suppose it would be melted chocolate,” Lily suggested.
“They could melt different things and do different colors,” Celestine added.
Remus nodded. “Listen, if it turns out that we don’t drink all the Butterbeer, James and Sirius want some. After all, they helped nick it from the kitchens for me.” He smiled in gratitude, happy not to have to jeopardize his beloved Prefect’s badge.
“I doubt there’ll be any left, but we’ll keep it in mind,” Ellery agreed.
The group soon decided to combine Lily’s cards and Celestine’s game suggestion, and they settled around the banner, popping frogs in their mouths to get their first few cards. Remus went first, holding Felix Summerbee’s card out to Celestine.
Celestine screwed up her face for a moment in concentration, but she quickly sighed. “I don’t remember this one. Which class would he be from?”
“Charms,” Remus offered.
“Still no good.” Celestine reached for the bag of beans.
“Not so fast,” Ellery said. “You need a taste tester. No sense in getting rewarded for getting it wrong. You’ll have to identify the flavor I choose for you instead.” She went through several beans, trying them each out until she found one she disliked. “There…” She dug in the bag to produce another just like it.
Celestine took the gray bean, putting it between her lips. She scrunched up her nose. “Ugh, it’s black pepper.”
“Right!” Ellery exclaimed. “Okay, as your reward, it’s your turn to pick a card.”
Celestine took the one off the top and showed the front to Remus.
“Beatrix Bloxam.” He thought for a moment. “Oh, right, she wrote the Toadstool Tales. The stories make you throw up if you read more than one in one sitting.”
“How did you know that?” Celestine wondered.
“My mum tried to buy them for me once but Dad warned her against it.”
As the conversation continued, Lily wandered away from the three of them, moving to the part of the railing that Celestine had previously occupied. She stared out at the beauty of the Hogwarts grounds, the dark, full grass and shimmering reflection of the moon upon the lake. The Forbidden Forest seemed to stretch on for miles and miles. The castle even had a cool, familiar scent to her, one that was brought now by the evening breeze like a servant offering a platter of delicacies.
As she relaxed against the railing, empty cup still in her hand, she recalled that she and Severus had held regular meetings up here in their first few years at Hogwarts. They would lay side by side and talk for hours about their new friends (mostly hers), their success in classes (more evenly matched, but he had a slight edge), and all the things they dreamed of doing now that they were being properly taught magic. So many of their childish dreams had included one another—I’ll open my own Potions shop, he used to say, and you and I can work there together. We could make everything, from cleaners and polishes to candy for the kids who will come visit us. Lily would then counter, no, we should open a pet shop, because we’ll take Care of Magical Creatures third year and then you and I will be able to raise all kinds of strange animals. It brought a bittersweet smile to her face to think of it now. They had changed, both of them, but they were starting to rebuild and she worried that if she clung to him too hard it would all go away again in a horrific blast just like last time.
Small hopes, she thought. Nothing wrong with that. A good moment is a good start.
Then, at the beckoning of her friends, she returned to the group. “My turn yet?”
Regulus stared at the monarch butterfly, the gold on its wings flashing as they fluttered furiously, attempting to release it from being turned upside down yet again. He raised his wand, pointing it at the insect. “I want to try it.”
“Not like this,” Severus murmured. He stayed very still, and indeed, after a few moments the butterfly settled onto his palm, crossing over to the back of his index finger before taking off. Severus recaptured it easily with a whispered Immobulus charm. “You have to let it calm down a bit. You could misfire and break its wings.”
“Sorry,” Regulus replied. He raised his wand again, staring intently at the butterfly, which was now quite still. Furrowing his brow, he spoke in a soft voice. “Levicorpus.”
The butterfly’s outermost leg twitched slightly, and then it shifted upward, dragging the remainder of the legs and the insect’s body along with it. The butterfly dangled upside down as before, except now it did not protest. It looked completely helpless.
“And now for the counter-jinx. Liberacorpus,” Snape said, not using his wand but directing his bottomless black eyes firmly onto the creature between the two boys. The butterfly dropped into his hand. “Finite incantatem,” he added for good measure.
Regulus watched the butterfly stir and make its final escape, disappearing among the leaves in the tree above them. Slughorn had cancelled the next two Potions classes of the day due to a nasty accident involving a first year Gryffindor and too much syrup of hellebore, leaving both the fifth and sixth year Slytherins with a free period. Regulus had decided to skip Charms and extend his break into Severus’s. The two of them were perched under their usual tree by the lake, and they were largely alone out in the chilly, cloudy weather.
“Did you really create those spells?”
“I didn’t create the Freezing Charm or Finite Incantatem,” Severus said flatly.
“You know what I mean. When did you make them up?”
“I devised them last year. It was one way to occupy my time.”
Cool, Regulus thought. “You didn’t even use a wand with the last ones.”
“I have been working on wandless magic for the better part of two years, ever since Flitwick mentioned its existence. I once saw a textbook on nonverbal spells in the library, near the Restricted Section, and I intend to work on that once I have totally mastered casting without the use of a wand.” He was clearly pleased with himself.
“Why did you make them up?”
“I told you, I was bored,” Severus said, but he looked off toward the lake as if it wasn’t quite the real answer. Suddenly, he frowned. “Is that Pettigrew?”
Regulus followed his line of sight, which extended in the direction of the Quidditch Pitch. He could barely make out a chubby boy with a red and gold scarf moving down the hill toward them. He walked slowly, but he wore an anxious expression. Moreover, he was alone, which was perhaps the most interesting observation of all.
Severus stood up, gripping his wand. Regulus stayed still.
“Nice to have a day off from Potions,” Peter remarked when he reached them at last.
“What do you want?” Regulus said in a harsher tone.
“I’m actually glad to have run into you out here.” Peter lowered his voice. “I overheard from Mulciber and Avery at breakfast the other day that there are some good advancement opportunities available if you know the right people in Slytherin.”
“What in the bloody hell are you talking about?” Severus nearby spat at him.
“Do you know anything about who to approach?”
“You’re talking nonsense, Pettigrew,” Regulus said. He couldn’t figure out what the chubby boy could want with the Death Eaters, but the idea of someone on the outside being aware of their recent activities made him feel very nervous. By the look of mixed incredulity and rage on Snape’s face, he was having similar thoughts.
“No, I’m not. You know exactly what I’m talking about.” Peter set his jaw. “I want in.”
“Suppose I did know what you were talking about,” Snape said. Regulus turned around and stared at him, trying not to appear too obviously panicked. Snape persisted. “It’s a shame that you were able to procure any information from those two so easily. I’m not saying anything more until you prove that you’re serious.”
Peter’s eyebrows lifted nervously. “What did you have in mind?”
“How do we know that you’re not just spying on us for your gang of degenerates? You’ll need to demonstrate that you don’t care what they think of you anymore.”
“How would I do that?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Be creative—not that it’s your strength in Gryffindor.”
Regulus wondered if this was just Snape’s latest method for having fun. He supposed he understood, considering all the times he’d witnessed James and Sirius making a game of their own out of torturing Snape. Still, they were in dangerous territory.
“I can’t just walk away from them. They’ll know something’s wrong.”
“Why not start with one?” Snape suggested.
“Yeah, and walking away isn’t going to be enough. You’d have to actually hurt the person you chose,” Regulus chimed in. “So, who’s your lucky victim going to be?”
Peter locked eyes with him. “Sirius.” After all, he was the friend Peter liked least. Remus was nice to Peter, and James respected him, but Sirius treated him like a joke. Even if his little plan didn’t pay off, the arrogant boy deserved to be taught a lesson. “But how could I possibly hurt him? It’s obvious that he’s a better duelist than me.”
Severus’s lip curled slightly. “I have an idea.”
Peter found Celestine sitting by the common room fire, sipping from a cup of hot chocolate that a house elf had offered her when she passed by the kitchens on her way home from the party. She had two Care of Magical Creatures essays in her lap, one by her and the other by Sirius, and she was contentedly proof-reading them both in preparation for handing them in tomorrow. There was no sign of Sirius.
“Hey,” Peter tried, sitting down in the armchair opposite her.
“Hi,” she said, glancing up only briefly at his entrance.
“Having a nice night?”
“Yeah,” Celestine replied, offering him a kind smile. “How about you, Peter?”
He wished she wouldn’t say his name. “Sure, pretty good.”
Celestine nodded. “Well, I’d better get to bed. Class comes too early in the morning.” She picked up her cup and the essays, along with her wand. “Have a good night.”
“Wait,” Peter said. It was now or never. “Do you have a minute to talk?”
She looked at him curiously, coming to a halt. “Sure, I guess.”
“Have you ever noticed how Sirius doesn’t hang around with a lot of girls?”
“He prefers you lot, not that I always understand why,” she replied. Already there was a note of suspicion in her voice, which terrified and thrilled him. He swallowed.
“Well, I’ve heard that a lot of the girls here are jealous of you. They do like him.”
“So?” Celestine crossed her arms, dangling the essays between her fingertips.
“Have you heard any rumors about him?”
“People have said that he’s a lone wolf. But—” She clutched the cup a little closer to her chest, and Peter could see that he was gaining ground. He tried not to smile. “I mean, I think we’ve been getting on really well lately. I haven’t had any problems.”
“That’s good,” he said, averting his eyes briefly before looking back at her. He deserved an award for this performance, and he would make sure Sirius’s brother and Snape knew it. “The thing is, you’ve got to pay attention to him. Sometimes he does just prefer to be part of our group, but once in a while he’ll say that he wants more time apart from his girlfriend and spends it with other girls behind her back.” He paused. “Has he ever mentioned wanting more time to himself?”
Some of the color drained from Celestine’s face. She pursed her lips. “Well, when we first got together, he did say that he felt like he needed to spend more time with James when we all went to Hogsmeade. I figured he just found the tea shop boring.”
Of course, genius, Peter thought coldly. “Maybe he finds other things about you boring, too.” He was almost in awe of how bold his words were, but he kept still.
She said nothing to that, glancing down at the two essays in her hand.
“I don’t mean to upset you,” he added. “I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”
“What do you care? We aren’t even that close.” She looked like she might cry.
“We’re both friends with Lily. I know she would be really angry if she found out that Sirius had done something to hurt you. It would cause a fight between her and James.” Peter went in for the kill. “I think it’s good that they’ve been getting along.”
“Yeah,” Celestine said, her fragile voice barely above a whisper.
“I’ve seen him talking to Mary MacDonald down here after you’ve gone to bed. He was even flirting with the waitress, Rosmerta, last time we went to Hogsmeade while you and Lily were in the bathroom.” Peter stood up. “Just think about it, okay? Don’t make any rash decisions, but be careful how close you let yourself get to him.”
Celestine nodded. Peter could see the wheels turning in her head, working out how to get the advantage over Sirius. Quietly, she headed up the stairs, closing the door.
For a moment, Peter considered what it would be like if Sirius found out about his series of lies. Well, mostly—Sirius did like to flirt with the waitress a little, if only because he was flattered by how obviously taken she was with him and James. Still, he had accomplished the mission set out for him. It was easy, even bordering on enjoyable. Maybe it would be simpler to impress the Dark Lord than his own friends.
He went upstairs, though he was too excited to talk to the Slytherins to get any rest.
Wow, I haven’t written a chapter this long in a while! I hope you enjoyed it :)
Dedalus Diggle, Felix Summerbee, and Beatrix Bloxam are all JKR’s creations, as is everything here that you recognize from canon. Dedalus Diggle was part of the Order for both wars and was also part of the Advance Guard under Moody. Felix Summerbee was the inventor of the Cheering Charm. I already mentioned what Beatrix Bloxam is famous for, so I won’t go into it again here.
Only a few chapters left to go! Please let me know what you think in a review, particularly about the system I’ve devised for gaining admission to the Order. I’ve made it up all on my own and I wonder if it feels sensible and appropriate.
Thank you for your wonderful support so far—until the next chapter :)
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