Chapter 3 : Three
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James shook his head, not looking at his friend; his gaze was fixed unseeingly on the window opposite his four-poster, arms folded tightly over his chest.
“Damn,” Sirius said softly. “That would have made our job a lot easier.”
He had just finished telling Sirius everything he had overheard between the pair of Slytherins in the broom cupboard, having finally gotten away from the rest of the anxious Gryffindors long enough to speak without wondering if anyone else was listening.
Apparently unable to do anything else, Sirius whistled again. He was propped up against his trunk at the foot of his bed, and launched himself off it, pacing back and forth, snapping his fingers while he did so. “Less witnesses,” he repeated, ticking the talking points off on his fingers now – he was perpetually unable to keep still. “Everyone shoved away in their common rooms. Couldn’t have picked a better time for… something. But what?”
“I don’t know,” James said irritably, running his fingers through his hair in a frenzy, so that it all stood straight up from his head. It looked like he’d just been on the receiving end of a horribly nasty shock. “I didn’t stay to hear what happened next. If they’d caught me –“
But he stopped talking. It felt extremely insensitive to finish that thought, anyway, what with Asher already dead and the whole school in a panic about it. At least Sirius had reached the same conclusion: Rosier and Wilkes were guilty, or at the very least, they knew something about what had happened. He would have stood in front of the Wizengamot and sworn under oath that they weren’t up to anything good.
Not that they normally were, of course – but murder was quite another matter.
Sirius turned on his heel and flopped spread-eagled onto his rumpled sheets. “Okay,” he said decisively. “We’ve got to do something, Prongs. We can’t just sit –“
“Okay, Sirius,” James snapped, sitting up straight in bed and fixing his friend with a look. “Do you think I’m not aware that we’ve got to do something?” He could hear his voice rising, and he wanted to make it stop; Sirius didn’t deserve to be yelled at. But he couldn’t control it. “Lily’s downstairs with that stupid letter and for all I know, she’s next, and I’m not letting anything happen to her –“
He stopped abruptly. Sirius had sat up as soon as James had started in, and the look on his face was like a wounded dog. James realized he fists were clenched on his legs; he uncurled his fingers and, at a loss for what else to do, threaded them through his hair again. “Sorry,” he muttered at last.
“You’re fine,” his friend sad shortly, and then his voice softened slightly in reassurance. “Nothing’s going to happen to Lily,” he said evenly. “We’re not going to let it happen, mate.”
“I know.” James felt horribly guilty now, and more than a little embarrassed at his outburst. He cradled his forehead in the tips of his fingers and swore softly. “I know.” His throat felt swollen, though he didn’t know whether it was from the screaming or something else.
“And here’s what we’re going to do,” Sirius added, jumping up from the bed and snatching James’s Invisibility Cloak from where he’d thrown it onto the ground. “We are going to put on this thing, and we’re going to go back out into the castle, and we’re going to keep looking until we find the Slytherins. And then we’ll hex them into telling us what the hell they’re up to, and Lily will be safe.”
James looked at Sirius over the tops of his glasses and grinned lopsidedly. “Wow. That’s a brilliant plan. Not like any of our other plans have ever been, definitely.”
“You laugh,” said Sirius in mock solemnity, shaking nonexistent wrinkles out of the Cloak. “But simple plans are the best ones. Have I ever steered you wrong before?”
“I feel compelled to remain silent.”
“You, my friend, suck very much.” Sirius held out the Cloak and James took it, clambering from bed and grabbing his wand off the bedside table. His anxieties, his fears, had momentarily evaporated; a swelling sense of purpose and adrenaline was quickly replacing them.
For a moment, he wanted to run downstairs and tell Lily – she deserved to know what he and Sirius were doing, didn’t she? – but there was nowhere private for that conversation. She hadn’t come to the boys’ dormitory since second year (James had never fully forgiven Sirius for releasing that bag of spiders), and the common room physically didn’t allow boys in the girls’ dorms. The common room was still swollen with people, even though hours had passed and no one had any more information than they’d had that morning after breakfast.
No, they had to go. Even now, Rosier and Wilkes could be meeting, hatching plans or doing worse, and James and Sirius would never catch them if they wasted their time trying to pass along messages no one else was supposed to hear.
James draped the Cloak over his head, and Sirius ducked under it as well, checking to make sure that no one could see their feet beneath the hem. Without another word, the boys left the dormitory, gripping their wands like lifelines.
Remus Lupin looked up quickly from his book, his cheeks tingeing pink. Lily Evans was standing above the spot he’d claimed on one of the squashy sofas, looking equal parts amused and skeptical. “Did you seriously not hear the last five times I’ve said your name?”
“Erm, no?” He flipped over a corner of the book, creasing it with his fingernail, and Lily sat down next to him without further invitation. In the adjoining armchair where he was scribbling away at a potions essay, Peter peeped over the edge of a roll of parchment at the pair of them.
“I asked if you’d seen James.” Lily craned her neck around, as though the boy in question had appeared since she’d mentioned his name. “He and Sirius disappeared a while ago.” She chewed absently on her thumbnail and then her eyes slid over to his, as though waiting for him to respond. Remus felt a little bewildered. If he was telling the truth, Lily intimidated him somewhat; she had a very forceful personality, which he supposed was one of the things James liked about her, even though most of her force was used in telling him off. Remus preferred things to be less heated, and unfortunately most of their one-on-one conversations were tainted with memories of her yelling at James for giving a third-year a lump on his head the size of an egg.
“I don’t know where he went,” he said apologetically, toying with the edges of his book. “Do you?” This last was directed at Peter, who shook his head, tapping his quill against the parchment and dotting the top with tiny ink blots.
Lily sighed in frustration and threw up her hands. “They can’t have bloody left the common room. We're not allowed.”
Well, yes, they definitely could have. But Remus didn’t want to tell her about the Invisibility Cloak; that surely wasn’t his place. “He’s got to be around somewhere,” he said vaguely, and then wondered if that sounded a bit distant and insensitive. He tried again. “Besides, I’m supposed to make sure you stay here.”
Lily glared at him. “James doesn’t get to say what I do or don’t do,” she said. “And neither do you.” Remus felt his ears get hot, and propped open his book on his lap again, biting back an apology he suspected would only make her more frustrated. But instead of reading, he snuck a sideways glance at her; she was still turned halfway round, watching the opening to the dormitory steps, chewing her fingernails. If he hadn’t known any better, he would have guessed that she was worried about James.
Remus smirked, sinking an inch or two lower down on the cushion and lifting his book so Lily wouldn’t see.
There was a sudden commotion in the direction of the Fat Lady’s portrait, and students pushed back against the wall to make way for Professor McGonagall, who had just entered the common room. Remus, Peter, and Lily all perked up, attentions simultaneously focused on the deputy headmistress; the lines on her face were more prominent than ever, deep furrows wrinkling her forehead. She came to stand in front of the fireplace, making sure everyone gathered in the common room could see her.
“Boys and girls, can I have your attentions, please?” she said crisply, as though she didn’t have them anyway. “In light of this morning’s circumstances” – was Remus seeing things, or were those really tears in her eyes? – “classes have been canceled for the rest of the day. You will all be happy to know, I’m sure, that George Asher’s family has been notified as to what has happened, and kindly thanks you for your understanding at this very difficult time for all of us.”
She paused, looking at the ground near her feet; Remus was close enough to see her nostrils flaring as she composed herself. When Professor McGonagall looked up again, any previous signs of discomfiture were gone. “Professor Dumbledore has deemed the castle safe again,” she said, “and you are free to relocate yourselves from the common room, if you wish.”
“Is it safe?” said the whispery voice of a fourth-year girl, huddled with her friends in a far corner of the common room. Her blue eyes were round in her china-doll face.
“Perfectly,” said he deputy headmistress firmly. “There is nothing to fear from going about your normal schedules, I assure you.”
Those words broke a barrier of chatter; talk broke and swelled among the heads of the Gryffindors clustered in the tower room, and their Head of House, having said what she had come to say, disappeared back through the portrait hole just as suddenly as she had entered.
Remus watched her go, and then looked over at Peter in the armchair. He shrugged, toying with his quill, brushing the feather over the backs of his hands absently. Lily had turned around to look in the direction of the dormitory stairs again.
“Well,” said Remus, snapping his book shut and climbing to his feet. He stretched his arms out behind him, wincing slightly as his shoulder popped. “I’m headed to the library, then. Can’t focus in here.”
“I’ll go with you,” Peter said instantly, hopping to his feet as well. “And then can we go and see Slughorn? I don’t understand this essay at all.” He looked down at the parchment forlornly, as though hoping the assignment might have changed.
“Sure,” Remus said easily. “Coming, Lily?”
She looked back around at them quickly, just having realized they were talking to her. “I – no, thanks,” she said. “Marlene and Mary are up in the dormitory, I’ll probably just go and sit with them…” Her voice trailed off, and her eyes unfocused. Peter and Remus shared a look, and then Peter shrugged again. They left Lily sitting on the sofa, staring into space.
But Lily did not go up the dormitory, as she told Peter and Remus she might. As soon as they were gone, she stood up and crossed to the common room entrance, not even aware that she was chewing on her fingernails – it was a habit she was trying to break, when she thought about it.
Despite their friends’ nonchalance, Lily couldn’t help but feel slightly anxious about wherever it was that James and Sirius had disappeared to. It wasn’t that she particularly cared for their personal safety, but it wasn’t exactly a secret that the word “troublemaker” no longer extended to cover all of their hijinks. And James was just stupid enough to get into serious hot water at her expense where this prank letter was concerned. She had been trying to pass it off as a stupid joke – and in these times, those sorts of blood purity “jokes” weren’t all that uncommon – but whatever she believed, he’d taken it seriously.
“Dammit,” she muttered under her breath, her mind being made up almost without her conscious input. Blatantly ignoring the memory of James’s voice telling his friends to make sure she stayed put, Lily clambered out of the portrait hole, heading off in the opposite direction of the library, just in case.
“What do you reckon?” Peter asked anxiously. He was holding onto Remus’s sleeve with one hand while he scanned his essay with the other so he wouldn’t trip over the uneven floor. The parchment was heavily laden with Slughorn’s marks, so that some lines were nearly solid black. “I feel a lot better about the assignment, don’t you? I had no idea that Golpalott’s Third Law – Remus?”
Remus realized with a sort of guilty start that he hadn’t really been listening to his friend at all. “Sorry,” he said, guilt sinking in his stomach. “I – yeah, the law makes much more sense now.”
“I think so too,” said Peter happily, stuffing the parchment into his back and then looking anew at Remus. “What are you thinking about?”
“Lily’s letter,” Remus said truthfully – he wasn’t going to lie. He knew that she wasn’t worried about it, or at least she didn’t pretend to me, but something about it was banging around at the back of his mind, an itch he couldn’t scratch.
“Oh.” Peter sobered somewhat, and then added, “What about it?”
Remus shrugged; there wasn’t anything in particular, really. “James was pretty intent on finding out who sent it,” he said, switching tack somewhat. “I don’t know. It was just… weird. But it was Asher’s death that made it weird, you know?” He rubbed his forehead with his hands. They felt clammy. “Maybe James is right.”
“Well, he’ll do anything for Lily,” said Peter, and Remus felt incrementally better. That was true. James would do anything for Lily, and surely that extended to cover anyone who might wish her dead…
But before he could say anything else, there were hurried footsteps in an adjacent corridor to the boys’ left, and someone came pelting around it at a brisk walk. The newcomer had his nose planted firmly in a book, but, apparently sensing that he was no longer alone, took it down from in front of his face.
“Ah.” Severus Snape’s lip curled in a derisive sneer; Remus fought against saying something sarcastic. “And here I was wishing for more pleasant company. Clearly my wishes are to go unfulfilled.”
“Snape,” Remus said curtly. I will not stoop to his level. “Not scared to be wandering around the castle, then?”
Snape scoffed. “I have nothing to be scared of,” he said scornfully. “Asher was a Mudblood. Nothing more. I have nothing in common with him and nothing to fear.” His eyes flicked to Peter, and then back again. “You’re missing a few, Lupin. James out playing the hero?”
“We don’t know where James is,” Peter spoke up. The tips of his ears had turned pink; he, like Remus, was never fully comfortable addressing the clear enmity between Snape and their own group of friends.
Snape’s lip curled a second time, as though he’d just tasted something especially bitter. “Then he’s sure to be out crusading the castle, looking for a bit of action,” he said. “No doubt trying to get on Evans’s good side, although she’s a bit of a worthless witch to strive for, isn’t she?”
“Come on, Remus,” Peter mumbled, tugging on Remus’s arm. “Let’s just go.” Snape watched them turn the corner he’d just barreled around, and the soft sound of shoes on an out-of-sight carpet runner told Remus that he was walking away.
Something wasn’t right.
He stopped dead in his tracks, frowning, and Peter continued on a few steps before realizing the other boy wasn’t with him. He doubled back. “You all right?”
“I – yeah. No.” Remus rubbed his head again, because that nagging feeling had returned, the one that told him that he was stupid, he was careless, he was missing something important…
Filthy Mudblood. Worthless witch.
Mudblood, Mudblood, Mudblood, Mudblood.
“Oh God,” Remus said. He’d flung his arms out to either side, bracing himself against the walls, without realizing it. “Oh God oh God oh God.” He turned to look at Peter, who looked thoroughly unsettled now.
“Oh God, no – we have to find James. Go! Now!”
A/N: Short author's note is short! Why? I want to hear what YOU think! Opinions? Questions? Concerns? Theories as to what's going to go down next? This story will end after five chapters, which means there's really not a lot left at all...
Tuesdays seem to have become my routine updating day for this story (after a slight delay after the first chapter), but next Tuesday I'll be coming back from the same camp that affects my Breaking Even updating. So you'll get chapter 4 a day later, on Wednesday! Thank you all so, so much for reading and reviewing thus far -- I'm glad you're enjoying it! ♥
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