Chapter 5 : Snakes
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James yanked his tie off his neck as he entered the seventh year boys dorm and flopped backwards onto his bed, whilst Remus watched with worry.
“Something you wish to share James? Your shoulders were hunched rather tightly throughout the day and I do remember seeing your quill pierce your parchment more than a fair few times. Not to mention the fact that you exploded at Peter for giving you ink instead of a-”
“-It’s this case, it’s just, apart from that bleeding dandruff, we’ve got absolutely jack to go on! We can’t solve this mystery if there’s no evidence that gives us a lead onto something palpable.”
James sat up, anger invigorating every cell within him. He paced around the dorm with violent strides, his tie hanging by his side, held loosely by his hand.
“James, you’ve collected as many samples as you can, there’s not much more that you can do on the science front. However, talking to people, getting their statements, making sure you’ve got something from everyone-“
“Who have I not talked to?” James retorted, fingers attempting in vain to pull out tufts of his hair. “I have gone through all of the teachers and ticked off everyone on the magical list of students. Every. Single. One. Do you know how long that took?!”
“You haven’t talked to the ghosts,” Remus replied, calm and unaffected by James’ rant- he’d gotten used to them over the years.
James’ mouth formed an almost comical ‘O’ as he processed the information.
“Crap,” he muttered, before rushing out of the dormitory.
Remus shook his head in amusement, but not before long, James reappeared slightly frazzled. The boy grabbed his notebook and pen and without a word, shot off once more.
“He’s going to lose his head one day,” Remus said to the empty air, before returning to the homework he had neglected for two weeks.
James strolled down the endless maze that was the corridors of Hogwarts. It was harder than he initially thought it would be to catch a glimpse of a ghost, let alone hold a conversation with one. The magnificent annual displays at the start of term feasts showed the vast numbers of the translucent figures, however the halls lay empty. The only sound was the echo produced by James’ footsteps. It seemed that the ghosts, like the living, had retreated into the far flung corners of the castle. There were no groups of friends lurking about anymore, no laughter, no sign of vitality, no life. Death was prevalent, and it permeated the atmosphere, hanging stagnant over all in its path.
Just as James contemplated returning to the Gryffindor tower- perhaps he might just get to talk to Nearly Headless Nick?- a shimmer of silver appeared at the end of the hallway before drifting away.
“Excuse me!” James bellowed as he ran, his right arm waving wildly, his left clutching his notes. The figure paused and turned to face him.
The ghost was clearly masculine, yet he had a graceful air about him that for some reason reminded James greatly of Lily. His figure was monochrome with a blue hue- James was certain in life he would have had brown hair with a matching set of brown eyes. His countenance was pleasant, and he smiled a genuine smile that warmed his otherwise cold exterior. It was a smile that belayed kindness and munificence.
“Yes? May I help you?” the ghost enquired. His voice was enchanting. It was full of the promise of happy days, full of hope.
“Hi,” James breathed. “I’m James Potter, Head Boy.” He stuck out a hand for the ghost to shake, before remembering that it would only go straight through the dead man before him, and stuck the hand back awkwardly in his pocket. The ghost chuckled at the display, mirth in his eyes.
“Henry Lavette. What do you need help with?”
“Help? How d’you-“
“-know you need help? Humans don’t tend to talk to us ghosts unless required. Plus, you look like you’ve seen better days.”
James’ jaw opened in indignation, though no sound of affrontation came out.
“So, what d’you need help with?” Henry repeated, amused.
James took a deep breath before answering; death was always a touchy subject for the dead, even if Henry seemed to be more accepting of his transparent form than most ghosts. “I’m investigating the death of Professor Peach, and I was wondering if you had any information to offer?”
Henry Lavette frowned. “On the night that Professor Peach died-“ The ghost broke off to sigh with sorrow. “-I was walking down the corridors, as one often does when one is dead, and I saw this...man. He was unlike any student or teacher I’d come across, and since this was past curfew mind you, I called out and he turned around.” James took in a sharp intake of breath. “But I couldn’t see his face, his features were clouded in the shadows and he fled before I could come any closer. Sorry.”
James’ heart sank disappointedly.
“Not to worry Henry.” James motioned to clap the ghost on the shoulder, before retracting his arm once his brain began to work again. Henry laughed once more. “You’re actually one of the first to tell me something worthwhile. You’re certain it was a male that you saw though?”
“Positive. I’d bet my life on it if it weren’t for the fact that I am already dead,” Henry said good naturedly, and James couldn’t help but laugh.
“Great,” he nodded as he scribbled on his notebook. “But could you specify more on how he was unlike an ordinary student or teacher please?”
“His gait was more of a bouncy lope than a walk and although his back was hunched over, he was still taller than anyone I’d met, except maybe Dumbledore. However, it was more of an instinctual difference rather than a difference in appearance. I can’t describe it exactly, it’s something you have to experience to understand.”
“Don’t worry, I get it. Thanks a lot Henry,” James smiled, his haggard appearance becoming less so.
“Remember, the man I saw might not be the killer,” Henry warned.
James nodded- he knew only too well how witness statements weren’t concrete evidence.
“I know. So tell me more about yourself.” He asked, as he shoved his quill behind his ear for later use.
“About me? Why?”
“Why not?” James countered, grinning.
“Yes, indeed, why not?” Henry smiled softly, his transparent hands fiddling with his transparent hem. “Well, I was born on the 26th December, 1759, in Hampshire...”
Narcissa drew herself up as she reached the dead end; a haughty expression emerged on her face. Her chin and nose titled upwards by a few degrees and her blonde hair rippled down her back like a sheet of gold. Not an ordinary gold however- it was a hybrid cross. White with just the tiniest hint of yellow.
“Salazar,” she muttered, the deep rumble and grating of stone grinding echoing around the dungeons. It was an ominous sound, a sound that she greatly disliked, though she disliked it with less fervour than the raucous racket that was chalk scraping on a blackboard.
The Slytherin common room was cold, dark and damp in all seasons. Eerie green light filtered in from the Black Lake, casting an ethereal glow about the place. The forest coloured leather chintz chairs that converged around a mahogany coffee table were the only signs of comfort in what could be described as a cruel, unfeeling place.
Narcissa glided in and sat down in her favourite armchair- a neglected little thing that looked set on falling apart. She lay her hands delicately in her lap, her left over her right, whilst her ankles intertwined in a graceful tangle.
“Where’s Mulciber and Avery?” In the quiet of the common room, Narcissa’s voice rang, bouncing off the stone walls.
“Detention. The fools got caught bullying a mudblood,” Snape replied, his tone oozing condescension and contempt, as usual.
Narcissa nodded sharply, acknowledging the answer. She could not see him, but he could see her. There was no doubt about the matter.
“So, heard anything new about the murder?” She asked, feigning nonchalance.
Severus melted out of the shadows of the corner in which he was hiding, his too large robes hanging loosely around his emaciated frame, flapping like the wings of a bat with his every movement. His lip had curled into a sneer and his aquiline nose was more prominent than she remembered.
“No.” His eyes were suspicious. “It seems as if the killer came and went without a trace.”
A fifth year, Victoria Kent, laughed as she entered the room from the girl’s dormitory stairs, her tone full of derision. “Of course he left a trace, there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ murder, even with magic. This castle is full of secrets, it’s only a matter of learning them. And whoever does will know what happened, it’s as simple as that.”
“It won’t be Potter, that much is certain,” Snape muttered darkly.
“Are you so sure?” Victoria questioned, a brow raised. Amusement danced in her green eyes. Severus merely glared in response.
Narcissa watched the exchange in curiosity.
“What d’you know Kent?”
Kent smiled, though the expression was unnatural on her features. “I know nothing, but maybe you should try Charles Buchanan in Ravenclaw. He looked pretty harassed that night, running down corridors and such.”
“How would you know?” Narcissa frowned, her eyebrows crumpling in serious thought.
“Now now Cissy, you’re beginning to sound a bit like Potter, asking too many questions than is good for you.” Victoria’s eyes flashed with anger which was then replaced by a calm, calculated smirk within milliseconds. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had a late night cheeky snog in a broom cupboard?”
Narcissa bristled and pulled herself up, her aloof expression hiding a vibrant blush and the fact that she was shaken at the mention of Potter and her love life, not that the two subjects were related in any way.
“No, nor do I want to,” She replied.
Kent moved closer, her lips lightly grazing Narcissa’s ear as she whispered.
“You shouldn’t be such a prude you know. There is so much to be gained from living a little, so much to be learned. You see, I know a lot from my little escapades, I hear a lot. Like how I’ve heard about your investigation with Potter and Black. And darling, to be quite honest, if you want to succeed in this pathetic little endeavour, you will need me. ”
Victoria leaned away and walked back up the staircase to the girl’s dorms, leaving Narcissa in heavy contemplation.
James returned to the Gryffindor common room. The once roaring fire had diminished into pitiful embers. The hour was late, yet all of the seventh years had settled into the squishy armchairs. James undid his top button, loosened his red and gold striped tie, and joined the group.
Remus raised an eyebrow, to which James replied with his staple ‘I’ll tell you later’ glance.
“It’s almost Christmas,” Marlene said, hugging her legs, her chin resting on her knees. “Killer couldn’t even wait ‘till after Christmas, that’s just fucking heartless.”
“Sometimes that’s how the world works,” Lily said quietly, though her hollow voice was heard by all in the vicinity. James frowned; Lily had lost both of her parents in the previous summer and fell into brief lapses of grieving months on. He wanted to comfort her, he just did not know how.
“Life’s a bitch.” Sirius tagged on.
Murmurs of agreement echoed around the group, before the room fell silent once again.
“Well, this is a depressing,” Marlene muttered, her head shaking slightly, her eyes gazing off onto some far away point. Weak chuckles reverberated around the desolate room.
“Let’s talk about something more light hearted then,” James spurned. “Let’s talk about... Quidditch.”
Lily groaned audibly. Mary agreed with her frustration- she just didn’t vocalise it. Mary didn’t vocalise much.
“All you ever go on about is Quidditch, and, quite frankly, I don’t want to hear about the Cannon’s continuation of their bad run, or the fact that the Caerphilly Catapults won against the Tornadoes last week with a Wronski Feint at this time of night,” the red-head huffed, her cheeks flushed with vigour. The boys stared at Lily in wonder. Marlene and Mary merely smiled knowing smiles.
“Merlin,” Sirius breathed. “That was amazing!”
Marlene rolled her eyes. “So she knows a little bit about Quidditch, so what? We all do. As if we couldn’t pick it up hearing you guys talk about it so loudly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Stop looking at her as if she’s a deity, you’re freaking her out.”
Lily mouthed a ‘thank you’ at the blonde and received a wink in reply.
“Okay, I guess Quidditch is off the cards then,” James said to appease Lily who gave him a smile. Sirius however, gave him a glare.
“Who’s seen ‘The Daily Prophet’ lately?” Remus asked, only to be met with groans again, this time from the boys side.
Sirius threw a cushion at Remus. “We’re not talking about the bloody news, it’s all about politics and economics and absolutely boring crap that only adults care about. We still have two more terms till we’re forced to grow up, let’s enjoy them.”
“We’re going to be forced to grow up before that Sirius.” Mary said in that quiet voice of hers, though her words carried across the common room with no effort. “Between this murder and the war that’s imminent because of Voldemort’s-“ The group all stopped breathing, but Mary ploughed onwards. “rise, we’re not going to be care-free teenagers for much longer.”
“Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!”
James opened his bleary eyes, his eyelids working hard against the resistance of some unknown substance that had built up whilst he slept. A little yellow bird lay on his chest, pecking at his covers and skin. Ah, so that’s what woke him up.
“Mornin’ sunshine,” Remus quipped, still in his pyjamas, but clearly having used the bathroom- his hair was wet and his face was clear of stubble.
“Urgh,” James grunted in response. Every day, Remus woke up first then, using some new method (how he still found new methods was beyond the mental limits of James, Peter and Sirius), he would wake up James and Sirius. Peter was left to his own devices- nothing was able to awake him from his deep slumber.
The yellow bird under instructions from Remus, hopped onto Sirius. Whilst the bird worked its magic, James rolled out of bed, slipped on his slippers and went into the bathroom to start his morning routine. It was a few simple steps that started his day. If, however, so much as one phase was out of place, he would be grumpy right up until break time.
Once Remus, Sirius and James were all dressed, James and Sirius left the dormitory, whilst Remus remained behind, burdened with the difficult task of waking Peter, who was still asleep and tangled amongst his quilt.
James and Sirius stopped their conversation and stood in the middle of the entrance hall.
“Bit rude to interrupt a conversation, isn’t it Cissy?” Sirius questioned, an eyebrow raised in amusement., slinging a casual arm around her shoulders.
Narcissa merely ignored him, her pretty features twisted into a feral snarl.
“Oh, for God’s sake Sirius, look less happy and more angry, we’re out in the open and it’s not exactly secure here from prying ears and eyes.” She yanked Sirius’ arm from around her and finished with a sharp jab to James’ unguarded chest. His nostrils flared, and his knuckles turned white as he clenched his fists.
“I’m guessing you have something?” His teeth gritted out, his jaw twitching in apparent anger. In reality, he was as curious as the old muggle cat that got killed, but Narcissa was right. Anyone could be looking.
“Charles Buchanan, Ravenclaw. Apparently, he was looking shifty on the night in question. But you should also check out Victoria Kent- she’s a fifth year in my house. She gave me the information, but I don’t trust her.”
“You don’t trust anyone Cissy.”
Narcissa looked at Sirius in disdain. “Not even a Hufflepuff would be able to trust this girl. Plus, she knows about our alliance, so we need to tread carefully.”
James’ eyes turned into slits, his fake anger turning real.
“You told her about-“
“No!” Narcissa snapped. “Of course not, didn’t I just say that I didn’t trust her? Merlin, Potter, you really can be more than a bit dense.”
And with that, she whirled off into the Great Hall, the gilded double doors opening for the first time that day.
“I suppose we’d better follow and grab some breakfast then,“ Sirius said, breaking the silence that Narcissa left in her wake.
Sirius hated silences.
“Mmn, buttery toast,” James moaned, licking his lips.
The two made their way towards the open doorway, anticipating the bountiful food that would be laid before them.
A shrill scream pierced the air, breaking the pair from their daydreams about bangers, hash brown and over easy eggs.
James and Sirius glanced uneasily at each other. The scream had come from within the Great Hall, and the only person in the Great Hall was-
“Narcissa!” Sirius bellowed in terror, before breaking out into a run, James hot on his heels.
Narcissa stood in the center of the room, her hands clasped over her mouth and her eyes wide. Sirius grabbed her by the shoulders, before lifting all of her limbs about, checking that everything was still in perfect working order. Narcissa did not move.
“Are you alright Cissy?” He asked, his voice trembling with unease. His hand cusped her cheek as his eyes roamed her face, silently beseeching her for some form of reply.
Narcissa merely pointed upwards.
James and Sirius’ gaze followed Narcissa’s finger.
There, above the Great Hall doors, hung from the Hogwarts crest, was a limp, clearly dead body.
A/N: I’m sorry about the lateness of this chapter. I’ve been so busy the past few months and some scenes in this chapter just didn’t feel right and took quite a while before I didn’t cringe at the sight of them. What are your thoughts on Narcissa? On her relationship with Sirius? Or what about that mischievous Victoria Kent, huh? And the lovely Henry Lavette?
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