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Chapter 12 : Sirius - Two Wrongs
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Thoughts were rushing through my head at Remus's conversation. Of course! Hadn't he been talking about this very thing on the train two days ago? The key to winning James a date with Lily would be finding out why she doesn't like him in the first place!
Only one problem: from the sound of it, nobody knew why Lily really hated James. I had some work to do, and it would be tough. But surely with magic, anything was possible. I turned on my heel and walked slowly towards the Gryffindor Common Room.
"Bubotuber," I mumbled to the Fat Lady, massaging my forehead with my fingers to try to work out the whole 'Lily hates James for no apparent reason' issue. The Fat Lady eyed me with concern.
"Why, Sirius, I've never seen you look like you're thinking so hard! How've your first two days been?" she asked, looking sincere.
"A bit stressful," I admitted.
"Well, that's NEWT year for you," the Fat Lady said cheerfully.
"No, it's not because of the workload--" I began as the Fat Lady swung forward, but I quickly dropped the subject and walked into the room. Why waste time talking to a portrait when there was work to be done?
I sunk into an armchair by the fire and sighed, thinking deeply. It was a good thing the Common Room was so empty at this time of day - not only could I think more clearly, I could also snag the best seat in the room! I heard a small scuffling by my foot. "Give it up, Wormtail, I don't talk to myself," I told him loudly. After a moment, there was a small pop and Peter's small form stood nervously in front of me.
Suddenly, the Portrait Hole banged open, and Remus marched angrily into the room. I was a bit startled at the loss of Remus's usual calm demeanor but quickly covered up my surprise as he headed straight towards me. "And Moony! To what do I owe this delightful visit?" I grinned, but I didn't get a grin back.
"Padfoot," he whispered in a rather dangerous voice, "You better not do anything about the conversation you just overheard."
"Oh? And why not?" I asked pleasantly, trying to keep my tone light. I've found through experience that if you act like surprises don't faze you and are casual about the whole situation, others tend to think of you as a more calm, all-knowing person who isn't to be messed with. Unfortunately, Remus knows me too well.
"Wipe that grin off your face," he ordered. "You're cheating and you know it!"
"How so?" I demanded, rising from my seat as something close to anger shot through me. "Because you were talking extremely loudly near the Hospital Wing, where dear Evans and Prongs were for two periods? Didn't you think I might stop by?"
"If you take my idea--" Remus began, but I cut him off angrily.
"You shared your idea willingly with me on the train ride two days ago! And when I hear you talk about it with someone else I'm suddenly not allowed to use it?" I demanded.
"I gave you the idea then, and I reminded you of the idea just now! You most certainly cannot use it."
"Why does it matter to you, anyway?" I questioned irritably, sinking back down into my seat. "I owe Prongs so much. He gave me a place to stay in when I escaped my family last Summer!"
"I owe him, too!" Remus cried out, clearly both frustrated with me and desperate for me to understand. "He's the one who thought of the Animagus training for all three of you, and he's the one who did all the research and coached you guys through it for three years. You know why he did all of that exhausting work? For me! He not only didn't exclude me once he found out my problem, he tried to help me as much as he could, and he succeeded!"
His words shocked me a little, I have to admit that. I had been so focused on repaying James that I had forgotten the other competitors might have the same goal in mind.
"I also owe him," Peter added in a small voice. "He included me on the very first day of school, and keeps me around even though everyone says to him that I clearly don't fit in." He gulped nervously. "He gave me the only friends I've ever had."
"Look," I said, holding out my hand to silence any further sentimental outbursts. "This is all very touching, but I think the point is that we all owe Prongs more than we'll ever be able to repay. Right?" Both nodded, clearly wondering where I was going with my little speech. "Well, let's let the competition continue, then, and whoever wins… they deserve it. We each have a valid reason."
They looked at each other, then at me, and nodded. Then Remus turned, and with one last lingering glance at me, he finally left the Common Room.
I closed my eyes and racked my brains, but my thoughts were too jumbled to make any sense out of them. Perhaps organizing my thoughts into more simple concepts would help. Gah, I'm starting to sound like Remus…
Goal. That seemed like a good place to start. What was my goal? To get Lily to go out with James. What was my method? To find out why Lily hated James. This was good - nice, simple thoughts. But now what? That still seemed pretty complicated, though it was simply stated.
Maybe I should make it into several steps. I would need Lily to actually tell me why she hated him, and she didn't seem like the type to go spilling her secrets to me. Plus, how would I know she was even telling the truth? I needed the truth… I needed…
I jerked my head up. "Veritaserum!" I exclaimed jubilantly. That had to be the answer, it had to be! Without wasting any time, I raced out of the room, leaving a baffled Peter behind.
By the time I reached the Dungeons, I was starting to breathe heavily - I hadn't stopped once on my way, and I had made it all the way to the Potion Room from Gryffindor Tower in only two minutes. Sure, I had nearly toppled down the staircase, almost twisted my ankle on a remarkably sharp turn, and just barely avoided getting caught sliding down the banister by Filch, but hey, that was part of the fun. And I made it unscathed and unseen to my destination. I raced into the room and skidded to a halt.
Maybe not unseen after all.
Professor Slughorn raised his head from where it had previously been buried in a student's essay. He studied me inquisitively. "Mr. Black? Have you left your belongings here again?"
My mind feeling quite overloaded at the moment, I nodded hastily.
Slughorn frowned. "Well, that's strange, seeing as I haven't taught your class yet today… what's going on, Mr. Black? Not up to no good again, I'm sure?" He sent me a fond smile, though with a hint of suspicion in it.
"No, sir, I forgot I hadn't been here today," I answered quickly, my attention devoted to finding a suitable excuse. "I must have confused my schedule. You see, I think somebody's been taking my things, perhaps as retaliation for any pranks I've pulled on them. My items seem to be steadily disappearing from my bag."
Slughorn sent me a sympathetic smile. "That is quite unfortunate, but I am sure you will be able to solve it. You are cunning, after all! I always knew you should have been in my House, just like your brother, both of you are fine young men off to astounding careers--"
"Thank you, sir," I interjected quickly, not having time for his spiel. "I'll start investigating now." I fled the room, returning to Gryffindor Tower and pondering my options once more.
Veritaserum was out of the question, as I couldn't access Slughorn's office again without rousing suspicion. Perhaps I could cause a distraction somewhere? But then Slughorn would be one of the last people asked to help with trouble that was a distance away - I was surprised he made it to meals at all, seeing the way he lounged around and only occasionally hobbled to short distances. You'd think he'd get a House Elf to bring him his dinner or something. What is up with those House Elves, anyway? They'd do absolutely anything, and they actually enjoyed it! I had thought they were just commanded by their Masters to say that, but Peter had given one Veritaserum so I could interrogate him last year, and they had said that they truly enjoyed worki--
"Oi! Wormtail!" Peter glanced over at me from halfway up the Boys' Dormitories Stairs and crept back down as I beckoned him over. "I need your help with something… you know the deal?" He nodded, looking a bit excited at being useful to me yet again. "Well, do you have any Veritaserum left?"
"Lots," he answered, a touch of pride in his voice.
"Great. Can you put a couple drops of that in one of the short glass vials in my trunk?" He nodded again and continued to stand there. "Quickly, if you will," I added pointedly, and he jumped and hurriedly scampered up the stairs. About a minute later, he returned with a small vial clutched in his shaking hand. I eyed it apprehensively, wondering how long it would last in his grip before it went crashing to the floor.
"Thanks," I said quickly, grabbing it from him and striding out of the Common Room. As I passed by a few lessons, I saw some people packing up. Oh, good, it was almost lunchtime. And that meant I could easily slip this into Lily's drink.
I suddenly recalled the events of last night with the love potion mishap in Lily's pumpkin juice. Lily was smart, she wouldn't fall for that again. I frowned at the thought of what she would do to me after the second time I contaminated her drink in less than 24 hours.
Maybe this would be harder than I thought.
On my way down the marble staircase, I bumped straight into someone and caught them by reflex before they could go tumbling down the steps. A second later, I realized it was Alice, and beside her were Lily and Mary.
"Oh, sorry, Prewett," I said quickly, releasing her. An idea came to me, and I asked as politely as I could, "Can I talk to you for a second - alone?"
All three girls eyed me skeptically, and I sighed and said exasperatedly, "I'm not going to do anything to her." Seriously, my reputation wasn't that bad, was it?
Well, maybe it was, but still.
"Okay, fine," Alice agreed. She turned to Lily and Mary and assured them, "I'll be fine, you guys go up."
"You sure?" Lily asked, "Because we don't mind wait--"
"No, I'm sure. I'll meet you there."
Lily and Mary shrugged, waved good-bye to her (hmph - they didn't wave to me) and continued on their way up the staircase.
Alice leaned against the banister and looked me over suspiciously. "So, Black, what did you want?"
"Look, sorry for putting love potion in your drink and very nearly messing up your relationship with Frank," I said quickly, waving aside the small issue, "But I need to ask you a favor."
She stared at me incredulously. "Why in the name of Merlin would I do you a favor after what you just did to me yesterday?!"
Was she seriously going to hold that little mishap against me? I groaned. "Do you want Lily and James together or not?"
This got her attention. "Why? What are you planning?"
"I just know I can't put anything in her drink anymore, and if I try I'll probably mess it up even more, so just… can you sit next to Evans and put this in her pumpkin juice? Please?" I handed her the vial, which she plucked from my hand and examined interestedly.
"It's Veritaserum," I explained, and Alice's eyes lit up.
"Oh," she smiled. "Well, Black, I suppose I could do it… but never tell her I took any part in it afterwards, all right?" she demanded.
"All right," I agreed. She smiled and skipped up the stairs after her friends. Not really sure where any of the other Marauders were at the moment, I just continued on to lunch, where I knew they'd all be soon enough. Some people were starting to trickle in through the doors, but overall the place was empty. And most importantly, the food hadn't appeared yet. No friends, no food: I had lost all interest in the room.
I was about to leave when James came barreling towards me through the doors, grinning. "Guess what, Padfoot?!" he exclaimed loudly.
"What, Prongs?" I asked at an equal noise level.
"Lily didn't yell at me when she walked by me!" he said happily, sighing wistfully at the memory of it.
"Oh, er, congrats," I told him in a falsely cheery voice. "That's… that's real progress, mate."
"I know!" he beamed. "Oh, look, food!" I turned and saw that many bowls had filled the table, each with a different dish inside.
"What are we standing here for, then?" I asked only semi-jokingly. We took one look at each other and then simultaneously sprinted to the table.
"Hah! Beat you!" I said triumphantly.
"Next time you won't be so lucky," he retorted, sinking down next to me. I grinned, taking the basket of bread rolls and emptying them onto my plate as James did the same with the bowl of mashed potatoes beside him. Soon enough, Remus emerged through the doorway, appearing deep in conversation with Lily. Beside her were Alice and Mary, engaged in their own chat that Lily seemed oblivious to as she conversed with Remus. They came closer, and closer… score! Remus sat down directly opposite me, leaving Lily to take the seat opposite James. Alice sat right next to her, with Mary on her other side.
I noticed Alice grab a glass and fill it halfway with fresh pumpkin juice, looking discretely at Lily before grabbing a stirring stick. As her long sleeve dangled above the drink, I just barely saw a few colorless drops fall in. Then she was smiling to herself and grabbing a sandwich.
"So Lily, what do we have next?" she asked as though nothing had happened.
Lily surveyed her schedule and looked pleased. "Potions," she replied. Mary immediately groaned, but Alice just shrugged, impartial to the class. Lily grabbed a glass nearby and began to fill it when she froze and narrowed her eyes at the person seated across from her.
"Maybe I shouldn't drink anything today," she said icily, her rather angry gaze flickering to me, too. That girl could be really scary when she wanted to.
"Well, you can't get dehydrated!" Alice exclaimed, concern written all over her face. "Here, take mine. Surely even they wouldn't make the same mistake again."
She spoke so seriously that I wouldn't have suspected anything if I hadn't spoken to her earlier today. Alice was way too convincing - I'd have to remember to watch out for her. As Lily gratefully accepted her glass and turned her head to Remus again, Alice smiled and sent a big wink my way.
"So what were you saying earlier about that essa--" Lily froze. She was holding her glass to her mouth and had clearly just taken a small sip. Her eyes had gotten a blank, unfocused look in them, and I couldn't help but grin. The plan was working so far.
"Lily? Are you okay?" James asked uncertainly.
Immediately, Lily responded in a calm voice, "I'm not suffering from any ailments, and other than feeling a bit tired, annoyed, and angry from continuous antics by the Marauders, my mental and emotional conditions are also healthy." Everyone around her stared at her, their faces nearly as blank as hers, except for Alice and I.
"Everyone, calm down. Lily just had some Veritaserum, that's all," I smiled.
"Veritaserum?!" Mary cried, appalled. "You can't just trick someone into drinking that!"
"Why not?" I asked, shrugging. "It works most effectively if the person doesn't expect it. Now, Lily," I said loudly, drowning out more protesting voices. "Why exactly do you hate James Potter here?" I gestured to my left, where James was looking bewildered.
"I don't hate James," Lily answered in the same toneless voice. People around her were beginning to notice, their shocked whispering spreading down the table.
"Fine, fine, dislike, then," I clarified.
"I don't dislike James," she replied clearly. Now she had completely grabbed the attention of just about everyone at Gryffindor Table, and the Hufflepuffs next to our table were starting to glance over as well. "I like James a lot." The Hall was practically silent as the surrounding students listened to Lily with their mouths dropped open. It took me a moment to realize that my mouth had done the same.
"James Potter?" I gasped.
"James Potter," she confirmed, speaking emotionlessly.
"Wait, wait, wait…" I shook my head, trying to clear it so that the completely ridiculous words she was speaking would make sense. "So you have a crush on him? Since when?"
"Since Fifth Year," Lily answered.
"Can you… explain why you continued turning him down after you developed this crush on him?" I questioned, perplexed.
"I had to turn him down for his protection," she elaborated, "Because everyone I care about is being murdered." There were more gasps of astonishment, but I hardly paid attention to them now, solely focused on Lily. "Just being friends with me makes people targets. So many people have been lost already because of me, and I can't let that happen to James Potter. I like him too much to put him in danger."
After several moments of students sending baffled, horrified, or pitying looks at Lily and whispering amongst themselves, her expression cleared, and her mouth went agape. Without losing a moment, she turned and sprinted out of the Great Hall. I just watched her in silence, unable to tell if I had just helped Lily and James or completely messed up their lives.
AN: I... I honestly have no excuse for the extreme lateness of this chapter. I forgot that I hadn't finished this fic, and when I found the document on my computer, it all came back to me. I can't believe it's been so long, but I'm determined to put the next chapter up promptly. And yes, the next chapter will be the LAST chapter of the story! :O As always, please leave your thoughts on the (better late than never) chapter. All comments and constructive criticism help me so much! ~WaterLily :)
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