Chapter 17 : In the Dark
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Unfortunately, the person leaving was Sirius, and he spotted me immediately.
“Hastings, what are you doing there?” he asked.
“Er…” I said, still crouching behind the suit of armour while holding the pie tin. Sirius walked towards me and I couldn’t possibly talk my way out of the situation, so I told him. “I was rigging this suit of armour to throw a pie at you. Brilliant, right?”
“I’m appalled,” he said. “That’s a waste of a perfectly good pie.” He reached out and took it from me, and I stepped out from behind the suit of armour into the corridor. As I watched, he pointed his wand at the pie, dividing it neatly into eight slices. Then he took one out and started eating it, spilling crumbs all over.
“You’re disgusting,” I told him.
“Want one?” He held out the pie pan towards me, but I pushed it away.
“So, have you fixed that parchment yet?” I asked him with a wry smile. “Personally, I don’t think it needed fixing, I rather liked it the way it was.”
Sirius paused, holding his crumbling piece of pie in mid-air. “Why’s that, because you fancy me?”
“No,” I laughed. “But your reaction to the parchment was priceless.”
“Are you sure you don’t fancy me?” he asked with a grin. “I would understand if you did.”
“Damn, you’ve figured me out,” I said sarcastically. “Let’s elope tonight.”
He smirked. “Ambitious, are we? I guess I can’t help it – it’s my animal magnetism, girls are just drawn to me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Okay, well then find one who cares. I’ll take that pie back, too, if you don’t mind – I was in the middle of something when you walked in.”
“What you were doing is called sabotage,” he said. “So no, I’m not giving this back.”
“Okay, I’ll give it back… if you admit you’re attracted to me.”
“It’s against my morals to lie,” I said airily.
“You’ve got morals?” He snorted. “I guess, if you count taking the easy way out of any situation as having morals.” Then he laughed, as if he thought his comment had been particularly witty.
“Of course I have, you twit,” I said, scowling. His accusation only made me angrier because it was, in fact, the slightest bit true. “We’re done now. I have better things to do than talk to you.”
Before I’d gotten more than a few steps away from him, he caught up to me. “Ouch, that was harsh. Don’t you care about my feelings?” But he didn’t look hurt at all; he was still smiling.
“Your feelings? That’s funny, because you clearly don’t care about anyone else’s. I don’t exist only for you to laugh at. Not everything is about you!” Something about him just wound me up, and now we were arguing. I didn’t even understand it myself; we’d been getting on just fine before.
He started. There was an odd expression in his grey eyes. “That’s really what you think of me?” he asked softly, the self-assured tone now gone from his voice. “It’s not true. I do care—”
“Whatever,” I interrupted, starting to walk away.
“Well I’m not laughing now,” said Sirius angrily. “Doesn’t matter anyway – why should I care when you're such a bitch?”
I wished I was the one holding the pie plate, because then I could have thrown it at him. So I held my hands behind my back, as if to make sure neither of them reached out and punched Sirius of their own accord. With absolutely nothing to say to him, and as I had no desire to keep talking anyway, I stormed down the hall away from him without another word, blinking away the tears that began to fill my eyes. What had started out as petty quibbling had escalated into a very heated argument within minutes, for absolutely no reason.
To put a significant amount of distance between Sirius and myself, I walked out of the castle doors and outside on the grounds where I could be away from people. However, my solitude was interrupted by the absolute last person I wanted to see, other than Sirius: Vanessa Saltz and her little posse were walking in my direction, and although they didn’t say anything to me, I saw them whispering to one another and giggling. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, and it may not have had anything to do with me, but it just made me feel worse as I could imagine it being any number of cruel things, based on our previous encounters.
Before I could end up doing something I’d regret, I hurried past them. It was only eleven in the morning and I had already wanted to punch two people; it did not bode well for the rest of the day. I stalked off moodily with no particular direction in mind until I realised I had reached the outskirts of the Forbidden Forest. As no one was allowed to go in, I was about to turn around and leave, but decided to stay because this was probably the only place on the grounds where no one ever hung around. And technically, I was not in the forest, just next to it.
Finally alone, I let out the tears that had been trying to escape all morning. What had I done to deserve this? One of my good friends had essentially told me I wasn’t his friend anymore, and people I barely knew hated me for no reason. I usually tried not to let stuff like this get to me, but after everything this morning, I was miserable.
I sat on the grass and just stared into the forest for a while. My curiosity got the better of me, and after I’d calmed down, I stood up and wiped my eyes, and cautiously began to walk into the forest.
Suddenly I ran into something invisible, and gasped. I thought it might be one of the Gryffindor boys in their Invisibility Cloak, because I recalled that they liked to run around in here for Merlin only knew what reason. “Remus?” I asked hesitantly. But there was no answer. “James?”
“What’re yeh doin’ in here?” asked a voice. I turned around, and Hagrid the gamekeeper was approaching from his hut on the edge of the grounds. He towered over me, as he was about twice the size of a normal person.
“Nothing,” I muttered, and started to walk out of the forest. I didn’t want to get in trouble, and I didn’t know how Hagrid would react to me being alone in the forest.
“Were yeh lookin’ at the thestral? Can yeh see it?” he asked.
“The what?” I said, stopping briefly. Oddly, Hagrid didn’t seem too concerned that I was out of bounds, but was instead looking in front of me, where the thing I’d run into was standing.
“Thestral. It’s right in front o’ yeh. ’Course, it’s invisible, so yeh probably can’t see it. Most people can’t.”
“Er, what is it?”
“It’s a big winged horse. Hogwarts has got a few of ‘em livin’ in here. Usually further in. This is a newer one, he mighta bin confused…”
“Why do we have invisible horses in the forest?”
“They’re real clever, have a great sense o’ direction… an’ they pull the Hogwarts carriages.”
“Why would we need them to do that when the carriages can move by themselves?” I asked, and then realised that he must mean the carriages had never moved by themselves, but had been pulled by the invisible horses all along. The carriages moved so smoothly that I would never have thought they were pulled by anything but magic. Since there was no need for Hagrid to answer my question, I continued. “Can you see them? What do they look like?”
“Yeah, they’re black, an’ got whitish eyes that sorta glow… their heads look a bit like a dragon’s.”
It was fascinating that some people could see them and some could not; I reflected that it would have been a much better use of my time if, rather than taking Divination in my third year, I’d taken Care of Magical Creatures like Mandy. The only thing that had stopped me, of course, was that Professor Kettleburn, who taught Care of Magical Creatures, had lost half his limbs to dangerous creatures he was supposed to be minding and I hadn’t wanted to meet the same fate.
“Why can’t I see them?”
“They’re invisible, unless yeh’ve seen death, then yeh can see ‘em,” he replied. “Some people consider ‘em sorta unlucky ‘cause of that, but they’re not.”
I talked with Hagrid about thestrals a bit longer, until he asked me, “Yeh’re not supposed ter be here in the forest, are yeh? Go on, get outta here.”
It had taken him a while to catch on, probably because he’d been more preoccupied with the thestral, but I was glad he hadn’t said anything immediately. I looked up at him, trying to come up with an excuse, but I saw that under his wild tangle of hair and beard he was smiling. He wasn’t angry at me, which was good because I was sure that he could be very scary if he had been angry. I said goodbye and began to walk back out.
As I headed back up to the castle, my mind turned back to my row with Sirius. The encounter with Vanessa had flown from my mind; I was far less concerned with what Vanessa thought of me. I did care about Sirius though. He was a friend – or at least I had thought he was – and I wanted to know what was going on and why he had treated me that way. I kept replaying our argument in my mind. Sometimes it just made me more angry with him, but other times I was disgusted with myself for the things I had said, and the way he’d reacted. I could still see the expression on his face when I’d accused him of not having feelings. Shock, anger, a bit of disappointment. Did he care that much about what I thought of him? Maybe I should choose my words more carefully next time…
I needed to talk to someone. Remus would have been my first choice because I knew he’d understand and he’d know the right things to say to me, but he was too close to Sirius. Remus also might not be so keen to talk to me since I’d just had a row with one of his best friends.
When I walked into the Slytherin common room, Hector Branstone was sitting on the sofa by the stairs, idly doodling on a textbook. “Hector, please explain to me how the male mind works,” I said as I threw myself onto the sofa next to him.
He laughed. “Got your eye on someone new already?”
“No. And I don’t think he likes me either, I’m sure he’s just making fun of me – but I just don’t understand what is going on! And we just got into a fight, it came out of nowhere!”
For some reason I felt like concealing all the details, but I wasn’t really sure why. “I’m not telling you,” I said, “I just want to know why men are obnoxious.”
“I’m not obnoxious.”
“No, you’re not… just help me!”
Hector considered it. “All right, if you tell me how girls’ minds work. And who you’re talking about.”
I scowled, and he waited patiently for me to spill the beans. Sometimes I hated being such an open book, but I couldn’t help it. So I told him.
As Hector didn’t really know Sirius that well, he theorised that Sirius either liked me but didn’t know how to say it, or was irritable from dealing with some deep internal struggle that was far out of my comprehension, or he was simply an annoying guy.
So it meant that Sirius was annoying. This much I could have figured out on my own. And then I had to deal with Hector’s many questions as to why girls always went everywhere in groups, why they made a big deal out of unimportant things, why they said the opposite of what they felt, and why they created drama. Our conversation ended with us both reflecting on the fact that all people are confusing, and from there it devolved into a session of us making goat noises at each other and laughing – at least until other people walked into the common room.
It appeared that Sirius hadn’t told his friends about our row – I had been sure he’d want to complain about me to his friends, but then again he’d never seemed forthcoming with discussing things that bothered him. Remus had told me once (after the detention when I’d mentioned Regulus and made Sirius moody for half an hour) that Sirius rarely talked about things that troubled him, even to his best friends; he’d simply sulk, or else he’d just snap and do something reckless and so I shouldn’t have taken that personally, because that’s how he was.
But this time, it was personal. And from my own experience, I knew Sirius well enough to know that he wasn’t going to apologise, and if he did, it would only be if I did so first. But I had nothing to apologise for, so I didn’t say anything to him as I passed by him and his friends on our way outside one sunny afternoon. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw Sirius watching me, but when I turned to look at him, he seemed to be very interested in the hourglasses on the wall holding the House points. Gryffindor was in the lead.
Lily Evans and Mary Macdonald then arrived in the hall on their way outside as well, and I abruptly veered off to join them instead.
James noticed, of course. “Good afternoon,” he said politely.
Lily frowned at him. “Er, hi,” she said. Then she turned her green eyes towards me instead.
“Hey,” I said. “How are you?”
“Great. Mary and I were just about to – er – do homework,” she said, with half a glance at James again. “You can come join us if you want.”
I grinned, knowing that they had no intention of doing any such thing. “Thanks, I think I will,” I said. We walked to a grassy area of the grounds, and she and Mary both threw their bags on the ground and we lay down in the sun. I could see the four Gryffindor boys settling down in the shade of a large beech tree over by the lake.
“What’s going on with you and Sirius?” Lily asked me.
“I have no idea,” I said. “We rowed a few days ago over absolutely nothing, and then started listing off the things we hated about each other. Who does that? We’re both terrible people!”
Mary shook her head, grinning. “Well if you don’t fancy Sirius, next time you’re about to fight with him, send him off in my direction instead.”
“I’m sorry,” Lily told me. “Boys can be so confusing.” Her eyebrows knitted, and her eyes lingered on the tree beneath which James and his friends sat. Mary followed Lily’s gaze, and then gave me a knowing smile over Lily’s head.
“In other news,” said Mary suddenly, “check out this old French play I’ve just started reading.” She grabbed a book from inside her bag, the cover of which read Hélas, Je me suis Transfiguré Les Pieds (Alas, I’ve Transfigured My Feet). “It has possibly the worst plot I’ve ever read, but it’s just so entertaining! You both have to read it, I’ll loan it to you.”
“Mary, I don’t speak French,” I said.
“Neither do I,” said Lily, leaning back and lying in the grass. “Translate some for us.”
“With an authentic French accent, please,” I added.
So Mary acted out a scene for Lily’s and my amusement, her fake French accent terrible, and the appreciative audience only grew with the appearance of Mandy and Charlotte half an hour later. It was a wonderful afternoon in the sun and the warm breeze. All across the grounds I could see groups of people sitting in the grass enjoying the day. It was a shame we had exams in a few weeks; I could easily have forgotten about exams with weather like this!
As Mandy, Charlotte and I were headed back inside to the Slytherin common room later that afternoon, I saw Luke coming in from a different direction. I attempted to hide behind Charlotte, realised this would look stupid, and then spotted Althea Seward, and immediately ran to talk to her so I would be busy when Luke walked by.
However, it didn’t go quite as I planned; although she smiled when she saw me, her smile faded as Mandy and Charlotte approached.
“Please don’t tell me you’re literally going to be hiding from your ex-boyfriend for the rest of the year,” said Charlotte.
I ignored her. “What’s up?” I asked Althea, noticing her nervous expression as she saw my friends.
“Are they your friends?” she asked timidly.
“Aren’t you the girl whose head we turned into a watermelon last week?” Charlotte asked. “If so, I’m sorry. It was an accident.”
“You’re so mean!” I told Charlotte. The story had been hilarious when Mandy and Charlotte had first told it, but they had neglected to mention that they’d done it to possibly the shyest, quietest girl at Hogwarts.
“That’s all right, Madame Pomfrey fixed it pretty quickly,” said Althea. “It could have been much worse. At least I wasn’t a pumpkin – eurgh.”
“How can you not like pumpkin?” I exclaimed, and she laughed.
I was impressed at her graceful ability to just let anything slide, never rattled. Maybe Althea had everything all figured out. I figured I could probably peacefully disregard Vanessa, but what was it about Sirius that made him impossible to ignore, and compelled me to spar with him?
But news from outside added perspective to my mundane problems. At breakfast the next day, an owl arrived with Mandy’s Daily Prophet, just like usual. I was sitting opposite her at the table, and as she unrolled the paper, I saw a headline announcing that the Dark Mark had been set above three houses last night. A picture revealed a pile of rubble beneath a symbol of a skull with a snake protruding from the mouth, hovering in the sky above like an eerie constellation.
“When is this going to stop?” asked Mandy sadly to no one in particular. “Death Eaters went around killing Muggle-borns for absolutely no reason and set Voldemort’s sign above the houses to scare people… I’m sick of it. Every time I open the newspaper there’s always disappearances and deaths.”
“It’s awful,” I said. So far we hadn’t read about the disappearance of anyone we knew well, but some people at Hogwarts had already lost relatives.
Charlotte had an ugly expression on her face as she stared at the Daily Prophet. “I don’t believe it…” she said quietly, shaking her head.
“I know,” said Mandy gently. “I can’t believe people do this either.”
“It’s not just that,” said Charlotte, looking up at Mandy. She glanced down the table, where Lester, Snape and Mulciber were sitting, and then back at her half-finished breakfast. “Come with me,” she said, and stood up.
Somewhat confused, Mandy and I left with her and we walked outside into the courtyard. “I should have told you ages ago,” Charlotte said agitatedly, not at all her cool, collected self. “I’ve just been keeping you in the dark, when I’ve known for ages, but I didn’t know what to do… I still don’t know…”
“What are you on about?” asked Mandy, looking at Charlotte with concern.
Charlotte finally faced us, and said grimly, “Lester has become a Death Eater.”
My jaw dropped. I was shocked, and horrified. “What? When? Why didn’t you stop him?”
“I tried,” she said. “He let slip months ago that he was planning to join, so I talked to him a lot about it, and I told him he was too young, and it wasn’t safe, and that he’d have to kill people if he was a Death Eater… but he was already convinced. Then over the Easter holidays he disappeared a lot while we were home, and I never knew or cared where he was… But then one day at dinner he just told us that he and his friends had joined the Death Eaters.”
There was a silence while Mandy and I goggled at her. “But… why?” I cried incredulously. “Why did he join?”
“I think it’s because Lester wants a taste of power. He’s always trying to prove himself, he’s always been ambitious, and this was just a way for him to be powerful. And he’ll get that if he’s allied with You-Know-Who, because You-Know-Who is all about power.”
“What did your family say when he just announced he’d joined?” Mandy asked tentatively.
“My parents were both thrilled. My father especially – I never told you this either, but he’s a Death Eater too. He went to school with You-Know-Who.”
“Why didn’t you tell us before?” I asked. Despite Charlotte’s tendency to gossip about other people, she could keep a secret very well – she kept her own feelings under lock and key, after all.
Charlotte frowned. “If your dad and your brother were Death Eaters, would you tell everyone?”
That shut me up. And then, unbidden, I began wondering about my own family. Now that I knew someone whose family were Death Eaters, I felt ill considering the idea of my parents and brother supporting Voldemort’s aims. True, it was a big difference between appreciating Voldemort’s power and actually becoming a Death Eater, but it seemed like a slippery slope after hearing Charlotte say that her sixteen-year-old brother was a Death Eater.
“And when you said ‘his friends’,” said Mandy, “does that mean Mulciber and Snape?”
“I don’t know, he didn’t say who,” said Charlotte. “But I assume that’s who he meant, they’re his closest friends. And Mulciber and Snape don’t really talk to me anymore; over the year we’ve really drifted apart because they’ve been getting even more into the Dark Arts… but I keep trying to find out for sure if they joined.”
My mind was reeling. Snape had once been my friend, and now he was potentially a Death Eater. I had never liked Mulciber or Charlotte’s brother Lester, but I thought they just liked being bullies – I would not have imagined they wanted to join Voldemort.
“And because I keep asking about it, and I’m trying to stay on good terms with him,” Charlotte continued, “Lester is trying to recruit me. He said he’ll introduce me to You-Know-Who and see how I feel then.”
I just gaped at her. Mandy said, “You know he’s lying. He’s not going to be able to drag Voldemort along with him wherever he wants, whenever he feels like it.”
“Unless Voldemort is trying to get into the castle,” I said, a thrill of realisation and dread filling me. I shivered. “Remember when we discussed this in October? We couldn’t imagine there being Death Eaters at Hogwarts then. And know we know there is one – what do we do?”
“Don’t tell anyone,” said Charlotte, glowering. “I’m not trying to defend Lester, but I don’t want him getting sent to Azkaban. He’s my brother. I’m just… I’m worried about him. He doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I just gave her a hug, and Mandy joined in, wrapping her arms around the two of us. “I’m so sorry, Char,” I mumbled uselessly.
“Thank you for telling us,” said Mandy. “You know we’re both here for you, always.”
A/N: Thanks for reading! ♥ I'd love to know what you think, whether it's about the story or even just your favourite colour! (Mine is green.)
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