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. Typical Slytherin.” Then he laughed, as if he thought his joke 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.” 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 act like such a bitch?”
I wished I was the one holding the pie plate, because then I could have thrown it at him. I wanted to slap him, but I remembered the last time I’d done that he’d just made some suggestive remark about me being unable to keep my hands off 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.
I could think of 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. My eyes began to fill with tears but I blinked them away. I generally didn’t cry easily, but he had really set me off by bringing up my insecurities. 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 advanced on me, armed with their fake smiles, and I knew it was going to end badly because I was still so angry from my encounter with Sirius. So when Vanessa started gabbing about how I was too unpopular to have a lasting relationship with Luke Wilcox, and how she’d known all along we were going to break up soon, I drew out my wand and pointed it in Vanessa’s face.
“Leave me alone or I will jinx you right now. All of you.”
“All of us?” asked Vanessa. “There are four of us, and we are Ravenclaws, we’re smarter than you think.”
“If you were smarter you’d go away,” I snarled.
“Ooh, I’m scared now,” said one of Vanessa’s friends. They all laughed sycophantically.
“No, but really,” said Vanessa, “there is something I’d like to know. Did you use a Love Potion? Is that how you ended up together?”
My jaw dropped as I stared at her in indignation, and she laughed. “What have I ever done to you?” I asked. “If this is because I dated Luke and you like him, I’m not even with him anymore, so I don’t see why you continue to offend me whenever you see me!”
I turned around and walked away before I could end up doing something I’d regret. 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 Marauders 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.”
I was having trouble imagining what that would look like, although to be honest it sounded somewhat ugly. Maybe it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t see them – although 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 I’d taken Care of Magical Creatures rather than Divination in my third year! 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, I realised the encounter with Vanessa had completely flown from my mind; it was the fight with Sirius I was still frustrated about. I didn’t care what Vanessa thought of me anyway, so I wasn’t concerned about what had happened; I resolved to not let her bother me. After all, she had been pestering Charlotte for longer than she had to me, and Charlotte had never done anything about her. However, Charlotte was probably impervious to gossip because she did so much of it herself. Or possibly because Charlotte never shared anything about herself that could be gossiped about, but she made up for that by sharing things about others twice as much.
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 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 fight 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! He’s been treating me insufferably and I don’t know why! And we just got into a fight, it came out of nowhere!”
“I’m not telling you, I just want to know why men are obnoxious.”
“I’m not obnoxious.”
“No, you’re not… just help me!”
“If you won’t tell me who it is, I don’t know how helpful I can be.”
“It’ll be better than nothing.”
Hector considered it. “All right, if you tell me how girls’ minds work.”
I talked to Hector for a while, but it wasn’t as useful as I hoped; he couldn’t tell me much considering I wouldn’t say who I was having trouble with. I told Hector how ‘someone’ was trying to make me say I liked him, and then saying he didn’t like me at all – Hector said this either meant he actually liked me but didn’t know how to say it, or he was just 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. Since his advice to me had not been helpful, my answer to almost everything he asked was “that’s just the way we are.”
I refused to visit the Gryffindor common room for the next few days. I wasn’t about to go somewhere I was so obviously not welcome; although, as Mandy and Charlotte had not had fights with any of the Marauders, they went a couple of times. I talked to Remus a few times when we came across each other in the corridors, but I wouldn’t hang around when Sirius was there.
One day after Mandy spent a while trying to convince me to go with them, I finally relented, although I knew it was going to be awkward. I wondered as we walked to the seventh floor whether Sirius had told the rest of the Marauders about our fight. If he had, it was sure to be an amazingly uncomfortable visit. However, as we approached, we ran into the Marauders coming down the stairs. They said they were on their way outside, so we joined them. James, Peter, and Remus were acting no differently to normal; perhaps Sirius had said nothing to them.
When I thought about it, that wasn’t really surprising – Sirius never seemed to be forthcoming with feelings or troubles. Remus had told me once (after my detention with Sirius when I’d mentioned Regulus and caused him to sulk for half an hour) that Sirius rarely talked about things that bothered him, even to his best friends; he kept everything bottled inside and sometimes he’d just snap and do something reckless and so I shouldn’t have taken that personally.
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 we walked outside. 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, and I abruptly veered off to join them instead.
James noticed, of course. “Care to join us, Evans?” he asked politely.
“Not today, sorry,” said Lily. “I’m busy.” She looked at 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 Marauders and Mandy and Charlotte 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 got into a fight a few days ago over absolutely nothing. And he was trying to get me to say I fancied him – I can’t understand how you put up with James doing that for so long.”
Mary shook her head, grinning. “Well if you don’t fancy Sirius, next time you fight with him, send him off in my direction instead.”
“I’m sorry,” said Lily. “Boys can be so confusing.”
“At least you and James seem to have worked things out this year,” I said. “I don’t see you two arguing nearly as much as I used to. I’ve even seen you having normal conversations loads of times!”
“I suppose that’s true,” Lily admitted. “Although I still don’t like him.”
Mary laughed. “I don’t understand you two at all! The two most attractive guys in the school are chasing after you and all you can do is talk about how much you don’t like them! I’d give anything to be in either of your places.”
“He’s not chasing after me, he doesn’t even like me!” I protested. “You wouldn’t want to be in my place!”
Lily was reacting to Mary’s argument at the same time, so I’m sure Mary couldn’t actually hear a word either of us was saying as we talked over each other, but we got our points across just the same.
I sat and talked with Lily and Mary for a while, about everything ranging from obnoxious men to a discussion of the old French play Mary had been reading, called Hélas, Je me suis Transfiguré Les Pieds (Alas, I’ve Transfigured My Feet). Lily and I seemed to have bonded a bit more over the fact that we were probably the only girls who disliked either of the most popular boys at school.
It was a wonderful afternoon – much better than I had expected it to be when Mandy had convinced me to come with them. She and Charlotte joined us after about an hour; the Marauders were still sitting under their tree, and a different group of Gryffindors had joined them now. 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 expression as she saw my friends.
“Are they your friends?” she asked timidly.
“Yeah,” I said, and introduced them.
“They turned my head into a watermelon last week,” Althea told me in her very quiet voice.
“Oh. Sorry about that, it was an accident,” said Charlotte. “We tried to tell you but you probably couldn’t hear us, since your head was a watermelon…”
I tried not to laugh. 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, Madam Pomfrey fixed it pretty quickly.”
I was amazed she was just able to take stuff like that. If I were in her place, I would have snapped back instantly – although, perhaps, it was this habit of mine that led me to get into fights with people like Sirius. Maybe Althea had everything all figured out. If I could pretend Vanessa didn’t bother me next time she came around to ruin my life, maybe she’d stop.
But other events put my personal problems and drama in perspective. 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. “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.
Charlotte frowned. “If your dad and your brother were Death Eaters, would you tell everyone?”
That shut me up – I had never told Charlotte of my suspicions about my own dad and brother.
“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 know what you mean,” I said, deciding it was time to tell her – there was no reason to continue to keep her in the dark, even though it was only just my suspicions. 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. I felt a bit guilty for not trusting her with my own secret; obviously it wasn’t the type of thing she’d share with the school. “Charlotte, I think Nathan and my dad might be Death Eaters too. But I don’t know, and I can’t just write to Nathan and ask…”
“What makes you think so?” she asked.
“Nathan just avoids talking about his job, even when I ask about it, he’s kind of evasive… and my dad told him there are more important things to think about than just his job. I don’t know, it’s not much evidence, but I was worried.”
“Yeah, they might be. Or you could just be reading into it too much.” I nodded. She studied me for a few seconds and then continued, “Maybe you’ll be able to find out for sure when you’re home. And… let me know.”
A/N: Thanks for reading! ♥ As always 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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