Chapter 6 : Six: A Darkness Within
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“Moody too busy to stop by?” I say, shaking my head as Remus sits down. “It’s like we’re not even best friends anymore.”
Remus laughs, sitting several scrolls of pristine cream-colored parchment down on the table. It looks like Moody’s given him some pay in advance, because he’s bought himself a new jacket, and gotten a decent haircut. “He has a lot on his plate; it’s not an easy time to be Head of the Auror Office. He made time to get this information for us, though – one of these is a list of–”
“Don’t you want to have a drink before we get to work?” I say, waving to the bartender, who ignores me. Nice chap.
“Er, no,” says Remus, raising his eyebrows at me. “It’s eleven o’clock.”
“Better late than never,” I mutter, casting my eyes over the scrolls, which consist of long lists of neatly written names. Each bears the Ministry emblem at the top. “Anyway, what are these, petitions or something? ‘Stop Barty Crouch Feeding Children to Giant Spiders,’ that sort of thing?”
“They’re lists Moody had made up for us,” says Remus. “This one lists all the people who’ve had their wands checked in the last week. This one lists everyone who has any reason to expect their wand’ll be checked in the next six weeks.”
“We can hardly go around questioning all these people,” I say, frowning down at the other two, shorter lists. “What are the other two?”
“These are lists of all the people who Floo’d into the areas where the murders occurred, around the time that they happened,” says Lupin. “The idea is to cross-check the lists together, see if there are any names in common. And if there are, then I’ll go talk to them.”
“Why did you say ‘I’ll’ like that?” I say, narrowing my eyes.
Remus avoids my eyes, looking a little guilty. “Moody told me not to let you interview anyone.”
“Oh, come off it,” I huff. “I don’t always go around to threatening to burn people at the stake, it was just the one time – and that bloke deserved it, he was an absolute toshpot. Come on, Remus, let me come with you. I promise I’ll be good.”
“It’s not just about you threatening to burn people at the stake,” says Remus. “Moody doesn’t want people to, er…to know you’re helping the Auror Office on the case. I wouldn’t want to disobey his orders, not when he’s doing me a favor by letting me work on the case.”
I sigh, staring into his earnest green eyes. If he weren’t so damn endearing, I might have the heart to argue with him. Something about Remus’ face just makes a person’s heart go out to him. It’s not at all like Johnny’s pathetic quivering bottom lip, or pleading eyes. It’s just that Remus’ face is so honest, and he always looks like he’s really looking at you, and not at the person he’d like you to be.
“Okay,” I say finally, quickly glancing away. “You do the questioning, I’ll try to get some more information on Arcane tarot rituals – if, and only if, you help me flag down the damn bartender.”
“I’ll be right back,” says Remus, chuckling. He gets up and walks over to the bar, where the bartender is forced to acknowledge his existence. A quick conversation occurs, some money changes hands, and Remus returns to our table with two glasses of what looks like…
“Pumpkin juice?” I say skeptically. “That’s a bit tame.”
“Cheers, Aislin,” says Remus, taking a drink. I find myself staring at the stress lines between his eyebrows, the circles under his eyes, the unexpectedly charming crookedness of his nose. He’s sort of beautiful, in a quiet, tired way. I take a sip of pumpkin juice, and the sweet spiciness brings back memories of late Saturday breakfasts in the Great Hall.
“Have you thought about my offer, then?” I ask, setting down my glass.
“I have,” says Remus slowly. “Have you really thought it through?”
“Of course I have,” I tell him, “and I don’t see a single reason why you shouldn’t move in. It’s a great location for you, and we’d be able to work together much more easily. Not to mention, I’d much rather have you as my roommate than some stranger off the Daily Prophet classifieds.”
“It just seems a bit spontaneous,” hedges Remus, swirling the pumpkin juice around in his glass.
“What’s wrong with a little spontaneity?” I reply. “Anyway, you sort of owe me the favor, as it’s thanks to you Moody’s cutting my pay.”
Remus looks troubled. “It’d mean you’d be seeing a lot of…you know...my friends.”
By friends, I take it, he means Sirius. I shrug and take another nonchalant sip of pumpkin juice, as if the idea of Sirius Black sitting at my kitchen table doesn’t fill me with equal measures of hope, excitement, and fear. Who knows – maybe Sirius really has grown up a bit. Maybe we’ll be able to get past our history, and get along.
“That’s fine,” I say, not entirely sure if I mean it. “And anyway, it doesn’t have to be forever. We’ll solve this case, and then we’ll figure out what to do from there.”
Remus stares down at his glass. “There’s something else I should tell you.”
“All right then,” I say, “what’s up?”
“Sirius and Peter thought I shouldn’t tell you, but I think it’s better to be honest from the start, and James agrees” says Remus. He clears his throat, leaning over the small, square table. Curious what Remus could have to be so secretive about, I lean toward him until our noses are side by side. “The thing is, there’s something you know about me, and it could…well, it could change the way you think about me,” whispers Remus. “And if you’re really serious about living together, I think you need to know.”
“Go on,” I murmur.
Remus takes a deep breath and lets it out as a sigh. It brushes over my ear and throat, and I shiver.
“I’m a werewolf,” he breathes into my ear.
My lips part slightly as my brain struggles to register this new information. A werewolf? Remus? It seems impossible – how could a werewolf have gone to school at Hogwarts, unnoticed, for seven years? But at the same time, it explains a lot, like Remus’ difficulties finding and keeping a job. I draw away from Remus, leaning against the back of my seat, and take a sip of pumpkin juice. My mouth suddenly feels very dry.
“You mean as in, you turn into a mad raging monster under the light of the full moon?” I say finally.
Remus starts, and looks quickly over his shoulder to make sure nobody’s heard. But the only other people in the pub are deeply engaged in their own conversations. “I used to,” he says quietly, his eyes cautiously taking in my reaction, “The Wolfsbane Potion’s made things easier. I don’t have the skills to make it myself, but Lily’s a good hand at Potions. They help me get together the money each month, too.”
Remus nods. “Lily, James, Sirius, and Peter.”
“Hmm,” I say. “Well, I was never very patient with Potions, but I s’pose Lily could come over and use the kitchen, couldn’t she? If anything it’ll be easier, living closer to her.”
“But you…” Remus blinks. “Don’t you mind about it?”
I hesitate, then shrug. “Just don’t go leaving fur all over the carpets.”
We go through the names on each of the Ministry lists. There turn out to be three people who fit the wand check criteria, and the crime scene criteria: Halle Greenworth, Mundungus Fletcher, Mark Silver. Remus Apparates over to the Ministry to get their addresses from Moody, and I decide to pop over to Knockturn Alley to see if I can find any more information about the tarot deck’s arcane uses. Once again, I wear a black silk scarf draped over my head to avoid recognition.
As I walk down the narrow cobblestone drive, dodging in between witches and wizards of dubious character, I think about Remus. How can he possibly have got by at Hogwarts without anybody realizing what he was? I was never close to him, but I do pride myself on my observational skills, and I feel both humbled and frustrated that I never caught on.
What will it be like to live with a werewolf? I’m sure that as long as he keeps up with his Wolfsbane doses, I won’t have to worry about my safety. Besides, it’s hard to be afraid of someone like Remus, what with his sweetly hesitant smile and his kind eyes. I only hope he won’t go scratching up any of the furniture or breaking the knickknacks.
My eyes sweep vacantly over shop signs in hope of something promising. Alucard’s Antiques, The Coffin Shop, Moribund’s… Suddenly I stop in my tracks, staring at a small, hand-painted sign on the other side of the street.
Madame Luminaire’s Tarot Salon.
The sign hangs over a small precarious staircase between two buildings, which leads up to a doorway on the second floor of the building on the right. I cross the street with some difficulty, narrowly avoiding being run down by a man towing what looks like a baby troll, and climbing up the rickety stairs. I pause at the door, which has an eye painted onto it in what I can only assume is blood. It’s quite possible that this is an idiotic waste of time, but I’ve no other leads to go on at the moment, so I stretch out a fist to knock on the door – but before my skin can graze the wooden surface, the door creaks open of its own accord.
“Come in,” says a frail voice in a heavy French accent. “Let me look at you.”
I edge past the door, and into a small, square, musty-smelling room. Heavy crimson curtains cover every inch of wall-space, and the only light comes from a single candelabra, which sits on the round table at the center of the room. Sitting behind the table in an ornately carved wooden chair, is the most peculiar woman I’ve ever seen.
She’s a hunched little thing, and judging by the deep-set wrinkles on her face she’s got to be about a hundred years old. But her hair is thick and beautiful, running down to the floor in sheets of silvery gray. She’s wearing an elaborate set of dress robes that look like they belong in a museum, and on her forehead she’s painted a dark-red eye identical to the one on the door. As her eyes take me in, an odd smile flits over her face.
“You come for your future,” she says, her accent so thick I can barely understand her.
I shift awkwardly where I stand. “No, not exactly. I was actually hoping you could tell me a bit about–”
“Your future,” insists the woman, patting a gnarled hand on the table. Deciding to humor her, I sit down in the chair across from her, which is torturously uncomfortable. I can feel all the little carved patterns cutting into my back.
“Er, you wouldn’t happen to have any cushions or…” I give up in mid-sentence, sighing in defeat. “Okay then, my future. Hit me with it, Mother Time.”
The woman produces two small glasses and a bottle of black liquid from her robes. She uncorks the ancient-looking bottle with some difficulty, pours out both glasses, and pushes one of them toward me. I pick it up and swirl around the contents warily. The drink is about the consistency of honey, and it smells like death. Hoping it’s highly alcoholic, drink it all in one, quick gulp – and then erupt into a fit of hacking coughs. The taste is rotting and faintly metallic, and it burns brutally in my throat.
“Is this what you lot drink in France?” I gasp through my coughing fit. “Certainly explains things.”
The old battleaxe ignores me, pulling a deck of cards out of her robes. She takes her time shuffling them, humming under her breath. They’re beautiful cards, ornately painted and probably centuries old. The woman shuffles the cards again and again, then sets the deck down on the table between us.
“Divide into seven piles,” she orders me. A bit nervously, I reach out for the cards and separate them into seven neat, roughly equal stacks. The old woman nods contemplatively, gathers the cards up into a single pile again, and shuffles them a several more times. I start to feel a bit dizzy and out of breath, like a hazy cloud is settling over my brain, and I wonder what exactly was in that drink. Finally, the woman flips the first five cards off the top of the deck, arranging them face-down into the shape of a cross. She reaches for the card in the middle, and my breath catches in my throat a bit and she turns it over to reveal a portrait of a woman cloaked in a light blue gown, sitting on a marble throne. She’s wearing an elaborate blue headdress, and behind her is a pale yellow crescent moon.
“High Priestess,” says the old woman gravely. “Powerful card, dangerous card. You have a lover?”
“Er, well…” I feel sort of woozy and blurred, and it’s really rather lovely. Shadows undulate over the curtains, dancing dark secret dances. “There’s someone, but I wouldn’t call him a lover exactly. I’m not even sure if he has emotions. Well he has smug and hungry, but that’s it. Is hungry an emotion?”
The woman ignores my drunken spiel. “The man who loves you – there is something you do not know about him. Be careful of knowledge, trust instinct. Do not act before you know–”
Her speech is interrupted by a sudden roar – the sound of dozens of voices raised in a furious chant. The old woman’s eyes go wide. She stands up from her seat and tiptoes over to one of the walls, where she pulls back the velvet curtains to reveal a small, grimy window. I get up and approach the window, peering down at the street below.
“There is a darkness outside,” murmurs the old woman.
Below, a group of people clad in black hooded robes marches down the street. They’re wearing masks over their faces, and they’re chanting in unison. I can’t make out the words they’re saying, but the sound of them has my hair standing on end. The group comes to a stop in front of the shop directly across the street from Madame Lumiere’s. One of the figures at the front draws his wand, knocking the door off its hinges with a flick of his wrist. The figures pour into the shop, and the chanting fades into the sounds of laughter and screams. An orange light flickers behind the shop’s windows. The fire grows and grows until it leaps out onto the roof of the building. Above the flames, outlined in black against the blue afternoon sky, is the shape of a skull and snake: the Death Eaters’ symbol.
The woman pulls the curtains shut, looking up at me with her large, sunken eyes. She reaches out a shriveled hand, and brushes her long fingernails over the side of my face. I’m so shocked from what I’ve just seen, and dizzy from that odd drink, that I don’t think to move away.
“There is also a darkness within,” says the woman gravely.
I stumble away from her, confused and skittish. Sensing what I’m about to do, the old crone shuffles toward me. “Five Galleons!” she exclaims, but it’s too late – I’m already being dragged away by the current of time and space and magic.
When I appear in my flat, Barnabus is waiting for me – sitting right on my sofa with his feet up on the coffee table, his arms stretched out behind his head. I sway from side to side, feeling like I’m being tossed back and forth by the push and pull of the ocean.
“There’s always someone in my flat,” I slur, collapsing into an armchair. “Why is there always someone in my bloody flat?”
Barnabus raises his eyebrows incredulously. “You’re pretty drunk for two o’clock in the afternoon.”
“I’m not drunk,” I mumble. “I’m a powerful card. The old lady gave me an odd drink and I’m still tasting it on my tongue. Did she poison me, Barny?”
Barnabus chuckles. “I’ll get you some water,” he says, rising from the sofa and disappearing into the kitchen. He returns a moment later with a glass of water, which he presses into my hands. “I just popped by from the office, though I should warn you not to go out today... It looks like the Death Eaters are on the warpath.”
I drain the water greedily, and Barnabus refills it with a swish of his wand. The water sloshes around in the glass - it takes me a moment to realize that this is due to the violent trembling of my fingers. The cloudiness is ebbing away from my head, but I can’t seem to get control of my hands, which feel icily, painfully, cold.
“Aislin, what’s wrong?” says Barnabus, pressing the back of his hand against my forehead. “Did someone give you something funny to drink?”
“I’ll be fine,” I say, grimacing and forcing some more water down. “This is what I get for trusting the French. What did you say about the Death Eaters?”
Barnabus sits down on the floor at my feet. “We had a couple of Owls about it. It sounds like they had a nice little parade down Diagon Alley, broke into two shops owned by Muggleborns. Doesn’t look like anyone was killed – the shopowners managed to Apparate out in time. But the fact that they’re confident enough to march down the street in broad daylight… It’s not good.”
“Well, that’s the understatement of the century,” I say, feeling well enough to sit up a bit. “They went down Knockturn Alley, as well.”
Barnabus frowns. “How do you know that? You haven’t been hanging around that place, have you?”
“They were having a sale on shrunken heads.”
“Aislin.” Barnabus puts his hands over mine. “Knockturn Alley’s a dodgy setup to begin with, and things are only getting worse. I don’t care what you were doing there – no reason’s good enough to put yourself in harm’s way. Don’t go back there.”
“Don’t boss me around,” I say, taking another sip of water. “Oh – and I’d also appreciate it if you didn’t go around the Ministry bragging about having me, what was it? ‘Waiting in your bed?’”
“I didn’t go around bragging about you,” says Barnabus defensively “I–”
“Don’t lie, Barny – it bores me,” I interrupt.
Barnabus stands up abruptly, running a hand through his straw-colored hair. “You’re not yourself right now. I’ll come by and check on you later,” he says. Before I can get out another good insult, he turns on the spot, and disappears. For some reason people feel free to Apparate in and out of my flat unannounced. It’s sort of like living at a train station.
“Boring,” I mutter to myself, taking another sip of water. Something on my wrist catches my eye – a black, shiny something that’s spreading slowly over my skin in inky tendrils. I set the glass down quickly and examine my skin.
Blossoming across my skin from my palm to my forearm are swirling black letters, which read:
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