Chapter 7 : Part I, Chapter VII: The Wheel of Fortune
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On the primly polished marble floor of Jackson & Teller’s Bank in Muggle London, a beautiful young woman lies dead. Her wrists, neck, and ankles are adorned with faux-Egyptian jewelry; a large clock has been ripped out of the wall and positioned over her torso. Her eyes, which are brown and lovely, stare unseeingly out from the photograph I’m holding in my hand.
“She’s a good match for the Wheel of Fortune,” says Remus, taking a tarot card out of the deck he’s holding, and flipping it onto the kitchen table. The card depicts a sphinx reclining underneath a large, ornate wheel inscribed with archaic symbols.
“Yeah.” I put the photograph of the crime scene down beside the card, grab my bottle of Firewhisky, and take a swig. “Wish we’d been able to see the real body – it’s hard to get much out of a picture.”
“Moody said it was all he could do to have a picture taken before the Hit-Wizards started cleaning up,” says Remus. “The whole thing was a mess, about a hundred Muggles must have seen the body. It’ll be a miracle if the Ministry manages to wipe all those memories before any of them leaks the story to the Muggle news.”
“Well, the Prophet’s going to have a bloody field day with it,” I say. Thinking of the Daily Prophet brings Barnabus to mind, and I reflexively bring the bottle back to my lips, and take another large gulp. The liquid scorches down my throat, and sits in my stomach bubbling and boiling. Fucking Barnabus. I haven’t spoken to him since last week, when he came over to warn me about the Death Eaters and I practically bit his head off.
“Don’t you ever wonder how much money you’d save if you quit drinking?” says Remus mildly. What I like about Remus is that even when he tells you off, he goes about it in a pleasant way. Although – in the week since he’s moved in, he’s taken up the perplexing habit of removing Firewhisky bottles from the kitchen cabinets, and stashing them in odd places throughout the apartment. He claims that he’s trying to make room for his Butterbeer, but I’m fairly sure that he’s just trying to hide the liquor from me. It’s very annoying to have someone care about your health.
Overall though, my first week with Remus has been a pleasant experience, even if he tends to wake up three or four hours too early for my taste. The oddest thing about him is that whenever he’s not working on the case with me or spending time with his friends at their flats, he’s out running mysterious errands for Moody. I’ve not idea what exactly these errands entail – could be anything from hunting down Dark wizards to, say, ironing Moody’s dress robes. There’s a very mysterious air about the whole thing and I’ve learned to simply stop asking about it.
“Yes,” I reply, “but without my support I imagine the entire liquor industry would collapse, and I’d hate to deprive a lot of hardworking citizens of their livelihoods.” I take another swig of Firewhisky, looking directly into Remus’ eyes: a challenge.
Remus shrugs, apparently unwilling to pursue the argument. Oddly, this disappoints me. “Anyway,” he says, “I don’t know if you’ve been keeping track or anything, but it’s a full moon next week.”
I blink. “Oh, is it already? You should let Lily know she’s free to use the kitchen to brew the Wolfsbane Potion in. I was wondering, though, Remus – should we cover any of the furniture, or anything? I don’t want to offend you, but that’s a new sofa in the sitting room, it’s been drooled on already but I’d hate if it got ripped up.”
“There’s no need to go any trouble,” says Remus, looking slightly amused. “I won’t leave my bedroom.”
“Oh,” I frown. “All right then. Although, er… Well, it’s just that I’ve never seen a werewolf before, and I was sort of hoping, you know…”
“I’m a werewolf, not some animal at the zoo,” says Remus, and though his voice is calm, I can tell by the set of his eyebrow’s that I’ve offended him.
“I don’t know,” I say defiantly. “The way you snore, I’d definitely say you belong in a zoo.”
“I don’t snore!” says Remus, but he laughs, and I know he’s forgiven me. I smile, though I’m a bit disappointed that he’s not going to let me look at him in his wolf form. I was secretly hoping I’d get a chance to pet him, but presumably that’s not going to happen, either.
“Where do we go from here?” I say as Remus gets up and starts to fix himself some tea. He’s still wearing his trademark careworn set of striped green pajamas underneath an even more careworn bathrobe. It’s unusual for him not to be fully dressed by this time, but he was out late last night. “We’ve got absolutely nothing to go on, all our suspects were dead ends… I told you you should have let me come along to question them.”
“It wouldn’t have made a difference,” says Remus, “They all had decent alibis. That Mundungus Fletcher was definitely up to something dodgy, but I think it was more along the lines of stolen broomsticks than arcane murder rituals.”
I’m about to reply when somebody knocks on the door. Remus is busy with his tea, so I get up and yank the front door open, hoping not to see Barnabus, Marlene, or Johnny. Marlene’s been absolutely sickening since she and Johnny got together, and consequentially I’ve been seeing much less of her. It’s not that I don’t love her, it’s just that it’s difficult to have a decent conversation with someone when they keep harping on about their sickening romance with some bloke you used to shag. I can only hope that their relationship will end in tears, and I’ll get my best friend back.
“Special delivery!” says the loud, exuberant voice of James Potter. “Hello, O’Keefe!”
“Hi,” I say, at a loss for words. James’ face isn’t visible behind the large crate he’s holding, but his disheveled dark hair peeks out over the top of the box. This is the first time I’ve seen any of Remus’ friends since he moved in, and my heart flutters nervously. Before I can recover, James pushes past me into the flat, making a beeline for the kitchen. I close the door, and follow him.
“Nice place, Moony!” says James brightly, bustling into the kitchen and setting his crate down on the counter. “I’ve brought you some Butterbeer, sort of as a housewarming gift, you know. Lily says it’s a stupid gift, but then she wasn’t there that time in third-year when you drank six bottles consecutively, then vomited all over Davey Gudgeon’s shoes.”
Remus looks startled and slightly embarrassed. “Thanks, mate. I’ll just put it in the cabinet lat–”
“Taken care of,” says James, flinging open the cabinet doors to reveal my shamefully large stash of Firewhisky bottles, interspersed with a couple of Remus’ Butterbeer ones. “Merlin,” he says, turning to look at me in astonishment. “Isn’t this a bit excessive?”
Not as excessive as your personality, is what I’d like to say. But I know I ought to get along with James now that I’m living with Remus, so I change the subject: “I s’pose I should congratulate you on the engagement.”
“Thanks,” says James, beaming. He turns back to the crate of Butterbeer bottles, starting to unload them into the cabinet, which is fairly cramped already. “Mind if I extend your cabinet a bit?”
“No problem,” I say, not seeing any need to mention that I’ve already used three Extension Charms on the poor cabinet. As James fiddles around extending the cabinet, I return to my seat at the kitchen table, raising my eyebrows at Remus, who shrugs. I can only imagine that if you spend as much time with James as Remus does, you sort of get used to his energy level. Personally, he’s always worn on my nerves a bit – even back in sixth-year when I dated Sirius, I found it difficult to spend more than a few minutes with him. But, according to all the rest of the world, he’s got a good heart.
“How’d it go last night?” asks James as he works.
“It was a complete failure,” sighs Remus. “The informant bailed out on us at the last minute, so we didn’t have a clue what we were doing.”
“Damn,” says James. “I was hoping we’d have a victory to celebrate. It’d help get Sirius’ mind off of Regulus, at least.”
“Regulus Black?” I say, suddenly sitting up very straight in my chair. “Has something happened to him?”
James looks around at me with furrowed eyebrows. “Don’t you read the news? Regulus went missing a couple of days ago, hasn’t been seen or heard from by anyone.”
I stare at James, confusion and fear welling up inside me. Some of my feelings must register on my face, because Remus says: “Aislin?”
“But I saw him this Wednesday,” I say slowly. “I saw him in a book shop on Knockturn Alley. He bumped into me…he looked panicked…”
“I’ll bet he did,” says James. “If he was killed by his fellow Death Eaters, he must’ve messed up pretty badly. I can’t exactly bring myself to feel sorry for one of You-Know-Who’s supporters, Sirius won’t even admit that he’s troubled by it, but…” James shrugs. “It’s his brother.”
Sirius. I saw him duel with his brother once, back in fifth-year when I was infatuated with him but too terrified to meet his eyes. The Ravenclaws had had Potions with the Gryffindors, and we were walking back upstairs when a group of Slytherins passed by in the opposite direction, Regulus among them. All it took was one word from Regulus’ lips – “blood-traitor” – and then all of a sudden, they were locked in a furious duel. Sirius got six weeks of detentions.
“Anyway,” says James, “There’s a party on later tonight – O’Keefe, won’t you help me drag Remus along? It’d do him good to have some fun for a change.”
“I shouldn’t, I’m exhausted,” protests Remus, but James isn’t having any of it.
“Come on, mate,” he cajoles his friend. “That idiot Cuffe from our year’s throwing it in honor of his own promotion. We’ll never get another chance this good to avenge ourselves for when he turned us into McGongall for putting all those flobberworms in the Slytherins’ pudding. It’ll cheer Sirius up.”
Once again, I’m at a loss for words. If Barnabus is throwing a party, and I haven’t heard of it, it looks like he hasn’t forgiven me for antagonizing him last week. I roll my Firewhisky bottle back and forth between my palms, frowning to myself. I’m obviously not going to apologize to him for anything that I said, but I’m a bit annoyed that I’m not invited to the party. I can’t believe Barnabus hasn’t even stopped by to brag about his promotion.
“I thought parties bored Sirius,” says Remus, still looking hesitant.
“It’s not about the party, mate,” says James, with the air of somebody explaining basic mathematics to a small child. “It’s about using the party as an excuse to put a lot of flobberworms into Barnabus Cuffe’s food.”
Remus shakes his head, but he’s grinning. “I still think you should let that go. But I s’pose I’ll tag along for a bit.”
“Excellent,” says James enthusiastically, shoving the last few Butterbeer bottles into the cabinet, and slamming the doors shut. “Peter can’t make it, but that’s no big loss, every time he goes to parties he ends up eating all the finger foods, which doesn’t endear him to anyone.”
“He’s been keeping busy lately,” notes Remus.
“Yeah,” says James. “O’Keefe, why don’t you come along? You can help me convince Remus to have a drink of something stronger than Butterbeer.”
“Er…” I look from James to Remus, completely taken aback. Besides the fact that I’m not welcome in Barnabus’ flat at the moment, the idea of showing up to a party with Sirius is totally derailing. “I don’t know if I…”
“Look, if this is about the way we treated you in school, I think it’s about time we all moved on,” says James bluntly. “I’ll even apologize, if you’d like. Here: O’Keefe, I’m sorry we put you through hell in seventh-year, especially the time we sent you those chocolates laced with love potion so you’d get all hot and bothered for Hagrid.”
I scowl, remembering the incident distinctly.
“Though you’ve got to admit, it was sort of brilliant,” adds James, smiling fondly at the memory. “But anyway, there you are, O’Keefe. Now won’t you come along?”
I shake my head decisively. “It’s nice of you, but I’ve got some errands to run later on. Maybe next time.”
Since it first appeared on my skin last week, the shiny black tattoo has been slowly expanding across my arm: inky swirls grow outward from the bold letters, reaching all the way to my fingertips, and almost to the inside of my elbow. Left to my own devices, I’m so lazy that I’d probably just let it be. But Moody caught a glimpse of it when we met up this morning, and gave me a long speech about how tattoos and such make a person more easily identifiable, which is dangerous in these dark times, and so on. Seemed like a strange speech coming from a man who’s missing a great chunk out of his nose, but that’s a moot point.
Around ten o’clock, I wander down Knockturn Alley for the third time this month, scanning the painted signs in search of Madame Luminaire’s Tarot Shop. I’m certainly not planning on paying the old hag an entire five Galleons, not when she didn’t even finish reading my fortune. The plan is to insult her stupid ruffled dress robes so vehemently that she concedes to remove the tattoo, and then get in a couple of questions about tarot cards if possible.
Oddly, the alley is completely devoid of life. Over the last few months, it’s become normal for shoppers to clear out of Diagon Alley around sundown, what with the constant threat of the Death Eaters – but if even the sinister shopkeepers of Knockturn Alley feel the need to close their doors at nightfall, something very dark must be afoot.
I walk down the alleyway quickly and quietly, keeping in the shadows as much as possible. There are no lights in any of the windows, and even the pubs seem to be closed. A cold wind races down the alley, pushing at my back as if urging me to quicken my pace. I oblige it – giving up on being silent, I hurry down the cobbled road, my footsteps echoing loudly down the alleyway. I hate to admit it, but Barnabus was right: I probably shouldn’t have come back here, and I certainly shouldn’t have come alone.
Finally, I reach the building with the rickety staircase that leads up to Madame Luminaire’s musty room. But something is wrong. There’s a thick chain wound across the staircase’s entrance, and Madame Luminaire’s sign is gone.
Hoping to find some hint of her whereabouts within the salon, I duck underneath the chain and proceed up the staircase. As before, the door swings open before my fingers reach its handle. The moment I take a step into the room, I’m overcome by the same dizzying, blurring sensation that I experienced the last time I was here. The room is dark, and my mind foggy, but as I squint around at the room I soon realize that everything in it, from the torturously uncomfortable chairs to the ugly old woman, has simply vanished. I curse under my breath, stumbling around the room in search of any clue as to where she might have gone, but all that I discover are dust and a family of scuttling spiders. I’m heading back to the door, which has shut itself behind me, when I hear the soft clinking sound, and freeze.
It’s a chinking, metallic sound, the sound of somebody brushing against a chain.
Then the footsteps begin. Slowly and stealthily, somebody is climbing up Madame Luminaire’s rickety staircase. With each step the intruder takes, the stairs let out a barely audible groan.
My heart races as the intruder takes a sixth step, then a seventh. Whoever the person is, they’re trying to be sneaky. Did they follow me down Knockturn Alley? Have they been watching me from the shadows since I arrived, waiting to corner me and pounce? As brain, sluggish from the old witch’s enchantment, struggles to process all this, I draw my wand out of my pocket, and point it at the door. The intruder takes another step, and then the noises stop.
“Are you in there, Priestess?” says a man’s voice, cutting through the silence.
The High Priestess. My lips part, and I take several steps backward, away from the door. The floor creaks under my feet, giving me away, and the man’s footsteps begin again, faster now. My thoughts are jumbled and confused and terrified. I don’t want to Apparate – in the state I’m in, I’ll probably get Splinched. But as the door handle slowly turns, a wave of animalistic fear washes over me. I turn on the spot, and am whirled away into space just as the door begins to creak open.
I land in a heap on my bedroom floor, and roll onto my back, groaning. My mind is foggy and turgid, and for several minutes all I can do is lie on the floor, taking deep steadying breaths. Eventually, I manage to drag myself onto my feet and into the kitchen, where I clumsily make myself a cup of strong tea, then another. The tea helps my wits come back to me, and soon I’m feeling well enough to sit curled up on the sofa, helping myself to a glass of Dragonwine and some biscuits. I’m halfway through the tin of biscuits by the time Remus Floos into the sitting room.
“You’re back early,” I greet him, as he stumbles into the room and flops down onto the other end of the sofa. “I thought you’d all be out drinking until sunrise.”
Before Remus can reply, the fire comes to life again, flaring huge and green as a dark figure appears within the flames. The newcomer is so tall that he has to half-crawl out of the fireplace, but he manages to do it gracefully, like a cat-burglar slipping through an open window. He straightens up, brushing a bit of soot out of his neat dark hair, and nods at me.
“Hi,” I say. My cheeks feel suddenly hot, and I hope my face isn’t too red. “Party was no good?”
Sirius’ face is grim as he slumps down into an armchair. “It was fine until somebody set fire to the building. James was disappointed – he didn’t get a chance to put flobberworms into any of the food.”
Remus raises his head off of the arm of the sofa, and attempts to speak, but his words are so slurred that come out sounding like a foreign language. He hiccups, groans, and rests his head back on the arm of the sofa.
“Remus had some Firewhisky,” says Sirius, his lips twitching.
“I’ll make him some tea,” I offer, getting up. Sirius follows me to the kitchen, where he leans against the counter, silently watching me fix the tea. He’s just as handsome as ever, with his high cheekbones, dark brow, and enviable complexion. But something is different about him – his eyes have a new gravity about them, almost a somberness.
“Shame about the party,” I say, stirring a few spoonfuls of sugar into the dark liquid. “Everyone got out okay?”
“Yeah,” says Sirius.
I try again. “So, how have you been?”
“Are you working?”
“In a way.”
Sighing internally, I give up on conversation, and focus my energies on getting Remus back onto his feet. I set a knife to work slicing an apple into pieces, and pour a large glass of pumpkin juice for him to drink with his tea.
“Did you get a tattoo?”
I turn around. Sirius’ eyes are fixed on the palm of my right hand, where the word FIVE is clearly visible in oily black letters.
“Not exactly,” I say, pushing up my sleeve for him to see. “An old hag in a tarot shop gave me a cursed potion. I left without paying, so I got this. I’ve tried everything to get rid of it, but it’s sticking.”
Sirius pushes off the counter and approaches me, gazing pensively down at my arm. “You tried an Extraction Charm?”
“Obviously,” I say, dropping my arm back down to my side.
Sirius looks up at my face, and snorts. “Well, if you’re so brilliant, why did you drink the potion off an old hag in a tarot shop in the first place?”
“I thought it was liquor,” I grumble, gathering up Remus’ tea, juice, and sliced apple, and whisking it off to the sitting room table. Remus has fallen asleep on the sofa, snoring a bit, and frowning at his dreams. It’s all very endearing, though I’ve just gone to the trouble of preparing all this food for him. I shake my head, sitting back down and picking up my glass of Dragonwine. Sirius, who’s followed me back from the kitchen, returns to his armchair.
“Is it true you Splinched yourself, then tried to sneak Firewhisky past the Healers while you were at St. Mungo’s?” asks Sirius after a while, a slight grin on his face.
“If they’d just install a bar in the bloody place, they wouldn’t have those sorts of problems,” I say. “Is it true you drive around on a flying motorcycle?”
“Nah, that’s just gossip,” says Sirius, grinning wider now. “It’s a flying pogo stick.”
“Much more masculine,” I reply, and we fall into silence. Sirius reaches for Remus’ glass of pumpkin juice, and I watch the movement of his lean hard muscles. Merlin knows how he’s so fit, when he eats like an adult lion. He downs the juice in a couple of gulps, and leans back in his chair, sighing.
“James really wanted tonight to be good,” he says regretfully. “I think he wanted it to be like old times, you know.”
“He just wanted you lot to have some fun,” I say, nodding at the sleeping Remus. “Fun’s getting harder and harder to come by, these days.”
Sirius nods, and silence overtakes the room again. I crunch through several more biscuits, thinking about what happened earlier in Knockturn Alley. “Are you in there, Priestess?” the man – whoever he was – said to me. Or did he? I suppose it’s possible that Madame Luminaire’s enchantment addled my mind, making me hear things.
“You can go to sleep,” says Sirius after a while, interrupting my reverie. “I’ll stay and watch Remus.”
“Oh.” I blink. “Yeah, I think I will, thanks.”
I pull myself to my feet, eager to put the day to an end. Halfway to my bedroom door, I pause and turn around. “Look, it was good to see you again.”
But Sirius has fallen asleep, slumped over in his chair.
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