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In My Time of Dying by Stag Night
Chapter 8 : Weddings, Tea and Death Eaters
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 15


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In My Time of Dying
Disclaimer:
The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.


C H A P T E R . E I G H T
Weddings, Tea and Death Eaters




"Sweet Merlin on a cracker!" cried Peter, holding up the envelope with glee. "Finally! Finally!"


He ripped the note open, his heart hammering in his chest as the forgotten envelope fluttered to his bedroom floor. This was, after all, everything that he'd been waiting for the last three years (ever since his brother was born, ever since he became old enough to want to rebel). His escape, his freedom.


Yesterday was his eighteenth birthday. He was the youngest student in his class, being born in August. But it was finally here, had finally come. He was now of age both in the wizarding world and in the Muggle world where his father had come from. And that meant his inheritance was finally his.


The birthday had been a disaster. His friends had wanted him to come over to Sirius's flat, where they wished to celebrate. His mother had disagreed, stating that she'd spent hours baking a cake and Ben was very excited for the small family birthday party.


Begrudgingly, Peter had flooed to Sirius's flat just to tell his friends he couldn't stay, that he had to celebrate with his "sodding family." His friends had acted disappointed at first, but had loaded his arms with their gifts, and as he stepped into the fireplace to return home, had seemed perfectly happy to celebrate without him.


This had bothered Peter slightly. It didn't seem like they missed his absence at all, sometimes.


And then he'd suffered through a night alone with his mother and brother, a night like any other. Ben had painted him a picture that looked like nothing more than a giant blue and yellow blob with a booger in it. And his mother had given him a new shirt, the worst kind of shirt. The kind of shirt that had flowers printed all over it, and really wide, open sleeves.


Ben had stuck his finger in the frosting on the birthday cake. Multiple times, in fact, so that it was impossible to get a piece that hadn't been touched.


But this morning was the best of his life. He'd woken up to an official owl from Gringott's Bank, with a letter stating his father's account had been passed into his name, and a key to the vault.


The gold was his, and he thrust his fist into the air triumphantly. He jumped off the bed and pulled on a pair of jeans. He was going house hunting, right away. He'd even wear his new flower shirt, for nothing mattered, nothing could bother him in this one moment.






II.

“This doesn’t look like much of a place to have a wedding,” Sirius observed sceptically as he and his friends stared at the small house. He stubbornly stopped walking as he looked the place over.


James pushed him lightly from behind, urging him forward again. “What do you expect, Pads? A huge celebration? Might as well send Voldemort himself an invitation to something like that.”


Sirius shrugged and grinned at his best friend. “Let him come, then we can finish this all off and end it.”


James didn’t really find this to be funny, but for Sirius’s sake he smiled anyway. Sirius only had half his heart into the little joke; his own grin slipped from his face after a moment and he looked thoughtfully towards the house again.


It was quaint; certainly nothing large, but in a nice enough neighbourhood. There would be very few guests; any large gathering would definitely attract attention. As they stepped into the yard, they felt a slight ripple run through them. They immediately recognized protective spells.


“Well it looks like they’ve taken the appropriate security measures, at least,” said Remus approvingly.


Lily held onto James’s arm as they walked. “I’m sure,” she agreed with Remus. “Frank and Alice are both Aurors for the Ministry... Plus, working for Dumbledore... this place is probably as safe as Hogwarts right now.” She smiled reassuringly at James’s friends - it was hard to see everyone so hesitant and paranoid to take part in a celebratory gathering.


“Potter!” Frank’s loud voice rang out over the chatter of the small crowed as soon as they entered the house. He hurried to the door to greet them. “Sirius, Remus, Lily,” he said, smiling in welcome. “We’re so glad you could come. Er... Where is Pettigrew?”


“Couldn’t make it,” said James automatically. Peter had determinedly avoided all talk of this wedding, the wedding of his ex-girlfriend, the only girl in school who'd really given him a chance.


“He’s moving out of his mother’s house today,” supplied Remus.


“Ah,” Frank mused, rubbing his chin. “That’s a shame... that’s a shame. Alice will miss him. Well, everyone will be sitting in the living room,” he nodded his head towards a doorway. “It’s just a small wedding for friends, you know, but we’re definitely glad you could come.”


He seemed distracted and flustered and the four didn’t bother to ask him any questions; instead they thanked him and headed to the living room to find seats.


Sirius sighed. “I’m not looking forward to this,” he muttered under his breath. “I wish Wormtail was here...”


Having been forced to sit through several former weddings, funerals, dinner parties and meetings as a child in the Black household, he automatically dreaded something like this. He had only come because he was invited, and because he hadn’t wanted to be rude. He had a hard time shaking off the habits that had been pound into his head by his parents; today, despite his complaints, he was present, proper, and handsome. He'd even combed his shaggy hair to the side so it didn't hang in his eyes. Even though he was miserable at the thought of attending another wedding, he nevertheless had a smile on his face as he grumbled to himself, and he nodded in greeting to those who looked his way.


In all, it was stiff and uncomfortable and he hated it, being forced to appear proper when he really wasn't, not when half the people here knew of his reputation as a Marauder, anyway.


“I know,” James assured him soothingly with a bracing pat on his shoulder, perfectly aware of his friend’s misery. “But you know he couldn’t stand to watch his former girlfriend marry Frank. At least he had an excuse. We’ll have to stop by his new place afterwards, it’s not far from here, I don’t think...” he trailed away, racking his brain for the location of Peter’s new cottage. He swore Peter had told them where it was and he chastised himself now for not paying attention.


It was true that it was a small wedding - there were only five rows of seats stretched across the room. A narrow aisle ran through the middle. Most of the seats were occupied by the Longbottom and Hopper families; the few that remained were occupied by members of the Order. James, Lily, Sirius and Remus sat beside Gideon and Fabian Prewett in the fourth row. The twins were cracking jokes under their breath and welcomed the four friends warmly.


In fact, as the wedding began and Frank strode to the head of the room to wait for his new bride, Sirius had to force himself not to burst into laughter at the twins’ antics. They were passing notes - horrible, childish little drawings that were hilariously pathetic - their actions hidden by the row of people in front of them. Gideon leaned across his brother and whispered about Frank’s mother’s vulture hat in an amused tone. Fabian pointed out Alastor Moody, looking incredibly out of place in dress robes.


Sirius let out an involuntary snort that was thankfully masked by the sounds of scraping chairs as everyone stood up. It was time for Alice to make her debut - as she rounded the corner into the small room, her cheeks were flushed and she looked embarrassed at the attention, but thrilled that this was her day.


At the front of the room, Frank’s smile was bigger than ever as he watched her walk towards him. When she was near the Marauders’ row, her long train caught underneath somebody’s chair. She turned in horror, but Gideon was quick to reach down and lightly tug it free. She cast him a grateful look and walked on, and he nodded back, his face as red as his hair. When he turned back to his brother and new friends, he looked like he was desperately trying not to laugh. Fabian, sensing how close his brother was to completely losing it in the middle of the ceremony, thankfully didn't comment.


In all, it wasn’t as miserable as Sirius was expecting it to be, though this was largely thanks to the Prewett brothers keeping him in silent, hardly controllable stitches. He suspected that weddings weren’t really their thing, either, and they were only here because Frank and Alice were their friends. The ceremony itself passed quickly, barely ten minutes long as the priest gave a short speech and then led them through their vows.


Gideon and Fabian whistled and clapped loudly at the first kiss as a married couple, and Sirius was surprised they’d been paying attention enough to be aware of when it even happened. After the bride and groom left the room arm in arm, the crowd in the seats rose to follow.


“The reception will be down in the basement,” the priest announced over the sudden noise. Gideon and Fabian hurried to Frank’s mother in her vulture hat, offering their arms and huge smiles to escort her out of the room; she appeared quite pleased with them.


Sirius turned and grinned at James, Lily, and Remus. “That wasn’t so bad,” he voiced cheerfully.


“At least we got good seats,” said James, winking at him. Remus smiled knowingly as well but said nothing. Lily alone seemed to have missed out on the antics of the twins; she had been watching the wedding in awe, and she fanned her face with her hand to dry out her eyes. Despite her struggles, she’d gotten teary watching the people she’d practically grown up with get married - especially when she saw the proud looks on their families’ faces.


“Alice’s dress was lovely,” she said. She pulled out a tissue and dabbed lightly beneath her eyes now. “I wonder if this is their new home?”


James looked around quickly, taking in the barren house. “It very well could be,” he said. “That makes sense. Have the wedding here while its empty before they move their furniture in.”


“I want a big wedding when I get married,” Lily announced, her green eyes sparkling. “It’s such a special day.”


James looked alarmed. “Right,” he agreed quickly. “Except that big weddings are kind of dangerous, at least as long as Voldemort is around.” Several people overheard him as they fought their way through the crowd, and all of them looked his way in horror. “Er... You-Know-Who,” he corrected himself automatically.


Lily seemed oblivious of the looks of those around them. She sighed in disappointment. “Yeah, I know. He ruins our lives in so many different ways, doesn’t he?”


“Well, this is nice enough,” Remus assured her warmly. “The wedding turned out great, even if it was small.”


Lily smiled back - she’d always been fond of Remus - they’d worked together as Prefects for three years in school and she’d gotten to know him quite well, even before she got to know James and his other friends. When Severus Snape had voiced his ‘suspicions’ about Remus to her in their fifth year, it was a true mark of how much she liked her fellow Prefect that she brushed her former best friend’s warnings away and never said anything about it to anyone else.


“That’s true. I wouldn’t mind a small wedding if it was like this.” She smiled at James as they headed down the stairs, swept along with the small crowd. “What about you, James, any preference?”


James raised his eyebrows and gave her a quizzical look. “Why, Evans,” he said in a mock tone. “Are you implying that you’d like to marry me?”


Sirius and Remus burst into identical smiles and Lily slapped James upside the arm with her handbag. “Now you’re just putting words in my mouth, Potter.”






III.

It was late in the evening when the fireplace in the comfortable Godric’s Hollow cottage flared to life suddenly with green flame, and a split second later, Sirius spun into view. He threw his hands out, catching his balance with the help of the walls, and then launched himself through the opening. He didn’t forget to take off his shoes, knowing that James’s mother would scold him to no end if he tracked coal and dirt onto her floors.


Eve Potter hurried into the sitting room, wiping her hands on an apron. She had heard his arrival, and when she caught sight of her adopted son, her face lit up. “Sirius! What a surprise! I’m so glad you came, it’s been much too long since we’ve seen you.” And she hurried forward to give him a hug as he shook his black hair out of his face.


“Have you been baking?” he asked her, flashing a charming grin. “Something smells magnificent.”


She blushed at his compliment. “I was making a trifle,” she stated, taking his hand and leading him into the kitchen. Sirius didn’t dare grip her hand back too firmly; she was elderly and was appearing fragile. James often complained about his parents’ age, but Sirius knew his friend was just worried for their health and safety.


He sniffed the air appreciatively as they entered the kitchen - the aroma was much stronger in here - and sat down on a stool at the counter.


“How was the Longbottom wedding?” asked Eve Potter as she turned towards the dirty dishes.


Sirius immediately got to his feet and hurried to help with the cleaning. “It was small. But very nice. James should be here soon, he was just taking Lily home first. I’ve got that,” he added, taking a bowl from her and turning the water on in the sink. He shrugged off his cloak and rolled up his sleeves, deaf to the sound of another person entering the room.


“I thought I heard your arrival, Sirius,” came a hoarse, yet still very strong, voice from behind him. Sirius turned quickly in greeting, wiping his wet hands on a towel rather than on his dress robes, and smiled at John Potter.


“Indeed, Mr Potter.”


The old man was completely bald now with huge thick glasses. He wore a cap to cover the baldness, however, and despite his age, he still stood tall and looked lean. Yet his movements were slow and so Sirius hurried to him instead of forcing the old man to walk most of the way. He grabbed John’s hand and squeezed as hard as he dared, shaking it, and John glared at him threateningly. Sirius glared back, trying to hide the grin that desperately fought to show itself.


After a moment, John relaxed and released Sirius’s hand. “That was a good one,” he stated proudly, and then sat down at one of the stools. “Whenever you shake somebody’s hand, you do it firm. Squeeze as hard as you can, try to hurt them. You don’t back down, you look them square in the face, and don’t smile. That’s how they know you’re not a man to be messed with.”


Sirius nodded once in acknowledgment. “Yes, sir.” They exchanged handshakes every time he came over, but as he enjoyed it, he never pointed this out to anyone and nobody ever said anything about it.


He decided not to mention how his handshake had positively frightened Mr Crouch months earlier.


John Potter had accomplished quite a lot in his long life. He’d been head Auror at the Ministry of Magic from his mid forties to his retirement. He was rich, successful, and independent. Even looking frail now in his old age, he still stood tall and gave off an intimidating presence. When Sirius had first moved into the cottage, John had taken him into his small office and pulled out a wooden drawer in his file cabinet. In it were several certificates for outstanding achievements while at Hogwarts, for outstanding scores on N.E.W.T.s, for outstanding scores while testing to become an Auror. He had rewards from the Ministry for some of the work he’d done, various recognitions, and even an Order of Merlin.


“I want you to get every single one of these rewards,” he had told Sirius firmly.


“Okay,” Sirius had said, scared out of his mind. John Potter was the type of person who's very presence - the pride, the accomplishments, the way he looked at a person, and his inner goodness - radiated and very subtly demanded respect.


The sound of rocks and pebbles hitting stone in the next room announced James’s arrival. Sirius hurried to the sitting room to greet his friend, and Eve followed him. John remained at the stool, knowing he wouldn’t get there in time anyway.


“Hey, Pads,” James greeted Sirius as he stepped out of the fireplace. He pulled his cloak off and handed it to his best friend. Sirius tossed it over his shoulder as James opened his arms and walked towards his mother. “Hi, mum.”


“Did you have a good time?” asked Eve, lightly brushing her lips across his cheek. He settled his arm gently across her shoulder, threw his other across Sirius's, and lead them back into the kitchen.


“Something smells good,” he remarked. “And I had a great time.”


“Lily?” asked Eve - she’d heard a ton of James’s girlfriend, but had yet to meet the girl. She loved her already though, just by hearing the way her son spoke of her.


“Lily looked wonderful. She had a good time too.”


Sirius dropped James’s cloak on top of his own on the counter.


“Dad,” James greeted, removing his arm from his mother and extending a hand towards his father for the traditional handshake.


“James!” Eve gasped suddenly, horrified. Everyone turned to her in alarm and she pointed a shaking hand at James’s feet. “You didn’t take your shoes off! You know better! If you tracked soot on my carpets...”


James rolled his eyes. “For crying out loud,” he muttered, bending over to undo his laces.


“Sirius took his off!” His mother insisted, and she pointed at Sirius’s stocking feet to prove it. Sirius smiled smugly at James and James rolled his eyes. “He’s respectful!”


This is why I spend most of my time at Sirius’s and not here, mum!” James announced huffily, but it was clear he was only joking. He straightened again, a shoe in each hand, and he held them up for her to see. “There, happy?” and then he promptly set them down on the counter.


“James!”


James burst into laughter and grabbed his shoes again, jogging back into the sitting room to toss them beside the fireplace with Sirius’s. Sirius grinned at his retreating back and then stole glances at each of James’s parents. Eve Potter was smiling in spite of herself and John was packing his pipe, choosing not to comment but looking amused all the same. He loved this family - every time he was with them, the house was full of love and laughter - a huge contrast from the Black home that he’d left.


When James re-entered the room, Eve served them all trifle and tea and they sat around, chatting and eating. Neither Sirius nor James could deny second helpings, and John, who grumpily claimed he didn’t like it, had a second helping as well.


“James,” said Eve, now that all their plates were stacked on the counter. “You said you had something you want to talk to us about.” She settled back with her hands folded gracefully in her lap and looked expectantly at her son. Sirius was struck with the sudden feeling that she was expecting a wedding announcement.


“Er...” James said. He pulled his napkin from his lap and wiped his mouth with it. “Right. Well, Mum... Dad...” he looked hesitantly at Sirius, begging for help. And Sirius, knowing it’d probably be easier for their parents to hear it from him than from their true son, obliged.


“Mr Potter,” he started, turning towards the man of the house. He’d never called James’s parents ‘mum and dad,’ though he thought of them that way. He was much too reserved and cautious, especially after the emotional pain he’d suffered from his own parents. “Dumbledore spoke to you about a secret Order he was forming a coupe years ago. I think you even helped out with a few of the meetings.”


John nodded, a grim smile on his face. He enjoyed conversations about the wars - he’d been a part of the Grindelwald days, after all, and he’d done all he could for the war against Voldemort as well until his age forced him into retirement.


Eve’s face immediately fell as she peered questioningly at Sirius, her eyes begging him to look at her instead of her husband so that she could search him for the truth. “Sirius? What does that have to do with anything?”


Her begging worked - he quickly turned his head to her instead, and his grey eyes looked steadily into her hazel ones. “We joined the Order to help fight,” he said cautiously, even gently.


Her eyes immediately became watery. “You what?” she practically whispered, horrified. “I thought you were going to be Aurors!”


“We are Aurors, more or less... unofficially...” Sirius trailed off, feeling horrible for causing the look on her face. He had to look away then, look down at his hands instead to hide his shame at upsetting her.


“But Dumbledore’s Order fights much more dangerously!” she wailed now, covering her face with her napkin.


“Mum,” interrupted James, as he knew Sirius would say no more on the subject. “We tried for the Ministry, but they’re using the Unforgivables on their captured suspects! Somebody was murdered with the Killing Curse while we were being interviewed! So I - we- left. We’ve already been to a few meetings...”


“Excuse me,” said James’s mother, suddenly standing so fast that both James and Sirius hastily reached an arm out to steady the old woman. She blew her nose and then walked purposely into the hallway and up the stairs.


James, looking thoroughly miserable, glanced at his father. John very calmly took a last drink of his tea and then met his sons eye. “That is a very noble thing you are doing, boys. They’re using Unforgivables at the Ministry now?”


James grimaced and slowly nodded his head. Sirius drained his own tea cup and then swirled the dregs, setting the cup upside down its saucer and folding his arms behind his head, completely relaxed.


John shook his head in disappointment as he pushed himself out of his chair. “Times have changed,” he muttered. “Excuse me, I need to check on your mother.” And then he, too, was climbing the stairs.


Sirius and James looked at each other from across the table, Sirius still reclined in his chair and James sitting with his shoulders slumped. “I guess that’s that,” James sighed after a moment.


“Don’t take it so hard, Prongs,” reassured Sirius as he stretched luxuriously.


James shrugged jerkily and they sat in silence for a few minutes, neither feeling the need to say anything because they were perfectly capable of reading each other’s expressions, movements and feelings. James finally stood and took his and his father’s tea cups to the sink. “Wish they’d sell this place,” he grumbled as he set them on the counter.


“You grew up here,” pointed out Sirius, looking completely comfortable in his chair.


“I know, but they’re getting too old to climb the stairs to bed and stuff, and doing the yard work. They’d be better off getting a nice flat or something.”


“Nah,” Sirius disagreed, looking around the walls fondly. “I love this house. They’re not that old, really, James... Mipsy does the yard work...” he trailed off feebly. Mipsy was the house elf.


They both knew the Potters were weak with age and probably wouldn’t last more than a few more years, but Sirius didn’t want to dwell on that and he wished James wouldn’t either.


James grunted and walked back to the table, leaning on the back of Sirius’s chair and patting his shoulder. Thanks for trying, Sirius deciphered in his touch. But when James spoke, all he said was “What’s your teacup say?”


Sirius flipped it over to check. “Danger, an enemy, trials and suffering.”


James smirked and reached over Sirius’s shoulder to take the cup and saucer from him, carrying both to the sink. “Think I can go home with you tonight?” he asked after a moment. “I can’t handle her crying every time she looks at me for the next month. I’ll kip on the couch.”


“You don’t even have to ask, Prongs, you know that.”


James cast him a grateful smile.






IV.

Loud banging was hammering against Sirius's front door. He groaned and rolled over, pawing at his bedside table for his wand.


He knew they shouldn't have stayed up so late drinking.


"Lumos," he whispered groggily, trying to hold the wand up to his watch. He missed a few times in his exhaustion, and he had to blink blearily before his eyes were clear enough to register the numbers.


"Bloody..." he groaned, struggling to untangle himself from the sheets, "Arse o'clock..."


Sirius stumbled, tripping over the bed sheets that were now in a lump on the floor, but with the grace of a cat, he recovered and pulled on the dress robes he'd shed on the floor only hours before. He made his way out of the bedroom and into the short, dark hall.


Remus was snoring in the bedroom next door. Sirius walked on.


In the living room, on the couch, James stirred but didn't wake. Sirius ran his hand through his hair as he yanked open the front door. Outside stood two tall, black robed figures. Their hoods were pulled over their heads and their faces were cast in shadow.


Death Eaters.


Sirius's heart skipped a beat, for he realised now, as he patted his pockets, that he'd left his wand in his bedroom. He looked up, his mouth falling open in panic as he faced his shadowed killers. He was going to die.


They stepped in, one of them grabbing his dress robes and using them to haul him up against a wall; the other crammed a hand over Sirius's mouth.


"No," Sirius struggled against the iron fist, but was quickly muffled. He kicked his feet, and a knee was suddenly pressed into his thigh to restrain him.


James sat up suddenly in the living room. "Padfoot?" he asked in the dark. Sirius could hardly breath and his eyes widened, rolling towards his friend. James had his face in his hands; apparently he had drunk even more than Sirius. Pinching the bridge of his nose, James peered at them through the dark.


"Shit," he slurred, grabbing his wand and standing unsteadily. He stumbled forward as Sirius swallowed. "Shit."


The Death Eaters turned at his voice, surprised to find that Sirius had company. One of the men turned back to Sirius and quickly reached his hand up to remove his hood just as James unsteadily raised his wand.


"Lesson number one," the Death Eater said, and Sirius swore, even as he was about to die, that he could detect a bit of humour laced in the voice. The fingers found the black fabric and the hood was yanked off, revealing a shaggy mess of red hair.


Gideon smiled at Sirius and removed his hand from where it had been clamped over his face to prevent his yelling. "Don't just open the door, you dolt. It could be anybody." He turned to James, who looked appropriately confused, leaning against a wall and staring with glassy eyes. "And you can lower your wand, Potter."


James obediently let his wand fall.


It was a good thing that Fabian still held Sirius pressed threateningly into the wall, or else he might have simply collapsed. Gideon reached over and pulled Fabian's hood back as well. There was a glint in Fabian's eye, and he didn't smile as his brother did. He released his grip and Sirius slumped halfway down the wall before finding his footing and catching himself.


"...the hell are you lot doing here?" James demanded after a moment. His voice sounded agitated, or perhaps it was just the alcohol. He had to have been just as tired as Sirius was. "You gave us quite a scare. Oh, right, and there's also that little bit about it being late, or did you know?"


Gideon shook his head, eyes twinkling, and gave an innocent shrug and a chuckle. "You're bladdered," he laughed, as if having the time of his life.


James couldn't help it, for Gideon's smile was contagious. He grinned back drunkenly, and then after a moment reached over, gripped Sirius's hand and unsteadily hauled him to his feet.


"We've got Orders from Dumbledore," said Fabian, clearly not in the mood for playing games as his twin brother was. "The Hogs Head bartender reported seeing Death Eaters in Hogsmeade today. Said they Apparated into town, raised a little hell, and took off on foot for the mountains. Dumbledore believes they may have a meeting place set up somewhere, and he wants us to try to find it."


Sirius yawned. It had been nothing but late nights ever since joining Dumbledore's group. Order meetings sometimes didn't end until early morning. It had made defending himself against Alastor Moody very trying. All he wanted to do was curl up in bed. He reached over and patted Gideon's shoulder. "Good luck," he murmured, turning to walk back to his room.


Fabian caught his arm. "Not so fast, Black. You lot are going with us."


"What for?"


"To learn a lesson," said Fabian simply. Sirius scowled, but James looked excited. They sobered up quite quickly at the news that they were going out. "Get your friends. We're leaving in five minutes."






V.

Peter leaned tiredly against Sirius and rubbed his bloodshot eyes. Sirius himself was too exhausted to even notice the extra weight. He could do little more than shiver and yawn; his head ached terribly and he felt nauseous with a hangover. Remus stood on his other side, huddled in his thin, shabby robes and a scarf.


Above them, the Dementors whispered. Remus's brown eyes turned upwards worriedly.


Gideon and Fabian ignored the haunting sounds on the wind. They crouched at the edge of the road. On one side, the forest extended into the distance. Sirius knew it was the very same forest that they'd been forbidden to visit during their school years, the very same forest they'd explored many times anyway. On the other side was a stile and a rocky hill. It rose steeply, and the top was lost from sight because of sharp rocks jutting out high above them. Sirius's grey eyes studied them with a feeling of dread.


James leaned over the brothers, hands on his knees, very intent on what they were doing.


"They went this way," said Fabian after a moment.


"How do you know?" asked Remus, trying not to shiver.


Gideon was studying a flattened pinecone, and he held it up for Remus to see. "You'll learn to recognise the signs," he said brightly, as if following Death Eaters at two in the morning was a brilliant adventure.


"Come closer," said Fabian, shifting to the side. They all crowded around, feeling slightly stupid. Six men crowded around a silly little gap in the wooden fence. Sirius heaved a sigh as he studied the fence, pretending to know what he was supposed to be looking at.


Fabian reached out a finger and pointed to the side of the fence, the gap that would let them through. Sirius saw thin, delicate strands of a spider's web, glittering with moisture. It was broken, clearly having been built across the stile. Somebody had walked through it.


Fabian looked triumphant as he straightened and stepped through the gap in the fence. Without a word, the others followed. They began to climb the rocks, Gideon and Fabian pointing out how they could tell where others had been. A small pile of loose rock chips on the ground meant that they had fallen recently, likely disturbed by somebody climbing them. It was in that way that they picked their way carefully up the side of the steep hill.


"You look like a right lout, Pads," James panted, tired and exhausted as they climbed. He glanced at Sirius and a lopsided grin cracked his face. "Why are you wearing your dress robes?"


"Naff off," growled Sirius.


Gideon let loose a laugh and looked back to see Sirius's clothing. "Those are the same ones you wore to the wedding today," he said easily.


Sirius scowled, for clearly, they weren't going to let it go. "Grabbed them off the floor. I didn't have time to put anything better on," he muttered. He didn't find the matter of his attire amusing in the slightest. He was freezing cold and indisputably miserable.


It only took a short while before Fabian, who was in the lead, suddenly cursed and ducked down. Hearts thundering at his sudden fright, the others immediately dropped to the ground as well. A few tense moments passed, but then Fabian inched forward slightly.


"I saw a cave up there," he whispered back to them. The familiar grin cracked his serious face. "Scared the fuck out of me. But I don't think anyone's there anymore."


Remus frowned at Fabian, the wind blowing his sandy hair off his forehead. "Why not?" he asked, trying absorb as much information as possible. "I mean, how can you tell?"


"Do you smell that?" Gideon asked, responding for his brother. They all sniffed the air.


"Firewood," answered Sirius.


"Very good, Black," Gideon nodded, and then jerked his head toward the cave. "But no smoke. The fire's out. They left only recently, but nobody's there anymore. Not unless they decided to put their fire out for no reason and are sitting in the dark."


Sirius felt ridiculous lying in the dirt in his dress robes. He sat up and tried to refrain from rolling his eyes at James. Apparently, Gideon and Fabian decided it was safe enough, and they too quickly got to their feet and brushed their robes off. Fabian lit his wand and crept towards the dark mouth of the cave.


"Empty," he confirmed.


Sirius shivered in the icy wind. "Just cracking," he muttered. He'd been dragged out of bed to freeze his arse off for nothing. He said so aloud, and Peter sluggishly nodded his agreement. James shoved his hands in his pockets and scuffed his feet at the ground, deciding to remain silent.


(He didn't find it to be a waste of time at all, but he was too good of a friend to say so aloud, to tell Sirius he was wrong in front of everyone.)


"Not for nothing," Gideon disagreed, in an annoyingly upbeat voice. "We now know to keep an eye on this place. If they use it for a hideout again, we'll know, and we'll catch them. Mission accomplished," he said with a grin.


Sirius shrugged irritably. All he wanted was his warm bed.


"Hey," said Fabian, slugging his shoulder as Gideon began to place spells on the cave. "You'd be surprised how handy it is to know this stuff. Just wait. You'll see. Dumbledore's got more planned for you lot yet."


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