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Chapter 14 : The Vampire Mission
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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.
The Vampire Mission
“Garlic,” said Lily, reading through an old Care of Magical Creatures book that James had dug out of the forgotten corners of his bedroom. She had to ignore the curse words and terrible drawings scrawled in the margins. “They can’t stand it. And they also can’t stand the light, so they probably won’t even be up and about until it’s dusk.”
James obediently rummaged through the cabinets in the kitchen of his home. He had refused to tell his parents what they were doing or where they were going. They’d used the Muffliato charm to protect their conversation in the kitchen from being overheard. His parents had gone upstairs to nap anyway (something that people their age often did.) After a moment, he triumphantly produced four large bulbs of garlic.
“Check,” said Lily with a grim smile, and returned to browsing the pages of the book. James dumped the smelly load on the counter in front of his three friends.
Sirius sighed and used a knife to bore a hole through each of the large bulbs, and his eyes watered as the smell intensified. He passed them along to Peter, who threaded a thick string through each. “Garlic necklaces,” he said, producing them when he was finished.
“Good. At least they’ll be hesitant to get too close to us,” said Lily.
“Amazing, the little things that make a big difference,” mused James, picking up one of the smelly necklaces and examining it. He lightly tossed it into the air and caught it a few times.
(Sirius was reminded of when he used to do the same thing to an old snitch in school, and suddenly longed for those days, those which were gone forever.)
“Exactly,” agreed Peter, alluding to his rat form, and Sirius was reluctantly dragged back into the present.
“Supposedly, sprinkling mustard seed on the roof of a house keeps them away,” said Lily. “Hmmm...”
James looked uncomfortable. “Do you think we should do that at Remus’s mother’s house? The poor woman...” He sighed and walked around the counter, sitting down on the stool next to Sirius’s. “What a mess,” he said.
“I don’t know,” said Lily.
“How do you kill them?” asked Sirius abruptly, darkly. “The Vampires?” he specified. All three stared at him for a moment, because it was the first thing he’d really said all afternoon, and then Lily consulted her book.
“Well, there’s the common stake through the heart method,” said Lily. “And there’s also decapitation.” She made a disgusted face and looked up at James.
James shrugged at her. “We could try both, I suppose,” he mused. It was at this point that it began to dawn on him how dangerous the whole thing was. Never in his life would he have thought he’d end up killing anybody, any thing. He grimaced and tried not to feel like a monster, because being in the Order required sacrifices, and it required you to do things you really didn’t want to do. He wasn't sure if he even had the nerve to cut somebody's head off, though if it came down to life or death, he thought he could probably manage.
He sighed and glanced at Sirius, taking a nonchalant step to the side, now standing right beside him. Lily eyed the two of them for a moment.
“Come on, Peter,” she said after a pause. “Let’s go find some wood. We’re going to have to transfigure it into stakes for tonight. The book says ash is preferred. You were good in Herbology, weren’t you? I was ruddy terrible, but... do you know where we can find that?”
And Peter agreeably hopped off the stool and followed her outside, and after a brief discussion, they Disapparated.
James nudged Sirius in the ribs with his elbow. “All right, Pads?”
“Fine,” said Sirius, and he pulled the necklaces towards himself and began to make sure Peter had tied them tight enough that they wouldn’t fall off, because Peter usually failed at such things.
James narrowed his eyes. “You’ve been acting like a prat all day,” he said, grabbing a necklace and examining it. “So what’s your problem, then? You can't hide from me, you know.”
Sirius just shook his head, sighed in defeat because James would get it out of him sooner or later anyway. “The last time I saw Remus’s dad, Prongs, was in sixth year, when I sent Snape in to find out his secret.”
James put the necklace down and scowled at Sirius. “Honestly, Padfoot. That was nearly two years ago.”
Sirius grimaced and stared hard at the counter. “You didn’t see the look he gave me,” he said in a low voice. “It’s all I can think about. And I never came 'round again, and never apologized for it, and now he’s gone and he’s probably thought I was rotten all this time. And I was.”
“No,” corrected James faithfully. “Remus forgave you. He'd have said something to his dad. People make mistakes, and the Lupins are smart enough to understand that.”
“I still have nightmares about that night, you know.”
Sirius nodded in response to James's look, disgusted with himself.
“It’s bloody ridiculous,” he snarled angrily. “I’m such a fucking prick. I never tried to make things right afterwards, I just sulked around until Remus said it was okay again, and then I avoided his whole family even when Remus invited me over...”
“Shut up, Sirius, really,” said James firmly. “I won’t listen to it. You’re my best mate, and I don’t let anyone talk about you like that. Including you.” He sighed and surveyed his friend. “So hard on yourself...” he muttered.
Sirius had fallen silent.
“James...” he started up again vaguely, desperately, after a moment. “You don't get it. He looked so betrayed, like he’d only expected as much from me, except he’d been hoping he was wrong, and I’d let him down. That look he gave me made me feel more ashamed than anything else the entire night... Merlin, I hate myself every time I think about it...”
James didn’t really know what to say to that, so he said, “Look. None of that matters anymore, Padfoot. We're going after him tonight, and we're going to bring him back dead or alive, and I'm sure he'd appreciate that.”
“I suppose...” said Sirius, not satisfied. He ran his finger around one of the tiles on the countertop and brooded. “If I could only go back in time,” he suddenly muttered darkly.
“That’s what we all say,” James grinned, trying to lighten the mood. “Too bad the timeturners are so heavily guarded, eh? I bet you we could get one, though. We've done bigger things...”
“Do you think we should contact Remus, Prongs?” Sirius urgently interrupted him, clearly bothered. “Don’t you think it’s wrong that he doesn’t even know about all of this?”
“No,” said James firmly. “We can’t. I know it’s hard... but if we do and he gets caught, and they find out he’s been living in the wizarding world... while they are outcasts, and it would be so very obvious he’s a spy, Pads. We can’t risk it, you know that. He'd want to come home right away, too.”
“He should! His dad is missing, James.”
James only sighed and ran his hand through his hair.
Sirius growled and slammed his fist down on the counter. James was silent - he understood everything Sirius was feeling - despite what Sirius thought, he had seen the look on Lupin's face that night. He had been there, after all - he had been the one to save the day, the one to make everything right. And it wasn't as if he didn't know that that betrayal of Remus didn't bother Sirius every day. He did know, and he did understand, perhaps better than Sirius realised. And he knew why Sirius thought Remus should come home - Sirius didn't have a proper father himself.
But this was war. And in war there are sacrifices.
They were all set to venture into the dark forest that night. They each wore a backpack that held a large supply of stakes, as well as a large knife that could possibly assist in any beheading necessary. Lily carried a small assortment of healing potions in hers. They only hoped they wouldn’t be outnumbered, but of course, they still had their wands as well.
They each smelled curiously offensive, what with wearing garlic bulbs about their necks for protection. They shuddered in the cold wind as they knocked on the door of the Shrieking Shack. It was there that Dumbledore had told them to meet him.
(It had taken a little bit of persuading and story telling to convince Lily that it really was Remus making all the racket during their school years, and that it was not, in fact, haunted.)
The door opened with an ominous creak, and Dumbledore greeted them briskly.
“I haven’t a lot of time,” said the old man, ushering them into the dark living room and lighting his wand. “I have other business to attend to while the school sleeps tonight.” He quickly unfolded a map and pointed out a spot in a certain forest. “Here is where Lupin reported setting up camp before the Ministry lost contact with him,” he told them.
“Right,” said James. His voice shook slightly, nervous and fearful of the awful night ahead.
“Good luck, and be careful!” Dumbledore bid them. “You may keep this,” he said as he handed the map over. “I must be on my way. Stay together!”
“Yes, sir,” said Lily. Her voice, too, sounded tiny and frightened as Dumbledore strode out the door and Disapparated with a crack.
The four were left facing each other.
“Maybe we should go find the camp in the daylight,” suggested Peter, trying not to sound frightened. “It’d be easier to see it, and there wouldn’t be blood hungry vampires about.”
“No,” said James. “We can’t. I know Dumbledore said it was a long shot, but what if Remus’s dad is actually still alive? We can’t waste time. We’re all scared - I am, too - but we have to do it.”
“Right,” said Lily. Peter and Sirius nodded deftly.
“We have to do it for Moony.”
They gripped hands, having decided on side-along apparition to be certain they’d all end up in the same place. And then, tightly shutting his eyes, James stepped forward and turned on the spot, and the four of them vanished with a loud crack.
Far away from Hogsmeade, Hogwarts, or any other civilized town, there was a thick, dark forest. It was the murky type of forest, in which fog clung to the trees and was held in place by leafy canopies. It was the kind of fog that never went away, and now, with the Dementors hovering about the entire nation, it was worse than ever.
The forest was one that Muggles would call ‘spooky’ and that wizards would call ‘deadly.’ It was rumoured to be even worse than the famous Forbidden Forest surrounding Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.
It was the perfect place for all sorts of dangerous creatures and things, because the chances of them being discovered by non-magical beings was very slim. Many creatures that John Lupin had captured in his life time had been banished to this particular forest.
The Muggles stayed away from it for the most part, aside from the occasional adventurer or researcher or paranormal investigator. Those who went in came out again a frightened mess, and they never spoke of what they saw for fear of being labelled a lunatic. Some of them never came out at all.
In the middle of the forest was a small, abandoned camp, and in the middle of the camp, with a loud crack, three young wizards and one witch appeared, stumbled and caught their balance, and immediately began casting protective charms around the area.
“Lumos ” muttered Sirius, as soon as the protective charms were cast. He aimed his lit wand around the area.
The camp was practically in ruins. One small tent stood in a clearing beside a log. There was a large fire pit, but it had long ago burnt out, and now a few desolate grey logs smouldered and smoked pathetically. The tent itself was lopsided and broken - the right half was caving in on itself.
Sirius looked at it apprehensively. They all did. Perhaps there was a dead body inside.
“Right,” said James, breaking the deathly silence. “Let’s have a look, shall we?” he asked, and his tone sounded desperately upbeat, though it fooled nobody.
He approached the tent with caution and peeked inside. It was the typical wizard tent - small on the outside, but large on the inside with many different household amenities. It was the kitchen area that was caved in.
James flicked his wand towards the corner, and thought the spell in his mind. The broken support beams repaired themselves and the tent was as good as new. (He often used nonverbal magic for petty spells, feeling it was always good to practice.)
“Well, Remus’s dad isn’t here,” he called out to his friends. Feeling a good bit more courageous at that information, Peter joined him inside the tent to look around.
Outside, Lily restarted the fire and sat down on the log, pulling her magical creatures book from her bag. Sirius dropped his bag to the cold ground and sat beside her. James and Peter continued to check out the Lupin tent.
“What do we do now?” he asked, absently. He didn’t really expect her to have any answer. The camp was abandoned, clearly having been attacked, and there was no sign of Lupin anywhere. How would they track down one man, or worse, vampires, in a giant forest?
She didn’t, in fact, have an answer. Or at least she didn't have one that he liked.
“I don’t know,” she admitted, flipping through the book. “I don’t know how we are supposed to find them. There’s probably an abandoned cabin or cave or something,” she mused. “They’ve got to live somewhere, haven’t they?”
As far as Sirius was concerned, they didn’t really have to live anywhere, as they were quite dead. Searching dark caves certainly didn't sound appealing at all. He wished, as he often did, that something like the Marauders Map was available for all areas. It would be incredibly helpful to be able to see who was around you, no matter where you were.
He allowed his thoughts to drift around that for a moment. Of course, they didn’t even have the sacred map anymore. They had been caught with it in seventh year, and it had been confiscated by Filch. Losing the map had been their biggest blunder, aside from Sirius slipping Remus’s secret to Snape.
Sirius gasped. “Do you have the map?” he asked suddenly, turning quickly towards her and taking her by such surprise that she flinched.
Lily looked confused, and proved it by her answer. “Huh?”
“The map? The one Dumbledore just gave us a few minutes ago? It’d probably say if any buildings were nearby, wouldn’t it?”
“Good thinking, Padfoot,” came James’s voice, as he and Peter stepped out of the tent and joined them. They, too, sat near the fire, and James pulled the map from his pocket. They all crowded around, studied it by wandlight, but it really didn’t show anything at all except for a nearby river, and, several miles off, a set of railroad tracks.
“Bollocks,” sighed James, folding it up again.
“Yes,” agreed Peter, who was looking quite pleased in the mingled fire and wandlight. He wouldn't admit it, but he was scared out of his wits at the prospect of searching for vampires in the dark. Especially when the dark was so thick thanks to the Dementors. “Let’s just spend the night, then, and start looking in the morning.”
“Shut up, Wormtail,” snapped Sirius irritably, for he was afraid as well, but couldn't allow himself back out of the job. “Remus’s dad is out there, for fuck's sake.”
“Oh, don’t start fighting, you two,” groaned Lily.
Both boys fell silent, though Peter was looking highly disgruntled at Lily. Most of the time he got along with her quite well. Occasionally, mostly when she interfered with something that he felt wasn’t her business, as she wasn’t a Marauder, he could become easily irritated with her. He already felt as if she were beginning to take his place in the group. She certainly got to see James more than he did.
James was looking like he was deep in thought, and, Sirius noted, whatever he was thinking about, he didn’t look very pleased. In fact, he looked quite pale and sickly.
“What is it, Prongs?” he asked then, because he’d seen that look only a handful of times, and it had always come because of something horrible.
James’s mouth had been hanging open in horror, and he swallowed a sickening amount of saliva as he looked at Sirius. The firelight was reflected on Sirius's face, sharp angles and harsh light making him appear even more terrified. James swallowed again.
“I think,” he said quietly, a failed attempt at hiding his words from Lily. “That we will have to bait them.” The other three stared blankly back at him, so he elaborated. “I think they’ll come if they know we’re here,” he added.
“You mean we have to go out there and let ourselves be taken,” said Sirius flatly. At that, Peter paled considerably and Lily’s hand flew up to cover her mouth, which had just fallen open in horror.
“Just one of us,” said James thoughtfully. Now that the idea had been voiced aloud, he was beginning to feel more confident about it. “The rest of use ought to stay here. We could follow afterwards. But if we all go out, we might all be taken, and then we’d be quite buggered for a way out.”
“That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard,” said Sirius automatically, dismissing the idea as fast as he could. He picked up a stick and prodded the fire, avoiding looking at James again.
“There’s no other way,” said James quietly.
“There is,” Sirius responded, jabbing his stick at a log and creating a flurry of sparks. “There has to be.”
“Their coven could be anywhere in these woods,” argued James. “We’d never find them just by looking. And what would we do, stop to cast new protective charms around us with every step? We have to do it like this, Padfoot.”
Sirius stopped prodding the fire and stared sullenly at it instead.
“Who’s going to be sacrificed?” asked Peter in a small voice.
James sighed. “I vote me,” he said.
“No,” said Sirius, very quickly.
He couldn’t survive without James. He was sure of that, if nothing else. If it had to be any of them, his vote would be Peter, but of course, he kept that to himself. It couldn’t be James. And he’d feel like an absolute bastard to send Lily, the girl, in. And anyway, should anything happen to her, he didn’t think James could bear it, so it was out of the question as well. He glanced over at Peter; the boy was practically trembling in fear.
It was, to be frank, the first heart wrenching decision out of many they would soon have to make in the war. Which of their greatest friends would be sacrificed to danger? Which were they willing to risk never seeing again?
“I’ll do it,” said Sirius then.
James considered it briefly, but shook his head. “I don’t think so, Padfoot,” he said under his breath.
Sirius flared up in an instant, throwing the stick down. “I’m doing it, damn it,” he snarled back. He eyed James like an animal, and he was ready to fight his best friend over it if he had to. He would rather die himself than see them, any of them, lose their lives.
James remained completely calm. In fact, he picked up the stick Sirius had been using and prodded the fire himself before he said anything else.
“Listen, Pads,” he said evenly after several seconds went by (in which Sirius continued to glare challengingly at him). “Your Animagus form is a dog. You need to stay here, because you’re probably the only one out of the lot of us that would be able to track something down with any sort of accuracy.”
“The Prewetts showed us all how to track, James.”
“Sirius, we're not going to have time to examine pinecones and look for spider's nests. Anyway, vampires don't travel on the ground.” James cracked a smile. “Can't they turn into bats? Anyway, it doesn't matter. Your nose would still be more accurate.”
Sirius opened his mouth, began to object, but was forced to close it again. There really was no argument to that. It really wouldn't matter which of them was the bait if those remaining couldn't find them in the end. His shoulders slumped slightly and the fire that had been in his eyes moments before suddenly dulled.
Lily was eyeing Sirius with tears in her eyes. She knew exactly how he felt, and she desperately didn’t want James to go either. “James,” she said then, in a whisper. “What if they kill you?”
James blew it off and smiled reassuringly. “Come on. I’m James fucking Potter. Only the good die young.” His hazel eyes glinted mischievously. “I'll live forever.”
“Your head gets ever bigger,” observed Peter teasingly. He was relieved that they hadn’t chosen him - he had been positive they would. He seemed to be the only unimportant one of the group, at least in their eyes - he was certain of that much. One lover, two best friends, and then there was he.
James smiled at him. “That’s the spirit, Wormtail.” Both Sirius and Lily looked quite frustrated by the lack of seriousness in the situation, and James sighed. “Look,” he said. “I’ve still got a wand. I can probably keep myself alive for a bit, if I had to, whatever happens.”
Sirius just shook his head. He almost said, Remus’s dad had a wand, too, but decided not to.
“I’m going,” insisted James, one last time, finalizing it. “Right now,” he added. “Get your stuff ready.”
And so they all put their backpacks on again and looked around at each other apprehensively. James shoved his bag into Peter’s chest. “Take my shit,” he said. “I don’t suppose they’d be too pleased to find a bunch of stakes on me.” And Peter nodded, terrified, and clutched the bag, and James ruffled his friend's hair reassuringly.
He wasn’t meaning for it to seem like a goodbye. But he had to recognize that something could very easily go wrong. It was their first mission, and they weren’t exactly experienced, even if they were skilled. They were all fully aware that a man trained in dealing with magical creatures - Remus's dad - had been overcome. Vampires could be vicious things. It didn't seem like one wizard fresh out of school stood much chance wandering about alone.
He turned to Sirius, pulled him into an embrace that Sirius hardly had the heart to return. “Bring me back,” he said quietly in Sirius’s ear. “I know you’ll find me. It’s why I want you to stay behind.” And Sirius nodded, understanding, but still not liking it. James let him go, and Sirius felt suddenly very cold and empty. He shoved his fists into his pockets, and stared at James as he moved around the campfire.
He couldn't die. It felt all wrong. It couldn't be this way, not tonight. Sirius focused on those thoughts, and tried not to let his worry flood over him.
James turned to Lily next. She allowed tears to stream openly down her face when he looked at her; up until then she'd been able to hide it. She knew how quickly a vampire could kill; it seemed like a death sentence for James.
“And you,” he said with a smile, trying to show her that he was unbothered and confident, even if he didn't feel like it. “I love you.” It sounded like an offering, and he peered carefully at her as he spoke it, as if three little words could make what he was about to do all right.
“I love you, too,” she responded unhappily, and he smiled even wider. Then he carefully pulled his garlic necklace off and slipped it around her neck, where the bulb knocked happily about her own.
“Double the protection,” he said approvingly. He tucked the bulbs of garlic carefully into her blouse and then looked up to meet her eyes. “Stay with Sirius.”
She nodded, and then, before any of them knew it or even realized what was happening, or had time to argue further, James walked to the edge of the circle, took one more step, and was outside of the camp’s protective spells.
James walked a good way through the forest. It really was a horrible place, he decided. It was pitch black, and the air was so thick and murky that he could practically feel it. It almost suffocated him with every breath, and he could hear whispers in the air.
He wondered, briefly, if perhaps he might be the victim of a Dementor’s kiss before he ever even came across any of the vampires. He considered summoning his Patronus (which still fascinated him since he learned it the day before in the Order), but in the end decided against it in case it was enough to keep any vampires at bay.
He wanted them to take him, after all. And so James settled for a simple Lumos.
He walked for what seemed like hours, and he lost all sense of time as he stumbled alone through the dark. Bushes caught on his clothing, and he struck his head once on a low hanging tree branch.
(He chuckled at this, despite his fear. He was, at least, glad there was nobody else around for that part. His friends would have teased him to no end had they witnessed it.)
James must have walked for miles as time went on, shining his wand light all around him. The shadows it cast behind the trees frightened him at every glance, until he eventually ended the spell and walked in pure, thick, suffocating darkness.
He didn't know where he was going. He wandered aimlessly, feeling useless. He tried to look for signs as Gideon and Fabian had showed him, tried to figure if what he hunted had been this way, but he wasn't even sure if he'd stepped out of the camp in the right direction. Eventually he decided that spiders didn't even live in these horrible woods.
There was an ever growing feeling of being watched. James had been aware of it for the last hour now. A few times, he thought he heard a tree branch creak, and he'd quickly turn at the noise and spend a moment surveying the trees behind him.
Maybe he was becoming paranoid, and it was just the wind.
“John?” he shouted with all his might. “John Lupin?” and then he listened carefully for any response.
But there was nothing.
Perhaps, he thought, he would die out here, alone and malnourished and lost forever. He sighed, and began to feel very foolish. What was he thinking? He was no match for a vampire. He wouldn't even be able to see one coming. He was going to die alone out here, and he would never see his family, his Marauders, never see Lily again. Despair began to creep over him.
James grit his teeth. Think, he silently told himself. You're getting carried away with the problem, and you're not getting anywhere closer to trying to fix it.
He decided to try one of the new spells he'd recently learned in the Order.
“Homenum revelio,” he muttered. He wasn’t sure what good it would do. The spell was to detect human presence, and vampires were technically undead. They were, however, human at one point, and they were also in human bodies, and James figured that that might count for something.
He felt the spell leave his wand, felt the vague ripple in the air around him. But then he gasped in horror and stumbled, almost falling to his knees. He felt the ripple break and reflect back at him, and knew that somebody was there - somebody was watching him.
He turned and looked behind him, up at the branches hidden by Dementor mist, once more.
James clutched his chest as he tried to catch his breath again, leaning against a tree for support. He could hear this heart thudding, and he vaguely wondered if it was even a vampire at all behind him. Shouldn't it have hurt him by now?
“Hallo?” he asked, still gasping, and casting the Lumos spell again in his mind. He shone the lit wand all around him, anxiously. He wasn’t sure if there was a response or not. Surely, if there was, his hammering heart had drowned it out.
“Who's there? Mr Lupin?” he dared to breath. But clearly, it wasn't Remus's dad. Remus's dad, he knew, would have revealed himself, wouldn't have hung around in the dark knowing how frightened James was.
James swallowed with some difficulty. He kept his eyes scanning the trees around him as he slowly held his arm up and shook back the sleeve of his robes. He pressed the tip of his wand to his skin.
"Sectumsempra!" he whispered, and though he cast the spell, he was unprepared for the sudden harsh slice across his forearm. Blood dripped from the wound as he tried not to cry out in pain. But it worked.
Something collided with him in the dark. It was like being hit by a truck.
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