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Chapter 15 : Losses
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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.
Sirius wished that they still had some of their most useful possessions. He hated to think it, because he was worried about Remus still, but he almost wished he still had his mirror. He thought it may have been put to better use here, with him, than with Remus, who would only be able to use it on occasion.
If he had it, then he could communicate with James right now, could know what was happening and if everything was all right.
As it was, he had only his gut feeling to rely on. He wasn't sure if it would be enough.
The three of them were sitting silently around the campfire. Nobody said a word since James had left; they were all waiting and worrying and staring but not really seeing anything. Nobody wanted to say anything, to try to make small talk or make the situation seem less than it was.
Finally, Sirius broke the silence. “I’m going to transform,” he said. His voice was hoarse from the dry air around the fire, and from not being used in at least an hour. He sounded exhausted and at breaking point.
Peter and Lily stared blankly at him.
Sirius pursed his lips and swallowed with difficulty, almost gagging at the dry feeling in his throat. “Sixth sense,” he elaborated, and his hand unknowingly drifted to his chest, where he placed it over his heart. “And,” he said, only dropping his hand when he noticed Lily’s eyes lingering. “Better hearing...”
“All right,” sniffed Peter. He knew Sirius just couldn't take it anymore; that he longed for the less complicated emotions of his canine form.
If it wasn’t for the stressful atmosphere, Lily would have been amazed at the transformation. It was the first time she’d actually seen it since they told her. She found herself desperately wishing to see James in his majestic stag form.
And so Sirius the dog paced around the camp, back and forth in front of the fire, panting and pricking his ears, but never settling or lying down. Lily felt marginally safer for some reason as she watched him.
They carried on in silence for another half an hour. Lily and Peter were both startled when Sirius suddenly growled low in his throat. The dog turned his head alertly and looked at his human companions.
“There’s something,” said Peter, who had spent enough time with Sirius to be able to read his actions in Animagus form. He stood up and pulled his bag onto his shoulders, and picked up James’s bag too. “Come on, Lily,” he said, starting towards Sirius. He was feeling quite manly, considering he was now the only human male in the group.
Lily hurried and pulled her bag on as well, following without a word as Sirius ran ahead. The fact that they were leaving the camp now meant only one thing. James had been caught.
When James came to, his head didn’t ache, he was still alive and breathing, and he had not, in fact, been hit by a truck. His arm, however, was numb and painful, and it was only when he tried to lift it so he could see the damage that he discovered his wrists were bound.
He sat with his back to a wooden beam inside of what looked like an old dusty cabin. His arms encircled the beam behind him, so there was no hope for escape.
James looked around, panicked. When he looked to his left, he felt sudden relief and a small glimmer of hope.
“Mr Lupin?” he whispered.
The middle aged man was tied to a similar beam, much like James was. He was slumped against it, unmoving. In fact, he looked extremely pale and gaunt, and James knew immediately that the man was dead, just as Dumbledore had predicted.
James swallowed a sickening lump in his throat and looked away. Once a month, right before the full moon came up, when Remus was really sick... That was what John Lupin looked like. It didn’t help that Remus had inherited the man’s nose and light brown hair.
He saw his wand against a wall, as if it had rolled there after being dropped on the floor. Accio, thought James desperately as he stared at it. It didn’t move.
A few moments passed. James's fingers brushed against his injured arm, and felt something odd. The wound felt as if it were bandaged. That was odd, and he began to wonder what had happened to him while he was passed out.
He glanced around, taking in his surroundings. The cabin was dimly lit only by the full moon. Two hammocks were hanging from the ceiling. The place looked like a nest. The rest of the building seemed mostly bare; darkness and shadows clung to every corner. James wasn't sure if he was alone or not, and he peered carefully around with his eyes narrowed, searching for his captor.
James wiggled his hands again, trying to get them loose enough to slip out of his ties. He grunted with the effort. And then, out of nowhere:
“Do you work for the Ministry of Magic, too?” hissed a voice through the darkness. It was nearby, and James practically crawled out of his skin. He still couldn’t see the source anywhere, however, and he deduced that it had come from behind him - the only area hidden from his view by the wooden post he was tied to.
James swallowed to wet his dry throat, and wondered if he should keep quiet, wondered if there was anything he could say that would save his life. “No,” he finally said defiantly. “They offered me a job, and I turned it down,” he added, feeling brave.
It seemed to intrigue the vampire, who turned out to be a woman, though he'd been unable to tell by her voice alone. She strolled around the beam James sat at, keeping her distance and never taking her red, bloodshot eyes off of him. She was so pale she practically glowed in the dark.
James inhaled sharply at her startling appearance.
“Who sent you?” she purred, reaching for him, and she used one long finger to lift his chin.
“That’s my business,” James said hesitantly. He didn’t dare tell her he was a friend of John Lupin. He hoped she wouldn’t lash out at him for his secrecy, and he cringed when the words left his mouth, ready for any pain that might come his way. He wished she'd release his chin; his throat felt terribly vulnerable with his head tilted up.
“Saucy,” hissed the vampire after a moment, and she really did sound quite impressed and taken aback at his sheer nerve. Usually, her victims were too petrified to do more than plead for their lives.
She pulled her finger away and strode confidently away, settling herself in one of the hammocks. As she lounged, she stared at him through those red eyes.
James was sweating bullets, and though he tried to appear confident, he failed dismally for quite possibly the first time in his life. He pulled desperately against the rope tying his wrists. He eyed the woman, who was watching him so hungrily. Vaguely, in his growing panic, he wondered why she wasn't doing more than just that.
“Are you working for Voldemort?” he finally blurted, unable to take the silence and the way she looked at him. He had given up on ever getting the ties around his wrists loose.
She seemed, yet again, surprised by his question, but decided there was nothing to hide.
(James thought that, perhaps, she wasn't hungry. He remembered, suddenly, reading in Care of Magical Creatures how vampires would sometimes keep their victims alive, saving them for days, even weeks, until they were hungry enough to feed.
He desperately hoped that wouldn't be the situation.)
“The Dark Lord offers us a wealthy feeding ground,” she responded defensively. “We will be able to walk freely through the streets, rather than be banished to the forests by the Ministry. We will feast on Mudbloods and criminals.”
James closed his eyes.
“Are there many of you?” he asked after a pause.
“We are many in the Dark Lord’s army,” she said. “It is only I here, however, and I do not fight for Lord Voldemort.”
James opened his eyes at that, surprised. He had fully expected to encounter one of Voldemort’s minions. “You don’t... Do you live here alone?”
The vampire’s eyes flashed dangerously, flickering towards the empty hammock. “I lived here with my mate,” she said, and she glared evilly at John’s body. “Until he came along and killed him.”
James looked over at John and swallowed. “You killed a good man,” he accused after a pause.
“As did he,” she replied coolly, examining her nails.
James didn’t reply. Part of him wanted to tell her that Mr Lupin was working on the Ministry’s orders, that obviously her mate had done something wrong to warrant Lupin coming for him, that clearly, he probably wasn't that great. But, in the current situation, he didn’t feel that was a very smart idea. He stared hard at the wooden walls, grey with age. They offered no comfort.
“Look, kid,” she suddenly said in a flat tone, as if tired of playing around. “My mate and I have lived out here for years. We've never ventured into society, we've never attacked any villages. The occasional hiker for a treat, but that is it. We live off of animals.”
“You killed John Lupin,” James pointed out stubbornly.
“My message to the Ministry of Magic,” she replied evenly. “We just wanted to be left alone. But some people are so prejudiced against half breeds and magical beings that they sent this poor man out here to end us. He was just doing his job, but he paid with his life for it. He killed my mate.”
James's mouth tightened into a firm, straight line as he glared at her. He was wrong. The Ministry was wrong. If she was telling the truth - and she had no reason to lie, as he was alone with her and certainly no threat - they had done nothing to deserve being hunted down. It was likely no different than the werewolf situation. The Ministry breathed down their throats, waiting for them to make the slightest wrong move so they'd have an excuse to send them off to the wild.
He looked down at his lap. "I'm sorry about your mate," he finally said after a few moments.
The Vampire straightened and gave him a surprised look. "You are?"
James nodded, daring to glance up and meet her bloodshot eyes. "It doesn't sound like he deserved it."
She curiously tilted her head. "What's your name?"
He didn't know why he told her. But he did. He simply said it was James.
“You are a very rare person, James. And I don't plan to hurt you,” she admitted, a smile playing on her lips. “I'm going to let you go. But I want you to take my message. I want to be left alone.”
Sirius could pick James’s scent out of a thousand different smells. Maybe even a million. Following James’s tracks out of the camp proved to be no issue at all. He was beginning to think that James had known what he was talking about when he insisted Sirius stay behind.
Plus, having such an important job to do kept his mind off his worries. Lily and Peter, on the other hand, were still silent, seemingly traumatized in fear.
He kept the pace quick, so that they had to sprint to keep up with him as he darted through the woods with his snout to the ground. He had come to the place where James’s tracks seemed to stop. He could smell on a tree that James had leaned against it. He could smell another smell, a horrible one, the smell of death. It mingled with James’s scent and from that point on he couldn’t smell James alone anymore.
He continued to follow.
Lily suddenly gave a gasp; Peter uttered, “Blimey!”
The black dog looked up for the first time and saw what had gotten a reaction from them. In the distance they could see an old cabin. Sirius bolted for it without a second thought.
And Lily, who wanted desperately to scream at him to come back, to stop and think about things, to remind him that they could very well be outnumbered and not to just go charging in, whipped her wand out and did the only thing she could think of.
Sirius felt the chilly Disillusionment Charm flow over him, and he looked down to see that he couldn’t see himself anymore. It didn’t matter that they didn’t have the invisibility cloak. A charm cast by Lily Evans always seemed to come out powerful, and this one was no exception. It could, in fact, rival Dumbledore’s invisibility charms. He charged ahead, not leaving this quicker form until he reached the sagging porch.
“Where did he go,” whispered Peter in a panic. The dog had disappeared right before his eyes, and now he felt quite suddenly alone and vulnerable without the beast.
“I Disillusioned him,” said Lily briskly. She did the same to herself and to Peter, shuddering at the clammy, cold feeling that ran down her spine. Then she grabbed his hand and dragged him forward, running towards the cabin after the dog. “Come on!”
The vampire began to advance on James to untie and release him. He had promised to leave, to take his friends and go and leave her in peace.
Fire erupted from seemingly nowhere, somewhere in the vicinity of the open door, and then suddenly Sirius was there. The use of the spell had caused Sirius’s disillusionment charm to wear off instantly, but it had also at least allowed him to get close without being seen.
The vampire jumped back, giving a shriek of rage, baring her fangs towards him instead as the hot flames licked towards her pale skin.
Sirius, being the haughty being that he was (and also being slightly mad with fear), glanced at James and gave a small smile in the midst of it all.
“They’re practically Inferi, Prongs,” he stated loudly, his voice wild and uncontrolled. They had only recently learned about those horrors during the Order meetings. The lessons were still fresh in Sirius’s mind, and he grinned wickedly at the vampire. “The undead don’t like fire much, do they, love?” And with another flick of his wand, the fire erupted again.
The vampire backed into the corner, trapped and afraid (and mildly offended at being compared to Inferi, and disgusted at being called love after she'd already lost her mate for eternity).
Lily and Peter had caught up by then, had glanced at Sirius and the vampire in the corner, and then immediately set to work freeing James from his bonds.
Sirius approached the cornered vampire, keeping his wand outstretched. There was a vicious glint in his troubled grey eyes. “Are you working for Voldemort?” he demanded of her in a snarl.
“No,” she said ruefully, eyeing him with hatred but remaining cowered against a wall.
Sirius hardly hesitated; he'd long ago decided anything she said would be a lie, and he pulled a stake out of his bag and lit it on fire with a tap of his wand.
“Pads!” objected James, getting to his feet, clutching his injured arm.
But it was too late to stop it. Sirius, who was feeling quite ill over the whole thing, flung the burning stake at her and it made contact. Satisfaction stole briefly over him as he watched her take her last breath. But the other three flinched, and Lily had to look away.
That was when Sirius changed a little. He became a bit more of a soldier in the war and a bit less of a boy. A little of the innocence remaining within him after growing up in Grimmauld Place was lost in that moment. It hurt; it didn't matter that he'd done it to stop her from hurting James. He had wanted it; he'd wanted her dead for what she was going to do, and he wouldn't have let anything stop him.
He almost sank to his knees from the ache of it, clutching his chest as if his very soul was torn. He felt strangely heartbroken; it was all he could do not to suddenly cry. He turned to his friends; Lily and Peter stood beside James, looking stunned and appalled. They avoided looking at him, and for that he was glad. He was gasping, he realised, and he squeezed his eyes shut.
James had a pained look on his face as he watched his friend, watched him murder, watched him grin so haughtily, watched the weight of what he'd done come crashing down. He watched as Sirius suddenly found the darkness within himself that he'd been running from for so long.
Why did you do that? You didn't have to do that, James thought desperately, and he turned away. The room was silent, except for Sirius's laboured breathing.
“Are there more of them?” Sirius finally gasped at James in a shaky voice, chancing a glance at his best friend. But James was looking down, his face grim. He rubbed his bandaged arm and shook his head. He was disappointed; Sirius could tell. He could feel it.
His eyes travelled down James's lean frame, focusing on the hand rubbing the arm. James's hand moved back and forth across the bandage, again and again, as if to distract himself from what had happened, a desperate reaction to the sudden stress. It took Sirius a moment to register what he was seeing, and when he did, his brows lowered over his grey eyes and he strode towards James, irritated. He grabbed James's hand and lifted it into the air, pointing at the cloth around his forearm. “What's this?” he demanded. “You cut yourself to get her, didn't you! Who bandaged this?”
James pursed his lips and pulled his hand away, crossing his arms over his chest to hide the wound from Sirius, keeping stubbornly silent. He didn't want Sirius to know the truth, to realise what he'd done, that the vampire wasn't going to hurt them. Sirius glared hard at James, waiting for an answer, and a testy moment of silence passed between them all.
Finally, James heaved a sigh and closed his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Pads," he murmured, shaking his head sadly.
"That you had to kill somebody on my behalf." He wouldn't say. He wouldn't tell Sirius it was unnecessary. Not yet.
Sirius lowered his brow and threw a confused look to Lily, who had eyes only for James. He didn't understand this. He dropped his hand onto James's shoulder. "Hey," he muttered, giving a squeeze. "It's all right."
Peter desperately wanted everything to stop. Everyone was intense, Sirius was furious and confused, and he could tell James was hiding a secret. He longed for their school days, when they never encountered anything such as this, when a joke could solve all problems.
James had removed his glasses and was swiping at his eyes with the heels of his hands, blinking rapidly when Peter blurted, "At least we can all see the Thestrals now..."
Sirius's mouth fell open and he glanced at Peter's hopeful face. He realised then, the full impact of it - he had taken a part of their souls as well. They saw it. A wave of despair overtook him; he ran his hand down his face, and then hung his head, turning his back to all of them so they couldn't see his expression.
(He'd always been able to see the Thestrals, but then, he'd witnessed Aunt Elladora beheading her house elf before he ever even started Hogwarts.)
James scowled at Peter and then flung an arm across Sirius's shoulders as if to protect his friend from the ill-timed joke. As a result, Peter blushed furiously and felt the familiar wave of jealousy wash over him as he watched the two. Sometimes it felt like the harder he tried to fit in, the more he failed, and they didn't even notice or care. He sensed Lily's eyes on him, and wished she'd quit staring, for he felt suddenly foolish. He wished, as he had many times before, that he hadn't even opened his mouth. He always seemed to say something stupid.
Sirius's sorrowful gaze, meanwhile, fell on Lupin slumped against the wooden beam. The man had clearly passed on days earlier, and Sirius felt something die inside of himself at the sight. He shrugged James's arm away and knelt down before Remus's father.
Sandy hair going white and grey at the temples, the man looked very much like Remus. Sirius's eyes prickled. He could remember, it wasn't so long ago, when John Lupin had been full of life, smiling and telling jokes, embarrassing his son. He could remember the pained look in Dumbledore's office like it was yesterday.
“We ought to burn him,” suggested Lily quietly after a moment. She hated the idea of it, and hated the words for coming out of her mouth. “We don’t know what she did to him. I think she probably bit him before she killed him. We wouldn’t want him to come back as one of them.”
James nodded slowly, feeling suddenly more exhausted than he ever had in his life. He wearily bent to pick up his wand, and twisted it in his hands as he spoke. “He wouldn't want that either. We’ll take him back to headquarters and call Dumbledore. He can deal with it, and Remus’s mum.”
Peter pointed at the woman slumped against the wall. "What about her?"
James turned to look at the body, his face grim. He pursed his lips and glanced at Sirius. "Her, we bury," he said. He didn't know why; it only felt like the right thing to do. She had made the last two days miserable for all of them - yet he was sorry she was the victim of the Ministry's prejudices, sorry that her mate had been murdered for no apparent reason.
He was also sorry she had killed Remus's dad, and hated her for that. He hated her for capturing him, for tying him up and scaring him half to death.
But she was going to let him go. And that, James decided, had earned his respect, whether he hated her or not. She hadn't deserved to die - she'd only wanted to send her message along.
Damn it, Sirius...
Sirius quickly turned his head to stare at James in dismay. "Seriously, James?"
James nodded, his face hard. He pulled a stake out of Sirius's backpack and transfigured it into a shovel. He held it out to his best friend, pressing the handle against his chest so that Sirius was forced to grip it. "You can dig the grave, mate. By hand. No magic."
James was eyeing Sirius apprehensively, and Sirius hated it. He avoided James's pained glare, and kept his worried grey eyes to the worn wood floors of the old pub. He was tired and exhausted, his body ached and he was covered in sweat from his labour.
James had insisted on a proper funeral for the vampire, short as it was. Sirius couldn't understand why. But they'd all stood over the freshly dug grave to pay their respects until James felt certain she could (and would) rest in peace.
They had Disapparated back to Hogsmeade, and it was just before dawn. Lily had cast a Disillusionment Charm over John Lupin, for none of them thought it to be a good idea to appear outside of the Hog’s Head Inn with a dead body. Particularly with the shady people that hung around the place - perhaps some of them might even recognize John if they saw him, considering the types of creatures, breeders, and other dark things that the man dealt with on a day to day basis. Perhaps some of them were even Death Eaters, keeping a watchful eye out for their master.
James had hovered the body in, for, Disillusioned or not, it wouldn’t do to be seen struggling with something heavy and invisible. They knew from seven years of experience that, oddly enough, it was the invisible things that seemed to cause the most problems and attract the most attention. Sirius and Peter kept their distance, both looking particularly pale as they followed. Lily held James's free hand, and her downhearted face contrasted greatly with James's grim expression of disappointment in all that had happened.
They whispered the password to the now familiar blue-eyed old bartender, who, being near enough to see John’s faint, vague outline in the air, grunted and hurried to let them into the secret room the Order met in. He eyed them as they passed, and looked worried; between their expressions and the corpse they escorted, it was clear something had gone wrong.
Sirius wondered if he knew of their first mission, if he knew of Remus's. If not, thought Sirius, perhaps the scrubby old man was noticing who's face was missing from their usual party. He desperately wanted to blurt that it wasn't Remus's corpse they were carrying, despite how similar he looked to his father. Instead he sighed and shut the door, blocking the bartender's view. Rather than face James again, he took a moment to rest his forehead against the door.
“I’ll call Dumbledore,” said Lily, and a wispy doe exploded from her wand, casting the room in a blinding light, and gracefully took off through a small window for the distant castle. Her voice shook slightly when she spoke, and she retreated to stand against a shadowed wall when the room fell dark again with the Patronus's departure.
There was awkward silence as they all waited, ill with dread over facing what had happened and the loss of life. Lily absently played with a stand of her hair, eyes staring without seeing; she seemed to have retreated inside herself to escape the situation.
Peter watched out the tiny window for Dumbledore, shouldering against the wall with his arms crossed. (In the back of his mind, he noticed something that had slipped all of their minds without the presence of Remus. It was a full moon.)
Sirius chewed his lip and rubbed his rough thumb over his calloused hand, raw and sore from using the shovel. And James stared at Sirius.
"Oh, dear," murmured Dumbledore, entering the room less than ten minutes later; he instantly noticed the corpse. "Oh, dear," he repeated dolefully, as if at a loss for words. The other four looked on, feeling uncomfortable and guilty, though Lupin had been dead before they even found him. Sirius crammed his hands into his pockets and thought he might be ill; he cast furtive glances at the body, always looking quickly away again, and once even glanced at James.
The old man crouched down beside Lupin, and then looked suddenly up at them, his blue eyes focusing on James. "Was it the vampires?" he asked, although they were all certain he already knew the answer. James simply nodded and swallowed the lump that had suddenly formed in his throat. It was easy to be brave and strong when they were on their own, but when it came to recounting what they'd gone through, he could feel everything begin to crumble. The realization was hitting him - Remus's dad was dead. Gone forever.
Remus's dad, who played guitar and sang, who blamed himself for what happened to his son, who never mentioned werewolves in front of any of them but had done his best to accommodate one. Who spent all of his extra money searching for a cure, so that the family lived cheap and poor and wore patched clothing. The friendly smile, the silly jokes, the way Remus looked embarrassed whenever his father talked to any of his friends... It was all gone, all over, and the rest of the Lupin family didn't even know it yet.
James removed his glasses and pressed his fingers into his eyes to try and stop the sudden watering.
"Were you too late?" asked Dumbledore gravely. "Or did this happen in battle?"
James shook his head and blinked. "Too late," he said darkly, letting his hands drop. "There was only one vampire."
Dumbledore looked surprised at that; he'd expected it would take an entire coven to down an experienced hunter such as John. But in the end, it only took one moment caught unaware. "Only one?"
"There were two," James explained further. "Mr Lupin killed one... I don't know why. The Ministry sent him. And his mate captured and killed him in retaliation," he finished, sounding dejected. "They weren't working for Voldemort," he added. "They were just living in the wild, preying on animals and the occasional hiker."
Dumbledore nodded and sighed. "A bit of good news, amidst such tragedy," he mumbled, turning back to look at the dead man's face. "Perhaps Voldemort's forces haven't reached all of the banished creatures yet. May I ask - what happened to the remaining vampire? Did you warn her of what was coming, convince her not to join him?"
James glanced at Sirius, who frowned and looked at the floor. "She... we killed her."
Dumbledore looked up in surprise. He had sent them on this mission, expecting them to have to deal with something he knew would be difficult for them. But clearly, he didn't think the young people before him would kill a vampire who wasn't even a threat. Not when there was just one vampire that they easily outnumbered. Young Gryffindors like them always seemed to spare life if they had the choice, and especially if it wasn't a fair fight. He had an inkling that something had gone wrong, that somewhere there was a disagreement. That, perhaps, this was a vengeful act.
The others kept their eyes on the ground. The room was filled with an awkward lull, and then the old man rose, knees cracking slightly in the silence.
"Very well," he admonished, sounding weary. "I trust your decision completely." In reality, Dumbledore wondered whether the group was too young to fight the war after all, and the thought of what he'd already exposed them to saddened him.
"I am very sorry for your loss of Remus's father," he stated, trying to mask his disappointment. "Of whom I am certain you were all very fond." He nodded at them in acknowledgement. "Please accept my dearest condolences, as well as my gratitude for taking care of the situation. And now excuse me, for I must be going - I have dreadful things to attend to, and I am certain you are all tired. I will be in touch with Remus's mother tonight."
The old man clapped his hands twice and the body disappeared, likely sent to the hospital wing in Hogwarts to be dealt with. He gave a final nod to his former students, and then Disapparated, leaving them quite alone.
James rounded on Sirius, hands on his hips. He took a deep breath, as if he were about to say something, and then thought better of it. He turned and kicked one of the wooden chairs still set up from the most recent Order meeting. Sirius flinched. He hated more than anything when James was angry with him.
Peter started at the racket, and finally tore his eyes away from the window. He'd stared out it the entire time Dumbledore was in the room, unable to deal with the dead body, unable to deal with Dumbledore's reaction to the news. But now he turned and eyed James apprehensively. Lily watched silently from near the door, her green eyes flickering between the two best friends.
James sighed and yanked another chair towards himself, flopping down on it. He rested his elbows on his knees and rubbed his forehead tiredly. "Damn it, Sirius," he sighed.
"She killed Moony's dad," snapped Sirius in return, not wanting to deal with what he'd done right now. Especially not in front of Lily, for she wasn't really a Marauder, though he wasn't fond of Peter listening in either. He sighed. "She was going to kill you, too," he added in a mumble.
James shook his head. "There were other ways, Sirius," he said in a low voice. "Anything. Obliviate her, for fuck's sake. Petrify her, anything works! She wasn't preying on society, and she wasn't working for Voldemort. I know she did something awful to somebody we knew personally! But killing a Vampire that chooses not to prey on humans, Sirius... It's like killing a werewolf that chooses the same."
"Fuck you," snapped Sirius, at the same time Lily harshly said "James!"
But James ignored Lily. "Did you do it because of what she was, Sirius?" he prodded. "Did you do it because she's a vampire in a war against darkness?"
He hated himself for even saying such a thing to Sirius, but he couldn't get it out of his head - the way Sirius had taunted the vampire prior to her death. He had seen it all in his friend, though the whole thing lasted only seconds. Teasing, because she was undead like Inferi, and using fire to threaten and scare her. And the haunting, cruel smile on Sirius's face as he did it. It was a smile he recognized - it was the same one Sirius's cousin, Bellatrix, often wore.
"Did you do it to get back at her for killing Remus's dad, Sirius? Did that solve anything?" pressed James heatedly.
Sirius narrowed his eyes. "I told you why I did it," he snarled defensively. "She was coming for you, Prongs, and I'll be damned if I'd allow that. I saw her face, and I knew it was the last thing Remus's dad saw... It wasn't going to be the last for you as well." He sighed and turned away, digging the heels of his hand into his eyes. "I know there were better ways of dealing with it, James, and do you know?" Sirius shrugged wildly as James eyed him. "I don't care. I don't. I'm not taking chances. We're going into a war."
James rubbed his forehead. He didn't know if he dared to tell his best friend the worst of it, that the killing wasn't even necessary and that he was never in danger. But he had to, he knew. They had to know and understand and make their choices carefully; they couldn't go around killing anyone who seemed to be a threat. Moody's voice rang in his head from their training sessions, telling them what they were fighting for. Blood traitor, Mugglelover, Werewolf, Half-Blood.
The rights of all beings, whether it be Pureblood wizard or Vampire. Muggle or Mudblood.
They couldn't act with their hearts. It had to be with their minds, and Dumbledore had warned them it would be hard. There could be no compassion, and at the same time, they had to judge wisely, be certain. Why even fight if they were going to kill those they stood for in the process?
He finally sighed, and he stared at the floor because the thought of seeing Sirius's face when he learned the truth caused him pain.
"Sirius... She was going to let me go."
Sirius gaped, his eyes suddenly widening in horror. There was silence, and Sirius's breathing became ragged. He spoke slowly after a moment. "You mean I... I wasn't really saving...?"
James's face was sad. He shook his head, and could think of nothing to say that might be of comfort.
Sirius felt nauseated. He turned his back on them. He was suddenly afraid, afraid of himself and what he was going to become in this war. It was his first challenge, his first mission, his first time in the face of danger. And he'd already lost his mind, had already taken a life instead of choosing other options. And now he knew that it was completely unnecessary. What else would he do for James? Who else would he irrationally eliminate to keep his best friend safe?
Part of him felt like he shouldn't even be in the Order. Like this was going to be too difficult for him to act rationally. Dumbledore had been right - it wouldn't be easy and the decisions could be heart-wrenching. And at the same time, how could he not be a part of it? How could he step back now, knowing that James would sacrifice everything to further the cause against Voldemort? James had exposed his own blood to attract a killer. How far would he go?
Sirius's eyes closed and he tried to forget the guilt and shame he felt. The worst of it was that he'd enjoyed it, ever so slightly. He'd laughed. He felt like an idiot now.
"I don't care," he snarled. He didn't mean it. He did care. But he didn't want to show them that he was weak and foolish and embarrassed.
James took his glasses off and rested his elbows on his knees as he traced a finger around the lenses. It took a moment before he spoke again, chancing a quick glance at Sirius.
"She was innocent," he pressed, to further get the point across. He hated doing it, but Sirius had to understand, had to have control when they were out on missions. "Of all, but standing up to Moony's dad."
"Don't you talk like he did something wrong, James!"
James threw his hands in the air, for Sirius was so frustratingly beside the point. He could see his friend losing his grip on things, he recognised the panicked way Sirius's grey eyes flitted around as a million thoughts raced through his head. He knew then - Sirius did care. He knew he made a mistake. James calmed his voice. At least he knew Sirius had done it for the right reasons, unnecessary or not. But he didn't want it to happen again.
"Okay. I'm not, all right? I didn't mean to. I just don't like it, Padfoot. You killed somebody. You killed somebody."
"I know that, James," snapped Sirius, sulking. He gave his friend a reproachful glare.
James frowned and snapped his glasses in half, not fully aware of what he was doing. His fingers acted numbly of their own accord while his mind raced. It didn't matter anyway; they could be quickly repaired with a spell. But the sound they made caused him to look down at them.
"It breaks you," he said softly.
There was utter silence after that.
"Prongs," said Peter, turning from the window after several long minutes. "I hope you don't think you're going to go through a war without ever killing anyone. If that's the case, then you should just stop now, before you get killed yourself for trying to be noble or something stupid like that. So you met a rare exception tonight! The Dark side won't show the same mercy!"
"I don't like it either, James," interrupted Lily. "But killing isn't the only thing that breaks you. We're already much different people than we were when we were in Hogwarts. And it's mostly because we've known all along we'd face death and danger, and we've been preparing ourselves to do things we don't really want to do. These things..."
James shook his head, disappointed. They were right, of course. He knew the sacrifices he would have to make going into the Order. He knew he'd face difficult decisions, and knew he'd have to do things he didn't want to. They all knew.
He still hated it. He hated it more than anything. It didn't matter if Sirius thought he was saving him. He'd still done it, and as a result was now painfully aware of the darkness within his own soul and what he was capable of. When James looked at Sirius, he saw something a little harder in his friend's eyes after the deed, and that was what he couldn't bear.
"What's the matter, Sirius?" he asked then with a sigh, though he sounded like he already knew the answer. He tapped his glasses with his wand and put them on again, looking up at his friend.
Sirius's mouth thinned as he pursed his lips. Then he confirmed James's suspicion and asked the one question that James knew had been bothering him, for it was part of what was bothering himself about the entire situation as well. They both knew he'd snapped and lost control when he killed her, that he'd seemed out of his own mind.
"Do you think... what I did... I was acting like a Black, wasn't I? I swear to God, James, I did it to stop her from killing you, not in revenge or spite or evil. I didn't know she wasn't going to hurt you. But fuck... I killed somebody today. And I don't even regret it. I liked it. I liked putting her in her place when I thought she was a danger. Potters aren't like that."
James shook his head grimly. He would never deny Sirius the one thing that was most important to him, no matter how disappointed he was in his friend. "You'll always be a Potter, no matter what you do, Sirius. You were only acting like a good friend. And I'm not really upset at all."
(He still was, a bit.)
Lily came and put her arms around her boyfriend's neck. "Nobody was expecting to have to deal with anything like that so soon," she voiced for him, smiling in understanding. "At the end of the day, Sirius, you did it to save James's life, necessary or not. That's something to be proud of."
Sirius didn't feel that he'd done anything worth being proud of at all.
But James nodded and sighed, ready to drop the issue, and motioned at the spot where John's body had lain on the floor. "And now," he said sadly. "We have our first death. And it's not even Voldemort related. How the hell are we going to tell Remus?"
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