“Dying?” Remus repeated, looking at Sirius. “Are you sure they said dying, Padfoot?” This was the fourth time he had asked this question since Sirius had recounted the conversation he had overheard in the corridor. Sirius nodded. Ever since he had finished the story he had simply stared straight ahead, mouth firmly shut, jaw set, his face so white he looked as if he were a long-dead corpse lying forgotten at the bottom of the ocean.
“Well,” Peter said, looking at Sirius cautiously. “M-maybe the p-professors w-were just, w-well, exaggerating…” He trailed off hopelessly. Everyone knew that was optimistic to the point of foolishness.
Remus sat up quite suddenly. Everyone looked up hopefully. Surely Remus, the cleverest Marauder of them all, had some alternative, some way to cheat death? But no, his expression was not one of excitement, but of alertness. Everyone sat in silence, listening. The fire gave a loud crack and everyone jumped.
“I can’t believe she didn’t tell us about this!” James shouted suddenly. Remus and Peter exchanged looks. This was James. Whenever he got scared he would start yelling, vent out his emotions through anger. That was just the way things were.
“I mean, really. We sneak down there in turns to see her every night. We open the window for her so she can actually breathe fresh air. We already knew she was allergic to the light, but you know what? She still could have easily fit in. She could at least have had dinner with us, because in the winter the sun is long gone by then. Or she could have had all of her classes in the dungeons, but she wouldn’t have had to be separated, or kept a secret! The teachers must have been afraid of her being contagious! So why didn’t she tell us? I mean, we’re supposed to be her friends! We even told her about Moony for Merlin’s sake! And his fury little problem! We even told her about us! About being Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs! We told her about the map and the cloak! But no! She can’t trust us! She can’t even tell us she dying!”
“Shut it, James, just shut it!” Everyone stared. Sirius had never shouted at James before, nor had he called James by his real name since fourth year. He had always called him ‘Prongs’. Sirius was standing up, face still white, but a kind of chill seemed to be coming from him. The other three marauders almost shivered. “Can’t you just lay off her for one second?” He yelled, and James flinched. Sirius sounded terrifying when he was angry. The Black in him came out in that respect. “She dying, James! And you’re yelling at her.” His voice cracked and he stormed up to the boys’ dormitory. They sat in an uncomfortable silence. Finally Remus spoke.
“I’m going to go up and see if he’s all right.” He slowly got up and climbed the boys’ staircase. After a while Peter mumbled something about a midnight snack and grabbed the cloak Sirius had left laying on the floor, leaving James alone to stare at the ashes that had once been a roaring fire, and were now smoking gently.
“James?” A whisper traveled down from the girls’ staircase. James jumped as Lily Evans crept into the common room. “Who’s dying?” James shook his head.
“No one, Lily, just go back to bed.” But Lily didn’t move.
“There’s a student in the castle that’s allergic to light?” James looked startled.
“Um, I, no, how-” Lily blushed.
“Well I heard people talking and I thought that maybe you were planning some kind of vile prank or something so I kind of, well, listened in.” James sighed. This was turning out to be a really long night.
“What? You told her? Okay, Prongs, I know you fancy her and all, but…” James sighed. He had just told the marauders over breakfast about his late-night conversation.
“It’s not my fault!” He said, crossing his arms. Remus raised an eyebrow.
“Ooh, that’s mature.” Peter gave a little chuckle and Sirius half-smiled. James rolled his eyes.
“Oh very clever, Moony, but it seriously isn’t my fault. She was listening to the whole conversation and wouldn’t let me go to bed until I filled in all the gaps in the story.” Remus sighed.
“I thought I heard something.” James shrugged and Sirius scowled. Peter continued to shovel food into his mouth.
“Anyway,” James continued, shooting an exasperated glance at Peter, who stopped eating. “She wants to meet Estelle.” Remus’s eyebrows shot up, Peter stole a bite of his cereal, and Sirius looked up from his plate.
“That’s actually a pretty good idea.” Everyone looked at him and he shrugged. “She’s never met a girl before.” He continued to push his food around on his plate. Remus sighed.
“We need to confront her about what we heard. There might even be a chance she didn’t know about the disease. But anyway, I think we should do it together.” Everyone nodded their agreement. Peter suddenly sprayed pumpkin juice all over the table.
“Aw, Wormy, gross!”
“Oh man, all over my book.”
“Hey, dude, watch the hair.” Peter simply pointed at the staff table, mouth hanging open. Everyone looked, and their eyes widened. Professor McGonagall and Professor Dumbledore were both engrossed in a conversation with a woman with wiry gray hair and crooked glasses, a woman who was wearing a healer uniform.
“Hurry up, get out of the hall. I’ve got the cloak in my pocket we can eavesdrop. By the way, nice catch, Wormtail.” The marauders stumbled from their seats and walked casually yet quickly out of the hall, Peter looking sadly at his cereal bowl before departing. The entrance hall was, thankfully, empty. “Quick!” James whispered, whipping out his cloak.
They threw the cloak over them, and crept back into the great hall and over to the three adults conversing in hushed tones.
“…the muscles in her legs are getting weaker, I don’t think it’s safe for her to stand. We have half of our people in the department of experimental healing working on it. We’ve tried almost everything, but I don’t think we’re going to have in completed for another year at least, and-” Professor Dumbledore raised a hand to silence the healer.
“Are you quite sure you have half of your department working on this, Rachel?” She blushed and began to stutter.
“Well, no, I may have exaggerated just a teensy bit, but we do in fact have several people working on it. A nice round half dozen, well actually only five, and Lanning’s got the dragon pox and Ruddy got into a spot of bother with the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical creatures and has to take time off to fill out all the paperwork, and poor Bent is baby sitting full time for his sister-in-law, but we still have Georgia working on it, even if Patrick just got fired last week. We have put our best efforts into finding a replacement, but we simply have too many people working on the development of the Wolfsbane potion and-” McGonagall interrupted her again.
“Excuse me for saying so, but although the Wolfsbane potion is most certainly one of the most important potions you could be working on, don’t you think you could just take a couple people off of it for merely six months? I mean, a little girl’s life is on the line here!” The healer smiled at McGonagall as if she were an ignorant little schoolgirl.
“Yes, Professor, but there are no doubt many more lives on the line as far as werewolves are concerned. The disease in question is simply too rare to be put to too much bother! It is only one girl.” The marauders had never seen Professor McGonagall so angry before, and that was saying something.
“Yes, you may say that it is only one girl, but that one girl is alive and she is one of the most extraordinary students to ever have crossed the threshold of this school! And every single teacher who had ever taught her would walk through fire to make her happy, and you won’t even bother putting a couple healers onto the project that could save her life!” Her voice cracked.
“Professor,” The healer said, taking of her glasses and wiping them on her uniform. “Even if we did find a cure in time, it wouldn’t be worth it. She would still be allergic to light, and be forced to stay in a dungeon the rest of her life. It would be pointless.” Professor McGonagall straightened up, eyes flashing.
“Yes, and if you don’t find the cure in time, she will still be forced to stay in a dungeon for the rest of her life, it will just be relatively shorter.” The healer shook her head and opened her mouth to argue, but Dumbledore cut her off.
“Perhaps we should finish this discussion in my office. Rachel, you may leave the papers you brought about the disease in Minerva’s office. It’s on the way, and we may look at those later.” Sirius was sure that Dumbledore’s blue eyes flickered for a moment to the exact spot where the marauders were standing.
“Really, Albus, these are very important, nearly a year’s worth of research, and I’ve seen what kind of rascals you let run about loose…”
“Minerva will lock the door, won’t you?” McGonagall nodded stiffly, lips still very thin and white. And with that the three adults stalked away.
“Come on.” Sirius whispered, causing a first year nearby to jump a foot in the air and scamper away. “I’ve got that knife that Moony gave me for Christmas, we can hurry and get it and sneak the papers out.” The marauders waited until they were alone, then whipped off the cloak and pelted for the dormitory. They ran all the way to McGonagall’s office and arrived huffing and puffing.
“Just slide it down and presto!” Sirius cheered as the door flew open. “Thanks, Moony.” They crept into the room and shut the door behind them. There was a small folder on McGonagall’s desk, with only about seven pieces of parchment inside.
“Ooh, a year’s worth of research. You know, it took all my willpower not to hex that bloody hag all the way to China.” The Marauders laughed, glad that Sirius was once again making jokes.
“Come on, take it and run!” James said, looking around nervously. It was like walking into hell and hoping you wouldn’t run into the devil.
“No!” Remus said urgently and Sirius dropped the folder and whipped out his wand. He was no doubt a little jumpy too. He lowered his wand when he saw Remus chuckling.
“What did you do that for, Moony? I almost had a heart-attack.” Remus opened the desk and rummaged around, finally pulling out some parchment.
“We can’t just take them! They’ll notice they’re gone and for all we know they might have some kind of tracking spell on them. Though, seeing how little they care about this specific case, most likely not… anyway, here.” He waved his wands and the words on the healer’s papers seemed to split into two layers and the top one slid off onto the parchment in Remus’s hand.
“Hey!” Sirius cried indignantly. “You knew that spell all this time while we were stuck copying homework by hand!” Remus rolled his eyes.
“And we all know how much work that is.” Sirius opened his mouth to say something, which most likely would have been stupid and pointless, but at that moment, voices could be heard coming from the end of the corridor, and it sounded like-
“McGonagall!” James yelled, and they bolted, getting as far away from McGonagall’s office as they could. Finally, somewhere up on the seventh floor they slowed to a walk, and finally stopped, clutching stitches in their sides.
Remus looked at the paper in his hands and began to read. His face grew more solemn with every page he finished. Finally he spoke, and the marauders held their breath.
“She’s got some type of magical muscular disease. It’s so incredibly rare they haven’t even named it. If given a certain magical antidote, the disease can be kept at bay for varied amounts of time, depending on the person in question, the average being around fifteen years. And once the antidote stops working…” Everyone looked up and Remus sighed. “The muscles in the body will slowly stop working, starting from the feet, up through the legs, to the arms and then…”
“And then the heart.” Sirius finished for him. Remus nodded, then attempted to look cheery.
“But-” Sirius looked up hopefully. “I’ve taken a look at what they have for a cure so far, and I think, if we work hard enough, we could try to make one.” James laughed, and Sirius raised an eyebrow. Peter thought about his food.
“If the professional healers can’t-” Remus interrupted James.
“Weren’t you listening? There aren’t any professional healers. There is one! And she probably sucks. Look at this!” He shook the papers in his face. “They have a couple one-sided papers on stuff you can look up in a book, and two or three things that they tried that didn’t work. Really, we could do this!” James got up and began to pace back and forth, ruffling his hair.
“You’re right! I mean, we’ll need a place where we can research diseases, and any other research that’s been done about this, and some kind of laboratory where we can experiment, with a cupboard full of any potion ingredients we need and-”
“Prongs! How in Merlin’s name did that get there?” Sirius was pointing at a door that had just appeared out of nowhere. Remus gasped.
“It’s the room of requirement! I’ve heard about that, but you’ve actually found it, Prongs! You must have to pace in front of the wall or something…” James looked around and cautiously placed a hand on the door handle, as though afraid it would hurt him. Just as his skin made contact with it, there was a loud shout.
“HEY! What are you doing?” James jumped backwards as though he had been burned. Lily Evans was marching towards them. Sirius swore. “I just saw you four running as fast as your bloody asses could away from McGonagall’s office, and- Wait a minute! Is that the room of requirement?” She was looking with awe at the door. The Marauders nodded, three out of four having no idea what the room of requirement was.
“Well open it, Moony.” James said, looking at the door as if it were the devil. Remus sighed and opened the door. The five of them stepped inside. It was easily the most incredible room they had ever been in before. The room was divided into three main sections. Over to the right there was an almost common-room-like area, with a couch and a couple chairs grouped around a small table, a roaring fire nearby. Over to the left there were several long counters piled with any equipment you could ever need for making potions. There were several different cauldrons and scales and little glass vials. There was a filing cabinet and a huge cupboard. Lily opened this and gasped.
“Look at all these ingredients! There’s everything you could ever wish for here!” She continued to scan the shelves, but there was more to see. There were small plants growing separate ingredients, incase the potion you were making needed to have the ingredients picked at a certain time. Straight ahead in the third section of the room was a library-like area. Remus went over and examined the books as the other three marauders threw themselves on the couch.
“Wow!” Remus exclaimed, hauling a pile of books over to an empty chair. “Look at these! Here’s ‘A Detailed History of St. Mungo’s Experimental Studies’ and ‘A Guide to Concocting Your Own Potions’ and look! ‘Rare and Extraordinary Diseases And Helpful Hints and Remedies’. This is brilliant.” Sirius picked up a book and looked at it interestedly.
“Hey, look at this one, Moony! It’s called ‘A Geek’s Guide to Being Nerdy’. It has your name on it!” Remus rolled his eyes and Lily walked over, also examining the books.
“So let me get this straight. You four are going to try and invent a cure for this girl, Estelle’s, disease, when an entire team of healers-” Sirius sighed.
“Do we have to go over this again?” Remus rolled his eyes and began to explain. When he had finished, Lily was looking excited.
“Oh! We have to make our own potions for N.E.W.T. standard! Remember? Well, no, Black and James, that was the class when you made Severus’s cauldron explode, but I do remember how to figure out what ingredients to add and how many times to stir. And Severus makes his own adjustments to potions all the time, I could ask for help from him,” James and Sirius shot her a look. “Without telling him why I need the help, of course. But actually, I think we might be able to do this! We have this room at our disposal twenty-four hours a day. This is fantastic!” Sirius and James exchanged looks.
“Um, I’m glad you feel that way?” James said, and Sirius laughed. Lily rolled her eyes and pulled a book towards her.
“Well, no offense, but you guys kind of suck at potions.” She said, throwing a look of disgust towards James and Sirius. “And you didn’t even pass your O.W.L.” She said, throwing another glance at Peter. “And you can’t do all the work by yourself.” She shot Remus an apologetic look. James smiled at her.
“Yes, and you’re the best potions student Hogwarts has ever seen.” Lily rolled her eyes, but her cheeks looked a little pink. Sirius rolled his eyes.
“Yes and you are getting on my nerves.” He picked up a book. “So, can we get started?”
The Marauders and Lily spent the rest of the day researching everything they could find on Estelle’s disease. It was so rare that it had only been the recorded cause of death for twelve different people within the last thousand years. When night came, James got out his invisibility cloak and the map.
“Ready?” Lily’s eyes widened as they fell on the cloak.
“You have an invisibility cloak?” She asked reaching out and touching it. “Where did you get it?”
“Oh, it’s been passed down from generation to generation for years.” He held it out to her to hold.
“It’s beautiful.” She whispered. Sirius rolled his eyes and Remus and Peter tried to stifle their laughs.
“Naw, it’s nothing compared to you.” Lily blushed.
“Gag me!” Sirius cried, hitting James hard on the back of the head and grabbing the cloak. James grabbed a book off the couch and chucked it at him. Remus and Peter laughed and Lily felt very awkward.
“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.” Sirius said, pointing his wand at the apparently blank piece of parchment. Lily gasped.
“It’s a map of Hogwarts!”
“And it tells you exactly where people are!”
“Why’d you think Prongs was so good at stalking you?”
It was very cramped with five people under the cloak, but thanks to the map, they managed to get to Estelle’s dungeon room without being caught. Once they were safely inside they removed the cloak and wiped the map clean.
“She has to stay in here?” Lily whispered. “How sad.” Sirius marched forward down the small corridor and everyone followed. When they reached the end of the passage and entered the small room, the marauders picked their way around all the furniture, James leading Lily by the hand, of course.
“Peter?” Estelle’s voice rang out through the darkness. It had been Peter’s turn to come alone that night.
“Hey, Star!” Sirius yelled. (Ever since Estelle had told him that her name meant ‘star’ he had started calling her that.) We brought a surprise for you! Remember Lily Evans? Well Prongs went all goo-goo eyed and told her everything so- ouch!” They finally reached the top of the tall staircase where Estelle sat by the window.
“Hello!” She said, waving to Lily. “It’s great to finally meet you! I’ve heard lots of stories, especially on James’s nights to visit me.” Remus, Peter, and Sirius all laughed. Lily smiled.
“It’s great to meet you, too. You have a very pretty voice.”
“For once in my life, Evans, I agree with you.” Sirius said, and Lily rolled her eyes, though it was hard to tell in the darkness. Remus cleared his throat impatiently and shot Sirius a look. They had decided it would be his job to tell Estelle what they knew.
“Er, Star?” Sirius said cautiously. She looked away from the window.
“Yah?” Sirius paused, and Remus cleared his throat again.
“Er, well, last night, on my way back to Gryfindor tower, I, er, overheard a conversation between Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall. They were, well, they were talking about you.” Estelle’s smile faded. “The thing is-”
“Padfoot, you are awful at this.” James said. He turned to Estelle. “We know that you’re sick, and we even met the healer in charge and she’s a-” He called her something that made Lily say “James!”
“Yah,” Remus continued. “And we copied all her papers-”
“There were only about six!”
“And researched your illness-”
“All one-sided, too.”
“And have a little station set up in the room of requirement-”
“Which I found.”
“And we’re going to try and make a cure-”
“Or at least Moony and Evans are, because the rest of us would just screw it up.”
“Prongs! SHUT IT!” Estelle smiled that sad little smile of hers and looked from one friend to the other.
“Thanks you guys, but really, you have other things to worry about. Like N.E.W.T. tests and everything. You really don’t need to help me. I’m sure I’ll be fine-” Sirius interrupted her.
“Star, we’re going to help you whether you like it or not, and when we make that cure, which we will, you are going to take it, or we’ll make you.” James laughed.
“That’s Padfoot’s way of telling you we’re here for you.” Estelle smiled. At this time Remus shuffled forward with a crystal vial in his hands.
“Hate to break up the moment, here, but I’m going to need some of your blood.” Estelle grudgingly held out her arm, but she was smiling.
“Okay, I think we should start by writing out any possible recipes that might work, giving these rats the disease using the virus in Estelle’s blood, but first we have to duplicate it, and then we have to have someone research the three projects the healers got wrong and figure out why they didn’t work so we don’t make the same mistake. Everyone get it?” Only Remus said ‘yes’. James was too busy staring at Lily to be paying much attention, Sirius had no idea what was going on, and Peter was thinking about his food. It was Monday, the day after their meeting with Estelle, and classes had just gotten over.
“Come on you guys!” Lily yelled impatiently. “Estelle is dying. This is not the time to be cute or funny. Peter, I want you to look at all the ingredients used in these failed cures.” She held up three pieces of paper. “Re-write all the ingredients and number of stirs and write the effects they had on the potion. There’s a book right there-” She pointed to a large book with a black cover. “That will tell you what each ingredient and type of stirring does.” Peter nodded and took the book and pieces of paper.
“Okay, Sirius, you know the duplicating spell, right?” Sirius nodded. “Well I need you to be super careful-” She shot him a look that clearly said she didn’t trust him with that. “And duplicate this blood exactly. Each time you duplicate it, put it into one of these vials.” She held up a tray of at least four dozen glass vials. "You’re not going to put the blood all together incase one batch was contaminated. I want you to fill all of these.” Sirius’s face fell.
“Do you know how long it takes to duplicate something? It’ll take about five minutes for every bottle!” Lily shrugged and moved on. Sirius scowled and pulled out his wand. “And James, you can do a separating spell, right?” He nodded confidently, ruffling his hair. “Okay, when Sirius is done with a bottle, separate the virus into these vials.” She held up a tray exactly like Sirius’s. James’s eyes widened.
“What? But a separating spell takes twice as long as a duplicating spell!” Sirius laughed and Lily put her hands on her hips.
“Well, then. When you’re halfway done Sirius can help you.” Sirius stopped laughing. Lily and Remus took some parchment and quills and a book identical to the one James was using and began looking up any ingredients that could help. Sirius sighed and went back to work. This was going to take a very long time.
It had been several weeks of very hard work when they finally began to experiment. They set up several cauldrons up on the counters and a piece of parchment in front of each so people could write down what they did to the potion. Remus and Lily would scurry around, stirring and writing, summoning ingredients here and there. James, Sirius, and Peter were told not to touch the potion without permission, but they were each given their own little cauldron that they could experiment on their own with. (These were placed far away from the other potions.) At the end of each day, some of the potion from each cauldron would go in a labeled vial, with a letter that matched the letter on the cauldron. Peter, James, and Sirius would have their own vials marked P, J, and S, but they soon got into the habit of simply cleaning up their potion after bottling it, because it normally just ended up killing the testing rat.
Then each rat would be injected with the virus James had so willingly separated from Estelle’s blood that Sirius had so willingly duplicated, and each rat would be given a different potion one at a time and everyone would take notes. It would fall to James, Sirius, and Peter in turn to conjure up rats while the others were making potions, and they split this up so they each had a different day. (Though Sirius got a smack on the head from Lily when he suggested simply using Peter.)
Anyway, it was once again Sirius’s turn to visit Estelle, and so he made his way down to the dungeons and into her little room. When he reached the end of the darkened corridor he heard the sound of crying.
“Star?” The sobs continued. It was the most horrible sound Sirius had ever heard. It simply ripped his heart out. He walked into the room. He had expected Estelle to be up by the window, but she wasn’t. She was down in the chair she had sat in during Sirius’s first visit. Oh how long ago it seemed.
“Star, what’s wrong? Why aren’t you up by the window?” Estelle continued to sob, but managed to choke out three words.
“…can’t…move…legs…” Sirius’s heart skipped a beat. It was getting worse. The sobs continued. Sirius reached the chair and slipped one arm under Estelle’s legs and the other under her back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and he carried her up the stairs, his shirt wet from her tears. They finally reached the top and he set her on her chair by the window. After a while her sobs quieted and she wiped her face.
“It’s a horrible feeling, doing something every day for your entire life, and then having it taken away from you… forever.” She let out a dry sob. Sirius put a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Not forever, star. For now, just for now. We’re really coming along in the lab. They’re on the verge of a breakthrough. We’ve gotten further than anyone in St. Mungo’s ever has.” Estelle gripped his hand and looked up into his eyes.
“Promise,” She said quietly, “Promise that even if you don’t finish it in time, even if I die-” Sirius opened his mouth to interrupt but Estelle gripped his hand harder. “Promise me that you will not stop working on the cure. Promise that you won’t let this happen to anyone else. Promise you’ll try.” Sirius felt a tear slide down his cheek. Estelle couldn’t move her legs, she couldn’t feel the warm fingers of the sun, or know the gentle glow of light, she knew that the odds were against her one-hundred to one, that there was every chance in the world she could die, and here she was, making Sirius promise, not to protect her, or hurry, but to save someone else from the fate she knew she was doomed to accept.
“Okay, time to put the potions in the vials! Today may be the day, guys!” Lily said, trying to sound cheerful rather than tired and nervous. She was failing miserably. Peter threw a few last-minute random ingredients into his potion. He hastily stuffed them back on the shelf. One of the bottles fell into Sirius’s potion. Sirius rolled his eyes. This happened every day. He took the bottle out and vanished it.
Sirius poured his potion into his vial and brought it over to the table. He returned to his station and cleared up all the ingredients and cleaning the cauldrons. He knew what would happen next. Lily and Remus would shove the potions down the rats’ throats, exclaiming how this would certainly be the potion that would do it, and then they would take notes, and test the rat. And then nothing would happen. They would take the rats and put them in a cage marked with the date and watch them for any signs. Soon enough the disease would hit their heart and they would die.
“Okay, I think this one will work! I really do!” Remus said, and Sirius rolled his eyes. He knew that nothing had happened. He continued to clean up. Suddenly he heard a gasp and he wheeled around.
“Negative! The rat tested negative for the disease! Remus, double-check, take the test again.” He did, and it was still negative. Peter whooped, Sirius did a little dance, Lily screamed and hugged the nearest person, who just happened to be James, and Remus- Remus stared in disbelief at the label on the vial.
“Which potion did it?” Lily asked, releasing James (this disappointed him) “Was it ‘F’, I thought that one was coming along nicely-”
“It was Sirius’s.” Sirius froze. Everyone looked at him, and then scrambled over to his potion station. He had vanished the potion. Lily sighed in relief.
“It’s a good thing that James came up with the idea of writing down everything you do.” She gave him a glowing look. He looked like he was in heaven.
“Come on!” Sirius said anxiously, looking at his directions. “Let’s brew it and try it again to make sure it works.” Everyone agreed, and they all got their own cauldrons, except Peter, who was given the job of copying the directions when people weren’t using them.
Finally four potions sat simmering. Lily excitedly scooped some of the potion into a crystal vial and walked over to one of the rats. She held open its throat and dumped the potion down. Remus took out his wand and tapped him. The wand emitted green sparks. Green was for positive.
“What?” Lily said disbelievingly. They tried everyone’s potion. None of them worked. Suddenly a realization hit both Sirius and Peter.
“Uh, Wormy?” Sirius said cautiously. “You remember what that ingredient was that you accidentally dropped in my potion?” Everyone looked at him, holding their breath. But he shook his head.
“What did you do-”
“Vanished it.” Sirius answered before she finished the question, heart sinking. They had been so close. Lily cleared her throat.
“Well, we’re loads better off than we were before. All we have to do is remake the potion every time and add a random ingredient at the end. Can’t be too hard-”
“Yeah, Lily?” James said. “In all of those cupboards combined there are more than five hundred thousand ingredients in here. That’s… a lot, Lily. That’s a lot.” Everyone nodded. Lily straightened up, emerald eyes flashing.
“But we have to try, for Estelle.” Sirius nodded, cursing himself for his own stupidity.
Everyone decided to tell Estelle about their almost break-through together, so all five of them arrived in the small chamber and whipped off the cloak.
“Star?” Sirius called, letting her know they were here. Every time they had come to visit since Estelle lost the movement of her legs, they had found Estelle halfway up the stairs with a bruised stomach, after trying to drag herself up the stairs. She had been getting further and further up every time, and everyone was surprised when her voice answered them from her chair.
“I’m right here.” It was oddly hollow, and cold. Sirius walked over to her and kneeled by her chair. He put a hand on her face. She turned her head and kissed his hand. He didn’t feel any tears. He lifted her up, but she didn’t wrap her arms around his neck. He carried her up the staircase and set her by the window. He understood. Estelle had lost the use of her arms.
Lily and the Marauders told Estelle about the incident in the lab. She smiled her sad little smile, and it seemed sadder than ever.
“Who would have guessed? Sirius and Peter invented a cure the most brilliant minds in this school have been working on.”
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Sirius said jokingly, but his heart wasn’t in it.
Two weeks passed, then three, finally a month, and still, nothing. But the ingredients left were thinning out. They were each given a separate list and they would quickly brew the potion and then throw in the ingredient. Lily said they shouldn’t add ingredients to pre-made potions, because the ingredient might have to be added immediately afterwards. Sirius began spending every night in the room, brewing seven different potions at once and then adding seven different ingredients. Every night he became more frantic. His grades in his day life were slipping. He continually fell asleep in class. It was like those days before he had told the marauders about Estelle, only now he didn’t have that happy glow inside of him. It had been replaced by a horrible cold that threatened to engulf him whenever he saw those green sparks shoot from his wand.
It was a Saturday, and Sirius was on his way to the room of requirement to meet Lily and Remus. They were going to try even more ingredients. It had not been a very good day. Sirius had fallen asleep three different times in Transfiguration, each time being awakened rudely by Professor McGonagall. He was on the sixth floor when he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around quickly and saw Professor Dumbledore striding toward him, looking solemn.
“Hello, Professor.” Sirius said, trying not to sound too guilty.
“Ah, Mr. Black, I’m glad I’ve found you.” Sirius tried not to look too uncomfortable. Had he heard about his slacking grades? Was he going to punish him?
“What did you need, Professor?” Sirius asked curiously, fingers crossed in his robes pocket. Dumbledore gave him that signature look over his spectacles, and Sirius looked away from the intense blue eyes.
“Well, I was just down in the dungeons with a certain young lady,” Sirius’s head shot up and his heart leapt. “And she isn’t feeling her best. The healer who was with her has informed me that today may indeed be her last day. This young lady, Estelle is her name, was also informed, and has made a request. A request to see a certain young man whom, according to Professor McGonagall, this girl has never even heard of. Do you know who she requested to see?” Sirius looked into Professor Dumbledore’s eyes and said quietly,
“Me.” Dumbledore nodded and turned around.
“I trust you know where she is staying.” Sirius hesitated. If he ran to the room of requirement, he could tell the others and hurry and rush. They could find the cure! They had to. Failing was just not an option. But if he did go, and they didn’t find it, and she did… then he would never be able to say goodbye.
“Are you coming? Or is there somewhere else you have to be?” Sirius looked at the ancient man again, and knew that he had to decide now.
Sirius walked into the darkened room as he had a hundred times before, perhaps for the last time. Even though he kept telling himself that Estelle would be fine, he couldn’t stop the thought that floated across his mind. He heard the whispering voices and identified Professor McGonagall’s and the healer’s. And then he heard a third voice, that sweet little voice that he knew so well, it was whispering his name.
“Sirius.” He heard it and knelt down by Estelle’s favorite chair. He put a hand on her face, because he knew she wouldn’t be able to feel it if he held her hand as he had so many times.
“Star, you’re going to be all right. The others are working on it right now, I’m sure they’ll find it. Don’t worry.” His voice cracked.
“Minerva, Rachel, let’s give them some time alone.” There were protests, but Sirius wasn’t listening. He finally heard the three adults walk out of the room, heard their footsteps echoing down the passage, and a door slam. He lifted Estelle up and carried her up the stairs, savoring the feeling of her weight in his arms. He set her by the window, where she had sat so many times. But the window could not be opened. He had almost forgotten it was day. After a long silence, Estelle spoke.
“Before my legs stopped working, they felt like they were on fire. They hurt so badly. I thought anything would be better than that pain, but when it stopped, so did everything else. Before I lost my arms, it felt like they were being pierced with a thousand needles, and I thought ‘Dear God, let it stop’ and it did, as did everything else. And now my heart, it feels like it is being ripped apart a thousand times over, and I just want the pain to stop, I want the hurt to go away, but, Sirius- I don’t want to die.”
Sirius had never heard her little voice this scared and sad and… hopeless before. He knew he could comfort her, tell her she’d be fine, but he knew they would be empty words, knew he didn’t even believe them himself.
“I don’t expect anyone does.” He finally said. “I know everyone always says they’ll be ready when the time comes, they even get used to the idea, say they’re looking forward to just being able to sleep forever. But when the moment comes, they’re always afraid. But you know what? I don’t think you’re like everyone else. You’re special, Star. You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met. And I don’t think you should be afraid. It’s going to be okay. Probably just like falling asleep, and then you’ll turn into a butterfly and fly around in the sun, and no one will ever keep you locked away. You’ll be free.” He heard her sigh.
“Make me laugh, Sirius.” Sirius couldn’t think of anything to say, so he took out his wand and yelled,
“Expecto Patronum!” A silver dog shot out of his wand and ran circles around Estelle. The light didn’t hurt her. It made her smile.
“How do you do that?” Sirius smiled as he looked at Estelle, her eyes glowing in the silver light.
“Say the incantation while focusing on the happiest thought you can possibly think of.” She looked at him with pleading eyes. “Where’s your wand?” He asked. It was the least he could do.
“In my pocket.” Sirius reached into her pocket and pulled out her white, wispy wand, it seemed to be made of willow. He set it in her hand. “Expecto Patronum!” She shouted, and to Sirius’s amazement she managed a corporeal patronus, a small silver butterfly.
“Wow, you did it on the first try!” He exclaimed as the butterfly did circles around his head. “What were you thinking of?” Estelle smiled.
“You.” Sirius reached over and put both hands on Estelle’s face. She smiled, and Sirius kissed her lightly on the lips.
“Sirius?” She said quietly.
“I love you.” Sirius smiled and kissed her again.
“I love you too.” Estelle suddenly gasped in pain. Sirius kept his hands on her face as if that could keep her here, on earth, forever.
“Sirius, I’m going to ask you to do something, and no matter what, promise you’ll do it?” Sirius nodded, without hesitation. He trusted her completely. “Open the window.” Sirius didn’t move.
“Estelle, it’s not night. You’ll burn.” Estelle shook her head.
“Not right away. It takes five minutes or so, and then it’ll hurt. But please, Sirius. Let me just feel the sun.” Sirius slowly took his hands off Estelle’s face and turned to the window. He heard Estelle take a deep breath and then he threw open the window.
Brilliant, golden sunlight spilled into the room, the room that hadn’t felt the warmth of light in years. It was horribly dusty, but Sirius didn’t notice. His eyes were on Estelle. The golden glow fell upon her face and she laughed out loud. Sirius went over to her and put a hand on her face. Somewhere, deep inside, he knew that this was going to be the last time he would ever see Estelle, and he had to say goodbye. He didn’t know what to say at first, but then remembered something Estelle had said once, oh how long ago it seemed.
“It’s all right. Don’t be afraid. I have healed your broken wings. You are free.” And Estelle closed her eyes, a smile with absolutely no trace of sorrow on her face. And the butterfly patronus flew out the window and faded in the sunlight.
Sirius sat there for a long time, just staring at Estelle’s face. He heard footsteps below and Professor McGonagall came running up the stairs, followed by the healer and Professor Dumbledore.
“Good heavens! Is she- is she… dead?” Sirius didn’t say anything. Professor McGonagall burst into tears. The healer simply stood. It was just another life to her.
“Shut that window.” She snapped. Professor Dumbledore shook his head sadly, looking over his half-moon spectacles at Estelle lying there, a smile on her face.
“There is no need now. The sun cannot affect her anymore. Mr. Black, there is nothing more you can do for her. I think it is time you told the others.” Sirius didn’t know or care how Dumbledore knew there were others who knew and cared about Estelle, he just gripped the small little hand one last time and kissed Estelle’s forehead.
“Goodbye, Star.” He tore his gaze from her silent form and let go of her hand gently. He turned away and walked slowly down the stairs. He felt empty and broken. He didn’t know what he felt, he just couldn’t believe she was gone. After everything, after everything they had been through, she just wasn’t there. He reached the Great Hall. It was lunchtime. Sirius couldn’t believe that all of these people were laughing and smiling and joking, and if he had stopped even one of them to tell them that Estelle was gone, they wouldn’t know or care what he meant.
Suddenly he saw Lily, Remus, James, and Peter all running towards him, all looking excited. They skidded to a stop in front of him, gasping for air. Lily still managed to speak.
“Where have you been?” She gasped, clutching a stitch in her side. “We found it! We found the cure! Quick we have to go-” Sirius didn’t care that there were a hundred students watching, didn’t care that all the teachers could see him, that Dumbledore was looking at him, and that his entire reputation was at stake. He didn’t care about anything anymore. He just broke down and cried.
Sirius’s black robes rippled as he stood with his hands in his pockets, looking at the small coffin being placed in the ground. Dumbledore had asked him if he had wanted to say anything, but he couldn’t. He had already said goodbye, he didn’t want to have to go through with it again. The dirt fell upon the coffin with a gentle thud, and everyone stood in silence.
They were in a small clearing in the forest, and there was Remus and Peter with their heads bowed, and James, who was holding Lily, who had tears running down her cheek. There was Professor Dumbledore and all the teachers who had taught Estelle. There was a small team of healers, all of whom had been more interested in the cure than the girl it hadn’t been in time to save.
Sirius could remember how carelessly they skimmed over the instructions, the instructions that had taken ages to brew. One healer had said,
“That last ingredient is a very unusual one. Crushed starflower petals? I didn’t even know they were used in potions.”
All Sirius could think of was Estelle. How her little hand had felt in his, the touch of her lips. How he missed that sweet little voice. It seemed to ring in his ears, that last laugh. He lay awake every night, thinking of her. He didn’t care anymore. Any time someone laughed, he would get mad. How could anyone laugh? How could he laugh ever again? How could he be happy when she was gone?
Sirius knew the ceremony must have ended, because people were leaving. Soon only Peter, Remus, James, Lily, and Sirius were left. The only five that had really known Estelle. The only five she would have wanted at her funeral. They stood there for a long time, just staring at the little mound of earth. A small marble headstone sat there, bearing her name. Estelle Pier.
Sirius hated this stone. It didn’t say anything. It said nothing about how brave she had been, about how she had been forced to stay inside, away from the sun. About how she had been slowly wasting away while the healers in St. Mungo’s didn’t even care. The stone said nothing except two words that meant nothing.
Sirius stepped forward and with a swish of his wand more words appeared beneath her name. Words engraved deep into the marble, the way Estelle was engraved deep into Sirius’s heart. Sirius felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Come on.” James said quietly. “It’s time to go.” And the five of them walked slowly through the forest, Lily’s hand entwined with James’s. They reached the edge of the forest and walked toward the lake. People were dipping their feet in, worrying about exams and such. Sirius couldn’t believe it was already June. It seemed like only yesterday he had been sent down to the dungeons for punishment. Was that really how it started? With some stupid prank they hadn’t even done? Sirius didn’t know who had pulled that prank, but he decided if he ever found out, he would thank them.
Sirius stood a little away from the others, who seated themselves beneath the tree, the very tree Estelle had hugged the night before Sirius had overheard that conversation. The first tree she had ever touched. And she had walked on this ground and breathed this air, lived in this world. And now she was gone forever.
Suddenly Sirius saw a beautiful blue butterfly flying out of the forest, flying from the direction of Estelle’s grave. It soared in the air, the sun glinting on its wings. It seemed happy to just be alive. It flew towards Sirius, who remained still, staring at it.
“Estelle?” He whispered. It landed on his nose and flapped its wings a couple times. He could have sworn he heard a whisper. Then it rose and flew several times around him before taking off and flying away, disappearing into the sun-filled sky.
“Padfoot? Come and sit with us.” James patted the ground beside him. Sirius gave a small smile and walked over, sitting down next to James, who looked at him. “You all right?” Sirius smiled.
“Yeah.” James smiled and clasped his shoulder briefly. Lily leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. He looked like he was in heaven. Sirius couldn’t help it. He laughed. Soon everyone was laughing about nothing in particular, just glad they were together. Sirius didn’t know what lay ahead, but he knew that as long as he had his friends, he would be okay. And when the time came for him to leave this place, he wouldn’t be afraid. Because he knew that Estelle would be waiting for him with open arms and they would walk together, the sun on their faces.
In the forest a butterfly landed on a tombstone, resting for an instant before once again taking flight. It read,