Back to the Forest
“I got it!”
“Nice one, James.”
The boys were assembled in the Room of Requirement, trying once more to attempt their Patronuses. James, who had progressed the furthest of he, Sirius and Peter, had finally managed to produce a Patronus. It happened very quickly, as it had when Remus managed it, but they could just make out a deer shape, though they were sure it was not a deer exactly. It was different, but they couldn’t be too sure what it was. James was standing in the centre of the room, his wand poised, staring at the spot where the silvery creature had once been floating. He lowered his wand, pocketed it, and whirled around.
“Your turn,” he said to Sirius.
Sirius glanced at his watch, it was nearing curfew. “I’ll try next time. We should be getting back.” He crossed the room to where Remus was dozing in his chair. The full moon had been two days ago and Remus still had not fully recovered. He lightly shook Remus’s shoulder. “Wake up.” Remus muttered some incoherent nonsense and sleepily swatted Sirius’s hand away. He shifted in his seat and continued sleeping. Sirius continued to shake his friend’s shoulder.
“Five more minutes…”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Fine, we’ll just leave you here for Filch to find.” This didn’t seem to bother Remus. “Come on, mate.” Still, he had no progress. “James.” Sirius jerked his head towards the other side of Remus and James instantly knew what Sirius was going to do. The boys hitched Remus up by his shoulders and began dragging him towards the door.
This woke Remus up. His eyes opened and he looked around, wondering why he was moving without his permission. “What are you buggers doing?”
“Aww… he’s awake,” Peter said sentimentally, looking at Remus as though he were an adorable little baby.
“Put me down!”
“Good thing he’s easy to carry,” James said to Sirius from behind Remus’s head.
“Put me down!”
“I know,” Sirius agreed wholeheartedly. “If this had been you, on the other hand, I think my back would break.”
“Put me down, you idiots!”
“Shut up, Black.”
“Bloody hell, I want my feet on the floor!”
“I mean, I’d be like an old man trying to carry you, bent down under your weight.”
“PUT ME DOWN!” Startled, James and Sirius dropped Remus to the floor. Remus stood up, straightening out his robes, glaring daggers at his friends.
“You could’ve asked, Remus,” James said, looking insulted.
“Wouldn’t have made any difference,” Remus shot back, leading the way down the corridor. He looked over his shoulder and saw that only Peter was following. James and Sirius were rooted to the spot. Remus grinned to himself, caught Peter’s eye, and jerked his head towards the two. Peter knew instantly what Remus was going to do. The two quickly doubled back, hitched James and Sirius up by the elbows and began dragging them down the hall.
“Put me down!” the boys yelled together.
“You were right, Sirius,” Remus remarked thoughtfully. “James is heavy.”
After James’s accomplished Patronus, Sirius began making progress. He couldn’t achieve a distinguishable shape; he only achieved a fog of silver. Shape or fog, Sirius didn’t care, he was getting somewhere at last. James was working on keeping his Patronus long enough to discover if it was really a deer or something else. Peter was still having difficulty coming up with a decent memory. Remus helped him in that area, though between the both of them they were coming up fruitless. Remus would sit with Peter, while James and Sirius practised, and they would put their heads together, thinking up the happiest memory Peter had. As of yet, they had nothing.
Near the end of January the boys opened a copy of the Daily Prophet and saw the article Handlin and Dumbledore had been talking about had finally been printed – the one about the Muggles killed by wizards. Dumbledore must have gotten Harry Lupin to give the okay to print it. They had filled Remus in on the conversation when he returned from the break and he was, naturally, surprised that his father was helping Dumbledore with this. He knew he should have expected this. He was aware that his father and Dumbledore talked to each other. He never realised that his father would be doing such favours for the Headmaster, however.
Unlike the previous year, when Alice Gordon’s father was murdered and the year before that when Professor Flitwick’s sister was found dead, this bit of news did not induce a craving for information amongst the students. It may have been because it was only a group of Muggles, or because it was getting tiresome to worry about whoever was behind it. Many students, surprisingly, were failing to notice the reoccurrence of the mark in the sky, which still had yet to be labeled. The fact was that whenever a murder occurred, this mark was hovering in the sky above the area where the murder had taken place. The same person was behind it, yet hardly any of the students were troubling themselves about it.
The boys sat in the dormitory, Sirius’s phonograph playing lazily in the background. They were reading through a copy of the Prophet, talking quietly about the article of the Muggle killings.
“I don’t know why Dumbledore would want to keep this quiet,” Remus remarked, resting his chin in his hand.
“He didn’t really go into why he didn’t want to,” Sirius told him, recalling the conversation they had overheard on Christmas.
“Yeah,” Peter agreed, nodding. “He said something about timing. What was it, James?”
James, who was leaning back on his bed, glanced towards the three assembled on Sirius’s bed. “He said he didn’t want the public to know until he thought it was the right time.” He laughed bitterly. “Of course, everyone has to wait for Dumbledore before they get to know what’s going on.”
Sirius, Remus and Peter looked at each other; this was not something James would normally say. James usually agreed with everything Dumbledore thought of. James respected the Headmaster, revered him. They had never heard him talking about the Headmaster in such a sarcastic tone.
Hesitantly, Sirius asked, “What d’you mean, James?”
“It’s not right of Dumbledore to keep something like that from people.”
“He didn’t really keep it; he just held it back for a little.”
“That doesn’t make it right.”
Before anyone could say anything else on the matter, the dormitory door opened and Frank entered. “Did you guys hear?” he said when he spotted them. “Handlin’s going away for a week.”
“What?” Remus asked, perplexed. Hogwarts teachers didn’t simply go away during the school year. It was unheard of.
“There was a sign on his door,” Frank elaborated, sitting down on his own bed and removing his shoes.
“Did the sign say why he’s going to be gone?” Sirius queried.
Frank shook his head. “Nope, just that he’s going to be gone for a week.”
“Who’s going to cover for the class?” Peter asked interestedly.
“Dunno. Maybe they’ll get your dad again, Remus.”
Remus didn’t seem to be thrilled at the idea. The faces of the jeering Slytherins had not yet faded from the first time his father was a substitute teacher. “I don’t think so. My dad’s better at Charms; he wasn’t really great at Defence Against the Dark Arts.”
Frank looked thoughtful. “I wonder who they’re going to get then.”
The answer to Frank’s question was answered that Tuesday when they queued up outside the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. The Gryffindor and Hufflepuff third years stood outside the door, debating rapidly about who was going to be the first to enter and see who was at the door. For one wild moment, Allison Abbot suggested that maybe Professor Crane was back, an idea that absolutely horrified the entire class. Luckily, Lily mentioned that it was unlikely Crane would ever step inside that room again, believing it to be haunted. The five boys, Lily and Alice smirked to themselves; it was their deeds that had driven him from the castle.
Finally, Frank proved to be the first to enter and saw an elderly woman with salt and pepper hair sitting at the desk, writing hastily on a piece of parchment. She looked up and smiled pleasantly at the group of relieved students. They took their assigned seats and waited patiently for the woman to introduce herself. They were all grateful about this one thing – she didn’t look as if she would bite their heads off if they made a wrong move. Whispers spread across the room, everyone was still mulling over where Handlin could be. Was it so important that he had to hide the nature of his absence? Or maybe it was too dangerous…
The woman cleared her throat loudly and all heads turned to her. “Good afternoon, class. I am Professor Twikom,” she said in a scratchy voice.
The class muttered some hullos, which she took with the same smile she had greeted them with. “Professor Handlin will be away for a week, attending to some business. He has asked me to continue with the lesson you were working on.” She consulted her class roster. “Longbottom, what was it you were studying the last time you had class?”
Frank thought for a moment. “I think we were just about to start learning about werewolves.”
James glanced at Remus through to corner of his eye. His friend didn’t seem to be agitated at all by the pronouncement. This could have been because a kind teacher was handling it. If it had been Crane teaching this lesson, Remus would have something to worry about. Besides, Professor Twikom wouldn’t have the slightest idea that one of her students was a werewolf; she wasn’t a full time teacher. Why would she have to know? The lesson went smoothly enough; they merely covered the differences between a regular wolf and a werewolf. There was nothing mentioned about identifying a human.
When the class ended the boys followed their classmates out into the crowded hallway. Defence Against the Dark Arts was their last class of the day and they were discussing what they were going to do for the rest of the afternoon. Homework, naturally, was out of the question. When they were debating on whether or not to see what Hagrid was up to, Cory Hamilton appeared at James’s side.
“Practise!” he told his Chaser.
“What?” James yelped. “It’s freezing out!”
This bit of news did not seem to faze the captain. “We’ve only got until next month to prepare for our match against Slytherin. You’ve seen Black play; he knows how to catch that Snitch.”
Regulus had been admitted onto the Slytherin Quidditch team at the beginning of the year as their new Seeker. James had seen the youngest Black play and was inclined to agree with Cory. Regulus did know what he was doing. Yet he did not see why Cory was worrying himself, he was the best Seeker the school had ever seen. Resigning himself to defeat, he was dragged away by Cory down to the Quidditch Pitch.
“And then there were three,” said Peter. This did not last long. The moment the words came out of Peter’s mouth, Professor Flitwick appeared at his side, asking to go over his latest Charms essay. He had a question about some of Peter’s reasoning. Peter waved to his friends as he followed the professor to the Charms classroom.
“Now what?” Remus asked, turning to Sirius.
“What else is new?”
“Let’s go to dinner.”
The two boys followed the crowd of students heading to the Great Hall. As they were descending the staircase in the Entrance Hall, Sirius caught sight of something that greatly interested him. It was his brother talking to the Slytherins they had followed into the Forbidden Forest. There was something different this time, there were more of them. Had they gotten more people since their last visit? What was Regulus doing with them anyway? Did he know what they were up to? Sirius didn’t like to think that he did. Regulus should have had more sense than that.
He froze in his place when Regulus parted from the group. The second year Slytherin glanced up and saw his brother, but made no sign of recognition. The group his brother had been talking to departed through the giant double doors into the darkening evening. Sirius forwent any thoughts of having dinner and headed straight for the group. Remus, taken by surprise, hurried after his friend to find out what he was doing. Sirius was determined to find out exactly what those Slytherins were doing and what they wanted with his brother.
“Sirius!” Remus panted, running at full speed to keep up with Sirius’s pace. “What are you doing?”
“What do they want with him?” Sirius asked himself, seeming to not even hear Remus.
“Maybe they were just talking to Regulus. It can’t be that bad.”
“Those are the gits we followed into the forest!”
“I know that, but that doesn’t mean-”
“What else could it mean, Remus?”
Remus did not have an answer for this. It did seem more suspicious than he was making it out to be. He just didn’t want to think that Sirius’s only brother could be taking the path of those Slytherins. They were halfway down the grassy slope of the grounds when Sirius slowed down. He squinted into the darkness; he could only just make out the backs of the group in the distance.
“Wish we had the cloak,” he muttered.
“It doesn’t matter if we do. It’s dark enough for them to not see us,” Remus said, catching his breath.
“What are they doing?” Sirius couldn’t stop wondering. He wanted to know what they were up to. Why were they still consulting with Lucius Malfoy? What was it they were planning on doing? He knew the answer to that – they wanted to purify the Wizarding race. But who were they answering to? Who was higher up than Malfoy? More importantly, what did they want with Regulus? What was Regulus getting himself into? “I’m following them.”
“What?” Remus said, caught off guard.
“They’re going back to that place, I know it. I’m finding out what they’re doing!” He took off at a dash again.
Remus bolted after his friend again. “You do remember what happened to us the last time we went in there?”
“I don’t care!” Sirius called back.
“Handlin isn’t here to save us again!”
“I don’t need him! They’re going to be the ones who need saving when I find out what they’re doing!”
Remus knew there was no point arguing. Sirius’s mind was set. He could do nothing except join him and make sure Sirius didn’t get into trouble. They took the same trail they had before Christmas; only this time there were fewer numbers on their side, and more on the other. This didn’t benefit them, but this did not deter Sirius in the least. They weaved their way through the dark forest, tripping over tree roots, getting slapped in the face with branches. Now that it was evening, they could see the crackling fire earlier than they had the first time.
“What happened to being hungry, Sirius?” Remus hissed in a last ditch attempt to make his friend turn back.
Sirius ignored Remus. They crouched down behind a particularly large tree trunk and watched the group as they consulted with Malfoy. If Malfoy hadn’t been wearing a mask, they could have sworn he was smirking triumphantly. When he spoke, his voice was full of disgusting joy. “Excellent, you’ve brought more.”
“That’s not all,” said a Slytherin whose voice they recognised from the previous meeting. The tones in his voice matched those in Malfoy’s. “We have some of the younger students interested in what we are doing. We did not bring them this time. We wanted to ask, is he interested in younger students?”
Lucius Malfoy’s displeasure at children showed only slightly at this news. Perhaps he was considering them for when they aged. “He is not uninterested. Which students did you have in mind?”
“There are a few… Regulus Black, for one, was extremely interested in what we were doing.”
Remus felt Sirius shift at these words. He shot him a warning look. It would not do them any good for Sirius to spring up and announce their presence. Sirius couldn’t see the look, but knew it was there.
“However,” Malfoy went on, “Regulus is young, hardly thirteen. Perhaps when he is older he can be more active in our cause. I know his family will like that.”
“Except for his reject of a brother,” one of the Slytherins they did not recognise chuckled.
“Yes,” Malfoy agreed. “Sirius does lack the proper pride of a true Wizard. He shows it so well in the company he consorts with.”
Sirius almost jumped up, but Remus forced him down. “Are you trying to get us killed?” he whispered furiously.
The group was laughing, but stopped in an all too familiar way. They knew they were being watched again. The boys were quicker this time. They leapt to their feet and sprinted far out of the reach of the spells that were sent their way. They jumped over branches, side-stepped mice running across the ground, and could just make out the exit. Sirius only stopped when he heard Remus stumble and groan in pain. He spun around and saw his friend on the ground, clutching his leg.
Sirius doubled back and nervously knelt down. “They didn’t get you, did they?” He looked back into the woods, but saw that they were far out of range. Remus shook his head. It was then that Sirius noticed which leg his friend was holding. “That still hurts you? It happened almost two years ago!”
“I know,” Remus said disgustedly. “But if I step on it hard enough… running like that…” He inhaled and exhaled deeply and seem to relax somewhat. “I’m sorry.”
Sirius blinked. “For what?”
“For whatever your brother’s going to do. I know you’re not going to like it.”
Sirius didn’t really know what to say to this. “You don’t have to be sorry about that.”
Remus shrugged one shoulder. “D’you remember that time you wanted to hex Regulus and I told you not to? You said I didn’t know anything about it because I don’t have any brothers or sisters.”
Sirius remembered this; it had been right before their first Hogsmeade trip. “Yeah, I remember that.”
“You’re right; I don’t understand anything about it. But I do know that you’re not going to want your brother involved in whatever they’re doing.”
“Yeah, I don’t. But what can I do to stop him? He has a mind of his own; it’s not my fault if he uses it for something stupid.”
Remus looked at him dubiously. “You know, even if he doesn’t act like he does, Regulus does care about what you think.”
“He has a great way of showing it.”
“Yeah… well… you’re right about that.” Remus flinched as a pain surged through his leg.
“C’mon, let’s go back up to the castle.” He bent forward and helped Remus to his feet, swinging his friend’s arm over his shoulder, getting the weight off his bad leg. When they entered the Entrance Hall they saw that most of their classmates were still in the Great Hall, which they were grateful for. There would be no prying inquires as to why Remus could not walk on his own. They entered the empty dormitory ten minutes later. Remus lay down on his bed, propping his leg up on his pillow and shutting his eyes, while Sirius sat on the floor, leaning against his bed’s footboard.
How had Regulus come to this? It was true that Regulus took part in his parents’ insane views and positively loved being a Slytherin. Sirius cringed every time he thought of his brother’s emerald and silver room decorations back at Grimmauld Place. He always thought that Regulus had a little more sense than his parents did. He had been wrong. He had been so wrong after what he had heard that night. His brother was going down a path he, Sirius, could not prevent him from taking. The time had passed that his opinion truly mattered to Regulus. Remus had been wrong; Regulus did not care what his brother thought anymore. Sirius was beginning to wonder if it had ever been that way.
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