The library proved to be helpful in the sense that it provided the boys with some helpful books filled with spells to make their map with. The map would have to be hand drawn, obviously, so they decided to make the layout as simple as possible. They would not go into detail at all, but draw a mere outline of each room in the castle. There was no need to draw every trophy in the trophy room or every chair and couch in the Gryffindor common room. A simple box with a label so they would know which room it was would suffice. James found a number of useful Location Charms they would need in order to find out where everyone in the castle was. After learning the theory and technique, all they had to do was perform the spell inside each room in the castle and the room would be able to tell them who were occupying it. The spell was not difficult, yet it was terribly time consuming and it involved breaking into a number of the rooms.
Meanwhile, the tension between the four boys and Snape had reached its ultimate peak. There was not a day that went by in which one of the five did not end up in the Hospital Wing with some sort of malady. The first victim was Peter, who had doubled back after Defence Against the Dark Arts to ask Professor Finely about the homework, and was caught unawares by Snape, who was lurking around the corner. Peter was next seen in the Hospital Wing with two more eyeballs than he should have had and they were coming out of places eyeballs should never come out of. The next victim was Sirius, who was wandering about the castle, scouting out the many locations he needed to draw for the map. He was lurking in the dungeons, which was basically asking to be cursed, looking for the Slytherin common room. Needless to say, Snape took great pleasure in hexing Sirius until his face resembled porridge.
Sirius and Peter knew it was Snape who was behind the incidents, though they had never seen him at it, but they could not catch the illusive Slytherin. The most they could do was tell James and Remus, who were fortunate enough not to have come in contact with Snape, to be extremely careful. James and Remus tried being extremely careful, but this did not stop Remus from being Stupefied from behind and strung up by his ankles for an hour and a half, only to pass out when the blood had finished rushing to his head. Remus knew he should have known better than to walk down a hallway by himself, but he had to ask Professor Flitwick what the homework assignment was and didn’t want to keep his friends from dinner. It was only when James accidentally walked into a closet posing as a bathroom that he found Remus and mercifully woke him up and brought him to the Hospital Wing.
“Filthy, slimy Snivellus,” James snarled when he met Sirius and Peter a half an hour later in the Great Hall when he had returned from the infirmary.
“I’m guessing Remus is in the Hospital Wing?” Sirius surmised, unearthing a particularly large potato in his stew and staring at it in wonder.
James nodded jerkily, glaring at the food dispersed across the table as though they had been the ones who hexed his friend.
“We warned you about being careful,” Peter said, shaking his head sadly.
“Snape attacked Remus from behind, I don’t think there was anything he could do about it,” James snapped, pushing the dish of stew Sirius had just given him away. He didn’t have much of an appetite. “So Snape’s gotten you three. That just leaves me now.”
Sirius nodded. “Yeah, it does.”
James stood up and stared at his two friends determinedly. “Well, I’m not going to let that happen. Snape can just¬-” But James never got his sentence out, as at the very precise moment, he was hit with a hex that forced leeks through his ears. James let out a snarl of frustration that terrified the two Ravenclaw first years who were passing behind him. He whipped his wand out and turned in the direction of the Slytherin table. Yet Snape had already disappeared. “How does he do that?” James wondered aloud, disgusted by it. Snape could disappear just as easily as if he had an Invisibility Cloak and they boys knew he did not have one.
“He’s slimy and evil,” Sirius suggested. Sirius and Peter also stood up and began dragging James away from the Great Hall with immense difficulty. People were beginning to stare as James put up a fight. He wanted to hex the brains out of Snivellus and he would not be denied.
Needless to say, Madam Pomfrey was not pleased when she saw the final of the four boys arriving at her doorstep with some sort of malfunction. “Go sit on that bed over there!” she barked, pointing to the empty bed beside the one Remus was in.
“Bloody Snape,” James muttered as he took a seat. His hands were clenched into fists so tight that his knuckles had turned the palest white they could. “And he calls us cowards for attacking him with no reason?”
“And we never held him upside down for over an hour,” Peter lamented, gesturing to Remus, who was lying down with his eyes closed.
“Yeah,” Sirius agreed vehemently. “The most we ever did was ten minutes, and then we let him down.”
“On his head.”
“Is there any other way?”
Madam Pomfrey came bustling back into the room, wand in hand. In one simple counter curse, James’s ears were free of vegetation. “I don’t understand you boys,” she went on exasperatedly. “First one of you gets hexed and then all of you do!”
James smirked. “We do everything together, Madam Pomfrey, didn’t you know?”
The nurse shook her head and marched furiously out of the room. “So Snape got you too?” Remus mumbled, glancing over at James.
“Yes. But he’s not getting away with it.” James jumped off his seat and began pacing. He was getting revenge - sweet, sweet revenge. Taking a deep breath, he glanced at his friend, whose face was still pale, but otherwise looked healthy. “How’s your head?”
“Fine, Madam Pomfrey gave me something for it.” Remus sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. “What happened to you?”
“Snape thought I’d look nice with leeks coming through my ears.”
Remus frowned sympathetically. Sometimes there was nothing more embarrassing than to be sprouting vegetation out of the various holes on a person’s body. He remembered when they made turnips come out of the nose of one of Snape’s cronies. “At least he didn’t suspend you upside down for an hour and a half.”
“Very true,” James agreed. Then, with a wild look in his eyes, he declared “I’m going to get him back.”
Sirius folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the doorframe. “And how are you going to do that?”
James sat down at the foot of Remus’s bed. “Get back to me in an hour.”
Indeed, one hour later, Severus Snape could be found attached to a suit of armor with a charm that would not lift until James chose to lift it, and that was not for some time. It was quite a sight, watching the Slytherin hobble at snail speed across the castle in rhythm with the jeers that came his way. The look of fury on Snape’s face was something no one would forget. He was humiliated and everyone enjoyed seeing this. Even Lily Evans couldn’t suppress the tiny smile that crept onto her lips; she had never forgiven Snape for calling her a Mudblood. It was only when Professor McGonagall discovered the spectacle that James was forced to release Snape from his metal prison.
Snape was next seen in the Hospital Wing, getting something for his incredible backache and a Calming Draught. The boys were immensely satisfied. Snape had very much earned his comeuppance.
“Class dismissed,” Professor Finely barked one day in early November. The Gryffindor sixth years barely held in their shouts of delight. This class had been particularly brutal. They had been told to cast silent Stinging Hexes on each other and most of the class was now able to cast the charms successfully, meaning everyone was stinging all over. The class trudged slowly out of the room, wincing with every step. James, Sirius and Peter hovered patiently in the doorway, waiting for Remus, who was moving incredibly slowly. The full moon had been two days ago and he had to go at it alone. James, Sirius and Peter were serving detention for hexing the toilets to regurgitate its contents back at the unfortunate souls who used it. Remus had spent the entire night viciously biting and scratching at himself.
“You guys go on ahead,” Remus insisted for the third time, pausing to yawn deeply. “McGonagall will kill you if you’re late.”
James shrugged that off. “Yeah, what else is new?”
“Actually, I would like a private word with Mr. Lupin,” Professor Finely said abruptly. He was giving the three boys pointed looks.
Remus froze over his bag. His eyes darted quickly to Sirius, clearly asking him if he should stay or go. Sirius allowed Remus the smallest of shrugs. Sirius didn’t want to give Finely the impression that he knew about the conversation the man had had with Remus earlier in the year. Professor Finely cleared his throat loudly and James, Sirius and Peter, understanding the message, reluctantly left the room. Remus suddenly felt very alone. He slowly looked up from his bag, at the professor. “Yes, sir?”
Professor Finely took very careful and deliberate steps towards Remus. “I was hoping you’d given my offer some thought.”
Remus felt something heavy and painful drop into the pit of his stomach. He had thought too early. He had thought Professor Finely would have forgotten about the conversation they had had in the hallway that day at the beginning of the year. It had been months ago. “I… I… no, no I haven’t, Professor,” he answered quietly, concentrating now on the zipper that was caught on the fabric of his bag. He pulled at it, needing something to do with his hands to keep them from retrieving his wand.
Professor Finely frowned deeply and clicked his tongue. “You know, I would have thought a smart boy like you would have given it some thought.” He laughed in what he must have thought was a jovial manner, yet it only raised the hairs on the back of Remus’s neck. “Honestly, anyone with your intelligence should see the benefits of developing a relationship with the Dark Lord.”
“I’m afraid I don’t.” Remus wanted to get out of there, but he knew the professor would not let him leave until he was good and ready. Finely was right behind him now, Remus could feel the man’s breath on his neck.
“Then you know what the consequences will be, don’t you?” When Remus did not answer, Finely let his impatience out. “Turn around and face me, Lupin!”
Remus braced himself and turned, startled when he saw the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor was no more than an inch from his nose.
Not bothering to hide his irritation any longer, Finely asked in a furiously low voice, “What will the consequences be, Lupin?”
Remus’s voice was no more than a scared whisper. He was only sixteen years old, he didn’t need this. “Why don’t you tell me, Professor?”
“Fine. I will tell you exactly what the consequences will be. You will be killed, Lupin. You will be killed. When the Dark Lord learns you refused his offers, he will find you and make sure you don’t forget it.”
“Remus, come on, we’re going to class.”
Remus and the professor looked towards the door to see Sirius peeking through the doorway. Remus had never before been so happy to see Sirius. Sirius knew enough to know that the professor would not continue with this conversation if there were witnesses. Remus snatched his bag up and hurried toward the door before he could be stopped. “Did you hear all that?” Remus asked once they were well out of earshot of the professor.
“Yes,” Sirius said, nodding grimly. “You’ve got to tell someone.”
“No I don’t.”
Sirius groaned and moved so he was standing in front of Remus. “Do I need to remind you what happened the last time you didn’t tell someone something? You were beaten to pulp in the Shrieking Shack! You wouldn’t talk to anyone about it for weeks, not even us. I don’t want that happening again.”
Remus spoke in a calm voice, trying to keep Sirius from yelling, which he was clearly very close to doing. “Finely’s not going to hurt me, Sirius.”
Frustrated, Sirius looked away and continued on his way to Transfiguration. Why was Remus so naïve? “You don’t know he won’t.”
“He won’t,” Remus maintained, quickening his step so he was beside Sirius. “He doesn’t have to. If you heard any of that conversation, you’d know he’s not the one who’s going to. Someone else will.”
Sirius opened his mouth to protest, but decided against it. Remus knew what he was doing, Sirius supposed. At any rate, Remus would recognise when he didn’t know what he was doing. Instead, they continued on their way to Professor McGonagall’s class in silence and did not broach the subject when James and Peter asked Remus what Professor Finely wanted to talk to him about.
When class had concluded for the day, the four boys disappeared out onto the grounds to discuss their map in private. They found a nice patch of grass near Hagrid’s Hut. As Hagrid was currently playing host to numerous unknown creatures that thrived off human hair, not many people were willing to go too near his hut. The boys, however, did not care in the slightest and sought refuge there. Sirius pulled a large, folded piece of parchment out of his pocket and spread it open on the grass. James, Remus and Peter leaned forward to get a better look.
“I’ve drawn out all of Gryffindor Tower, that was the easiest part,” he reported, pointing one finger to the spot labeled Gryffindor Tower.
“How would we have ever figured that out?” James said in a voice that sounded remarkably one like a damsel in distress. Remus and Peter sniggered quietly. “I mean… if Sirius here hadn’t pointed it out to us, we never would have guessed where it was!”
“Stuff it, Prongs,” Sirius hissed.
“And what is this that the fabulous Gryffindor four are looking at?”
Sirius instantly snatched up the parchment and stuffed it safely away into an inside pocket in his robe. Regulus Black was standing just behind Peter, who had frozen at voice of the unannounced newcomer. “What do you want, Regulus?” Sirius barked.
“Mum asked me to give you this.” Regulus handed over a parchment envelope that Sirius saw was already opened.
“Isn’t it against the law to read someone else’s mail?” Sirius snarled, pulling the letter out of the torn envelope with shaking hands. He was in no mood to deal with more letters from his parents. He might as well just set it on fire now.
“I wanted to make sure you wouldn’t burn it before you read it.” Regulus maintained his composure, but now Sirius saw there was a hint of something in his eyes that he rarely saw. “And Mum doesn’t want you to either. I know that doesn’t mean much to you, but she specifically for you not to destroy it. Listen to her, for once. Don’t rip the letter up, Sirius. You’ll want to know what it says.”
Sirius studied Regulus for a long time before consenting. His eyes moved slowly across the page and his hardened expression died away and was replaced by one of confusion and then utter sadness. When he finished reading, he folded the letter with white, trembling hands. He reluctantly looked at his younger brother and said in a rather odd voice, “So… he’s dead, then?” Regulus nodded silently. “Okay… well… thanks for telling me. I’ve… got to go… do my homework.” He hastily stood up and at once strode off towards the castle.
Without a word, James stood up and followed him. Remus slowly got to his feet, Peter doing the same. “Who died?” Remus asked Regulus.
Even with the news of a death in the family, Regulus still managed to put the superior look on his face, as if he believed he was far too good to be addressed by a lowly half-blood. “Our uncle, Alphard.”
“Sirius, mate, stop walking for a second!”
James was hurrying behind Sirius, who was nearly sprinting up the enchanted staircases in the direction of the Gryffindor common room, apparently deaf to his best friend’s voice. Sirius did not halt or falter in his step, not even to let James catch up with him. Breathing loudly, he sped up the stairs, oblivious to all else around him. It was only when they had entered the deserted dormitory that Sirius halted and this was just to drop down on his bed and press his face into his hands. James stood in the doorway, staring at his friend. He had never seen Sirius break down before. The closest he had ever seen was when they were twelve and Sirius had just come back from the Shrieking Shack. He was upset about the wrongness of what Remus had to go through. Now it was because of the death of someone he clearly must have cared about.
James couldn’t begin to think of who that might be.
He sat down beside Sirius and gently shook his shoulder, trying to prompt him to speak. “Sirius, who was it?” He heard what sounded distinctly like a sniff Sirius had tried, and failed, to suppress.
When Sirius finally spoke, it was with a voice that made him sound as though he was suffering from a bad head cold. “D’you remember my Uncle Alphard?”
James’s heart sunk. Sirius’s uncle was the only family member he liked, other than his cousin, Andromeda. “Yes,” he replied quietly.
“He died last week… my mum wrote to tell me.” Sirius laughed hollowly, his eyes narrowing dangerously. His tone became nasty and sarcastic. “She seemed right upset that he left me his gold. He never believed in all that rubbish the rest of my family does; he thought I was the only sane one. Mum probably blasted his name right off the family tree!” He took a deep breath and ran his hands over his face. “There’s probably a huge black spot over his name just like there is over mine.”
James bit his lip. He’d never seen Sirius like this; he didn’t know how to act. He had only dealt with a situation like this once. They were thirteen and Remus’s grandparents had just died. But dealing with Remus was different… James couldn’t place the difference, but he knew there was one. Remus was easier to deal with, Sirius wasn’t. He didn’t know what to say to his best friend. He didn’t want to sound insensitive. “Did… was… was he sick?”
“No… he was just old.” He quickly wiped his nose on his sleeve. “His neighbor came to borrow something and when Alphard didn’t answer… he forced the door open and found him dead in his bed. He… he died in his sleep. There was nothing painful about it.”
James chewed on his lip again. He really didn’t know what to say. “Er… did… is there… is there going to be a funeral.”
Sirius nodded swiftly. “I think my mum said there was going to be… James, I don’t think I can go. I can’t face it.”
“You… you don’t have to…”
Sirius suddenly leapt out of his seat and began pacing frantically about the room. “Of course, I have to go! James, he was one of the only people in my family I gave a damn about and now he’s gone!”
James’s eyes moved from left to right, following Sirius’s progress. James knew this was hard for him to handle. “I know, Sirius.”
“I hate them… I hate every one of them! They don’t care he’s gone! Did you see Regulus? He didn’t care!”
“You… you don’t know that.”
“Yes I do! He wasn’t sad because Alphard is dead! He’s upset because the man loved me more than he did him and gave me all his money. Regulus isn’t used to being second best to his big brother. He only cares about himself! He doesn’t care that Alphard’s gone and isn’t coming back!” Sirius fell back onto Remus’s empty bed and again buried his face in his hands. Alphard was gone… why was that so hard for him to understand? He didn’t really know the man; he had met him a handful of times in his life. He was one of the few family members his parents refused to let him see. Walburga and Orion Black thought Alphard’s thinking would taint Sirius’s mind. It didn’t matter anymore, did it? Alphard was dead.
Sirius got up, unable to sit still for more than a minute and roamed anxiously around the room. “He’s dead, James.”
“I know he is.”
“I hardly knew him… I barely knew the man and I can’t accept that he’s gone.”
James inhaled deeply and stood up. He crossed the room to meet Sirius. “Maybe… maybe you can’t accept it because… because he’s everything you would have wanted in your family and now it’s gone.”
Sirius studied James as he studied Regulus, but without the bitter scrutiny. James was right. Alphard was everything Sirius would have wanted in a father and he never got it. Instead, he got Orion Black, the man who didn’t run after him when his oldest child ran out the front door, never to come back. “Yeah… you’re right.”
James placed a hand on Sirius’s shoulder and gently squeezed it. “I know it’s not much, but, mate, I’m really sorry.”
There was the briefest flicker of a smile across Sirius’s lips. “Thanks, James.”
“Are you going to be alright?”
Sirius ran his hands over his face once more. “Yeah… I’ll be fine… I just… I need to be alone for a little while.” He nodded to James and disappeared from the room.
James watched him go before crossing to the window. Down below on the grounds, he could see Regulus was now sitting at the shore of the lake. Remus and Peter were several feet away, James could recognise Remus’s mass of sandy brown hair and Peter’s mousy hair. His eyes traveled back to Regulus and he wondered if what Sirius said was true. Did Regulus honestly not care that his uncle was dead? If that was the case… James wondered how Sirius ever grew up in a family like that.
Excerpt from Chapter Fifty Seven: The Great Christmas Tree Challenge
“Well,” Sirius began in a business-like fashion, setting aside his dish of fried tomatoes and bacon. “I will be venturing to London where I will proceed to burn down Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. Who wants to join me?”
Remus rolled his eyes. “Who’s not doing anything illegal?”
James stepped in before Sirius could say anything else ridiculous. It was best not to irritate Remus Lupin so close to the full moon. “What did you have in mind?”
“My parents invited you guys and your families to come to our place, if you’re not already doing anything, that is.”
James shook his head, grinning. “I don’t think my parents were planning anything special. I’ll write to them.”
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