"So what are they going to do?" Sirius asked quietly, as they traipsed from one class to another. James was still looking rather ill.
Sirius was, of course, expecting news, and instead he got, "I'm not sure yet."
"You're not sure?" Sirius said, deftly ducking to avoid one of Peeves' water bombs - they rained down on a trio of girls, who shrieked and ran the other way - "or you can't tell me?"
James looked unhappy. "I don't know," he said, and then as a water bomb splashed all over their shoes, "Of course I'd tell you."
"Well," and Sirius pursed his lips. "We'll just have to find out. You said it was fake, right? So they don't have to call in the Ministry or anything." He scratched his chin; down the hall, Peeves was making a terrible racket, screeching and wailing and carrying on. "How's that kid?"
"Morgan?" James could not believe the way the kids were acting. Nothing official had been said about what had happened yesterday, but everyone was buzzing with news and rumors - in the last stairwell they'd passed, a group of fourth years were discussing the kind of magic necessary to create such a scare. One was certain it was something he'd read in a recipe book. "He's - he's resting." James sighed. "I think they'll send him home, truth be told. He had a bad scare."
"That's the understatement of the year," Sirius murmured. "Come on, Flitwick will have our heads if we're late. Have to learn all this magic we already mastered, you know."
"I want to take a look around the Quidditch pitch," James told him quietly. Someone in the school, they both knew, had put on that show. "I mean, it doesn't take a genius to figure out who was behind it, not after last term," he added, "but there has to be some way to prove it."
Sirius opened the Charms classroom door with a little more force than probably necessary; the hinges squeaked in protest. "I think after--" and then he stopped, and then he inhaled, an angry puff. "Later, once everyone else is tucked in for the night?" Sirius asked. "We could get in a spot of looking around."
"McGonagall asked me to keep my eyes open," James admitted, finally. He thought, slowly. "A spot of looking around might be a jolly good idea."
"Very good, Mr. Potter!" Flitwick squeaked. "Top marks."
James mumbled a thank you, loud enough for Sirius to hear but probably not the Professor. The magic they were trying to perfect wasn't new, by any stretch of the imagination, considering the whole class had spent the month of April learning it, but the fact that they could counter what Flitwick pulled without hesitation meant that the lesson had stuck in his mind. Remembering it meant, come exam-time, they'd have one less thing to worry about. Sirius was grateful.
"Now, would anyone else like to try?"
Remus leaned over from Sirius's other side as Gus pulled his wand out to attempt the same spell. "Nice counter," he muttered to James.
"Easy peasy," James said, "Right?"
Sirius watched Gus pull off as effortless a performance as James, and answered, "We'll all do all right on this exam, sure." Their class was twelve people from the entire of seventh year; most of the other students were taking easier lessons. Those who were in Defensive Charms were clever enough that they should get top marks. "Should be simple."
"Now then," Flitwick called out, "let's go over what we're doing tomorrow."
Sirius drifted off as Flitwick outlined their review for tomorrow. "It's not N.E.W.T.s I'm worried about, you know," James told Sirius and Remus as they left for dinner. "I'm more worried about--"
Sirius's fist clenched as they entered the dining room, and saw the Slytherin table laughing at something. The whole of the sixth and seventh year group - which was smaller than it usually was - stopped to stare at the three of them, and then started laughing louder. "Catching those bastards?" Sirius asked. "A little--" Remus put a hand on his shoulder; Sirius was going for his wand. "I'd be discreet," he said. "No one would know."
"It's not worth losing an arm over," James said. "Plus you'll make us look bad if you lose."
"Come on now, I wouldn't--"
"There's a dozen of them," Remus said quietly, and tried to tug Sirius down, "and right now, three of us." It was true; they were a bit early for dinner, and most of the other sixth and seventh year prefects that would have gladly backed them up weren't down yet.
"Besides," James told Sirius, frowning, "there's a horde of younger years in here. If you're going to roast somebody, best make it private."
Sirius nodded, and then sighed. He sat grudgingly. "Yeah, sorry," he said. "Thanks."
"Don't worry," Remus said, eyes hard, "we're not the least bit less interested in taking them on. But let's save it for later."
"Lad, since when are you the scrapping type?" James asked, grinning.
"Since they tried to take out a whole shop full of us, that's when," Remus answered. He speared a potato savagely. Sirius put a hand on his knee, and Remus added, "Let's take a look at the Quidditch pitch tonight."
"Where are you three headed in such a hurry?" Peter said. He was scribbling out a revision for something or other.
Sirius hopped off his bed, sticking his shoes on hastily, waving his wand to tie the laces. Poor Peter had been stuck inside for weeks, trying to stuff his head full of facts and figures. Sirius pitied him, knowing just how hard he was going to have to work to pass *any* of his exams. Sirius was also extremely glad, watching Peter, that he didn't have to worry about studying. There but for the grace of intelligence.
James messed Peter's hair up, making the other boy scowl as he pulled another book from the pile on his dresser. "Going to do a spot of investigating. Quidditch changerooms. Care to join us?"
Peter looked at his books, disgusted. Sirius felt another momentary flash of pity. "I'd best not. "
Remus shook his head sympathetically. "If it's any help, my notes and things are on my bed."
"I don't have any notes to offer," Sirius added. All of his schoolwork was shoved haphazardly under his bed, rather than in neat piles on the dresser like Remus. He said, "but I'll bring you back something from the kitchens."
"Thanks," Peter answered. "I don't know as it'll help, but maybe even reading someone else's writing--"
"Someone who can write neatly enough that you can read it?" James asked. "My essay's on the table between our beds."
"You're the best," Peter told them. "I wish I could come, we haven't done anything fun in ages."
"Can't be helped," Sirius said. He chuckled. "Not that any of my work would help regardless. Still, I promise food."
"Well, then," and Peter grinned. "You'd better tell me what you find."
"Don't worry." James peered out the portrait hole, then motioned for Sirius and Remus to go ahead of him, "everything. It'll be like you were with us."
"Though - I'm not sure that I'd call this fun," Remus murmured, as the three of them quickly got under James's Invisibility Cloak. Sirius grabbed his hand, which did make it easier for the three of them to fit under the Cloak, Sirius's arm around Remus's waist keeping them tucked together. Remus knew, more space had nothing to do with it.
"They must have cleaned up, you can't even see the," and he stopped, and then continued, "the ropes are missing."
Sirius opened his mouth, said, "was there," and then stopped too; James was spinning around slowly, ignoring him and Remus, looking for something in the roof beams that only he could see. James appeared to be staring up at the underside of the bleachers as hard as he could, as if the slow motion would jog his memory or make some kind of clue jump out at him. All it was accomplishing, however, was to make Sirius extremely dizzy.
"Stop that," Sirius said, grabbing James to stop the motion. "I'm getting seasick."
Remus held his wand up, the end glowing brightly in Sirius's eyes. "Nothing here," he said, shrugging. "Either the teachers made sure that all traces of," and he swallowed, "that there was no, evidence left, when they reversed the spell, or whoever it was--" and Sirius made a choked sound in his throat, "--was careful enough that there was no evidence, and the,"
"illusion," Sirius finished for him, while Remus groped for a word, "was the only evidence."
James sighed. "There wasn't much, even when we." He frowned. "I don't think there's anything to see, I made you two come out here for nothing." Sirius waited for James to say more, to explain what they were looking for but James just added, "I'm trying to remember something that might help? But there's nothing. I was so focused on flying, getting some practice in."
Sirius and Remus glanced at each other. "We'd best be getting back," Remus finally said. "We're not doing anyone any good skulking around outside."
"Least we could be doing is having a bit of fun," Sirius told James. He tilted his head, and then transformed into his Animagus form, threatening to lick James.
"Eugh!" and James pushed him away. "Honestly, Padfoot, you're a smashing friend, but you make a horrible pet. Stop slobbering on my robes, go lick Remus if you must."
Sirius watched the shadows of the trees as they made their way across the grounds. They were still tucked under the invisibility cloak, three fully grown boys huddled under a thin layer of fabric. He started to ask, once or twice, how Remus thought they'd been doing it, what James thought the teachers would do. He never did ask who, because after they saw a joke shop in Hogsmeade go up in flames the term before, the answer to that question was self-evident, was obvious as the moon rising. The mystery, these days, was never 'who' but 'how'.
There was no moon; the cloak flapped in the wind and uncovered their ankles. Sirius tucked the cloak around them all more tightly as the three of them crept back inside. Right before they went to bed, James muttered, "perhaps we should be trailing the suspects. It's not like there's a long list, after all."
"Are you sure?" Remus said, and stuffed some toast into his food satchel. "We've got a lot of--"
Sirius added some sausages and bacon to the sack, and then as an afterthought a few eclairs. "We have enough time to take a few minutes for ourselves, yeah?"
"That's disgusting," Remus told him. "Eclairs and bacon?"
"It'll be good, now come on."
Sirius led the way out to the grounds, and they ducked out of sight. So close to exams, nearly every student was holed up and studying; the grounds were almost deserted. "Look at that," Sirius said, waving his arm around to encompass the courtyard. "It looks almost peaceful."
"Nice, isn't it?" Sirius tugged Remus out across the grounds and to the Forest, checking every once in a while to make sure that no one was following them. Didn't hurt to be careful. "And just where are we going, anyway?" Remus asked him.
"Just past the scrub," Sirius said. "Find a shady spot, away from prying eyes."
"If you think I'm going to fool around outside, in the Forbidden--"
Sirius rolled his eyes, stumbling over a tree root. He tried to save himself, turning it into a rather ungraceful choice to sit down rather than a fall. "Here looks good." He peered into their breakfast sack. "And we're not going to fool around, you twat. I just thought we might sneak away for a bit."
"Do we really--"
"Before you start the long march to exams," Sirius added, and handed him some toast. It was only a little chocolate-y. Remus frowned, but started eating. "Besides, I have something to ask you." He made a little face, half between a grin and a wince. "What are you going to do after school?" Sirius asked quickly.
Remus looked a bit taken aback, and Sirius bit his lip. "I, well."
"Not." Sirius licked his lips. "I mean, do you know where you're going to be living?"
"Because, you know," and Sirius started tearing apart an eclair, "my uncle set up that money for me, and I've been working and I have a place," and Sirius ate a bit of eclair, but kept talking with his mouth full, "and I thought, perhaps. What are your plans?"
"I'm honestly," Remus said carefully - Sirius thought he might have been waiting for him to interrupt again, which was quite sensible of Remus, seeing as how Sirius felt like he hadn't stopped talking since they'd sat down - "not sure. Mentally I was trying to not cry like a little baby over the fact that the most important exams in our lives are three weeks away."
"So you don't have, any idea for," and Sirius threw a bit of eclair into the bushes. Something very quiet scuttled over to take a taste; they could tell just from the faint noise of cracking underbrush. "For roommates, or."
"Sirius," Remus asked, and wiped chocolate from his hands with a napkin as if it were the most normal conversation in the world, "are you wondering if I want to live with you?"
"It seems sensible, is all," Sirius finally answered. He felt exhausted suddenly, feeling seconds tick past, and tense, as if the whole idea - it was sensible, and it was a good plan, and it felt like a great, something - was preposterous, and he'd been arguing with Remus about it for days.
"It is sensible," Remus told him, still speaking in that slow, careful way. "But, do you really want to? I mean, there are a lot of, things." He ducked his head, for a second. "There'll be no Shrieking Shack, no forest. Being a werewolf outside of school is going to be a lot. Well."
Sirius studied him. "What?"
"Harder," Remus finally replied. "And harder on whoever's with me."
"Pfft," Sirius replied, and laughed a little. He felt a little giddy; if this was Remus's objection, that it might be *harder* -- "that's the challenge."
"Well, it's--" and then Remus scratched his chin, swivelling his head around. He held a hand up, suddenly, and Sirius froze instantly. Remus had uncanny hearing, sometimes; maybe he just had a better sense of when he was being watched, or when other people were around.
Sirius listened as hard as he could, and he thought he heard a voice, distant. He stood up very carefully, silencing his shoes with his wand. Remus followed suit, and they picked their way agonizingly slowly through brambles and bushes, following the faint sounds of people. They trailed the noises all the way around the Forest's edge, but by the time they reached the lake, the noises had disappeared completely.
Remus crept to the very edge of the underbrush while Sirius waited, staring over at the water's edge.
"Well," he murmured to Sirius when he'd got back to where Sirius was sitting, "I think we know what the voices were - too bad we weren't close enough to actually hear the spell itself."
Sirius squinted at the water. There was - something was in the water. "Is." He gripped his wand, had it pointing at the lake - he hadn't even realized he was clutching it up until then. "Do we have to tell Dumbledore? Is it."
Remus looked around once more, and then straightened up. "They're gone," he said. "And yes."
Sirius's feet took him closer to the lake, still skirting the Forest. Something was floating in the shallows, he could tell, and when he got closer--
The body couldn't have been more than five years old, judging from the size. Face-down, whoever it had been was quite still. The surface of the lake rippled a little bit in the wind, and the hair moved gently in the current. Blond. Bloated. Blue-skinned from the water, a hint of green algae right around the nape of her neck.
The little girl had drowned.