James didn't stop to tell Sirius and Remus, waiting right outside, anything. He didn't have to. Sirius said, "Shall we go take a look, see what we can find, luv?"
Remus shook his head. They'd been ordered to their Common Room. They couldn't possibly actually do anything that would result in anything good by taking on a whole group of Dark wizards - and Remus came up against a mental wall, surprised at himself for making the distinction. Rather than just a Slytherin problem, this had gone beyond the scope of the school. Of course it had, and just because a wizard was underage didn't mean that they couldn't be as cruel as the Dark Lord.
His eyes narrowed. Maybe he should have made the distinction a long time ago.
They took a short cut, Remus clutching Sirius's waist, and found their Common Room full of the lower school, who'd been dismissed as summarily as they had but were a lot more frightened - and the upper years, who had circled the door as if someone might get into the portrait hole.
The first words out of Poesy's mouth were, "Where's James?"
Remus summoned up a hearty smile from nowhere that he was sure was completely see-through and told the Tower, "probably getting into mischief. You know him."
Tom, who'd been biting his lip, piped up with, "then shouldn't you be right there with him?"
It wasn't particularly funny, but the joke helped ease some of the tension swimming around the room. When the noise level was sufficient to cover his murmur, Remus said to Sirius, "I thought you wanted to go looking for them."
Sirius sighed. "It wouldn't have done any good, I suppose." Remus held his hand.
They tried to be as entertaining as they possibly could, given the way Sirius's jaw was tight, constantly clenched. When James finally came back to them, nearly a half-hour later, he pulled them into a corner. Remus already knew James was about to say something really awful. They had done two head counts, discreetly, and a missing second year stuck out like a sore thumb - a broken thumb, nail black and swollen.
Remus still wasn't ready for it.
James whispered, "Three students are dead. They were killed, up--"
--but Sirius didn't wait to hear the rest. He headed for the dorm room, citing exhaustion from all that lack of studying to anyone who asked after him, even though it was a flimsy excuse and not even the first years were buying it.
Remus hurried after him, leaving James to deal with everyone else. Remus didn't know what he was going to say to make that terrified, angry look melt off Sirius's face. He didn't even know if he should. Someone deserved to die, and it certainly wasn't second years, it wasn't children.
Remus made it into the room only a half-step behind Sirius, who slammed the door closed, breathing heavily. When it was finally just the two of them alone, Sirius started to cry.
"--going to have to," and James opened the dorm room door. He was alone, carrying a stack of parchment. He didn't look at Remus and Sirius; Remus was still holding Sirius's hand, and their bed curtains were drawn nearly all the way around. James dumped his parchments unceremoniously on his bed, and stared at the pages, rather than through the small gap in their curtains. He said, "Dumbledore's sending everyone home tomorrow. He'll announce it at tonight's meal."
Remus nodded, though James still wasn't looking. James pulled his trunk out from under his bed. Sirius, lying on his back behind the bed curtains, hadn't even acknowledged James's arrival. "I suppose it's a good idea," Remus said quietly, and finally opened the curtains up. "Packing, I mean."
James shrugged. "Won't have time later," he intoned. "The kids will have to be reassured, coddled." He pulled books off his dresser and threw them in the trunk.
Remus pulled his wand out and surreptitiously tidied the trunk up as James continued to throw things in relentlessly. Dress robes, four bottles of ink, broomstick care kit. Remus flicked his wand and the items lodged themselves neatly. "McGonagall's with them now," James added, as he pulled a pile of Divination homework out from a bottom drawer.
Remus could tell it was Divination homework because of the star charts. James stared at it for a second, and then, shredding it, threw it over his shoulder to land carelessly on the floor. "Do you need us?" Remus asked.
James continued to empty his bottom drawer. The Invisibility Cloak that rarely left his locked trunk he threw on the bed; the posters on the wall he added to the pile of homework on the floor. "McGonagall asked for us outside," he said. "For tomorrow morning. The carriages come at nine."
"Got it," Remus told him again, quietly. He spared a glance at Sirius, who had his eyes closed and his hands folded over his chest. "We'll handle the rest of this, James," and then Sirius opened one eye. "Go do what you need to."
James sat on his bed heavily, as he found, tucked between a pair of dirty socks, some charmed teacup that Lily had bought him. A hideous pink thing it was, and Remus remembered that it sang if you poured hot tea in it. It was cute but completely useless. After a second, James tossed it on the floor with the rest of the garbage.
Remus leaned over and pulled out his own trunk. Opening it, he tried to go about the incredibly painful task of pulling everything from his school years out that could help him survive. Books he tucked into a small corner: 1001 Magical Herbs And Fungi, Defensive Charms And How To Use Them, Common Poisons. His copy of Unfogging the Future ended up right on top of James's - why they'd held onto them this long, Remus wasn't sure.
He picked up his carefully stacked and sorted Runes notes, and his stomach clenched.
"Moony," Sirius muttered. "Come on." He sat up, and James paused - a sack full of potion-making ingredients in his hand - watching. Sirius took the notes from him. "It's not the end of the world."
Remus nodded. "No." Still, he glanced at the Runes dictionary in his hand and - feeling a horrible loss - added it to the pile on the floor.
When they emerged a half hour later - did it really take only a half-hour to clean out a year of your life? - McGonagall was still in the Common Room. She looked to be organizing packing. Remus asked James, "I thought they were telling everyone tonight."
James still didn't look at either of them. "They will," he said, and headed out of the Portrait Hole.
Sirius made a beeline for McGonagall. "Do you need us?" he asked the back of her head. "I suppose I should ask," he amended, "where do you need us?"
"Oh!" She whirled around from the two third year girls she was talking to, a hand pressed to her heart. "It's you two. Yes, go and check on the carriages. We're having the Leaving Feast, such as it is, at half-seven. Make sure Gus knows about it, and then tell Lily to round up all the first years at seven. Have Martha get the baggage and train arranged." She looked at the two third years - one had red eyes; they both were pale - and she added, "and thank you."
"Thankless," Sirius muttered as they headed out as well - Remus noticed that everyone in the Room looked up fearfully as the portrait opened - "is the task of the volunteer."
"We have to," Remus told him.
Sirius nodded. "I know."
Half seven, and no one was hungry. The entire Hall was looking at Dumbledore, most with frightened faces. The younger children were huddled in their seats. The Slytherin table was a mixture of emotions, and Remus didn't want to look at them close enough to figure out what any of them were. He didn't want to see any kind of smugness, complacency, or triumph, because he didn't trust his reaction to it.
Dumbledore entered the Great Hall, and a low buzz of chatter started up. Students craned their necks to get a glimpse of him. Remus didn't look at Dumbledore just as much as he didn't look at any of the Slytherin table; he noticed James was studying his hands. Lily had an arm wrapped tightly around James's shoulders.
Quietly, so that only Lily could hear, Remus leaned over and murmured in her ear, "is he all right?"
Lily shook her head. She mouthed, "are you?"
Dumbledore reached the head table and, without any melodrama or pause, took his place. "I have some news," Dumbledore said, standing up, "to impart."
The Great Hall, dressed up for the end of school banquet, was only missing the House and triumphant banners. There had been rumors circulating - unconfirmed rumours, as far as Remus knew - but though it was possible not everyone knew the details, it was glaringly obvious that by now, everyone was aware of the scope of danger.
"Voldemort," Dumbledore started, "has struck in this school." Children began buzzing, some getting up in panic. "Quiet!" and then suddenly everyone paused, and sat as one mass when Dumbledore gestured them to retake their seats. "Many of you may have heard that three students have disappeared." This was general knowledge; bad news travelled fast.
Dumbledore cleared his throat carefully. "Their bodies," he said quietly, "were indeed found, just this afternoon." The buzz started up again, and heads whipped around. None too few stared at the Slytherin house table; angry and bored gazes stared back. "I received an owl from the Ministry just now," Dumbledore added quietly, "and they have decided, in light of this news, to close the school."
Instead of the clatter of forks and knives, the insistent whisper of chatter, rumours, questions, and fear - the Hall went silent.
Remus didn't dream that night. He didn't dream of anything; sleep was nothing, a long black expanse of nothing and nothing and more nothing.
When he woke the next morning tangled in Sirius's sheets, he nearly moaned out loud for all the things that instantly hit his mind. Sirius was already awake. It looked like he hadn't slept at all.
It didn't quite feel like the end, but Remus supposed it was, regardless.
He stared across the hall and didn't take in the luggage piled up. He didn't take in the crowds of children, he didn't take in the teachers' eyes. He didn't absorb the noise or acknowledge himself tripping over a stray trunk. He didn't think about his test scores, his future, or even his past.
Instead, he watched two familiar figures, decked out in black robes with green scarves, get into a carriage. "They're being met in Hogsmeade," Sirius said. "By my mother."
"Yes," Remus said.
"They did it," Sirius said. Bellatrix Black and Rodolphus Lestrange, arms crossed nonchalantly, waited while a house elf - not in Hogwarts' colors - moved their trunks into the carriage. Lestrange's brother followed them. "They fucking did it."
"Yes," Remus said.
"This is the last time I'm ever going to see any of them," Sirius said finally. Bellatrix, face distant enough to barely read the expression, was leaning out the door of the carriage. The head of Slytherin House said a few words into the open carriage window and then backed off. "I don't have to look at her face ever again."
"Yes," Remus said. "Hopefully."
Sirius muttered, "I swear, never," into the muted air. The two of them watched the carriage drive off.