This is in response to the SevenOfQuills list fic challenge. It must contain the following elements.1. Someone must say the line "Yes, but only if you read him his rights first".
A Ghost Story
"No magic!" Lily hissed. "Donít even think about using magic. Remember we are pretending to be Muggles and the average Muggle doesnít even have a clue that magic is real."
She had pulled Sirius and James off to the side and was still clutching their elbows. Now Sirius shook her off, unconcerned.
"Relax, Lily," he said. "Donít you remember Muggle Studies class? Most Muggles, when confronted with magic, forget about it. They donít even admit that it exists."
"No," Lily said in a tightly controlled voice, "I donít remember that Muggle Studies class. Because I never took Muggle Studies. Because Iím Muggle born. And so, incidentally, is my sister. Who will freak out if she learns you or I did anything that would make her friends think that we, and by association she, were in any way different."
"Your sister is too hung up over being normal," Sirius muttered.
James gave him a warning look then stepped between him and Lily before Lily would be tempted Ė or more likely provoked Ė into hitting Sirius. Rubbing his girlfriendís arms, he tried to mollify her by saying, "Iíll make sure Sirius doesnít act up, Lily."
"Why does that not reassure me?" Lily despaired.
James kissed Lily, a kiss that would have lasted some time if Sirius, who hated not being in the middle of things even for a little while, hadnít popped up between them.
"Hey, Lily, can I have a kiss too?" he asked.
Her eyes still closed, she said, "Sod off, Sirius."
"So can I take that as a maybe then?"
"Whatever you like, Sirius. Just donít hold your breath about it. Or, on second thought, do. Maybe itíll keep you out of trouble."
"I think youíre giving Sirius too much credit," James said. Neither Lily nor Sirius could tell if he was joking.
However, before Sirius could retaliate, the others came back and Lily, plastering a smile on her face, discreetly elbowed Sirius in the stomach to keep him quiet.
"I still canít believe Petty never told us about her little sister," said the one with sandy blonde hair, who had introduced himself as either ĎMattí or ĎMarkí earlier.
"She probably did, Mike," said Sue, the girl who had first recognized Lily as Petuniaís sister. "You probably just never listened."
"Probably, babe," Mike agreed, slinging his arm over Sue in an obnoxious manner. Sue shrugged it off again.
"I think Pet was just worried about the competition," one of the other boys who hadnít been introduced leered.
James casually moved closer to Lily. He was subtle enough that none of the Muggles recognized what he was doing, but Lily and Sirius could clearly sense the territorially Ďback awayí vibes he was sending the other males.
Lily rolled her eyes heavenwards, imploring anyone who happened to be listening to grant her patience to get her through the day.
"So whatís so special about this house?" he asked, attempting to steer the conversation away from his girlfriendís looks.
One of the boys, a shifty looking guy named Larry, stepped forward. His eyes looked like they were a half size too small for his face and they were much too close together. It would do a world of good for his looks if he kept from drawing so much attention to them. They kept on darting back and forth and it was impossible not to look at them.
After looking around conspiratorially (Lily was interested, and slightly disgusted, to note his eyes still darted around even after he had technically stopped looking around), he leaned forward and said in a stage whisper, "Itís haunted."
Sirius and James were concentrating on Larry (perhaps they, too, were enchanted by his eyes) and missed the suppressed snickers that the rest of the group had at this revelation. Lily, however, did not and she groaned inwardly when she figured out what was going on.
If they had been raised as Muggles, with their experience at pulling pranks there was no way James and Sirius would have fallen for it. But as it was, neither of them had ever known anything but a wizardís life. Haunted houses were the norm for them.
"Really?" Sirius asked before Lily could put an end to the charade. "By whom?"
Larry looked at them blankly, then turned around to the others for prompting.
"Donít be stupid," Mike answered, sneering. "By a ghost, of course."
"We assumed as much," James said coolly. "Whose ghost is it?"
The Muggles didnít understand the question. "The houseís," Larry said.
"No." James was more patient than either Sirius or Lily would have been in that situation. Nearly a decade of living with Remus had rubbed off on him. "The ghost Ė itís the ghost of whom? Who died?"
"I donít know," Mike said angrily. "Who cares?"
Sue stepped forward and put a calming hand on Mikeís arm. She really was a pretty girl Ė at least she would be if she didnít have on roughly the same amount of makeup as a circus clown did. It wasnít put on artfully, either. The rouge practically smothered her cheeks and her eyes were two solid blocks of blue reaching to her eyebrows.
"It was the beginning of the century," she started her narrative with, "when Carson and Sara Dubois moved into this house. They had just been married and even though Mr. Dubois was probably thirty years older than his wife, they seemed to be very happy together.
"At least at first.
"It wasnít two month after they moved in here when Mr. Dubois came home from work early one afternoon and found his wife in bed with another man.
"He flew into a jealous rage and shot the man then and there. He then locked his wife in the basement claiming that she was his and nobody but him could touch her. Unfortunately, some of the guyís friends Ė you know, the guy, the guy she was sleeping with? Anyway, he was a very important business man Ė "
At this point one of her friends, Pam Ė with the unnaturally shade of bright red hair that had to have been dyed Ė interrupted. "I thought it was the mayor," she said.
"No, it was the milkman," Loretta said in a nasally voice.
"It doesnít matter," Sue snapped. "The point is, this guy had a lot of friends and when they heard what Mr. Dubois did, they surrounded him and beat him to death."
"Isnít that a bit harsh?" Sirius wondered. "They could have just arrested him."
"Yes, but only if you read him his rights first."
That inane piece of advice was given by one of the boys in the back. Someone standing beside him slugged the boy, and Sue glared at him for interrupting her story, but other than that, he was ignored.
"Anyway, the point is, they couldnít find Sara Dubois and she starved to death."
"That doesnít make sense," James said, frowning. "It takes a couple of weeks to starve to death, and wouldnít someone have found her in that time?"
"The basement door was locked," Sue said, adopting the tone one took when explaining the same thing again to one stupider than you for about the hundredth time.
"Oh, I get that," James said. He didnít seem at all perturbed that this Muggle seemed to think he was a moron. "What I want to know is why she didnít scream. I would have."
"You did. Remember that time in seventh year when we got locked in that room?" Sirius asked.
James looked at his best friend. "I wasnít the one who screamed, if you remember."
"Details," Sirius said airily, waving his hand negligently.
Obviously eager to get back to the topic at hand, Mike started speaking again. "So Sara Dubois died and now sheís a ghost. We want you two" he jabbed his finger at James and Sirius "to go in there. Tonight. Once it gets dark."
"Why wait?" Sirius asked. "We can go now."
"You canít go now," Mike said, his face scrunched up in disgust.
"Why not?" James wanted to know.
"Itís still light out. Ghosts donít come out during the day."
It might have been for the effect, another attempt to convince the boys they were on the level, but for the sincerity in his voice. After knowing him for less than an hour, Lily, James and Sirius could tell Mike believed what he said.
"What kind of ghost is Sara Dubois anyway?" James asked.
Sirius answered him. "A stupid one. She didnít even think to catch the attention of the people searching for her, remember?"
Annoyed that the two wizards werenít duly scared, or even impressed, Sue pursed her lips, which unfortunately only drew attention to the awful lipstick she was wearing. "Iíd be careful if I were you. She doesnít like to be made fun of. The reason this house is so run down is because sheís chased out the last dozen owners. No one lasts longer than six months. Theyíre always chased out by all her tricks."
"Are you sure she isnít a poltergeist?" James asked. "Tricks and practical jokes are more their style."
"The things she does are a little more serious than Ďtricks and practical jokes,í" Sue said.
"Peeves sometimes went a little far, too," said James.
"Peeves? What are you talking about?" Mike demanded.
Up until that point, Lily had been quiet. She didnít like how the conversation was going Ė Sirius and James could easily let something slip Ė but she hadnít interrupted for fear that would make the Muggles more suspicious. Plus, there was always the chance that Sirius, seeing that Lily didnít want him to talk about magic, would decide to make her life a living hell and deliberately talk about magic. He didnít always know when to stop.
Since, however, they were inadvertently heading for dangerous waters, Lily had to step in and do some damage control.
"Peeves was our schoolís poltergeist," Lily said. There was a way, she had long ago learned, to say the absolute truth, yet say it in such a way that anyone who heard you would think you were lying. "Practically everything that went wrong at the school was blamed on him."
"Hey," Sirius protested. "Iíll have you know I took credit for everything I did."
"Water balloons," James reminded him. "Second year."
Sirius conceded. "Okay, so I blamed that one on him."
"It doesnít matter," Lily said firmly. "Anyway, we should get going. We have things to do."
She fooled no one this time. "Oh, come on, Lily. Donít let these idiots chase you away," Sue said, surprisingly kindly. She conveniently had forgotten that she had been one of Ďthose idiotsí just five minutes ago. "A girl we know is throwing a party. Weíre all heading over there. You should come with us."
"I donít know," Lily said, reluctant to seem unsociable. "We probably shouldnít."
"Why not? Iím not doing anything tonight, and I know you and James donít have plans." Turning to Sue, Sirius gave her one of his trademark smiles. "Weíd love to go."
Lily groaned as she was dragged off towards a car. It was too late now to back out and she just hoped they werenít heading for a disaster.
"Slow down, Lily," James said an hour later when his girlfriend reached for her fourth drink. "We still have a long night ahead of us and youíre not going to enjoy it much if youíre in the bathroom puking."
"Iím trying to get drunk as quickly as I can," Lily said bluntly. "That way, if either of you say or do anything magical, we can pass it off as being drunk."
"Sweetie, that wonít work if itís Sirius or I who slip up."
Lily slumped her shoulders. "Damn. Youíre right. I guess Petunia will just have to hate me for the rest of her life."
"Petuniaís not going to hate you for the rest of her life," James said reassuringly.
"Yes she is." Lily tried to put her drink down, but put it too far over the edge and it fell. Only Jamesí quick Quidditch reflexes allowed him to catch it in time. Ignoring that, Lily threw her arms around Jamesí neck and buried her head in his shoulder. Caught off balance, James was almost knocked over. "All of Petís friends are going to find out Iím a witch and Pet will never forgive me."
"Your sister cares too much about her own image," James said, echoing Siriusí sentiment from earlier.
Lily pulled away from him. "She does not," she said, feeling the need to defend her sister. "Itís just her boyfriend. Heís the one whoís convinced her that witchcraft isnít normal."
"Thatís a change," James said, almost joking, but not quite. "Iíve heard it people being opposed to it because it was dangerous, immoral, or just plain evil, but never because it wasnít normal."
"Vernon Dursley dances to his own tune. And he drags my sister along, stepping on her feet all the way," said Lily.
"Lily? Sweetheart? Look at me." James put a finger under her chin and tilted her head so she could see him. "I will not do or say anything tonight that will make anyone suspect that Iím not a Muggle and I promise to make sure Sirius wonít, either. But, if you keep drinking like that, you probably will."
"Iím not drunk, James," Lily moaned.
"Okay," said James quickly.
"Iím not!" Lily protested. "Iím perfectly sober. Iím nothing in compared Ė in comparison to them." She pointed at a group of people in the next room who were doing the hula in beat to a tambourine.
"I donít think theyíre drunk," James said.
Frowning, Lily said, "Of course theyíre drunk. Why else Ė " She stopped when she caught on to what James was implying. Being less than sober, which were the words she would use to describe her current state, also meant she wasnít as quick as she usually was. "Oh. And these are Petís friends?"
"Like your friends havenít been in worse shape," James retorted. "Or you, for that matter."
"Hey, mister," Lily said, poking a finger at Jamesí chest. "Your friends are my friends. No, wait. My friends are your friends."
"Itís the same thing, Lil," James told her with a quirky smile.
"I know that," said Lily, annoyed. "As long as you or Sirius donít act like that tonight, though, Iíll be happy."
"We wonít," James promised. As soon as he said this, however, his eyes widened. A second later he was composed again, but he hadnít been fast enough to keep Lily from noticing.
"What?" she demanded, a growing sense of dread forming in the pit of her stomach. "What happened?"
"Nothing," James was quick to assure her.
Even in her alcohol-induced haze, Lily could tell he was lying. She tried to twist around to see what Sirius had done this time, but James firmly held on to her shoulders so that she couldnít. Through gritted teeth, she said, "Let me go. Let me go now. So I can go over to Sirius and kill him."
"Sirius?" James said, still holding on to the struggling Lily. "What makes you think Sirius is doing anything?"
"Sirius is always doing something. Now let me go!" Each word was a punctuated twist and at last Lily wrenched free. She turned around Ė
Ė and fell back into Jamesí arms when she saw a half-naked, painted blue Sirius trying to demonstrate a fertility dance to the hula dancers Ė with two very enthusiastic helpers. No matter what he said, the smoke wasnít dancing in sync with the human dancers because of some mystical connections, and Lily doubted he had had the patience to cover himself Ė or let someone else cover him Ė in blue paint. Looking closer, she doubted the Muggle companies even made paint in that shade.
"Make him stop, James," Lily moaned. "Please make him stop."
"I will," James promised. "Er, in the mean time, why donít you go get yourself another drink?"
That, Lily decided, sounded like an excellent idea.
One hour and five drinks later (only two of them had been Lilyís), James, Lily and Sirius were standing by themselves in a corner. Of course, in Siriusí case, it was not by choice.
"Iím bored," Sirius whined for the umpteenth time. "Please canít I go do something? Anything? Weíre at a party. You canít not socialize at a party."
"You can and you will," Lily said. Her voice had an amazing amount of steel in it considering she was well on her way to being smashed.
"Jaaames." Sirius dragged out his friendís name. It was pathetic, really, to hear someone Siriusí age whine like that. It was too bad Sirius didnít agree. "Make her stop. I wanna go do something."
Fed up with him friendís constant moaning, James finally intervened. "Oh, let him go do something, Lily. At this rate heíll drive us insane by the end of the night."
"No. If he goes and he does something, heís going to do something to expose us," said Lily.
"No I wonít," Sirius said. "Iíll be the perfect Muggle. If anyone asks anything about me, Iíll just make something up. And I wonít use magic. Trust me."
"Trust you? Trust you?" Lilyís voice was edging on hysteria. "The last time I trusted you, you ended up naked and covered in blue paint!"
Sirius rolled his eyes. "Relax. I wasnít all the way naked, and Iím not blue anymore, now, am I?"
"Thatís even worse! What if someone starts to wonder how you removed the body paint so quickly? What are you going to say then?"
"The only people who saw me . . . well letís just say theyíre in no condition to accurately tell the colour of my skin."
"And thatís supposed to make me feel better?" Lily moaned.
"Hey," Sirius said, sounding indignant. If Lily and James didnít know him better, they would say he was offended. "I never go back on my word."
"Except for those times that you do, eh, Padfoot?" James asked jokingly.
"Well, those donít count. I never break a promise when I mean it," said Sirius, grinning.
"Thatís my point. How can we tell if youíre serious or not?"
It was a true indication that Lily was drunk, despite still being able to act and speak as if she were sober Ė all of his friends had long, long ago learned never to say the word Ďseriousí in Siriusí presence.
Luckily, as Sirius had had a couple drinks himself, James was able to speak quickly before his friend could reply in his usual, irritating manner. "What if he swears on the Black Shadow?"
Siriusí mouth dropped open and his beer nearly slipped out from between his fingers. "What?" he gasped.
"You break your word tonight, and Lily gets possession of the Black Shadow for the rest of the year."
"I suppose that would do." Lily looked at Sirius speculatively. There was a chance he wouldnít accept the terms, not with his precious motorbike on the line.
Suddenly completely sober, Sirius straightened his back and looked Lily square in the eye. Solemnly, he said, "I swear that if for any reason I perform any magic or reveal to any Muggle that I am a wizard before I leave this party tonight, you Ė " he gulped Ė "will receive possession of the Black Shadow for the rest of the year."
Lily held his gaze for another fifteen seconds before majestically decreeing, "Deal."
"Great." In no time, Sirius was off. Lily and James lost sight of him before a minute passed.
Of course, despite his intentions, good or otherwise, Sirius being Sirius, he couldnít stay out of trouble for long. It was James who found him in the middle of a group of girls, spinning one outrageous tale after another, most of them untrue.
Unfortunately, Petunia happened to be one of the girls. James quickly hurried Sirius away and then went to tell Lily that her sister was there.
"What?" Lily screeched when James, in low undertones, explained the situation to her. "He did what?"
"He didnít say anything too bad," James said, defending his friend. "And itís not like he did it on purpose or anything. He didnít know your sister was there. Oh, sheís looking for you by the way."
"Oh thatís just great," Lily muttered before pushing her way through the throngs of people to find her sister.
She passed one of the former hula-girls who had apparently been inspired by Sirius. Her hair was now a wash-out shade of blue. Lily didnít want to know what she dyed it with Ė or what she would think in the morning.
On the other side, a haughty brunette was talking to her friend. She was wearing a long, black fur coat and what looked like a thousand pounds worth of jewellery. Unfortunately, expensive jewellery doesnít always equal nice jewellery and most of the pieces she wore looked gaudy.
She was motioning to the back of her head where her hair was caught up in two delicate solid gold combs encrusted with red rubies. "It was an engagement present from Samuel. Arenít they wonderful? Theyíre worth five hundred pounds each." She paused, then gave her friend a superior smirk. "What did Vernon give you, Petunia?"
Lily stopped. "Pet? Vernon proposed?"
Petunia turned around and her friend waltzed off. Her sisterís hair was blonde, one of the reasons Lily hadnít recognized her more quickly. She stared hard at Lily, her hazel eyes flickering between anger and something else Lily couldnít identify. "We are announcing it at dinner on Friday."
The two sisters stared at each other for a minute, not saying a word. Finally Lily asked, "What did you do to your hair?"
Petunia fingered her bleached locks. "I dyed it. What do you think I did?"
"Why did you dye it? It looked better before."
"Vernon likes me as a blonde better," Petunia said stiffly.
"Oh." Lily would have lapsed into silence again, but Petunia then demanded, "What are you doing here?"
"It wasnít my idea. We ran into Sue and she invited us. Then Sirius let it out that we werenít doing anything tonight and we couldnít say no. Not without being rude," Lily said earnestly. She wanted to let Petunia know that she wasnít trying to ruin her life.
Petuniaís eyes darkened and she pursed her lips. "Yes, I ran into Sirius."
Lily groaned. She had almost forgotten that. "He didnít do anything that bad, did he? He promised!"
"He was making up all kinds of stories, about how he was an international spy, that he was the star of this up and coming film thatís coming to the cinemas next months, about how he had a book coming out Ė"
"Oh," Lily exclaimed, interrupting Petuniaís rant. "Thirteen Ways to Destroy Your Enemies and Amuse Your Friends? Yeah, actually thatís true. He wrote it under a nom de plume, of course, but he did write it and itís coming out just before Christmas."
The knowledge didnít impress Petunia. "I donít care," she hissed. "What will people think, that I associate with people like that?"
"Firstly," Lily said, starting to lose patience, "heís my friend, not yours. Secondly, everyone knows not to take Siriusly serious." Something seemed to be wrong with that and she frowned. Then she repeated herself, making sure she spoke slowly and deliberately. "No one takes Sirius Ė Sirius Ė everyone knows not to take what he says at face value. He doesnít expect people to believe the stories he makes up. Itís all for fun."
Tipped off by her confusing speech, Petunia sniffed Lilyís breath, then wrinkled her face up in distaste. "Youíve been drinking!" she accused. "Iím going to tell Mum youíve been drinking."
"Sod off, Pet. You tell Mum that, and Iíll tell her youíre sleeping with Vernon."
Petunia gasped and Lily knew her guess had been correct. "You wouldnít."
Most people wouldnít care if their adult children were drinking, or sleeping with their fiancťs, but not Mrs. Evans. When they were younger, Petunia and Lily had had to endure frequent lectures on the evils of having sex before marriage. Of course, both sisters ignored her, but if she ever found out, there would be trouble. It wasnít pleasant to be on the wrong side of Mrs. Evans, to say the least.
"Go away. I donít want you here. Youíre ruining my life," Petunia said bitterly.
"Well, I donít want to be here either," Lily said, but even she had to admit it wasnít a very good retort. She left.
It took half an hour of being unable to find Sirius and James before Lily began to worry. Asking around, no one could remember seeing either of them for some time. That in itself was a bad sign; Sirius attracted attention wherever he went. He couldnít help it. It was a talent.
Finally, she saw Sue. "Hey, have you seen James or Sirius?" Lily asked.
Sue looked at her blankly. "Who?"
"You know, my boyfriend and my friend." Lily was more than a little impatient.
"Oh." She was distracted when a boy Lily didnít recognize started to nibble on her neck and Lily had to clear her throat to catch Sueís attention again. "They went off with Mike and some other guys."
"They did what?"
Sue didnít recognize the dangerous note in Lilyís voice. "Yeah, Mike took them back to the old Dubois house. Heís gonna freak them out."
She might have said more, but Lily didnít hear her. Pushing through the crowds, she quickly found Petunia.
"What are you still doing here?" Petunia demanded.
"I need a ride," Lily said desperately.
"So I need you to drive me."
"Why would I do that?"
"Because your friends" Lily made the word drip in disgust "decided to frighten James and Sirius by taking them to a haunted house, of all places. And unless we get there fast, theyíre going to slip up and all your friends will find out theyíre wizards."
Petunia looked around, furiously, but no one close by looked like they had overheard. "Donít say that word!"
"Itíll be a lot worse if we donít get there soon," threatened Lily.
She still looked unhappy, but recognized the truth in Lilyís words. "Fine," Petunia said.
They grabbed their coats and on the way down to the car, after first making sure there was absolutely no one around, Petunia asked sourly, "Why didnít you just hocus-pocus yourself there?"
"Because Iím drunk," Lily said frankly. "And you should never drink and Disapparate."
Sirius was bored. Muggles, he decided, didnít throw very exciting parties. It probably stemmed from the fact that, when wizards got drunk, they tended to do stupid things. Sure, Muggles did the same, but it was easier to do something stupid with the help of a wand Ė or at least more amusing to those witnessing. But Muggles were severely limited in what they could do.
As soon as he left Lily and James, he made a resolve to make things more exciting. It wasnít until after he had grabbed another beer that he realized that if used magic, Lily would take his motorbike.
"Oh well," he said out loud, his eyes shining. "Iíll just have to be more creative."
A passing girl shot him an odd look, but Sirius arrested her fears with a grin. He started to talk to her, and pretty soon a whole crowd had gathered around him.
It was widely acknowledged that Sirius was one of the better storytellers that Hogwarts had seen in a long time. The stories he told were so outrageous that he expected no one to believe them and, in fact, no one ever did, but he still always managed even the most skeptical wonder if what he was saying was really true.
He didnít recognize Lilyís sister among the girls. In his defence, he had only seen Petunia a couple of times Ė the start of her school term was before the Hogwarts Express left. It wasnít until James came over that he realized just how much trouble he was in.
"Petunia," James said in a strangled voice. "Nice to see you again."
The look on Petuniaís face made it obvious that she was just as excited to see James as he was to see her.
"Lilís looking for you," James continued. Then he grabbed Siriusí wrist and quickly pulled him away from the group.
Sirius wasnít very resistant. "Lilyís going to kill me, isnít she." It wasnít for dramatics, nor was it to gain sympathy; it was a cold, hard statement of facts.
The look on Jamesí face didnít do anything to reassure him. "Sheíll come around," he said, but he didnít sound to sure about himself. "Itís not like you did it on purpose." He stopped and gave Sirius a hard look. "You didnít do it on purpose, did you?"
"No!" Sirius exclaimed. "Iím not suicidal."
"Iíll go talk to Lily. Just stay here and stay out of trouble. Five minutes, thatís all Iím asking for. Try to stay out of trouble for five minutes."
"Címon, Prongs. Give me some credit here!" Sirius said.
The look on Jamesí face showed just how little credit he gave Sirius.
"Youíre supposed to be my best friend here!"
"Yes," James said, "and as your best friend, Iíve seen you get into trouble in safer circumstances in a lot less time than Iím giving you now." Then he grinned, and Sirius knew he wasnít really upset. "Donít worry, Padfoot. She wonít do anything permanent."
"Oh, that really reassures me!" Sirius called out after Jamesí retreating back.
Still, James had given him some good advice and Sirius decided to stay put and out of trouble, maybe for the first time in his life. He stood still and waited for James to return.
Unfortunately, it wasnít James who found him first. A greasy and very obviously drunk man stumbled up to him. "Hey, Tommy," he slurred.
It took Sirius a moment to realize he meant him. "My nameís not Tommy."
"Sure it is." The guy slung his arm around Siriusí shoulder. "Hey," he said to a female passing by. "This hereís my friend Tommy. Heís a real joker. That he is." He nodded sagely and took another swig of his beer.
The girl wasnít drunk enough to be impressed, so she hurried off after giving him a look of disgust.
The drunk wasnít put out by the snub at all. "So Tommy," he said. "Have I told you about that blonde at work?"
"You might have," Sirius said. "I wouldnít know. Iím not Tommy."
He ignored him. "Iíve just spent the last two nights milking the cow, if you know what I mean." He nudged Sirius with his elbow and winked repeatedly.
Sirius rolled his eyes, but decided there was nothing to do except play along. With a perfectly straight face, he said, "Well, I would have milked the cow, but I was too busy yodelling." He paused, then, his words smothered with innuendo in a perfect mockery of the other boy, added, "If you know what I mean."
The other boy couldnít, mostly because Sirius didnít mean anything by the comment, but in his drunken state found it hilarious nonetheless.
Luckily, Sirius didnít have to put up with him any longer because someone came by and rescued him. Unluckily, that someone was Mike and a couple of his friends.
"Beat it," Mike said to the drunk. The latter wasnít so drunk enough to mistake the threat of Mikeís fists, nor did he seem endowed with bravado, a gift alcohol gave to so many. He beat it.
"So, Cyrus, was it?" Mike asked.
How hard was it to remember a simple name? "Sirius, actually," he corrected.
"So are you coming with us to the Dubois house? Or arenít you man enough for it?"
Sirius had heard far greater insults from more impressive men. He refused to get worked up over this one, especially considering he was already walking on eggshells around Lily. "Why, exactly, are we going to the Dubois house?" he asked.
"To see the ghost, of course."
"Oh. Of course," Sirius said.
"Five minutes." Sirius didnít have to turn around to know James had come up behind him. "Five minutes. Thatís all I asked for, Padfoot. Five measly minutes."
"Padfoot?" Mike asked, sounding confused. "I thought you said your name was Cyprus."
"Sirius," he said, through clenched teeth. "Mike here was just explaining to me why itís so important that we go back to the Dubois house."
"Weíre not going." James was using his prefect voice. He didnít use it often, but when he did, there was usually no arguing with him.
"Why?" Mike taunted. "Are you chicken?"
James turned to regard him. No one had ever before accused James Potter of being afraid. Not James Potter, who had probably a thousand years worth of magical blood running through his veins. Not James Potter, who had ancestors hailing from illustrious families such as the Merrimans and Noces. Not James Potter, who, despite his track record, had been made a prefect at one of the most prestigious magic schools in Europe, and later the Head Boy.
He now turned to Mike and looked him straight in the eye. "I am not afraid, nor am I going to be convinced by your infantile attempts to bully us into doing your bidding."
Mike didnít look like he had understood half of what James was saying, and neither had any of his entourage of friends. But then, considering not one of them had the initiative to say anything Mike had not scripted for them, that was hardly surprising. He did, however, understand the gist of what James said.
"Buc buc buc buc!" Mike flapped his arms in imitation of a chicken for a visual aid.
James was not impressed. "Oh yes," he said dryly, "because pretending to be a chicken will really convince us."
Unfortunately, Sirius was a bit more hotheaded. "Weíll go," he said.
"No," James disagreed, "we wonít."
Sirius was firm about his decision. "Iím going. You have two choices. Either you can stay here and explain to Lily, or you can come with me and maybe stop me from doing something foolish." For a brief second, his gaze flicked over to Mike and his cronies so James knew exactly what something Ďfoolishí might be.
Turning back to the other boys, James said, "Letís go."
"Come again?" James asked skeptically.
"You deaf or something?" Mike asked. "I told you, we had some jokers a couple months ago who thought they could handle the ghost. Turns out they were a bunch of cowards. Anyway, they lost something in there, something of ours that youíre going to get back."
"What?" Sirius challenged. "Couldnít you get it on your own?"
"This way you can prove yourselves to us," Mike said.
"You see, thereís a flaw in that reasoning. Youíre assuming we actually give a damn what you think," said James.
Feeling strange that he had been cast in the role of the mediator for once, instead of James or Remus, Sirius broke in. "So what exactly are we looking for?"
"An Ancient Artifact of Great Import," Mike replied. The boys could hear the capitalization.
"What?" James snipped. "A light bulb?"
Sirius snickered, but no one else in the car found it funny.
"Donít be stupid," Mike berated him. "Light bulbs werenít even invented until not too long ago."
"Really? I never knew that," said James sarcastically.
Again marvelling at how he came to be the peacekeeper, Sirius asked, "So what is this important artifact?" He refused to capitalize it.
"Youíll see," Mike said, trying to sound mysterious. He failed miserably. "Good luck!" He closed the door and Sirius and James were left alone in the abandoned house.
"They need to get their story straight," James muttered.
Sirius gasped. "You mean they werenít tell the truth?"
"Iím sorry, Padfoot, friend," James said. "You see, there are some people in the world who donít always tell the truth?"
Sirius adopted the wide-eyed innocence of youth look. "There are?" he asked, his bottom lip trembling slightly. "But why? Why would people make things up?"
"I donít know, Padfoot, I donít know," James said mournfully, patting Sirius consolingly. He paused, then added, "Are we finished with that?"
"Sure. So you certainly lost your patience with Mike back in the car," Sirius said.
"Can you blame me, Cyprus?" James asked. "Something about him just rubs me the wrong way. Why did you insist on coming, anyway?"
"I have a plan."
Groaning, James said, "I think itís safe to say Lilyís never going to trust either of us ever again."
"And thatís changed from before how?" Sirius asked.
James considered that for a moment. "Good point. Whatís your plan?"
Sirius ran outside to where Mike and some of his friends were waiting and breathlessly panted, "We found it! But we need your help getting it out."
The others, a few of Mikeís friends conspicuously missing, were leaning on the fence, drinking and laughing. They seemed surprised, to say the least, when Sirius showed up with the news.
"What?" Mike demanded. "Itís easy to get! You shouldnít need any help."
"What are you talking about?" Sirius asked, faking confusion. "The chalice is stuck behind some stones in the basement. We need help moving them. James is down there right now."
"Chalice?" Mike had a scheming look to him.
"Yeah, chalice." Sirius paused, then asked, "That was what we were looking for, wasnít it?"
"Describe it to me," ordered Mike.
Sirius straightened out. Miraculously enough, he had completely recovered his breath already, but no one seemed to notice. His eyes shining in awe, he began: "Itís solid gold and about this big." Making a circle with his fingers, he demonstrated the size. "And itís decorated with diamonds and emeralds."
"Yeah," Mike said, unmistakable greed in his voice. "Yeah, thatís the one."
"What are we waiting for then?" Sirius asked. Motioning them to follow, he started back for the house.
One the way down to the basement, Sirius overheard one of the boys asking Mike, "Whatís this about a chalice? I thought we sent them on a wild goose chase?" He was shushed immediately.
Sirius allowed himself a small smile, but since he was in the lead, no one else knew that he had heard.
"Someone get the lights,í Mike commanded. "Itís dark in here."
Sirius turned around and looked at him guilelessly. He was almost completely covered in shadows. "The house is abandoned, remember? Thereís no electricity." Just because he had slept through most of his Muggle Studies classes didnít mean that he hadnít learned anything.
An uneasy silence fell on the boys, broken only when one of the boys pulled out a torch. "The battery should last a couple of hours," he explained.
"Hurry up," Sirius said, leading them down the basement stairs.
As soon as all of the boys had started down the steps, the door slammed shut on its own accord.
"Who did that?" Mike demanded, clearly shaken.
"No one was there, no one touched it," a white-faced boy replied.
With wide-eyed innocence, Sirius turned around and said, "It was probably the ghost. Donít worry, the same thing happened with James and I came down."
The boy in the rear tried the doorknob. "It wonít open!" he exclaimed.
"Weíll get it later," Sirius said impatiently. "Hurry. Come on."
"Come on," Mike repeated, but he didnít sound nearly as calm as Sirius did.
The strange sounds start when they reached the bottom of the stairs. At first, it was just creaking noises coming from parts of the basement where no one was walking, but shortly afterwards a slight moaning sound could be heard, gradually growing louder. Behind Sirius, the others were looking at each other nervously.
Then the light went out.
"Turn that back on!" Mike commanded urgently.
"I canít!" the boy with the torch answered. Everyone could hear him desperately clicking the switch on and off with no effect. "Itís not working." There was still a little light coming from the basement windows, but it was only enough to let the boys walk without bumping into each other. Once their eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, they could see outlines, but little else.
"Letís get out of here," someone voiced, Sirius couldnít tell whom.
Mike vetoed the suggestion. "No," he said. "Weíre going to get that chalice first."
"But the ghost Ė " someone cried.
"There is no ghost! Now stop acting like wusses and come on!"
"Itís just over here," Sirius said, keeping his voice low not out of fear, but to add to the spooky atmosphere of the basement.
That was Jamesí signal. From his hiding place, he pulled out his wand and made a ghost appear.
Actually, it wasnít as much as a ghost as it was a shade. Creating the image of a real ghost required a great deal of talent and concentration and both James and Sirius had agreed it was too much effort to exert on Muggles like Mike and his friends. Instead James conjured up a shade that was vaguely human shape that started to float across the floor towards Sirius, Mike and the others.
However, it was more than enough to frighten the Muggles. Taking one look at Jamesí "ghost", they ran up the stairs and out of the house (the basement door had miraculously unstuck).
Funnily enough, Mike was in the lead.
James crawled out of his hiding spot. "Iím disappointed."
Sirius looked at him funnily. "Why?" he asked.
"That wasnít even a challenge," James complained. "I mean, I conjured up a shade, and they ran! We didnít even get to the fun part."
"Well, Prongs," Sirius said, slinging his arm over Jamesí shoulder, "you win some and you lose some and since we won this one, quit your whining!"
"Aww, I guess youíre right," James admitted reluctantly.
"Iím always right," said Sirius.
"Donít push your luck." Together they climbed the stairs, leaving the house at a much more leisurely pace than the Muggles.
They both wished they had run for it, however, when they went outside and found Lily waiting for them. As one, they took an involuntary step backwards.
"You promised," Lily said. "You promised."
"Now Lily," said Sirius, being the more suicidal of the two, "I didnít exactly go back on my promise."
"And how can you say that? I just saw a bunch of Muggles high-tailing it out of here, going on about some ghost. Petunia abandoned me; sheís furious about what happened. How can you honestly say you didnít break your promise?" asked Lily.
"Well, Lily," Sirius said, "if you recall, I promised I wouldnít use any magic while at the party. I didnít. Clearly we had left the party long before we used any magic."
"We?" Lily asked, deceptively sweetly, as she turned to James.
"Oh, itís not like we did anything too bad. We didnít even do anything permanent; certainly not anything they could trace back to us. Thereís no way the Muggles could have known we did it," said James.
"Oh, and that makes it all better." A baby could have identified the sarcasm in Lilyís voice.
"So you see, Lily, thereís no reason for you to be mad at us," concluded Sirius.
"You broke your promise, Sirius."
"I thought we went through that," Sirius said. "I didnít break my promise; I had already left the party."
"You did not. You left the house where the party was at, but you didnít leave the party. You went with half a dozen Muggles, bringing the party with you. So technically you were still at the party when you used magic," Lily said.
Sirius was outraged. "You canít change the rules this late in the game," he disputed. "You said no magic until I left the party. I left the party."
"No you didnít," argued Lily. "You left with the party. The Black Shadow is mine."
"It is not," Sirius said, taking a step closer and looking her directly in the eyes.
"It is too." Accepting the challenge, Lily took another step towards him. She didnít break the eye contact.
"Not." Sirius pronounced the word very carefully.
Lily glared at him for another minute before giving up and turning around. "You," she said, pointing a finger in Jamesí direction. "Iím not talking to you." She stalked off.
"We got off really easily," commented Sirius.
"If you say so," James said, watching Lily leave. "Just remember, youíre not the one going out with her." He frowned, then turned to face his friend. "Padfoot Ė where are your keys?"
"To the Shadow."
"In my pocket," answered Sirius. He reached in Ė and found nothing. Desperately, he began to pat himself down, but his keys were missing. "She didnít!"
"She did," confirmed James.
Quite a ways ahead of them, Lily turned when she heard Sirius bellow her name and proudly displayed the keys to his motorbike. She waited until she knew Sirius had seen them and knew what she had done, then took off running.
Sirius went roaring after her.
Saturday, September 29, 2001
Acknowledgments (or, Things Iíve Stolen and Need to Apologize For)
One Ė the characters of Lily and Petunia Evans, James Potter and Sirius Black (plus Remus Lupin and Vernon Dursley, but they were only mentioned) as well as the whole universe in which this story is set, do not, predictable enough, belong to me but rather to the one, the only, the marvelous J.K. Rowling.
Two Ė referring to Siriusí bike as the Black Shadow did not come from my imagination. CLS was the first to come up with it to my knowledge in the story "Black Shadow". Seeing as I know diddly-squat about motorcyles (or motorbikes, whatever), Iím shamelessly stealing it.
Three Ė the image of Sirius painted blue came from V. Hayrabedianís fic "Ignis". I just couldnít get it out of my mind.
Four Ė thanks go to Liss who betaíd this for me. If it wasnít for her, youíd be scratching your heads at some of the sentences, wondering if maybe I wasnít drunk when writing this. For example, I originally wrote "you win some and you win some and since we won this won Ö" Umm, okay.
Five Ė sorry this took me so long to get out. Iím what, like the last person to send their challenge fic in? Well, in my defence, it was a little on the long side. (I know some of you write stories hundreds of thousands of words long; I donít.)
Six Ė Be a friend! Review when you reach the end. (firstname.lastname@example.org if you've forgotten)