torch, torch@doubleagent.org
May 16, 2004

Disclaimer: I didn't even pass Divination. Many thanks to C, Kest, and Merry. Do not archive this story without permission.

Would you know more

James went first, because that was what he did, and Sirius followed so close to James he was practically walking on top of James's feet, because that was what he did, and Remus went last, because he could hear or smell Filch or Mrs Norris long before any of the others could. Peter went in the middle and carried the parchment, ink, and quills. He'd left his robes back in the dormitory mostly for the sheer fun of walking ahead of Remus up steep flights of stairs wearing last year's tight, worn flannel trousers, and smiled happily to himself when Remus groped him on a sharp turn.

"Are you sure?" Sirius said, looking cautiously around a corner. "We've been all over this corridor already, I thought we had all the rooms mapped."

"I'm sure," Remus said softly. "Dumbledore and McGonagall both came out of the wall underneath the staircase, behind that bust of Giorgios the Gorgon-Slayer. It wasn't really a door, the stones moved, the way they do when you go into Diagon Alley."

"I don't s'pose Dumbledore conveniently said the password in a very loud voice?" Peter shifted the ink-bottle to his other hand. "When I leave school, I'm going to invent self-inking quills and make a fortune."

"Do it now and it won't matter if you don't pass your NEWTs," Sirius suggested cheerfully, and looked around the corner again. "Oi, James, see anything?"

"No."

The rest of them came around the corner, too, and gathered in the small nook under the stairs. James was running his hands up and down the wall, which looked very solid and wall-ish.

"Maybe you have to push something," Sirius said and pressed his thumb against the protruding nose of Giorgios the Gorgon-Slayer.

The bust scowled at him. "Haven't you ever heard of asking politely?" Bushy marble brows drew down over blank marble eyes. "If I had my sword here, I'd teach you a lesson!"

Sirius took two steps backwards, right into Peter, who dropped the ink. The crash of the bottle breaking made all of them jump.

"I'm sorry," Sirius said quickly, a glance back over his shoulder making the apology as much for Peter as for the bust. "I didn't know you were, ah. Animated."

"Hmf."

Peter crouched down and whispered "Reparo!" The ink bottle came together again; a spiderweb of cracks marred the glass, so the spell wouldn't have earned him full marks in class, but at least all the pieces were there. The ink was more of a problem.

"We really are sorry, sir." That was James, using his very politest voice. "Since you obviously know everything that goes on in this corridor, perhaps you can tell us, is there really a door here?"

Remus crouched down next to Peter. "I wish I knew how to conjure up blotting paper," he said. He aimed his wand at the puddle. "Scourgify!"

The puddle grew smaller. "I think it's working," Peter said. He tried it, too. "Scourgify!" One of the ink-spattered floor stones grew measurably cleaner; so did Sirius's shoes. Peter grinned, and Remus grinned back.

"Yes, there is a door." The bust wiggled its nose. "And I think you deserve to find it."

Peter and Remus both stood up. Peter frowned a little at the way Giorgios the Gorgon-Slayer was smiling. "Maybe we shouldn't," he said.

"Don't be spineless, Wormtail," Sirius said, placing a hand firmly on Peter's shoulder. "No spinelessness allowed in this corridor between the hours of ten pm and six am."

"How do we get in?" James asked.

"There's a carved flower on the back of this pedestal," the bust said. "Press the top left petal and count to three out loud in Goblin."

"Thank you," James said, and now he was frowning, too.

They went around the back of the pedestal, looking at the back of Giorgios's head, which needed dusting. There was a garland of carved leaves winding all around the pedestal, but low down at the back there was a single flower. Sirius crouched down. "Well. Would help if we knew Goblin."

Peter hesitated, but James looked unhappy, and Sirius looked restless, and he felt bad about the spilled ink. He crouched down, too, and pressed a finger against the petal where other fingers had worn a slight depression. "Eichchct, dwchcht, frichcht," he muttered.

The wall rumbled, and some of the stones drew back slowly, leaving a narrow, dark gap.

"Wow," Sirius said, bouncing to his feet. "Come on!"

"I didn't know you knew Goblin," Remus said, putting a hand on Peter's shoulder that burned hotly through his thin shirt.

"I don't, really. But sometimes when they count out money at Gringott's, if you walk up to them very quietly, you can hear them count out loud."

"Come on, you two!" James was already halfway through the crack in the wall, and Sirius had disappeared completely. Peter and Remus hurried after them.

The room they entered was long and narrow and had no windows and no doors. It smelled musty and wrong, like a disused root cellar where something had been forgotten in a corner. Next to Peter, Remus shifted his weight from foot to foot, and sniffed the air. "I don't think this is a good place to be," he said. "We should leave."

"We will," James said. "As soon as we plot it. Have to make sure the map's complete. Peter, you've got the parchment."

"Yes, but the ink bottle broke," Peter pointed out. "So we've got nothing to write with."

"Butter-fingers," Sirius muttered, wandering towards the far end of the room. "Hey, look at this."

"Maybe we can come back tomorrow night." Peter sighed, leaning against Remus's shoulder. In a room like this, there would be no groping. Instead, he admired Remus's profile.

"That's weird," James said. "Why would they hang a painting in a room where no one goes?"

"Because they are afraid of me," the painting said.

Peter jumped. Remus took his hand and they walked up to the painting where Sirius and James already stood. In it, a slim, grey-haired woman had just risen from a writing desk and walked up to the frame, where she stood looking out at them. She had very pale eyes and high cheekbones and looked as though her nose had been broken at some point. Except for the nose, Peter thought she looked a bit like Sirius. She had ink stains on her fingers and on the cuff of her lacy dress.

"We should leave," Remus said again, with more force behind it.

"We can't even plot the room tonight. We've no ink." Peter wound his fingers more tightly into Remus's. "Let's just go."

The woman smiled mockingly. "Such sweet children. And one of them of my blood, if I'm not mistaken." Peter glanced at Sirius, who looked mutinous. "I am Helena Vala Black, and I am locked in this room because I see the future no one wants to hear about." She tipped her head to one side. "Of course, from my point of view, everything I see is the future." The woman looked at Sirius. "I'm sure you've seen my name in the family records."

"Yes." Sirius glared. "Not in a while, though."

"How quickly they forget," the woman sighed in the same light, mocking voice.

Sirius turned to the others. "Remus is right, we should leave. I'm not going to stand here talking to one of my dead relatives all night."

"All right." James nodded. "We'll bring more ink some other night."

"Sweet dreams, then, dear boys," Helena Vala Black said as they turned to go. "You have a little while longer to be friends, after all."

"We're always going to be friends," Sirius threw angrily over his shoulder, "so you can just shut up."

"Of course you will," she said in a voice like sugar icing. "I'm certain you will be the most devoted of comrades until the very moment one of you betrays the others."

They all stopped walking and turned around slowly. She was sitting on her chair at the writing desk now, watching them with a small smile, one eyebrow slightly lifted.

"You're not— That won't happen," Sirius said. His voice was brittle, starting to crack. "It — it has already happened." Remus reached out and put a hand on Sirius's shoulder, and Peter gripped Remus's hand more tightly. "It's in the past, and here we are."

"I don't speak of the past," the woman said, "I speak of the future. One of you will betray the others." She looked at them slowly, one after the other. "There will be blood." Her eyes stayed on Remus. "After all, blood will out. And some are more suited to bloodshed than others. One must be true to one's nature." Then she rose and shook her skirts out. "Good night, dear boys. Sleep well."

She walked out of the frame.

Remus was shaking; Peter tried to put an arm around him, but Remus would not stand still for it. Sirius was shaking, too, so angry he could barely speak. "I hate my family," he said. "I hate it, I loathe it, I despise it, I—"

"We have to get back to the dormitory," James said. "Come on. We can't stay here."

They stumbled out through the crack in the stone wall and stood behind the pedestal as James crouched down and pushed at the leaf again. The wall closed with a slow grating sound. The bust of Giorgios the Gorgon-Slayer was asleep and snoring.

"You should go," Remus said. "I — I'll be along later."

"We should all go," James said, and he and Peter each took one of Remus's arms and dragged him along.

"You heard what she said." Remus's voice was low and stumbling. "You saw how she looked at me. If I were to — if I came to hurt any of you—"

"You won't," Peter said, putting all the faith he could muster into the words.

"She probably meant me," Sirius said. "Blood will tell, she said, and it usually does in the Black family. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow babbling about pureblood supremacy and demanding to be re-Sorted into Slytherin."

Remus smiled faintly, but there was neither humor nor conviction in it. "If one of us is meant for bloodshed, Sirius, it's not you."

"Maybe I'll abandon you all for a girl and you'll get vicious papercuts," James said. "You never know."

"Right!" Sirius walked backwards, looking at Remus. "Or Peter will, er." He looked at Peter. "It's not really helping that you don't have a vicious bone in your body, Wormtail."

"Unlike me," Remus said and tried to let go of Peter's hand, but Peter wouldn't let him.

"No, listen," James said. "You're not—" He broke off and stared over Sirius's shoulder. "Oh, bugger."

Peter looked up, too, and saw that Albus Dumbledore was standing at the turn into the stairwell, looking sternly at them. And they'd been so close to getting back to Gryffindor Tower, too. Sirius and James both squared their shoulders. Remus couldn't look any more guilty and miserable than he already did.

"This is not a time or place for you to go wandering," Dumbledore said, tapping one long finger against his chin. "Ten points each from Gryffindor, I'm afraid." Peter winced.

"We're very sorry, Professor," James said, and Peter nodded fervently.

"Ah, yes. You look quite sorry, at that." Dumbledore's eyes narrowed. "If you had been down the out-of-bounds corridor behind you, as I am sure you have not, and entered a forbidden room, as I am sure you would never do, I would tell you..."

"Yes?" Sirius looked hopeful. Peter felt hopeful, too. Maybe it was all lies. He trusted Sirius, of course, but the rest of the Black family, well.

"That what is said in that room is always twisted to hide the real truth of the words, meant to lead a listener to make the wrong choice." Dumbledore met their eyes in turn. "Now I suggest you get back to your dormitory at once."

They all tropped past the headmaster with their heads down. Peter still held on to Remus's hand, refusing to let go. When they walked out onto the nearest staircase, it swung to the left, and they paused. "So it does mean me, then," Sirius said.

"Misdirection." Remus shook his head. "I can't, we can't—" He tried to pull away from Peter. Peter hung on. The stairs slid to a halt, and they kept walking.

They stopped outside the entrance to the Gryffindor common room, and James turned to the others. "We'll go straight up to the dormitory," he said. "We need to talk about this." He looked at the Fat Lady. "Aspergillum."

The portrait hole swung open, they all went through, a girl's voice said "Obliviate!" and a spray of yellow spell-light swept over them all, though Peter only got the edges of it, coming in last.

"Lily Evans!" That was Remus's prefect voice. "What do you think you're doing, practising charms like that in the common room?"

"I'm so sorry!" Lily rushed up to them, wand still in her hand. "I was trying to make Widdershins forget that I'd ever had catnip in my pocket, before he chewed my skirt to pieces." Lily's cat had fled under an armchair, leaving only the tip of a flicking tail behind. "Are you all right? Do you remember your names?"

"I even remember yours," James said with a goofy smile. "Hullo, Lily."

"I even remember the homework for tomorrow," Sirius groused. "Not your best wand-work there, though I suppose it's just as well."

Peter leaned closer to Remus, slipping an arm around his waist. "Should we go up to the dorm, then?"

"Oooooh." Sirius twitched an eyebrow. "Going up to the dorm, are you? Do let us know when you're ready for the rest of us to join you."

Peter opened his mouth to answer, but Remus squeezed his hand. The haunted look was gone from Remus's eyes, and he stood there beautiful and relaxed once more, shaking his head at Sirius. Lily was good with charms, Peter knew that.

"So where have you four been, anyway?" Lily asked.

"We went, um, looking for something," James said. "Then Peter broke the ink bottle and we came back here."

Peter admired James's casual tone, but then he looked at Sirius, who nodded and pointed at the ink stains on his socks, and Remus, who was still so calm and happy, crooking his fingers into the waistband of Peter's flannel trousers, smiling a little. Maybe only Peter knew, now, that they'd gone into the hidden room and listened to Helena Vala Black. Maybe only Peter remembered how they'd fled in fear and come directly back here.

He pressed closer to Remus, who was warm and kind and the least evil person Peter knew. I won't let it be you, he promised silently. Whatever it takes, I will never let it be you.

* * *

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