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Chapter 4: Chapter Four
In my more poetic moods, I would describe the lavish spread of brilliant colour unfurling over the late afternoon sky, as the dimming sun prepares to descend and the full moon prepares to rise. I would exalt at length on the somewhat sinister silence which falls over the grounds and lingers amongst the gently stirring trees of the Forbidden Forest. And of course, the Whomping Willow would have to be mentioned, brandishing its branches menacingly like a many-armed troll, seeming to leer at me from its bleak patch of grass.
I am not in a poetic mood.
I am slightly shocked by how weak his voice sounds. I turn away from the window to find Remus Lupin standing behind me, terrified-looking, with his freckles standing out more than usual on his bloodless face. Clearly, he doesn’t want to appear as frightened as he really is, with his straight-backed posture and the rather forced expression of steely determination. But to me it is obvious: his lips are tight, his eyes flickering with fear, and his shoulders and hands are trembling discernibly.
‘Are you ready?’ I ask, trying to inject some comfort into my voice.
‘Y-yes,’ he whispers, not looking at me, drawing his cloak more tightly around his shoulders.
Moonrise is in one hour. Assuming that it will take us twenty-five minutes to reach the house, and fifteen minutes for me to return without the weakened Lupin slowing me down, departing now for the tunnel should grant us plenty of time.
I look at Lupin again where he is standing a few feet away from me. He seems to be taking deep, calming breaths, trying to collect himself. His fear is contagious, and I feel a nervous dread creeping over me. I staunch it quickly: one of us has to be calm. But why is he so scared? I can’t help but wonder. Hasn’t he done this dozens of times before?
‘How do you do this at home?’ The question is past my lips before I can bite my tongue. It sits on the air like a heavy boulder.
Lupin looks at me with large eyes, ‘What…what do you mean?’
My curiosity gets the better of my compassion. ‘Where do you transform?’
Lupin visibly swallows, and his face seems to contort with misery, giving up his brave facade. ‘In a cage,’ he seems to force out the words, staring at his feet, ashamed and embarrassed. I want to tell him to stop talking, but I can’t speak for horror, and he seems compelled to continue. ‘With chains…and things…’
And things? Does he have a collar and a muzzle as well? I try to imagine stuffing this poor little boy into a wrought-iron, barred coop like an animal. I turn away so he can’t see the wetness in my eyes.
He says, ‘Professor Dumbledore wouldn’t let me use one at Hogwarts. He says it’s inhumane.’ For once, I completely agree with the headmaster. Lupin continues quietly, ‘But I’ve read that if I’m not chained up than I’ll probably attack myself…’ He looks at me.
Well, it’s no wonder he’s so afraid. He has no idea what will happen once the moon rises. He’s used to being restrained for the transformation.
‘I’ve read the same,’ I tell him. ‘But it’ll be alright.’
I begin leading him towards the exit with my hand on his shoulder. At the door, I place a Disillusionment Charm on each of us, as Dumbledore instructed me to. Although the spell tends to cause a rather unpleasant chilling sensation, Lupin doesn’t even flinch. Perhaps he is feeling so ill that this new source of discomfort doesn’t even register with him.
‘Did your friends notice that you’re unwell?’ I inquire as we make our way through the corridors. Indeed, over the past few days I have spotted him on several occasions accompanied by a cheerful James Potter, Sirius Black, or the fat boy whom I have learned is called Peter Pettigrew.
He shakes his head slowly. ‘They were too busy…’
It sounds as if he wants to elaborate, but his voice is now feebler than ever and he falls silent. I take the hint and stop asking questions.
We head out of the castle, down the stone steps and onto the sprawling lawn. The grass is soft underfoot as we make our way across the grounds, toward the desolate corner where the Whomping Willow holds court, seeming to beckon to us with those somewhat threatening branches. Over by the lake, I can make out a knot of students laughing and splashing in the water, their gleeful cries spilling towards us like a temptation, cruel and sardonic. It seems remarkable that the full moon means nothing to them. It seems even more remarkable that just one month ago, it meant nothing to me.
A dry wind ruffles our cloaks and our hair, biting into the backs of our necks. Lupin begins to stumble slightly on the uneven ground, and I tighten my grasp on his shoulder to steady him. I can only imagine what he must be going through.
We reach the Whomping Willow. It looks even more imposing up close, towering and fearsome. By now, Lupin has completely dropped his courageous front and is shivering violently, gazing at the tree with wide, haunted eyes. I want to say something comforting to him, but nothing adequate comes to mind. Instead, I stoop down to pick up a fallen branch, long and gnarled. Hesitating slightly, I reach forward through the thicket of thrashing limbs and poke the knot which is nestled amongst the roots.
The tree freezes.
I glance towards the lake, but none of the children are looking in our direction. None of them have noticed that the Whomping Willow has suddenly stopped moving. In any case, the Disillusionment Charms should mask our progress.
‘Let’s go,’ I murmur to Lupin with an uneasy glance towards the horizon. We should have plenty of time, but I would still rather do this quickly. Just in case. I think he notices my sudden discomfort from the slightly wounded expression on his face.
Taking care to be calmer, I gently push him towards the opening at the base of the tree. The boy takes one more edgy glance across the grounds and gives me a fleeting look of apprehension before dropping to his knees and crawling forward into the hole. I follow him into the dark, damp passageway concealed under the roots.
Standing up, I have to stoop slightly so that the top of my head doesn’t press against the low, earthy ceiling. I help Lupin clamber to his feet and place both of my hands on his shoulders to steady him.
‘Are you alright?’
He nods, bowing his head. He seems embarrassed to be seen so weak. Of course he is, I reflect. He’s a boy after all. A Gryffindor boy at that: plucky and proud.
I lift the Disillusionment Charm with a tap of my wand and we begin to make our way slowly through the narrow, murky passageway, forward into the shadowy gloom. The walls on either side are covered in a sickly growth of moss and other fungi, and there is a faint stench of decay. I hold my wand high to light the way in front of us.
It soon becomes apparent that Lupin is so ill and shaky that he can barely put one foot in front of the other. I have to support him by dragging one of his arms over my shoulder and placing my hand on the small of his back. He shows signs of wanting to walk on his own, but he is too weak to resist, and it seems that the best he could possibly manage is a slow crawl. I see his face contort with despair and feel my eyes begin to prickle again.
A week ago, I would have been disgusted at the prospect of having such close contact with a werewolf. Now, I feel nothing but pity and deep sadness as I pull Remus Lupin along the tunnel towards the house, his prospective torture chamber.
This is so wrong. I’m a Healer for Merlin’s sake! I’m supposed to cure people of illness, ease their pain. But here I am, dragging this little boy closer and closer towards great and inevitable suffering. It’s sickening. I would like nothing more than to carry him straight back up to the hospital wing, tuck him into bed, and let him sleep it off until he feels better. Sadly, this cannot happen.
We move deeper and deeper into the passageway, and I sense that we are nearing our destination. Lupin is shakier than ever and seems unable to even lift his head to watch where we are going. Sure enough, the path begins to slope steadily upwards and we arrive at another opening. I push Lupin ahead of me and he inches forward on his hands and knees, out of the tunnel, into the house. I duck forward, and find myself standing in a room as dark as the passageway. I cast my wand around and learn why: all of the windows are completely boarded up with thick planks of wood, allowing not even a speck of light to shine through, or anything to get out. I also notice that the room seems to be furnished—a table and several chairs. Perhaps in order to provide materials for the werewolf to destroy, to prevent it from harming itself?
Swallowing, I look down at Lupin who is still on his knees, eyes closed and taking shallow, gasping breaths of air. I could leave him right here, but I simply can’t bring myself to do so. Hesitating for a moment, I lift Lupin right off the floor. He is incredibly light; he seems to have lost a good deal of weight since the first time I saw him. He can’t be much more than sixty or seventy pounds.
Holding the boy tightly, I carry him easily into the corridor and up a flight of stairs. He feels very small and vulnerable pressed against my chest, not moving in the slightest. In a bedroom, I am gratified to discover a large, four-post bed. Gently, I deposit Lupin amongst the pillows. He is no longer shaking, but is very still, almost peaceful—it is perhaps even more unnerving. He opens his eyes and looks at me expressionlessly.
I have to ask one more embarrassing question.
‘Do you wear your clothing when you transform?’
He takes a breath through his nose and peels his lips apart. ‘No,’ he whispers so faintly that I have to lean forward to hear. ‘I…I’ll hide them under the bed.’ He gives me a beseeching look and I somehow understand that he wants me to leave.
I don’t know what to say in parting, so I wordlessly turn and head away. At the door, I hear him saying my name, ‘Madam Pomfrey?’ I look back at him, lying there on the bed, eyes closed once more, thin and pale and looking terribly unwell. I don’t see a werewolf, I only see a very lonely child about to endure unthinkable pain and horror. ‘Thank you,’ he murmurs. With my heart panging horribly, I leave him there.
‘What are you looking at?’
I turn away from the corridor window. Horace Slughorn is standing behind me, hands wrapped around a large mug of hot chocolate, clad in his usual emerald dressing gown.
‘I’m stargazing,’ I reply tonelessly. It is eleven o’clock. I turn back to the window in order to continue staring up at the huge expanse of inky black sky, twinkling with tiny pinpricks of light. There certainly are a lot of stars tonight, but they are not my main focus. Tonight, I am too busy watching the full moon, all big and round and greyish-white. Normally it strikes me as pretty, appealing, but at the moment it looks deeply sinister, like a baleful omen. At the moment, Remus Lupin is suffering for its existence.
‘Full moon tonight,’ Horace comments, sidling up beside me to look.
‘The werewolves are out and about,’ remarks Horace cheerfully. ‘Probably tearing innocent people apart, the monsters they are.’
‘They are not!’ I yell, rounding on Horace so suddenly that he drops his mug. It shatters on the floor, chipped pieces of ceramic littering our feet, the smoking dark liquid spreading across the ground.
Anger, hot and sizzling, bubbles up inside me. I feel my cheeks colour with an unrestrained fury at the Potion master’s careless, throwaway comment. Fragmented images flicker in my mind’s eye-- a pale little boy shackled and muzzled in a lonely cage… a shuddering child huddled naked in the corner of a pitch-dark room. Werewolf. Monster. All the sorrow and fear I have experienced today seem to fuse together into one seething mass of rage.
‘Poppy?’ says Horace, backing away slightly, eyeing me nervously.
‘They are not monsters!’ I shout. I suddenly need to bellow, to unleash my fury on this foolish, bigoted bumbler. ‘They are normal human beings! There is absolutely nothing wrong with them! It’s damned idiots like you with the problem, making people suffer for your own prejudicial satisfaction. How dare you? How dare you denounce them so ignorantly? You don’t know anything at all about anything! Damn you!’ Now I’m crying, hot, wet tears of confusion spilling down my face at the thought of the unspeakable horrors that Remus Lupin is enduring right now.
Since when has my job been so personal? It’s not at all like me to become so attached to my patients. But I can’t stand to see children suffer, and be unable to make it stop. Werewolf. Monster.
I don’t care that Horace Slughorn is looking at me as though concerned for my sanity. I don’t care that I look foolish, with my hair falling out of its bun and my face screwed up as I weep. I don’t care anymore.
Then I feel a warm hand on my shoulder, leading me away, down the corridor, into the hospital wing, snapping the door shut behind us and sitting down beside me on a bed. I look up through my tears and am relieved to find the concerned face of Minerva McGonagall peering back at me through her spectacles.
‘Poppy?’ she murmurs, wrapping an arm around my quaking shoulders. ‘It’s alright. There’s nothing we can do.’
‘I—I know,’ I sob fretfully, burying my face in my hands. ‘But he’s so…so little. It’s awful. It’s just…awful.’
‘It’s terrible,’ Minerva agrees consolingly.
Struggling to maintain some control over my emotions, I gasp for breath, furiously wiping tears off my face with the back of my sleeve. ‘Here,’ Minerva conjures up a tartan handkerchief and presses it into my hand; I blow my nose. ‘You need to pull yourself together,’ she says to me firmly. ‘You can’t help anyone if you’re such a mess.’
‘Why don’t you get some sleep?’ Minerva suggests, her usual practical self. ‘You’ll have to wake up early tomorrow morning.’
It feels bizarre to lie in my warm, comfortable bed and to think that not so far away, Remus Lupin is running around as a bloodthirsty beast, causing unfathomable amounts damage to himself. His pale, drawn face keeps cropping up in my mind, pleading with his terrified brown eyes. He’s just a child: he’s too young to have to go through this. If I keep very still, I think that I can just make out the distant sound of him howling, very far away, like an echo. But I’m probably just imagining it…
I am awake at half-four in the morning, sliding out of bed, feeling very, very cold and very apprehensive. After swiftly dressing and splashing my face with cold water, I pad into the ward and thrust open the curtains: the sky is a mottled navy blue colour, mixed with pink and violet: the sun is about to rise.
Feverishly, I begin to stuff medical equipment into a tote bag: cloths, bandages, potions and ointments, pain reliever: things that will alleviate whatever wounds Lupin might have, but not cure them-- only time will achieve that.
In one of my cupboards, I retrieve a still unopened bottle which I purchased from Diagon Alley this past summer, Belby’s Extra-Strength Disinfecting Potion—a more concentrated form of the stuff I use all the time. It is strongly recommended for lycanthropic wounds, as they are even more prone to infection. But I have heard on the grapevine that the potion is brutally painful, even more so than the regular kind, which is already excruciating enough. Regretfully, I slip the bottle into my bag as well.
By the time I begin striding across the dewy grounds toward the Whomping Willow, tote bag swinging from my shoulder, the sun has ascended, still low on the horizon but casting blinding beams of light over the sleeping castle. A chilly breeze propels me forward and I quickly reach the tunnel. I make my way through the dark passageway as hastily as I can: Lupin is probably injured; he needs help. As I scurry along, I try to envision what kind of grisly scene I am about to be presented with. How seriously will he have harmed himself? What kind of treatment will he need? And, am I skilled enough to provide it?
In what seems like no time, I am bursting through the opening and into the first room. I scramble to my feet and raise my wand: ‘Lumos Maxima!’ The entire house fills with light.
‘Lupin!’ I call. There is no answer.
I stare around: the table that was in one piece yesterday is now missing two legs, and there are deep scratch marks in the wood. One of the chairs has been completely torn apart, lying in bits across the floor. The boards on the windows have clearly been attacked, but thankfully seem to have held. Across one wall is a large splatter of blood.
I experience a sickening surge of panic. Where is Lupin?
Frantically, I hurry into the corridor and bound up the stairs, taking them two at a time. I notice bits of silvery fur lying all over the place. At the landing, I pause for a breath, feeling a potent kind of dread seeping through me. What am I about to encounter?
In the bedroom, I find Lupin lying face-down on the floor next to the four-poster. It looks as if he managed to get his trousers on, and then collapsed. Quickly, heart pounding, I kneel down beside him and gently turn him over.
The first thing I focus on is his face. His eyes are closed, and he appears to be asleep, or possibly unconscious. His skin is still terribly pale, and his hair tousled. Brushing several locks off his forehead with a shaky hand, I notice a large bruise spreading from the corner of left his eye to his temple—perhaps from when he head-butted the window-- and that his lips have been bitten bloody.
Looking downwards, I recoil in horror at the sight of his chest. It is shining with wet blood, covered in multitudes of jagged gauges, raw and scarlet. He appears to have clawed repeatedly at his chest. How could this small boy have done that to himself? The closer I look, the worse it appears. After Vanishing all of the blood with a wave of my wand, I can now see that the wounds are terribly deep and look agonisingly painful. It’s no wonder he passed out.
They need to be disinfected. I plunge my hand into my bag and pull out the bottle of Belby’s Extra-Strength Disinfecting Potion. Tearing off the wax seal and unscrewing the cap, a torrent of thick smoke billows out. For a second, I stare at the churning liquid within, and then back at Lupin’s bloody torso. Struck by an impulse, I seize a broken shard of glass lying close by and press down on my finger until I draw blood. Carefully, I tip a drop of the smoking purple liquid onto the cut.
I have to hold back a cry of pain. It feels as if I have applied a white-hot poker to my forefinger. The potion scorches and sizzles and burns like nothing I have ever felt before, biting deep into my flesh and making my eyes sting with tears. Although it only lasts a few moments, it is horribly painful. Can I really subject Lupin to this torture? I don’t have a choice.
Swallowing, I pour more of the disinfectant onto a cloth. Hoping with all my heart that he doesn’t wake up, I begin to scrub away at his chest, taking care to be as gentle as I can. Quickly as possible, I work my way around the injuries, pressing harder into the gashes. The boy’s eyes remain closed, which is encouraging. If I can only finish this up swiftly, it’ll be fine. I withdraw the cloth for a second to add more potion, and then resume the disinfecting. Suddenly, he lets out a small moan, eyes flying open.
I pull away the cloth. ‘Remus?’ I say, laying a hand on his forehead. This is no time for surnames. ‘How are you feeling?’
He doesn’t respond, only continues to stare at me quizzically, as though he isn’t quite sure about why is lying on the floor with me leaning over him. He seems too weak and too exhausted to move.
‘You’ve done a good job of scratching yourself up,’ I tell him gently. Talk about an understatement. I hold up the cloth. ‘I need to finish cleaning the wounds. It’ll hurt, but it’ll only take a bit. Alright?’
His nod is almost imperceptible.
Gingerly, I reapply the cloth to his chest, trying to be simultaneously delicate and hasty, moving rhythmically back and forth. He gives another whimper of pain. I look up to see tears running down his face. His lips are pressed tightly together, determined not to cry out again. ‘Just another second,’ I tell him, my voice cracking on the last syllable. As soon as I finish, he rolls away from me onto his side, curling up with his knees drawn to his chin. His shoulders shake with silent sobs.
Fighting back my own tears, I tuck the bottle and the cloth back into my bag. I watch him cry, unsure of what I should do. Finally, he stops shuddering and simply lies there in his fetal position, breathing shallowly.
‘Remus?’ I murmur tentatively.
Slowly, he rolls over onto his back, face shining with tears. He looks at me with a pleading expression and says something very faintly.
‘Pardon?’ I say, leaning closer.
‘Please, my arm…’
I look. His right arm is bent at a very crooked angle. There is no doubt that it is broken. Why didn’t I notice before? I silently berate myself, yanking out my wand. ‘Episkey.’ Lupin’s arm seems to straighten out, and his face relaxes, his breathing easing up substantially. Now I just have to finish…
‘I’m just going to dress your wounds,’ I tell him.
As I pull out a small tub of Helga’s Quick Pain Reliever, he closes his eyes again, eyelashes resting against his pale cheeks. I unscrew the top and apply the sickly smelling green paste to his chest. It should ease the discomfort while the wounds heal on their own because unfortunately, dittany would have absolutely no effect. I then begin bandaging him, covering his chest in wide strips of white gauze, taping down the ends. Lupin doesn’t stir in the slightest, lying very quietly. He might have fallen asleep; he looks rather peaceful now, breathing rhythmically, mouth open slightly. I tap his bruise with my wand so it fades away, and survey the mess he has made of his lips. Being that they are lycanthropic bites, I suppose that we will simply have to wait for them to heal.
‘Remus?’ I say softly.
Lupin doesn’t respond. It seems that he is fast asleep. A fresh wave of deep pity and sorrow washes over me as I fish around under the mattress and drag out his white Oxford shirt from where he stowed it away last night. Carefully, I lift the boy off the ground and prop him up in a sitting position, leaning him against the bed. His head lolls to one side. I slip the shirt over his shoulders and slide his right arm easily through its sleeve. As I deal with his left arm, Lupin snaps awake, opening his eyes and lifting his head, staring around the room tiredly. He seems ashamed to find me dressing him and makes it plain that he wants to button the shirt on his own.
I stand up and move away from the bed, looking around the dimly lit room. Huge chunks have been torn from the plaster walls and as approach, I can discern bite marks. There are long scratches in the floor, and dark bloodstains everywhere.
Shivering, I return to Lupin only to find him still working on the bottommost button. His fingers seem too weak, fumbling as they try to slide the button through its hole. He has a look of dogged determination on his face as he labours. I watch him struggle for a few minutes, unsure of whether or not I should offer my assistance. On one hand, it would only humiliate him further to be found incapable of buttoning his own shirt. On the other hand, he seems to be growing more and more upset as he fails the task.
Finally, I cannot stand it anymore. I kneel down beside him. ‘Let me do it, dear,’ I say in a kind voice, gently pushing his hands away. I quickly button my way up the shirt and turn down the collar, smoothing the creases in the shoulders and tucking in the label. Lupin is now staring down at his knees, looking completely miserable and ashamed of himself. He sniffles quietly and looks up at me. ‘Thank you,’ he whispers, as he did last night.
‘It’s alright now,’ I assure him, attempting to smile. I tug the rest of his clothing out from under the bed; I drape his cloak around his shoulders and push on his shoes and socks. ‘It’s alright,’ I say again, pulling him to his feet. I consider the boy for a moment, standing there unsteadily, swaying slightly, and looking as though he’s about to keel over backwards.
‘I can walk,’ he whispers unconvincingly.
He leans heavily against my shoulder as I help him hobble down the stairs and back into the tunnel. Once there, I conjure up a stretcher. Levitating him in front of me, we somehow manage to cover the distance back to the castle. By now the sun is suspended much higher over the castle, and the morning dew has mostly evaporated. As I hurry him into the hospital wing, I can hear the first few early risers bustling through the corridors, heading to the Great Hall for breakfast.
Gently, I help him climb into a bed in the far corner of the ward, drawing curtains to mask him from prying eyes. After assuring that he is tucked in and comfortable, I head over to my Potions shelf to fetch a Sleeping Potion. When I return carrying the brim-full goblet, I find Lupin sitting up in bed, a determined look on his exhausted face.
‘I have Defense Against the Dark Arts first lesson,’ he whispers.
He must be joking.
‘I’m sure you’ll be able to catch up quickly,’ I say, passing him the goblet. ‘Drink this, dear. Potion for a dreamless sleep.’
‘I don’t want to sleep,’ mumbles Lupin, even as his eyelids droop heavily and he falls back against the pillows. ‘I want to go to class.’
He puts the goblet down on the bedside table, and I shake my head.
‘Look at you,’ I say with mingled sympathy and incredulity. ‘You can barely move. You need rest; if you overexert yourself than the healing process takes longer.’
‘No buts,’ I snap. I notice the despairing look on his face, and soften my voice, ‘I’m sorry, dear, but my word is final. There is no way I can let you sit through lessons in this state.’
I hope he realises that I am doing this for his own good. The poor thing is so keen on his schoolwork. I reflect that he must be thrilled to be here at Hogwarts: for a long while, he must have been under the impression that he would not be permitted to attend.
But Lupin will not take no for an answer.
Stubbornly, he hoists himself back up. ‘I’m fine, Madam Pomfrey,’ he insists. ‘I don’t feel nearly as bad as I look.’ Before I can stop him, he’s pushed back the covers, swung his legs over the mattress, and dropped down from the bed onto his feet.
‘Mr. Lupin!’ I exclaim.
With a defiant expression, he stumbles forward several steps with what looks like great effort. The next thing I know, he is lying sprawled on the floor, his legs having given out. Panting, he struggles to pull himself back up. ‘I’m okay!’ he protests as I hurry forward. But before he can object, I scoop him off the ground and shove him firmly back onto the bed. He makes to get up again, but I force him back down with my hands on his shoulders.
‘That’s enough,’ I say sternly. ‘You need to recuperate; you’ve had a very bad night. You’ve done yourself enough harm already without making it worse.’
‘It’s not my fault,’ Lupin says quietly, avoiding my eyes. He looks stung.
I remove my hands from his shoulders, heart panging. Yet another tactless comment from the incredible Poppy Pomfrey!
‘I know, dear,’ I assure him, sitting down on the end of his bed. ‘But right now, you just need to take this potion.’
I pick up the goblet and hand it to him. He stares at it unhappily.
‘Please?’ he says, one last attempt.
‘I’m sorry, Mr. Lupin.’
He finally gives up. Looking thoroughly miserable, the boy takes several large gulps of the Sleeping Potion. As his eyes drift shut and he quickly heads off to sleep, I pull the covers up to his chin.
It’s going to be a very long day.
A/N: Please review! Even if you hate it, at least tell me.