Chapter 6 : Dangerous Games and Christmas Plans
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Dangerous Games and Christmas Plans
September slowly faded into October and the boys had still not come up with a satisfactory revenge plan for Crane. Being that they had only one month of magical knowledge under their belts, they did not know enough to perform something overly extravagant. They had started their flying lessons with Madam Sparks and the Slytherins the day after Remus returned from his first full moon, and it could have gone off slightly better. The Slytherins had a particularly fun time goading Remus and Peter, who were not proficient fliers at all. Madam Sparks did not put a stop to this, as she was deaf in her left ear, and that was the side the Slytherins were standing on. The boys wondered if this was the true reason, or just a convenient excuse.
James proved to be quite the flier. The first piece of instruction they had been given was to place their right hands above their broomsticks and say, in a very clear voice, “up.” James’s broom jumped right into his hand, while other brooms merely flopped over, or raised a few inches in the air before losing interest and dropping down again. Sirius’s broom was a bit more obedient than Remus’s and Peter’s, who had both received sharp knocks in the face by their brooms. Sirius’s was in his hand on his third attempt. One of the Slytherins, whom they recognised as Severus Snape, had himself a good laugh at Remus’s and Peter’s expense. Remus and Peter either did not notice this, or chose to pretend they hadn’t, but not Sirius and James.
Despite the fact that they had not learned magic advanced enough to humiliate a teacher, they had learned some useful hexes in their spare time. James and Sirius had been looking for the opportune moment to test them out, and what better reason to? At first, they decided they might let Snape slide, if he backed off in good time. But he continued to mock Remus and Peter, who still refused to say anything. After ten minutes James and Sirius had had enough. They whipped out their wands and shouted, very loudly, “Densaugeo!” With the combination of both of their spells, Snape’s teeth immediately grew to the ground.
Madam Sparks, who had been unresponsive to the verbal taunting, suddenly looked outraged. She assigned both James and Sirius three days worth of detention, where they would clip and polish the tails of every school broomstick. This, to the misfortune of Madam Sparks, did not qualify as punishment for the two boys; they actually enjoyed doing it. What they did not enjoy was the reproachful comments issued to them by Lily Evans, who was absolutely disgusted by their behaviour. Even Remus and Peter thought that they had overreacted, the taunting wasn’t bothering them. Professor McGonagall was also against them on this matter.
Still, the anger towards James and Sirius faded with the month of September and was instead replaced with a feeling of sympathy for Remus when he reported that he had to leave once more to visit his sick mother. If it was possible, Remus looked worse about it the second time than he did the first. His pale forehead was always coated with a light layer of sweat, even though the air was quite cool. His demeanour, which was always a little reserved, now withdrew completely. Whenever Sirius, James and Peter joined him in the library, where he had taken refuge, he always made some excuse to pack up his books and leave.
Remus’s behaviour came and went and within the next week he was back to normal. The only time he ever reverted back to his mannerisms before leaving to see his mother was when he was questioned by his friends. They related this to the fact that he was stressed out over his mother, and they couldn’t hold it against him. So, to avoid another outburst from him, they stopped asking him about it and resolved to only question him about her if he had to visit.
Halloween dawned on a stormy morning. The skies were blackened and the wind was blowing ferociously, swaying the treetops of the trees in the Forbidden Forest dangerously. A fifth year Hufflepuff swore that she saw a tree become uprooted when she was looking out the window at the forest. The Whomping Willow even appeared to be frightened by the violent weather; it had stopped flailing its branches. Despite the horrid weather, the spirits of the students could not be dimmed with the prospect of the Halloween Feast in the evening. James, Sirius, Peter and Remus, in particular, were looking forward to the evening.
“I heard Dumbledore’s got a troupe of dancing skeletons coming,” Sirius said as they walked up the stairs in the Entrance Hall. He bent forward on the banister and peered through the crack between the doors to the Great Hall.
“I heard that too,” Peter agreed, joining Sirius at the banister. “Did you hear it, Remus?”
Remus, who was looking quite pale again and was flipping through his Transfiguration book, was not taking in a word of their conversation. “Hear what?”
“The dancing skeletons.”
“Remus, where have you been lately?” James asked disbelievingly. How could anybody living within the walls of the Hogwarts castle not know that it was Halloween?
“You may have been, but not your brain.”
“Sorry, I’ve just been a bit tired.”
“Visiting your mother again soon?” Sirius questioned, trying to make it seem offhand. The truth was that Remus’s visits looked as if they were going to be very frequent, monthly at the most. They usually occurred when Remus grew tired.
“Yeah, few days.”
They did not further this topic; it was obvious that Remus was, once again, becoming uneasy. Instead they focused on enjoying as much of the Halloween Feast as possible. It was just as everyone had told them – absolutely amazing. The rumor the boys had been discussing turned out to be very true; Dumbledore had indeed booked a troupe of dancing skeletons for their entertainment. The skeletons were decked out in navy blue top hats and blood red ties. The students cheered loudly as they performed tap dances and ballet. The only unfortunate event of the night was when one skeleton tossed the other in the air and failed to catch him. The skeleton’s bones broke apart and scattered about the Great Hall, landing in several plates of food.
October faded quietly into November, and slowly sheets of snow began blanketing the grounds. The students took advantage of this winter weather, having snowball fights and ice skating on the lake. The trees of the Forbidden Forest greatly resembled snow-covered Christmas trees, and the Whomping Willow looked perfectly harmless in the serene calm of the first snow of the season. The Willow, however, did not remain so harmless when the stupidity of several students provoked it. It was one week after the November full moon, and Remus, Peter, Sirius, James and Frank were enjoying a snowball fight on the grounds, prolonging the assignments they knew they would have to do later.
“You can’t keep ducking, Pettigrew!” James shouted playfully, quickly packing together the snow and getting ready to hurl it at Remus.
Remus, who was stooped down in the snow and working on his pile, was not exactly surprised when he felt a snowball hit his head. He should have known better than to keep his head down when James had snow in his possession. Brushing the snow out of his hair, Remus straightened up and caught Sirius off guard, sending a snowball straight into his face when he wasn’t looking.
“Nice one, Lupin!” he shouted, sending a snowball in his friend’s direction. Remus moved out of the way and Frank stumbled into the spot, getting a face full of snow.
The five boys were soon distracted by a commotion coming from behind them. They wheeled around and saw a group of third years crowded around the Whomping Willow. They couldn’t see what was going on from where they were standing, so they hurried forward to get a better look. The third years seemed to be cheering two boys on as they tried to see who could get the closest to the Whomping Willow without sustaining any major injuries.
“Are they mad?” Remus wondered, gaping at the students. “They’ll get killed.”
“Probably,” Sirius replied unthinkingly. He then thought about what he said and muttered, “sorry.”
It was only a matter of time before a short boy with red hair went reeling backwards and then was sprawled out in the snow. There was a collective intake of sharp breaths from the group. One student, a girl with blonde hair, bolted forward and knelt down in the snow beside the unconscious boy. Peering through a space between two boys, James could see that one side of the boy’s face was bloody and cut up. It looked as if he had almost lost his eye.
“Someone, get Madam Pomfrey,” she instructed in a firm, though evidently frightened, voice.
A third year Ravenclaw spun around and dashed as quickly as his legs would allow. There were frightened and shock whispers amongst the students, they hadn’t thought the situation would get that serious. They had just been having a bit of fun. It was a game, to see who could get the closest to the Whomping Willow without getting hurt. They hadn’t expected someone to actually get hurt.
Within moments Madam Pomfrey and the Ravenclaw who had gone to retrieve her came dashing down the snowy slope. The nurse dispersed the crowd with a wave of her hand and began to tend to the boy. The students cautiously backed away, some still craning their heads to get a look at the third year. James, Sirius, Peter, Remus and Frank heard the Ravenclaw say that his name was Davey Gundgeon and he was somewhat notorious for doing stupid things.
“What were they thinking, anyway?” James said as they trekked back to the castle. He thought that everyone would have heeded Dumbledore’s order to stay away from the tree.
Sirius shrugged, shaking his head. Then, grinning a bit, he said, “maybe that could be our prank against Crane – get him close enough to the Whomping Willow so he can get his head knocked off.”
He had only been joking, but the situation was not one that warranted such jokes. “That’s not funny, Sirius,” Remus snapped suddenly.
Sirius looked shocked. “Remus, you hate Crane.”
“Not enough for something like that to happen to him.”
Sirius leaned his head back and raised his eyebrows at James, who was standing on the other side of Remus. James shrugged and looked at Sirius in a way that clearly told him to drop the subject; clearly it was a touchy one. The five Gryffindor boys walked up to the castle in silence. When they entered the giant double doors into the Entrance Hall, they veered off to their right and into the Great Hall.
The chatter inside the Great Hall was loud and lively, the boys assumed that word about Davey Gundgeon had spread. The boys took the empty seats beside Lily Evans and Alice Gordon, who seemed to be wondering what all of the commotion was about. Frank leaned forward and began explaining what happened out on the grounds. Though just as Frank began, Professor Dumbledore had stepped up to the Staff Table and was calling for the students’ attention. Silence fell almost immediately all every student fixed their gaze upon the headmaster.
“I’m sure many of you are aware of the event that has just occurred on the grounds approximately fifteen minutes ago?” Dumbledore said, his gaze falling upon the faces of the third years who had been playing around the Whomping Willow. “For those of you who do not know, a third year Ravenclaw had the unfortunate experience of discovering why the Whomping Willow is named so. I did not believe that I would have to reiterate to you the important of staying away from the tree, but the events of today prove that I must. I am asking you only once more to stay away from it; if you do not listen to my request then your Heads of House will have to take the actions they see fit.” He cast his gaze around once more, making sure that the students were listening to him. “You may enjoy the rest of your dinner.”
After that day no student dared go near the Whomping Willow again. They all knew quite well that when Professor Dumbledore put his foot down, there was no chance that he would be lifting it up. As the middle of December neared, and Christmas, Professor McGonagall began making her way up and down the Gryffindor table during breakfast, taking down the names of the students who would be staying at the castle over the holidays. All of the Gryffindor first years would be going home, some more reluctantly than others. Sirius, had he been allowed to make his own decision, would have gladly stayed at the castle. Unfortunately, his parents expected him home and he was not about to defy them. There was always next year, anyway.
“Going home then?” James said as Professor McGonagall passed them by.
Sirius nodded grudgingly. “Mum and Dad expect the Black family heir to be present.”
James bit his bottom lip. “Bad luck, mate.” He turned to Remus, who was scrawling the last of his Charms homework down. “You’re going too?”
“Yeah, my mum and dad asked me to come home,” Remus replied scratching the tip of his chin with his quill. “What’s the incantation for the Levitating Spell, again?”
“Thanks. But, yeah, I’m going home.” He marked the last question and placed the sheet of parchment in his bag. “So, what do you guys do at Christmas?”
“My Christmas is just me and my parents,” Peter replied, pouring himself a goblet of pumpkin juice. “We open presents Christmas morning and have a nice dinner, pretty boring really.”
“Sounds a lot better than my parents’ big Christmas Eve party,” Sirius replied, screwing up his face in disgust. “Every year, seeing the same annoying people, makes you want to cry.”
“And I bet you do,” James said jokingly.
“Funny, Potter. Close though… I hide out in my room; trick my little brother into getting me food.”
“Wish I had a little brother to trick,” Remus said, grinning.
“And what do you do, Mr. Lupin? Extract Flobberworm mucus?”
“That’s the highlight of my Christmas; my parents always get me a nice Flobberworm.” Remus rolled his eyes. “My mum cooks, my grandparents come over, pretty much like what Peter does.” He took a bite of bacon. “But its fun, it’s the only time my grandparents come to visit.”
“They live far away?” James asked.
Remus shook his head. “No, they live pretty close; they just don’t get the chance to visit very often.” This was partially true; they had plenty of opportunities to visit. They just didn’t take many of these chances because Remus made them nervous. His grandmother and grandfather loved him very much, but what happened to him once a month always scared them. They were afraid they’d say something offensive or hurt him when they hugged him. Remus didn’t understand it, but he accepted it. Remus cleared his throat and turned to James. “What do you do for Christmas?”
“Same this as you and Peter, really,” James replied, shrugging his shoulders. “My parents are old, so my grandparents aren’t alive anymore, and both my parents were only children. So it’s just me, my mum and dad, and our house elf.”
“You have a house elf too?” Sirius asked, resting his head in his hand. He had been thinking of his family’s house elf, Kreacher. Kreacher was the house elf version of his parents. He had been brainwashed into believing all of their pureblood nonsense and often took to muttering foul phrases about half bloods and Muggleborns. Sirius did not consider Kreacher ideal company, particularly on a holiday. Kreacher could suck the holiday spirit out with one breath.
“Yeah, an elf named Willie; she’s been in the family since I was born.” He took a gulp of pumpkin juice. “My parents are old; my mum needed help around the house when I was a baby.”
“Our house elf has been around since before I was born, I think. Bloody menace, Kreacher is. Loves my mum though, he’d probably marry her if it was legal.”
Remus and Peter snorted.
“I don’t think he loves her that much, Sirius,” Peter said, his voice filled with laughter.
“Come spend a night at my house one day, and you’ll see I’m not joking.”
“I don’t know. Would I be welcome there?”
“You’re pureblood, aren’t you?” Peter nodded. “Then, yeah, you’d be welcome.”
“Guess I can never come round to your house, then,” Remus said in a false disappointed voice. “I’m a lowly half blood.”
“You’re not missing much, trust me.”
The boys finished off their breakfast, collected their books, made their way out of the Great Hall and up to Professor Flitwick’s classroom. They approached the classroom and saw the first years crowded around the classroom door, which appeared to be locked. From what they could see, none of their fellow first years knew what to do; the classroom had never been closed off to them before. Just as they were about to send Lily to find Professor McGonagall, the Transfiguration professor came walking up the corridor, looking very grim.
“Professor Flitwick will not be coming to classes until after the new year,” she explained, her mouth visibly twitching. There was a chorus of curious “whys?” from the first years. Professor McGonagall had to quiet them before continuing. “Professor Flitwick has been called to his home, he has received word that…” She broke off and looked thoughtful, as though she was seriously considering whether she should tell them what had happened. “Professor Dumbledore believes you should know… Professor Flitwick has been called home because his sister has been killed.”
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