Chapter 1 : i. The Animagi
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Yet we, for all that praise, could find
Nothing but darkness overhead.
It started with a rat.
When he first morphed into a rat, Peter Pettigrew was disappointed. Weeks earlier, Peter and Sirius had found a stag in the middle of their dormitory. James Potter was everything his Animagus embodied – a noble, powerful leader. Just like a stag was the king of the forest so James was the king of their little band of troublemakers, the Marauders. Two days after that, Peter stumbled over a dog curled up on the floor at the end of his bed.
“Maybe he should stay that way,” James remarked, cocking his head as he examined the shaggy mutt. “He’s much quieter.”
The dog whined and pawed at his nose. Several seconds later, Sirius Black stood in its place, robes in disarray. “I resent that,” he retorted with an easy grin.
James ruffled Sirius’s tousled black hair and then dodged out of the way of his lazy swipe. “What a good dog, Sirius,” he taunted.
Sirius shrugged before catching James off-guard in a headlock and planting a wet, sloppy kiss on his cheek. “Dogs are man’s best friend.”
James laughed and shoved him away, wiping the saliva off his cheek with the cuff of his robe.
“What do you think you’ll be, Petey?” James asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied honestly, “but I hope it’s as neat as yours.”
Weeks later, he found himself eye to eye with the cracked black leather of James’s loafer. He could sense his whiskers flicking back and forth as his nose twitched and he was embarrassingly aware of his long, naked tail. It was bizarre, being an animal and yet, still being conscious of everything around you. Morphing into an Animagus was nothing like transforming into a werewolf where all your inhibitions were lost to rage and the pull of the moon.
Peter’s first thought was, “I am a rat.”
His second thought was, “I’m a rat?”
Disappointment was a bitter pill to swallow and his nose twitched in aggravation. He quickly morphed back into his human state and was relieved to find how easy it was to go between bodies.
“What good is a rat?” he said bitterly, throwing himself down onto his bed like an angry child. “At least a stag and a dog can keep up with a werewolf.”
“Rats are pretty fast,” James supplied helpfully from his perch by the window. “At least, I can never catch them when I find them raiding the pantry.”
“You’re small enough too,” Sirius pointed out. “It will come in handy when we need to get past the Whomping Willow. You can avoid the branches to press the knot.”
“Brilliant,” James said, looking at Sirius in surprise.
“Why are you so shocked?” Sirius huffed.
Peter laughed at their banter and smiled; maybe being a rat wouldn’t be so bad after all.
They argued for days. Between hushed conversations in the presence of one irritable werewolf and hastily scribbled words on pieces of parchment passed during classes, the boys outlined how to reveal themselves to Remus. James argued that they should show him the incredibly difficult skill they had mastered before the next full moon. He hoped by doing so, the transformation would be less painful and perhaps Remus would be less likely to lose his mind if he knew his friends were beside him.
While James was the leader, Sirius was the one more likely to rebel. Disillusioned by his privileged upbringing in a family known for its involvement in the Dark Arts when he was Sorted into Gryffindor rather than Slytherin, Sirius had taken every opportunity that presented itself to drive the wedge between himself and his family even deeper.
Sirius suggested just showing up in the Shrieking Shack as Animagi. “We spent the last few years working ourselves to the bone, studying everything we could about becoming Animagi on top of our regular coursework. What if this doesn’t work, James? What if we can’t handle him as a werewolf and all that studying was for nothing? If we tell him what we’ve done, if we get his hopes up that this is something we could do for him and then we can’t? That would destroy him. I can’t…I won’t do that to him, James. At least this way, if we do fail, Remus won’t remember anything in the morning.”
If there was anything that Peter had learned in the years that he had known Sirius, it was that he was fiercely loyal to those closest to him. He kept pushing his side of the argument, citing Remus’s already fragile emotional well-being. Finally, like Peter knew he would, James relented; he could never say no to Sirius.
The four boys were seated around a table at the library after dinner, trying to work on their Potions essays on the ingredients of a Befuddlement Draught and its effects. It appeared to Remus, however, that Peter was the only one doing any actual work. He rubbed the end of his feathered quill along his chin as he flipped through his Potions book, looking for a list of ingredients.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Sirius and James with their heads bent over a piece of parchment that looked nothing like their essays. He frowned and the all too familiar feeling of loneliness washed over him.
He had been worried half-way through their first year when they became aware of his absence once a month – his excuse that his mother was ill and he went home to see her once a month seemed to placate the boys, until they noticed that he always returned with bloodied bandages and bruises. He almost laughed in relief when Sirius asked, as seriously as an eleven-year-old could, if someone at home had been hurting him. But boys would always be boys and despite Remus’s claims that things at home were fine, he later found out Sirius had followed him and Madam Pomfrey out one night…to the Whomping Willow.
James was the one who put it all together when they snuck into the Shrieking Shack a few days after and discovered the blood stains and the claw marks. It didn’t help that they were studying the phases of the moon in Astronomy.
They had seemed to accept him more than willingly, even going as far as to joke about his time of the month and how moody he got in the days leading up to it. Sirius especially seemed thrilled to add something else to his list of ways to piss his parents off – becoming best friends with a werewolf.
Things were fine until they had left for the summer. When they came back, though, sometimes the boys appeared more distant. The rest of the Marauders tended to go off together once in a while, seeking privacy in one of their secret meeting rooms, leaving Remus behind. They always claimed they were doing something illegal that he wouldn’t approve of, but it still stung that they didn’t think to include him. Over the next three years, they would go off together, citing dangerous and illegal activities. It didn’t happen frequently enough for him to become overly concerned. They still included him in everything else, acted like the band of brothers they were – bound together by a magic that ran deeper than blood. Things were fine…until recently. It was like they were avoiding him and talking about him behind his back. They would stop whispering when they saw him approach, giving him exaggerated smiles.
What were they hiding from him? He had long since abandoned his Potions essay, and now his quill was clenched tightly in his hands as he began to panic. They couldn’t leave him, could they? They had to share a dormitory so he didn’t think they would just decide to not be friends with him anymore. Then his thoughts turned darker…what if they were planning on exploiting his secret? But no, he reassured himself, because they had known for years. Why would they do anything about it now? He didn’t think he had done anything to upset them.
His frustration was bubbling and he felt like a tea kettle, ready to blow steam out of his ears. Their avoidance of him hurt more than he would care to admit, because these boys had become his best friends and he wasn’t sure what he would do if they didn’t feel the same about him.
He couldn’t take it anymore.
“Why won’t you tell me what you’ve been talking about?” Remus demanded.
The boys’ heads snapped up in surprise at his outburst. James blinked slowly for a few seconds before he smiled, steady and reassuring, which did nothing to soothe the anxiety running like livewire through Remus’s veins. He could feel his heart thrumming in his chest, a staccato beat thumping against his ribs. He thought he might vomit. “Don’t worry about a thing, Remus.”
But Remus was prone to worrying and when James said, ‘don’t worry,’ before they pulled a prank, well, that usually meant there was something for him to worry about. Remus narrowed his eyes but before he could reply with something stupid, his mind clearly not thinking outside of his panic, Sirius wrapped his long fingers around Remus’s bony hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Remus mashed his lips shut and sighed. Using the heel of his hand, he pushed his hair across his forehead and out of his face in frustration. Taking a deep breath, he said what had been weighing heavily on his mind for the last few days.
“You aren’t leaving me, are you?” he mumbled meekly.
“What?” Sirius yelped, attracting the attention of the librarian, Madam Pince, who was glaring at them as she made her way towards their table.
“There will be silence in my library,” she hissed. “I don’t even want to hear a whisper out of you, or you will leave immediately!”
“Sorry!” Peter squeaked, earning himself another glare. He shrunk in his seat under her piercing stare and picked up his quill quickly, pretending to work on his essay.
Sirius watched Madam Pince walk away and when she was preoccupied reprimanding another student, he turned to Remus. “How could you even think that, Remus?” He looked hurt at the accusation.
Remus picked at a stray thread dangling from his robe sleeve and shrugged. Looking up to make sure Madam Pince wasn’t near, he muttered, “You guys have been acting weird for a long time now…going off together, passing notes. Then lately you’ve practically been avoiding me. Did I do something wrong?”
“Remus, no,” James whispered, horrified. “We never meant to make you think that. We’ve been…” he trailed off, looking at Sirius, who nodded. He continued, “We’ve been working on something for you, an experiment. We don’t want to tell you about it in case it fails…we don’t want to disappoint you.”
Remus was ashamed that he would doubt the love and loyalty that had brought these four boys together in the first place. They had done nothing but support him since they discovered his secret.
“Remus?” Sirius murmured.
Remus’s breath hitched in his throat when he turned and realised Sirius was inches from his face. He could see the flecks of blue and green in Sirius’s steel grey eyes that were staring at him intently.
“Are you listening to me very carefully?” Remus nodded without hesitation. “Good. Remus, if you ever think we would just up and abandon you, I will hex you into next week. What we’re doing…we’re doing this for you, all right? You’ll find out soon enough. I promise.”
Remus averted his gaze, unnerved by the serious tone of Sirius’s voice. “All right,” he replied, his voice wavering. “I’m sorry,” he added. He looked up at all of them and saw they were all staring at him, no hint of remorse or regret on their faces. They meant what they said – they were doing this for him, and he would just have to deal with it until he found out what had been keeping them away from him.
He didn’t have to wait long. Three days later, he stood inside the Shrieking Shack staring forlornly out a dirty, smudged window at a full moon. His clothes were folded neatly on top of an armoire, out of the way of sharp claws and an insatiable hunger to destroy everything in this prison. Except it was not the shack that kept Remus a prisoner, but his own body, a slave to the pull of the moon. He bit back a sob as he felt his bones crack and reform. He doubled over, dragging his fingernails sharply down his arms as his mouth opened in a silent scream. He hated this part, hated it almost as much as losing his mind to that of the werewolf. He fell to his knees and cried out in agony. That was the last thing he remembered.
Remus woke the next morning, disoriented and sore, but he was more surprised to find that he didn’t feel as painful as he usually did. He blinked wearily against the hazy early morning sun and looked down at his body.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. His skin was mottled with bruises, as usual, but there were hardly any claw marks. The werewolf lost its mind with rage when locked inside the shack and it usually took its anger out on Remus’s body.
He heard a small moan and he whipped his head around to find its source. He found Sirius curled up in a ball in the far corner, dried blood under his ear from what appeared to be a deep cut.
“Oh no, oh no,” he whimpered, stumbling to his feet and rushing over, only to fall down to his knees again once he reached Sirius. Remus’s hands fluttered nervously, rushing to touch every part of Sirius he could, making sure he was breathing, was alive. “Sirius?”
The boy groaned and tried to burrow under his arm. Remus shook him, gently, forcing him to wake. “Remus?”
“Oh, Sirius!” Remus cried out, exhaling loudly. “What the hell is going on? What are you doing here? Are you okay?” he spat out rapidly.
Sirius yawned loudly and rolled over onto his back, leaning on his elbows so he could look at Remus properly. His face split into a wide grin. “It worked!” he exclaimed, his eyes perusing Remus’s mostly uninjured body.
“What worked?” Remus asked in annoyance. “You shouldn’t be here! I could have killed you. Did I…” he swallowed hard, his fingers pressing feather-light touches along the already scabbing wound behind Sirius’s ear. “…did I hurt you?” Remus was horrified and felt sick to his stomach; the weight of what he had done suffocating him.
“No!” Sirius yelled, gripping Remus’s arms tightly, shaking some sense into him. “Well, yes,” he admitted, “but I wasn’t a human. It’s okay, Remus.”
“What do you mean you weren’t a human? I hurt you,” he cried.
Sirius grinned sheepishly. His fingers tangled in the curls of Remus’s hair at the nape of his neck and he pulled Remus closer, resting his forehead against Remus’s shoulder. “We did this for you, Remus,” Sirius mumbled into his naked collarbone.
“I don’t understand,” he whispered.
The floor creaked behind him and he turned his head sharply, finding James and Peter standing there, brilliant grins on their faces. Then just as suddenly as they were there, they weren’t. In their places, a stag stood proudly with a large, grey rat at its feet. He felt Sirius’s body move away from him and when he turned back to the boy he was kneeling in front of, his fingers got caught in the dirty, matted fur of a dog.
“Impossible,” he breathed, looking at them in astonishment.
James was the first to turn back into a human. “Do you like your surprise?”
Remus shook his head. “I still don’t understand…why?” He tilted his head in confusion. The dog whined and nudged his hand, begging him to continue petting it. He was staring right into Sirius’s grey eyes, it was unsettling.
James came to sit beside him and Peter followed. Remus looked up suddenly. “Madam Pomfrey? She’ll be here soon, you’ll be in trouble.”
“It’s still early,” James reassured him. “She’ll be down in another twenty minutes. We’ve timed everything perfectly.”
“We did this for you, Remus,” Peter explained. “This way we could be with you when you are a werewolf.”
“But, how?” Disbelief coloured his tone. “You’re Animagi. That’s…that’s extremely difficult.”
Sirius turned back into a human and the look on his face was positively gleeful. “We’re brilliant,” he declared.
“It took us nearly three years to master it,” James admitted.
“You’ve kept this a secret from me for three years? Even you, Sirius?”
“Hey!” Sirius exclaimed. “I’m excellent at keeping secrets.”
“It’s why you’ve been going off together, why you had been avoiding me lately, right?” Everything had begun to fall into place and Remus felt relieved that this was nothing like he had imagined.
But then disjointed memories ran like a film reel in his head. He remembered the feel of cool grass beneath his paws, the deep, musky smell of the forest. “Please tell me you didn’t take me out of this shack last night,” he begged, eyes widened in shock.
“It was easier to control you out in the open,” James replied, as if it was no big deal. “You weren’t as angry.”
Remus could feel an angry flush spread across his chest and neck. “I could have killed someone, you fools!” he yelled. “What if you couldn’t control me? How could I live with myself?”
He panicked and Sirius moved to wrap an arm around his shoulders to comfort him. Remus shrugged him off and stood up, pacing. “No! What were you thinking? I can’t believe…oh my god, I can’t believe you did this.”
The boys glanced at each other in silent communication. It was James who spoke first. “We’re going to head back to the dormitory, okay, Remus? Madam Pomfrey will be here soon. We’re just going to let you calm down a bit. Then we’re going to talk about last night, okay? Everything is fine, Remus.”
Remus nodded stiffly and turned his back on them, blinking back tears of anger. He found his clothes unharmed where he left them and slipped his trousers on carefully. He left his shirt off for now, knowing Madam Pomfrey would have made him take it off anyway to check for wounds. He could hear the quiet creak of the door being opened and his friends’ hushed voices as they disappeared down the tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow.
He released a watery sigh as he slid down the wall in the corner and buried his head in his hands. He felt silly for getting so worked up about it. He should be thankful, he told himself, that his friends were so dedicated and loyal to him. They could have gotten into a lot of trouble for what they did for him. They also could have died in their attempts to become Animagi. Remus read about them, studied them extensively for his classes, but never in a million years did he anticipate this.
His best friends were insane; there were no other words to describe them. The anger took over quickly, overwhelming his appreciation. His emotions were still tied into the rage of the werewolf. He could have killed someone last night. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. They hadn’t warned him of their plans; he had no way to predict what could have happened. They were lucky nothing did happen.
He heard the door again, the sharp creak and the low groan as the door slid across the uneven floor. The slow, even footsteps of Madam Pomfrey as she made her way through the shack sounded like a death sentence. Did she know what happened last night? Would they expel him if they found out?
She smiled sympathetically when she saw him. “Let’s see the damage today, Mr Lupin,” she said, crouching down in front of him. She twisted him back and forth, poked the bruises blossoming on his abdomen and raised her eyebrows in disbelief. “You look great today,” she replied in surprise. “Do you feel well enough to go straight back to your dormitory?”
“Yeah,” Remus muttered, pushing himself to his feet. “I’m fine.”
“I’ll say,” Madam Pomfrey remarked. “Whatever you did last night, keep doing it. You hardly have a mark on you.”
Remus didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. Instead, he thanked her for checking on him and followed her silently through the shack and the tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow until they emerged out onto the grounds. He trailed slowly behind her as they got to the double front doors that opened to the cavernous Entrance Hall. Remus felt like there were a million stairs between him and the Gryffindor common room; he waved goodbye to Madam Pomfrey on the first floor and then continued up to the seventh.
He stood in front of the Fat Lady for a few minutes without saying anything. She huffed impatiently. “I’m not getting any younger!” she exclaimed. “Password?”
“Murtlap,” Remus responded.
The Fat Lady’s portrait swung open, allowing him entrance into the common room. It was still early enough, and on a Saturday no less, so there were only a few students in the room, playing chess or chatting by the fire. He didn’t see the remaining Marauders so he trudged up the stairs to the Fifth Year boys’ dormitory.
“Hey,” he muttered awkwardly when he opened their dormitory door. He noticed Sirius had showered, his dark hair stuck to his forehead, and all the dried blood gone from his neck.
“Look,” he sighed, “I’m sorry for how I reacted. I can’t believe that you did this for me. But you have to understand where I’m coming from. If I had bitten someone, if something had gone wrong, everyone would know what I am. I can’t risk being expelled from Hogwarts. This castle is my home - it’s our home - and I think you can understand how I would feel if I could never come back. For the first time in my life, I’m surrounded by people who don’t know the monster that I am and can’t shun me for it. And you…what would I do without all of you? You accepted me for what I am, no questions asked. And now you do this for me…it’s just overwhelming.”
“I thought about telling you,” James said. “Before we even did it.”
“I probably would have told you ‘no’ if you had,” Remus admitted.
“You were great last night, though, Remus,” Sirius added. “I mean, you were a little wild when we were all in the shack, but once you got outside you seemed to have fun. At least it kept you from mauling yourself.”
Remus smiled. “Yeah, I feel great this morning. But…I’ll always be worried about hurting people.” No matter how nice it was to not have to spend the morning in the infirmary, if he hurt someone, if he forced this curse on anyone else just because he wanted a little bit of fun, it would kill him.
“That’s what we’re there for,” James replied. “We kept ourselves mostly in the forest away from the town. You wandered a little bit but Sirius and I managed to keep you under control.”
Sirius shuffled over to Remus and wrapped his arms tightly around him, and then he pulled back just enough to look him directly in the eyes. “Just say the word, Remus, and we won’t do it. But we all agree that it would be good for you.”
Remus swallowed past the lump in his throat and squeezed Sirius, smelling the pine fresh soap and subtle undertone of boy that was distinctly Sirius. “I…thank you,” he mumbled. “You are all the very best of friends I could have ever hoped for.”