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Chapter 15 : Black Christmas
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Firstly I want to apologise to the wonderful readers who read and enjoyed Caprice and left beautiful reviews for being MIA for this long. Its taken me forever to type this chapter but I finally managed it. I can only apologise sincerely for the unexcusable delay in getting it out. There are multiple character povs here, (including a new one!)
Secondly its great to be back after the long absence and I hope I haven't lost the great readers I had for this story. :( anyway, Enjoy, it's finally here! :) :)
Everything was slowly turning back to the way it was.
The way it was, was all we could hope for really. Even as we all acknowledged that moving on was the only option left to us, the world seemed to be giving us a small measure of faith. As the dust settled in the aftermath of the attack our lives fell back into the ordinary we now had much appreciation for.
There was a loud tap against the membrane of my dream. I tried to ignore it and stay in the unconscious world. The second tap was louder and more irritating.
My eyes opened reluctantly and I lay back in reality with my head in my pillow. As I watched the nightstand the glowing alarm clock hands moved to 2.15 am.
The third pebble hit my window with a loud tap and I yawned and stretched under the covers. I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I pulled the covers back and slid off the edge of the bed. The fire had died out in my upstairs bedroom leaving it dim and cold. I pulled the nightgown off the bed post and wrapped it over my pyjamas. Sirius had been a frequent visitor again in my room after that dreadful day. Everything we’d gone through in a few hours had brought us closer than either of us ever expected. It seemed the only good that had come out of the tragedy. And as it had been when we were neighbours he’d taken great delight in waking me up in the middle of the night.
I pulled the curtains apart and looked out the snow glazed window. Only the dark shadow was visible of the boy that stood on the powdery white pavement throwing stones at my window. The smile returned easily to my face as I pulled the latch and pushed the window up.
Instead of apparating straight into my room as he had done the past week, he began to climb up to my second story bedroom gripping the icy brick wall. I laughed at his boyish antics and left the window to light the fire.
The fireplace was alight and crackling warmly again when I heard the unmistakable thud of him stepping over my windowsill and landing on the carpet.
“Took you long enough,” I mocked, taking my time poking the grate so I could pound on his ego a bit. He remained silent and I could almost picture him making a face behind my back. I heard the lock click as he closed the window again.
“You know,” I said, placing the poker back in its hook, “I wouldn’t forget about your manly wall-climbing abilities just because you took to apparating.” I smiled almost condescendingly turning back to him.
Sirius stood wordlessly by the window with his head hung low in the darkness of my shadow where I couldn’t make out his face. My smile faded instantly.
“Sirius… Something wrong?”
His answer was to simply raise his head so that the light caught his eyes. My throat clenched tight as my eyes fell upon the sharp features I knew well.
“Regulus…” I stuttered in a raspy voice.
His face was absolutely livid. Jaw set and teeth clenched, his fierce eyes bore into mine reflecting the fire burning behind me. I hadn’t truly feared him, until that moment. I thought any second he would leap forward and sink his teeth into me, killing me instantly.
“Where. Is. He?” Regulus spoke though his teeth, his anger making him more formidable that I’d ever imagined. My pulse began to rise and I could feel my heart thumping against my ribs.
I stepped sideways inching towards the door, which only caused him to advance further into my room. I was cornered. I knew he was armed by the way his right hand stayed clenched in his pocket. I on the other hand, was not.
The fear and panic began to paralyze me quickly and in my haste I back-stepped too quickly colliding against the round glass coffee table. The table titled and the books slid off it, toppling onto the floor with several loud thuds but I threw my hands around the table and managed to stop it from crashing.
“Who are you talking about?” I said positioning the table defensively between us, because I wanted to stall him. I could only think of one person he’d be searching for in my room and I wouldn’t give him up in a million years.
“Don’t!” he kicked Casper’s feeding bowl and it flew across the carpet under my bed. Regulus stared at me again with his murderous glare, “Don’t play coy with me! I know you know. So just stop defending him,”
I was now equally angry at him for his audacity to show up in my room like he did. But he did have a wand and I none, so I had to play it smart. To give him incentive to not attack, I put my hands in front of me so he could see them unarmed as I slowly backed away from him towards my bedside table.
“Ok…You need to know something… about someone”
The look he had was less angry, more irritated. I knew he would not be patient much longer. Somehow I had to distract him, long enough for me to pull out the drawer of my nightstand and pick up my wand. The answer came before I could even complete my thoughts.
“Leave. Her. Alone.”
A satisfied smirk played on Regulus’ face before he turned to the voice he and I both knew well. Sirius stood with his wand tip pointed directly at his brother. When both boys stood in my room each towering over me, the room seemed to shrink in size.
“You spineless, despicable, pathetic, blood-trait-”
“What do you want?” Sirius cut across his brother’s stream of insults.
“I want what you took from that shop!” Regulus spat through his teeth. He was clearly losing control and I edged away from him in fear.
“What are you talking about? I-”
“Stop lying” Regulus said in a quiet but terrifying voice that seemed to echo back. He breathed trying to gain control of himself, a battle he was losing as panic and fear crept visibly into his eyes like a corrosive poison.
He looked into the fire as he retold, “The Death-eaters, they’re furious. They didn’t know how important it was to get that locket out of there! The Dark Lord will kill them if he finds out they let us do it!”
“YOU JOINED THEM!?” Sirius’ eyes bulged as he hissed at his brother, “YOU MORON! They’re psychotic murderers! ” Sirius thundered making me jump. I hadn’t seen Sirius that angry in a while and I was beginning to think this wasn’t going to end well.
“SHUT UP!” Regulus pointed his wand again at his brother, “You! We almost had it! And you! YOU BURNT THE PLACE TO THE GROUND!” with each syllable his voice rose. I was now pressed against the wall of my room wondering what was happening. I couldn’t make sense out of anything.
Just as I was about to ask when I couldn’t stay silent any longer, Sirius ran forwards tackling Regulus to the ground in an instant. A yelped in shock and the next second there was a sound like a whip-crack and the room was left with nothing but the wet foot prints of melted snow and the smell of damp earth.
I sank into the rug in the middle of my room, too shocked to even think clearly. Again, all too soon it seemed, my head was swimming in questions.
What on earth was Regulus after?
Who were Death eaters? And what or who was this Dark Lord? Things that sounded like they belonged in the pages of a fantasy novel.
“They’re psychotic murderers!” Sirius’s recent words resounded in my head and I trembled involuntarily as a chill ran down my spine. Surely Regulus wasn’t stupid enough to join a gang of murderers?
The words were so foreign and unpleasant. I imagined a dark creature that indulged in death, a modern-day Grim Reaper. In the magical world, that was more likely to be a Dementor.
At that moment my wiser subconscious surfaced, pulling me back to a memory not too long ago.
"What are they?... are those Dementors?"
“Dementors don’t talk… and they definitely do not hunt!”
But they did.
Were they the Death-Eaters Regulus was talking about? If they were, they destroyed nearly half of Hogsmeade, and almost killed me and my friends. I shuddered to think what the Dark Lord they served under was capable of.
The thought that Regulus could be one of the cloaked figures that hunted us down, deeply disturbed me. It oddly made sense for him to find me here today. My eyes closed, as terror consumed me.
How many of them I wandered, walked among us, unsuspecting, sat alongside us at classes, ate with us in the great hall.
If it was true, would we ever be safe again… not even at Hogwarts.
A loud knock on the door made my heart stop and caused me to yelp in fright again.
“Capri? Are you alright in there!” my mother caller though the door.
Recovering from the shock, I rubbed my chest as I answered “Fine, Mother…”
“What on earth was all that noise?”
I had to think fast, “I was just… watching the telly!”
“It’s two in the morning! Shut it off and go back to bed!”
I was surprised that my tormented self could manage to be impatient and irritated at my mother while I slid back into bed, to stay wide awake possibly for the rest of my life.
The next day I woke to find a small night owl sitting on my desk with a small piece of parchment in its beak. It had a single line penned by a familiar hand.
Everything’s OK, I’ll explain when I meet you. Try not to worry – S.
It said in a quick scrawl. Only thing I knew for sure was that when Sirius started a letter with “Everything’s OK”, everything was not OK.
Sirius, who had inhabited my room day in and day out after the Hogsmeade chaos, vanished again into thin air. I sunk slowly into my lonely gloom until Lily threatened me with bodily harm to meet the rest of them at Diagon Alley on the morning of Christmas Eve.
I finally agreed and with the pretence of shopping for Christmas decorations I went to join them outside the Leaky Cauldron. It was the first day out for Nora as well and spending the day with the rest of the girls sounded like a splendid idea. It was all I needed to get my mind off everything else I couldn’t control.
The streets of London were decorated randomly as always on Christmas Eve. The only thing I had liked about living in London was the fact that I could quickly escape into the much more exciting Diagon Alley. In the heart of London, Diagon Alley was much more festive at Christmas than the rest of the town in every sense of the word.
I walked alongside James as we explored the shops, staying out of site from the girls somewhat ahead the winding road. It wasn’t a difficult task since the paved pathway was overflowing with seemingly every witch, wizard, goblin and elf in the country.
“Hagrid!” waved James, and I turned to look at the friendly half-giant who had just appeared out of a stone tunnel to the left.
“Alright there, James?”
Hagrid and James had always been good friends since we came to Hogwarts and James developed the habit of stealing the snitch from the Quidditch chests Hagrid was in charge of guarding. I suppose Hagrid remembers what it was like to be that age.
When I greeted Hagrid and turned back to see where the girls were ahead of us, my heart sank a little. I still had a lot of trouble accepting that Jason was a part of Capri’s life. So seeing them reunited, with her wrapped up in his arms like that, urrrgh… really kicked the irrational animal inside me.
Needless to say I absolutely hated admitting that he may be a bigger part of her life than me, but I knew the harder I held on, the further I’d be pushed and the more painful it would be. So I always… walked away.
I waved Hagrid good-bye and pushed my way into Quality Quidditch Supplies dragging James into the store by his collar.
“OK OK! Stop pulling, what do you want?”
“Ok! You go see what they’ve got and I’m gonna see if they’ve got any more models, sound good?”
Since he was six, James had collected all the different players that the shop had ever sold. His enthusiasm of the hobby had not faded.
I headed deeper into the shop pushing past the crowd inside in hope of finding a quiet corner.
“Do you have these in red?” a man asked to my left as I walked past.
“No, I’m sorry sir that’s the last pair,”
“How about these?”
“They are all stacked near the window over there,”
I bustled past many people till I found a dimly lit corner behind two mannequins wearing red and black robes of the Dartmouth Daggers. Becoming Animagi brought its share of downs with it, insatiability to start with, which I presumed was to replace all the energy we lost each time we transformed, and then there were the emotions. Everything was heightened, happiness, pain, anger, passion, lust. It was extremely hard to control it, especially when there was a source that triggered it. Where one emotion ended another took off. It felt like holding a ticking time-bomb in my hands.
There was only one consolation. Two of my best friends were going through the same.
I breathed heavily as if trying to release the anger and frustration though the exhaled air. The lingering image of her in Jason’s arms seemed however to be stamped into the back of my eye-lids. To make matters worse I couldn’t escape her just by avoiding her.
I could feel her. Her bracelet channelled all her emotions straight to me.
She was happy to see him. Longing, empathy… she had missed him. Her heart weighed with such complex emotions I couldn’t decipher them.
I couldn’t take it any longer. I pulled the silver ring roughly out of my finger, leaving a bruise. The ring dropped from my slack hand onto the stone floor and spun like a top before falling on its side. The jet-black stone embedded in its centre gleamed with a violet lustre from the magic it harboured. The relief was instant. I breathed freely deeply as if I’d surfaced from a dark abyss.
“What are you doing?”
I looked up to see James peering down at me over his glasses, “Are you ok?”
He’d found me.
I closed my eyes for a second before nodding, “Yeah, fine.”
James helped me up and I discreetly pocketed the ring.
“Come on, Peter’s waiting outside,” said James as he led me to the door.
“There you boys are! I thought you two’d gotten lost in there,” Peter laughed waving at us when we stepped out of the shop, “Blast this weather!” he said shoving his hands back into the deep pockets of his black leather jacket.
“When did you get here?” asked James.
“‘Bout five minutes ago,” he shrugged, “arrived with Remus. We’ve checked into our usual rooms already. Can’t wait for the full-”
“SHHHHHH” we both vigorously silenced him as his enthusiasm overwhelmed him again.
“Oh come on! Who could possibly be listening to us in this?” he indicated the overcrowded street.
He had a point.
We shuffled quickly back to the Leaky Cauldron to collect Remus and to deposit everything that filled three sacks, all of which James had purchased in the five minutes we’d been inside Quidditch Supplies.
I knocked twice on Remus’ door to give him warning before I entered without permission.
Remus sat on the wooden armchair facing the window opposite with a thick book laid open on his folded lap. How predictable.
“How was shopping?” he asked without turning.
“Great,” I answered simply.
“How are you?”
I sighed, “Just peachy, Remus!”
I heard a quiet laugh as he closed the book and turned to face me. He caught the bar of Honeydukes’ chocolate I flung at him barely an inch before it hit his shoulder. His reflexes were getting better, we both noticed. Remus clenched his jaw for a second and the sighed.
“Thanks,” he said holding out the bar, “I’ve been running low”.
He looked thin and worn out as he always did when the moon crept closer. Remus always admitted that he felt a lot better with a good extra dose of sugar in him and his favourite way to do so was with chocolate. Who could blame him really?
“What are you reading? School’s not for another week and a half”
“I’m just trying to make sure this idiotic theory of yours doesn’t kill you three since I’ve lost the battle of trying to stop you from going through with it”
I rolled my eyes, “For the one hundredth time, it’s not a theory!”
“So you say,”
“So the book says,”
“And that’s enough?”
“You’re just not going to give up are you?” I said knowing the answer already.
“Nope,” Remus reopened the book to the page he had previously marked and read on.
I could understand his apprehension. If the roles were reversed I was certain they would have had a much harder time convincing me to allow their safety be sacrificed for an experiment with no solid evidence of success. Then again I did like it when the odds were always against us.
The only proof however, that the Animagi were the best protection against werewolves came from a 145 year old diary that belonged to a Werewolf hunter, Doctor Gabriel Mobt. He had explained that after losing his two sons to the curse it had become his mission to hunt and kill the werewolf that had bitten them both. In order to do what many other’s had failed to so far, he buried himself in extensive research.
His diary told of many things about werewolves, some that Remus himself had not known. Finally he’d concluded that only an Animagus could provide a guaranteed protection. Although any animal form would have worked, the hunter spent the next three years studying to become a wolf, the Animagus he chose to identify as closely as possible with his enemy.
“It’s going to be fine,” I assured him as he read on avoiding my eyes.
“You don’t know that,” he said flatly, looking up swiftly from his book, “and this is more than just dangerous, we’re breaking about a hundred rules!”
I pretended to be mortified by this, “Oh yes, we must run amok in horror, for this is the first time we’ve ever broken the rules,” I said sarcastically.
“Don’t be ridiculous! Sirius, this isn’t like stupid school rules,” Remus said in a desperate voice as if worried I was being too light-hearted about this, “these are laws of the Ministry!”
There was another double-knock on the door and Peter walked into the room,
“Hey… What’s going on?” he asked immediately picking up on the palpable tension in the room.
I got up off the bed, “Remus here is having a hard time seeing us grow up,” I commented casually.
Peter smiled and tilted his head to the side with mocking sympathy, “Oh come on now, mother hen! We’ll write to you every day! Promise!” he said opening his arms wide for a hug.
Remus laughed amid a scornful look, “Get off!”
“Ahh motherly love, there’s nothing quite like it,” James commented leaning against the door frame.
After lunch we retired again to the busy streets, but this time with a different agenda in mind. With so many people flocked around every shop, I doubt they even noticed the four boys that disappeared beyond the ivy walls of St. Powell’s Cemetery.
The ivy ran thickly along the walls but left the stone archway and the rusty iron gates at the entrance clear and untouched.
“Alohomora!” whispered Peter.
There was no click of a lock, but the gates parted slowly with an ominous creek. The old cemetery was as silent as the grave. Literally. It even seemed to keep the busy chatter from the neighbouring street at bay.
We could hear the soft rustle of leaves, the creak of each branch of every tree.
“Don’t think anyone’s home,” said Peter turning over his shoulder with a smirk.
“Well…” James said slowly as he surveyed the misty graveyard with wary eyes, “we’re not exactly crashing a birthday party, are we?”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “There are loads of people here, they’re all just... Six feet under!”
Remus slapped my arm with the back of his hand, “Have some respect, huh?”
James and Peter laughed.
I shrugged and followed them while James led us to a willow tree near the east corner. Even in the middle of the day the edgy hideaway had a thin layer of fine mist scattered close to the leaf strewn floor amid the rows of desolate tombstones. The cold winter weather had not improved the slightest.
“Let’s get to work,” I said picking up one of the heavy bags we’d brought along.
Hours later, we were heading back to the Leaky Cauldron amid the customers leaving Diagon Alley with their shopping. No one seemed to notice that only three of the four boys who left the tavern had returned to their rooms.
We bid Tom the inn keeper good night and trudged up the wooden stairs to our rooms to lie awake in our beds while the rest of them fell asleep. The last footsteps headed upstairs and the doors creaked shut leaving the tavern peacefully silent in the dark.
Crouched under James’ invisibility cloak for better protection we headed back downstairs. The lamps were put out and the fire burned low, the pub was empty.
James pulled out a small silver clock we had invested in a few months ago from his pocket. The several different lunar cycles moved on the face of the clock like cogwheels, all interconnected to one another. James studied the clock for a brief second.
“We have six minutes before the full moon…”
When we executed a perfectly planned prank we always felt the exact same rush. The identical rush we felt then as we now raced towards Remus trying to beat the full moon.
What we were too preoccupied and exhilarated to notice, was the fear.
“Made it!” I called as all three of us skidded to a halt in front of the magically marked circle in the middle of the graveyard. Sirius and Peter nodded. We had three minutes to spare before we could enter the circle we’d marked with strong enough magic to not allow anyone to walk in or out after it was activated with the appearance of the full moon.
With the prospect of meeting Remus on the other side all three of us began to simultaneously transform. We crouched on the leafy ground falling to our hands and knees and closed our eyes letting the transformation begin.
Sirius always had a fondness for dogs, and chose one for his Animagus too. With his bear-like physique, claws and teeth his Animagus allowed us some measure of reassurance with the unknown side of Remus. Peter’s chosen Animagus was a rat, useless for brawn but infinitely useful for brilliance.
I wanted my Animagus to have both purpose and uniqueness. So I chose the stag, as had been on our family crest for generations.
I was always the fastest of the three of us to transform, but I needed the extra time to make the connection with my foreign Animagus mind. I breathed slowly calming my body from the quick run and focused, clearly picturing the anatomy of my alias.
The first sign was my human skin morphing quickly into the thick dark brown fur of the stag. The hair began to sprout sporadically over my face covering nearly everything except my eyes, nose and lips. I could feel my bones thicken as they adjusted in height. I shifted my weight forwards bearing down on my knuckles as my wrists and ankles began to thin and elongate ending as thick tough hooves. With a queasy feeling my spine began to extend and at the same time my shoulder blades began to pull forwards and downwards. My knee and elbow joints rearticulated with a quick jolt and I was now perfectly positioned on all fours.
To add the finishing touches to my physique, my short tail grew out and the top red brown coat of fur began to develop. My face began its usual changes. The stag’s large wide eyes moved to the sides of my face as the snout protruded outwards forming my nose. It gave me a wider field of vision but less ability to focus on something with both eyes. My colour vision I could sense was slowly turning into a bicolour spectrum of blue and yellow hues. The most distinctive factors were the antlers. They extended from my skull branching out with a coating of velvet that granted blood supply to it. Once completely transformed I waited for my Animagus to make a connection.
As has been each time I’d transformed before, the Stag’s mind was every bit as strong as his physical body. Its alertness and intelligence was far superior than I would have ever imagined it. Once the minds became bonded, every signal my brain received from the new body made sense. It was as if a switch had turned on in my brain. Although I could see fewer colours, it gave me an unparalleled advantage, I was able to spot movements so small I could hardly believe it. I also noticed that I could see far better in the dark than my human eyes and even see colours human vision could not.
I gained signals from the vibrations on the earth beneath my feet. My Animagus was able to identify what they meant, mostly to identify if there was a threat in the vicinity. Its size and speed was also something I could make out just by paying attention to the earth’s vibrations. With it I could judge if I could stand my ground or needed to find safety. Although what fascinated me most was the night vision, my primary guides were hearing and smell. Although the organs worked exactly the same as humans they were infinitely more sensitive. They flooded my brain with impulses that were designed to guide me. When the bonding was complete and our minds had synchronised the stag’s mind required one key piece of information.
A stag would not be complete without its herd, therefore it urged me to identify the members of my herd. Its primary instinct was to protect its herd at all costs. It assured me in many ways that I had made the right choice with my Animagus. I knew my ‘herd’ to be on either side of me and beyond the circle we’d marked. But how does one protect its herd from one of its own?
Peter stayed atop my antlers safe from being trampled as Sirius and I stepped through the enchanted barrier. The willow tree that had been invisible due to the enchantment reappeared. Its branches were still, undisturbed by the wind that could not blow freely though the spell.
I could smell him before I could see him. Remus’ scent was strong and foreign. My stag Animagus warned me against approaching him. I however had to judge what was best with my human instincts. Remus lay resting against the large roots of the willow panting deeply with the transformation so imminent.
A twig snapped beneath Sirius’ giant paw and Remus’ head snapped around to see who it was.
I was shocked to see him. The sweat had plastered streaks of his hair onto his face, his eyes were bloodshot and I saw a flash of the canines that were already beginning to protrude. He tried to stand up but his strength failed him and instead he collapsed on the leaves. I instinctively took a step forward but stopped as I heard a loud bark.
I recognised the warning timbre of the voice and turned to Sirius. His eyes tried to communicate what his speech had been unable to. I nodded so he could understand.
“James?... Sirius?” Remus said as he gasped for breath, “This is unbelievable!” he said looking at our Animagi, “Wow….” He was struggling to breathe, “Where’s Peter?”
Just as he requested, Peter climbed down and I lowered him to the ground.
For a second he smiled at us, a weak grateful smile but the next, with a groan Remus doubled up clutching his stomach. I took another involuntary step forward.
“No! Don’t come closer” Remus cautioned with his hand outstretched, “Just… just stay… please!”
I heeded his appeal.
Sirius and I both craned our necks and as the thick clouds shifted above us. The pearline silver moon had never before been so menacing.
Pure white light of the moon streamed into the clearing where we stood splashing everything in its path in silver. It hit Remus full in the face and for the first time since we had become friends I saw sheer desperate fear in his eyes.
As we watched his pupils dilated. His blue eyes turned yellow and then a deep amber. He looked up at us as he lay on his side, and began to splutter as the conversion began.
“Get… away…” were the last words he spoke that night.
In the spotlight cast by the moon Remus began to tremble, his breathing coming in quick shallow breaths as he struggled. The next second he was on his back and his arms flung out like wings, his nails clawing into the damp earth as they elongated. Remus seemed pinned to the forest floor by his wrists and ankles and he struggled fiercely. His muscles tensed as we watched helplessly and the rigid body began to convulse rapidly.
Sirius emitted a soft whimper almost taking a step forward but it was my turn to stop him with a slight grunt. Sirius bent his head low in dismay at the sight of Remus struggling with the demon within him.
As we watched his jowls opened and we could see sets of sharp teeth pulling out of his gums as they grew into vicious canines. His skin stretched over his growing body. The taut skin looked shockingly waxy as if he was mummifying before our very eyes. Above my head Peter gave a terrified squeak. My ears automatically flicked to the sound. My stag brain began to deduce the one before me as the threat and then the ones beside me as the threatened. Either way it was clear I had to choose my herd.
It was as if he was being pulled up by an invisible force through his naval, without warning Remus’ entire body bent backwards with several chilling cracks and he let out his first scream that pierced the dead stillness of the night with horror. The sound was more a howl that it was a scream.
It made my throat clench and my hair stand on end as it ripped through me.
The first wave of the transformation had passed through him and Remus lay panting on the ground again. He held up his hand as a warning to stop us from coming nearer. Although I had no idea how I could possibly help I did want to at least stay close to him to let him know he would be alright if nothing else, but I heeded his plea.
Remus’ second scream was longer, louder and more profound. It carried anger along with the unbearable pain he released. Beneath his stretched waxy skin we could see Remus’ bones lengthen, break, rearticulate with Remus shrieking in pain all the while. I felt utterly helpless and at a loss for what to do. I turned to Sirius who looked solemnly back at me. Becoming Animagi seemed next to useless, as we stood there unable to help our friend. As the changes completed Remus began to convulse once more.
Sirius whimpered, unable to watch this any longer, he stepped past me despite my warnings and edged towards Remus. Just as I warned Sirius again with a low rumble in my throat Remus’ arm flew out hitting him hard in the ribs. I watched shocked, as Sirius was thrown a few feet into the air before hitting the protective barrier of the charm and landing on floor on his side with a deep groan.
Are you alright!??
My instinct voiced the words which were translated into another low humble groan.
Sirius groaned back in reply. I could sense he was in pain but nothing else. I turned to him as he pulled himself onto his side and slowly stood up, shook its fur and then turned to me to give a short nod. His eyes then looked past me, widened and fearful.
With the sound of snapping jaws behind me I followed Sirius’s threatened gaze.
Remus was no longer human, in fact he held very little resemblance that he had been one a mere few minutes ago. Supporting himself on thin long arms which were still covered in the seemingly stretched waxy skin, Remus was crouched on his hind legs leaning forwards, bearing down on his knuckles. As we watched the skin on his body began to split with an eerie sound that only belonged in horror films. With the blink of an eye he was covered in thick matted brown fur as if the coat had burst forth from within him. His arms shrank and his body readjusted to support the fully transformed animal.
I breathed quietly trying to absorb all I had witnessed while the werewolf stood in front of us trying to gauge us. The animal looked more or less like a regular grey wolf, overgrown by both height and mass definitely, but it was remarkable how natural it looked in the wood.
The stag within me however required much convincing to stay calm and unalarmed. It was understandable considering if it had been a normal stag and a normal wolf the interactions would have been entirely different.
As far as I could tell Remus was gone, he was either suppressed or locked in a place he could not remotely control the being he had become. His wolf like face was menacing, with his lips pulled back over his teeth, his muzzle quivering as his eyes stayed transfixed upon us.
Sirius’ Animagus was quickly taking over control and I could feel his snarling beside me.
I stepped in between them both to protect Sirius from Remus and vice versa. It was a gravely miscalculated move and in the second it took me to back track, the wolf sprang powerfully, lunging straight at me.
The only thing I could clearly remember from the night was the moment I passed out as a result of pure exhaustion. As we should have expected our first full moon did not go quite as we planned.
I awoke suddenly and my eyes snapped open blinking fast. I lay on my back in my torn grey t-shirt and tattered trousers, a few feet away so did James. My head rested on the blanket of fallen leaves. I tried to push myself up onto my elbows but a dull pain in my lower ribs stopped me and I lay there for a few minutes recollecting the night.
Remus was lost within the beast that consumed him. It was hard to communicate to the wolf let alone the boy within. The werewolf he had become was stronger that any book warned us, he was able to throw each of us a few feet away simply with a blow from his massive paw. As the diary we read cover to cover for nearly over a year had consistently told us, Remus in his werewolf skin did not wish to harm us. He did not know we were human, he could no longer make the distinction.
His only goals were to escape into the open, where he could breathe scents that would feed his instincts, where he could hunt.
He collided heavily several times with the enchantments holding him back, but as he did they began to weaken with the tremendous force he forced upon it. As one who took part in creating the charm I could feel it becoming brittle and James and I acted to prevent him from attacking the barrier border, for we knew if he got out, there was nothing we could do to control him.
Reluctantly I was forced to accept that Remus had been right about us. We were children and the feats we took upon us were overwhelming. We never paused to let the full gravity of his transformation sink in or worse the consequences, should we fail.
The more we barricaded his path the more agitated Remus became. He snarled furiously to make us back away and snapped ferociously. Yet he did not bite. It was clear he did not wish to bite, only seeking to get past us. To be free…
A groan escaped me as I pulled myself slowly up on the forest floor. I ached all over and knew that the new horizon brought to us with the Animagi transformations was not one to be easily embraced.
I blinked against the lightened sky and turned my attention to Peter, who sat by a small fire with a pot of boiling water floating above it.
“Morning…” my voice was thick and I coughed to clear my throat, “Oh my God, my head!”
I rubbed my forehead with the heel of my hand in an attempt to dispel the throbbing.
“Yeah, you took a pretty nasty blow,” said Peter walking over to me. “Here,” he handed me a tin mug half-filled with amber liquid that looked like tea, “there’s some Chamomile and Valerian in there too so drink, it’ll help with the muscle pains”
“Thanks Peter” I said taking a sip from the cup. Unlike most potions it did not taste horrible, but it wasn’t bee honey either.
“Don’t worry about it, I’m just sorry I couldn’t do more last night…” he avoided my eyes.
It was obvious he doubted his usefulness as a rat when going up against a werewolf.
I pushed myself off the ground slowly and gently squeezed his shoulder. Peter was like a brother to us and he need never prove his worth to remain a friend and part of the group.
“You may think you’re expendable Peter but you’re not. You were a great help, don’t ever doubt that!”
Peter gave a small smile and poured a second cup. We moved over to where James lay on the floor spread eagled. His ripped shirt lay in pieces around him. As we approached James he began to stir slowly, his breathing hitched and he clutched his chest coughing as he woke up.
“Think a hippopotamus sat on me,” he said with a similar thick voice turning onto his side and pushing himself up on his hand.
I held a finger to my mouth and indicated a mass toward far end of the long lost enchanted circle furthest from where we lay. Remus, barely covered in fallen leaves lay with his back to us, curled into a ball amid the leaves as still as death.
James and I exchanged solemn glances. I helped James up as Peter pulled a rucksack he’d hidden beneath a thick bush. He pulled out a thick blanket and gave it to me nodding towards Remus.
I approached Remus slowly. We only knew too late why Remus had tried so hard to prevent us from being a part of his other life, for the pain would surely disappear and the bruises heal, but we would never forget the first glimpse of Remus’ murderous other half.
It was something he never wished for us to see in him. As long as we did not see we would not know. Now that was forever changed. Now we knew exactly hot bad his life got every month, exactly what he had to deal with. To be honest I wasn’t sure I could have the strength to hold back from the natural instincts to hunt, I couldn’t fathom the amount of courage and strength it took for him to face this nightmare each month and still enjoy the few days of normal life he was bestowed in between.
If it were me I would never have made it this far, I knew that for sure.
I crouched slowly beside him and placed the thick blanket over him. His fingers were probably numbed by the icy coldness from what I felt when he pulled the blanket over his shoulders.
At long last the warm sunlight streamed through the winter clouds filtering softly through the trees. Remus slowly straightened up wrapping the blanket around him as the morning light began to illuminate the ground around him. As if to signify hope in the gloomy clearing where we stood gathered around our friend, a thin ray of light shone through the clouds falling directly on Remus’ face.
His brown hair turned golden in the warm sunlight. For a long moment he sat there with his eyes closed letting the warmth sink in and then finally opened them squinting gently against the brightness.
As the four of us stood side by side wrapped in blankets the sun rose up welcoming the morning. It had a completely new sense of relief, a blessing of a sign that the night was over.
We waited letting the warm sun wash over us, truly thankful for it, but none more than Remus who watched the sun as if it was the first sunrise he’d ever seen in his life.
“Merry Christmas fellas,” Remus said in a soft voice.
“Merry Christmas, Remus”
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