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Chapter 9 : Secrets, Secrets
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We crept into the entrance hall, trying to quiet our footsteps in the echoing chamber. I strained my ears for any kind of noise, praying that the boys were there. I just needed a clue; some kind of sign that would indicate where they were headed.
"Ouch, Padfoot, that was my foot!"
I looked excitedly at Lo, who grinned back. James's whisper had carried across the entance hall to where we stood behind a tapestry.
"Sorry, mate," came Sirius's low growl. It sounded like they were heading towards -
"The oak doors," breathed Lily, getting more nervous by the second. She was looking around wildly and practically cutting off the circulation in my arm.
The doors leading to the grounds creaked opened, letting in a draft of cold air. It was the end of November and there had been an early snow fall at the beginning of the week.
I chewed on my lip as we hid behind a suit of armor, waiting for the doors to close. We couldn't follow them outside until they were a safe distance away; if the Marauders heard the doors open, they'd know someone was following them.
We waited for a good five minutes. Lo was trying to calm Lily down as I inched out of our hiding place.
"Come on," I whispered.
The girls followed me out of the castle, trying to be quiet when shutting the doors. Filch should really put some oil on those hinges, I thought irritably.
We looked out at the grounds, each of us wondering the same thing: Which way should we go?
"Now how are we supposed to find them?" Lily's voice broke the silence, voicing everyone's thoughts. The icy wind was blowing my hair into my face, and I saw Lo shiver a few times.
Lily was right; there was no way to tell which way the Marauders had gone. The snow covered any sound their footsteps might have made. Unless...
I stepped farther onto the grounds, glancing around at my feet. Finally, I found what I was looking for: footprints. "This way!" I said eagerly.
We followed the footprints towards the greenhouses. Is that where they were headed? But pretty soon, the path made a sharp right, away from the heated greenhouses.
The footprints skirted the edge of the Forbidden Forest and lead us up a hill, to a tiny clearing. There, the footprints just...stopped.
I looked up, first and my friends and then at the large shadow looming above us. We were at the base of the Whomping Willow.
"What the – "
"Letta, look out!" called Lo.
I saw the tree's branches sway menacingly, but I didn't see one of the boughs sneakily come at me, swinging with full force.
I ducked to the ground in the nick of time, rolling so that the limb didn't hit my head. The last thing I needed was a concussion.
Lily rushed over and helped me to my feet. "Thanks," I said, brushing off of my pajamas. They were already soaked through from the wet snow.
"Are you - " Lily started to ask a question, but my gasp interrupted her.
"Lily," I said softly, "go. Run. Take Lo with you. I'll follow behind."
"What?" Lily said in a panicky voice. That's exactly what I wanted to avoid: panic. "Letta, what are you – "
"Just go," I said, louder now. Judging from Lo's gasp and Lily's small scream, they saw it too: a huge, hairy black...thing was coming towards us from the Whomping Willow's trunk. It was some kind of animal, and it was growling ominously, warning us to stay back.
When the moonlight finally shone down on the creature, I realized it was a dog. But not the cute and cuddly kind. This dog was bear-like, with razor sharp teeth and the most peculiar grey eyes.
I glanced at Willow – she was the most fragile out of the three of us; call me crazy, but I was very protective of my friends. I just had this overwhelming urge to save people and shield them from danger. These girls were my family now. I wouldn't leave them like I left my mother. I would fight for them.
"Please," I begged, unsure of how to save them. "Go back to the castle. Maybe it'll just focus on one of us."
"We're not leaving you," said Lily firmly. Lo nodded in agreement.
My eyes hadn't left the dog during our conversation, so I didn't miss the movement as it tensed, ready to spring.
I gasped as the dog launched itself through the air, it's front paws landing on my shoulders. I stared into its snarling face for a fleeting moment before it tackled me to the ground. I heard Lo's shrieks, but I couldn't tell her I was alright: I was too busy punching every inch of the dog I could reach.
I felt the sting of its claws on my bare skin and the warmth of it's breath on my cheeks. It tried to swipe at my face with it's paw, but I bit down on its ear – it was the only thing I could think of at the time. What can I say? I was under pressure.
"Oh, no you don't," I growled, struggling to my feet. The dog nipped at my heels as I hurried over to Lily and Lo. Blood was trickling down my arm from the scratches of the dog's nails.
We ran as fast as we could back to the castle doors, forgetting why we had come out there in the first place. Who cares where the Marauders were? We could have been eaten alive!
"Letta are you okay?" whispered Lo as we slowly opened the oak doors, trying to be sneaky.
"Yeah," I said breathily, looking back at the Whomping Willow. "I'm fine." It was true, although I was still a little shaken.
Where had the dog gone? The tree was still now, showing no sign of the struggle or the beast that had come from it's depths.
But as my friends led the way inside the castle, I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of silver peeking out from a hole at the bottom of the tree.
The next morning was one of the most difficult I'd ever had. It was so hard to get out of bed – my body wouldn't respond to what my brain was telling it.
"Letta, we have to go. Now." Lily pulled on my arm, attemping to drag me out of bed for the tenth time. Lucky for me, all of those extra Quidditch drills James was making me do were finally paying off; I was much stronger than her.
"No," I mumbled, pulling the covers back over me.
"I didn't want to have to do this," she sighed.
I opened one eye, wondering what on earth she was talking about. That was when I saw the wand she pointed at my face.
"Wait, Lils – " I didn't get to finish my sentence before a cold stream of water was shot from the end of her wand.
Lo came out of the bathroom, took one look at my face, and burst into a fit of giggles.
I spat out a mouthful of water. "I'm up now."
I quickly showered and got dressed, trying to hide the bruises from my room mates. The scratches from the dog had not healed yet and large purple spots were forming on my arms and back from when the thing had tackled me. It was only when I checked my hair in the mirror that I saw it – the long gash starting at my ear and curling down my jawline.
I heard Lily's gasp when she caught site of it. "Oh, Letta..."
"Not to worry," I said, covering most of it with my long blue hair. "You can't even see it. I'll get Madam Pomfrey to give me a potion later so it won't scar."
Just then, Rachel Bruin came out of the bathroom and sauntered up to us. "What did you do to your face, McKinnon?" she asked in mock concern.
"I looked at yours," I shot back harshly. "Now look what you've done; I'm breaking into pieces from your ugliness."
"Well I'd say it's an improvement," she huffed, heading out of the dorm. I stuck my tongue out at her when her back was turned.
Once we were all ready, my friends and I headed down to the common room. We were running too late to have breakfast, so we decided to head straight to Charms. But as we got closer to the portrait hole, we saw Sirius pacing back and forth in front of it.
"Sirius, are you okay?" Lo asked him politely.
"It's about time!" he nearly shouted, throwing his hands in the air. "I've been waiting for you three for almost two hours!"
"Sorry?" Lily apologized, obviously confused. "We overslept. Er, why were you waiting for us, exactly?"
At her question, Sirius stood up straight and shifted a bit, obviously uncomfortable. "You have to come to the hospital wing with me," he blurted.
"Why?" I asked, narrowing my eyes.
"To see Remus." That was not the answer I had been expecting.
"What's happened to him? Is he alright?" asked Lo quickly.
"Well...it depends on what you mean by 'alright,'" said Sirius. "Physically, well, he'll be fine after a while. But, well...just come visit him."
I looked round at my friends; they seemed just as confused as I was. When I turned back to Sirius, he was staring at the scratch on my jawline.
He stared for several long moments before he said, "yeah, you have to come with me. Now."
I raised my eyebrows at him, but then I thought of Remus. "Okay," I said finally. "We'll go with you."
Sirius led us through the castle, down to the first floor, and into the large chamber that was the hospital wing.
"You have ten minutes, Mr. Black, do you hear me?" said the young matron, Madam Pomfrey. "Ten minutes, and then that boy needs his rest."
"Yes, ma'am." Sirius smiled charmingly at her before bringing us to the last bed on the right – the only bed with the curtains drawn. When we pushed through the hangings, we found James and Peter sitting around the bed of Remus Lupin.
He looked...bad. Real bad. The scratches on his face and hands were a thousand times worse than the little ones on my arms and back. They looked a lot more painful, too. Remus looked beyond tired – he looked scared. Even his hair looked bad; it was a little muddy and looked as if leaves were stuck in a few strands. What in Merlin's saggy left –
"Hey, Lo," croaked Remus, staring at her fearfully.
"What happened to you?" she whispered anxiously. "You look..." She couldn't finish her sentence. There were no words to describe how distraught he looked.
"Are you sick?" I asked hestiantly. I never knew what to do when people were upset. And Remus looked really upset. It was the same thing with crying; I didn't know how to comfort people when there were tears involved. I'd just sit there and pat them on the back awkwardly. That's one of the reasons I never cry. It's embarrassing and weak. Plus, I wouldn't know what to do with myself.
"Kind of," said Remus, looking more and more scared by the minute. "I need you three to listen to me. I-I have to tell you something. Something that will...that will change the way you look at me. I'm going to tell you something important, and I completely understand if you don't want to be friends with me anymore."
I didn't say anything, but Lily and Lo were outraged. "There is nothing that could make us want to stop being friends with you," said Lo seriously. Lily nodded furiously. She'd always hated when people thought bad of themselves. Especially Remus, because he was the nicest person on the planet.
"We'll see," he said to Lily and Lo. He took a deep breath before dropping the bomb. "I'm a werewolf."
There was a dead silence in the room. The three of us just stared at him, trying to find a trace of humor in his face. But this was not a joke.
Obivously Remus felt the need to fill the silence with an explanation. "I was bitten when I was little," he said quickly. "And I had to tell you because...because you were out on the grounds last night. I could have hurt you, or bitten you, or..." His voice trailed off hopelessly. "I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I'd hurt any one of you. You have a right to know about the danger you face just by being around me."
That was a surprise. He knew? He knew we were there? "How did you – "
"Let me explain," he pleaded, getting more frantic with every word. "Every month on the full moon, I stay in the hospital wing until night time. Then, Madam Pomfrey helps me sneak onto the grounds, to the Whomping Willow." He paused and turned to look at Lo. "It reminds me of you. The Willow. It reminds me what I have to lose if this secret gets out. But I had to tell you. All of you.
"The Shrieking Shack – you know, the place in Hogsmeade that everyone thinks is haunted – well, it's under the Whomping Willow. I slip through a hole in the tree and I stay there when I phase."
There was another silence. A long one. I was the first to speak.
"Awesome!" I grinned, staring at Remus. He was right, I was looking at him differently. But not in the way he expected.
"Awesome?" he repeated, shocked. "You think that's awesome?"
"Well, not the werewolf part. I mean, yes the werewolf part." I shook my head, trying to explain. "Remus, when I look at you, I don't see a werewolf. I see a friend. A brave, kind friend. You're no different to me. You're...Remus."
"Yeah," agreed Lily, still shocked. "We still love you Remus. You're our friend. How could we ever turn our backs on you?"
Lo went up to him and touched his cheek. "I'm sorry for what you have to go through. But you're one of the greatest boys I've ever met. Nothing will change that."
Remus looked around desperately, as if we weren't understanding. "I'm a monster." He hung his head.
That got to me. That really got to me. "You're a monster?" I repeated incredulously.
"Letta, calm down," said Lily, nervously glancing at my flaming red hair.
"How dare you," I said to Remus. "You can't control your phases. It's not your fault you got stuck with lycanthropy. How does that make you a monster?" I thundered. "You don't know what a monster is. Let me ask you something, Remus. Have you ever intentionally hurt someone?"
"N-no," he whispered. I was obviously scaring the daylights out of the poor kid, but I couldn't stop.
"Have you ever wanted to beat the crap out of anyone?"
"Were you ever the cause of someone's death?" I whispered.
"No," said Remus, looking up at me. He was looking at me differently now, just as I was looking at him.
"You are not a monster," I said, turning away. Then, in a voice so low they could barely hear it, "I'm a monster."
"Don't say that," said Lo tearfully. "None of you are monsters. You are both good people, no matter what you've done, or what you change into at the full moon."
I nodded. I'd let it go this time. Because I knew they were wrong. Poor Remus; why did he have to live with such a thing? He was a good person. Why couldn't it happen to someone else? Someone who deserved it. Someone like me.
"Letta." Remus's voice interrupted my thoughts. "This might sound strange, but I'm genuinely curious. How do you do it?"
I looked at him. "Do what?" I asked blankly.
"How do you just...act like you don't care what people think of you?"
"It's because I don't care, Remus," I said.
"Yes, but why don't you care?" he asked desperately. "It's so easy for you to be yourself. You're fun and sarcastic and a great friend. You don't care if people talk about you and you don't care if they hate you. I wish...I wish I could be like that."
"Well..." I said slowly. I understood where he was coming from; he felt like he was living a lie. I definitely knew that feeling, but I wasn't sure how to explain myself. "To me, it's simple. I just do what I want. It's not about what people are saying. Fuck them, you know? It's about being who you want to be." I paused; I wasn't even sure if I was telling the truth. I mean, I do what I want all the time. But then, I didn't know what kind of person I was. I was still...finding myself, I suppose.
I looked at Remus, who was nodding uncertainly. "Remus, for you it's different," I told him. "Your condition...people are afraid of that. I mean, I know people are afraid of me. But their fears of werewolves have been burned into their brains since they were born. That's not your problem, it's theirs. People are shallow and mean. They wouldn't take time to understand. You are who you are, Remus. You're just not telling them about your lycanthropy because there's no point in giving them a reason to hate you."
"Thank you," said Remus quietly. "All of you. Especially you, Letta. For a monster, you're a pretty amazing friend."
I grinned. "I do my best."
"Wait a second," said Lily thoughtfully. "I'm glad Remus told us about his lycanthropy, but that still doesn't explain how he knew we were out on the grounds last night."
"You see, Lily," James piped up from where he was sitting, "that's another thing we wanted to talk to you about." He looked very uncomfortable.
Lily's eyes narrowed as she looked at James. "Of course you're involved."
James grinned half heartedly. "Try not to get too angry, okay, love?"
"Don't call me that, Potter," Lily grumbled.
"Alright, alright," I interrupted. "Just spit it out. What have you three done?" I pointed at Black, Potter and Pettigrew.
"Er, we sort of, kinda, maybe...became illegal animagi to keep Remus company on the full moon," James said quickly.
There was another long silence before Lily started shouting. "James Potter! That is either the stupidest thing you've ever done...or the sweetest."
"Really?" he yelped, his eyes wide behind his glasses.
Lily smiled at him. "Yes. Don't get me wrong, it's still really dangerous. But...sometimes it's worth the risk if it's for a friend."
Everyone was nodding and agreeing with Lily, but I was too busy trying to figure some things out. "The dog," I said suddenly. Everyone got quiet. "There was a dog last night. That was one of you."
I looked around at the boys, my eyes landing on Sirius. I thought back to last night, when the dog had it's paws on my shoulders. The eyes were a glowing silver color, and I was staring into their exact replica right now.
"It was you," I accused. "You attacked me!"
"To be fair, I was trying to save your life," argued Sirius, standing up and coming over to me. I guess I looked pretty mad – his hands were up in an 'I didn't do it' gesture and he looked ready to restrain me if necessary. "I didn't mean to give you that." I looked into his eyes again, and they looked troubled. He hesitantly reached out and moved my hair so he could get a better look at the scratch that stretched down my cheek.
"Well you shouldn't have attacked me!" I exclaimed. But looking at his face, I could tell he was seriously worried about what he'd done. "It'll heal," I said shrugging. His hand felt a little too good that close to my face, causing me to step back a little. Sirius shook his head, causing some hair to fall into his eyes. He snatched his hand back quickly, raising his chin a bit.
"Sorry, Letta, but I had to keep you from getting any closer to the Whomping Willow. Remus had just transformed."
"Well you didn't have to tackle me so hard! I'll have bruises for weeks!" I complained.
"You bit me," said Sirius, narrowing his eyes.
"Yes, after you jumped on top of me," I growled.
"Er, Letta," James interrupted, "I'd rather not have that image in my brain, thanks. Can we change the subject?"
"Fine," I huffed. "If this prat turns into a dog, I'm assuming that's why his nickname is Padfoot. Moony's obviously Remus, because of the lycanthropy. Now, why are you Prongs?"
James grinned proudly. "I'm a stag!"
I nodded, turning to Peter. "Wormtail?"
"Yes," he said, "I'm a rat." I cocked my head to the side. Hmmm, he always did look like some kind of rodent.
"Well, that makes sense," said Lily thoughtlessly. She blushed when Peter looked at her questioningly.
"Anyway," I said loudly, "thanks for telling us, Remus. Nothing's changed."
"Unfortunately, we've missed our entire Charms class, not to mention half of Potions!" said Lily, who began to have a mini heart attack when she looked at her watch.
"Oh, what a shame," Sirius mocked. "You've missed your chance to suck up to Slughorn a bit more. Pretty soon, you'll be sending him love notes along with specially made boxes of crystallized pineapple!"
That earned him a hit from James, for making fun of his future wife, a slap from Lily, who was insulted by his comment, and a punch from me, just because I felt like it.
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