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Chapter 15 : The Whomping Willow
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Once they learned that he planned on going outside, James, Sirius and Peter wanted to come too. Remus hadn’t told them his true motive; instead he said he simply wanted to be out in the sunshine while the weather was still nice. They hadn’t had a chance to explore the grounds yet and James was mad to see the Quidditch pitch and Sirius was hoping to catch a glimpse of the giant squid that supposedly lived in the lake, so his three friends accompanied him. Remus was grateful for this, because he wasn’t sure what he would feel when he saw the willow, and having friends by his side would definitely make the whole thing less intimidating.
So once classes finished, they left their bags in Gryffindor Tower and headed outside. The Hogwarts grounds themselves were brilliant. Remus hadn’t really seen them in all their glory on his trips down to the Herbology green-houses for class. The castle itself stood on a large plateau overlooking the lake. The Forbidden Forest bordered the edges of the school. The trees were tall and old. Remus wondered how long they had been there; he liked to think that they were hundreds of years old, that they had guarded these grounds for centuries.
After wandering around for a while, and taking in the view, they all sat down in the shade of a large beech-tree at the edge of the lake. The lake water quivered slightly in the gentle breeze, and when the sun’s rays caught its rippling surface, it caused it to sparkle. But when Sirius and Peter began throwing stones into the lake, in the hope of coaxing the Giant Squid to the surface, the whole magical effect was ruined slightly as the water was disturbed.
James decided against joining in, and instead was craning his neck in various directions, trying to spot the Quidditch pitch. Occasionally he muttered things like, “Could that be it over there?” or “Where would you hide a Quidditch pitch if you were building a school?” but no one was really paying him any attention. Remus just sat beside him, ignoring the Quidditch pitch ponderings as he looked from tree to tree, trying to figure out which one was the Whomping Willow. He figured that if the tree was in plain sight, and not hidden away in the forest, he would know it when he saw it. It was the only tree in the grounds that had the ability to hit anything that came near it, so it would probably stick out like a jinxed thumb.
Suddenly, there was a splashing noise, followed by Sirius swearing loudly. He had tripped and fallen over as she tried to skim a stone. He stood up quickly, wringing the water from his robes and gave his friends a look that said if they opened their mouths to make a joke, he would kill them.
“You should tie your laces,” Peter said cautiously, looking at Sirius’s shoes. Sirius merely shrugged and continued skimming stones.
“Is it just me, or does anyone else have an over-powering urge to go exploring in the forest?” James asked, finally ceasing his search for the Quidditch pitch.
“But we aren’t allowed in there,” Peter pointed out.
“But that doesn’t stop you wanting to go in, does it?” James continued.
“But there are monsters in the forest … centaurs, I heard, and giant spiders and – and ... werewolves,” Peter said fearfully.
The terror in his voice when Peter uttered the last word caused Remus’s ears to burn. He felt himself growing hot, so he directed his gaze to the ground and started pulling blades of grass up out of the earth, trying not to draw attention to himself, terrified that if his friends looked at him, they would figure out what he was.
“But werewolves are only dangerous at the full-moon,” James added. “So it’d be fine to go exploring as long as the moon wasn’t full.”
“That’s just what parents tell you so you won’t be scared,” Sirius said, turning around after he had thrown another stone in the lake. “Haven’t you ever heard of Fenrir Greyback? Full-moon or not, you don’t want to meet him.”
A cold shiver ran down Remus’s back, robbing all warmth from his body. Fenrir Greyback. Even James and Peter seemed to quieten at the mention of the name. Remus looked up from the grass and stared at Sirius. “What do you know about Fenrir Greyback?” he asked urgently.
“Only that he’s the most savage werewolf around,” Sirius said, giving Remus a funny look. “Haven’t you heard of him? He’s in The Prophet a good bit. He likes biting kids, then he kidnaps them and raises them to hate everyone else. He wants the whole world to become monsters like him.”
Remus felt as though something was pulling him down towards the ground. Was that true? Remus had only thought that Greyback had bitten him because his dad had insulted him, he didn’t know that Greyback constantly targeted children. Was there more to the story than his father’s insult? Was that merely an excuse to mask a larger agenda? Remus needed to know more.
“Stop,” Peter moaned uncomfortably.
“I’ll tell you one thing - I don’t ever want to meet one of the kids Greyback’s bitten,” Sirius said gravely. “Even my mother hates werewolves and she’s pure evil.”
Remus’s heart-rate was rapidly increasing. He could feel beads of sweat trickling down his back. He brought his gaze to his shoes, begging and wishing that his friends wouldn’t look at him and instantly know that a kid who was bitten by Greyback was hiding in their midst.
“They’d definitely improve your appearance though,” James mused, observing Sirius’s with a critical eye.
“A great, big, cursed werewolf scar would definitely improve things, yeah,” Sirius brooded, stroking his chin, before smirking at James, “beats being a messy-haired git with glasses any day.”
James looked just about ready to hit Sirius for his remark, and he probably would have, had Peter not injected in a very frightened voice, “You shouldn’t joke about being bitten by werewolves.”
“We joke about everything, Pete,” James said grinning.
“But you shouldn’t about that, werewolves – werewolves are bad.”
Remus felt the bite on his arm prickle. A horrible feeling rose inside his chest. Memories of Paul flooded his brain. A strange otherworldly force was pressing down upon him. He was scared of what he would hear his friends say next, so desiring to end the conversation, he pointing blindly into the distance, and exclaimed, a lot louder than necessary, “Isn’t that the Quidditch pitch?”
“Where?” James asked enthusiastically, abandoning the discussion and staring off in the direction Remus pointed. “C’mon!” he urged, spiriting off into the distance.
Sirius and Peter exchanged glances and then followed him across the grounds. Remus let out a sigh of relief and tore after them. James was running towards Hagrid’s hut, which stood on the margins of the forest. Smoke was billowing out of the chimney, casting a nice turf-like smell into the air. But he didn’t have time to enjoy the smell, as he was running pell-mell after James. As soon as they rounded a large clump of trees, they saw a crowd of people surrounding a massive willow, with more branches than Remus thought it was possible for a tree to have. James stopped dead, staring curiously at the knot of students.
As they drew closer, they saw that everyone was surrounding a girl, who looked like a fourth or fifth year. They were coaxing her on, cheering and clapping. She walked forward tentatively, leaning backwards slightly, away from the tree. She looked determined, but also a bit fearful. Everyone was chanting her name. She took each small step with care, staring unblinking up at the tree’s still branches. The four friends pushed their way to the front of the crowd, and as soon as they did, there was a loud creaking noise. The tree was moving. The branches cracked as they were forced to come to life. Then they struck, pounding the ground at the exact spot the girl had been a second previously. She screamed and ran back to the crowd. Remus knew then that he had found the Whomping Willow.
“What’s this then?” James asked, looking up at the now still tree.
“It’s the tree Dumbledore mentioned at the start of term feast,” said a boy.
“The one that hits back?” James asked, clearly impressed.
“Yeah, we are trying to see if anyone can get close enough to touch the trunk. So far no one’s made it beyond that rock there,” he explained, pointing to the oddly shaped boulder about twenty feet from the tree’s trunk.
James stared intently at the tree. “I’ll give it a go,” he said bravely.
“Don’t,” Peter moaned, looking alarmed. “Dumbledore said not to go near the tree.”
“He advised us not to go near the tree,” James corrected. “He didn’t forbid us, there’s a difference.”
“But – but – but,” Peter babbled, clearly unable to think of a counter-argument.
James stepped towards the tree, grinning madly.
“And we have ourselves another taker!” a Slytherin girl shouted. The crowd cheered with delight.
James continued onwards, walking with more confidence than the previous student had. When he neared the point when the tree would come to life, he turned and smirked back at them all. Sirius rolled his eyes and then followed James into the line of fire.
“This isn’t a good idea!” Peter said, a little frightened.
“Be careful!” Remus shouted. He knew there was no point in telling them not to do it. There was no point in telling James and Sirius anything. They always did what they wanted in the end. If anything, telling them not to do something bad nearly always ensured that they did do it.
Remus’s mouth grew dry the closer his two friends got to the tree. His heart was pounding like a drum in his chest. He didn’t like this. He didn’t like his friends going near this tree. If Dumbledore said that no one could get near the tree, then no one could. Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard in the world. No one could beat him, least of all James and Sirius.
The branches started to groan with each step the two boys took. Then the tree’s limbs sprang to life and instantly flew at James and Sirius, doing all they could to ensure the pair did not get any closer. Peter couldn’t watch and covered his eyes, just as a branch slammed down between the two boys. The ground shook with the force of the blow. James and Sirius were both lying on the grass, having dived sideways in opposite directions to avoid being hit.
The crowd erupted into cheers, goading the boys on. Remus wished they wouldn’t. He wanted James and Sirius to come back, not go on. The tree raised its branches again, ready for another attack.
“LOOK OUT!” Remus shouted running forward, as another branch crashed to the ground. James scrambled to his feet and narrowly missed being hit in the chest. Sirius ducked and escaped being decapitated. He retreated back towards the crowd, but tripped and fell face first into the grass, as a branch made a swipe at him.
“SIRIUS!” Remus bellowed, diving forwards, weaving his way through flailing branches and falling leaves. His heart was going a mile a minute. All his muscles were tense. He cart-wheeled sideways to avoid being hit, but a second branch whipped his cheek, but he hardly seemed to notice. He grabbed Sirius’s arm and tried to pull him up, but he wasn’t strong enough. Sirius was trying to stand up but in his panic he got his feet tangled in his robes. There were branches everywhere, boring down upon them. Leaves floated around in the air. Remus got a wallop in the back. He cried out, but continued to try and help Sirius up.
“My damn laces!” Sirius shouted. “My damn laces are stuck!”
Then tree attacked again, flinging branches at the two boys with the force of a whip. Remus couldn’t get near Sirius’s feet. Suddenly, James had appeared out of nowhere. “De-tangle his laces!” he shouted to Remus as he pulled Sirius up with more strength than Remus would ever possess.
Remus crawled towards Sirius’s feet, shielding his head with his left hand. The branches were swiping at them, clawing at their robes and faces. One of the larger branches had pulled itself back, ready to pound them into the ground. The shoe-laces were tangled in a root that had popped out of the earth when the tree came to life. It would take too long to try and de-knot them, so instead Remus pulled Sirius’s shoes off and then grabbed his arm and helped James haul him to his feet. The three of them ran faster than they had ever done in their lives away from the willow, holding onto each other out of fear.
Completely breathless and covered in leaves, they collapsed well outside the range of the tree’s menacing branches. It was only then that Remus noticed the cheering. Students were swarming around them, clapping them on the back.
“Wow, that was miles closer than anyone else!” exclaimed an impressed third-year girl.
“We have a new record!” said a Hufflepuff boy, clapping his hands together.
Peter’s white face pushed its way through the crowd. “Are you all alright?” he said, breathless and trembling.
They all nodded, trying to catch their breath. Remus’s whole body was shaking as the fear and adrenaline left him. He had a stitch in his side, and the gash on his cheek hurt.
Sirius clasped his shoulder. “Thanks for coming after me, mate.”
Remus nodded. Sirius was his friend. He would do anything for his friends.
“Oi!” James piped up, “and what about me?”
“Thanks, Specky,” Sirius said gruffly, throwing a handful of leaves at James.
“Sorry about your shoes,” Remus mumbled, noticing that Sirius’s feet were only covered with socks and nothing more.
Sirius moaned slightly and cast a look over his shoulder to where his shoes lay. They all knew that they were too far away to risk life and limb to retrieve. “My mother’s going to kill me - they’re the only pair I brought with me!”
“We – we could try and get them...” Remus suggested rather meekly. He didn’t like the prospect of re-entering within reach of the willow’s branches.
“They’re a marker,” James said proudly, “of how far we got. They display our triumph, we can’t remove them. You can borrow a pair of my shoes, Sirius, they should be about the right size.”
“Wear your shoes and run the risk of my feet smelling like yours? Fat chance!” Sirius said, throwing more leaves at James.
“Remus, you’re bleeding,” Peter said worriedly, ending the scuffle between James and Sirius before it started.
Remus felt his throbbing cheek. It was wet.
“Don’t touch it,” Peter said forcefully, digging through the contents of his pockets. “Here, try this,” he said, handing him a small bottle.
“Where’d you get Dittany?” Remus asked curiously, looking at the flask.
“I used to fall and cut my knees a lot, so my mum got me some,” Peter explained. “Just rub it on a cut and it’ll be okay in a few minutes.”
“Thanks,” Remus said, gently dabbing a few drops on his cheek. He winced as it stung.
The crowd around the four of them slowly drifted away, as another challenger, a seventh year by the looks of him, stepped up to take on the willow. His name was Davey Gudgeon, or at least that was the name the crowd were chanting, and he was arrogantly boasting that if three first-years could make it that far, he could go further. Desiring not to set eyes on the tree again for a while, the four of them left quickly and quietly.
“What’s Dumbledore at?” Peter said, a little angrily, “planting a tree like that in the grounds?”
“I’d say it’s guarding something,” James added.
Remus’s heart started to beat faster at this comment. He began scratching his head, just to block his face for fear that it would betray him. The tree was guarding something; it was guarding a passageway into Hogsmeade, a passageway designed for his use.
“You think so?” Sirius replied, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah,” James said with a sigh, “but whatever it is guarding, we won’t ever get at it, that tree is vicious.”
Not wanting to get into a discussion of what the tree was guarding, Remus exclaimed for the second time in the space of an hour: “There’s the Quidditch pitch!” He was telling the truth this time. A scarlet and gold flag rippled in the wind over the tops of the nearby trees. James smiled and sprinted for it. Remus looked at Peter and Sirius, and all three of them rolled their eyes and laughed, before tearing after him.
James was still in the depths of despair when Saturday came along, and they had to swap Quidditch trials for cleaning chewing-gum off all the desks on the fourth floor. Sirius started throwing gum at James, in an effort to cheer him up. It did seem to work, because before they knew it all four of them were crouching behind desks, trying to fire gum at each other. It was brilliant, until Filch came in and spoiled their fun by separating them. So for the rest of their detention, Remus, James, Sirius and Peter were trapped in separate classrooms, scraping chewing-gum off the underside of desks and chairs, being checked on every ten minutes by the evil caretaker. The experience was made all the more unbearable because sun was streaming in the windows and they could hear the shouts and cheers from the Quidditch pitch. What they would not give to be outside with the rest of their house.
Fenrir Greyback intruded on Remus’s mind daily. He pledged to find out more about him, but it was difficult to find the time. When he wasn’t doing homework, he was messing around with his friends, so there wasn’t much time to peruse the old Daily Prophet archive in the library. James still got the paper every morning, and Remus would comb it for any information on the one who had cursed him, but his searches had yielded no results. Whatever Greyback was doing at the moment, he must be doing it underground.
His parents wrote to him every three days or so. Mum was enjoying her new job in Flourish and Blotts and Dad said that listening to Quidditch on the radio wasn’t the same without his son. As much as he was enjoying school, it was little things like playing Exploding Snap with Mum or listening to Quidditch with Dad, that made Remus miss his parents, but he would see them again at Christmas, so it wasn’t too bad, and their letters helped to ease his slight homesickness. Seeing Gawain helped ease these feelings too; when he wasn’t off delivering a letter home, the owl visited Remus every morning at breakfast after he had finished hunting. Remus liked seeing Gawain, and even though he had three best friends now, he never forgot how the owl had been his first real friend.
Their record for getting the closest to the Whomping Willow soon became the stuff of Hogwarts legend. Various students would accept the challenge daily, but none made it remotely close to the point where Sirius’s shoes stood. Soon the game attracted the attention of the teachers, and when that arrogant seventh-year, Davey Gudgeon, nearly lost his eye trying to best the three first-years, Dumbledore flat-out forbid everyone from going near the tree. Now anyone who was caught approaching it would be given two weeks’ worth of detention. So James, Sirius and Remus’s record was then declared unbeatable and Sirius’s shoes were left untouched, marking their achievement. Remus didn’t much care for this. He wasn’t trying to set a record or get glory or fame, he was just trying to save his friend. As far as he was concerned he never wanted to go near that tree again, but knew he must, once the moon ripened to full.
With the Whomping Willow game at an end, James and Sirius had to find new ways to cure their boredom, dragging Remus and Peter in tow. Mostly they devoted their time to coming up with and executing more covert ways to annoy Robert Downing, since they could no longer challenge him openly seeing as his father was on the board of governors. This was actually a blessing in disguise, because they had a lot more fun secretly messing with Robert’s mind than they ever could have had confronting him head to head. Their most successful plots included slipping a bunch of dead-caterpillars they nicked from Potions class into his morning pumpkin juice, and secretly (and repeatedly) turning all his books upside down when he was studying in the library.
As much fun as it was to torture Robert, the tension between the four of them and Severus was the opposite: it constantly threatened to explode into a brawl. Every time they met, insults and swears were exchanged. Once or twice wands had nearly been resorted to, and would have been too, had a teacher not appeared in the corridor. Remus didn’t like these splats with Severus much. He just wished both parties would agree to ignore each other, but that was never going to happen, there was too much animosity in the air to simply be ignored or forgotten.
As the full-moon drew nearer however, Remus found he enjoyed messing around with his friends less and less. He didn’t sleep much anymore and Peter kept asking him if he was alright because he looked very pale. He even started to have nightmares, where he escaped from the house Dumbledore had made for him and started attacking and biting everyone in Hogsmeade and Hogwarts. One night these bad-dreams got so bad that he cried out, waking James, Sirius and Peter. All three of them huddled around his bed, Peter feebly suggesting they send for Madam Pomfrey while Remus assured them over and over that he was fine.
During the week approaching the full-moon, Professor McGonagall called him up after Transfiguration and told him he was to go to the Hospital Wing every morning between now and the full-moon to see Madam Pomfrey. Remus did as he was bidden, heading up there after breakfast, telling his friends that he had a head-ache. The Hospital Wing was a large long room, with about a dozen brass bedsteads, each with surrounding curtains. Madam Pomfrey’s office was at the other end. Remus stood just inside the doors, not sure what to do. Then the matron came through a door, with a bottle of turquoise liquid in her hands. She fussed over him for about twenty minutes, poking him and looking him over the way the Healers used to do when he was very small. He squirmed a lot, not liking being touched or looked at. He didn’t want anyone to see his scars or his bite.
Finally, she made him drink a goblet-full of Strengthening Solution. The liquid burnt his throat and made his insides feel like they were on fire. The potion had a strange effect on him that he couldn’t quite describe. As Madam Pomfrey started into a long spiel about side-effects, his heart started pounding and he simply couldn’t sit still. He wanted to run. He wanted to jump around. He felt like he could do anything, anything in the world.
He ran from the Hospital Wing ten minutes later, spirited down the stairs, two at a time, and jumped the last five steps. He had never wanted to run so much in his life. He felt like he could run for forever and never stop. He burst through the door into Potions, breathless and jittery.
“SorryProfessorIhadtogoseeMadamPomfrey!” Remus said quickly, the words exploding from his mouth. It was as though he had a hundred million things to say, but no time to say it.
“Slow down, boy,” Professor Slughorn chuckled, as Remus sat down next to his friends at a table near the back. “I trust you’re feeling alright?”
Remus nodded very fast. “Yessirverywellsirthankyou!”
“Are you alright?” James asked, giving him a funny look. “You look and sound all weird.”
“Fine! Fine! Great!” Remus said, trying to get himself to slow down. “Madam Pomfrey gave me a potion, it was this odd bluey-greeny colour and tasted awful, then she made me sit down for ages, it was really boring, but whatever it was she gave me fixed the headache right way, I feel great, better than great, miles better, I feel brilliant!” he said, without drawing breath.
James and Sirius burst out laughing, finding his hyper-active state comical. Peter, however, looked worried, but he didn’t say anything. All through class Remus couldn’t sit still. He was constantly readjusting his position on his seat. He kept flicking through the pages of his book and twirling his quill around and around in his hand so much that by the end of the lesson all the plumage was gone. When the bell rang, he shot from the room, running around and around like a mad man. James and Sirius couldn’t stop laughing.
“Are you sure she gave you the right potion?” Peter asked, concerned, as Remus jumped up and down off the plinths of various statues lining the corridors.
“My guess is not,” Sirius said, observing his friend.
Remus spent the rest of the day functioning at a much higher speed any everyone else. Whenever he could, he was running around like a lunatic, trying to drain himself of excess energy. He couldn’t sleep that night, but that wasn’t on account of nightmares, it was because of the Strengthening Solution coursing through his veins. Instead of lying in bed, he took to pacing up and down the dormitory, shuffling his chocolate-frog cards, just to give his twitching hands something to do.
“Remus!” Sirius groaned at about three in the morning, “go be crazy down in the common room, us normal people are trying to sleep!”
Remus did as he was bidden, running down to the common room and winding down the hours until day break pacing up and down, while reading whatever material had been left lying around. The potion showed no signs of wearing off when he went to see Madam Pomfrey after breakfast. Thankfully, she didn’t give him any more, and admitted that maybe she had given him too high a dose yesterday. So he again spent the day in a state of crazy hyper-activeness. It was only around dinner time that he seemed to calm down a bit.
He continued to take small amounts of Strengthening Solution each morning, but the side effects were nowhere near as bad as on the first day. Crazy potions aside, Remus was finding it hard to focus on anything. Time seemed to have sped up, and before he knew it, it was the night before the full-moon. He tried to get some sleep, because he knew he would need a good rest ahead of what he was about to go through, but he just couldn’t drift off. If he was honest, he was terrified. He wanted to go home. He wanted his mum and dad. He wanted to be in the shed in his garden, and not some strange house guarded by a tree that sought to kill anyone who came near it.
What if he escaped and bit someone? What if someone figured out how to beat the Whomping Willow and discovered him in wolf-form? What if James, Sirius and Peter noticed the link between his disappearance and full-moon? What if they abandoned him? What if they told everyone what he was and he got chucked out?
Unable to stand being alone with his own dark thoughts and thundering heart-beat, he grabbed his book and went down to the common room. He sat in one of the armchairs by the fire, lit his wand and began to read, hoping that retreating into the realm of King Arthur would stop him thinking about what was going to happen tomorrow night.
He had barely finished the first sentence when a voice pulled him from the world of Camelot, “Can’t sleep either?”
Remus jumped slightly and looked up just as Sirius sat down in the armchair opposite. He shook his head in response to the question.
“What’s eating at you?” Sirius asked.
“Bad dreams I guess,” Remus said dully, not desiring in the slightest to tell Sirius the real reason. “What about you?”
Sirius cast a look around, making sure they are alone, then leaned forward and said in a whisper, “This stays between you and me, alright?”
Remus nodded again.
“I’m worried about my little brother. He hasn’t written to me, and he promised he would,” Sirius said, looking at his slippers and not at Remus.
“I thought you hated your little brother, you call him an annoying little git at least twice a day,” Remus said, just because he did not know what else to say.
“Yeah, he is an annoying little git, but he’s my annoying little git,” Sirius said, a little embarrassed. “I just want to know he’s okay.”
“But he’s safe at home with your parents, obviously he’s okay,” Remus said, trying to sound re-assuring.
“You don’t know my parents,” Sirius replied darkly.
“Is this about Narcissa?” Remus said tentatively, remembering what she had said to Sirius after he got sorted into Gryffindor.
Sirius laughed. “Narcissa is nothing, nothing, I’m more worried about her sister, Bellatrix, she’s much worse.”
Horror gripped Remus at this point – there was actually someone worse than Narcissa?
“Yeah...” Sirius mused forebodingly, “I’m worried that dear Bella and my mother are poisoning Reg’s mind with blood purity rubbish, and he’s only ten, and now that I’m here and Andromeda has been blasted off the family tree, he has no one to look out for him and tell him blood purity is just a load of dragon dung.”
There was silence for a few moments. Sirius’s mother had blasted someone off the family tree? “Why don’t you send him a letter?” Remus suggested.
“I don’t have an owl.”
“You could use a school owl or borrow Gawain or Amble, you know, James’s owl.”
“You can’t tell James any of this,” Sirius said sharply at the mention of their friend’s name.
“I won’t.” Remus said taken aback by this comment. Why didn’t he want James to know? “You can borrow Gawain then. We can go to the Owlery now and get him if you like.”
Sirius looked at him, eye-brow raised, “You want to wander around the castle at four in the morning, risking detention and expulsion, just so I can send a letter to my brother?”
Remus nodded, this seemed very important to Sirius. Remus knew what it was like having a problem weighing down upon you, and the thing keeping Sirius awake was fixable, so Remus would do all he could to ease his friend’s mind. It wasn’t nice being consumed by fear and worry, and Remus knew that all too well.
“I knew you were corruptible!” Sirius said grinning, then noticing Remus’s puzzled look, added, “when I first saw you, I thought, small and bookish, but definitely corruptible.”
Remus grinned, bookish, but corruptible; he liked the sound of that. “So are we going then?”
Sirius considered it for a moment. “I don’t think we know the castle well enough to be sneaking out at night just yet, and your owl is probably hunting, I think I can hang on for another three hours or so.”
“Okay,” Remus said. “We can go to up and get Gawain after breakfast.”
Sirius nodded, “That gives me time to think about what I want to say to Reg.”
There was silence again for a while as Sirius became lost in thought. Remus didn’t know whether to say something or not. He didn’t like the silence between them. “Want to play Exploding Snap?” he asked finally, spotting a deck of cards on the table. Sirius nodded, so Remus cut the cards.
At daybreak, they went up and changed into their school robes. Remus was getting more and more nervous and scared. He had tried his best to quell these feelings when he was playing with Sirius, but now that the sun was up, he was finding things a lot harder. He ended up putting his robes on backwards and Plumpton’s badge on upside-down. He even made it half-way down the marble staircase before he noticed that he was wearing two odd socks.
The pair of them walked into the nearly deserted Great Hall, all the other students and most of the teachers were still in bed it seemed. They had decided against waking James and Peter. Sirius just didn’t want James to know he was worried about his brother, but why that would be a problem for James, Remus didn’t know. Sirius composed his letter on his lap at the Gryffindor table. It was as though he were Blackmailing someone or something, he was being that secretive about it.
Remus left Sirius to his writing and tried to eat something, but he just felt sick and knew that if he put food in his mouth he would puke it up before he had a chance to swallow. By the time James and Peter had come down, Sirius had finished and sealed his letter, telling Remus to make sure Gawain delivered it to Regulus only, when his parents weren’t around. Remus was going to pass it off as his own letter to his parents, that way James wouldn’t get suspicious. Why James had to be kept in the dark, Remus did not know, but he didn’t want to argue the point, so he kept quiet.
“You look dreadful,” James said to Remus as he sat down.
“Yeah,” Sirius added quickly, “that’s why we came down early, Remus wasn’t feeling well.”
“So that’s why you didn’t wake me and Pete?”
“Yeah,” Sirius lied.
Before the conversation could continue, it was interrupted by a brown blob landing on the table. Gawain’s landings were getting better. He was slowly learning to avoid colliding with the juice jug. He had a scroll clamped tightly in his beak. Remus took it from him, and opened it, absentmindedly stroking his owl’s feathers. The letter was from his parents, and it consisted of a single sentence:
Be brave, Remus, we love you very much,
Mum and Dad
This letter, which he knew his parents sent to make him feel better, in fact made him feel worse. He started to shake as the reality of what lay ahead of him today once the sun went down washed over him. He was going to transform tonight, but this would be the first time his parents weren’t there looking after him, it would be his first transformation outside of the shed in his garden. So much could go wrong.
Gawain, sensing something was upsetting Remus, flew up onto his shoulder and nibbled his ear. Remus petted his head, trying to suppress the urge to grab the little owl and hug him. Remus wanted his mum and dad. He wanted them more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. He wanted his dad to hold his hand and tell him it was alright, he wanted his mum to hug him and tell him how much she loved him. He knew he was eleven now, and too old for such things, but he couldn’t help it. He was absolutely terrified and all he wanted was his parents.
Suddenly, Sirius kicked him under the table, and Remus remembered about the letter. He gave it to Gawain, who took it in his beak. “Send this to Sirius’s brother, Regulus, alright?” he said in a whisper. “Make sure you only give it to him, okay? Also don’t give it to him when his parents are around. The address is 12 Grimmauld Place, London.” The owl hooted to show he understood, then nuzzled Remus’s cheek before taking off. Remus watched him go, wishing he could fly out of the Great Hall and back home.
Much sooner than he wanted, the bell rang, calling them to class. On the pretext of going to the bathroom, Remus slipped off to the Hospital Wing to take his final dose of Strengthen Solution. Madam Pomfrey fussed over him more than usual, making comments on how pale he looked. He wasn’t really listening to her. All he could hear was the pounding of his heart and it took all his self-control to stop himself trembling.
He drifted from class to class, not really sure how he got from Charms to Potions to History of Magic. He was battling against the clock and he was losing, he would always lose, time couldn’t be stopped.
“Remus, are you alright?” Lily asked kindly as they sat down in Transfiguration.
“Fine,” he lied, trying to smile.
“You’re very pale,” she said, concerned, “maybe you should go to the Hospital Wing?”
He shook his head, and the conversation was ended by the arrival of McGonagall. Remus sat through class wringing his hands. Lily kept grabbing his arm in an attempt to get him to stop, but he couldn’t. Half-way through the lesson, McGonagall decided to take up the homework. Remus looked through his bag and experienced a dreadful sinking feeling as he realised his homework wasn’t there. He had left it in the tower. He tried to explain this to McGonagall, but she was not impressed.
“A word after class, Mr Lupin, if you please,” she said sternly.
Remus nodded miserably, and as the bell rang, he made for the teacher’s desk, getting consoling pats on the back from James, Sirius and Peter as he did so. “I’m sorry about the homework, Professor, I did do it, honest, I just left it in the tower,” he said, his eyes on the floor.
She dismissed his babbling with a wave of her hand, sighed heavily and asked: “Are you alright, Remus?”
The use of his first-name caused him to draw his gaze from his oddly socked feet to his Head of House. “Fine, Professor,” he lied.
She raised an eyebrow and stared intently at him. She knew he is lying. “Everything will be alright tonight, Remus,” she said sympathetically, “you don’t need to worry or feel frightened. Professor Dumbledore has made sure the house for your transformation is well protected. You have nothing to be afraid of.”
Remus nodded. She didn’t understand. She didn’t know what it was like to lose all form of thought and control, to become something dark, something primitive, something evil. He had everything to be afraid of. And even though he was in Gryffindor, and even though the Sorting Hat and his parents had called him brave, he still felt as scared as he had done on his very first full-moon as a werewolf. There were just some fears you couldn’t grow out of.
James, Sirius and Peter were waiting for him when he emerged from the classroom. “Did you get detention?” Peter asked, noticing Remus’s anguished face. He shook his head.
“How many points did you lose?” James asked.
“You got off?” said James, amazed.
“I don’t know how you do that, mate,” said Sirius, “if that was me forgetting my homework, McGonagall would have had me in detention quicker than you can say not fair.”
When they walked down to dinner that evening, Remus could no longer control his own trembling. He sat there, rigid on the bench at the Gryffindor table, willing himself not to lose all his composure. Everything inside him was shaking: his arms, hands, legs, feet, even his torso. He tensed up, trying to make his body stop, but it did no good.
“Remus, are you alright, mate?” Sirius asked, looking up from his roast beef.
Remus shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. There was no point in lying anymore, no point at all, his body had betrayed him. He could not hide his fear any longer.
“Here,” Sirius said, standing up and abandoning his dinner, “I’m taking you to the Hospital Wing, c’mon.”
Remus’s heart was thundering in his ears. He shook his head. He didn’t want to go the hospital yet. He wasn’t ready for the full-moon. He wanted his mum and dad. He didn’t want to turn into a monster. He didn’t want to go to a strange house guarded by a killer tree.
Sirius seized him by the neck of his robes and pulled him up. Remus didn’t even have the will to fight him. “Don’t worry about your bag and books, Specky and Pete will bring them back to the tower for you.”
“Oi! Who are you calling Specky?” James said, affronted, but Sirius ignored him.
Remus’s legs felt like jelly. Sirius had to pull him on. He felt dizzy. He was absolutely terrified. Sirius kept saying things to him, but he didn’t hear them, there was just a strange ringing in his ears, blocking out all sound except for his pounding heart.
When they reached the Hospital Wing, Madam Pomfrey pulled him inside, and ignoring whatever Sirius was saying, shut the door with a deafening bang that seemed to sign Remus’s doom.
“You’re a bit early, but no matter,” she said calmly.
She fussed over him, complaining that he was pale and thin, that the Strengthening Solution seemed to have had no effect whatsoever. She mentioned things like Dittany and Disillusionment Charms, whatever they were. Remus kept his eyes on his shoes, as he tried to stop himself shaking.
Madam Pomfrey hit him on the head with her wand. He let out a cry. It felt like she had tried to crack open an egg on his crown. He looked down at his body and jumped backwards, his terror increasing. His whole body had become the same colour as the stone-wall behind him. What had she done to him?
“Calm yourself, boy,” the matron said, “I’ve only Disillusioned you, it’s the safest way to smuggle you out of the castle unnoticed.”
Remus nodded, then realised that she couldn’t see him, so said in a wavering voice, “O-okay.”
Madam Pomfrey wrapped a travelling cloak around herself and opened the door, beckoning Remus to follow. Once he stepped outside, she locked the door and led him out into the grounds. The cool evening air pressed against his sweaty face. As they walked he found it so difficult to put one foot in front of the other. His body didn’t want to move. It knew the pain was coming and it did not want to meet it. Madam Pomfrey was moving too fast. Remus didn’t want her to go so fast because he wanted to have as many seconds of freedom as he could. He didn’t want to see the killer tree. He didn’t want the sun to set and the moon to rise.
Much sooner than he wanted, he was at the foot of the Whomping Willow. He didn’t know what Madam Pomfrey was going to do to ensure the tree didn’t knock him out as he tried to reach its base. But before she explained anything, she removed the Disillusionment Charm that had been placed on him. He was out of sight of the castle and therefore it was safe for him to reveal himself.
Next, she levitated a branch and steered it towards a knot in the willow’s trunk. “All you have to do to freeze the tree is to touch the notch right there,” she explained, and no sooner had she done that, than the tree went completely rigid, not even the wind could get a leaf to stir. “You have about a minute until it re-awakens,” she added, looking at him.
He nodded, his neck feeling stiff and tense. She walked forward and he followed. They passed Sirius’s shoes, damp now from the rain. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had been at this very spot with James, trying to free Sirius’s tangled laces while the tree attacked them. How Remus wished he could turn back time, turn it back so he still had a week to go before the moon become full.
When they reached the base of the willow, Madam Pomfrey stopped. Remus stood rooted to the spot, trembling from head to foot. His heart was beating as fast as it had done the night he had been bitten. Sweat was dripping down his back. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even breathe.
Madam Pomfrey stared at him with pitying eyes. “Do you want me to go with you?”
Remus didn’t want Madam Pomfrey to go with him. He wanted his dad. He just wanted his dad. He wanted his dad to hold his hand as he walked down this passage. He wanted his dad to tell him he was brave, to tell him that he loved him, that he was proud of him, to tell him that when it was all over he would be there to look after him, to make sure he was alright.
Feeling as though his legs had taken a life of their own, he was brought inside the hollow below the tree, Madam Pomfrey following behind him. The passage that greeted them was narrow and small. Remus couldn’t stand up straight in it and he was small kid. He had to bend his head down to walk. Madam Pomfrey had to double up completely to be able to fit. She lit her wand and Remus did the same, and on they walked. The tunnel was dark, looking more like the burrow of a giant rabbit than anything else. Remus wondered if they did get some sort of giant rabbit to dig it. That thought made him smile for maybe half a second as he imagined it.
Once they reached the end of the tunnel there was a trap door. Remus hauled himself out, and then helped Madam Pomfrey. He looked around. The house was big, all the ceilings were high, and there was an odd collection of mismatched furniture. All the windows had been boarded up. Small beams of sunlight wrestled their way in through the tiny gaps between boards. There were stairs leading to the upper level, and when Madam Pomfrey headed up them, Remus followed. She led him into a large room with a four-poster bed.
“Dumbledore thought the more space you had, the less likely you were to bite yourself.”
Remus didn’t say anything. He had lost the ability to speak. He didn’t like this house. He felt as if he were out in the open, vulnerable and exposed. He wanted his mum and dad. He wanted his tiny shed in his back garden, with its four strong, safe walls. As much as he hated that shed, he felt safe there. He did not feel safe here.
Madam Pomfrey squeezed his shoulder in a reassuring way as she left the room. With her departure all his composure broke. His trembling got out of control and he fell down on the floor, drawing his knees up to his chest. There was nothing he could do. The bad thing, the full-moon, would come and there was nothing he could do about it and that was the source of his terror. He was going to turn into a monster and he could do absolutely nothing to prevent it, all he could do was wait, just wait, and once the moment came, he would have to surrender, there was no other way.
As time raced on, he felt himself shrink, felt himself grown-down, not up. He might as well have been five years old again. He cried out for his dad, but he didn’t come. He shouted for his mum, but she couldn’t hear him. He called for his owl, for his teddy bear, but it was useless. He was alone and as each second smashed into the next he was moving ever closer to being lost.
His heart was pounding. His whole body was trembling. The full-moon rose. The pain came. He was locked away in darkness.
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