Secret Keeper - Chapter One

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"Come on . . . please . . . not FUNNY . . . have to get . . . please . . . "

Grinning cruelly, Davis Larrington stretched out his long arm to it's fullest extent above the short, chubby boy who panted in front of him, holding the wand even higher above his head. "No, YOU come on, Pettigrew," the tall, lanky youth jeered, "I want to see you jump for it. You could do with a spot of exercise. Come on, don't you want it? You certainly were eager enough to tell Professor Dumbledore I'd called you a toad in the hallway earlier . . . let's see some more of that initiative here!"

Behind Larrington, a close knot of Slytherin fifth-years snickered. Standing behind the Hog's Head as they were, with a thick blanket of snow whirling around them, they were unnoticed by the witches and wizards and other students walking the streets of Hogsmead. Peter Pettigrew eyed Larrington and his friends resentfully from behind a lock of hair as he bent over, grasping his knees to steady himself as he tried to get his breath back. He briefly considered yelling for help, but knew it wouldn't be any good. Even if anyone were to hear him, he didn't like the idea of having people see him being rescued from a bunch of students two years younger than him. And besides, he didn't think it would help matters to get Larrington and his friends in further trouble.

Peter jumped again, but his madly waving fingertips didn't even come within inches of his stolen wand. The Slytherins pealed shrill laughter. "Stop it!" Peter shouted, once again out of breath. He was red in the face and more angry than afraid now, aware of how ridiculous he looked. "Give me back my wand! I need to meet James and the others . . . just -- just give it to me and I won't tell!"

There was a great mocking ooooh from Larrigton's friends. Peter felt his cheeks flame when one of them, a pretty blonde girl with a cruelly pointed face, giggled shrilly at him. "Ooooh, hear that, mates?" Larrington chuckled, twiddling the wand mockingly in his long fingers. "He won't tell on me if I play nice! In that case . . . " Abruptly, he spun the wand around and brought it down, jabbing it viciously between Peter's eyes.

More startled than hurt, Peter stumbled backwards and nearly fell into the snowdrift. "H-Hey!" It was more of a squawk than anything else.

"What's the matter, Pettigrew?" Larrington laughed. He jabbed the wand again, this time into Peter's chest, even harder than before. "This is what you wanted, right? I'm giving you your wand. C'mon, Pudge . . . take it from me!" Another jab into his cheek.

Despite himself, Peter felt tears of pain and humiliation spring to his eyes. He'd known something like this was going to happen when Dumbledore had stood Larrington in the hallway, in front of all the students milling between classes, and lectured him about respect towards one's peers. Larrington's eyes had glowered at Peter over Dumbledore's shoulder as he nodded sullenly. Worst had been when Peter had turned to go, and had overhead one Hufflepuff girl whispering to another, "What's he playing at? Why does he need Dumbledore? He's older than him, isn't he? He shouldn't be picking on fifth years . . . "

Now, standing in the snow and trying valiantly to protect himself from Larrington, the words seemed even more ridiculous. "Stop it!" he cried. His scarf had come askew, and he tripped forward on it as he tried to move away, Larrington's newest attack glancing painfully off of his left cheekbone and narrowly missing his eye. He stumbled to his hands and knees in the snow. "S-Stop it, Davis, or I-I'll -- "

"You'll what?" jeered one of the Slytherins. A snowball hit the side of Peter's face, half blinding him. "You'll run and tell on us?"

"What a BABY!" one of the girls cried. "You'd hardly know he was pure-blood, would you? He acts like a Muggle!"

"He's a disgrace to pure-blooded wizards everywhere!" laughed Larrington, jabbing at Peter's hindquarters with the wand as he struggled to right himself. "Isn't that right, Peter? Pudgy Peter Pettigrew! Barely even made it to seventh year!"

"That's . . . that's not . . . " Peter staggered to his feet, trying his best to get a good steam going. But the yells stuck in his throat and the Slytherin rolled over him as though he hadn't spoken.

"Always creeping about with that Potter and Black and Lupin . . . you think that makes you some sort of golden boy?" Larrington's tone had taken a vicious edge to it now, and he circled Peter like some contorted bird of prey, jabbing with the wand and yanking it back whenever Peter made a grab for it. "I heard from Severus Snape you can hardly even transfigure a teakettle . . . what d'you need a wand for?"

"He probably uses it to scratch his backside!" chortled the boy who had spoken before. "Can't reach something that big with those short little arms of his!"

More colour flamed in Peter's face, this time suffusing his neck and forehead too. Why hadn't he waited for Sirius instead of hurrying on ahead? There seemed to be a dull thudding sound in Peter's ears, and his hands balled into fists as he struggled to toss the now sodden red and gold scarf over his shoulder. Another snowball hit him in the back of the head, and as he teetered forward, several others found their mark as well. Shaking his head, he saw that several of the Slytherins had their wands out and were bewitching the cold balls of snow into the air, while others were simply packing it by hand, malicious grins on their faces. "Listen, you . . . you want to stop now!" Peter said shrilly, backing away from Larrington who continued to advance.

The others pressed in tighter, a solid wall of green and black robes. "Pettigrew's getting mad, Davis!" someone called cheerfully. "Uh-oh!"

Peter glared at the boy, who grinned insolently back. Every muscle in Peter's body was so tense it felt made of wood, and his fists were trembling. He wasn't scared anymore. He was angry. In fact . . .

. . . he was furious.

"Uh-oh!" Larrington laughed himself. "What's he gonna do about it? Gonna cry, Pudge? Is that it? Well cry away, Pudge, because nobody cares what happens to YOU--!"

"EXPELLIARMOS!"

Peter's wand suddenly sprung out of Larrington's fingers as though it had been yanked by a string, and Peter, hardly thinking, snatched it out of the air as he scrambled backwards, panting. Several Slytherins lost their wands as well from the spell, giving startled yells, while those who had been holding snowballs to throw found them shooting out of their hands into the air before dropping neatly back on their own heads.

"WHAT D'YOU THINK YOU'RE PLAYING AT, LARRINGTON?" bellowed the Gryffindor who was sliding down the massive snowdrift behind them. His wand was out and there was a muderous expression on his face as he stormed forward.

The Slytherin scattered at once, most of them scrambling for their wands, leaving Larrington and Peter standing apart from one another. Larrington was clearly trying not to let on how alarmed he was, trying for an expression of bravado as he raised his hands in front of him in surrender. "Easy! Easy, Black, we weren't doing anything, we were just -- "

"Don't you tell me what you weren't doing!" Sirius Black snapped, coming to stand between them. He was easily as tall as Larrington himself, and completely blocked Peter from view. "This is all because Peter called you on acting the Muggle's arse in the hall earlier, isn't it?"

A flicker of anger came back into the younger boy's eyes. "We weren't gonna hurt him!" he yelled. "And it's his own fault! He's such a baby, all he does is take up space!"

"Sirius -- " Peter grabbed onto his friend's shoulder urgently, but Sirius shook him off, still focused on Larrington.

"And you think you're the one to judge that, are you?" he snapped. His teeth were bared and his upper lip was twitching. "Talk about useless . . . you're lucky you didn't hurt him, you wretch. Go on -- get out of here."

For a moment, it looked as though there would be a full-blown fight after all. Larrington's hands snapped into fists and colour rose dully in his sallow cheeks. Sirius took a single step forward, however, still glowering, and all the fight seemed to go out of the Slytherin at once. Throwing a single murderous look at Peter, who was looking around Sirius's arm, he turned and stalked off. His friends parted like water for him as he passed and sealed themselves up behind him, throwing looks over their shoulders that were a mixture of contempt, embarassment, and fear.

When they had rounded the corner, and disappeared into the street, Sirius sighed and turned around. All the anger had left his face, and he held his wand loosely at his side. "Peter, are you -- "

"I was handling it, Sirius!" Peter snapped. He was struggling to shove his wand up his left sleeve where he usually kept it, but it kept snagging on the lining. "You didn't need to come barging in like that!"

Incredulity surfaced on Sirius's face as his jaw dropped. "Barging in . . . Peter, I didn't -- I mean, I wasn't . . . THEY WERE BLOODY WELL MAKING A RIGHT FOOL OF YOU!" he shouted at last. He looked more exasperated and surprised than he did angry.

"I WAS GOING TO HANDLE IT!" Peter shouted back, angry for some reason he couldn't place. His face felt so hot he was certain his cheeks were glowing like twin fireballs. He shoved his wand viciously up his sleeve, ignoring the tearing sound the lining made. "I can look after myself, you know! I'm not . . . I'm not some helpless baby, Sirius!"

"I never SAID you were!" Still looking at Peter as though he had suddenly sprouted a large purple flower out of the top of his head, Sirius slipped his own wand back into his pocket and frowned at him. "Look, Peter, I'm sorry if I upset you, but I thought you needed help, allright? I didn't want you getting hurt . . . " he paused, suddenly looking concerned. "You aren't hurt, are you?"

"No." Peter said sullenly. He finally managed to wind his scarf back around his neck and stood heaving in the snow, avoiding Sirius's eyes. After a moment, however, he forced himself too look up. "Look, I'm sorry, Sirius . . . I just . . . that was embarassing, okay?"

A trace of his usual grin appeared as Sirius shook him gently by the shoulder. "Yeah, I can imagine . . . but really, Peter, they're just Slytherin . . . all you have to do is just lift up their rock a little to let some light in on them and they'll all slither away with their tails between their legs."

Managing a smile back, Peter dusted himself off. "Yeah, well . . . we're a bit late, aren't we? I mean, James and Remus have got to be there by now . . . "

Taking the hint, Sirius let the topic drop. They walked in the direction Larrington and his group had taken, rejoining the long lane winding it's way through the center of the village. The wind had picked up, and the street was emptier than it had been when Peter had first left the castle, most of the other students no doubt having gone inside to take refuge from the weather. Peter's breath plumed in front of him as he looked up. "So . . . got out of your detention early, did you?"

"Ah . . . yeah." Grinning fully now, Sirius ruffled a hand through his short, black hair. "I mean, you didn't expect me to take my time, did you? Cleaning cauldrons for Professor Frewin . . . mind you, I may have cut a corner or two in my stretch for freedom." he added, looking sly.

Peter wasn't particularily surprised. "What'd you do this time?"

"Ahhhhh, just stuck a few of them in the back of that great old storage closet nobody uses anymore . . . I mean, I emptied them first so nothing'll explode, and they won't start to smell for a while." Sirius added hastily, seeing his friend's expression.

"Really, Sirius, you've got to stop that . . . I mean, we're graduating this year -- "

"Trying to take a leaf out of Remus's book, are you?" Sirius interrupted shrewedly. "He'll like that, I've always suspected he wanted his own fan club . . . the Moony Maniacs . . . besides, you're one to talk . . . starting fights with other houses, Pettigrew, shame on you!"

"I didn't start anything!" Peter said hotly, before he saw the teasing expression on Sirius's face. "I mean . . . they just cornered me and pushed me back there!" he said, gesturing angrily. "They took my wand, Sirius, what was I supposed to do?"

"I dunno . . . " Sirius replied, absently scratching at the underside of his chin. "You could always just wait for me next time, or . . . well, you can try that Snake Bite thing."

"What's that?" Peter asked, intrigued, as they headed towards the Three Broomsticks.

"It's where you take someone's arm, see . . . like this . . . and then you twist in opposite directions. Supposed to hurt a lot."

"Where on earth did you hear THAT?"

"Thomas Eldstien. And he's Muggle-born, isn't he, so he's got that older brother of his to contend with. Tom said it was hell growing up until he cursed his brother's head upside-down out of frustration the day before he got his letter accepting him to Hogwarts. Got it delivered in person, too, by a Ministry Official, I hear . . . no matter how Tom begged, they just weren't willing to leave the git like that." Sirius added, laughing. He pushed open the door and they stepped inside.

The Three Broomsticks was likely one of the most popular establishments in Hogsmead, and Peter suspected it was always busy, even when it wasn't an official weekend for Hogwarts students. Inside, clusters of villagers hunched over the small tables, eyeing the rowdy students with looks both amused and exasperated. Red, yellow, blue, and even green house colours flashed in the crowded room as people called out to one another, waving cheerily. A group of Hufflepuffs had just broken into the school song, and, egged on by a crowd of cheering Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, where singing in an odd, upbeat acapella, arms around one another.

"I feel like I've come home." Sirius said happily, throwing his arms wide as though to embrace the noise.

Peter kept close to his back as they jostled their way through the throng. Students from all houses called out greetings to Sirius; only a few noticed Peter as well, acknowledging him with absent smiles before turning away. Scowling briefly, Peter looked up at the back of Sirius's snow-dusted head. "Where are they? I can't see anything . . . "

"Dunno." Sirius squinted about the dimly lighted room, rising up on the balls of his feet. At the far end of the room, the harassed looking barkeeper was counting out large foaming bottles of Butterbeer to a clamoring group of Ravenclaw third years. A house of cards someone had just built with an Exploding Snap Pack blew up, to riotous applause from the onlookers (and a sheepish grin from the builder, who was extinguishing a small flame on the end of one lock of hair with her wand). And, off to the left, alone at a table --

"OY! REMUS!" Sirius bellowed, cupping his hands around his mouth as he bulldozed his way forward. Several people laugh, and Peter muttered embarassed apologies towards the people Sirius jostled aside, most of which were ignored.

"Remus!" Finally reaching the table, Sirius slapped his hands down on the wooden top and stared dramatically at his friend.

Looking up from the book he had propped on his knees, Remus Lupin looked politely surprised. He was leaning back in his chair against one of the splintered wooden support beams, feet propped on the table, and he sat down suddenly with a loud bang as the chair legs hit the floor. "Hello, Sirius. Hello, Peter."

"Hello, Remus." Peter replied with a wan smile. He took a seat beside him, glad to be within the protective borders of his friends.

"Do you know what we went through to find you?" Sirius persisted, as though he hadn't spoken.

Remus blinked and smiled slightly. "Some very surprised Ravenclaws?"

Sirius twisted around to look behind him. Indeed, three Ravenclaw girls he had pushed through on his way over were now mopping spilled Butterbeer off the front of their robes and shooting dark looks in his direction. With a shrug and a grin, he swung one leg over the nearest chair and dropped into it. "That too, I suppose. Been here long?"

"Not very." Remus shook the half-empty bottle of Butterbeer he had been holding in front of them. His sandy brows raised as he looked between the two of them. "You are running late though."

Immediately Sirius's brows began to knit together, and Peter knew he was thinking of Larrington. As Sirius opened his mouth to speak, Peter cleared his throat brutally loud and made a show of straightening his scarf. Only the briefest of flickers in Sirius's eyes showed he understood as he changed tracks without missing a beat. "Yeah, well, detention ran later than I expected. I didn't want to give Frewin another reason to hate me, so I made sure I did a very thorough job on his cauldrons, and I asked Peter to wait for me."

"Professor Frewin doesn't hate you." Peter pointed out, folding his arms on top of the table. "Or at least he wouldn't if you stopped bewitching the blackboard to say different things whenever his back was turned."

"It's not my fault he's got a wart like a second head, is it?" Sirius said in a wounded tone.

"And you wanted to be sure you did an exemplary job on his cauldrons, did you?" Remus said in a skeptical tone as the waitress drifted over. The corners of his mouth were quivering in and out of a smile.

"Well," Sirius said, with a wink in Peter's direction as he snatched the remains of Remus's Butterbeer off the table and drained it in one long swallow, "there's a first time for everything, isn't there?"