The Greatest Gift
Chapter Eight; The Gift of Friendship
~ Kind words of friends can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.
'Peter!' Lily shouted again.
'Wormtail, can you hear me?' James yelled.
Still there was no answer. The shop was empty. Had something terrible happened to Peter? Maybe Efrit grabbed him on the way out? None of them spoke these thoughts aloud. There was no need.
They spread out. Lily got down on her hands and knees, peering under the counter and display tables.
'Wormtail?' she called, anxiously. 'It's safe to come out! Are you still in here?'
James ventured outside, shining his wand light across the snow, shouting through the wind.
Remus, however, calmly strolled around the shop, his sharp eyes sweeping the room. There were a lot of shiny patches on the floor showing up clearly against the dust. A scatter of tiny prints leading from the backroom could only just be made out, weaving through several table legs as though panicked, leading to another door, half hidden by some bookshelves. A soft scuffling sound was coming from inside.
In a few quick strides Remus reached the door and yanked it open. Almost immediately Peter came tumbling out along with a number of books and some battered boxes covered in cobwebs.
'It's all right, you two,' Remus called over his shoulder. 'I've found him.' He offered his hand to Peter and pulled him to his feet. 'Cunning hiding place you found there, Wormtail,' he said slyly. 'Lying in wait?'
'What? Oh! Yeah … yeah, I … er … found Lily and James - like you told me - and … er … I decided it was best for - someone - to … um … be backup!'
'And you bravely offered your service?'
'Absolutely!' Peter gave an embarrassed smile. 'Although the door did get a little … um … stuck,'
'But, you know - the minute you needed me,' he made a dramatic gesture with his hand. 'I'd have been in there- quick as a flash!'
'I know you would have, Wormtail. Thanks.'
Peter fidgeted a little, his face flushed.
Lily rolled her eyes at them both. James came back inside, brushing snow off his robes.
'Where were you?' he asked Peter.
'Hiding in a cupboard,' said Lily, grinning.
'Lying in wait,' Peter insisted. 'I was backup!'
'Don't suppose you saw a Death Eater come running through here, did you?' she asked. 'From your vantage point behind that cupboard door?'
'Death Eater?' Peter went extremely pale. 'Er…' he shook his head. 'No, why?'
'It's not important now,' said James. 'What is important is getting Sirius back to the Shrieking Shack,' he looked at Remus. 'We don't have a lot of time …'
Remus checked his watch. His stomach flipped over. Madam Pomfrey always came to fetch him as soon as the moon set, when he would transform back to human, and by his reckoning they had no more than an hour.
'Come on,' he said, heading into the back room. 'We have to move fast.'
Sirius was still pretty zoned out on wolfs bane but between the four of them, they'd finally got him moving. Prongs had had to shove the werewolf hard with his antlers to get him up on his feet and Remus, in dog form, had to lean against him to keep him standing. But once Sirius caught a whiff of human scent he became a little more focused and determinedly followed it.
Prongs now led the way out of Hogsmeade with Lily riding lightly on his back wearing the Invisibility Cloak. Wormtail rode safely in her pocket. Sirius trotted along behind them, nose in the air, following the human scent while the aconite in his system prevented him form moving much faster than a steady trot. While that was a good thing from Lily's point of view, the downside of it was that they were running out of time.
Remus loped alongside the wolf, urging him on, willing him to hurry. The moment the moon set, the transformation would occur. Again. Remus felt extremely guilty and ashamed of himself of himself. How could he have allowed such a thing to happen to Sirius? Well, he wasn't going to let it happen again and he certainly wasn't going to wait until the twenty-seventh to see if it would reverse itself, they would perform that spell again as soon as possible, and this time, finish it properly. Seal it permanently.
This must never happen again,he thought firmly. Ever.
Madam Pomfrey made her way carefully down the beautiful marble staircase into the Entrance Hall. She silently berated herself for being late. Not that she could have helped it. Evan Rosier had kept her awake nearly all night, vomiting every half hour and complaining about stomach pains. Not surprising considering how much food he'd eaten at the Christmas feast. She shook her head disbelievingly. It was incredible how much some people could eat. And then there were those who seemed to live on air; Remus Lupin for one.
That boy really could do with a few extra pounds on him,she though sadly as she opened the front door, stepped outside and eased it shut.
It was still fairly dark and very cold. Shivering, she pulled her thick cloak more tightly around herself and held up her lantern. Its warm glow illuminated the sparkling snow covered lawn. As she walked down the lawn towards the Willow, she looked up at the sky. The moon had set. No doubt that he was undergoing the painful transformation this very moment. Such a shame it had to happen on Christmas.
Taking aim with her wand, she froze the Whomping Willow and walked calmly to the roots. Slipping down between them, she slid down the earthy slope to the hidden tunnel. The lantern provided a little light, but the tunnel seemed so dark and gloomy. Face grim, she set off, taking long, quick strides, holding the lantern up.
In her other hand she carried a small medi-bag containing her wand, several potions, salves and herbs. The matron always took more than was necessary but she couldn't help it, not after seeing Remus after his very first transformation at the Shack seven years ago. The wolf in him resented the forced confinement and because of a lack of prey, had savaged himself badly.
Werewolves generally healed very quickly, much faster than an ordinary person, but Madam Pomfrey had been so horrified that she'd insisted on keeping Remus in the Hospital Wing for almost a week before letting him go back to lessons. After a few years the wounds he inflicted upon himself each month had gradually become less severe. Maybe the wolf was learning to accept its monthly confinement. She sincerely hoped so.
The passage began to rise steeply. She climbed through into the Shack and was surprised, and a little worried, that Remus wasn't there. Normally he would be here waiting for her.
'Remus?' she called.
'Remus,' she shouted a little louder.
Normally she addressed the students by their surname but after having Remus in and out of the Hospital Wing on a regular basis, they'd both taken to using each others first name. A little unprofessional, but Poppy didn't mind.
She quickly search all the rooms downstairs. The young werewolf wasn't there. Clutching her medi-bag tightly, Madam Pomfrey started up the stairs.
She jumped and grabbed hold of the banister to steady herself. The pale face of Remus Lupin looked down at her from the upstairs landing.
'Oh, sorry, did I startle you?'
She shook her head, relived to see that he was fine. At least from a distance. She marched up the stairs, ushered him into one of the bedrooms and made him sit quietly so she could examine him.
What she saw made her stare.
Remus watched her nervously.
'Poppy? Is every okay?'
'Yes,' she said slowly. 'Yes … Remus how do you feel?'
'He shrugged. 'Okay … I don't think I did anything major.' He held up his arm, a shallow cut (probably bit himself, she thought) but that appeared to be it.
'No bruising? Nothing's sore?'
'How very odd,' she muttered, reaching for her wand to heal the cut. It disappeared instantly.
'The wolf was easier on you this time?' she asked gently, rummaging through her bag.
'Er …' Remus' eyes strayed to the far corner of the room. 'Yeah, it was a bit.'
She handed him a potion bottle. 'Drink this quickly, now,' she said firmly. 'Don't push your luck
and catch your death of cold.'
Obediently Remus gulped down the Pepper-up Potion. A sudden gush of steam came pouring out of his ears as Poppy conjured a think clock and wrapped it round him.
'Well, we'd best get back to the castle. Remus, I want you stay in the Hospital Wing at least until I've checked that there isn't anything wrong with you. I'm sure your friends will be by to see you after breakfast.' she gave him a rare smile. 'It's nice to see that you've made such good friends,'
'Yes,' he said quietly, pausing in the doorway and looking over his shoulder into the empty room. 'It is,'
'Are you sure about this?' asked James. 'Wouldn't you rather wait for this thing to reverse itself?'
'No,' said Remus sharply. 'We didn't cast it correctly the first time so we can't be sure it'll sort itself out. I'd rather do it now,'
Sirius sat quietly, slightly apart from the others. Pale and exhausted from the change, he'd spent most of the day in bed asleep. He hadn't said much at all, except to voice his approval of performing the spell for the second time when Remus suggested it.
After a quick dinner in the Great Hall, all five of them had retreated to the out of order girls toilet on the second floor. The Astronomy Tower wasn't an option this time as the caretaker, Argus Filch, was busy polishing all the telescopes with Professor Sinistra.
Peter sat on the floor, mixing up the herbs for the catalyst, carefully stirring in the shredded mugwort. Lily was perched on one of the sinks, swinging her legs back and forth, watching him and fiddling nervously with her hair.
'It's ready,' he said at last.
Without another word, Peter and James stood back as Sirius and Remus knelt on the floor, the catalyst between them. As before they used powdered Erumpent hide to trigger the reaction. The smoke gushed out of the cauldron as they chanted, swirling around them both.
Peter nervously flattened himself against the far wall, as far back as possible. Lily watched, intrigued as Sirius spoke his part of the spell.
'Joined together soul and mind,
Lycanthrope curse to you I bind!'
Without hesitation Remus recited his.
'Joined together soul and mind,
Animagus form to you I bind!'
Concentrating with all their might on the spell and ignoring the thundering beat of their hearts, both of them launched into the final couplet,
'Life force elements now translocate!
Secure the link and seal the gate!'
A blinding flash of light engulfed the two of them - the others flung up their hands to shield their eyes - and a deafening bang echoed throughout the room. The smoke cleared … the light faded into nothing.
Remus and Sirius looked at each other, breathing hard and shaking slightly.
'Did it work?' James asked.
'Hope so,' said Remus, looking pointedly at Sirius who nodded, closed his eyes and concentrated.
A moment later a large shaggy black dog was sat where Sirius had been.
And despite the familiar feeling of post-transformation queasiness now returning to him, Remus couldn't help but feel that he'd done the right thing.
As the sun began to set over the Forbidden Forest, the sky began to darken and the stars emerged. One shone as bright as the moon which hung just behind a cloud, slightly less than full, reflected in the still waters of the lake below. On the bank, two figures sat side by side, watching the sky.
The dying sunlight struck the Willow, highlighting its long branches. It stood as still as stone, seemingly harmless.
One of the boys watched it. Memories of the full moon haunting him still.
The other watched his friend. Not saying a word.
The silence stretched between them for several minutes. Finally one of them spoke.
Tearing his eyes away from the tree, Sirius nodded.
'Yeah, I'm alright.'
'Lair,' came the soft reply. 'You're not alright.'
Sirius made no reply. He looked back at the Willow.
Remus sighed, looking up at the moon. 'You want to talk about it?'
A moments pause.
'The change … it hurt … a lot,' said Sirius slowly. 'A lot more than I thought it would. But … once it was over … I - I can't remember much,'
Remus nodded. 'Happens to me most of the time,' he said quietly.
'But I do remember seeing you - in front of me … human,' he swallowed. 'I wanted to kill you,'
Remus said nothing.
'I wanted to kill you and I couldn't do anything to stop myself. If Prongs hadn't stopped me-'
'Hey, not your fault, Padfoot. I should have known better than to wait until you'd finished changing … or better yet, I shouldn't have agreed to that spell,' he sounded disgusted with himself. 'Shouldn't have put you through that,' he muttered bitterly.
'It was my idea,' said Sirius, pointedly.
'That's not the point! If I'd just said no then you wouldn't have been able to do it,'
'But you did no, remember? So … why did you change your mind?'
Remus became very focused on his lap.
'you were right when you said you thought I'd leap at the chance to avoid the transformation. I doubted that I'd ever have another chance to be … to be human,'
Sirius rolled his eyes. 'You are human, Moony,' he insisted.
'Remus snorted. 'I'm a lycanthrope. A werewolf.'
'Only for one night every lunar month,'
'And you've seen what I become, haven't you? You've even gone through it for crying out loud! You know what it's like to be a wild, savage, out-of-control beast with no conscience. I've had years of it, Padfoot! More than enough time to get used to it … to a certain extent anyway … and I should have known better than to agree to some stupid spell that would put you through it instead! No-one should have to go through that, Padfoot. No one.'
Sirius nodded. 'Very true, Moony.' he smiled, 'So, I'm glad you agreed to the spell,'
'But - but how can you say that after what you went through?' Remus asked aghast.
'Because this time you didn't have to,' he said softly. 'That was the whole point, Remus. You're one of my best friends, I wasn't about to let you go through the pain of transforming when I knew I could do something about it,'
Remus stared at him.
'I mean … I know it didn't turn out quite how I thought it would … but I really wanted to give you something … special,'
He sighed, gazing at the moon.
'You already have,'
Thank you to everyone who read this and reviewed, you've really made my Christmas! Hope you all have a great holiday!
Yoda, I cannot thank you enough for all you've done! I might have given up on writing long before now without you around. Words cannot convey how much I owe you! ;D