Winter passed into spring, and as per usual, Remus’s birthday was celebrated with creative vigour by the other marauders – the customary singing at every meal time, the cake, presents. Unfortunately, McGonagall was wise to their antics this year and had a prefect watching the boys’ dorms to prevent any further midnight firework displays.
Fortunately, Remus’s fourteenth fell on a Hogsmeade weekend, and he felt very grown up indeed spending the afternoon in The Three Broomsticks with his friends. It soon became clear that James and Sirius had somehow bribed all of their classmates to stop by the pub too, as a steady stream of students approached their table wanting to buy Remus a butterbeer or toast his health. By the time the afternoon was over everyone in the bar knew Remus’s name, and he was raucously cheered on his way out. Completely embarrassing, of course.
With his birthday out of the way, Remus threw himself into revision in preparation for the upcoming exams – he had a particular urge to do well in his new subjects, not least Care of Magical Creatures. By returning his focus to study and schoolwork, Remus slowly began to put the cruel words of Darius Barebones behind him. Yes, he was dangerous, and yes, once everyone found out what Remus was he would very likely be shunned. But until then, he had an opportunity to learn – and he wasn’t going to waste it.
* * *
Sunday 7th April 1974
Remus had never met Davey Gudgeon before – as far as he knew, nor had any of the others. He never found out what the kid looked like, even. But he would remember that name until the day he died.
The whomping willow had been turned into a game during the summer of 1973 by a group of bored first years, and though it was abhorred by Filch and frowned upon by the heads of houses, no one had really said anything about it. Try to see how close you can get to the trunk before the branches took a swipe at you. Remus certainly had no inclination to play. He hated that tree.
As it was, Remus wasn’t even there when it happened. It was the day after a full moon, and he was in the hospital wing, as per usual. Peter was sitting on the floor, sorting through his chocolate frog cards, murmuring to himself happily. James was marking Sirius’s divination homework, and Sirius was covertly flicking his wand at James behind his back, turning his hair different colours for Remus’s amusement. Blue, pink, green, yellow – it was working too; Remus found it hysterically funny, because James looked so serious, and when he was concentrating his tongue poked out between his teeth like a cat.
It was a perfectly pleasant afternoon, and Remus could almost ignore how much his bones and teeth hurt as they settled back into place for another cycle.
But then it happened. The hospital door slammed open, and a student came in shrieking;
“Madam Pomfrey! Madam Pomfrey! Help!”
Nosey as they were, Sirius and James jumped down from the bed to peer around the pale green curtains. Remus sighed, leaning back on his pillow. He was accustomed now to the ebb and flow of the hospital wing; raised voices like that usually meant a spell gone wrong. He tried to ignore it – he resented anything that reminded him he was in a hospital, and not just enjoying a lazy afternoon with his friends.
But James and Sirius remained out of view, watching whatever the scene was unfold, and when they turned back towards the bed their faces were pale and serious. The commotion had grown louder, Remus was dimly aware of someone crying.
“What is it?” He asked, more irritably than he meant to.
Sirius’s mouth twisted and James shook his head, mutely, pushing his glasses up his nose. Peter finally looked up from his cards,
“An accident... some kid.” James murmured.
“Everyone out!” Madam Pomfrey’s voice echoed through the chamber, unnaturally loud and clear. The curtain around Remus’s bed parted and she poked her head through, looking distracted, “Remus, dear, if you’re feeling well enough it might be best for you to spend the rest of the afternoon in your own bed. Potter, would you go and fetch Professor Sprout? Tell her that one of her students has been injured.”
James nodded and left immediately, without even glancing back at his friends or his homework. You could always rely on James.
Sirius caught Remus’s eye and Remus nodded his assent, climbing out of bed. He was still in his pyjamas, and Sirius hoiked Peter up by the elbow to give him some privacy. Remus dressed as quickly as he could, shoved his books into his bag, grabbed James’s work and joined his friends on the other side of the curtain. He could smell blood.
Curtains had been drawn around the bed nearest the door, and the three boys hurried past it, wanting nothing more than to escape the unpleasant atmosphere and get as far away as possible. They went straight to the common room, Remus limping slightly, Sirius and Peter slowing down to match his pace.
“What was it?” Remus whispered, “There was blood.”
“Yeah,” Sirius replied, looking shaken, “I dunno what happened but… it was his face.”
Peter looked faintly ill.
They reached the common room and Remus collapsed into an armchair, exhausted.
“You ok?” Sirius asked, anxiously, touching a hand to Remus’s shoulder. Remus nodded, closing his eyes and breathing deeply,
“Fine, fine.” He shrugged Sirius off, embarrassed, wishing he could be normal for once.
“Alright lads,” Mary sauntered into the room, Marlene in tow, “Hear what happened to that Gudgeon kid?”
“No,” Sirius replied, slyly, “What?”
“Whacked in the face by that mental tree.” She said, shaking her cloak off, “They were trying to touch the trunk.”
“The whomping willow?”
“Yeah,” Marlene piped up, “It shouldn’t be allowed! It’s so dangerous!”
“Did you see it happen?!” Remus asked, trying to keep the panic out of his voice.
“Nope,” Mary shrugged, flinging herself down on the couch next to Sirius, “Heard it from one of the second-year girls.”
“They’ll have to get rid of it!” Marlene said, shrilly. “Dumbledore can’t leave it there now. Someone could be killed.”
“He should have stayed away from it.” Sirius said, frowning, “It’s a stupid game. Everyone knows what that tree’s like.”
“Have I gone mad?” Mary laughed, “Sirius Black, the voice of reason?!”
“Piss off, MacDonald,” Sirius scowled.
Remus was starting to get a headache. He rubbed his temple and closed his eyes again, shrinking down into the armchair. Guilt creeped up his spine, hot and cold pinpricks. It hit him in the face?! Would this Gudgeon boy be ok? Surely Madam Pomfrey would be able to fix it, whatever it was. She could fix anything.
* * *
Gossip about Davey Gudgeon flooded the school in a matter of hours, until no one could escape it. Sarah Saunders from Ravenclaw told everyone that she’d seen his parents arrive, then march straight to Dumbledore’s office, looking furious. Gudgeon’s friends in Hufflepuff relayed the story over and over for anyone who’d listened – that it had seemed as though Davey would actually reach the trunk this time, but then the willow lashed out at the very last minute. They heard varying accounts of the damage – that the tree had cracked his skull in two, that he had lost both his eyes, or even that he had actually died and the school was covering it up.
Marlene, who seemed more distressed than anyone else about the whole thing, enlisted Lily and Mary’s help in drawing up a petition to have the whomping willow removed from the school premises. Remus signed it – he couldn’t think of a good enough reason not to.
“That tree has just as much right to be here as anybody.” He said, firmly, as Marlene chased him with a quill.
“But Sirius,” she pleaded, “It’s dangerous.”
“So are bludgers!” He returned, dodging her, “You going to leave the quidditch team?”
“It’s hardly the same thing!”
“Ugh, just sign it, Black,” Lily groaned, trying to finish her Runes homework, “What’s it to you?”
“It’s the principle!” He crossed his arms, firmly. Lily rolled her huge green eyes.
“Tosser.” She muttered under her breath, “Can’t he see how upset Marls is?”
“Why is she so upset?” Remus asked, in a whisper, when Marlene was out of earshot. “Did she know Davey?”
“Don’t think so,” Lily sighed, “I think she just wants a project to take her mind off stuff at home. Family, you know.”
Remus thought about this. He didn’t know Marlene as well as he’d got to know Lily and Mary. Mary was so outgoing, and would chat to anyone. (In fact, if anything she was a bit of an oversharer. Remus knew far too much about her snogging preferences for his liking.) Marlene had always been the quieter, shyer one – less sure of herself, even in the areas she excelled. He didn’t know very much about her family simply because it never occurred to him to ask about people’s families.
He didn’t think the petition would really go anywhere. Dumbledore had given a speech prohibiting anyone from going near the whomping willow again, and that was all that had been said on the matter. The staff were clearly uneasy, and Remus had just been trying to keep his head down.
The other marauders hadn’t said anything to him about it, and changed the subject whenever it came up. Usually Remus preferred not to discuss anything related to his ‘furry little problem’, but now he was beginning to wonder whether they secretly blamed him after all. James would never say it out loud, of course – Peter might. Sirius might say so and then instantly take it back. Either way, none of them said a word, leaving Remus’s imagination to run wild.
A week after the incident, Professor Sprout confirmed the rumour; Davey Gudgeon was now blind, and would not be returning to Hogwarts for quite some time. Remus had been trying to avoid Sprout since it had happened – as Herbology teacher, he was sure that she knew exactly what the whomping willow was doing on the grounds in the first place.
“His parents are taking him to America, where there are advances being made in ocular healing potions.” The dumpy professor explained at breakfast. “I am sure Davy and his family are very grateful for all of your well wishes.”
Remus felt a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. When Marlene, Lily, Mary, and a few other students got up to present their petition – which had over four hundred signatures, now, - Remus went with them.
Professor Sprout accepted the petition and promised to discuss the matter with Dumbledore. She even awarded Marlene ten house points for her efforts.
“They’re not going to get rid of it, though,” Sirius said, later that evening when the marauders were all alone in their room.
“No, I doubt it,” Remus kicked a stray sock under his bed, hands in his pockets.
“So why did you go up?”
“Felt like the right thing to do. I mean. Marlene’s right – the tree’s dangerous. Shouldn’t be at a school.”
“But…” Peter started.
“I know.” Remus snapped. “I know, ok?”
“You shouldn’t feel guilty, mate,” James said, kindly, “Gudgeon shouldn’t have been mucking around like that… it’s not your fault—”
“If it’s anyone’s fault,” Remus said darkly, “Then it’s mine.”
“That’s stupid.” Sirius said, bluntly, shaking his head, “You didn’t plant it, did you? I dunno if it’s escaped everyone else’s attention, but this school is not exactly safety conscious. It’s built next to a bloody forest full of creatures more dangerous than a flipping tree, there’s supposed to be a literal monster lying dormant somewhere directly below us, and – not being funny – but have you seen Hagrid?!”
“What’s your point, Black?” Remus sighed, heavily, sitting down. His hip hurt if he stood up for too long. He was getting to be like an old woman.
“I dunno,” Sirius shrugged, “Shit happens? Don’t blame yourself? Stop moping?”
“Moping?!” Remus growled, his temperature rising, “Fuck off. There’s a kid who can’t see because I’m too dangerous to be at school! Try telling Marlene what I am, I bet she’d get a lot more signatures on THAT petition.”
“You’re not dangerous!”
“You don’t know what I am.” Remus hissed.
“You’re our friend.” James said, suddenly. Remus stared at him. It was a stupid, soppy, dramatic thing to say. But that was half of the problem with James – he so embodied those unrealistic values of loyalty, justice, and honour, that he forced you to believe in them too. He sat next to Remus on the bed. “You’re our friend, and that’s the most important thing, ok?”
He met Remus’s glare and stared back, smiling. “Ok?” He said.
Remus continued to glare, and James inched closer, so that their knees knocked together, “Ok?!” He said, leaning forward now, his nose centimetres from Remus’s. Remus knew this tactic – James did the same thing sometimes to cheer Sirius up. He never blinked – it was highly unnerving, and finally Remus laughed, ducking away,
James laughed too and threw his arms around Remus,
“Thank goodness! We couldn’t lose you, Moony!” He cried. Suddenly, Sirius and Peter followed suit, piling onto Remus, who found himself at the bottom of a very giggly scrum.
Laughing, despite himself, Remus tried to squirm out from under them,
“Get off me you bunch of poofs!”
“Ahh, you love us really,” Sirius patted his head.