New Year’s Eve 1977.
Following up on claims that WEREWOLVES have been sighted in the Forbidden Forest, reporter RITA SKEETER asks the question, is Hogwarts really as safe as we have been told?
Albus Dumbledore’s capacity to protect the younger generation of our population has been called into question, as reports that the so-called Forbidden Forest may be home to all manner of vicious and deadly creatures, including werewolves. A previous anonymous source made the claim last month and rightly this calls into question the safety of a number of Britain’s wizarding population.
The Forest has been a point of contention for many years now, with governors debating the safety of such a location in proximity to the castle. Students who wish to remain anonymous – perhaps fearing that their education will suffer if they speak out – have disclosed that there are no protective enchantments around the forest, and students are sometimes taken into the depths for reasons unknown. Staff members may insist this is all properly supervised and in the name of academia and research, but with our children’s lives on the line, can such a risk be taken so freely? Claims now that it holds werewolves – a classified XXXXX Dangerous Beast – now beg for serious scrutiny of safety measures.
Under the Werewolf Code of Conduct 1637, werewolves are required to register and lock themselves in a secure location during the night of the full moon. These alarming reports show that these creatures are flouting Ministry law and endangering lives in doing so.
“It’s frightening to think that they’re so close,” said Morwenna Hubblebrook, 89, of Hogsmeade Village. “It just goes to show, they don’t care about the normal wizarding folk trying to get by peacefully. And I reckon Dumbledore should be doing more to make sure that forest is safe – it isn’t right all sorts of creatures being allowed to roam free unchecked!”
The Headmaster was unavailable for comment – could his silence be an admission of his complicity, or a display of his startling arrogance? Other staff members seem to defend Dumbledore’s frankly ludicrous attempts at health and safety. Groundskeeper Ruben Haggard had this to say: “You can go in and look for them yourself if you want, missy, but you’ll find nothing.”
Was this a bluff, or an attempt on this reporter’s life? And do all of Dumbledore’s staff share the same blind devotion and look the other way when it comes to keeping their charges safe?
Regulus, sat in a high-backed chair in the drawing room of Malfoy Manor, swirls his glass of untouched brandy and looks thoughtfully into the fire. The Daily Prophet sits on a three-legged table by his side, discarded. A photo of Hogwarts is in the middle of the Skeeter article, and further down, a grotesque picture of a werewolf mid-transformation.
Bella had been delighted by it, and kept on quoting bits from the article all through dinner. Even now, while Narcissa sits close to the fire, eyes trained on a book, Bella will still occasionally laugh and say, “We must send Joseph something as a token of our thanks,” and, “I knew Rita Skeeter in school and she always was an insufferably busybody, I never imagined it would work out quite so much in my favour,” and, “The best thing is – the werewolves are not even there any longer, so Dumbledore is facing all this criticism for naught!”
Narcissa murmurs her vague assent.
“Maybe it is Rita Skeeter to whom you owe a token of your thanks,” she says, not breaking concentration from her book.
Bella puts her hands on the back of the chair Narcissa is sitting in, one on either side of her sister’s head. She leans down over Narcissa’s shoulder to inspect the book that Narcissa is reading, and pulls back a moment later, lip curled.
“Aren’t you a bit old for silly fantasies, Cissy?”
Regulus glances at the book held in Narcissa’s pale white fingers. The front cover shows a witch and a wizard staring deeply into the other’s eyes, the wizard leaning down with a stormy look on his face, the witch gazing up at him coquettishly.
Narcissa merely turns a page. “In my experience, sister, love is not a fantasy.”
Bella moves to the drinks trolley in the corner of the room and unstops a decanter of whiskey, pouring herself a glass.
“Regulus has come all this way to see us. I hardly think it’s being a good hostess to sit engrossed in frivolous romantic fiction -”
Regulus stirs in his chair, gripping the leather arms. “Oh, I don’t mind.”
“I do not comment on your hobbies, Bella,” Narcissa says, her cool clear voice not rising in volume but managing to speak over the both of them just the same.
Bella’s nostrils flare and she puts her glass down with enough force to make the whole trolley clink and rattle.
“Serving our Lord is not a hobby -”
“At what time are we expecting Lucius back home?” Regulus asks swiftly.
“Soon, I should hope,” Narcissa replies, glancing at long last up from her book to gaze at the fire. “I hardly see why he needs to be away from his family on New Year’s Eve just to see to the well-being of a pack of dirty creatures. Why should we be concerned with where they sleep and if they are comfortable? I’m sure it’s veritable luxury compared to what the brutes are used to.”
Bella takes another glass of whiskey and carries it to the grand piano. She sits on the stool and plays a few notes haphazardly.
“It is important to make sure our new recruits are settling in. The Dark Lord insisted we treat them with civility, so that others can see how gracious and rewarding being in our Lord’s services can be.”
Regulus swigs his brandy until the glass is empty, grimacing. He contemplates going for another despite the awful taste, but the hour is late and soon enough the house-elves will be around with champagne for the midnight toast and celebrations. He hopes Lucius won’t miss it, and that Edmund will be joining him. Regulus wants to make sure that Edmund knows that it was Regulus who first told Bella of the werewolves being in the forest - never mind Joseph’s whisperings to The Daily Prophet; personally Regulus thinks it is he who should be getting the bulk of the thanks.
“Civility,” Narcissa repeats with a shudder. “As if vile creatures like that deserve anything of the sort. Granny Pinch used to say that the only good werewolf is a dead werewolf.”
“I’m inclined to agree with her, but for the moment it suits us to use them. The Dark Lord believes they will have their uses, and who are we to question it? There are rumours of recruiting the giants as well.”
“Giants? Goodness me, whatever next – asking the house-elves to fight?”
“Actually, house-elves have very powerful magic,” Regulus says. “We studied it briefly in Care of Magical Creatures.”
“Don’t doubt our Lord’s plan,” Bella says to Narcissa quietly. Then, to Regulus, “Care of Magical Creatures has always seemed such a pointless subject to me. And now they’re teaching the merits of house-elves? The sooner Hogwarts gets a reform, the better. The staff is made up of traitorous filth and doddering Mudblood sympathisers.”
“And the likes of your dear friends, the Gerards,” Narcissa says mildly.
For a brief moment Regulus fancies he sees a smile on Narcissa’s face, but Bellatrix, glaring down at the piano keys, doesn’t notice. On his arrival to Malfoy Manor a few days after Christmas, Bella had done nothing but quiz him about the Gerard family, and Regulus has learned that Mademoiselle Gerard was responsible for putting a warrant out for Rodolphus’ arrest in France.
“Do not speak to me of them,” Bella snaps. “The very mention makes me want to curse something. I cannot believe you had the eldest child rooming with you for a month, Regulus, and learnt nothing of importance, nothing we can use to our advantage.”
“I told you,” Regulus says evenly, “the children are dull.”
“I should murder the brats myself.”
“Bella! You are talking of children.”
Bellatrix gives Narcissa a withering look. “If Delphine Gerard wishes to come after my family, I see it only right to repay in kind.”
“Can we change the subject?” Narcissa implores.
“Very well, if it so distresses you. I suppose in any case they shan’t be worth worrying over for very much longer.”
Looking at his cousin curiously, Regulus asks, “What do you mean?”
Bellatrix’s expression is unreadable. “Oh, you know how it goes with that Defence professor’s position. They’ll be gone in a few short months. Now, shall we play a game of cards while we wait for Lucius to return?”
From in between them on the sofa, Peter groans. Remus looks down at him, as best he can when Peter’s head is on Remus’ shoulder, and sees that Peter is asleep. Remus shoots a look over Peter’s hair at Sirius, on the other side.
“You’ve worn him out.”
“Me?” Sirius says idly, his legs flung over the arm of the sofa. In truth Sirius is more off the sofa than on it, and Remus is slightly envious of this, squished as he is being used as Peter’s personal headrest. “You’re the one who insisted on a brisk walk around the grounds.”
“Because we’ve barely moved from the common room all week,” Remus argues.
“Why would we need to? We have enough snacks from Christmas to last us.”
“That attitude,” Remus murmurs, “is precisely why I suggested the walk.”
“And look what it’s done to poor Wormtail!”
“It also might have something to do with the twelve crème brulees you dared him to eat.”
Sirius has a cagey look about him. “Could be. Although I never expected him to accept. Who eats twelve crème brulees, Moony?”
“Peter, apparently,” Remus says, shifting his arm, which has begun to tingle with lack of blood flow. Peter mumbles something and twitches. No doubt having nightmares of a thirteenth crème brulee, Remus thinks. “You did encourage him.”
“I hope he spends the two Galleons wisely.”
“On getting his stomach pumped, most likely.”
Sirius laughs and wiggles off of the sofa. In the sudden space created, Peter slides into it as if he’s made of liquid. Finally freed, Remus rubs his arm and stands up as well.
Sirius, mid-stretch, grins at him.
“Mr Lupin, whatever shall we do with our sudden freedom?”
“Funny you asked, Mr Black. I did have something in mind…”
The walk to Professor Gerard’s office is quiet and uninterrupted. The students that have stayed at Hogwarts for the holidays are all most likely holed up in their common rooms preparing for their respective New Year’s Eve parties. There’s a chance that Professor Gerard is also busy tonight, but Remus thinks it worth a shot. He knows that Professor Gerard is probably the most likely teacher, apart from Dumbledore himself, to know something more about the werewolves, or have some answers to the questions that haven’t left the back of his mind all Christmas break. While it might seem impertinent to burst into the office of the Headmaster and demand answers, Remus feels that Professor Gerard may be an easier target, and with Sirius next to him, Remus’ bravery is almost unwavering.
Even if Professor Gerard isn’t in his private quarters or if he turns them away, Remus still gets a night-time walk through the castle with Sirius. James had left them the Invisibility Cloak to use while he’s home for the holidays, and even though it’s a tight fit with both Remus and Sirius under the cloak, it’s not an unpleasant one.
Remus is well aware that time with Sirius is precious, that they don’t get nearly enough of it alone together. Lately it seems like there’s always something in the way of them being together, sometimes Remus’ own hesitancy being the most forceful. The Christmas break has been a welcome relief from the stresses of the last term and Remus is finally starting to relax and feel more like his more comfortable, more rarely seen, self. Remus is glad of it just being the two of them right now, grateful for the sound of Sirius’ breathing beside him, for the press of Sirius’ body against his own, for their little moment of peace and togetherness, even if it is only until they reach Professor Gerard’s office door.
Sirius raises his fist as if to knock, but Remus hears something that makes him garb Sirius’ arm, stalling him. From the other side of the door Remus hears raised voices, what sounds like an argument. Underneath the Cloak he grimaces at Sirius, thinking that perhaps interrupting the Gerards in the middle of an argument might not be the best idea in the world.
“Maybe we should -”
Remus turns to look at Peter stood in the darkened corridor, and for a moment wonders how Peter knows they are even there, until he sees the Marauder’s Map clutched in one of Peter’s hand.
Remus pulls the Cloak off of him and Sirius.
“What’s up?” Sirius asks.
“I wondered where you went,” Peter says.
The shouting from the other side of Professor Gerard’s door gets louder. Sirius turns sharply to the sound of the noise, his body stiffening. Remus is still looking at Peter.
“Pete, who’s in there?” he asks, gesturing at the map.
“What? Oh, right, erm -” Peter holds the map up again, his eyes scanning over it, “- Professor and Mademoiselle Gerard. Why, what -?”
A loud crash is closely followed by a burst of bright light visible under the crack in the door. Sirius hurls his body weight at the door at the same time that Remus produces his wand and shouts, “Alohamora!”
“Professor, no!” Sirius shouts, sprinting into the office to tear Professor Gerard away from – for a moment Remus can’t quite believe what he’s seeing – his wife.
Remus trains his wand on their Defence professor, but a split second later realises that he’s concentrating on the wrong Gerard. Mademoiselle Gerard, dressed in glittering black evening robes, leaps towards Professor Gerard with a cry that isn’t quite human. Sirius, stood in between the two, swears loudly and tries to duck out of the way when it becomes apparent that the woman is charging in his direction, but Mademoiselle Gerard never reaches either of them.
The Stunner hits Mademoiselle Gerard in the side, and for a moment Remus thinks he’s the one who’s cast it. It’s only after he sees that Peter is now by his side, his own wand outstretched, that he realises what has happened.
“I just Stunned a teacher’s wife,” Peter whispers, his wand hand shaking.
Professor Gerard bends down beside his immobile wife. Rather than appearing angry at Peter, he appears to be hesitant to touch Mademoiselle Gerard. He’s also wearing smart dress robes. With a start Remus wonders what time it is, how close it is to midnight.
“Professor, what happened?” Sirius asks.
“Is she okay?” Peter whispers.
“She attacked me,” Professor Gerard says. His voice sounds hollow as he stares down at his wife. “We were just leaving to go out for the night –”
“Jehan! Gracious me!”
Professor McGongall rushes into the room, clutching at her chest at the sight of Mademoiselle Gerard on the floor. Peter hastily shoves his wand into his back pocket, but McGonagall looks as if she hasn’t even noticed the three boys, huddled together in shock in the corner.
“Don’t touch her, Minerva,” Professor Gerard says sharply. “She’s been possessed, I’m sure of it.” With his wand, he points at something on the front of his wife’s robes, a piece of jewellery or trinket of some kind. “And I’m fairly certain that’s to blame.”
McGonagall peers down over the top of her glasses. “What is it?”
“A brooch I’ve never seen before,” Professor Gerard says, voice grim. “I assumed it was a present from family; it was only as we were leaving and she thanked me for the gift that I thought it odd, and by then it was too late. Delphine attacked me – physically, no magic – but it was as if something else was living inside her body.”
Peter has started to tremble again. A part of Remus wants to give him a shove and tell him to get a grip.
“Let’s get her to Madame Pomfrey,” Professor McGonagall says. “We can take the brooch off there and examine it – boys, what on earth are you doing here?”
She has finally noticed the three of them. Her nostrils flared, her lips pursed, she glares at them in turn until Remus mumbles something about passing by and hearing the commotion.
“Well, you’d be best to pretend you never heard anything,” Professor McGonagall says firmly. “The last thing I want is this spread around the castle, do you understand me?”
They all nod.
“Good. Now I suggest you get back to Gryffindor Tower at once.”
Peter walks from Professor Gerard’s office as if in a trance or a dream. They don’t bother with the Cloak, but Sirius takes the map from Peter’s unprotesting hand and keeps a wary eye on it until they’re safely back in the Gryffindor common room. They head straight to their dormitory, past the streamers and the banners decorating the common room proclaiming “Happy New Year!”
As soon as they’re all inside the dorm, Sirius lets out a low whistle.
“Well, that’s not how I imagined seeing the year out. What the hell do you reckon all that was about, eh?”
Remus gives a small shrug. Peter feels as though he’s lost the ability to speak.
“I suppose Defence teachers are bound to pick up a few enemies,” Remus says at last. “And Mademoiselle Gerard is a foreign Ministry official. I bet her being here has riled up some people.”
“Death Eaters, then, d’you reckon?” Sirius asks.
A chill goes down Peter’s spine and he clenches and unclenches his hands, aware of how clammy they are.
“Who else?” Remus says miserably.
“She’ll be okay, though, won’t she?” Peter asks, glancing anxiously between them both.
Sirius blinks at him. “’Course,” he says bracingly. “Little bit of possessed jewellery or whatever, McGonagall and Dumbledore will get to the bottom of it, no problem. And being Stunned never gave anyone any lasting damage – thanks for that, by the way. Quick thinking there, Wormy.”
“No problem,” Peter says, his voice sounding small.
He wishes he could feel more buoyed by Sirius’ compliment, feel more brave or deserving of his words. But every part of Peter feels as if it’s been coated in lead, as if he’s swallowed something that is sticking unpleasantly in his throat.
Because Peter has seen the brooch that Mademoiselle Gerard was wearing before – in the shop window in Nott’s Antiques.