The Sugar Quill
Author: LiteraryLuminary  Story: Sunset Confession  Chapter: Sunset Confession
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Sunset Confessions

Sunset Confession

 

Dark secret hidden, kept inside

Won’t forever consent to hide.

 

            “Remus?  Can we talk to you for a minute?”

            Sirius’ voice.  He sounds…almost grave, which, for him, is most assuredly not normal, and Remus tenses.  It is an inflexible and age-old rule: no pleasant conversation begins with the words ‘can we talk’.

            Besides, this isn’t a good time for him to be detained.  The moon will rise in an hour, and he has only so long to make up the excuses that must precede his escape to the infirmary.

            But Sirius and James and Peter can’t know that, cannot discover the secret he hides.  If the carefully cultivated illusion of humanity vanishes, their friendship will be harshly and instantaneously withdrawn.

He has grown used to having companions, confidants.  In little more than a year, they have become indispensable.  Once habitually solitary, now he cannot imagine Hogwarts without the three of them at his side.

            So he turns slowly to face them, mustering practiced self-control and arranging his features into a blank, calm mask.  It’s probably nothing important, he reminds himself, trying to quell the fear swelling, hot and nauseating, in the back of his throat. Some harebrained scheme they want him to go along with—surely not discovery; surely not exposure.  They cannot know.

            They cannot—cannot—possibly have found out.

            But he knows.  Just seeing them, grim-faced and somber-eyed, is enough.  Nothing trivial—nothing normal—could make the most notorious pranksters in Hogwarts look so undeniably serious.

            This is it, then.  Now that the moment has finally come, he is surprised to find he cannot muster any real reaction—perhaps he has expected it all along, and is only now admitting it to himself.  “Yes,” he says mildly, inwardly pleased that his voice is as composed as his expression.

            James moves nearer him, advancing, flanked on either side by Sirius and Peter.  Tetrad made triad, the three of them presenting a united front against the pretender, the abomination, the threat.  “We know, Remus,” he says quietly, his tone quite as even as Remus’ own.

            Three short, simple words.

            Such devastating impact.

            Remus sighs, then draws a deep breath that is meant to be soothing but does nothing whatsoever to calm him.  “How did you find out?” he asks at last.

            Since he will, most likely, be expelled from Hogwarts the instant his lycanthropy becomes public knowledge, it is wise to find out now what mistake he made, just in case he is ever afforded again the opportunity for education among humans.

            If he is given another chance, he will not waste it.

            Sirius breaks out of formation and drops onto the arm of one of the squashy chairs scattered around the common room.  Absently, Remus wonders why he has been elected to speak for the group: James is usually the leader.

            Then he remembers that, of all of them, Sirius is best at coming up with insults.  If they want to make the rejection especially painful, James would not be the logical choice.

“You always miss Astronomy on full moons,” Sirius says matter-of-factly, ticking off points on his fingers.  “Then there’s that little vanishing act every month to visit ill relatives and coming back looking half-dead, plus the way your senses are so much better than any of ours.”  He pauses, eyes sparkling with amusement, then adds with a grin, “But that third set of grandparents that died before you vanished last time kind of clinched it.”

            It is not surprising that Sirius looks ready to laugh, he thinks bitterly, biting back a curse.  No doubt he finds it funny that his former friend has made such an undeniably stupid mistake.

            Why, why didn’t he continue with aunts and uncles, which don’t come in limited numbers?  He knows he has a tendency to lose track of which relatives he has already used in his monthly stories, and the “family death” excuse, while no one questions it, is the riskiest of all to use—that is, the easiest to get caught in later.

And now he has been caught, and it is entirely his own fault.

“I see,” he says, meeting each set of eyes, looking to James and Sirius and Peter in turns, gauging their reactions.

He cannot be seeing what he thinks he is seeing, he tells himself, refusing to allow the spark of hope to blaze.  They look…concerned…for him.  Nothing in their faces, nothing in the way they are holding themselves speaks of fear, nor yet of hostility.

That doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  He, of all people, knows how emotions can be concealed behind features arranged into false calm.  “Well,” he says resignedly, turning back towards the dorms.  “I’ll go and pack, then.”

“Pack?” James asks, brow furrowing in confusion.  “Where’re you going?”

“Home, I thought,” Remus says.  “As soon as people find out, I’ll be expelled.”  He is impatient with James’ uncharacteristic obtuseness, feeling this should be perfectly obvious.  Then he pauses, an entirely new idea occurring to him.  “Unless…you aren’t going to tell?”

Sirius emits a snort of incredulous laughter, dragging the chair up beside Remus and moves over, patting the place beside him in tacit invitation.  “Why should we?” he asks.  “It’s not like it matters much—I’ve got cousins with worse times of the month than yours.”

At any other time, he would have laughed at that, but his future, still uncertain, is his most immediate concern.  Even if they will agree to be silent, he is not naïve: their silence will most likely come with a price.  “You’re having me on,” he says, not daring to believe them.  “Of course it matters—it matters to everyone—”

“We’re not everyone,” Peter interjects, speaking up for the first time as he and James move to stand at Remus’ side.  “We’re your friends.”

Are they?  Dare he believe that they not only know….but accept?

It is an unheard-of thing, in his experience.  He has been warned that he would be ostracized if exposed; he has been to the Werewolf Registry at the Ministry and seen the way the staff there regard him: with mingled fear and loathing.  He has had their stares bore into him with almost tangible derision.  Inhuman. Freak.  Half-breed.  Animal.  Monster.

But he cannot see those epithets in their eyes.

They do not hate him.  They are not afraid.

“Thanks,” he manages to force past the lump rising in his throat.  He is so relieved, so glad of their understanding that he feels he may cry, but forces himself not to.  It’s enough that they can excuse his lycanthropy; he will not ask them not to laugh if he cries like a girl.

There is, after all, only so much twelve-year-old boys will put up with.

“I—I have to go,” he says, suddenly remembering and feeling euphoria ebb away with shocking speed.  “It’s one of those nights; I’m supposed to go to the Hospital Wing soon—”

Peter quirks an eyebrow, looking slightly nervous.  “You don’t—actually in the school…do you?” he asks, a bit timidly.

“No,” Remus assures him at once, turning to face him.  “I go to the Shrieking Shack, in Hogsmeade.  That howling that comes from it…”  He shrugs, gestures vaguely to indicate himself.  “Well, it’s not ghosts.”

“That’s you?”  James, looking very impressed, gives him a congratulatory clap on the shoulder.  “Wicked!”

He winces at the enthusiasm in his friend’s tone, wondering, for a moment, if he hasn’t been wrong to trust them so readily.  Having them treat his condition as some kind of exotic entertainment would be just as dehumanizing as being rejected outright because of it—almost more so.  This is my reality—it isn’t a game or a joke, he thinks angrily, narrowing his eyes.  Don’t treat it like one!

He shakes his head.  “It isn’t me!” he says, perhaps more vehemently than he intended.  “It’s the wolf—and it’s not the least bit enjoyable!”  He yanks up his robe sleeves, nearly tearing the fabric in his zeal to have them understand, and bares the marks of moons past that mar the flesh.  “Look!  Just—look at that, and don’t you dare tell me it’s amusing!”

“Are those…scars?” Sirius asks at last, voice low and hesitant now.  “From…?”

Even Sirius, ordinarily brash and almost entirely tactless, is unwilling to say it explicitly: he realizes that they are treading on intensely intimate territory.

He nods, casting his eyes down lest he should see pity in theirs.  “It isn’t me,” he repeats, more quietly now.  “I’m not human those nights, and I’m not sane, and the wolf—it doesn’t like to be shut in, and it gets angry, and it—does this.”  Absently, he fingers the pale impression of teeth marks on his wrist.  “That’s why I have to stay in the infirmary so long.”

James’ expression changes abruptly from appreciative to faintly ill.  “Because wild animals can kill themselves trying to get out of traps,” he whispers, obviously not meaning Remus to hear.

But he does.  The wolf is always in his perception, and lupine hearing picks up what no human ear ever could.  “Yeah,” he agrees.  “They can.  But it isn’t going to kill me.”

Not until he is older, any rate.  He knows the statistics.

Tugging his sleeves back down, he looks up at them again, almost defiant, daring them to turn away.

They don’t.  They don’t know—cannot truly understand—the severity, the sheer malevolence of the curse, but they are willing to stand with him.  “Cover for me?” he requests.  “If anyone asks where I am?”

“Least we can do, mate,” Sirius agrees, still too sober for Remus’ liking.  “If there’s ever anything we can do to help…”

He opens his mouth to say that there is nothing, then pauses and revises the thought before it passes his lips.  “Yeah.  Just…don’t treat me any differently than usual, okay?  I don’t want your pity, and I don’t want to be mollycoddled.”

“We wouldn’t, Remus, honestly,” James assures him with what he clearly hopes is an understanding sort of smile, but falls slightly short of the mark.  “We’re not girls—and anyway, no one who can win one of our prank wars needs to be treated like glass.  You can give as good as you get.”

Good—James is maneuvering the conversation back onto normal grounds, which is better answer than any promises he could make.  Following his cue, Sirius brightens again and grins.  “I still want to know how you got all those catnip mice into McGonagall’s office without getting caught—she was twitchy for days!”

As much as he would like to stay and bask in their acceptance, his lunar clock dictates that he has to go, and go quickly.  “I’m in detention with Filch tonight,” he tells them as he heads for the portrait-hole, “if anyone wants to know.  I got mud on the floor, or stepped on Mrs. Norris, or something—just make sure you’ve all got the same story, and I’ll go along with it.”  At Sirius’ ominously mischievous expression, he amends hastily, “Within reason!”

Given free rein, he doesn’t like to think what the three of them might come up with.  Knowing them, nothing he would want to admit to having done.

“When’ll you be back?” Peter asks.  “A day or two?”

“I don’t know,” he admits, turning back with a wry grin.  “Some moons are worse than others—I don’t think this one will be especially bad.”

Before they can ask what constitutes ‘especially bad’, he is out the portrait-hole and gone, moving quickly down the corridors, by now mostly deserted.  This isn’t the time to answer their questions—besides, he is unsure how truthful he can be, how much he can divulge, without unnerving them.  He is amazed he has not already managed to scare them off.

The cynical whispers of doubt: perhaps they were only fooling him, playing one last prank—cruel and cutting and vicious—and reserving their hatred for afterwards.

No!  He forces that thought from his mind.  James’ awkward reassurance, Sirius’ ready grin, Peter’s assertion of their friendship, confident in spite of his timidity, the three of them, clustered close around him—none of that could be anything but genuine.

Such sacred things couldn’t be falsified—he would know if they were only acting, he reminds himself.  The wolf in him is preternaturally attuned to the subtle nuances of tone and body language.  He would see, would hear, any trace of deception.

But there had been none.  He has to trust that they are not going to shun him.

But how could they not?  Doubt again, insinuating itself into his thoughts, coiling around them like some vile, venomous snake.  How could it just mean nothing?  It’s practically a law that werewolves aren’t accepted anywhere—

My friends don’t follow rules!

Doubt quails at the heated assertion.  They have been nothing but kind to him, Remus reminds himself.  They have always included him in everything they do, and seemed to enjoy his company.  Is it really so impossible that they are fond enough of the boy to accept the presence of the wolf?

            They have been close friends for over a year, sharing a dormitory, dozens of pranks, and more detentions than Remus cares to count.  By now, they feel like family to him, and when he is with them, the wolf feels the deep contentment of being surrounded by a pack.

            While it has done him grievous harm, he has long since learnt that its instincts are to be trusted.  It would not trust them if they were going to turn on him; it does not share his fear of rejection.

            And that is just as reassuring as the smiles and friendly words he has been given tonight.

In the infirmary, he submits to being fussed over by Madam Pomfrey, and allows her to lead him to the Whomping Willow, which (once that particular knothole is prodded) stills to admit him.

            And in the Shrieking Shack at the other end of the tunnel, he sequesters himself in the bedroom, atop the ill-treated bed with its scarred frame, and awaits the inevitable pain of the change.

            It comes, as it always has and always will, and he screams as his body seizes and contorts and breaks, giving way to the wolf’s.  His mind slips away, insignificant, drowning in waves of bestial ferocity.

            He cannot know—is not aware—that there is not only bloodlust in the wolf tonight.  He will not remember, in the morning, the howl that pealed through the old house, calling not only for the hunt and its spoils, but for others to be beside it.

            Alone...where are you?  Where are you?

            Come!

            There is, of course, no answer.  The pack does not dare approach, not this night.

            But in the morning, himself again, wracked with pain in the infirmary, Remus will not be alone.

 

Finite Incantantem.

//
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