The days were growing longer as the ground became moist with newly melted snow. Tufts of green peaked out from the mud as spring drew nearer. Along with the warming weather, schoolwork piled up as end-of-term exams approached, but nothing was more exciting than apparition lessons for all sixth year students. Apparition required one hundred percent of a person's focus and brain power, concentrating wholly on a desired destination. For me, these lessons were a safe haven. One hour a week took my mind off of the weight that was riding on my shoulders and made me think of something else, even if the only thing I was thinking about was the hoop two feet in front of me. I was the only one who managed to apparate the first time, not counting a Ravenclaw boy who managed to get a single toenail into his hoop. A sense of confidence filled me up, temporarily dislodging the uneasiness I had felt for the last month.
Sirius seemed on edge nearly all the time. He insisted to us all that his detached mood was simply due to stress, the heaps of homework that were piling up and the apparition test coming up. I knew the true reason for his sullenness, and I could tell that James and Remus remained unconvinced by his half-hearted explanations. Since when was Sirius this bothered by schoolwork?
We stayed up into the late hours of the night in the Room of Requirement, delving into my mind and the inner mechanisms of my soul, desperately searching for the animal that lived within me. There were times when I felt something surge through my body. My stomach heaved upward and my pupils constricted, and I could smell wafts of air snaking through the window, hints of swampiness as if it had floated across the lake before entering the room. I felt my ears prick slightly as the breeze moved through the room, hearing it as clearly as if it were whispering directly to me. However quickly my senses were heightened, they dissipated and I was left standing in that stale, dusty room just as before. However much I found those episodes insignificant, Sirius noticed my mini-transformations each time.
"It's big. And it's powerful. A little bit scary, too," he said, a sly grin creeping halfway across his face. I sighed exasperated and threw myself down on one of the armchairs next to the fireplace.
"It doesn't matter how big or ferocious it is if I can't get it out of me!" I said, frustrated. I looked up at him as he still smiled. I hesitated for a moment before smiling also. "How big is it, do you think?"
Sirius chuckled and plopped down in the chair opposite me. He stretched out his arms and gave a wide yawn. "Definitely bigger than me. Maybe not bigger than James but much stronger. I'm very eager to see it." He slunk further in his chair and closed his eyes, enjoying the heat that radiated from the fire. I sighed again.
"Well you shouldn't be too eager," I said, annoyed that my lack of ability was hindering our progress.
"Maybe it's just hibernating," Sirius said nonchalantly. I gave him a disconcerted look, wondering what he meant by it. "You know how animals hibernate for the winter. Maybe that's it. Once it warms up, it'll be ready to prowl! You'll show us all. I know it."
It was early on a Saturday morning, and the sun had barely peaked over the hills when I barged into the boys' dormitory. James and Remus were already dressed, wearing jackets and scarves, ready for their trip to Hogsmeade. I groaned as I saw them.
"Please bring me back some sweets from Honeydukes," I pleaded with James as I adjusted the red and gold scarf draped around his neck. He nodded sweetly as he began to leave the room. Remus followed after catching my eye with a warning stare before exiting. He knew I'd grown more like Sirius, always thinking of getting into mischief. After making sure they were out of ear shot, I pounced on top of Sirius, startling him out of a dream.
"Marilyn! I was just dreaming of you!" He said sleepily. I shushed him quickly and pulled my invisibility cloak out from underneath my sweatshirt.
"Get dressed. We're going to Hogsmeade."
Once the corridors were clear of any wandering students or teachers, Sirius and I sneaked through the castle and met an eerie statue of a one-eyed witch on the third floor. After peering over his shoulder a few times, he whispered 'Dissendium', and the statue moved to reveal a dark, narrow passage way, leading straight into Hogsmeade. We slipped inside and Sirius grabbed my arm.
"We need to be very careful. I really don't even think we ought to be doing this," Sirius said, cautiousness resonating in his voice. "I know you think—"
"It'll be fine, Sirius," I said sharply. "In the last month I haven't even caught wind of anything out of the ordinary happening. Besides, we won't be there for long. I just need to get a new collar for Lux. And maybe a couple cauldron cakes. I just really need a break from that old, stuffy castle." Sirius's usual dazzling eyes seemed lackluster in the dim light of the passageway. They begged me to reconsider, but instead I grabbed his hand and led him through to the storeroom of Honeydukes. I draped the invisibility cloak over us as we stepped out of the passage into the empty basement of the sweetshop. We climbed the stairs quietly and we were suddenly thrown into a crowd of excited, wide-eyed teenagers, barreling through shelves of candy and novelties. We strolled through the cobblestone streets of the village, peering into shop windows, when we noticed James and Remus sitting at a cozy table in the corner of the Three Broomsticks.
"Let's go in and see them! Maybe have a drink before anybody notices us!" Sirius said, excitedly, the cautious tone of his voice from the passage now dissolving. I chuckled before leading him away from the window.
"We will after we get what we came for. I promise," I said, smiling and content now that Sirius was a bit more relaxed. We opened the door to a small boutique in the corner of the square and I ripped off the invisibility cloak. I browsed the shelves, coming across intricate pieces of jewelry and accessories plaited in gold and silver. A small woman came out from behind a shimmering curtain and greeted us. She looked very frail, and there was no doubt that most of her weight was made up by hundreds of pieces of fine pearl and diamond jewelry.
"May I help you dears?" She said in a tiny voice as she jingled across the room, baubles on her ears swaying from side to side and glinting in the light. After explaining to her what I needed, she picked up a collar from a glass box on one of the shelves. It was a gold collar, covered in jewels with a diamond crested paw print hanging beside a small bell. "Of course, these aren't real diamonds, but listen to how pretty!" She shook the collar in her hand, causing the bell to tinkle. I smiled and handed her a handful of galleons.
As we exited, I stuffed the collar wrapped in parchment into my sweater pocket and covered ourselves up with the invisibility cloak once more. We entered the Three Broomsticks when we noticed how unnervingly quiet it had gotten since we left the boutique. James and Remus were still in the corner sipping on the drinks when we approached them, removing the invisibility cloak. Their faces looked distorted and disturbed as they saw us. Before we could even open our mouths to greet them, James's eyes darted to the window and Remus tore the cloak back over heads and shoved us underneath the table.
The door to the bar burst open and all of the mindless chatter around the place had ceased. I craned my head to see who had just entered. Two large men in black, hooded cloaks trudged in, wands wielded high above their heads.
"Now, gentlemen, we don't want any troub—"
"Avada Kedavra!" One of them yelled, and a flash of green light filled the room. Gasps escaped from all around as a body hit the floor and the men had menacing grins on their faces. "Nobody move. We don't wanna hurt nobody." They started pacing around the room, pointing their wands and giving intimidating stares to those who dared meet their eyes.
"We're looking for someone," one of them said with a heavy accent. "A girl with black hair. She was seen earlier with a boy, walking around near here." He stopped in front of the table we hid under.
"Somebody in here knows." The room remained silent except for a few muffled whimpers. After a few seconds of not hearing any volunteered answers, he slammed his fist down on the table, knocking over the drinks that James and Remus were once enjoying. I startled slightly underneath the cloak and I felt a small object fall out of my pocket, making a tinkling sound as it hit the ground. It was such a small, insignificant noise, yet it seemed to reverberate through the entire village, echoing off of the surrounding hills, and giving away our position under the table. My breath quickened as the man near us craned his head. "What was that?" I shoved the collar back into my pocket, hoping to stifle its bell. His grin widened as he looked back and forth at James and Remus, both of them shrugging, trying to keep their faces composed. "I knew, eventually, she would come to me." He said, with a sinister chuckle. "They always do." He threw the table across the room and I ripped out my wand as mugs and glass broke across the floor. Sirius, James and Remus drew their wands as well while everyone else ran out of the pub in a frenzied panic.
"Petrificus Totallus!" I yelled as I struck the Death Eater straight in the chest. Another flash of light flew toward my head and one of the boys deflected it. The other Death Eater was casting streaks of blue and red across the room, some of them hitting the walls behind us, dislodging stone from the wall and breaking wine bottles and glasses from shelves.
"I got her!" He yelled, signaling other Death Eaters who, I presumed, were lurking through the streets, searching through other shops looking for me.
"Stupefy!" I yelled forcefully as he had us cornered. He was thrown across the room and slammed against the far wall. Loud voices were coming from outside, footsteps were running toward the pub, people were yelling to 'get inside and finish the job.' I snatched up the invisibility cloak and grabbed Sirius, James and Remus. I closed my eyes tight, trying to block their bloodthirsty voices from my head. I pictured the cellar of Honeydukes, the ladder that went down into the passage way, the boxes of sweets that were piled high against the ceiling filled with fudge and chocolate frogs. I could hear the laughter of excited children above the storeroom, picking out their favorite candies. Then I could feel the packed dirt and dusty floor of the storeroom, and with a pop we were there, standing in the basement of Honeydukes Sweetshop. We could hear footsteps above us, running out of the store, hoping to meet us in the Three Broomsticks where we were seconds before. We climbed into the secret passage and made our way back up to the castle.
"Marilyn, what were you thinking?" Remus snapped at me. I had never heard him speak in that forceful of a tone. "You could have gotten us all killed!" He then looked over to Sirius. "You were supposed to be protecting her! Making sure that she didn't get into any trouble!" Sirius winced as Remus shouted in his face.
"It wasn't his fault, Remus," I said, pushing him away from Sirius, who looked a bit nerve stricken. "I was the one who dragged us down here." I continued to trudge through the passageway, nearly tripping on my own feet. "It's all my fault. My stupid ego. Sirius told me not to do it. But I don't need protecting. No, no, no. I just do whatever the hell I want when I want to do it." I kicked the wall in anger. "Just like a Slytherin." I could feel tears well up as Sirius touched my shoulder. "I'm sorry." I said wetly. James and Remus both put their hands on my back as I cried. It was hard to fathom the caliber of the situation. It was all much bigger than any of us could control or even imagine. I was being hunted, and Voldemort would stop at nothing to have me as his trophy.