Minerva McGonagall set aside the curricula scrolls she was reviewing for the upcoming school year and looked up to the sight of Hagrid filling her doorframe.
He ducked his head apologetically. “Sorry to bother yeh, professor, but I’ve got a visitor here asking ter speak ter yeh directly. She’s got a letter addressed ter yeh, ma’am, she said.”
That was intriguing; the visitor must have stated her case persuasively, if protective Hagrid had been willing to show her directly up to the headmistress’ office.
Minerva nodded. “All right, show her in, Hagrid.”
Hagrid backed through the door, revealing the woman standing behind him. Then he gave a polite nod and took his leave, returning to duties of his own.
“Enter!” Minerva bade the woman.
The visitor who stepped silently across the threshold was a black woman with a slight build and dark hair arranged in neat rows of small plaits. Although her appearance was neat, there was an air of careful, threadbare frugality about her that struck Minerva as somehow familiar. She had an air of polite deference as well, a sense of stillness she carried with her.
The woman waited in the doorway for permission to approach further, and with a catch of her breath, Minerva knew what was familiar. Her unknown guest held herself so much like Remus Lupin had done. He’d been gone three years now, lost in the final battle of the war, and still Minerva could see him as if it were yesterday, standing before her desk in his meticulously patched clothes and quiet dignity.
And with that memory so freshly drawn before her mind’s eye, Minerva knew who this woman was.
“Please, sit down,” Minerva urged her guest. Even as she said it, she was rising and crossing the room to fetch a chair by hand, knowing her guest might be unused to seeing wand magic performed and not wanting to startle her.
Minerva set the chair in front of her desk and the woman perched lightly on its edge, placing herself carefully as if unused to this sort of furniture. As she returned to her own seat, Minerva observed how the woman glanced around, curious but cautious, rapidly taking in the portraits on the walls and the furnishings of the room. Minerva could tell her gaze missed nothing.
“Thank you for being willing to see me, Professor McGonagall,” the woman said. Her words, like her posture and her clothing, were perfectly correct and yet somehow marked by a slight hesitance, as if she were performing foreign cultural rituals she had studied in theory but rarely had the opportunity to try out for herself.
Wordlessly, the woman reached out and placed a small scroll, bound with a simple piece of white string, on Minerva’s desk, bowing her head as she did so. Then she lowered her hand to her side and looked up.
“My name is Serena,” she said. “At least, that is my name among humans.” Again, she gave a quick dip of her head. “I apologise for intruding on you. I’m not sure of the protocol for approaching the headmistress of a school. But this letter is addressed to you and when you’ve read it, Professor, I hope you’ll understand why it would have been difficult for me to reach you by owl or whatever the more usual channels may be.”
Minerva reached out one hand and touched the scroll, where it sat before her on the desk. She ran one finger along the length of the parchment, but did not yet unknot that bit of white string. The parchment was smooth but its edges were frayed, suggesting that though the scroll had been carefully kept, it had nonetheless seen the turn of a few seasons since it had last felt the touch of the hand that wrote it.
Remus Lupin, Minerva thought with a tightening in her chest where all her lost students lived. She could see him even now, with his band of fearless friends, those boys who’d caused Minerva no end of headaches. But those same boys had also been perfectly suited to the task of drawing Remus out of his own cautious nature: always polite, never complaining of his lot in life, no matter what pain and indignity his illness had caused him. He’d been so grateful, always, to be allowed to be at school at all.
“This letter is from Remus Lupin,” Minerva said to the woman in front of her, and it wasn’t at all a question.
The woman’s eyebrows lifted slightly in surprise, the first time she’d allowed a reaction to show in the careful politeness of her face.
“Yes,” the woman said. “We knew him by his werewolf name of Quiet, but that was his name among wizards, yes.”
Minerva nodded, and now she opened the scroll, working her fingers gently between the strands of a knot tied years before by the serious schoolboy who’d become the upstanding member of the Order of the Phoenix, who was now these three years dead.
Dear Professor McGonagall,
the parchment read,
I am leaving this letter in the care of a woman whom I have come to call a friend during my time living with this werewolf pack. I write it in the hope that she may one day choose to approach you. Her name, among humans, is Serena, and if you are reading this letter then her daughter Joy – known to the pack by her werewolf name of River – is now eleven years old.
Joy, at the time I knew her, was a clever, curious child, fascinated by the world around her, with a remarkable capacity for absorbing stories. That she has magical ability there is no doubt; I have watched her learning werewolves’ magic from the matriarch of the pack. That she would benefit enormously from a Hogwarts education I also have no doubt. She has too much intelligence and too much delight in learning to be denied the chance at schooling if she wishes it.
Joy has spent most of her childhood within the pack, with few memories from her life before. It can be difficult to bridge two such separate worlds, but I fervently believe it is possible. I know Serena will do everything in her power to maintain her daughter’s connection to the pack and their way of life, even if she studies magic among witches and wizards. And I believe Hogwarts, too, is capable of educating a child while respecting the different world from which that child comes.
It is not easy to accommodate a werewolf child at Hogwarts. I know this better than anyone. I realise I am asking you to go very much out of your way for the sake of a single child. But I also need hardly tell you that when Dumbledore took this same decision in my case, all those years ago, it changed everything for me.
Minerva, it is an imposition and a tremendous favour I am asking of you, but I beg you to consider accepting Joy, also known as River, as a student at Hogwarts.
Yours with deepest respect and fondness,
Minerva found herself blinking rather rapidly as she laid the letter gently back down on her desk.
“Of course the child will attend Hogwarts,” she said. “How could there be any doubt?”
The woman sitting across from Minerva breathed in sharply, as if she had not dared to hope for this response. Minerva looked across the desk and met her eyes.
“Hogwarts is, and always has been, open to every magical child in the British Isles. How could I live with myself if I denied a child entrance because of circumstances beyond that child’s control? Besides,” she added firmly, “Remus Lupin was a student here, and a friend and an excellent teacher besides. If he says your daughter would benefit from a Hogwarts education, I trust his opinion implicitly.”
Serena lowered her eyes. For a moment Minerva thought she was being bashful and wondered why. Then she remembered Remus’ explanations of the hierarchy that operated within a werewolf pack: This woman viewed Minerva as a superior and thus was expressing respect and deference through her body language.
“She’s a very clever child,” Serena said softly but confidently, her eyes still downcast. “She learns quickly, and she loves to learn.” She paused briefly in the grip of some emotion, then went on: “I thought for a long time that I and the others of our pack could teach her everything she needs to know, and that our life should be enough for her. In many ways, Professor, I still believe that to be true. But if she wants to learn the magic of wizards… I love my child, but I won’t hold her back from the world.”
Serena’s eyes flashed up to meet Minerva’s, though she was clearly trying to keep them respectfully low. “How will it be for her at full moons here?” she asked. “Can you ensure her wellbeing, in a place where she is the only one of her kind?”
Minerva nodded briskly. Here, at least, she had clear and practical answers. “Modern potions-making has advanced a great deal since Remus was a student. Wolfsbane Potion is safe and reliable, and we’ll be able to supply River with it each month.”
Serena’s tone was wary. “I’ve heard of Wolfsbane Potion, but I’ve never taken it myself. What will it do to her?”
“It will allow River to keep…well, to keep her human mind, I suppose one would say, during the physical transformation. She will not be a danger to herself, nor to anyone else, and she will be able to spend the full moon night comfortably.”
“As a werewolf myself,” Serena began, and Minerva saw how she straightened up as she said it, “I can think of nothing worse than to be stuck in my human mind when my body wants to run free as a wolf. But I understand this is a necessary precaution for the safety of the other students, is that correct? Because they would be in danger of being perceived as prey by a wolf inhabiting her wolf mind.”
“Yes,” Minerva said, relieved that Serena understood. “And it would be for her own protection as well. I know from Remus that when a fully transformed werewolf is denied prey and the companionship of other werewolves, the experience is not a pleasant one.”
“No,” Serena agreed shortly, and Minerva wondered if Serena, too, had lived among humans and suffered as Remus had done, spending full moon nights locked up alone while her wolf-inhabited mind raged to be free. What a mercy Wolfsbane Potion was. It couldn’t stop the physical transformation, but at least it spared a werewolf the mental anguish that otherwise went with it.
“We shall arrange somewhere for her to transform within the castle,” Minerva assured her guest. “Somewhere safe and comfortable where she can pass the night until the transformation is over.”
To Minerva’s surprise, Serena burst out, “You would keep her indoors?” She was sitting straight as a wand and staring at Minerva, all her careful control and deference forgotten.
“Why, yes, of course,” Minerva said, perplexed. “It’s a matter of safety.”
“A wolf needs to be outdoors at the full moon,” Serena said, leaning forward, her voice low but urgent. “At the very least, she must be able to see the moon. It is terrible for us to be locked away from the natural world at the time when we most need to be immersed in it.”
“Believe me,” Minerva said, taken aback by the vehemence in Serena’s tone, “the last thing I would want is for the child to suffer. But I have a responsibility to all the children at the school. I can’t in good conscience allow a werewolf out of doors at the full moon, not even with Wolfsbane Potion.”
Serena’s breathing came harshly through her nostrils. She managed a tight nod.
As gently as she was able, Minerva said, “I cannot pretend to know what the experience is like. But I do know that with the potion, her mind will not be transformed, as it otherwise would be. In her mind, she will still be a girl passing a night much like any other. One of our teachers can keep her company, reading to her or telling her stories. Or she can simply sleep if she wishes.”
Serena had regained her control now and said, “I will discuss this with River. If it’s a sacrifice she’s willing to make, giving up her freedom at the full moons in exchange for the benefits of education, then that is her choice to make and I will not forbid it.”
Minerva nodded in acknowledgement. There was another uncomfortable point to be touched on, and she began delicately.
“If River indeed decides to attend Hogwarts, I think it would be best, at first, that she not tell anyone of her lycanthropy. Prejudice has decreased since the war, and I wish I could say it had vanished completely, but society is slow to change. It need not be a secret forever. But it might be wise at first, until she’s found her footing at school and has decided who she feels she can trust, that she be circumspect.”
She looked at Serena to see how she took this, and was glad that she did not seem offended by the suggestion.
“I agree,” Serena said, with another polite dip of her head. “People can be unkind, and there is no need to hand them a reason. I will speak with River.”
“There are a few other minor considerations,” Minerva added. “Each student must procure certain supplies before arriving at Hogwarts, books and robes and such. There’s a small fund that can cover the costs, if necessary, but River will still need to travel to Diagon Alley in person, especially in order to select a wand.”
“Diagon Alley,” Serena said softly, her rigid posture loosening. She seemed to grow smaller in her chair, as though she were retreating back into a younger version of herself. “Yes, I remember it.”
Minerva opened the drawer of her desk where this year’s Hogwarts Letter waited, ready to be subjected to a manifold duplication charm and sent out to all magical children in the British Isles now turned eleven.
Would the charm that sped the letters on their way have allowed one to find River, despite her lack of permanent address and a life spent learning werewolf, rather than wizard, magic? It ought to do so, yet the fact that no other werewolf child had turned up at Hogwarts in all these years suggested that it didn’t. Minerva added a note to her mental file to investigate how one might go about adjusting the ancient spell to seek out werewolf children as well.
For now, Minerva made a quick, single copy of the letter and the supplies list and handed them to Serena, who accepted both with a quick bowing of her head. Serena’s eyes scanned down the list, and she nodded slightly at each item.
“Yes,” she said. “I understand. I think we will be able to find these things.”
“Oh, no, you needn’t do it alone,” Minerva interjected hurriedly. “Someone from the school can accompany you when you go to Diagon Alley. That’s what we do for Muggle-born children, and there’s no reason we couldn’t do the same for River. I’ll send Hagrid to assist you, perhaps, or –”
And then Minerva had a marvellous idea.
“No,” she said slowly. “Not Hagrid, I don’t think, nor anyone else from the school. But I know just the person you should meet.”