Grantaire had been eleven—at school only two weeks—the first time Madame Maxime led him to the wine cellar to transform. They were both wearing dark cloaks, with hoods drawn up to hide their faces. In Maxime’s case, Grantaire doubted whether it would do much to conceal her identity. The young headmistress was head and shoulders above any other person at the school, faculty or student, and Grantaire suspected that she must have some giant blood.
Not that he would ever tell. One dark creature to another, Grantaire figured. They kept each other’s secrets.
He remembers how much he shivered, despite the warmth of the evening, as she led him out of the gates, through the dark cobblestone streets, and down the back alley beside the Café Musain. The cellar, as he understood, had been quietly purchased by the school from the café’s proprietress, Madame Hucheloup. She had agreed not only to keep silent about the change in ownership, but also to be seen carrying empty boxes in and out a few times a week and, significantly, to keep an ill-tempered, yowling tomcat in the underground room the other twenty-nine days in the month.
The smell of that cat drove Grantaire into a frenzy even before the moon had fully risen, but the cover it provided him—with rumors of a mad feline for whom Madame Hucheloup had an inexplicable soft spot—was more important by far.
On that first night, Maxime pulled open door after door, bolted and reinforced and charmed shut, while Grantaire waited on the damp cobblestones, glancing nervously at the sky.
“Go on,” she said, when it was open at last, and Grantaire held his breath as he descended the stairs, his heart throbbing in his chest.
“It’s been afforded every protection, wizard and muggle,” Maxime said softly, behind him on the steps. “You will be safe here.”
What she meant was that everyone else would be safe from him here, but Grantaire was grateful for that.
The underground room was small and featureless, with stagnant air and stone walls. Grantaire’s head began to reel instantly from the strong scent of cat, so much so that he staggered a bit. Maxime looked wary at this, though his transformation was at least an hour off yet.
“I will lock you in now and come back to collect you in the morning,” she murmured, with pity in her voice. She gave Grantaire’s shoulder a small squeeze with her large hand. “Good luck.”
Grantaire found his throat was too tight to force any words, so he nodded and gave his headmistress a nervous smile, as she turned and closed the metal door behind her.
Now, seven years later, the trip to the dismal underground room is routine. Grantaire no longer needs to be accompanied; he can turn all the bolts and perform all the spells to effectively quarantine himself. The privacy allows him to save his clothing, locking his robes just outside the innermost door. The room itself is more or less unchanged, save for the deep scratches cut into the stone.
Grantaire can already feel the pull in his bones as he walks. He wishes he could take something to numb the sensation, but he never risks potions on the day of the full moon; he may be self-destructive, but he isn’t suicidal. It is a Sunday evening, so Grantaire keeps his head down while he walks. There are other students off-campus tonight, and the last thing he needs is for someone to remember seeing him leaving the grounds but not returning.
The lights are just beginning to come on in the little village before him. Grantaire can still remember the unbridled joy he felt the first time he saw those lights and the gleaming palace of Beauxbatons in the distance. His acceptance at the school had been unprecedented—as Grantaire later learned, a direct response to a werewolf having successfully completed three years at Hogwarts School in Scotland without incident. The Hogwarts werewolf, whose name Grantaire was never told, had faired rather better than him, it seemed. Grantaire was a mediocre student at best. His Transfiguration grades were abysmal, and Professor Magloire never lost an opportunity to comment on his wasted potential. Though he had something of a passion for Charms, especially beautiful charms—going as far as to experiment and create his own—this did not translate to consistency in his coursework. He had only passed the sixth-year exam in Defense because, between Joly, Courfeyrac, Jehan, and Combeferre, his friends had refused to let him fail. His Herbology, Astronomy, and Potions marks were good but not stand-out, especially when placed in the context of the rather spectacular talents in his year.
If he had been normal, human, this might have been acceptable—but Grantaire was an experiment for Beauxbatons, more or less representing an entire species. He couldn’t stand the pressure, couldn’t force himself into the mould of model student and grateful werewolf. He was grateful; he just wasn’t brilliant. And as that realisation sunk in, Grantaire grew desperate for something to take the edge off his loathing. It had been an accident at first. In fourth year, he had taken an extra pain potion five days after the full, when a particularly nasty break in his leg was still aching. He found that it made him feel numb and indifferent and just a bit fuzzy, and that these feelings were not altogether unwelcome. He began to sneak unneeded potions after that, when he was feeling especially unworthy of his place at Beauxbatons. They dulled the voice in his head that screamed that he wasn’t good enough and never would be, that he was doomed to a life of pain and mediocrity—and not just because of what he was, which he might have been able to overcome if not for who he was.
Soon, he couldn’t get through the day without them.
But Grantaire is as sober as ever as he rounds the corner into the alleyway. He does not take chances with his transformations. Pulling out his wand and beginning the tedious process of undoing the locks with shaking hands, Grantaire feels shame burning in his stomach. He had always hoped that his friends didn’t notice. Enjolras’s comments at the meeting of les Amis the previous night had cut like a whip. They knew—Enjolras knew—all of his failings.
When he reaches the cellar at last, he finds the stupid tomcat hissing and spitting at him from the back corner. The shock nearly makes Grantaire fall backwards, but he manages to keep his footing only through an awkward hop-step which no one could construe as graceful. His balance regained, he feels all his senses start to go haywire, his gut instincts caught somewhere between attack and run.
Trying to keep a hold over himself, Grantaire takes a step forward, pinching the bridge of his nose hard and trying to keep his presence of mind. The cat takes a step backward.
“I’m trying not to eat you,” Grantaire snarls.
The cat looks at him with angry yellow eyes and yowls.
Grantaire still has time, but dealing with the devil cat by himself is not a feasible option. He turns away from the scent and makes his way back up toward the café in search of Madame Hucheloup.
This is how Grantaire stumbles upon the discussion already in progress. Stopping in the upstairs corridor of the Café Musain at the sound of a muffled conversation in the back room, he recognises Eponine’s voice and moves closer. When he discerns the word “werewolf,” he positions himself just outside the door, out of sight but in full hearing.
“—We’re all prepared to die but not needlessly and not stupidly. I’m telling you that I don’t trust him,” Eponine is saying heatedly. “We’re letting him sit in on all of our meetings and know all of our plans, knowing full well this is a war with spies. He doesn’t believe in our cause, he’s made that pretty bloody clear. He doesn’t even pretend to. You heard him last night: ‘Why fight it?’ I’m not willing to gamble with my life, or Feuilly’s life or Marius’s or Combeferre’s, that he’s not reporting what he’s hearing among the Amis directly to Rosier or worse. He’s a werewolf—”
“Which—” And Grantaire freezes at the sound of this voice.
If truth be told—and Grantaire will never tell it—Enjolras is the other reason that he started with the potions. Since they were eleven years old, Enjolras was the shining golden boy of their class, everything Grantaire could never be. He was well-spoken, handsome, captivating, and bright, beloved by students and professors alike. At first, Grantaire had tried to hate him, but trying to hate Enjolras had been like trying to hate beauty and light and everything good in his life. Grantaire couldn’t do it. He was drawn to Enjolras, felt as helpless as a moth, dull and ugly, drawn to the brilliance of a flame. When Enjolras gave him attention, even negative attention, Grantaire felt most alive, perhaps simply by association with someone so vibrant.
And Grantaire was scared, terrified to explore these feelings more deeply. He didn’t need another reason to be despised and ostracised. He was different enough. Feeling everything less deeply included feeling Enjolras’s presence less deeply. The pain potions left him able to bury his desire, to leave it more or less unexamined.
He hangs back at the door-frame, unsure what Enjolras will say, gripped with a sudden, paralysing fear.
But Eponine’s voice cuts in again.
“No, that’s not what I—” she hastens to add before Enjolras has said more than the one word. She sounds embarrassed but determined. “I care about him, too. All I’m saying is that being a werewolf makes him a person of interest to the Death Eaters, maybe even a victim. Not even you can deny that. We don’t know what advances they’ve made or what they might have offered him. And the fact is, he’s good at keeping secrets. He has to be. He kept a pretty big one from us for six years.”
“From you,” Enjolras corrects dispassionately.
It’s true. Enjolras worked it out early in their second year. He’d noticed Grantaire’s regular absences and cross-checked them with a lunar calendar. One day, he caught Grantaire in private, looked straight into his eyes, and asked. Grantaire, who’d been frightened and overwhelmed and a bit breathless, looked back and found he couldn’t lie to Enjolras.
“I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but I am saying…”
Grantaire chances a glance around the doorframe. A genuinely stupid idea, he realises too late.
Eponine, facing the door, sees the movement and registers his presence immediately. Her eyes go wide with shock. Enjolras turns and sees him, too.
And then Grantaire is running down the corridor, dimly aware that someone is running after him.
“Don’t!” he shouts as he hurls himself down the stairs two at a time. It’s Enjolras poised to follow at the top. “Don’t follow me! It’s too close. I’m not safe.”
Enjolras has no choice but to let him go.
Grantaire’s words are not strictly true. He has time yet, but he flies back toward his cellar. When he reaches it, it’s still occupied.
“Get out!” Grantaire screams so loudly that the words feel sharp in his throat. This time, with a fleeting look of terror, the cat bolts for the stairs. Grantaire chases him as far as the top step and slams the outer door behind him. He rips off his clothing while furiously doing up the locks and aiming spells, adrenaline thrumming though his system, throbbing in his ears and down his arms. Trapped inside the dark room at last, Grantaire sits down, naked and wandless, in the centre, pulls his knees tightly into his chest, and waits.