Remus's father was carrying him. He could feel the wool of the old blanket rubbing against the rawness of new bites and scratches, but everything else hurt so much that it hardly seemed to matter. He was too weak even to grit his teeth against the bone-deep pain. Instead, he counted the seconds silently, the flowing numbers a talisman to ward off the tears until he was alone.
26 ... 27 ... 28 ... 29 ....
His father laid him on his bed, and his mother turned back the blanket to apply expensive soothing ointment to his new wounds. Remus didn't bother to open his eyes.
43 ... 44 ... 45 ... 46 ....
At least his mother didn't gasp and tsk at the damage he did to himself anymore. Or if she did, it was only after the bad nights, and Remus was rarely conscious on those occasions to notice. Last night hadn't been one of the bad ones, but there weren't any good ones, either.
109 ... 110 ... 111 ... 112 ....
The blankets came up over him, and his mother's hand gently stroked his hair. "Get some rest, Sweetheart," she said softly. "It's all right now."
But it wasn't all right. It would never be all right again.
The door closed, and Remus began to weep silently into his pillow. Finally, worn out by tears and pain and misery, he slept.
It had been five years since the attack, and the best that could be said was that Remus only occasionally longed for death anymore. Not that he would have done anything to harm himself, but he sometimes wished that his father had not been quite so quick to come to his rescue that day. If the wolf had killed him, his own suffering would have been over in moments, and although his family would have been devastated, eventually they would have found the strength and courage to get on with their lives. But as things stood, none of them could ever move on. They were trapped forever in the cyclical hell of his condition.
The first few years had been the worst. The attack itself had only been the first and most traumatic in a series of disruptions in the lives of the Lupin family.
Remus had spent more than a week at St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries while his body did its best to recover physically from the attack. For days, he was in shock, staring at the healers and his parents alike with round, uncomprehending brown eyes, too traumatised even for tears. Then the shock had begun to recede, and Remus had started noticing things again.
The first thing he had noticed was the way everyone treated him. The healers talked to his parents and to one another over his bed, but they rarely spoke to him or met his eyes. Even when they examined his wounds, they seemed reluctant to touch him. He longed for the comfort of his parents' arms, but even they seemed to hesitate before reaching out to him.
During his time at St Mungo's Remus had learned many new words. Normally, Remus loved words, but not these. "Werewolf" he had already known, but not exactly what it meant. His tongue stumbled clumsily over "lycanthropy" the first few times he tried it. Then there was "lunar cycle". Full moons were no longer pretty, but were now the central focus of Remus's young life. "Isolation" would be required on those nights, but no one mentioned that it would soon describe every aspect of his life. The last word he learned was "rape" -- the bitter word his mother used to describe the attack. When his father had told her not to exaggerate, she had flashed him an angry look and asked sharply how what had happened to their son had been any different.
By the time he had been allowed to go home, Remus had missed almost two weeks of school. His parents had told him he could take more time if he needed it, but Remus had wanted to go. Somehow, he had convinced himself that by returning to the routines of his former life, he could make everything go back to normal.
It hadn't taken him long to realise how wrong he had been. The other children were curious what had kept him out of school for so long, but seemed satisfied with the answer that he'd been ill. He certainly looked it. His teacher had been less easy to convince. How ill? she had wanted to know, and with what? But Remus had been firmly and grimly informed by his parents that he must never tell anyone what had happened to him, unless they needed to know for official reasons, so Remus just kept his head down and his mouth shut.
His marks had begun to suffer, due to a lack of participation in the classroom, though he had soon made up all the assignments he had missed. His friends sensed the change in Remus, and since they were unable to understand it, and he was unable to explain it to them, they had slowly begun to withdraw their friendship.
Remus was lonely and miserable. As the date of the April full moon had approached, his misery had translated itself into irritability, and he had begun to lash out, getting into several fights, mostly with his former friends. His parents had been understanding but firm. His emotions would be affected by the waxing and waning of the moon, they told him, and he must learn to be in control of them at all times, for his own sake as well as for others. Control would become his watchword.
The afternoon before the April moon, his tightlipped parents had left Natalie with a neighbour, and taken the Floo Network to the Ministry of Magic. That was the day the shine of the magical world had truly worn off for Remus. His wonder crumbled as soon as they were forced again and again to explain the reason for their visit to each Ministry official they encountered. Friendly smiles were instantly replaced by sneers, suspicion, and stoney looks.
They had made their way to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, where a special holding cell had been reserved for Remus for the night. Remus's mother had been made to wait outside, and his father had only been allowed in because he was an employee of the department. A gruff wizard who barely glanced at Remus had told him to undress. Remus had looked to his father, and received only a quick nod in return. Reluctantly, he had obeyed.
A heavy iron door had been opened, "I'll be here the whole time, Sweetheart," his father had said, trying to smile reassuringly, and Remus had walked through it, naked and shivering, to be left with an unceremonious clang in utter darkness.
What had happened next was the worst thing that had ever happened to Remus.
The next thing he could remember was waking up, still in cold and darkness and fear, every bone and muscle and inch of skin blazing with pain. He had been too weak to stand, or even to cry for help, so he had simply lain there, curled in a tight ball on the cold stone floor, whimpering and weeping for an hour or more. Finally, the door had opened, and his father and a healer had been allowed in to tend to his wounds before his parents carried him home.
Marcellus and Sylvia had been very quiet and subdued that day, and it was only later that Remus had learned that his father had lost his job. There was a law, it transpired, that anyone having a close personal association with a known Dark Creature was prohibited from working for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, due to conflict of interests. Marcellus had tried to get a transfer to another department, but magical creatures were all he knew. Remus's parents told him it wasn't his fault, but it still felt like it was.
The situation at Remus's school continued to deteriorate. He was withdrawn and irritable by turns. The other children largely avoided him, and his teacher grew increasingly impatient with his vaguely-excused absences and behavioural problems. Remus had held on as best he could through the remainder of the school year, and greeted the arrival of the summer holidays with a relative sigh of relief.
Marcellus had still not found work by the end of the school year, and the neighbours were asking too many uncomfortable questions about the Lupin family's sudden secretiveness. They decided to move.
Their second home had been a small, anonymous, dingy flat in a rundown suburb of London. It had been easier to transport Remus to the Ministry from there for full moons, since they could no longer afford Floo powder. Marcellus had soon found a low-paying reception job at a Muggle veterinary clinic, and Sylvia stayed home to care for Remus and Natalie, and see to their education. They had remained there for a year and two further job changes, always keeping to themselves, and trusting no one.
Two moves and countless low-paying Muggle jobs later, when Remus was almost ten, they had finally settled in a small, ramshackle cottage in the countryside. It was miles from anything else, off the main road, and surrounded by farmland. But its best feature was the cellar. It had taken only a little work to bring it up to Ministry specifications, and Remus had at long last been spared the monthly humiliation of suffering his transformations under cold, official eyes.
His parents would be there the moment dawn broke, often before he even regained consciousness, carrying him to his bed and seeing to his hurts. Remus knew they never slept on full moon nights anymore than he did. Even if his howls and crashes hadn't kept them awake, his mother and father could never sleep while one of their children was suffering. They never complained, and he was grateful for their care, but he still felt empty inside.
Remus had tried to fill the emptiness with books and music, both of which he loved. He could lose himself in them, and forget for a while that he was a werewolf -- that he was alone. Fortunately, the Lupins owned a great many books. Their collection had stayed with them through all their moves, Marcellus and Sylvia feeling, as their son did, that books were too precious ever to get rid of or leave behind. They took the place of the friends Remus lacked. Whenever he was lonely, he could go back again and again to visit beloved characters, or relive a favourite scene.
Music was less readily available. The family owned an old turntable and a small collection of vinyl LPs, all of which Remus knew by heart, and they had a radio, which, on good days, could pick up as many as three stations, albeit somewhat fuzzily.
Sometimes Marcellus would take out his wand and tune in to the Wizarding Wireless Network, but it was the only connection they had to the magical world any longer. Natalie, now eight years old, had shown no sign of magical ability yet, and while eleven-year-old Remus had, it was unlikely that he would ever be permitted to integrate into Wizarding society.
When Remus awoke in the mid afternoon, he could smell the rain. He opened his eyes to see his sister lying on her front on the bed beside him, nose buried in The Wind in the Willows, blonde hair hanging in a curtain around her face.
"Hey, Sleepyhead," she greeted him. She nodded towards a gently-steaming mug on his nightstand. "There's tea if you want it."
He groaned and sat up, pushing honey-brown hair out of his eyes. His head still ached, and the room spun disconcertingly, but the tea was a special soothing blend, and it helped immensely.
"How long've you been here?" he asked.
Natalie shrugged. "Since dawn, except for breakfast."
It was her usual habit on the mornings following full moons. Ever since she was small, she had crept into his room as soon as his parents went to their own bed, and curled up beside him. She never poked or wriggled or tried to talk to him. Her presence was a quiet comfort, and he welcomed it. He knew his transformations gave her nightmares, especially since he had started having them in the house, and he was extremely thankful that she was not afraid of him, since she was the only friend he was ever likely to have.
"You getting up?" she asked.
"Maybe." He looked down at the long, red scratches visible on his thin chest, sticky with ointment. "I need a shower."
"Bath," she told him firmly. "You'll pass out if you try to stand up for too long."
He gave her a weak smile. "Bath, then."
Remus appreciated how matter-of-factly his sister treated his condition. After all, of the four of them, she could not remember what it had been like, before. She had grown up in the role of helper to her parents and protector of her older brother. If she was as lonely as Remus was, she never showed it.
She slid off the bed, bare feet thumping on the floor. "I'll run the water for you," she volunteered, departing.
When she had gone, Remus pushed back the covers and stood up, swaying. The rain made it chilly in the room, even though it was July, but he did not immediately reach for his dressing gown. He needed to take stock first. For years, he had done his best to hide from his condition, and avoid looking at his own scarred body, but eventually he had been forced to face facts, and it had become his post-full-moon ritual to take a moment to assess the damage before he dressed.
Not too bad, he thought critically, viewing the scratches on chest, arms and legs in the full-length mirror on the back of his bedroom door. His eyes lingered, as always, on the twisted wedge of scar tissue at the top of his right thigh. The wolf's bite. He turned and craned his neck over his shoulder to check his back. The wolf's claws couldn't reach there as easily, but there were frequently one or two self-inflicted bite marks. That morning was no exception. He winced, fingering a deep puncture over his ribs. That one would definitely leave a scar.
Sighing, he reached for his dressing gown, hoping that a bath would make him feel human again.
Remus and Natalie were sitting on the sofa, reading together in silent companionship, when the doorbell rang. Wide, brown eyes met over the tops of their books. In the year and a half since they had moved to the cottage, their only visitor had been the Ministry inspector who had come to check the alterations to their cellar.
Natalie set down her book and cautiously approached the front door, opening it barely a crack to peek out.
"Good afternoon, young lady," said a pleasant voice from the other side. "Are your parents at home?"
Marcellus and Sylvia Lupin appeared, summoned by the doorbell.
"Who is it, Sweetie?" asked her mother.
Reluctantly, Natalie opened the door wide enough to reveal a tall man in long, purple robes edged in gold, carrying a matching umbrella. He had a white beard which fell almost to his waist, and the bluest eyes Remus had ever seen.
His father blinked in surprise. "Professor! Er -- won't you come in, Sir?"
"If this charming young lady will allow me?" the man said with a smile, eyes twinkling. "What is your name, my dear?
"Natalie," she whispered shyly.
"A pleasure to meet you, Natalie. Do you mind if I come in for a moment?"
She shook her head and stepped back to allow him entry. His eyes swept the room, and caught Remus peering at him over the back of the sofa. Remus could have sworn he winked.
"Marcellus." The man shook his father's hand warmly. "It's been too long. Might I have the honour of being introduced to your lovely wife?"
Remus's father's bewildered eyes never left the man's face. He cleared his throat. "Dear, this is Albus Dumbledore. He was one of my professors at school. Professor Dumbledore, my wife, Sylvia."
"A pleasure, Madam." He bowed and kissed her hand. "I now have the honour of being headmaster at that fine institution of learning. But there's someone I haven't met yet."
"Ah," said Marcellus, looking suddenly anxious. "Of course." He gestured towards the sofa. "My son, Remus."
The elderly professor stepped around the sofa and smiled at Remus, holding out his hand.
He wouldn't if he knew, Remus thought glumly, shaking the proffered hand.
"Professor," Marcellus said hesitantly, "might I ask why --?"
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled over his half-moon spectacles. "I happened to have some mail for young Remus that I thought it best to deliver in person."
"Oh," said his father, eyes widening as Dumbledore removed a creamy envelope from his robes. "But --"
Remus stared at the envelope, puzzled. No one had ever written him a letter before, and he couldn't imagine why anyone would now. It had his name and his family's address written neatly on one side in dark green ink, and on the other was a large blob of purple wax, stamped with an "H".
"Hogwarts, lad," Dumbledore told him, still smiling.
His mother gasped. Remus felt something leap in his chest, and immediately squashed it. He didn't even have to look at his parents; he already knew the answer.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, handing the envelope back. "I can't."
"Even a werewolf deserves a proper education," Dumbledore said softly.
Remus's eyes snapped up to meet those twinkling blue ones. He couldn't breathe. The man knew. He knew, and he was still here, offering Remus something he hadn't dared to want or think about since that horrible day. He was so stunned that he barely noticed Natalie climbing up onto the sofa beside him and silently squeezing his hand.
"Can I?" he breathed, turning towards his parents.
"No," said his mother angrily. "Absolutely not."
"I'm sorry, son." His father's voice was gentler. He laid a hand on Remus's shoulder. "I just don't see how it can be done."
Dumbledore glanced from Remus's mother to his father, face utterly calm. "You must realise, Marcellus," he said, "that an untrained wizard is no less dangerous than a werewolf. Can you teach him the control he needs? Until he learns it, he will be a danger to himself and to you all."
Control. That word again. Remus knew it well. He had learned over the years to control his emotions, hiding his thoughts and feelings behind a blank mask or an unmeant smile. But his magic was another matter. His parents knew as well as he did that sometimes, when he was especially angry or sad, things happened.
"The other parents will never allow their children to go to school with a werewolf," Marcellus argued.
Dumbledore's smile never wavered. "I think we can contrive to keep his condition a private matter."
His mother's jaw was still tight. "Who would take care of him? You, Professor?"
"I have already spoken with Madam Pomfrey, our new school matron, about Remus's special circumstances," Dumbledore assured her. "She is on board and ready to provide for his needs."
"But the Ministry --" began Marcellus.
"Mehitabel Fox is an old friend," said Dumbledore, naming the head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. "I have met with her, and with Aloysius Borage as well. I've given them personal assurances that I will be on top of the situation, and I have managed to persuade them that, with proper precautions, there is no reason why Remus should not be allowed to participate fully in the education to which he is entitled by right of his abilities."
Remus knew Aloysius Borage was the Minister for Magic, and he felt awed that this man he had never met before had gone to such great lengths on his behalf.
"Should you decide to send Remus to us, arrangements will be made to create a safe place for him to spend the full moons," Dumbledore continued. "His own well-being and the safety of the staff and student body of Hogwarts have been taken into consideration."
"It's kind of you to offer," Marcellus said, flushing slightly, "but we can't afford it."
"There are funds to cover tuition fees for families who feel them a financial strain," Dumbledore assured him. "I will see to it personally that they are made available to you."
Remus looked from his father to his mother, not yet daring to hope. It all seemed far too good to be true. His mother's lips were pressed stubbornly together, but his father's face bore a thoughtful expression. Natalie, beside him, squeezed his hand harder than ever, and he squeezed back this time, sweaty palms pressing together.
"I don't like it," Sylvia said. "I don't think it will work."
Marcellus laid a hand on his wife's arm. "Syl," he said gently, "you know I worry about Remus as much as you do. But I trust Dumbledore. If he thinks it can be done, I think maybe it's worth considering. What do you think, son?"
Remus was so startled to be consulted for his opinion on the matter that he didn't speak for a moment, just stared up at his father.
"I want to go," he said at last. "I want to learn."
If his experiences at the Ministry of Magic had destroyed his sense of wonder at the Wizarding world, Diagon Alley went a long way towards restoring it. Amazing as the Ministry magic had been, it had been a businesslike kind of magic. In Diagon Alley, people enjoyed themselves. They smiled and talked and laughed, and a few even nodded greetings to the awed young boy, trailing along behind his father.
They wouldn't smile if they knew, Remus reminded himself. But the difference was that, here, he didn't have to tell them. Here, he could be just another young wizard preparing to embark upon his education, and forget his dark secret, if only for a few hours. That is, he thought he could until they went to Gringotts.
For five years, the Lupin family had dealt almost exclusively in Muggle currency, using wizard money only occasionally to buy the special healing potions and soothing tea Remus required. His father did not even have an account with the Wizarding bank any longer. They went today only to exchange what little money they could afford for wizard gold. Outside the bank afterwards, Marcellus turned, smiling, to hand the small bag to his son. Then he hesitated.
"Some of the coins are silver," he warned. "Be careful."
Silver had been the first thing to go from the Lupins' house after the attack, once it was discovered that the slightest touch caused Remus's tender skin to burn and blister. The family silver had been sold, and much of his mother's jewelry. A few fancy clasps had been ruthlessly torn from old books, and his father's prized chess set had been put away to gather dust.
Remus took the bag gingerly. "I could wear gloves," he said reluctantly. It would mark him as different, but he was beginning to realise there was no help for that.
"You could," said his father, smiling lopsidedly. "We'll keep an eye out for some."
They went to Ollivander's first. Everything else on the list included with Remus's Hogwarts letter could be picked up secondhand, but the wand would be new, and would be the most expensive purchase of the day. It was also the one item Remus longed for most in all the world. He couldn't be a real wizard without one.
Ollivander turned out to be an eccentric man who poked and prodded and measured, handing Remus wand after wand, then shaking his head and laying them aside. Remus got the feeling that the wand merchant knew there was something odd about him, but he didn't ask, nor did he seem terribly concerned about what it might be, except insofar as it affected his trade.
"Here's the one," he said at last, drawing yet another long, thin box down from a high shelf. He removed the wand with a flourish, and handed it to Remus.
Remus felt a faint vibration as he clutched the wand, and a warm glow began to spread through his hand and down his arm, until it suffused his entire body.
Ollivander clapped with delight. "A perfect fit! I knew it! Dragon heartstring, willow, ten and a quarter inches, and reasonably flexible. An excellent combination."
Remus dumped out the money on the counter. The cost of the wand was almost half of what he had, but he was so pleased that he didn't care. He was startled, though, when Ollivander offered to help him return the rest of the money to the pouch, deftly plucking up the silver coins and dropping them in, one by one. Remus's change was given to him in copper Knuts.
"How'd he know?" Remus asked worriedly when they left the shop.
His father shook his head. "Intuition. It's one of the reasons he's the best at what he does."
"D'you think other people will guess?"
Marcellus gave his son's shoulder a squeeze. "It's possible. Just be careful, all right, son?"
Remus was surprised when the next place they turned into was Eeylop's Owl Emporium.
"Do I get an owl, Dad?" he asked, excited.
His father smiled at him fondly. "No, son. We do. Your mother and I decided it would be a good idea so that we can keep in touch with you and Dumbledore."
Remus was only slightly disappointed. A family owl was almost as good as having his own. Who else would he write to? Unfortunately, the owls did not seem to like him much. When he peered into their cages, they glared at him suspiciously, and sidled away on their perches.
Even animals don't like me, he thought glumly.
The barn owl his father ended up purchasing was decidedly elderly. "Veteran", the woman behind the counter described him, and that became his name. Veteran didn't seem to mind Remus quite so much as the younger owls did. He gave Remus the distinct impression that he'd seen far too much in life to be troubled by juvenile werewolves.
Marcellus bought his son ice cream at Florian Fortescue's to cheer him up after they purchased his school robes. The only ones they had been able to afford were patched and frayed, worn thin in a number of places, and the clasp on his winter cloak was cheap pewter, not the silver recommended on the list.
"My son has an allergy," his father had told Madam Malkin, the witch who ran the shop.
Her lips had gone very thin at that, and her one-sided chatter had dried up. An "allergy" to silver meant only one thing, and she clearly knew it.
Remus poked moodily at his raspberry-cinnamon sundae, and wondered if he was fooling himself, thinking that he would be able to pass for "normal" at school.
"All right, son?" his father asked.
Remus slumped back in his seat. "What if I can't do it, Dad?"
His father shrugged. "Then at least you'll have tried. The worst that can happen is you'll have to come home again."
"What if it's horrible?" Remus asked miserably. "What if everyone hates me?"
Marcellus leaned across the table and covered his son's hand with his own, forcing him to meet his eyes. "You're strong, Remus," he said earnestly. "You've had to be. I know you can do this. And I have faith in Dumbledore. You don't know him yet, but I do. If he's on your side, anything is possible."
Remus did not have the confidence in himself that his father did, but neither could he disappoint the man who had showed him such love and support during the last five difficult years. He nodded.
"That's the spirit!" his father said, smiling. He stood up. "C'mon. I've been saving the best for last. You'll love Flourish and Blotts. We'll pick you up a copy of Hogwarts: A History."
Dumbledore sat in his high-backed chair and regarded the Hat on his desk ambivalently. It was very old -- patched and worn in several places -- and rather filthy besides. It was also one of the great symbols of the school: the Hogwarts Sorting Hat. Dumbledore had mixed feelings about the Hat, and about the founders' wisdom in believing that students should be classified based upon the personality traits they exhibited at the age of eleven. He felt that such division led only to conflict and unreasonable expectations. However, the Sorting was a tradition almost as old as the school itself, and Dumbledore could not discontinue it without raising an outcry, House loyalties being what they were.
Normally, Dumbledore did not interfere with, or try to influence the Sorting, even when he questioned the Hat's judgment in his own mind. He recognised that the Hat had its own criteria, and had been quietly doing its job for centuries before the headmaster had been born. For a moment, he paused to contemplate all of the famous and infamous and forgotten heads on which the Hat had rested over the years. Today, though, his concern was with the future.
Lifting the ancient hat, he settled it on his own head.
"Something on your mind, Headmaster?" it asked, a small voice in his ear. "Besides me, of course."
"Witty as always, Godric's hat," Dumbledore replied. "I wanted to have a word with you about a student who will be starting at the school next month."
"I know," the Hat said smugly. "I can see it all in here. A werewolf, eh? Well, that's a new one on me. Or me on a new one. I've never been worn by one before."
"I was thinking perhaps Hufflepuff," Dumbledore suggested.
"The House of 'come one, come all'?" said the Hat thoughtfully. "Maybe so. But there might be better places for a lone wolf. I'll make no promises without seeing the lad's mind for myself."
"I've always abided by your judgment," said the headmaster, "and I intend to do so in this case as well. I only meant to give fair warning, so that you will have time to think about the sort of housemates a young werewolf might require. It is imperative that, wherever you put him, his secret will be safe. I want him to have every possible chance of succeeding at this school."
"He reminds you of the sister," the Hat said shrewdly. "The one I never met."
"Ariana." Dumbledore's expression saddened. "She was so alone. I've often wondered whether she might not have got better if she had been allowed to come to school and be with children her own age. Perhaps hiding her away was the wrong thing to do."
"Broken minds do not often heal cleanly," the Hat mused. "Is the boy broken?"
"Not like she was," said the headmaster. "He's a sad, lonely little boy who has had to spend altogether too much time being worried and fearful. Boys of his age should be having fun and laughing and making friends."
"Then we must ask ourselves," said the Hat thoughtfully, "what sort of friends a werewolf needs."