He could not really remember what it had been like, before. He had been too young. Sometimes he wished he could recall what it felt like to be whole -- to be himself -- but more and more as he grew older, he felt that knowing what he had lost would be too much to bear. Mostly, Remus Lupin just felt alone.
Making friends was difficult. His unusual circumstances made him awkward and self-conscious around other children. The secret locked inside him was too big and too complicated for him to explain in a way that they would understand. His parents loved him, and they did what they could to ease his path, but they did not always seem to know what to do with him, either. They researched spells and bought expensive potions that left Remus feeling sick and weak for days, but they could find no way to reverse what had been done to him.
When he turned eleven, a flurry of owls flew back and forth between the Lupin residence and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, culminating in a long meeting between Remus's parents and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore.
"Will it be all right, though," asked his anxious father, "putting him in a dormitory with other boys?"
"I don't see why not," the headmaster smiled. "We take great care at Hogwarts to keep our students' personal and family matters private. There is no need for his roommates to know anything Remus does not wish to share with them."
"But if someone should find out -- " said his mother.
"If Remus should ever feel the slightest concern for his safety or his privacy, he may come to me directly, or speak to the school matron, or his Head of House," Dumbledore assured her. "I have complete confidence in the discretion of my staff and their ability to deal with trouble, should the need arise."
In the end, the headmaster managed to convince them that sending Remus to Hogwarts was in everyone's best interests, and that the care he would receive there would be every bit as good as that which his parents provided him at home.
Remus spent his first weeks at school sick with terror. Every time he changed his clothes or took a shower, he expected his roommates to come bursting in and discover his secret. The first spell he learned on his own was a Locking charm, and only when he was sure he had mastered it was he able to relax a little.
For the most part, his three roommates ignored him, and he avoided them. He spent his waking hours studying in the library, or reading, or walking alone in the school grounds. In the evenings, Remus went to bed early, sleeping -- or pretending to -- with his bed curtains drawn. He spoke to the others only when necessary, and tried not to draw attention to himself in lessons. His roommates thought he was boring. He did not mind, though; being thought boring was better than being thought a freak.
The most challenging part of his secret to keep were his monthly appointments with Madam Pomfrey, the school matron. It was not always possible to schedule them for weekends, and he was often left feeling weak and sick for hours afterwards, missing classes and sneaking back into the dormitory when his roommates were at meals, or after they had gone to sleep. When they inevitably asked where he disappeared to every month, he made his excuses as vague as possible.
"I was ill."
The lie was not difficult for his roommates to accept. Remus was small for a boy of his age, and between his anxiety and the potions, he often looked tired and unwell. His roommates would probably now consider him sickly and a weakling, as well as boring, but that was still better than the alternative.
But as the months passed, Remus gradually came to accept his roommates, and they him. Perhaps it began the first time he laughed at one of James's jokes, or the first time Peter asked him for help with Defence Against the Dark Arts, or when he showed Sirius the proper way to cast the Jelly-Legs jinx. They began to include him in their playful banter, and then to invite him along on their pranks and adventures.
For a while, Remus was happier than he could ever remember being. He had friends, and his secret seemed safe. Sometimes his conscience twinged a little, especially when the others began opening up to him, sharing tales of their own struggles, but all of their troubles were relatively minor. Apart from the tears they sometimes fought to hide, they had nothing to feel ashamed of. No dreadful secrets that might jeopardise their friendship or their prospects for the future.
Things changed during the winter of Remus's second year at Hogwarts. His monthly visits to the hospital wing had been getting worse for some time. Madam Pomfrey raised the dosage of his potions, but it was not enough to counteract the changes in his growing body, and only made him sicker than ever. Following his January appointment, he awoke in his infirmary bed to find blood on the sheets. The matron helped him clean up and brewed him a calming tea, but he was still shaking when he returned to the dormitory that evening. He showered and changed quickly, and had his bed curtains closed by the time his roommates returned from supper.
Remus lay curled in a miserable ball beneath the covers, but sleep would not come. The dormitory beyond his curtains grew dark and quiet and Remus was exhausted, but all he felt was sick horror at the way his body continually betrayed him. When he could hold them back no longer, the tears came. He tried to stay quiet, but could not prevent a few deep, shuddering sobs from escaping. He held his breath, willing himself into silence, and heard a floorboard creak. One of his roommates was out of bed. He shut his eyes tightly as his bed curtains rustled and parted.
"Remus? Are you OK?"
Sirius was easily the nosiest of his roommates. If Remus held still and stayed silent, maybe Sirius would think he was asleep and go back to bed. But he could not hold his breath forever, and the sobs were not finished with him yet. The air escaped from his lungs in a ragged gasp, and the mattress sank under his friend's weight.
"Remus, are you ill? D'you need to see the matron?"
"No." His voice broke around the word. "Go back to bed, Sirius. I'm fine."
"No, you're not. You're shivering." The mattress shifted as his friend settled onto the bed beside him.
Remus hastily squirmed away. "What are you doing?"
"I'm getting comfortable," said Sirius. "I'm not leaving until you tell me what's wrong."
"I told you, I'm fine."
"That's bollocks and you know it, mate. If you're fine, why d'you have to go see the matron all the time?"
"It's nothing. I'm just ill, all right?"
"With none of your bloody business, Black."
Remus's heart pounded. Sirius was not just nosy; he was pushy, too. He would not leave until he had an answer that satisfied him, and there was none that Remus could give.
"D'you want me to put Veritaserum in your pumpkin juice?"
"No, I wouldn't," Sirius relented. "Not yours, anyway. Snape, maybe. That might be funny. But I wouldn't do it to a friend."
"Well -- good."
Sirius was quiet for a moment. Then he said, "We thought you might be a werewolf."
"What?" Remus almost laughed at the absurdity.
"Last year. James and I thought -- but the dates didn't quite match up. With the full moons, I mean."
"Well, I'm not."
"I know. All I meant was, we thought you might be, and we still wanted to be friends. Whatever you're not telling us -- how much worse can it be?"
That startled Remus. His roommates had thought he might be a Dark creature -- a monster -- and they had never let on, or treated him badly because of it.
"You really would have been friends with a werewolf?"
Sirius nodded. "If you tell me what's really the matter, I swear I won't tell anyone. Not even James. And I'll tell you something I've never told anyone else. Something big."
"What?" Remus wavered.
"Not unless you promise to tell me."
Remus knew he had little choice in the matter. Sirius was like a dog with a bone when it came to mysteries and secrets; he would not let go until he had an answer.
"All right," Remus reluctantly agreed. "I'll tell you. But you have to tell yours first."
Sirius took a deep breath, tensing. "I think -- I mean, I know I'm -- I like blokes. Not girls."
"Oh." Remus had not known what to expect, but that was not it.
"D'you hate me, now I'm a shirt-lifter?" Sirius's tone aimed for jocularity, but missed. He was worried.
"No," Remus assured him. "No, it's fine."
"Don't tell anyone, all right?"
"So -- what's yours, then?"
Remus found that some of his fear had evaporated with his friend's confession. Still, it was no easy thing to tell. He could not just blurt it out like Sirius had; he had to tell the story from the beginning to make his friend understand.
"D'you know who Hector Westcote is?"
Sirius frowned, uncomprehending. "My father knows him. He almost got Minister for Magic one time, didn't he? But he didn't because there were rumours he had dodgy connections. What's he got to do with anything?"
"He's my grandfather," said Remus.
Hector Westcote had made his fortune buying and selling rare and ancient spell books. By the time he reached middle age, he was one of the wealthiest men in Wizarding Britain. When his only child, Sylvia, had eloped with a Muggleborn wizard named Marcellus Lupin, Hector had disinherited her, changing his will to leave all his money to a then-obscure organisation that called themselves the Death Eaters.
"But he couldn't disinherit me," Remus explained. "Wizarding law says that the oldest male descendent is automatically the heir, so long as he's a wizard and hasn't disgraced the family name."
The Death Eaters, however, had not wanted to lose the Westcote fortune to a half-blood.
"They could have killed me, I guess," said Remus, "but there would have been an investigation, and if they'd been found out, they would have lost the money anyway. So they hexed me instead."
"What did they do to you?" Sirius asked.
"Only the oldest boy could inherit, so --" Remus closed his eyes tight, hands bunched in the blankets, " -- they tried to change me into a girl."
"They what?!" Sirius sat bolt upright.
"Shhh!" hissed Remus. "D'you want to wake the others?"
"Sorry," Sirius whispered. "So what happened then?"
Remus shrugged uncomfortably. "My parents didn't know what to do, except keep it a secret and try to find a cure. Whoever hexed me couldn't say anything either -- not without saying how they knew about it."
"Did they ever find a cure?"
"No." The word was bitter on his tongue.
"So. You're a girl?"
"I'm -- no." Remus scrubbed his hands over his face, feeling suddenly weary. "You wouldn't understand."
A hand touched his shoulder. "I'm trying, Remus," Sirius said softly. "Please?"
Remus looked at his friend, though he was little more than an outline in the darkness. "They changed my body. They didn't change me. I have to take a bunch of potions every month to stop my body from changing even more. That's why I go to the matron. The potions are awful and they don't work very well, but there's nothing else I can do. I'm still a bloke here -- " he pressed a hand to his heart, " -- and here," he touched his temple. "I'm just different there," he finished, waving a hand vaguely between his legs. "Can you understand that?"
Sirius nodded slowly. "I think so."
"And you won't tell anyone?"
"I promised, didn't I?"
"I won't tell anyone your secret, either," Remus assured him.
Sirius snorted. "Mine doesn't seem like much now, does it?"
A reluctant smile tugged at the corner of Remus's mouth. "Not really. But I still won't tell."
"Is it all right if I stay?" Sirius asked. "My bed's probably gone all cold while I've been over here being such a brilliantly understanding friend."
Remus's smile got the better of him. "You can stay."