“Hermione - what’ll happen - if we don’t get back inside - before Dumbledore locks the door?” Harry panted.
“I don’t want to think about it!” Hermione moaned, checking her watch again. “One minute!”
But the quickest and quietest way down to the hospital wing involved cutting through the quadrangle at the front of the castle, and frantic as Hermione was to be back before the door was locked, it didn’t quite occur to her that Professor Lupin was still running freely through the grounds. After all, Professor Dumbledore was aware, so the responsibility had passed to him, and surely something would have been done to keep a transformed werewolf away from the castle.
Then again, Hermione chastised herself, of course he also had to deal with organising Mr Black’s rescue with her past self, and before that he had been dealing with the Minister and Professor Snape, and she should have been more careful. She should have led Harry the longer route, the one that didn’t involve leaving the building at any point.
These were the things going through her head in the split second before the wolf attacked.
Its - his - the wolf’s jaws clamped around her upper arm, and Hermione screamed.
Harry was shouting behind her - she hoped spells rather than just in shock - and the wolf did stumble back, loosening its grip enough for her to wrench her arm away. She screamed again, feeling those teeth ripping through her flesh and then Harry had a hold of her other arm and was pulling her back towards the door, shouting impedimenta over and over again. Hermione only noticed when they were indoors because he started shouting for Madam Pomfrey instead.
But of course it was Professor Dumbledore, just outside the door, who found them first. He ran towards them with the speed of a young man, and before Harry could even start to explain he was levitating Hermione swiftly away and into the hospital wing, waving her towards a bed far from the door and setting her down gently.
“Poppy,” he called urgently, but she was already there.
“Miss Granger! But how-”
“My doing, I’m afraid, I sent Miss Granger and Mr Potter out for reasons I shall explain later, but they must have encountered Remus.”
“What happened to his potion? Diffindo.”
The sleeve of her robe severed itself neatly at the shoulder, and Hermione cried out again as the fabric was peeled away from the bite.
“Hush, hush,” Madam Pomfrey was saying. “Lumos. I think we can avoid transfer to St Mungo’s, but I’ll need a second Healer for the reconstruction of the muscle before the wound is sealed - Albus, put in an emergency call to the Dai Llewellyn Ward and then call Minerva. Miss Granger, I’m elevating your arm away from the blankets and then I’m going to clean the wound and slow the bleeding a little. Levibracchius. Purgovulnus. Lentescosangius. Scourgify.”
The last incantation Hermione recognised as the common cleaning charm, and it took her a moment to realise that it wasn’t intended for her wound but for the blood on the bed and the floor.
“There we are. Now, I can’t use a typical pain-relieving potion with a werewolf bite. I can temporarily numb the nerve endings in your arm, but we’ll need to reverse the charm when we work on your muscles.”
“Okay,” Hermione said shakily.
The cessation of pain in her arm was so immediate, so sudden, that Hermione gasped and jerked in surprise. She looked down at it, instinctively checking it was still there, and whimpered.
Her upper arm had been ripped to pieces. Deep gouges revealed - well, Hermione hadn’t formally studied biology for three years, but Madam Pomfrey had already said that her muscles needed reconstruction. They were torn down to the bone, and Hermione thought there were scratches on her humerus too.
There was bile rising in her throat, but Hermione found she was fascinated, too, and part of her mind was returning to an old question about why Hogwarts didn’t teach biology or even just human anatomy, and whether Healers had to attend some sort of Muggle college or university in addition to their magical training. Surely it wasn’t enough to cast a generic reparo without knowing how muscles and tendons and ligaments and bones were all connected.
And then a pang of homesickness, for the Muggle scientific method, for the NHS, for understanding instinctively how the world worked rather than having to ask a million questions.
Curtains swished open, and Hermione looked up to see a woman in white robes with half-length sleeves striding in.
“Hello, Miss Granger. I’m Healer Tonks, from St Mungo’s.” Hermione went to reply, but the healer continued without pausing for breath. “Poppy, anything I should know medically?”
“No chronic conditions, no significant prior injuries. Muggleborn, so fully vaccinated. So far I’ve just cleaned the wound and slowed the bleeding - just slightly, I didn’t want to slow the spread of infection too much. Her arm is numbed at the moment.”
“Right. Silencio. Miss Granger, Madam Pomfrey is going to reverse the numbing charm on your arm, and then we’ll be working to repair your wound, alright?” She caught Hermione’s eye for a moment, but didn’t wait for a verbal response. “I’m going to immobilise the rest of your body from the neck down. Immobilio. Brace yourself now. On three, Poppy, one, two -”
Hermione tried to brace, but still let out a cry. Madam Pomfrey and Healer Tonks ignored her, bending over her arm with intent focus. Occasionally, Madam Pomfrey cast evanesco, and Hermione realised she was removing excess blood, in much the same way that a dental nurse would use suction on excess saliva. The pain was excruciating, and she found herself letting out a high-pitched whining sound, unable to stop herself.
But as time went on, she realised it wasn’t just her arm that was hurting. There was a burning sensation spreading across her body, pounding, pulsing from her chest into her stomach, her limbs, her neck.
“It’s burning,” she gasped.
“That’s the infection spreading,” said Healer Tonks, not looking away from her work. “Once it gets to your heart, full haemolysis is quite quick, although your circulation has been slowed down so it could be up to five minutes. No longer than that, I promise you. There, ready for closure.”
“Accio silvered dittany.”
Hermione had read about this in her research for Professor Snape’s essay. The only documented relationship between silver and lycanthropy: that powdered silver mixed with essence of dittany will close a wound inflicted by a werewolf, and prevent the victim from bleeding to death. The grimoire she had been consulting had gone on to state that victims may beg for death instead, and recommended that their wishes be followed.
“And we have closure. Thank you, Andromeda. Would you mind finishing up with Miss Granger while I check on the rest of my ward?”
“Not at all.”
She removed the immobilisation spell as Madam Pomfrey exited through the curtains, and Hermione lifted her good hand to her face to wipe away her tears.
“Thank you,” she said.
Healer Tonks smiled. She had curious eyes, Hermione thought. In the moonlight streaming through the window, they looked almost silver, but with a thick black line around the outside of the iris. They seemed familiar somehow, striking. Her skin was very pale, and her hair was thick and curly, pulled back into a ponytail.
“Merely doing my job, Miss Granger. How’s the pain?”
Hermione took a moment to consider the question. Her arm was merely aching, and the burning was starting to subside, she thought.
“Bearable, now,” she said.
“Good. Can you wiggle your fingers for me?”
She could, although with some effort, and her last three fingers weren’t keen on moving. That made a small line appear on Healer Tonks’ forehead, and she started tapping different areas of her hand and wrist, shooting small warm sparks of sensation up her arm, checking if Hermione could feel them. Most she could, but there were a few curiously blank patches of skin where Hermione had no sensation at all. After a while, her hand began to tremble, and the healer laid her arm back down on the bed.
“Is that nerve damage?” Hermione asked.
Healer Tonks raised an eyebrow. “Quite right, Miss Granger. If you’re lucky, it will improve over the next few weeks as our repairs settle in, but I do have to warn you it’s likely to be permanent. If so, you can expect tremors, weakness, and some loss of fine motor control. Is this your wand arm?”
Hermione shook her head.
“Well, that’s good.” She lifted her chin. “Now, you’re clearly an intelligent young lady, but I do have to check you realise that you are now a werewolf.”
For a second, Hermione’s mind went completely still, and then it started racing again. Of course she had realised this, but she hadn’t exactly thought about it until this very moment, and she certainly hadn’t had time to react to it. Something of this must have shown on her face, because Healer Tonks gave her a sad, gentle smile.
“I’m not going to give you a lecture about lycanthropy tonight. Madam Pomfrey can handle that when you’ve had a bit of recovery time,” she said. “The only thing I am obligated to do right now is to inform you that you must register with the Ministry as a werewolf before the next full moon. Unfortunately, I will have to do so if you don’t.”
Hermione let out a shaky breath. “Right.”
Healer Tonks paused. “Still with me?”
“Alright. Now, aside from your arm, you can expect to feel very tired over the next few weeks. You’ve lost a fair amount of blood, and as you may know, Blood-Replenishing Potions aren’t effective on werewolves. Poppy will be giving you some iron supplements, I’m sure, and advising you on ways you can adjust your diet to compensate.”
She nodded again. “So I’m anaemic.”
“The conditions have remarkably similar symptoms, aside from the obvious. Madam Pomfrey said you were Muggleborn, so you’ll have access to NHS guidance on dietary advice for anaemia. It’s all good advice, and you can use it with your family at home. What’s the date - it must nearly be the end of term.”
“Two weeks to go. Exams just finished.”
“Rather good timing, really. I imagine they’ll send you home a bit early to help you recuperate, although I’ll need to set you up some physiotherapy sessions for your arm.”
The curtain opened again, and Professor McGonagall came in. She was fully dressed, but her hair was in a long braid down her back, rather than pinned up as it normally was. “Miss Granger. Healer Tonks.”
The healer glanced down at Hermione’s robes. “Ah, I should have noticed the red and gold. Good evening, Professor.”
Professor McGonagall pulled up a chair next to Hermione’s bed. “How are you feeling, Miss Granger?”
Again, Hermione had to take a moment to consider this question. “Sore. And. I think I’m probably in shock.”
“That would not be surprising,” said Professor McGonagall, and her dry sarcasm was somehow reassuring. “Now, your friend is just outside the curtains and keen to see you, however the decision is yours.”
“Yes,” she said immediately. “Please.”
Professor McGonagall looked at Healer Tonks. “Your discretion will be appreciated.”
Healer Tonks raised her eyebrows, but nodded, and Professor McGonagall stood to open the curtain and said, “You may enter.”
Harry was a mess. His robes were torn, his face was muddy, and his hair was wilder than ever. He was, however, still recognisably Harry Potter, and Hermione could see the moment when Healer Tonks understood why she was being asked for discretion.
“Perhaps I shall excuse myself from this conversation,” she said. “Miss Granger, if you start to feel faint, please call for Madam Pomfrey immediately. Young man, if you can avoid exciting her too much, that would be best. Minerva, do I take it I should avoid speaking to any Ministry officials about Miss Granger’s condition at present?”
“If it can be avoided.”
“Unless they have a warrant or parental consent, confidentiality applies. I’ll head straight back to St Mungo’s so as to avoid any awkward questions. Miss Granger, I will be in touch in a day or two regarding your physiotherapy.”
“Thank you,” Hermione said earnestly.
Healer Tonks smiled at her again, and her striking eyes were soft. “You’re welcome, my dear.”
Harry watched her go, but turned back to Hermione as soon as the curtains were closed. “Are you alright?” he asked.
“They patched me up,” Hermione said. “What’s happening?”
Harry glanced at Professor McGonagall. “Apparently Black escaped. Fudge and Sn - I mean, Minister Fudge and Professor Snape came down to the hospital wing, and they wanted to ask us questions, but you were in surgery and Professor Dumbledore said I was too overwrought to answer anything. He didn’t tell them that you’d been bitten. I think they’re probably checking with Madam Pomfrey now that we never - er - left the hospital wing. Which - er -”
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” exclaimed Professor McGonagall. “Potter, speak plainly and trust that I am on your side. I am currently in loco parentis for you and Miss Granger as your head of house, and however many school rules - or even laws - you have broken this evening, it is quite clear that you were doing so at Professor Dumbledore’s request.”
Harry and Hermione looked at each other for a minute, but Hermione couldn’t bring herself to say anything, and it was clear that Harry wouldn’t. Professor McGonagall sighed.
“Very well,” she said. “Then I will advise you that if they realise Miss Granger has been bitten - and Healer Tonks is known to work in the Dai Llewellyn ward for dangerous bites - you may want to consider that the penalty for a werewolf biting a child is execution.”
Hermione looked at Harry, panicked. “But Professor Snape knows that Professor Lupin was outside tonight. And he’s already told the Minister. And I have to register before the next full moon, because Healer Tonks knows.”
“They can’t execute Lupin!” Harry burst out.
“They can and they will, Mr Potter. Miss Granger, I suggest you delay registering until you are home with your parents. I will arrange for your transfer as soon as possible. They will then be in a position to decide not to press charges, whereas I would be forced to consider all the other children under my care. Now, would you like to reconsider asking my advice about getting your stories straight?”
Harry set his jaw. “Sirius Black is innocent. It was Peter Pettigrew who was Secret Keeper for my parents. Peter blew up those Muggles, and then he hid as Ron’s rat for twelve years - he’s an Animagus. Sirius had grabbed Ron and Pettigrew and dragged them into the Shrieking Shack, that’s where we found this out. Professor Snape showed up, but he didn’t hear the full story, he kind of - er - got knocked out...”
Hermione let him tell the story up until they woke up in the hospital wing for the first time, and then she felt duty bound to step in and say “Professor Dumbledore hinted that I should use my Time Turner to save - more than one innocent life, he said. So we went back three hours, stole Buckbeak and flew him up to Professor Flitwick’s office where we knew Mr Black was being kept, but we only had a very short time window to rescue him, let him take Buckbeak and then get back to the hospital wing, so we cut across the courtyard -”
“And that is where you encountered Professor Lupin,” Professor McGonagall finished, sounding rather faint. “Quite a story indeed.”
She fell silent for a moment, thinking intensely, but it was Harry who spoke first.
“I left something out,” he said slowly. “Sirius is an Animagus too. A big black dog like a Grim. What if… I mean, the Ministry already thinks he’s a murderer, what if we told them that? And then - what if we say he bit you? They already know he hurt Ron.”
“But that’s giving away his only disguise!” Hermione protested.
“No, I agree with Mr Potter,” said Professor McGonagall. “Sirius Black was a very talented wizard. I am certain he can take care of himself, at least until Professor Dumbledore manages to set up alternative arrangements, and I am sure he is intending to do so. Moreover, he and Remus Lupin were as close as two wizards could be before the first war. I - well, I wouldn’t have said it this morning, but I feel fairly confident that he would approve of this course of action.”
This left the issue of when exactly Hermione was supposed to have been injured. After all, she had been observed in the hospital wing by multiple witnesses before the bite.
“I suppose we did try to sneak out to help Black, then,” Hermione said. “The Minister thinks we’re Confunded, so it fits. And it explains why we didn’t tell them about Sirius’s Animagus form until now.”
Harry was back to looking fierce. “And then we say he tried to grab me, and you got in the way.”
The three of them looked at each other, and when none of them came up with any further objections, Professor McGonagall drew herself up straight and said, “Well then, let’s get this out of the way.”
When Remus came back to himself, he was in the middle of the Forbidden Forest, naked, shivering with pain and with cold, and he could taste blood.
He came up onto all fours and spat, twice, three times, and then when that didn’t clear the cloy of copper, he stuck two filthy fingers down his throat and vomited. It was pink-streaked.
It was only at this point that he remembered what had happened the night before.
“Harry,” he murmured. “Sirius.”
God, he hoped the blood was a deer, or a thestral, or whatever the hell else lived in this forest.
Slowly, shakily, he stood up. He was bleeding sluggishly from scratches down his flank, and he felt more bruised than he had done all year. Wolfsbane had made him soft. These weren’t self-inflicted wounds, though - Sirius must have fought him, corralled him into the Forest. Merlin, Harry had been there. And Hermione and Ron. He heard again Hermione’s shriek, he’s a werewolf!
If he had killed a child, surely they would have rounded him up by now?
It was sunrise at midsummer; thankfully still early enough that he could avoid the student populace. He staggered up to the hospital wing and knocked on the door, hoping against hope that Poppy would be the one to answer.
His luck held; she took one look at him and conjured a soft cotton robe which settled itself over his shoulders, and then ushered him directly into her office. She cast a silencio against the door.
“First things first, let me examine you.”
So the robe came back off, swiftly replaced with some conjured underpants, and she clucked in a familiar way at the scratches, the bruises, even the dirt under his nails. It took him right back to being a student, when this had been a monthly ritual.
But things were different now. With Wolfsbane, this shouldn’t have been necessary. He shouldn’t have come to her dirty, injured, and with blood in his mouth. And Poppy looked exhausted, he realised, as if she hadn’t slept all night.
“What happened?” he asked, hoarsely, as soon as the robe was back on.
“I don’t have the full story,” she said. “You’ll have to speak to Minerva or Albus for that. But Black has escaped, and - Remus, I am so sorry. You bit Hermione Granger.”
For a second, he just stared at her. Then he was standing and moving to the sink, whereupon he vomited again, black streaks of bile against the white porcelain. He collapsed to his knees, and moaned, howled even, face upturned to the ceiling. He heard Poppy strengthen the silencing charm on the door.
“Hush, Remus, she’s alive. She’s alive, I promise.”
“She’s fourteen,” he moaned. “Merlin, she’s top of her year. I’ve ruined her life.”
“And she’s Muggleborn! My God, my mother was a Muggle, do you know how much she struggled - and Hermione, she’s Harry Potter’s best friend, she could have -”
“She still might,” said Poppy. “Hush now, Remus.”
He was crying in earnest, still crouched below Poppy’s sink. In thirty years, he had never yet infected anyone, and now he had bitten a child. Harry’s friend. A student under his care. Merlin, every new thought made it worse.
“Am I under arrest then?” he asked.
“Not in my ward you’re not,” Poppy said tartly. “Minerva assures me Miss Granger does not want to press charges, and that officially none of us know yet that it was a werewolf bite rather than the bite of a certain large dog.”
Remus looked up in alarm at that, but Poppy shook her head. “Worry about Sirius Black later, Remus. And your own part in that - there’s nothing to say you knew he was an Animagus, or that he had become an Animagus before you parted ways in the war. Personally I have my own suspicions about when your injuries abruptly improved during your fifth year, but I didn’t ask then and I’m not asking now.”
“I should be arrested,” he said miserably. “She’s fourteen.”
“And you were four,” Poppy said. She put a hand under his elbow and guided him into a chair. “The point is that Greyback set out to infect or kill you, whereas if anyone asks for my testimony as to your intentions, I can show them the last three minutes of my memories. Remus, it was an accident. A terrible accident, yes, but an accident.”
“Not legally,” he said.
“Well I don’t give a fig,” she snapped. “You are my patient and my friend, and you are not under arrest in my ward. Now if you’re quite finished, there’s politics afoot, and I think you need to speak to Albus about everything else that occurred last night.”
“Yes,” he agreed.
“And Remus, I know Miss Granger. As do you. She’s a remarkable young witch, with good friends. She’s in a stronger position than you were when I first met you.”
“I’ve just set everything back,” he said. “I’ve bitten my own pupil. We weren’t legally banned from teaching before, but we will be now. Merlin, they could expel her...”
He was crying again. Poppy let out a gentle sigh, and laid a hand on his knee. “I can’t say you’re wrong. But hush for a moment and remember that Albus Dumbledore is still headmaster of Hogwarts. He’s not going to let the child be expelled. She may have difficulty finding jobs in the future, but her best friend, as you pointed out, is Harry Potter. If anyone is going to have the political clout to help her in a few years, it will be him. She won’t be alone, Remus.”
If he had been any less distraught, he might have been able to avoid saying, “Not like me.”
“No,” Poppy agreed. “Not like you.”
He took a few shaky breaths and cleared his throat. “Alright. Alright, I’m alright.”
“Good. Now, shall I ask Albus to come here to see you?”
“No, I’ll go to him. I need to stop by my office anyway.” He stood, feeling every hurt and pain sinking into his bones; feeling his aching, aging body; feeling young and lost and alone.
He stayed in his office only long enough to throw out that crucial last dose of Wolfsbane, change into some of his own robes, and jot down a resignation letter.
Hermione spent most of the next day in bed, asleep. Every so often, the lingering pain in her arm woke her, and she would spend a few minutes blearily looking around the hospital wing. Ron had been released at some point in the morning, and the only other person present was Madam Pomfrey, pottering around straightening beds, restocking her potions cabinet, and sometimes coaxing Hermione into drinking some soup. She had just managed to finish a mug of spinach and potato soup when Harry and Ron arrived with news.
“Lupin’s resigned,” Ron said.
Hermione’s eyes widened. “But people don’t know that he -”
“They don’t know he bit you, but Snape let it slip that he’s a werewolf,” Harry said bitterly. “So of course they’re going to guess, as soon as they realise that you’re…”
“Do they need to?” Ron asked. “I mean, Lupin and Black and your dad - they kept it secret when he was at school, didn’t they?”
“But I share a dorm with Lavender and Parvati,” Hermione pointed out. “They’re not that stupid, and they both take Divination. They’ll notice when I go missing every full moon.”
That stumped them.
“Any news on Sirius?” she asked quietly.
“Nope,” Ron said happily. “And no news is good news.”
Harry frowned. “I just hope he finds out soon that the Ministry knows about his Animagus form.”
A lock of hair had fallen forwards in front of Hermione’s left eye. She instinctively lifted her left arm to push it back, and winced as pain shot through her upper arm. Still, she persisted, and pushed the hair back behind her ear. It felt clumsy; her fingers weren’t responding properly. They felt stiff and distant, foreign. She didn’t notice that her index finger was caught until she tried to lower her arm again, and had to use her right hand to detangle the knot. Ron frowned in confusion. “Harry said they fixed your arm.”
“Mostly,” Hermione told him. “But it was quite badly injured. They healed the wound, but some of the nerves are still damaged. The healer wasn’t sure if it would get better. She said she was going to arrange physiotherapy - you know, exercises and stretches and things. Actually, would you be able to take a letter to the Owlery for me? I wanted to ask Healer Tonks if I could go to Muggle physiotherapy, rather than having to go to St Mungo’s. I asked Madam Pomfrey, she says it’s in London, and Muggles can’t get in without an adult witch or wizard accompanying, so my parents wouldn’t be able to take me.”
“Sure,” said Ron. “And if they say no, I can ask my mum to take you to St Mungo’s. Be a good reason to meet up over the summer.”
Hermione smiled at him, and the tips of his ears went distinctly pink.
“What are you going to do next month?” Harry asked. “I mean, you can’t stay with your parents. Or can you, with the potion?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet,” Hermione admitted, and Ron gasped.
“Stop the Prophet!” he said.
“Give me a chance,” she protested. “I’ve been a werewolf for less than a day, I’ve got another twenty seven to make a plan. I thought I could ask to come back to Hogwarts? I don’t know yet. Maybe I could ask Professor Lupin what he does.”
But Harry shook his head. “He’s gone. I went to ask him not to resign, and he was already packing. Dumbledore came in and told him his carriage was waiting for him.”
And Hermione hadn’t really thought all that much about Professor Lupin today, but now her mind leapt to wondering how he felt about having bitten her, and oh, of course , he must be furious with himself. And maybe scared, too.
Still, he could have spoken to her, couldn’t he?
Ron must have seen something of this in her face, because he jumped in. “Probably a good thing if all the Slytherins know he’s a werewolf. You can write to him, can’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” she said. “I’ll do that.”
Normally when she resolved to write something, the words started to spin themselves in her head, just waiting for her to get her hands on ink and parchment. But all she came up with was Dear Professor Lupin, followed by a long, blank page.
Remus was not altogether surprised that he came home to a large, gaunt dog thumping its tail against his doorstep.
“Idiot,” he muttered, but he raised his wand to unlock the door and disarm the wards all the same. Padfoot traipsed after him through the dusty hallway, into a dated sitting room, all seventies orange and patterned carpet. He trotted around in a circle as if he were going to settle on the rug, but then straightened up into Sirius.
“Hello, Remus,” he said.
Remus felt like he could cry all over again, but shook himself. “Well, first things first, get yourself into the bathroom and have a wash. I’ll chase up some food, probably pop down to the town.”
And with that, he turned back around and left the house.
He walked into town. He could probably have risked Apparating to the alley behind Asda, or at least to the outskirts of town, but Apparating the day after a transformation was just asking to be Splinched, so he pushed those options aside in favour of putting one foot in front of the other. He transfigured his robe into a jacket - probably highly unfashionable but then so was the rest of his outfit - and took his time wandering around the supermarket. The selection of fruit and veg in the clearance shelves always did fine under a stasis charm, and he took full advantage. Tinned tomatoes, tinned spinach, tinned beans. The unavoidable fresh items: milk, eggs. A new pack of yeast for bread. The familiar tension as his debit card was swiped through, knowing it shouldn’t be declined but not quite believing it until the cashier handed it back to him.
The plastic bag handles cut into his palms as he made his way back home, and he shifted his grip on them every couple of hundred yards. The aches and pains of the moon were making themselves known again, and the wounds down his right side felt like they were stretching. Still, he’d committed to this foolhardy journey, so he kept plodding back along the road. The occasional car drove by, and Remus kept his head down, avoiding the gaze of any of the drivers.
He pushed his front door open, only then realising that he hadn’t locked it behind him - idiot - but a quick revelio told him Sirius was the only person home. He clattered downstairs as Padfoot, but stopped short this time before becoming Sirius once more. Now, Remus found he did have the strength to look at him.
He had borrowed some of Remus’s robes, which hung limply from his shoulders. There wasn’t a scrap of fat in his face; he was as gaunt as a Thestral. The cheekbones girls had sighed over at school stood out, knife sharp, framing a nose no longer straight and aquiline, but broken. There were shadows under his eyes, deep and bruise-like, and his lips were thin, almost as pale as his skin. He hadn’t cut his hair, and it fell in wet tangles down to his shoulders, thin and scraggly.
“I need to put these bags down,” said Remus.
But Sirius stepped forwards and took them from him, leading the way into the kitchen. He took a moment to look around, cataloguing the cupboards, trying to remember how Remus organised his food, or even how Remus’s mother had organised her kitchen, but then he dove into the first bag and got started. Remus took the other, and soon they were moving around each other with relative ease. Sirius crumpled the plastic bags as Remus cast stasis charms.
“How long has it been since you cast a spell?” Remus asked.
“I Apparated to find Peter on Hallowe’en.”
Remus jabbed his wand at the kettle, which shrieked in alarm as it filled with water and hit boiling point in an instant. Tea bags, had he bought tea bags? Yes, thankfully. The tap sputtered as he turned it on to rinse mugs out, and then he remembered that Sirius used to take his tea with sugar. Well, never mind.
Remus ignored him, pouring boiling water directly over one tea bag to get more flavour out of hit. It floated to the top and he fished it out immediately to transfer it to the other mug, repeating the trick. This time he mashed the bag against the side of the mug with the back of the teaspoon.
A drop of milk in each cup. The milk bottle went back in his mother’s old refrigerator - now unplugged and under a cooling charm instead - and only then did he turn to Sirius.
Sirius lifted a hand to his face, and Remus wondered what he was seeing. How had he looked at twenty one? He couldn’t remember. He had certainly had the scar across his muzzle - his face - when Sirius was arrested, but it had been months before that since they had actually seen each other. Sirius ran the pads of his fingertips softly over the edge of his fringe, the hair there more brittle and grey than it had been a decade ago.
He dropped his hand, and offered a small smile. “Let’s have that tea.”
They moved into the sitting room, and Remus paused to vanish a layer of dust with one wide sweep of his wand. He sat first, taking a seat on the chintzy two-piece suite opposite the fireplace. Sirius dithered for a moment, but then set his mug on the mantel so he could drag the matching pouffe in front of him. He retrieved the mug and sat, hunching over it, eyes trained on Remus.
“Why are you back?” he asked. “I don’t - my sense of time isn’t brilliant, but I heard the students around Hogwarts. Term isn’t over. You’re not just here checking for me, are you?”
Remus took a sip of tea. “I suppose the papers haven’t printed it yet then. Word got out about my condition, so I resigned before the board could fire me. Albus was kind enough not to make me serve out a notice period. And…”
The surface of his tea was rippling. He set the cup on a side table.
“I bit Hermione last night. It’s not public knowledge, and Albus seemed confident that she wouldn’t press charges, but...”
Sirius was frowning. “The black girl, with the cat? Harry’s friend. Shit, I’m sorry. She’s - what, thirteen, fourteen? Shit, Moony.”
Remus tipped his head back to stare at his mother’s artex ceiling. “She’s Muggleborn, Padfoot. And she’s got such a potential for academia, or even politics - she might not know it yet, but she has such strong opinions, and yet such a respect for research and facts. And now, she’s going to come up against all of the same barriers I did. I don’t know if she’s realised that yet.” There was a crack in an artex swirl just above the sofa. “I should go and speak to her, really, but I can’t show my face in Hogwarts.”
Sirius was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “I really fucked up your summer term, didn’t I.”
“Bloody curse,” Remus muttered. “I knew I’d only get a year, but I thought - I hoped it wouldn’t end like this.”
“Has any Defence teacher got away with it?” Sirius asked. “Just, moved to another job, retired, decided to take a sabbatical?”
Remus sighed. “No. And before you say it, I knew I shouldn’t have taken the job. But there was Harry. And I was… fairly desperate.”
Sirius looked around. “You kept the house.”
“Can’t sell it, since I don’t legally own it. Thought about doing it the Muggle way, but I keep reminding myself that until the Ministry bother to seize it, it’s free and there’s no one to kick me out.”
And then he was crying again. Sirius set down his mug next to Remus’ and took his hands, but Remus pulled away. “Merlin, I’m sorry, you’ve been innocent in Azkaban for over a decade, and I’m stealing the thunder.”
Sirius said nothing, which told Remus he was absolutely right.
Professor McGonagall came to see Hermione the next morning.
“Madam Pomfrey thinks you’re ready to go home today,” she informed her. “I’ve arranged for your belongings to be packed and sent ahead. Are your parents likely to be home?”
“Yes, they don’t work Sundays.”
“Then I’ll send for Mr Potter and Mr Weasley to come and say their goodbyes. But before I do, I will need to take back the Time Turner for the summer.”
“Oh, of course.”
The Time Turner had remained around her neck all this time. It felt strange to remove it.
“Can I drop Muggle Studies?” she blurted out. “I mean, please pass my apologies to Professor Burbage, but I don’t think I can do another year like that. Not on top of…”
Professor McGonagall smiled as she tucked the Time Turner into a pocket. “I believe that to be a very wise decision, Miss Granger,” she said. “Although I am sure Professor Burbage will be disappointed to lose her teaching assistant.”
Hermione had to laugh at that.
Harry and Ron had clearly rolled out of bed to come down to the hospital wing, and Ron’s jumper was definitely on inside out, but Hermione hugged them all the same.
“Write to me,” Hermione said. “I mean, if you can.”
But Harry smiled. “I reckon I can get the Dursleys to let Hedwig out if I let a few things slip.”
“And Errol’s not dead yet,” Ron chimed in.
“And send me all the work I’m missing!”
“I can handle that,” said Professor McGonagall. “I’ll arrange for your professors to send you the summer coursework.”
That wasn’t quite the same as sending the full last two weeks of term, but Hermione decided not to argue.
“Off you go then, boys,” said Professor McGonagall. “And Mr Weasley, do have a look in the mirror before you next leave the tower.”
Hermione picked up her book bag, realising as she did so that someone had taken out several of her books, and she hoped whoever it was had checked whether they were library books or her own before packing them all in her trunk. She lifted the strap onto her right shoulder, leaving it hanging loosely at her side rather than across her body.
“Before we go, Miss Granger.”
Hermione looked up. Professor McGonagall had a serious look on her face. “Yes, Professor?”
“You understand that I am required to know a certain amount of Muggle legislature, to deal with Muggleborn children. Your parents do not have the absolute right to know of your condition, according to the laws of the Muggle world. They would if they were magical, but the Muggle government would say that as an intelligent young woman, you have the capacity to make your own decisions about your medical treatment, and about disclosure of your medical records.”
“Gillick competency,” said Hermione.
Hermione bit her lip. She hadn’t considered hiding this from her parents. She would need to tell them something, anyway, to explain her arm and the physiotherapy and the anaemia symptoms. But she had glossed over so many things in the last three years already - her petrification by the Basilisk, the whole series of events with Quirrell, even the mountain troll. How simple that mountain troll seemed now, felled by a single levitation charm.
“It’s the politics,” she said slowly. “I don’t mind them knowing I was hurt, or even that I’m a werewolf. But they won’t understand - if I just tell them that the new teacher attacked me and left me with a lifelong disability…”
She sat back down on the edge of her bed, thinking furiously.
“I need to talk to Professor Lupin,” she said, eventually. “Because I think my parents need to meet him to understand. And your character reference would probably be useful. Or Professor Dumbledore’s. If you don’t mind?”
“Certainly, Miss Granger. For today, then, shall we stick to the official story, that as far as I am aware you were bitten by Mr Black in his dog form?”
Hermione struggled with this decision for another few moments, and then nodded. “But I do want to tell them the truth soon. If nothing else, I need to prepare for the next full moon.”
The professor nodded. “Then I would advise writing to Professor Lupin as soon as possible. He was not too badly hurt, from what I understand, and if he agrees I should think he would be able to visit in the next few days. If he does not agree, you may write to me, and I’ll come back to talk it through with your parents, although it will have to be the weekend or after term ends.”
Hermione’s breath caught briefly in her throat. “Thank you, Professor.”
“There is no need to thank me.” For a moment Professor McGonagall paused. “Hermione. You have been at a disadvantage at Hogwarts since the day you arrived, and you have made the most extraordinary effort to overcome that disadvantage. I see it quite often in Muggleborn students, although rarely to the extent of your example. Our job as teachers should be to provide each student with the same platform from which to begin his adult life in the magical world, according to his ability and effort, but you know that isn’t always possible.” She paused again. “When Professor Dumbledore told me he was admitting a werewolf student back in 1971, I will admit I counselled him against it.”
Hermione’s eyes widened.
“But then the lad was sorted into my house. In that year, there were two students fighting particularly hard against their circumstances. He was one, and the other was Lily Evans. Lily Potter, as she later became. They were also the two students I appointed prefect when they reached their fifth year.”
Lily Potter died in 1981. It was the sort of date that was all-pervasive through modern magical history books, but only now, placed so closely in conversation with 1971 did Hermione fully realise that Harry’s parents had died at the age of twenty one. Sirius Black had been imprisoned at the age of twenty one. And Remus Lupin? Where had he been?
The urge to go to the library caught her, but there was no chance of that now. It would have to be the Bodleian, once she was home.
“My point is that I have learnt a great deal in the last twenty years,” Professor McGonagall continued. “I cannot promise the same on behalf of all of my colleagues, but I will do my best to support you.”
She transfigured her robes into a rather severe green tweed skirt and jacket, and then they took the Floo to the Covered Market in Oxford, emerging from a fireplace in the broom shop tucked behind the Market Office and ignored entirely by the busker in front of it. From there, they went down to the High Street and caught a Muggle bus out to New Headington, although Hermione found it quicker to guide the professor to the correct bus stop rather than wait for her to identify the right one. Professor McGonagall clearly did not care for the bus, or for her knee length skirt, and she spent the ride with her hands pressed tightly together in her lap. Hermione, comfortable in her own jeans and tee shirt on a bus she’d taken dozens of times back and forth from town, wondered what passing Muggles thought they were doing together; if they looked like grandmother and granddaughter or just like a schoolteacher and a single, wayward pupil.
Her parents’ house was only a couple of minutes’ walk from the bus stop, and yet Hermione was starting to feel fatigued. She tried not to slow down or drag her feet, but Professor McGonagall noticed anyway and put a hand under her elbow to support her.
“Number forty three, if I recall correctly?”
Hermione nodded, and let Professor McGonagall lead her back into the Muggle world.
The letter arrived unannounced, and Remus only noticed it lying on his kitchen table when a post owl flew in with a second. The slight smell of smoke told him what bird had brought the first.
To the point: Cornelius will not hear of the possibility of a pardon, a retrial (for he maintains there must have been a trial) or any other concession towards lifting any of the measures currently in place, although the Dementors have left school premises. I will continue my efforts in this direction, but I suspect only the production of the rat will make a difference, and thus far he is undetectable. The Aurors are focused on the dog instead.
I suspect you can convey this message to its intended recipient; please inform me immediately if this is not the case.
On the other matter, the school governors will not be informed by me, as I am unaware of what transpired. I cannot prevent students from using their brains, however, so you will need to brace yourself for September.
My sincere condolences once again, Remus.
The other letter, when he opened it, was nothing on the quality of Hermione’s usual written work.
Dear Professor Lupin,
I hope you’re well.
I know you’ve been informed of my condition, and hope you don’t feel too badly about it. There were any number of extenuating circumstances, and I certainly don’t blame you.
I hope you would do me a great favour and help me explain this to my parents. I’m at home with them now, but as Professor McGonagall doesn’t officially know exactly what happened, she couldn’t inform them.
I would also appreciate any advice you could give me on the practicalities of managing the condition.
I hope I don’t presume too much.
My address is 43 Windmill Road, New Headington, Oxford. If you have a telephone, our number is 01865 299123. Or I have a physiotherapy appointment at St Mungo’s on Tuesday at 4pm if you would prefer to meet in the wizarding world.
Please let me know if you can help.
Remus read it several times, ignoring the post office owl which perched on his windowsill, waiting for food or a tip. The parchment trembled slightly.
Remus turned to Sirius and held the letter out. “It’s from Hermione.”
Sirius read the letter quickly. “St Mungo’s? How badly was she injured?”
Remus shook his head. “I don’t know.” The owl hooted balefully, and he flapped his hand at it. “Shoo. No response.” It huffed, and left a dropping on the windowsill as it flew away.
“Couldn’t have been that bad, if she’s already home,” Sirius reasoned.
“Not necessarily,” Remus disagreed. “Not if they wanted her out of Hogwarts. They were pretending they didn’t know it was a werewolf bite, to protect me. They couldn’t keep up the pretense and keep her in the hospital wing, whatever treatment she may have needed.”
Sirius let out a little whine, one better suited to a canine throat, but Remus cut him off. “Albus has written too - here.”
This letter took Sirius longer to read; his eyes flicked from the bottom back up to the top, and stayed.
“I’m not free,” he said eventually.
Remus waited for him to look up, and when he didn’t, asked, “Did you expect to be?”
“No,” he replied. “No, I didn’t expect anything.” He folded the letter up again and placed it back on the table. “I wasn’t thinking ahead, just… I was looking for Peter, and I was looking for Harry. Peter first and most importantly, but then I saw Harry, and it was like…”
“Like seeing James,” Remus finished.
Sirius nodded. “And then I remembered holding him, when he was less than a day old, with James smiling at us. And… he was Harry again.” A pause. “Did you - did you try to visit? When he was young?”
The snarl started in Sirius’s throat, and ended in Padfoot’s, and he barked, loud and sharp, hackles raised. Remus’s wand was in his sleeve; he didn’t draw it.
“I wasn’t there at Hallowe’en, remember? I was with the pack. It was weeks before I heard, December when I found anyone from the Order. No one knew where Harry was, but they’d heard that Albus said he was safe. And when I managed to speak to Albus, well into the new year, and I hadn’t eaten in three days - he wouldn’t tell me where Harry was. For my safety, and for his, because the important thing was that Harry was safe. It was only when he came to Hogwarts that anyone besides Albus, Minerva and Hagrid knew where Harry had been kept all these years, and by that stage no one would have thought to tell me about it.”
He smiled slightly. “Do you remember when we used to sit around the kitchen table, and Peter would be singing him a little lullaby while Lily heated up milk, and one evening you said that none of the rest of us were ever going to have kids, so Harry would just have to be it? For all of us? And James hit you over the head and told you to get your own, but Lily just said that it takes a village to raise a child, and maybe one day she could get the three of us babysitting so James could finally take her on a proper honeymoon.”
“She fancied the Greek islands,” Sirius said, back to human already. “Gods, Moony.”
“I went back to the pack for a while,” he told Sirius. “When I’d been hungry for too long. They would have said Harry was my responsibility, if he’d been a wolf. But he wasn’t.”
That was too much for Sirius, and he bounded up the stairs on hands and feet until they were all paws, pulling up threads from the carpet with overgrown claws. Remus looked down at the letter, still in his hand.
“Right then,” he said.
Four days later, he was waiting outside St Mungo’s under a Disillusionment charm. He wasn’t quite sure how long a physiotherapy appointment would last, so arrived for twenty past four and found himself waiting for three quarters of an hour across the street, keeping an eye on the entrance. It was one of those parts of London where even the Muggles dressed oddly to Remus’s eye, and it was not always apparent that someone was magical until they stepped through the window.
Hermione emerged first, and Remus had already removed his Disillusionment charm and was partway across the street when Molly Weasley joined her. He kept walking steadily towards them.
Hermione’s eyes lit up when she saw him. “Professor!”
“Hello Hermione. Mrs Weasley, a pleasure to see you. You’re looking well.”
Molly looked him up and down. “It’s been quite a while.”
Hermione was looking sharply between them, so he turned back to her. “Did your appointment go well?”
Her eyebrows drew together. “I’m not convinced that Healers are particularly used to dealing with conditions which can’t be healed with spellwork. I’m thinking of asking for a referral to a Muggle hospital instead - my mum gets insurance through work, so I’m going to see if the Nuffield have any physios who specialise in nerve damage, or hand therapy at least. I’ll have to wait for a little while though, otherwise the wound will look too healed for my physical abilities.”
Remus nodded. Nerve damage.
“Anyway, I told Mrs Weasley you might meet us here. Thank you for coming.”
“It’s not a problem,” Remus said. “If anything, I feel I must apologise that this is the first I’m seeing of you since the moon. Unfortunately, I had to leave Hogwarts fairly sharpish. Would you like me to accompany you home to speak to your parents?”
“Yes, please. If it’s not too much trouble?”
“Not at all.”
Molly cleared her throat. “Well, then, I’ll be getting back home. Hermione, dear, just let us know if we can do anything for you.”
“Thank you, Mrs Weasley. And thank you for bringing me today!”
“You’re welcome, dear.”
She gave Remus a hard look before she left. He smiled pleasantly in response.
“Sorry,” said Hermione. “Ron told her what happened.”
Remus nodded. “As he should. Are we getting the bus?”
They were, but a Muggle one rather than the Knight Bus. Hermione had a return ticket for Oxford, and paid for Remus’s ticket without asking, perhaps assuming he wouldn’t have any Muggle money. She chattered on for half an hour, requiring very little response from Remus: she was waiting for Minerva to send her summer coursework, had decided to drop Charity Burbage’s class, hadn’t heard yet from Harry, and so on and so forth, until eventually the words petered out. They sat in silence for a few minutes.
“How’s your hand?” he asked eventually.
She sighed, blowing a tendril of hair away from her face. “Frustrating. It’s probably a good thing I came back to my parents’ house. I get more practice doing things manually. But it’s…”
“I don’t actually know much about your injury,” Remus said. “You mentioned nerve damage?”
“It was my upper arm. They reconstructed the muscles and tendons successfully, for the most part. I have a lack of fine motor control, including gripping, and my hand starts shaking when I try to do anything much with it. The healer thought that might improve, though. It’s mostly little things - buttons, putting my hair up, laces. I can’t really use a knife and fork at the moment, either.”
“Hermione, I’m so sorry.”
“I told you I don’t blame you,” she said, and suddenly there was anger there, in increased volume and forceful plosives.
There was nothing much to say that. A minute later, she asked, “Have you seen Padfoot recently?”
“He’s staying with me,” he said.
She nodded. They traveled the rest of the way in silence.
Hermione’s nerves were building higher and higher as they neared her parents’ house. Professor Lupin - she supposed she ought not call him that, any more. It felt terribly strange to consider calling him anything else, though, even if he was clearly just as nervous as she was.
They both stood on the doorstep for a minute, until Hermione could stand it no longer.
“Before we go in,” she said, “you should know my parents aren’t Mr and Mrs, they’re both Dr. My mum corrects everyone who calls her Mrs Granger. And, erm, I haven’t told them anything at all about Mr Black all year.”
“So noted,” said Professor - said Mr Lupin. He took a deep breath. “Well then. No time like the present.”
He lifted his hand to knock, but then moved at the last moment to press the doorbell instead. It occurred to Hermione to wonder if he was Muggleborn, and then her mum opened the door.
“Oh, Hermione. I thought Mrs Weasley was taking you?”
Hermione had to blink a few times at being back in the Muggle world, as she always did when returning from somewhere magical. Her mum, in her smart blouse and sharply pressed trousers, was a hundred miles away from the witches Hermione knew. Hermione brought her books home from Hogwarts each holiday, but almost everything else was kept locked up in her trunk. Coming back to her parents meant leaving magic behind, all the vivid wildness of her other life.
But now she was bringing it home. More precisely, she was bringing two werewolves home.
“This is Professor Lupin, from school. He needs to talk to you.”
“Lovely to meet you, Dr Granger.”
She looked at him sharply, but didn’t say anything beyond, “Well come in, both of you.”
Hermione watched Remus as they went into the house, trying to be surreptitious about it. He glanced around, but there was no confusion at the electric light fitting or the sound coming from the television that Mum had left on in the sitting room. If he wasn’t Muggleborn, he was either accustomed to being around Muggles or did a good job of pretending to be.
“Jim!” Hermione’s mother called. “Hermione’s home, and she has a teacher with her.”
A clattering from the back of her house told her that her dad was coming in from the patio. “Coming!”
Her dad had changed out of his office wear into the faded t-shirt and ratty jeans he used when he was working in the garden. He paused to make sure he was free of any dirt or stray vegetation before coming forward to wrap an arm around Hermione’s shoulders.
She let out a little gasp, unable to stop herself, and her dad let her go. “Ah, sorry sweetheart, did the physio strain it?”
“A bit. Dad, I need to talk to you both about my injury.”
“Finally,” said her mum. “I appreciate your faculty respects student confidentiality, Professor, but you must understand it was quite a fright when Professor McGonagall dropped her off with only a brief mention of a dog bite.”
Hermione frowned. “Mum… Look, can we all sit down?”
“Of course, of course!” said Dad, leaping into action. “Let me put the kettle on. Can I offer you a cup of tea, Mr…”
“Lupin,” he finished. “Yes, thank you.”
Hermione led the way into the sitting room, picking up the remote control and turning off the television as she went. Crookshanks was curled up on his customary armchair, but miaowed in disdain at the intrusion before stalking out haughtily, no doubt to catch another rat for Hermione to dispose of in a few hours. Professor Lupin took Crookshanks’s seat, and Hermione the other armchair, leaving her parents the sofa.
Her mother sat down. “What subject is it you teach?”
“Defence against the Dark Arts.”
Hermione wanted to leap in with a description of some of his classes this year, to demonstrate how good he’d been in the role, but she held her tongue. She wished Crookshanks hadn’t left.
“And you’re both doctors?” Professor Lupin asked.
“Dentists, actually. I work at a private practice in Headington and Jim works at the special care NHS clinic in Cowley.”
Perhaps he did.
Hermione’s dad bustled in after a couple of minutes with black tea in the nice matching mugs from M&S, a sugar bowl and milk jug. None of the Grangers took sugar, of course, and Professor Lupin followed suit.
“Thank you for allowing me into your home,” he said. “I’m afraid you’re quite right; Hermione’s injury wasn’t quite so simple as a dog bite.” He paused, but there was no interruption. “Forgive me if any of this sounds outlandish.”
“We’re somewhat used to hearing the outlandish nowadays,” said Mum. “Go ahead, we’ll stop you if we need clarification on anything.”
“Right. Well, there was a situation a few days ago related to Hermione’s friend Harry. I imagine you know some of his history?”
He explained briefly Sirius’s supposed role in the murder of Harry’s parents, leaving out the Fidelius charm. “As it turns out, however, there had been a miscarriage of justice at the time, and another of their friends was responsible, a man called Peter Pettigrew. Mr Black had reason to believe that Pettigrew was making his way to Hogwarts, potentially to cause harm to Harry, and so managed to follow him. Unfortunately, their confrontation coincided with Hermione’s cat going missing, and she and her friends were outside trying to catch him.
“I received notification that Mr Black was on site via a surveillance device I had in my office. I also noticed Hermione and her friends in the same vicinity, so went to intercept them. During the confrontation, the facts of the case were established, and I prepared to take Pettigrew into custody.”
This, Hermione felt, was a masterclass in understatement. No mention of the Shrieking Shack, or the Whomping Willow, or Grims, of the fact that Pettigrew had been sleeping in Ron’s room for years. Ron’s broken leg had been conveniently left out, as had any suggestion of violence, or attempted murder.
“At this point, I must explain to you that I am a werewolf. We call the condition lycanthropy. I was infected as a child, and up until this month I managed to live quite safely, without infecting anyone else. I normally control my condition with a course of potions leading up to the full moon. It doesn’t prevent me transforming into a wolf, but it does prevent me gaining any of the wolf’s instincts.”
Hermione could see that her mum had already put two and two together. Her hands were folded tightly together in her lap, and she was looking quickly between Hermione and Professor Lupin, comparing.
“The potion requires that every dose is taken religiously, and in my haste to apprehend Mr Black before he could encounter the students, I missed the last dose. When the sun set, I therefore was not… entirely in control.”
“Sorry,” said Dad. “Werewolves - I’m not calling this outlandish or unbelievable, but as you can imagine we don’t have a frame of reference for this. You - you transform into a wolf at the full moon. For - just the one night per month?”
“Yes. Irrespective of any cloud cover.”
Mum had already leapt to the conclusion, her eyes shining. “And you hurt Hermione. You infected her.”
Hermione was ready to protest, but Professor Lupin was already speaking. “You have every right to press charges. Hermione’s head of house Professor McGonagall could help you with any aspects of the magical court system which are difficult to access for non-magical people, as could the parents of some of her friends, if you would prefer not to deal with someone who has been my colleague. I have, of course, already resigned my post.”
Hermione whirled round to face him. “But you know I don’t blame you! You weren’t in control, you weren’t trying to hurt anyone.”
Professor Lupin smiled slightly. “Thank you, Hermione, but the law is quite clear. As a werewolf, the burden of responsibility is on me to ensure I am not in a position to hurt or infect anyone.”
“The law also says you would be executed for infecting me if I spoke up about it.”
The room fell silent for a moment, and Hermione felt as if she had rather stuck her foot in it. Professor Lupin’s expression was strained, and her mother -
“Executed?” Dad repeated. “You have the death penalty?”
“Not for humans,” Hermione explained hurriedly. “I was researching it for Hagrid this year, and the death penalty is only in force for living things who are classified as beasts, rather than beings.”
“It’s, ah, somewhat political as a debate amongst the community of those of us who are not neatly human,” said Professor Lupin. “But as the law stands, werewolves are classified as beasts when transformed at the full moon, and a serious crime committed when transformed is therefore punishable by death.”
He turned away from Hermione’s parents, looking straight at her. “Hermione, I made a judgement call the other night. Quite aside from the potion, I also have wards on my office and my classroom to prevent anyone coming in or out. I chose to leave those protections in order to intercede in the situation with Sirius Black.”
Hermione’s dad cleared his throat. “Well, if you could see that three students were on a collision course with a criminal…”
But Hermione thought she understood. It hadn’t been a move made because he thought she, Harry and Ron were more at risk from Sirius and Pettigrew. She rather doubted that she and Ron had factored into the decision at all.
“Okay,” she said. “I still don’t want to take any action against you.”
“I should think not,” said Mum. “The death penalty, honestly. I assume this is why Professor McGonagall was not made aware of the true nature of your injury?”
“She knows,” said Hermione. “But, um, not officially. That’s why they sent me home too - if the school was acting in loco parentis, they would have had to make a decision based on all the students’ safety. I suppose they might have had to involve the school board, too.”
Dad was nodding at this, slow and thoughtful. “Do you have any books on - you called it lycanthropy? Are there medical journals, studies we can read up on?”
Professor Lupin smiled slightly at that. “I see where Hermione learnt her study habits. Yes, a few, although there is very little in the literature from the perspective of werewolves. I can lend you everything I have at home, and give Hermione a list she can find in the Bodleian. Hermione also wrote a very well-researched essay on the topic at school this year, given what was available in the school library.”
“And moving forwards,” said Mum. “Hermione will transform once a month, yes? So we need to make arrangements.”
“Yes. The potion I mentioned is called Wolfsbane, and until Hermione is old enough to brew it herself, it can be purchased from a few apothecaries and brewers in the country for the cost of the ingredients plus labour. I will warn you that it is quite expensive, and I would check with the Headmaster if the potions professor would be willing to provide it for free whilst Hermione is at school. You’ll also need somewhere secure to transform.”
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” Hermione blurted out. “When you transformed the other night. It looked like it hurt.”
Professor Lupin paused, and then nodded. “I’m so sorry, Hermione.”
She swallowed, and then pushed the fear aside. “Would you have any recommendations about setting up a secure location? Could - I mean, could we reinforce the garage, for example?”
“I think for your first month, we’ll want to take every available precaution, just in case the Wolfsbane isn’t as effective for you.” He glanced towards her parents. “If you agree, we could perhaps write to Professor Dumbledore and ask to use the facility I used to use as a student at Hogwarts. All the other students will have gone home, as will most of the staff.”
Hermione supposed ‘the Shrieking Shack’ wasn’t a phrase she wanted to use in front of her parents either. “Okay. And - would I be on my own?”
“Surely not,” said Mum. “Not if you’re going to be in pain. Although - I suppose it’s out of the question that we stay with her.”
“For the first time, yes,” said Professor Lupin. “And - well, the choice will always be Hermione’s, but I described to you earlier some of the precautions I normally take even now, having been on the potion for a good few months. I can’t advocate being around any humans at the full moon, just in case.”
“Gosh,” Dad said quietly. “Humans.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to suggest Hermione isn’t -”
But Professor Lupin cut himself off there.
“It’s okay,” said Hermione. “I know.”
Mum and Dad were looking at each other, and eventually Dad spoke up. “The law. You said the law treats werewolves differently to humans.”
Professor Lupin swallowed, hard, and Hermione realised he was about to cry. For a moment she was flummoxed, but she spent nine months of each year taking charge of Harry and Ron, and she was going to put that experience to use now.
“We’ll look over all the legislation once I’ve been to the library,” she said decisively. “Thank you so much for coming, Professor, but I’m afraid I’m feeling really quite tired now. I hope you don’t mind if we leave it there today. Let me show you out.”
And she swept him towards the door before her parents could so much as blink, almost knocking his untouched mug of tea to the floor. She marched with him out of the front door, and took him out of view of the windows before she stopped. “I’m sorry,” she said.
“You have nothing to apologise for,” he replied. His voice was croaky.
“This is - traumatic. For you. Probably for me too, but not yet.”
It felt terribly strange to be talking to a teacher like this. She felt like she was taking care of him, a bit, like she might take care of Harry.
“Not yet. If you could - let me know, if your parents do decide to press charges?”
“They won’t,” Hermione said firmly. “They wouldn’t want to set a precedent, just in case. And I know that conversation was difficult, but they do understand, really. Dad works with disabled patients all the time, and Mum - she talks hard, but she’s got a black daughter. She married Dad in the seventies. They understand.”
“Except they don’t, do they?” he asked, and he was sharp again, pulling himself together to look at her searchingly. “How much have you told them about…”
Hermione looked down. There were any number of ways that sentence could have ended, and the answer would have been the same: not much. “I don’t stop them from reading.”
“I’m fourteen!” she burst out. “The Ministry put all this protection around Hogwarts this year, but I don’t even know if they’re aware that You Know Who’s still out there - and what did they do for Muggles last time? All those people - they just died! And our government wrote it off as part of the Troubles, or accidents, or whatever else… I can’t protect them yet, Professor. And if they take me out of school, I’ll never be able to protect them.”
Somewhere nearby, perhaps two doors down, a child screamed with laughter, and a parent called: “Adam! Adam, get away from the pond!” Hermione started, remembering where she was, and realising that she really did feel quite tired.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should get back inside. Thank you so much for coming today.”
But there he paused, closing his eyes. The scar that ran down his face came remarkably close to his left eye, she noticed, bisecting his eyebrow and almost hitting his tear duct before travelling across his nose.
“I don’t want to impose on you,” she said, when she couldn’t stand waiting any longer. “But it’s all the - I haven’t even asked if I need to register in person yet, because if I do, my parents won’t be able to take me. And I know there’s Mrs Weasley, and Professor McGonagall, but they can’t help me with this, not really. Professor McGonagall told me about - about being your head of house. About appointing you prefect. It didn’t help, did it?”
“This is the first year since leaving school that I’ve had a job for more than six months.”
He was trembling. Hermione wondered if she might cry too, but she didn’t feel sad. She felt angry. Maybe slightly for herself, but mainly for him.
“Right. Well. I’ve got four more years to worry about that. And there’s everything else to worry about - Harry, and You Know Who, and school.”
“My new dog,” Professor Lupin offered.
“Yes, him too. I think - I think I’m going to worry about those things first, and then we’ll start work on the Ministry.”
He laughed, a shocked, sudden sound. “I told Sirius you could go into politics.”
She smiled. “I’ll write to you again. And you’ll send me a reading list?”
“I’ll bring my books over too. Is tomorrow too soon?”
“No, of course not. I’m just at home recuperating, I’d love to be reading. Although I need to sort out my physio, too. And I’ll need to check with my parents. Um, do you have a telephone?”
“Yes, but the line’s disconnected, I haven’t paid line rental since my father died.”
“Mr Weasley managed to set one up magically last summer, and I really doubt he would have known to pay BT. I’ll ask Ron, if you like?”
“Thank you,” he said.
She added it to her mental to-do list. “Well then. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Make it five thirty, my mum will be home by then.”
He smiled. “See you tomorrow.”
She turned to go back into the house, and after a few steps heard the familiar crack of Apparition.
When Remus got home, it was to find Sirius in the middle of a pile of parchment.
“You can erase the ink and reuse it,” he said quickly. “I’m just writing a letter to Harry.”
“He’ll be at school for another week,” Remus pointed out.
“I know. That might be for the best though. Can’t imagine Petunia being too happy about owl post.”
Remus looked at the scattered drafts, and walked past them to his bookshelf. It was sparsely populated nowadays, and what there was tended to be fiction. The rest had been sold at one point or another, to bookshops or directly to any students he’d managed to tutor over the years.
There were only three books he could realistically give to Hermione. The first was a copy of a medical journal’s article on the transmission of lycanthropy from person to person. Most published books had charms to prevent unauthorised duplications, so Remus had copied this one out by hand. Another was a sociological study on what the author called the feral werewolf packs of Britain. This was an original, and Remus had not sold it only because he had annotated it very thoroughly, and steadily more angrily as he got further through. He had a quick glance through and made a mental note to scrub out some of the swear words.
The third was Hairy Snout, Human Heart , published in the mid seventies by an anonymous author. James had bought it when it first came out, and then pushed it under Sirius and Peter’s noses. It was this copy that Remus had on his bookshelf, the spine barely broken, the pages crisp and free of any annotation. In fact, he had read it only once, after James had shamefacedly pushed the book at him, muttering apologies. It had languished on his bookshelf ever since, and it left a dusty footprint as he removed it and turned it over in his hands.
Perhaps not, he thought. Hairy Snout wasn’t a book for werewolves, not really. He flipped the book again, looking at the blurb.
“I’ve been thinking.”
Remus looked up. Sirius’s pile of discarded letters had grown. “What about?”
“I should leave. Someone will put two and two together soon enough and come looking here for me. I can’t get a wand in Britain, either, not without stealing one.”
“What about Harry?” Remus asked.
“Yeah, well, you were right. As per normal. It’s too late for me to be his guardian, and I’m practically useless to him without a wand.”
“Practically,” Remus agreed. “Emotionally?”
Sirius scuffed his foot against the carpet, sending three sheets of parchment fluttering an inch into the air. “I’m getting the feeling I’m too late for that too.”
Remus put Hairy Snout back on the bookshelf, covering up its dust-free spot once more, leaving a slight trail where it had dragged along the shelf. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“Then maybe I’m too early. I need a holiday, Moony,” Sirius said plaintively. “Bit of a break.”
“Make it somewhere sunny, you could do with a tan.” Remus took a half-step forward. “You know you’ll be welcomed back, Padfoot?”
Sirius nodded. He lifted one foot, and then seemed to remember which limb he was supposed to use for awkwardly scratching the back of his neck, and corrected himself.
“And perhaps after a bit of time, I’ll be in a better place to be more welcoming,” Remus said wryly. Finally, he stepped forward again, and tugged his old friend into a hug. Sirius was little more than a bag of bones, and Remus could feel his vertebrae even through the borrowed shirt and robes. He closed his eyes, and pressed his cheek against Sirius’s hair. “Will we ever be in the same place, you and I?” he asked.
Sirius huffed, and stepped back.
“If you need me, I’ll be somewhere exotic,” he said. “Getting my head on straight.” He picked up one of the sheets of parchment, seemingly at random. “I’ll find an owl to send this on my way.”
And he left, stuffing the letter in his pocket. Remus heard the front door open, and then click gently closed, and when he looked out the window, it was to see a large black dog trotting lightly across his back garden.
“Trust him to be wearing my best shoes when he left,” he muttered.
He went into Diagon Alley the following morning to update his list of articles and such, and wandered by a couple of cobblers. The prices in the shop windows made him wince, and as he arrived at the Grangers’ house that afternoon, he was still idly wondering whether he should bite the bullet and buy a new pair while he still had enough in his bank account, or get by on temporary transfigurations.
Hermione answered the door.
“Hi,” she said. “Thanks for coming back. Mum’s not actually back yet, but come in.”
He removed his second best shoes; he hadn’t done the day before, but he hadn’t known then that the Grangers’ home was covered in thick new carpets. It was a modern house, painted mostly in light colours with the occasional flash of brightness; no lingering seventies wallpaper here. There was a shining Vauxhall in the driveway, and a small poster in the window of the front room: no cold callers please. Inside, bookshelves were arranged neatly by subject and author; any brightly coloured books from Hermione’s childhood must have been relegated upstairs, out of the way of the reception rooms.
Hermione took him back into the sitting room, and he pulled the pile of parchment from his bag. “It’s not much, I’m afraid. I’m relying on your fondness for libraries here.”
She grinned. “That won’t be a problem.”
The entrance to the magical section of the Bodleian library was hidden in plain sight. The Schools Quadrangle was set at regular intervals with doors which historically led to certain sections of the library, with Latin names inscribed above them: SCHOLA MVSICAE, SCHOLA MORALIS PHILOSOPHIAE and so on. One door was labelled SCHOLA METAPHYSICAE , and since the seventeenth century, it had led simultaneously to two different departments: the Muggle Metaphysical School, and the Magical School. Hermine had found a mention of the magical section of the Bodleian in one of the many books she’d read at Hogwarts in her first term, and had raced to explore it as soon as she’d got home for Christmas. Unfortunately, she’d failed to take into account that she would need a wand to get through the door, and of course she couldn’t use hers. She’d been staring intently at the door to the SCHOLA METAPHYSICAE in the December drizzle, becoming gradually more and more saturated while her mother waited patiently in a cafe on Broad Street. One of the librarians had eventually tried to evict the loitering black youth, but an older lady called Marjorie Barrett had intervened.
“I expect this young lady is from my alma mater,” she said pompously. “Tell me, are you a student of dear Professor Flitwick?”
“Yes!” said Hermione.
“Well there you have it, Alistair, you bustle off, and I shall help the young lady find the department she was looking for.”
Thereafter, Marjorie had taken Hermione under her wing and explained some of the more recent history of the Magical School: like the Ministry, it was mostly underground, which meant the Muggles had given them quite a fright when they started talking about building the Gladstone Link, the underground section of the library which connected the Radcliffe Camera and the Old Bodleian. Fortunately, they had managed to avoid each other, at least enough for the spells maintaining the Magical School to keep functioning.
“Some of the students do occasionally notice that the Gladstone Link doesn’t quite match the path they would expect above ground to reach the Rad Cam, but one can ignore university students quite safely these days,” Marjorie said.
There was always at least one witch or wizard employed at the Bodleian as a librarian, although the Magical School largely ran itself.
“It is a research library,” Marjorie explained. “At some point, the topic of research was how to run a self-managing library.”
Books reshelved themselves if no pages were turned for more than a few minutes, refused to allow themselves to be taken out of the room to which they belonged, and repelled dust, mites, and several other pollutants.
“Including human sweat, so we advise all readers to have a shower before visiting,” Marjorie informed her.
Indeed, as soon as Marjorie ushered her through the door that first time, the rainwater had evaporated in an instant, leaving her hair twice the volume it had been.
The only thing the library couldn’t do for itself was direct readers to the appropriate bookshelf for their topic of research, and the system of classification hadn’t been updated since the seventeenth century. Hermione had spent many happy days in her school holidays learning the quirks of the Magical School’s layout, and therefore knew already that the section on werewolves was filed within Dark Magic, rather than Magical Creatures as one might have expected.
The advanced Defense Against the Dark Arts texts were easy to find, but Hermione had to go searching other areas of the library for some of Professor Lupin’s other recommendations: scholarly articles from various journals which took her to the shelves on Healing, on ethics, on the law. The Magical School organised its books not by author, but by date of publication, as it automatically added each new book written in Wizarding Britain to its shelves, so each time Hermione approached a new shelf, she started at its far right, working backwards through time, adding books to her reinforced school bookbag. It was only as she attempted to move into another room that she remembered: the Magical School was a reference library only, and did not permit books to be removed from their rooms. She would have to read each room’s offerings a pile at a time.
Around five hours later, Hermione was on the bus back to Headington, having filled an entire wirebound notebook and several feet of parchment with notes. She could have stayed longer, but she hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and her parents would expect her to be home when they got back from work. The bus ride wasn’t long, but even so, she found herself digging the notebook back out of her bag and removing a biro from her hair. On its cardboard back, she started writing a to-do list.
- Write to Professor Dumbledore re:
- Permission to use the Shack
- Professor Snape/Wolfsbane
- Recipe/Wolfsbane (magic outside school - Trace on potions?)
Below that, she wrote the date of the two full moons before September, and then felt a sudden rush of anxiety over whether she had the dates right. Surely she did. And surely she would know, she thought; Professor Lupin always looked more ill just before a full moon.
The bell rang, and Hermione looked up, abruptly realising that she had already missed her stop. She scrambled to stuff the notebook back in her bag, grabbing clumsily at the opening with her left hand - blast that hand! - and hurried off the bus before the driver could accuse her of skimping on the fare.
She was feeling rather faint as she let herself in and, since her parents weren’t home, indulged in a whole glass of orange juice, rather than watering it down. She made herself some beans on toast for a late lunch. Legumes had been in the NHS leaflet on iron-rich foods, and although Hermione had yet to verify if this extended to a can of Heinz’s best, it was at least something she could cook herself. The only difficulty came with opening the can without being able to grip it. She eventually managed by wedging it between her stomach and left arm as she worked the can opener with her right hand.
She spent the rest of the afternoon sitting at the kitchen table drafting her letter to Professor Dumbledore, and when her dad got back from work, she had it finished.
“Hey, bookworm,” Dad said. “Productive day?”
She gestured to the pile of paper in front of her. “Pretty much. I’ve got a to-do list.”
“Good girl. I’ll make a start on dinner and we’ll talk it all through with your mother.”
When Dad had time to spend cooking, it was usually what her mother would call a one pot wonder, some sort of curry or casserole which was left simmering for hours. On a weekday, he was more likely to resort to pasta, or fish, or fish pasta - something that cooked quickly. No point spending time on both the cooking and the washing up, he would say, which made less sense now that her parents had bought a dishwasher. Hermione had been rather glad of that when she’d got home; her normal role was washing up or drying, and she was afraid right now that it would only end in broken crockery.
Tonight, it was salmon baked in foil with lemon and chili, along with broccoli and new potatoes. Hermione managed the fish and potatoes with just her fork, but had to struggle to stab the broccoli with her fork in her left hand so she could cut it up with the knife in her right. She managed two florets before her dad gave in.
“Come here, I’ll do the rest for you.”
“Jim,” her mother protested.
“Hey, she’s tried. If she tries any longer it’ll be cold.”
Hermione pushed her plate towards him, trying not to feel ashamed. “I hate this,” she said.
Mum sighed. “Your dad’s right, don’t listen to me. You keep trying, that’s what’s important.”
Even with help, she was the last to finish. As soon as she’d swallowed the last mouthful, she picked up her plate and stormed over to the dishwasher, her progress hampered by the fact that she couldn’t open the heavy spring-loaded door without first setting the plate on the counter.
“Leave that,” said Mum. “Go and get your research.”
She’d piled up her notes on the sitting room table for dinner, so she went and retrieved them.
“There’s quite a lot,” she said, shuffling through the parchment. “Not all of it’s directly relevant though - there’s studies on werewolves who don’t live as part of wizarding society, and the medical information is mostly about how people get infected. The Wolfsbane potion is really fascinating, but obviously I can’t make it yet, so -”
“So let’s start with the bits which are directly relevant, hey?” her dad suggested, smiling.
Hermione blew some hair away from her face. “Right. So, it seems to me that almost everything hinges round registration,” she explained. “It’s technically a requirement, but the only people who have a duty to register werewolves, and the only people who can, are the werewolves themselves, or a healer who treats the initial werewolf bite. There was an ethics paper put forward on whether that restriction broke the Hippocratic Oath - apparently wizards have that too - but it was judged to be in the public’s best interest.”
Both her parents looked sceptical at that.
“It’s not a public document, though?” Dad asked.
“Well, no,” said Hermione. “You can’t just apply to read through the list. But any private individual can apply to know whether someone is on the register, so long as they’ve got an adequate reason, and those reasons aren’t actually specified in the legislation. I’m guessing that makes it quite hard for the Ministry to reject any enquiries.”
Dad drummed his fingers on the table. “So it follows that an employer could check if a new employee is on the register just by saying that they might need to work nights.”
“Or a nosy neighbour who said she was concerned about the safety of her children,” Mum added. “If there’s no definition of adequate…”
“And no amount of equality legislation will save you there,” said Dad. “Tch.”
“Are there are any other statutes or laws directly related to lycanthropy?” asked Mum.
Hermione shook her head. “Not really. There’s the official definition of a werewolf, which has changed a lot - at the moment, like Professor Lupin said, they’re defined as beasts, which is what triggers the potential for capital punishment. There was a case heard by the Wizengamot about it in 1989. I copied out the transcript of the judgment, here.”
She passed it to her mum, who read aloud: “It is the finding of this court that any other magical beast which so severely injured a wizard due to the negligence or mistreatment of its owner would be humanely and sensibly put down, and the jury is satisfied that the wolf should be treated comparably.”
“My god,” said Dad.
Mum set the parchment down. “The negligence of its owner?”
“The thing is, this was after the invention of the Wolfsbane potion,” Hermione explained. “Before that, a defence lawyer could have argued temporary insanity as a defence, but now, theoretically, any werewolf can control themselves by planning in advance. That’s why the court found that not using it was negligent. I’m not sure, but I think that’s when the definition of werewolf got updated most recently, too.”
“No wonder your poor teacher looked so frightened,” said Mum. “Sensibly put down…”
“How expensive is this potion?” asked Dad.
Hermione shrugged. “I’d have to ask at an apothecary. I found the list of ingredients though - it’s so long, and it must be terribly complex to brew. I think you’re mostly paying for the expertise of the brewer. Plus, the advice from the Ministry to apothecaries is to sell it only to registered werewolves and keep a record of your customers. Supposedly, that’s to prevent werewolves using Wolfsbane to deliberately set out and infect people.”
They all sat in silence for a moment, and then Hermione cleared her throat.
“So I’ve made a plan,” she announced. “If we’re going to buy Wolfsbane, the first thing I need to do is register. I do that by going to the Ministry. I was thinking of sending an owl to the Weasleys and asking if Mr Weasley could accompany me on his lunch break tomorrow.”
Mum’s face was hard. “I don’t like it, but I can’t argue. Fine.”
“After that, I need to sort out with Professor Dumbledore if I can transform at school, and if Professor Snape will make the potion for me during term time. I’ve drafted a letter, here.”
Her dad took that one, and he read it carefully. “Very polite,” he said. “Although - the Shrieking Shack?”
She’d forgotten she hadn’t told them its name. “It’s a nickname the students came up with, back when it was first in use,” she said. “I think it just stuck. By the way, should we offer to reimburse Professor Snape?” she asked hurriedly. “I didn’t include the offer originally, but -”
“Do any other parents reimburse the school for providing medical treatment?” her mother interrupted. “We weren’t asked for anything when you were in the hospital wing in your second year. No, we’ll leave it to them to bring up first. I hope you’ve written that letter in the presumption that you’re staying in school.”
“Yes, Mum,” she said. “No conditional tense.”
Mum smiled. “Good. So, I’ll run down to the post office with your letter for the Weasleys - don’t argue, Hermione, you look atrocious, you need to go to bed. Hopefully we’ll get you registered tomorrow, and you can send your letter to Professor Dumbledore, and then on Saturday we’ll go into Diagon Alley and make enquiries about your potion. Is that a plan?”
“One more thing,” said Dad. “We should tell Mr Lupin you’ll be registering tomorrow.” Mum raised a questioning eyebrow, so he pressed on. “Look, the man’s clearly undergoing a lot of stress, and he’s been helpful so far. Keeping him informed is in all of our interest, don’t you think?”
Hermione had spent most of the day deliberately trying to put Professor Lupin out of her mind. She wondered when he had registered, or even if he had. She thought it was likely, given what he’d told her about his job history. She wondered what had led to the angry comments on the article he had lent her, because they were definitely personal rather than academic critiques.
And when her mind drifted away from the books in front of her, as even Hermione Granger’s mind had to do sometimes, she wondered how much support he’d had from his friends, after he’d left Hogwarts. Had they continued to transform with him? Had they met up every month, Padfoot, Prongs and Wormtail keeping Moony safe, and distracted, and happy? Harry’s family had been rich, she knew that, and Sirius had enough in his dormant bank account to casually buy a Firebolt, so had Padfoot and Prongs tried to help him out when times were tough?
“Hermione,” her dad said. “Do you remember what you wrote about your first Defence lesson this year?”
It was a lifetime ago. She tried to remember how she’d felt after that Boggart lesson. “I can’t remember precisely, but it was such a great, practical lesson, we were all really impressed. I probably mentioned that he was a good teacher.”
Dad inclined his head. “That’s not all you said. You particularly wrote that he was the kindest professor you’d had.”
“You did,” said Mum. “It worried me.”
“And my point is that the kind thing to do right now is to reassure him that we’re not going to ruin his life, and that he hasn’t ruined Hermione’s. So, I think we should invite him for Sunday lunch. And for heaven’s sake, tell him you’re registering, let’s not spring that on him as a surprise.”
And so it was that the next day, Hermione found herself in a dilapidated phone box in central London with Mr Weasley.
“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic,” said the telephone. “Please state your name and business.”
Hermione looked at Mr Weasley, who made an encouraging hand gesture. She faced the telephone. “Hermione Granger. I’m here to register as a werewolf.”
There was a pause, and Mr Weasley shifted uneasily beside her, and then a badge dropped out of the slot where change would normally be dispensed.
“Thank you. Visitor, please take the badge and attach it to the front of your robes.”
Hermione picked up the badge. It simply said Hermione Granger: Werewolf. More immediately concerning, the badge was fixed with a pin clasp, and she wasn’t convinced she was going to be able to attach it to her blouse. The voice was still speaking.
“Visitor to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wand for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium.”
The inside of the telephone box began to descend. She wanted to peer out the windows, to watch their descent and get her first glimpse of the Ministry, but she was concentrating on the badge. Her left fingers weren’t responding, and she couldn’t both hold the badge and pull her blouse taut to push the pin through.
“The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day.”
She looked up, and promptly jabbed her left thumb with the pin.
“Ouch,” she muttered.
Mr Weasley was already stepping out of the phone box, but looked back. “Oh, do you need a hand? You should have said.”
Hermione tamped down a fit of pride and slowly curled her left hand into a fist, trying to tuck her thumb inside her fingers. Only her index and middle fingers responded. “Yes, please.”
Mr Weasley bent to pin the badge to her blouse, and Hermione looked up at the ceiling, blinking away stubborn tears. Behind them, the phone box ascended to the street above.
“There we go. Now, welcome to the Ministry! I’m sure you’ll be taking this place by storm some day.”
Hermione looked around. She supposed it was impressive, but, accustomed as she was to Hogwarts and Oxford buildings, she found herself rather underwhelmed. The ceiling, for example, had nothing on Hogwarts’ Great Hall. Instead of the outside sky, it faded to textureless blue depths. Runes were floating about it, although Hermione hadn’t studied the subject enough to identify what they all were, or why they were there. Architectural, she assumed. The fireplaces lining the walls were all highly elaborate, and looked almost gaudy against the dark wooden panelling. Halfway down the hall was a fountain, which Hermione spared a glance: a witch and wizard surrounded by a centaur, goblin and house-elf. All of them were cast in what was probably solid gold - definitely gaudy, quite besides the political message.
More interesting to her were the people. It was quite quiet, with only a few people milling about, but they were all dressed in full robes. No one was in Muggle clothing, and no one was in the Hogwarts standard of a Muggle shirt and trousers or skirt beneath robes. Hermione glanced down at her school skirt and sensible lace-up shoes, and wondered if she looked dreadfully immodest without robes on. Too late now.
“Right, security point over here,” Mr Weasley said, “and then we’ll take you up to level four.”
The security point was manned by a white woman who looked much more like a secretary than a security guard, with thick-framed glasses perched on her nose and her hair fixed in a bouffant style either by a whole can of hairspray, or possibly a mild sticking charm.
“Name?” she drawled.
She scribbled that down. Hermione, reading her handwriting upside down, was pleased to see that she spelt it correctly. “Purpose of your visit to the Ministry?”
What was the point of the badges? “I’m here to register as a werewolf.”
The woman looked up sharply. “How old are you?”
“Oh.” She didn’t write anything down. “Right. Um, anyway, I need to see your wand, please.”
It was Hermione’s turn to blink. “Sorry?”
“Your wand. I need to measure your wand.” She was back to scribbling, presumably realising she hadn’t actually written down Hermione’s purpose for being there.
“I haven’t got it with me,” said Hermione.
The woman looked up again, suspicious. “Why?”
“I’m underage,” she said. “I can’t do magic outside school.”
“So where’s your wand?”
“Locked in my school trunk,” she said.
Mr Weasley cleared his throat. “Very responsible, for a young witch in a Muggle household, don’t you think, Jacintha?”
The witch harrumphed. “Fine. Beast Division of the Magical Creature department on level four. Are you accompanying, Arthur?”
“Yes, yes, Hermione’s a friend of my children. Thank you, Jacintha.”
He ushered her over to the lift. “Not a bad idea, leaving your wand at home,” he said quietly. “No need to have that registered too.”
“It wasn’t like that, though,” Hermione protested. “I was trying to be good. I always felt bad about carrying my wand in Diagon Alley when we go to buy school supplies, particularly since Harry got blamed for Dobby’s magic last year. I try never to take my wand out of my trunk at home.”
Mr Weasley looked flummoxed. “Oh. Well. I suppose I hadn’t considered that perspective before.”
The lift was like an old fashioned Victorian contraption, just lacking the physical manpower dragging the grille across or hoisting pulleys. It surprised Hermione that it moved upwards to get to level four.
“How far below ground are we?” she asked. “If there are ten levels, and they’re all underground…”
“Ah, I don’t know the exact dimensions, I’m afraid. Let’s see, I’d say levels ten, eight and four are probably larger than a normal storey - well, you saw the Atrium - although I’m not sure if they were dug out or expanded with charmwork, so…” He thought about it for a second. “No, I’m afraid I have no idea.”
“Never mind, I’m sure I can look it up,” said Hermione.
“Let me know the answer,” Mr Weasley said. “Rather strange, to think I’ve worked here all these years and not asked that question.”
The lift announced their arrival, and Hermione stepped out onto a rich red carpet. The walls were tiled in black, casting a dull reflection back at them. A sign in curling font advised them to go left for the Being and Spirit divisions, and right for the Beast division, and so they went right, heading through a large door into -
Chaos. A basket of kneazle kittens was yowling loudly on a desk nearby, several owls hooted overhead, and a small Crup made a break for the door, falling back as it hit an invisible ward.
“Newt!” yelled a young wizard with yellow blond hair. “Get back here, you mangy-”
He scrambled to a halt in front of Hermione and Mr Weasley. “Sorry, it’s not normally like this, we’ve had to confiscate a whole load of pets being imported from France this morning - they’re not hard to find in Britain, even licensed! I don’t understand it, we’ve had to get the DMLE looking into it in case there’s something else - but anyway. Sorry. Can I help?”
Mr Weasley laughed. “Not to worry, this feels right at home to me. This is Hermione, she’s here to register as a werewolf.”
The man’s eyes widened. “Oh. Wow. Right, okay, um, that’s a first for me. Sorry, the Werewolf Support Services got shut down not long ago, so the Registry hasn’t been back with us for long. Right. Let me just get that Crup back under control and I’ll be with you. Newt!”
In short order, the Crup was corralled back into a pen and they were shown into an antechamber. The walls were covered in the same black tiles, but they lacked the highly-polished sheen of those in the corridor, and there was no carpet, only scuffed floorboards. A distinct smell of owls pervaded the stuffy air.
“Right.” The wizard shoved his hair back off his forehead. His face was flushed red. “Sorry about that. I’m Thurston Tybalton.”
“Hermione Granger,” she said.
He smiled brightly. “Well, that’s question one out of the way. Hang on, let me get the actual register.”
This was an old and slightly crumbling scroll, which he unrolled only a few inches. Hermione looked at Mr Weasley but he didn’t seem to see anything amiss with this.
“Now, I’m probably supposed to give you a leaflet or something, but I’m pretty sure it all got thrown out with the Support Services. Do you need any information about the Registry, the legislation, should I pull something together?”
Hermione stared. “I think I’m okay. I’ve done some research already.”
Tybalton visibly relaxed. “Good! Alright, let’s get your details down. You said your name was Granger?”
The interview proceeded in this chaotic sort of way. Hermione recited her full name, date of birth, address, parents’ names and dates of birth, the fact that she was a student at Hogwarts, the date she was bitten…
“I think that’s it for the actual register,” Tybalton said eventually. “I do have to - well, I think I’m supposed to ask a few other questions.”
Hermione tensed. “Alright.”
“Right. So. Are you Muggleborn?”
“Yes,” she said. “Does that matter?”
“No, no, of course not!” Tybalton protested. “I just meant - do you have a plan for the full moons? If you live with Muggles.”
“There’s a facility at Hogwarts for werewolf students,” Hermione said. “I was planning to use that.”
Tybalton’s eyes widened. “Is there? Gosh, I never knew that. I only graduated a couple of years ago.”
That much had been obvious from the start. Hermione shrugged. “I don’t think it gets a lot of use.” And then she blurted out, “Can I ask - how many werewolves are there in the UK? I know the register isn’t complete, but it does seem very short.”
“Well, they don’t like to register, do they?” said Tybalton. “It’s not anything to be afraid of, not any more, but most werewolves - well, they don’t live with wizards. It’s well known there are feral packs in a few places - there’s a large one in the Welsh valleys, for example - but they don’t live according to the law on any front. Feral, like I say. You’d hardly get them walking in here to register.”
“But when a person’s first bitten, they’re not feral then,” Hermione pointed out.
“No, but they’ll get picked up by the pack in the morning and fed all sorts of lies - the Ministry’s out to capture all werewolves, wizards will never accept them, all that sort of thing. There are probably civilised werewolves who aren’t on the register too, believing the same sort of thing. If they can keep it secret, they will.”
“You can’t blame them,” Mr Weasley said. “After all, the Werewolf Capture Unit is still active.”
“They’re only after the feral packs, or werewolves who transform unsecurely,” Tybalton argued. “It’s for people’s protection.”
“Of course, of course,” Mr Weasley said. “Still. There’s a certain image portrayed, particularly now that the Registry is back with the Beast division.”
“Anyway,” Tybalton blustered. “We’re nearly done. Last question - do you know who bit you?”
Hermione looked at the very short register. “Haven’t a clue,” she said firmly.
When Remus knocked at the Grangers’ door, it was Hermione’s mother who answered.
“My husband thought you might turn up,” she said. “Come in, I’ll make another cup of tea. She’s not back yet.”
She preceded him into the kitchen, and fetched a mug from a cabinet. Not matching this time; hers was large and had a logo on it, some freebie from a conference or sales rep, and his was plain pale green, but clearly new, the interior still sparkling white. She left the teabag in the mug, but added the milk for him, just a dash, and did not produce any sugar.
“Thank you,” he said. And then, “Forgive me, I don’t actually know your name. Hermione just warned me to call you doctor.”
She laughed sharply at that. “Clever girl, my daughter. It’s Elaine. And my husband is Jim.”
“And now you must forgive me, because I have to ask about yours. Hermione told me it was Remus, but that can’t be true.”
“I’m sure the irony did not escape my parents, when I was bitten,” he said, “but I was never brave enough later to ask why they’d picked it. I know my mother spent some time in Rome in her youth. Perhaps it was simply that it sounds less outlandish than Romulus.”
She sniffed at that. “Are they magical, your parents?”
“My father was. My mother wasn’t - she was working in insurance in Cardiff when they met.”
“You don’t have much of an accent.”
“We moved around a lot.”
She curled her hands around her mug, and Remus made a decision.
“There’s one book I’d prefer to lend you, rather than Hermione,” he said. “It’s a personal testimony by an anonymous werewolf, published around twenty years ago. It’s advocating for - well, my mother used the phrase ‘human rights’, although of course we could debate its accuracy. It’s probably a little much for a new werewolf, but you and Jim should be warned on her behalf.”
But Elaine raised an eyebrow. “And what sort of support do you think we can give her?”
“She’s your daughter,” Remus said, for the lack of anything better.
“And I haven’t been able to support her in anything except the very basics since she came back from her first year at Hogwarts.” There was no anger or bitterness in her voice: it was a fact, and she stated it plainly as such. “She underestimates me, I know she does. I’ve read every history book she’s bought, every edition of the Daily Prophet since we first took her to Diagon Alley. I know who her friend Harry is. I even know who Sirius Black is; it’s not hard to request back editions of the Prophet. I meant to ask you, out of Hermione’s hearing: what’s the risk that either he or Peter Pettigrew comes back for Harry?”
Remus, flummoxed, was saved from answering by the opening of the front door.
“In the kitchen, Hermione.”
Hermione was dressed in a smart black skirt and white blouse with an unbuttoned black cardigan, which shifted to reveal a silver name badge. Behind her came Arthur Weasley, who was dressed in work robes as threadbare as Remus’ own, but with more loving darns and patches.
“Hello!” he said jovially. “Lovely to see you, Mrs Granger. And you must be Mr Lupin! Molly told me you knew each other, back in…”
“Her brothers, mostly,” said Remus. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr Weasley.”
“Yes, yes, I hope my children didn’t cause you too much trouble this year. Oh, tea! Thank you, very kind, but I must be getting back to work. The younger ones got back from school yesterday, so gods forbid I’m late for supper! I’ll be eaten out of house and home.”
“Thank you for your help, Mr Weasley,” Hermione piped up.
Weasley beamed. “You’re always welcome, you know that. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon now Ron’s back!”
And with repeated and earnest goodbyes, he bustled back out.
Hermione was looking down at the name badge on her shirt. “Mum, could you help me get this off?”
“Of course, come here.”
It was a simple pin badge. Elaine tutted at it. “Hermione Granger, werewolf. They made this for you?”
“It was a sort of automated system,” Hermione said. “The machine asked for your name and reason for coming to the ministry, and when I said I was there to register, this is what it made. Just a badly designed spell, I think. Can I have some tea?”
“Get it yourself, you don’t need your little fingers for that.”
Hermione scowled, but started moving round the kitchen. She used her left hand to open the cupboard, but her right to take down a mug. She put her left hand to the side of the kettle to see if it was still hot, then checked it again with her right.
“So,” said Elaine, “how was it?”
Hermione scrunched up her nose as she tried to pick up a teabag with her left hand. “Fine. More anti-Muggle prejudice than anti-werewolf, really, at least until I started asking awkward questions. They didn’t understand why I wouldn’t have my wand on me.”
“Well of course not,” said Elaine.
Remus grimaced. “As much as it’s a very law-abiding sentiment, Hermione, I would rather you kept your wand with you. At all times, just as you would at school. You know the exceptions to the ban on underage magic?”
“Self-defense,” Hermione responded promptly, now challenging herself to open the plastic milk bottle with her left hand.
Remus smiled. “A point to Gryffindor.”
Elaine flicked a glance at Remus, and he had the feeling that he had inadvertently answered her earlier question.
“But anyway, it was all okay, really,” Hermione went on. “Besides the general principle of the thing. I had to give my name, date of birth, address, blood status - they justified that one by asking if I had a safe place to transform, since I’m underage. I said that Hogwarts was helping me.”
“You’ve already written to the Headmaster?” Remus asked.
“We discussed this last night,” Elaine answered. “We decided it was best to get registration out of the way first; it makes everything else look more above board. Hermione’s drafted the letter, though.”
“I’ll take it to the post office in a bit,” Hermione confirmed. She put the milk back in the fridge. “Speaking of the law on underage magic, is the Ministry able to trace potion brewing? I thought most of the monitoring was done via wand use.”
“Unfortunately, not all,” Remus answered. “In an area of highly concentrated magic usage, you might get away with magic not cast with your own wand, but living in a Muggle area they would be able to detect the magic and have reasonable suspicion to investigate whether an underage student was the culprit.”
“So if - hypothetically - I was to set up a cauldron at a pureblood friend’s house, the Ministry would assume it was their parents brewing.”
Elaine cleared her throat. “Hermione, what happened to doing things above board? Your father and I aren’t hurting for money, sweetheart, we can buy your potion.”
“I know, I just…” But she trailed off, staring at the surface of her tea rather than meeting Remus or Elaine’s eye. “They asked if I knew who had bitten me,” she said, rather than finishing the sentence. “I said I didn’t. I don’t think he believed me, but he let it go.”
Remus let out a sigh. “Thank you.”
She left her tea a few seconds longer before fishing out the teabag. “Don’t,” she said. “It makes me feel like you’re thanking me for - well, for not having you killed. That’s not something anyone should be thanked for.”
Elaine pushed herself away from the counter. “Hermione, why don’t you go and find Crookshanks, I haven’t seen him in a suspiciously long time.”
Hermione raised her eyebrows, but her mother met her gaze evenly, and after a minute Hermione huffed out a breath and carted her mug of tea out of the kitchen. Elaine waited until there were footsteps on the stairs to speak again.
“She’s right,” Elaine said. “I like to think we’re decent people, and you never need to thank us for not reporting you. That said, I get the impression that you would like the opportunity to somehow make this whole thing up to my daughter, am I right?”
Remus could only nod.
“Well then. What you can do for us is look out for her when we can’t. No disrespect to the Weasleys, but they don’t seem to appreciate what it’s like for a Muggleborn child, or for Muggle parents. No one seems to know how to pitch their conversation when they speak to us. Even Professor McGonagall speaks as if she’s translating every word she says - I doubt it occurs to her that we might be able to do our own research if we only knew the correct terminology to look up.”
“A sort of liaison,” Remus said.
“If you like. I was more thinking a friend.” Elaine put her mug down. “And on that note, I have been instructed to invite you for Sunday lunch. Do you have anyone else you want to bring, a partner or…?”
“No, it’s just me,” he said.
She nodded decisively. “Right then, Sunday lunch. I’ll make Jim do the gravy, he’s better at it than me.”
Remus smiled. “Alright. Sunday lunch.”
Later that night, he received an owl.
Professor Mr Lupin,
I couldn’t say this in front of my parents, and I’m not convinced I could say it to your face in any case, but I need to address this.
I would very much like not to be alone for my first transformation, and I would like to ask you if you would be willing to be there with me. However, I am aware that for this to be safe, we would both need to be on Wolfsbane, and I am also aware that
you probably it is quite expensive.
Please can I ask my parents if they could buy it for you, or at least contribute, at least for this month?
Remus tilted his head back, resting it against the wall. Bless the courage of young Gryffindors.
The post owl hooted at him.
“Give me a minute,” he said.
He wrote his response below her message rather than using a new piece of parchment.
Once again, right on all counts. I am happy to transform with you, but we will need to be on Wolfsbane, and I cannot afford it.
I would of course do my very best to reimburse your parents if they did purchase it for me, although I cannot guarantee when I might be able to do this.
He wrote I am very sorry and then erased it with his wand.
PS. Please do call me Remus.
The post owl returned again later that night, slightly more bedraggled now, with a new letter written on notepaper and in a different hand.
This is precisely the sort of thing we talked about. We will pay for the potion this month; you do not need to thank or reimburse us; this is for Hermione.
We’ll see you on Sunday.
He felt an acute pang of grief, and had to take a moment to connect it to Lily. They weren’t similar at all, these two women - he was fairly sure that Elaine would have been a Slytherin, for one thing - but that short note evoked the same sense of fierce loyalty he had always felt from Lily. He tried to imagine now what she would be like if she had lived, but couldn’t reconcile the idea with the small, stubborn teenage boy he had taught this year. If Lily had lived, Harry would be an entirely different person. So would Remus, for that matter.
He arrived on Sunday in a smart shirt and trousers, only to find that the Grangers did not subscribe to the idea of Sunday best. Hermione and her mother were in summer dresses, Hermione’s with elbow-length sleeves, and Jim was in shorts and a t-shirt, in deference to the sudden emergence of the British sunshine. There was a formal dining room in the house, but they ate at the smaller table in the kitchen. Piles of pans sat on the countertops as lunch was served, and Crookshanks yowled loudly at them all until Hermione gave up and went to open a can of cat food mid-meal.
It was deliberate, of course, but there was no need to look a gift horse in the mouth. And when Jim told him to pop round on Wednesday, he accepted as graciously as he could.
Once the immediate business of being a werewolf was sorted, Hermione was slightly surprised to find her summer settle back largely into familiar routines. There was her grandmother to visit, and cousins with whom she had to stumble over discussions of school and pop culture. Professor McGonagall wrote with her summer coursework at the beginning of July, and so she threw herself into essay-writing, heading back to the Bodleian for much less significant research. Harry wrote a few days later to say that the Dursleys might actually succeed in starving him this summer, so she raided the kitchen one day when her parents were out and sent him a selection of snacks, things that would keep and wouldn’t need cooking. It wasn’t the most nutritious food package, but she was willing to bet that Mrs Weasley would plug the gaps.
The physiotherapy sessions at St Mungo’s continued, twice weekly for the first fortnight. Professor Lupin brought her to each appointment. They tried Side-Along-Apparition once on their way back, but quite aside from the disconcerting feeling of being turned inside out, it made her arm shake as if she’d done half an hour’s weight-lifting.
The bus from Oxford to London took around two and a half hours, so apart from that first time, they usually travelled via Floo. Remus met her in central Oxford, and together they went to the Covered Market and used the public Floo point to go through to St Mungo’s. Hermione thought it was very silly - her parents trusted her to go in and out of Oxford without supervision, so why couldn’t he meet her at the hospital? But Professor Lupin agreed - best not leave her unprotected in the wizarding world, even inside St Mungo’s, in the event that he was delayed.
Unfortunately, the sessions continued to be fairly fruitless. Hermione did her exercises exactly as prescribed, including a median nerve glide routine. Her mother scoffed slightly at that, and dug out an anatomy book so Hermione could see where the median nerve was.
“That’s a carpal tunnel exercise,” Mum said. “How that would be affected by an injury to the upper arm, I have no idea. You need nerve conduction studies.”
So Hermione requested to see Healer Tonks, and an appointment was made for the week before the August full moon. Remus accompanied her as normal after suffering a lecture from her mother on all the questions he shouldn’t allow to go without answers.
They were sent to a small room off the side of the Dai Llewellyn ward to meet with Healer Tonks. Hermione knocked.
Healer Tonks looked up from her desk. She smiled at Hermione, and stood to greet her, but then she saw Professor Lupin.
“Remus,” she said, and then she looked again at his face, and then at Hermione, and one of her eyebrows raised. “I see.”
“Andromeda,” he returned.
Hermione looked between the two of them, and Healer Tonks noticed. She looked back at Hermione. “We knew each other a long time ago,” she said. “I had a cousin with whom Remus was very close.”
And suddenly, Hermione realised why her eyes had made such an impression on the night she was bitten. After all, she had spent a significant amount of time that evening staring at Sirius Black.
“Right,” said Healer Tonks. “Let’s have another look at your arm.”
Hermione proffered her arm, and Healer Tonks repeated the examination she had performed three weeks ago, first asking Hermione to move her fingers, then physically checking for sensation, and finally using her wand to shoot sparks up her nerves. Nerve conduction studies, Hermione thought. There went that argument.
“Well, the good news is that your touch sensation has improved,” she said finally. “I recall you having larger patches of hypoesthesia on your initial examination. The bad news is that there doesn’t seem to have been any improvement in your motor response.”
Hermione nodded. This wasn’t a surprise.
“Now, I know you were looking into Muggle physiotherapy. Are you still looking to transfer your care?”
“Well, that’s what I wanted your opinion on,” Hermione said. “I was wondering if perhaps Muggles might have more experience with chronic conditions.”
Remus cleared his throat. “Speaking as a half-blood, that has been my experience.”
Healer Tonks sighed. “I understand your concerns. There are some areas where Muggles far surpass us in medicine, and I realise that the very title of Healer has some connotations when it comes to chronic problems, rather than acute. The issue is that…” She glanced at Remus. “Miss Granger, can I just check that you’re happy for me to discuss all of your medical history in front of Mr Lupin?”
“He knows I’m a werewolf,” Hermione said bluntly.
“That does make life simpler,” said the healer. “Well then, the issue is that as soon as you go back to a Muggle practitioner, you run the risk of them asking for a blood test. It’s a very common investigation for Muggle doctors. Most witches and wizards can move between Muggle and magical healthcare quite fluidly if they so wish, but if you had blood taken, you would throw up all sorts of abnormal results. I’ve already told you that you’re essentially anaemic, but lycanthropy also affects your inflammation markers, your liver and kidney function, your antibodies - even your blood sugar levels will fluctuate wildly with the phases of the moon. X-rays too - you might be alright this month, but as soon as you’ve transformed for the first time, your x-rays will register a certain amount of arthritis which will look abnormal in a patient of your age.”
Hermione felt her eyes widening at this speech.
“If I can interject,” said Remus, “and declare for the sake of clarity that everyone in this room is already aware that I am also a werewolf, I have managed to access some Muggle healthcare without being subjected to their investigations.”
“Then you’re better placed than I to advise,” said Healer Tonks. “But if I were presented with a fourteen year old girl with ongoing and apparently untreated neurological and musculoskeletal symptoms following a serious injury of which there is no record in her medical notes, the first thing I would be doing is requesting imaging, and the second would be raising a safeguarding concern.” She softened her voice and spoke to Hermione directly. “I’m not saying you can’t try it. I’m just saying that you’ll need to be cautious. If you do go to a Muggle practitioner, you’ll need to either falsify some medical records, or claim you were treated out of the country. Or both.”
“Okay,” said Hermione. “But - if, hypothetically, I manage to get past all of these hurdles. Do you think a Muggle doctor could do anything more for me than the staff here?”
Healer Tonks looked steadily at her. “I won’t insult you by saying I know for certain. But I keep coming back to the fact that this is a werewolf bite. It doesn’t respond to treatment - Muggle or magical - like any other injury. You’ve been unlucky in the placement of the bite, and its depth. Most bites we see on this ward are much shallower.”
“Survival bias?” Hermione suggested.
“Most probably,” Healer Tonks agreed easily. “Where someone is significantly injured and survives, it’s normally thanks to third party intervention, and it’s a rare third party who will intervene in a werewolf attack. No, I won’t ask what happened, so don’t tell me.”
Hermione set her jaw.
“Are there any Healers who have studied Muggle medicine?” Remus asked mildly.
“Some, but it’s prohibitive in terms of finances and time to complete both sets of qualifications,” Healer Tonks pointed out.
“Right.” Hermione’s head was buzzing. She felt sure that she was missing some compelling argument, but wasn’t knowledgeable enough to come up with it. It was intensely irritating. “Well, in the meantime, I wanted to ask about my physiotherapy course. My mum was concerned that some of the exercises aren’t appropriate to my injury?”
They went through the exercises that the physios had prescribed, and Healer Tonks made some adjustments and extra recommendations, but left most of it unchanged. Most gratifyingly, she took the time to explain the rationale behind each exercise. Hermione felt better for having the whys and wherefores in her grasp, and she memorised it all as best she could to repeat to her mother.
“The last thing I wanted to discuss with you was the moon next week,” Healer Tonks said. “Are you prepared?”
Hermione glanced at Professor Lupin. “Yes. All sorted. And I have registered, so you don’t have to do it.”
Healer Tonks nodded. “Again, I won’t ask more. Just be aware that the transformation may aggravate the arm. I wouldn’t be surprised if the day or two afterwards, you experienced quite a backwards slide.”
Hermione’s eyes widened. “Oh, of course. I hadn’t thought.”
Healer Tonks nodded. “We’ll reevaluate after the full moon. Best of luck, Miss Granger.”
She didn’t address Professor Lupin, and he didn’t say anything to her. Hermione shook her hand, and then they left.
Walking through St Mungo’s was always entertaining, at least. Hermione was not naturally blessed with imagination, and couldn’t begin to guess how some of these patients had found themselves with lime jelly falling in perfect droplets from their tear ducts, or legs which grew and shrank by four metres every three and a half seconds. An engorgement charm gone terribly wrong?
The Covered Market was starting to empty out as they arrived back in Oxford, stalls closing their shutters. Hermione led the way through the Golden Cross out onto Cornmarket, to wander down to the bus stops. They could have gone through one of the southern exits from the Market directly onto the High Street, but in a city which felt halfway to magical anyway, the McDonalds and WHSmith on Cornmarket felt like necessary grounding points. Hermione and Professor Lupin filtered into the crowds of people, and she took the time to notice them, in their jeans or suits, trainers or brogues. So Muggle.
A young man, perhaps twenty or so, passed them in his wheelchair. What a terrible city for wheelchairs, full of cobblestones and cyclists, its narrow pavements clogged with people. They followed him as they turned onto the High Street, and he had to weave through the clusters of people waiting at bus stops. He shouted once, “excuse me!” as a particularly large crowd of bewildered tourists failed to notice him approaching. Hermione watched him go, and wondered if she should have helped.
They got the bus together from the stop by Queen’s Lane towards Headington, grabbing a seat on the bottom deck. Hermione sighed heavily, but Professor Lupin spoke first:
“So, give me your summary of that consultation,” he said quietly.
She thought for a moment. “Well, she doesn’t like you, and I don’t know if it’s because she worked out you bit me or because you knew Sirius.”
“Both, I should think,” he said. “What else?”
“She honestly doesn’t know if a Muggle doctor could help me,” Hermione said, “but she’s knowledgeable enough to believe it unlikely. And I think I believe her on that. It’s just frustrating, not having enough information to make that judgment myself.”
He hummed in agreement. “For what it’s worth, I agree with your assessment. Andromeda’s as close to an expert as you’ll find - she’s a pureblood but married to a Muggleborn, and she’s in charge of that ward. The one thing she’s not is a neurologist.”
“But even then, I couldn’t go to a Muggle neurologist if my symptoms are going to dramatically worsen each month,” Hermione returned. “Imagine asking a GP for a referral regarding an animal bite that gets worse with the full moon.”
Professor Lupin inclined his head. “It would be funny if it weren’t true.”
A woman with a bulky backpack came down the aisle of the bus, hitting Remus on the shoulder as she passed. He winced. Hermione wouldn’t have noticed if he weren’t sitting right next to her.
“You’ll stay for dinner, won’t you?” she said. “Mum’ll want to hear your take on the appointment.”
Remus smiled. “You realise I know what you’re all doing.”
She felt a burst of alarm, but could only say, “Oh.”
“And it’s not that I don’t appreciate the free food, but you’re not being especially subtle.”
Hermione looked down at her hands. “I didn’t tell Mum and Dad anything about you,” she said. “Or at least, not until you said I could ask them about the Wolfsbane.”
“I didn’t expect that you had,” he said mildly. “I’m not trying to tell you off, Hermione. I just wanted to be sure we were on the same page.”
She nodded, shame-faced.
“Well then,” he said. “Thank you.”
There was such a sudden burst of emotion in her chest, and it had to go somewhere. She swayed into his side slightly, hoping to pass it off as the movement of the bus, then sat up straight again, immediately embarrassed.
“I think I’m going to have to defer any decisions until next month,” she said hurriedly. “There’s no point trying to get NHS care if I then have to disappear suspiciously. Imagine if social services got involved.”
“Quite,” said Professor Lupin. “If nothing worsens this month…”
“Then we’ll have more information to reconsider,” she finished.
She repeated as much to her mother when they got back to the house. They stood in the kitchen to talk, as they had after Hermione had registered; Mum was boiling pasta and chopping lettuce for a salad. She listened to Hermione’s account without interrupting, but her lips were becoming thinner and thinner as she pressed them together.
“Do you agree?” she asked Professor Lupin, eventually.
“I think so,” he answered. “I certainly agree that it makes sense to wait until after the moon.”
That didn’t please Mum. “I suppose that should have been obvious,” she said. “It galls me that I’ll be leaving you alone for this, you know.”
“I won’t be alone, though,” she said. Not like with the Basilisk, or waiting beneath the third floor corridor, once Harry had gone through the final door. “Professor - I mean Remus will be with me.”
“So nearly there,” Remus said.
Hermione huffed. “I’m trying!” she said. “You were my teacher for a whole year.”
Even Mum smiled at that. “Well, you may as well stay to dinner, Remus,” she said. “It’s only chicken kiev, but all the same.”
Hermione glanced at the oven, which already had four portions of chicken in it. She looked back at Professor Lupin - at Remus; he had seen her noticing, and he smiled at her blush.
“That’s very kind, Elaine,” he said.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Hermione, get the pesto out for me.”
She hurried to the fridge. It took her two tries to open it with her left hand, but she managed.
Remus volunteered to go and pick up the Wolfsbane and declined Hermione’s offer to come with him.
“No need to publicise your condition,” he said to her. “I’ll have to tell the Apothecary, but people in the street needn’t know.”
It was only the second time he had purchased Wolfsbane. He’d ordered it from Hogsmeade rather than Diagon Alley in the end, paying by owl order; it was a quieter community, particularly outside of term time, and although the residents would recognise the werewolf ex-professor, he doubted any of them would do anything about it. Still, he went at a quarter to five, close to closing time, and kept his eyes lowered as he walked through the village.
The Apothecary in Hogsmeade was much like apothecaries anywhere: dark, scrupulously clean, but stiflingly warm and offensively pungent. Small bottles lined the shop window, showing off the wide variety of ingredients and potions available, and inside there were larger vats of the more common ingredients, cauldrons full of headache remedies and Pepper-Up kept simmering.
The proprietor greeted him with a smile when he came in. “Ah, Professor Lupin. Glad you chose to come here this month.” And he came forward to shake Remus heartily by the hand.
Remus smiled politely as they stepped back. “I’m sorry, have we met?”
“No, no,” the shopkeeper said, his manner genial. “But Severus buys some of his ingredients here, of course, and I felt quite embarrassed last month that I hadn’t worked out earlier that of course it was for you. Mr Geberus, at your service.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Remus said. “I have to say I didn’t realise Severus bought his ingredients here.”
Geberus tilted his head from side to side. “Well, he grows a lot of his own plant materials, of course, but there are some items - well, a few which are only needed for Wolfsbane, so perhaps he just didn’t have those readily to hand.”
“Of course,” Remus said smoothly. He wondered how many other people Snape had told more or less obliquely about the werewolf in the castle.
“I’ve got your order out the back. In the meantime, I’ll need you to sign a ledger for me - your details and the other sufferer. Now, where did I put it…”
It took him a good few minutes to search the shop, pulling out drawers, shuffling vials around on shelves, lifting boxes full of various foul-smelling ingredients. The book he eventually withdrew from a high shelf behind the counter was large, wirebound, and noticeably dusty.
“Here we are,” he said. “Should be self-explanatory. Here’s a quill. Let me go and get the potion.”
He bustled out the back, and Remus opened the book.
The first thing he noticed was the lack of any sort of concealment spell; the scanty list of werewolves who had purchased Wolfsbane was perfectly visible as Remus added in his and Hermione’s names and addresses. Potentially disastrous. He scrawled the street names in his absolute worst handwriting, deliberately misspelling the name of his own house and leaving Hermione’s postcode out; it was reasonable that he might not know it. Others had left much larger gaps, and one werewolf had written in capital letters “NONE OF YOURS.”
He shouldn’t look at the names. He did.
Alex with a scribbled surname - that might have been a friend from the war, another half blood who had tried his best to earn money in the Muggle world. He had helped Remus spread the word against Voldemort on that basis: Muggles sacked you for continual absence, but at least they hired you in the first place, so why would you support the man who would have them all killed or enslaved. The wolf who had signed themselves with a shaky G, the rest written in a different, perfectly legible hand - that could have been Gemma, who like Remus had been bitten young but unlike him had been kept away from school. He had a fair idea of where she might have got the money.
The door to the back room opened, and Remus replaced the quill in its inkpot and closed the book.
“All done? Good, good.” Geberus set a large crate down on the counter. “Now, there’s a pamphlet in there for the other sufferer - I know you’ve taken this before, but I didn’t know about the other one. Will I be seeing you again next month?”
“That depends if I find any other work,” Remus answered. “You should get an order from… the other werewolf, though.”
Geberus sighed. “Well, that’s something. I’ve got an apprentice starting next week, you see. A monthly supply of Wolfsbane for two sufferers, that would have paid her wages outright. But I can manage on one.”
And he took the book, and opened it. Remus set his jaw as Geberus ran a finger down the list of names and came to the bottom.
“Hermione Granger? Not a name I know, Granger - not a pureblood, I suppose? Although can’t be Muggleborn, with a name like Hermione. And Headington - near Oxford, isn’t it? A fine magical city. A friend of yours, Professor Lupin?”
“I’m a friend of the family,” Remus answered. “And I should probably be delivering this to them now. Thank you kindly, Mr Geberus.”
“You’re welcome, you’re welcome. Here, you can use my Floo, you won’t be able to Apparate carrying all that.”
He guided Remus through to the back room, and had to remove a cauldron from the fireplace before Remus could step in, levitating it gently across the room under a solid stasis charm to prevent it cooling.
“Here we are,” he said. “And if you do find employment, I hope you’ll consider our establishment your first choice for Wolfsbane.”
He certainly wasn’t going to write Hermione’s name in more than one bloody ledger. “I shall. Good afternoon.”
He went straight through to Oxford and emerged into the Covered Market. Carrying a bulky packing crate through the Market was challenging, even this late in the afternoon, and he had to edge past a small crowd at the milkshake shop at the south exit onto the High Street. He considered walking to Headington, but he didn’t want to cast a featherlight charm on the crate or shrink it in any way, just in case it interacted with the potion. He could afford a couple of pounds for the bus.
Even with the bus ride, Remus found his shoulders aching by the time he set the crate down on the doorstep to ring the bell. Jim answered the door.
“Aie, that’s a monster,” he said. “Let me get that, come into the sitting room.”
Remus nearly tripped on a cat rocketing out of the front door. “Is that…”
“Crookshanks roams free, don’t worry about it,” said Jim.
They found Hermione already in the sitting room, kneeling on the rug. She was wearing a cotton skirt, and it was almost entirely coated in ginger fur. A small pile of it sat next to her.
“Hi,” she said. “Sorry, I was trying to groom Crookshanks, I think I caught his ear.”
“You’re clearing all that up,” Jim said.
She sighed heavily. “Yes, Dad.”
He set the crate on the coffee table, and the three of them looked at the top of the crate. It was nailed down.
“I could go and get a hammer,” Jim offered. “Yank the nails out.”
Remus and Hermione looked at each other, and Remus gave in. “I’ll just use magic. It’s not in any way illegal, just inconvenient if someone shows up to check.”
No one did. They unpacked half the doses of potion, unwrapping the brown paper around each vial and setting them on the table. Jim was noticeably tentative with them.
“So this is it,” he said, setting one gingerly down. “It doesn’t… go off?”
“Most potion vials have minor stasis charms on them as default,” Hermione explained. “But Wolfsbane is - well, the recipe is quite volatile, so I’m guessing it wouldn’t last much longer than a fortnight.”
“So no bulk buying,” said Jim.
Remus, who had never bulk bought anything in his life, shook his head.
Hermione broke through the moment. “Is there anything I should know before taking this?” she asked.
“There’s a leaflet somewhere in there, which probably goes into terrifying detail about potential side effects,” Remus replied, “but the main thing is just to take each dose at around the same time each day. It… For me, it does make it feel like the moon is closer than it actually is, but as it’s your first time, that shouldn’t feel as… disconcerting, as it was for me.”
Last September, he had strongly suspected that Snape had purposely botched the potion, had tried to force him into a transformation earlier than sunset, or for the whole three days where the moon was full to the naked eye, rather than just the one. Never mind that he had never heard of such a thing happening; the agitation and disquiet that grew over the week approaching the moon felt just as if his transformation was hours away. The relief when the moon went as planned, when for the first time he kept his own mind through the tearing pain of change…
But Hermione did not know the feeling of imminent transformation, and with luck would never have to feel it come upon her like a deluge. She tipped one of the vials to one side to observe the viscosity of the potion. “Does it matter what time of day you take it?” she asked.
“I’d suggest before dinner, just to get the taste out of your mouth,” Remus answered honestly. “Other than that, no difference.”
Jim had gone straight for the leaflet and was squinting at the spidery writing. “Side effects… quite a short list compared to our medications, to be honest. No list of active ingredients or potential allergens though - I suppose wizards don’t have those concepts? No interactions, no contraindications...”
“Well, I’m not on any other medication or allergic to anything,” Hermione pointed out. “And we know what the ingredients are.”
“I know,” said Jim. “Still. If someone took this without knowing the ingredients - oh, never mind. Your mum’ll be back in a bit. Let me put some garlic bread in the oven to go with dinner. Hermione, clear up that cat hair.”
He set the leaflet down and headed out to the kitchen. Hermione looked down at the carpet and sighed. “I’ll go and get the hoover.”
Remus watched with fascination as she vacuumed the floor. The hoover was heavy and difficult for her to manage with her hand, but she persisted. Remus couldn’t hold back a sigh of relief when its horrible noise ceased.
“I know,” said Hermione. “What I wouldn’t give to just vanish it like I do at school.”
Remus chuckled at that. “This is why my father did most of the housework, I assume,” he said. Hermione frowned, so he explained: “My mother was a Muggle.”
She only nodded. “I knew one of your parents must have been,” she said. “Otherwise you wouldn’t have had a telephone, or known about line rental. I thought you might have been Muggleborn too, before you said to Healer Tonks that you were a half-blood, but it seemed rude to ask.”
He inclined his head to concede the point, and then they both looked up at the sound of the front door.
“Hello,” Elaine called.
“Hi Mum,” Hermione replied. “Professor - I mean, Remus is here.”
Remus laughed, and Elaine was smiling too when she came into the sitting room. “I’m starting to think we taught you a little too much respect for teachers when you were small.”
“I think Harry and Ron will cure that problem eventually,” Remus offered, and Hermione shot him a look of pure betrayal, which only made Elaine laugh more.
From the kitchen, Jim’s voice: “Dinner in five, everyone!”
Elaine looked down at the vials of Wolfsbane. “First dose today?”
“Yes,” said Hermione. She let out one of those little impatient huffs of air, and then went straight for it, grabbing a bottle and wedging it between her legs to yank the cork out with her right hand. The first mouthful made her eyes water.
“Oh, that’s vile,” she gasped, but she went straight back for another gulp, chugging the rest of the potion and then sitting with her lips firmly pressed together. After a moment, she pressed her hand to her mouth.
Remus took his own dose somewhat more sedately and coughed slightly to dislodge a globule which felt like it was stuck in his throat. “I’d love to say you get used to it,” he said. “Still, that tastes just like Severus’s.”
Hermione had set the empty vial down and was glaring at it. Her right hand was still pressed over her mouth, but she took a few deep breaths through her nose and said, “Actually, not the worst potion I’ve ever taken.”
Remus raised his eyebrows in disbelief, but before he could ask, Jim was calling everyone to the table and Hermione bustled out to fetch cutlery. Elaine, still watching from the doorway, said, “I’ll put a jug of water on the table.”
Even so, it took about half of Jim’s penne arrabbiata and garlic bread before Remus was able to enjoy his dinner, and he and Hermione finished well before Jim and Elaine. Hermione was noticeably fidgety; Remus made an effort to stay still.
“Well then, only a week to go now,” said Jim. “Are you feeling prepared, sweetheart?”
Hermione hesitated. “Yes. As well as I can be. I imagine I’ll feel a lot more prepared next month.”
Elaine caught Remus’ eye, presumably to ask the same question without words. He wasn’t quite sure what his face did in response, but she glanced away.
“Well, I’ll see you at Hogwarts,” he said to Hermione as he left. “Floo straight to the hospital wing, I’ll meet you there.”
She nodded. She was still jittery, moving her weight from foot to foot, holding her left wrist with her right hand, flexing her left fingers as much as they would allow. For a moment he thought she would say something, or move towards him, but she didn’t.
“Bye,” he said, and left.
And then the day came.
Hermione’s agitation was reaching a peak, which made for an odd combination with her tiredness. It was like her blood was prickling in her veins, making her itch, making her restless. She wanted to prowl around the house, but had to keep sitting down again, bereft of the energy she would need to keep moving.
It didn’t help that her parents were just as nervous as her. She didn’t know how bad they were expecting it to be, and she didn’t really want to discuss it with them either, because she kept remembering her first third year Defence lesson, and how Professor Lupin’s Boggart had been the full moon. Hermione hadn’t got to find out until her final exam that her greatest fear was failure. She wondered if it still would be, after tonight.
She spent the day drifting around the house, trying to read, but losing concentration, or trying to eat without any appetite. What happened to food if it was still in her digestive system when she transformed, anyway? That thought was enough to put her off entirely, and she could only be coaxed into drinking water and tea after that. Taking her final dose of Wolfsbane on an empty stomach nearly made her retch, but she kept it down.
Her bag was already packed - a change of clothes, toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb she probably wouldn’t have a chance to use. Underneath a light jacket, she wore her dad’s old decorating t-shirt paired with thin cotton leggings, comfortable and disposable. She was ready as she would ever be, and yet she felt hideously underprepared. Even as an eleven year old going to a magical boarding school for the first time, she’d been more confident.
There was a knock on her open bedroom door, and her dad came in. “Alright, love?”
No. “Think so,” she said.
“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat before we go?”
“Want a hug?”
She nodded again, and pressed her face into his chest as he wrapped her up in an embrace. They stayed like that for a minute or so, and then Hermione’s restlessness forced her to step back.
“Can we go?” she asked.
Dad drove her into town and dropped her on the High Street so she could walk up to the Covered Market and the public Floo fireplace. She paid a couple of sickles, and called out “Hogwarts Hospital Wing!”
She stepped out into the hospital wing, which for the first time in her experience was completely empty. The beds were stripped, the cabinets emptied, the small plants removed from the bedside tables. Even Madam Pomfrey’s desk was bare, with not even a quill or ink pot atop it.
She checked her watch. She was about ten minutes early, with another hour still til sunset.
“Hello?” she called.
The door to Madam Pomfrey’s office opened, and she emerged. She, like her ward, looked quite different out of term time: she was wearing casual robes in a warm plum colour rather than her normal grey uniform, and her hair wasn’t scraped back like it usually was but fell in gentle waves around her face. The overall effect was to soften her into a friendly grandmother figure, rather than the strict school matron.
“Hello Miss Granger. Mr Lupin’s not here yet, but I’m sure he’ll be along in a minute. You’ve taken all your potion doses?”
Madam Pomfrey nodded, satisfied. “And how have you been, dear? Is your arm any better?”
Hermione couldn’t recall Madam Pomfrey calling any other student ‘dear’ and was briefly distracted by that before managing to answer. “A bit, yes. The tremors are less now, but the grip and the sensation are still about the same. I saw Healer Tonks last week, and she said I could get a Muggle opinion if I wanted, but she doesn’t think it’s going to get much better, not with the transformations every month.”
The fire flared green, and Remus stepped out. Like her, he had a small bag, presumably with a change of clothes. He smiled at her. “Punctual as ever, Hermione. Poppy, thank you so much for this.”
“Stuff and nonsense, Remus Lupin, you keep your thanks to yourself. No problems with the potion this month?”
“No, ma’am,” he said.
“Good good. Now, Miss Granger, have you seen the Shack before?”
Hermione glanced at Remus. “Er. Well. Last month, yes.”
Madam Pomfrey raised her eyebrows. “This would conveniently be whilst you were Confunded and therefore not liable for breaking school rules?”
She was blushing, she knew it. “Er, just before, but Sirius Black had already dragged Ron into the Shack so Harry and I were following, and -”
“Just take the excuse, Miss Granger,” Madam Pomfrey advised. “I’m not an Auror.”
Hermione smiled sheepishly.
“Honestly Remus, what is it about Potters that has them dragging their friends into the most fantastic of scrapes?” But apparently that was a rhetorical question too, because she pressed on. “Now, I thought you could leave your things here in my office overnight. I’ll stay in the castle and come and collect you at dawn. I don’t expect you’ll need any real medical help if you’ve both had your potion, but better safe than sorry, hm?”
“Thank you,” said Hermione.
“What did I just tell Mr Lupin about thanks? You can thank me for the cat incident the year before last, I’m certain that one was self-inflicted, but you’ll not thank me for this.”
It was a lovely sentiment and everything, but it rankled with Hermione. She wanted to protest that she wasn’t a charity case, but that would be terribly rude, so she said nothing.
They left their bags as suggested. Remus left his wand on Madam Pomfrey’s desk, so she did the same. It left them unarmed, but then she supposed they wouldn’t be able to do much with them as wolves. And really, what could harm a werewolf?
The walk to the Shrieking Shack was silent. The last time Hermione had come this way, she’d been hurrying after Scabbers, and then there had been Crookshanks, and then all hell had broken loose. She wondered if Harry had heard from Sirius.
Madam Pomfrey levitated a stick to prod the knot on the Whomping Willow, and they ducked around its frozen branches to slip into the gap between the roots. It hadn’t seemed so difficult to clamber down into the tunnel last month, in all the urgency, but now Hermione remembered crawling in on her hands and knees, sliding down, hurrying crouched down.
“It wasn’t so bad when I was a boy,” Remus said softly. “The tunnel was larger. I suppose the earth has settled since I graduated.”
When they came to the Shack, the light was starting to fade. Hermione looked around at the room the tunnel opened into, with its boarded up window and destroyed furniture. She hadn’t known the first time she saw it what had caused the destruction, but now she could identify scratch marks, bite marks. There were patches where the dust-covered floorboards were darker, and she realised that these were probably blood stains.
“Which room do you want to use?” Madam Pomfrey asked.
Remus looked around. “Not this one. I think the second bedroom is probably the least destroyed.”
They left their shoes in the upstairs hallway outside the door. Hermione set her trainers neatly next to Remus’ lace-ups. His insoles were almost worn through, she saw.
The second bedroom was more sparsely furnished than the master bedroom where they’d all confronted Pettigrew last month, but smaller, too. Perhaps this was why Remus hadn’t used it without Wolfsbane, to avoid being cooped up. The bed was intact, not a four poster but a simple double bed with a very dusty coverlet, and an upright wardrobe stood in one corner.
The window was unbroken, and not covered over. Hermone walked towards it, and found it looked back over the Forbidden Forest, away from the Hogsmeade viewpoint where she and Ron had encountered Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle the time Harry had sneaked out of school.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Madam Pomfrey said. “See you in the morning.”
“Goodnight, Poppy,” said Remus.
And then they were alone.
The prickling sensation in Hermione’s veins was worse than ever. She walked over to the bed and touched the pillow. It released a cloud of dust and she drew back before it could make her sneeze.
“Why is there furniture here?” she asked.
Remus was leaning against the doorframe, watching her. “I don’t know, honestly. I assume it was left furnished when it was acquired by Hogwarts.”
“You mean they bought it?” Hermione asked in disbelief. “With what budget?”
“I haven’t a clue and never dared to ask.”
She looked down, embarrassed, and started pacing again, circling the room. There was a carpet, but it didn’t reach the walls, and significant patches had been eaten by moths. She could feel rotten, splintering floorboards under her feet. Every inch of her skin felt more sensitised; she could feel every seam in her clothing against her skin, every lock of hair hanging over her ears and down her neck.
“What was the cat incident?” Remus asked, apropos of nothing.
“Poppy said something about a cat incident.”
Hermione blushed. “She’s right, that was self-inflicted. We were trying to… Er, before I go any further, you’re not going to tell anyone about this?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Now my interest really is piqued. You have my word.”
So she explained about the investigations they’d done into the Chamber of Secrets, and their suspicion that Malfoy might know something given how he was carrying on, and then admitted that she’d brewed Polyjuice Potion in the girls’ bathroom with ingredients stolen from Professor Snape.
“Except I got a hair off Millicent Bulstrode’s robes which turned out to be from her cat, rather than her. It worked perfectly for Harry and Ron, but I was a sort of half-cat for quite a while.”
He was staring. “You managed to brew Polyjuice in between lessons, in a bathroom, when you were thirteen, on your very first try?” He laughed. “You are a marvel, Hermione Granger.”
“I would have been if I hadn’t got the hairs mixed up,” she grumbled.
“Still. No wonder you think you could brew Wolfsbane. You probably could, with a record like that.”
But that was like plunging her into cold water, and she glanced towards the window, now on the other side of the room. She felt dangerously as if she was about to cry.
She couldn’t answer.
“Are you alright?”
She didn’t want to say something facile like I’m scared , so she bit the inside of her lip and just shook her head. She wanted to pace, but she didn’t want to be anywhere near the window. She didn’t want to see the moon.
“Hermione, listen to me,” he said. “You’ll survive this.”
It was the right thing to say, somehow. It wouldn’t be alright, or fine, or over soon. It was going to hurt, and be frightening, and it would happen for the rest of her life, but she would survive it. She would survive it for as long as she could, and then she would die, and maybe leave the world a little easier for the werewolves and Muggleborns and black girls who came after her.
“Only Gryffindors here,” she joked, her voice shaky and thin, but he smiled nonetheless.
Her dad’s old t-shirt was baggy, the fabric worn thin through years of wear, and splotched with patches of dried paint. Hermione dug a nail under one where it lay over her right hip, but it was firmly adhesed and could not be flaked off.
“Should I…?” She tugged on the shirt.
Remus frowned. “The restriction can be a bit scary when you’re transforming, but it’s probably the least of your worries. Ah, you probably want to remove any, er, structured underwear.”
Time was, Hermione could remove a back-fastening bra under her shirt in thirty seconds flat, but that required two functioning hands. Still, the shirt was roomy, so she could reach up her sleeves and pull the straps down easily enough. The difficulty came with the next step, which she’d been struggling with since she got home. She couldn’t undo the hooks and eyes behind her back, and the bra was too tight to easily pull down or spin round with a dodgy grip. It was taking her a good three minutes to take her bra off every night.
Something of her panic must have shown because Remus crossed to the window and said, “We’ve still got about ten minutes. I’m going to undress, but I’ll keep my underwear. If that’s alright?”
“It’s fine,” she said, and turned away to focus on working her bra down her torso. She tugged it down by millimetres, moving her right hand from side to side, shifting her ribcage as best she could to work the underwire down to her waist. Once there, she could rotate the bra so the clasp was over her stomach. She jammed her left hand against one side of the clasp to hold it in place and used her right to release the hooks from the eyes. The bra nearly fell to the floor, but she managed to keep hold of it in her left hand. She looked around the room for somewhere to put it and, finding nowhere, settled for leaving it by the wall.
She turned back to see Remus looking out the window again, now wearing only a pair of boxer shorts. In the dim light, she could just about see the scars littering his torso. There were many, but the most obvious was his bite. It didn’t stand out against his skin to the same degree that hers did, but the scars were misshapen, elongated - almost like stretch marks. It took her a moment to recall that he had been a werewolf before arriving at Hogwarts as an eleven year old. That bite had grown with him.
“Two minutes,” he said.
Hermione wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “But if this goes wrong - if the Wolfsbane doesn’t work on me - I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t worry about me, Hermione.”
Her stomach was cramped with nerves. “I think that’s easier said than done. Oh god, I’m so nervous.”
She closed her eyes, digging her fingers into her sides, and did her best to control her breathing. The seconds crept by, until all at once, she felt every hair on her body stand up. She shivered reflexively.
And then the pain started.
Remus rolled his neck and brought himself down onto hands and knees, breathing slow and steady, relaxing each of his muscles as he became aware of them. He let his jaw hang open, and closed his eyes, waiting -
Just as she did, the old, familiar pain shot down Remus’s spine, and he gasped. It concentrated in his coccyx, and then, just as every month, it was everywhere: every joint dislocating and reshaping itself, every muscle stretching or compressing, every bone fracturing and uniting once again.
And under it all, Hermione screaming.
Remus had lived with werewolf packs, but this was the first time he had transformed with another werewolf whilst on Wolfsbane. He knew who he was, and he knew who Hermione was, and worst of all, he knew that he had done this to her. The torment of that was new. The physical pain wouldn’t let him focus on the idea, but her cries wouldn’t let him forget it either. He forced open his eyes, and watched, for the first time in his life, a werewolf transform.
Hermione’s body was wracked, racked - stretched into unnatural shapes. Her mouth was pulling forwards into a muzzle, her teeth shifting in her mouth, incisors crowding together, canines extending. Fur sprouted over her face -
And Remus lost his tricolour vision. In shades of blue and yellow, he saw her toss her head, and she was panicking about the t-shirt around her neck now, tearing at it with fingers which were sprouting claws, receding into paws. Her hips dislocated, and she fell to the floor, landing heavily on her side. The t-shirt’s collar gave way, but the waistband of her leggings was too elasticated, and she howled as her tail caught underneath it.
He should have advised her to undress. He would not have been capable of doing so.
It was as this thought occurred that the pain abruptly receded, and he realised the transformation was complete. He shook his fur out, taking stock of his body, and then he turned back to Hermione.
She was lying on the floor, panting, her tongue lolling out of her mouth. The t-shirt was ripped at the collar and round the shoulders, but still intact around her trunk. Her leggings were still in place too, and her tail was still awkwardly trapped within them.
Remus chuffed out a little greeting noise, and Hermione raised her head, meeting his eyes with a steady gaze. The Wolfsbane had worked, then.
He approached her as slowly as he could, keeping his head low and his tail down until he was close enough to nudge her shoulder. She didn’t react, exhausted, so he moved closer still, taking the t-shirt in his teeth and tugging until it came away entirely. That got a reaction, a reflexive growl which seemed to surprise her more than him, and she drew away, pulling herself to her feet.
There was nothing in particular to mark this wolf out as Hermione Granger. She made for a gangly adolescent, certainly more so than in human form, with paws slightly too big for her long skinny legs. The impression was not helped by her thin summer coat, or by the leggings for that matter.
Those were definitely bothering her. She turned her head, trying to see them, and then trotted in a little circle, shaking each hind leg in turn. She whined, and then jumped, startled again by her own voice.
Remus scratched the floorboards a couple of times to get her attention, and then nodded his head in the direction of her hind quarters, baring his teeth slightly. She whined again, but then lay down, resting her head on her front paws. He supposed that was the clearest indication of consent she could reasonably give. He inched forward, giving her as much of a chance to back away as possible, and then carefully hooked his teeth over the waistband of the leggings, tugging them back and down. Her tail sprang free and brushed his cheek, and the motion surprised Hermione enough that she jumped to her feet again. The leggings tore in his grip, and then she was shaking them off along with her underwear, scratching at them until they were no more than a pile of rags on the floor.
Once satisfied she was free, Hermione shook out her fur, and tilted her head from side to side. She yawned wide, and then snapped her jaws shut. Remus couldn’t remember his first transformation, and of course it wouldn’t have been like this, not without Wolfsbane, but perhaps his own wolfish self had explored like this too, suddenly come to be.
Amused just to watch, Remus lay down and let her get on with it.
Hermione was now looking around her, observing all the details of the room with her new improved night vision. Remus could pinpoint the second when she realised how strong her sense of smell was: she yipped and lowered her nose to the floor, sniffing around. Once or twice she pawed at the ground, scratching at the floorboards.
There was only so much exploration that could be undertaken in a small room of the Shrieking Shack, and eventually Hermione came back to the centre of the room and lay down in front of Remus, mirroring his pose. She could only hold it for a few moments though, and then her tail was aloft and she was rolling over like a well-trained dog, then scrambling to her feet, embarrassed or excited, Remus wasn’t sure.
He yawned. He was always sleepy on Wolfsbane, and he had no idea if it was an intended sedative effect of the potion, or a side effect of retaining his mind after undergoing the transformation. He stood just so he could curl into a sleeping position, settling in for the night.
He heard her moving around for another few minutes, but he soon dozed off. He woke only briefly, when Hermione slumped to the ground to sleep herself, and then he was out for the night.
Could have been worse.
Hermione woke up abruptly, with all her fur standing on end. She had only a few seconds to realise what this must portend before the transformation was upon her.
She howled; she couldn’t stop herself, and she could hear Remus howling too. Her skin felt like it was aflame, her eyes like they might explode in her skull. A gripping, twisting sensation in her abdomen told her that her organs were rearranging themselves - how could her body survive this? And then it was her bones - her jaw dislocated and her howl cut off, her fingers - oh god, they were fingers already, when did that happen? - but still sticking out of distinctly paw-like hands, with claws protruding where her nails should be, and then they retracted and she found her jaw was back in place and she could scream again. Her spine was a white rod of pain down her back - surely this was impossible, for the entire nervous system to be rearranged, for every vein and artery and capillary to find new paths around her body - surely she would die from this terrifying agony -
Then, at last, it was over. She collapsed to the floor, feeling splinters and exposed nails scrape against her sensitised skin, and sobbed weakly. Every muscle in her body ached, every tendon and ligament felt strained; even her bones seemed bruised. Hermione imagined them, riddled with fractures, compressing or elongating back to the size they had been yesterday. Her throat was raw and her voice harsh, and every soft sob hurt as it emerged weakly into the dawn.
She didn’t think she had the strength to raise her head, and yet somehow she did. Remus was there, kneeling in front of her. He was still naked, and of course so was she, the two of them broken and bare in this dilapidated shack.
“You’re not injured?” he asked, because you’re not hurt would have been ridiculous.
Slowly, gradually, she sat up. She put her weight on her right arm, terrified of using her left, and found that she could move her limbs with only the sagging, pulling ache of bruise and strain, rather than the sharp agony she had felt as her body tore itself apart.
“I think I’m okay,” she whispered. And then, “are you?”
He breathed out softly. “Yes.”
A sharp rap at the door. “Remus? Miss Granger?”
Remus locked eyes with her, and waited for her to nod. “Come in, Poppy.”
Madam Pomfrey came in more gently than Hermione had ever seen before, shutting the door quietly behind her, moving slowly towards them. Her hair was scraped back, this morning. “Any injuries, either of you?”
“No,” said Remus. “Nothing serious.”
She waved her wand in a sweeping, arcing motion, and Hermione found herself draped in a white cotton robe. She leaned her weight back so she could free up her arms and slip them into the sleeves; the relief that her left arm obeyed was dizzying. Remus pulled his own robe on. His movements were slow like hers, but measured and methodical rather than tentative. He knew his pain well, she realised. She would be like that one day.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then stood. She felt faint for a moment, and she swayed, but the feeling passed.
“Let me fasten that for you,” said Madam Pomfrey, and Hermione didn’t have the energy or pride to protest, letting her at the front of the robe until she was decently covered. She kept her focus on breathing, slow and steady. The cool morning air dragged at her throat.
“Are you alright to walk?” Madam Pomfrey asked.
Hermione took a moment to think about that. “Yes. Yes, I think so.” She couldn’t raise her voice above a whisper.
Madam Pomfrey helped her with her shoes, while Remus managed his own. To Hermione’s immense surprise, she managed to walk all the way down the low passage leading away from the Shack, the pain of being bent over fading into the rest of the pain she was feeling. She only balked when it came to climbing out of the opening at the roots of the Whomping Willow.
“It’s alright, dear,” said Madam Pomfrey. “Wingardium leviosa.”
And Hermione found herself borne gently out into the open air until she was set gently on her feet in the soft grass.
The pain in her joints pulsed softly with every movement, but she kept going, one foot in front of the other, watching each footstep for fear that she would trip and twist an ankle. Surely her joints would be less stable after the ordeal they’d been put through. She barely noticed the progress they were making until her feet were hitting flagstones, and then tiles as they reentered the hospital wing.
“There we are,” said Madam Pomfrey. “Remus, you wait out here a minute while I check Miss Granger over. Into my office, dear, come along.”
And so Hermione continued, one foot in front of the other.
“I hope you don’t mind, I’ve already got your clothes laid out from your bag,” said Madam Pomfrey.
Clothes. “I left my bra in the shack,” Hermione realised.
“Not to worry, I’ll have it fetched and sent to you,” said Madam Pomfrey. “Why don’t you put your pants and a t-shirt on. I can’t do anything for the pain, I’m afraid, or any injuries you got when you were transformed, but I can have a look at any grazes or scratches you got this morning.”
The clothes she’d put in her backpack for today were similar to those she’d worn yesterday - a baggy t-shirt and soft jogging bottoms. Unfastening the robe was easy enough, and she could push her shoes off with just her feet, but it took her a few minutes to hoist up her knickers and pull her damned arm through the sleeve of her t-shirt. All the progress she’d made in her physiotherapy sessions had disappeared as predicted: the tremor was back in full force, and her fingers weren’t responding at all. Madam Pomfrey did an admirable job of pretending to give her privacy by sitting down at her desk and writing something.
“I’m done,” said Hermione.
Madam Pomfrey laid down her quill. “Good good. Noticed any scratches?”
Hermione nodded, slow and careful as her neck twinged. “My right side.”
“Alright, let’s take a look.”
Hermione watched with weary fascination as Madam Pomfrey moved her wand over the various small injuries. Some healed easily, the ones which must have happened as she fell to the floor that morning, but others stayed stubbornly in place. Presumably, these were the scrapes that she had received at the end of the transformation from human to wolf. None was worrisome, but it made her think of the scars all over Remus’s body, the sheer amount of injuries he had received over decades of transformations.
“Good,” pronounced Madam Pomfrey. “Do you need any help with the rest of your clothes? Your shoes?”
“I can do it,” Hermione said.
And she could, slowly, but only because she had anticipated the difficulty with her shoes and had come armed with cheap velcro trainers bought from the supermarket three days previous. When she finally straightened up, she felt exhausted.
“Good,” said Madam Pomfrey again.
Hermione didn’t bother sitting down again, knowing she would struggle to get up. She moved slowly to the door, and emerged to find Remus already dressed.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hi. All alright?”
She nodded. “You?”
She hadn’t noticed earlier, but he seemed surprised to have the question turned back on him. “I’m fine,” he responded.
“Liars, the pair of you,” said Madam Pomfrey. “But since you’re not in need of medical help, I expect you want to head home.”
Hermione swayed at the thought.
“There isn’t a direct Floo connection to her house,” Remus explained. “It’s a bit more of a journey than you probably feel up to right now,” he said to Hermione, who could only nod weakly.
Madam Pomfrey tutted. “Of course, I should have thought. Well, why don’t you both go back to yours, hm? I can send an owl to Miss Granger’s parents to let them know.”
Remus looked down at Hermione. “Is that alright with you?”
A spark of curiosity was the main factor in her answering nod, and she wondered if he realised that.
“I’ll put together some food for you to take with you,” said Madam Pomfrey. “You two just rest here for a bit.”
She bustled off. Hermione sat on one of the bare beds and grimaced as her hips protested.
“Why does it hurt less, becoming the wolf?” she asked. Her voice was strengthening; she could manage a low murmur now. “Or, why does the pain go away?”
“That is the sort of question that hasn’t been studied,” said Remus. “Three guesses as to why.”
She sighed. “Because it would require the input of werewolves.”
He smiled, the expression typically wry. “If you take the view that lycanthropy is a disease, my pet theory would be that the goal of any infectious disease is to spread, and it requires a fit wolf to find new victims to infect.”
It made as much sense as anything else, and Hermione decided to accept the theory for now.
“I’m surprised you don’t have more questions,” Remus offered. “You were curious enough last night.”
And that was a strange thought, because it had been almost exciting, exploring as the wolf. Hermione had felt the same joy she had experienced when casting her first spell, or stepping into the Bodleian magical school for the first time: the joy of learning something new. But now, the memory of that emotion felt entirely incongruous against the all-encompassing pain.
With more time and energy, she might have been able to articulate that. “Another time,” she said instead.
They lapsed into silence until Madam Pomfrey came back in with a hamper, which Remus took.
“Thank you,” he said, and then before she could protest, “We’ll be out of your hair, then.”
“If you need me next month, I’m only a firecall away,” she said. “Otherwise, I’ll see you in September, Miss Granger.”
Hermione smiled at her as best she could. “See you then.”
They made their way to the fireplace.
“You’ll need to bend down,” Remus warned her. “It’s a Muggle fireplace which my father adapted for the Floo.”
Hermione nodded. “What’s it called?”
“Lloches Am Nawr.”
She blinked. “Welsh?”
“Yes. Say it back to me?”
She repeated the phrase, apparently satisfactorily, because he nodded. “I’ll go first. See you in a minute.”
He threw some powder into the fire which flared its familiar green, and called out “Lloches Am Nawr” as he span away.
Hermione moved her bag onto her left shoulder so she could pick up some powder with her right hand. She cleared her throat and repeated the name of the house a couple of times before throwing in the powder and disappearing away from the hospital wing.
She emerged into a long, thin sitting room with a low textured ceiling and a faded patterned carpet. The sofa was small, with seats that sagged in the middle, and the armchair was overstuffed. A single bookshelf stood to the side of the door, and books were scattered across its shelves, as if they had once had other companions which had long since been removed.
Remus came back into the room without Madam Pomfrey’s hamper. “Have a seat,” he said, gesturing at the sofa, and that was all the cue she needed to collapse heavily onto one of its tired cushions. Her bag slid to the floor by her feet. He sat beside her, his movements far more deliberate than hers.
“I’ll put together some tea and food in a bit,” he said. “My stomach’s not quite up to it yet, and I doubt yours is either.”
Hermione’s head lolled back against the sofa. “You’re so much better at this,” she whispered. “I feel utterly pathetic.”
Remus smiled slightly. “I hate to say it, but practice makes perfect. I’ve been doing this since I was four years old, remember.”
“Four?” she echoed. If she’d had the energy, she would have been horrified.
“Ah, I hadn’t told you,” he realised. “Yes. It was… political. My father spoke out against werewolves, one in particular. He retaliated by biting me. More complicated than that, but I’ll tell you another time.”
He shifted on the sofa. “The pain… after I reached adulthood, it stopped ever really going away. I had… other problems, but Muggles have ways of dealing with chronic pain, even if their medicine doesn’t work for us. I managed to get some behavioural therapy on the NHS. You can make a heat pad by using a warming charm on your mattress. It’s… bearable.”
Hermione’s breath hitched, and she realised she was crying. For herself, for him - four or fourteen, children both - a lifetime of chronic pain - disability - the agony to anticipate every month - she couldn’t stop the tears, and when she tried to lift her left hand to wipe her eyes, it shook and stuttered to a stop, and then she was disconsolate, weeping uncontrollably. She felt Remus lay a hand gently on her knee, and then in a burst of ill-considered movement, she was throwing her arms around him.
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed, but for what, she didn’t know.
It took him a second to respond, but then she felt him hug her back, gentle as a prayer. He made little hushing sounds, as if she were a baby to be comforted, but she leaned into him anyway. “I’m sorry,” she said again, and he just held her, and shushed her, and let her cry.
Eventually, Hermione fell asleep, and after a few minutes more, Remus eased out of her arms and laid her down on the sofa. Her hair was everywhere; he hesitated for a moment before brushing it gently away from her face, only for most of it to spring back. So young, he thought, and yet she was right: he had been younger. It was the first real reassurance he had felt since being told that he had bitten her. He was alive. Impoverished, in pain, and alone, but alive. Hermione would survive this too.
He rolled his neck, and headed into the kitchen to investigate the hamper. Thermos flasks full of soup, soft bread rolls, a selection of fruits. There were even tea bags in a selection of flavours: chamomile, lemon and honey, nothing caffeinated. Poppy knew what she was doing, or else the elves did; none of it was too rich for a sensitive stomach, but there was enough substance to it to keep them going.
The fridge was nearly bare; there was milk, but little else. He should go shopping again. Really, he should be looking for jobs. Tomorrow’s task. He’d delayed long enough; there was no excuse for it except that he’d been so caught up with the Grangers this month. He would visit Flourish & Blotts again tomorrow, check for any editing work he could take up; that at least shouldn’t be affected too much by his new notoriety. Publishers didn’t always care so much to check their editors’ registration status, except for the fact that their names appeared in print - some authors would insist on checks. Now, the most he could hope for would probably be copyediting; he could simply waive the right to any credit. The pay was less though.
He replaced the lid of the hamper and looked at the telephone. It was wall-mounted, to the right of the fridge, a solid white plastic thing with a curly cord. Connecting it to the phone line without becoming liable for line rental - it was fraud, but more than that, it must be an intensely tricky bit of charms work. He wondered if he would be capable of it, and then he wondered if he wanted Arthur Weasley aware of him possessing an illegal, fraudulent telephone. Even if Weasley had done the spellwork.
He went back to the sitting room door and poked his head round the door. Hermione was still asleep. Last month after the moon, he had travelled from Scotland home to Wales, and then walked into town and back, with food shopping, but then last month had been very different. Stopping would have meant thinking. This month, he could let the fatigue catch up with him.
And so he trudged upstairs to his bedroom. He shut the curtains against the early morning sunshine and undressed, realising far too late that he’d not noticed the mud he’d tracked through the house. Well, a decent cleaning charm would fix that later.
He had just enough presence of mind to think that if Hermione came looking for him, he would want to be wearing something. He pulled on some well-worn pyjama bottoms, and decided that would do. It was a good few minutes before he managed to arrange his limbs in such a way that the discomfort wouldn’t stop him sleeping, but then he let himself sink into his body, expand his awareness. The heaviness and pain diffused, the worst of it settling in collections around his hips and shoulders, and the rest sitting softly everywhere else. Not so bad. Bearable. He closed his eyes, and drifted away.
A tentative knock at the door woke him. Remus blinked sleep away, and rolled his shoulders back. His spine cracked. He groaned and slowly opened his eyes. “Hi,” he said.
Hermione stood awkwardly at the door, one hand still holding the doorknob. “Hi,” she echoed. “Um, it’s about three o’clock. I should probably go home.”
He sat up, slowly hoisting himself up to lean back against the headboard. “Right,” he said. “You should eat something first. Er, give me a minute, I’ll meet you downstairs.”
She backed away and he heard her descending the stairs, her steps light but slow. Remus tipped his head back against the headboard and just breathed for a minute, feeling his ribcage expand and contract, waiting until the pain there was settled enough for him to swing his legs out from under the blankets. The rug was scratchy and thin beneath his feet. Slippers, oh, he should have replaced his slippers this year.
He pulled on a t-shirt, and wondered if Hermione was going to need him to accompany her back to Headington. Maybe. He couldn’t quite face changing his trousers just yet, so decided it was a problem that could wait until after food.
He found Hermione in the kitchen staring at the stove.
“Ah, sorry, gas and electric switched off years ago,” he said. “It’s all magic nowadays. What were you…”
She gestured at the thermos. “Reheating the soup.”
He jabbed his wand at the thermos she had picked and cast a warming charm. Hermione huffed, and he smiled.
“You could have done that yourself, you know. The Ministry wouldn’t know who was casting the spell.”
Hermione wrinkled her nose. “I’d rather not.”
He pulled two mugs from a cupboard and poured out a thick tomato soup. Hermione had found the cupboard with the plates and put two out on the table so she could take one of the bread rolls. She tore it apart, dipping the bread into the mug and letting it soak up the soup.
They sat in companionable silence until the mugs were empty.
“Where are we?” Hermione asked. “I mean, where is this house?”
“Just outside Llanrhos,” Remus answered.
“Llanrhos,” she repeated, almost with the correct pronunciation. “I’m sorry, my Welsh geography isn’t brilliant. Is that… north coast?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Correct. Not far from Llandudno.”
“That doesn’t actually help me,” she admitted. “I can look it up later.”
He smiled at that. “Start at Anglesey and follow the coast east,” he advised. “We’re on the pointy bit.”
“Pointy bit,” she repeated, smiling. “Got it.”
Her left hand was still curled around the empty mug, the little fingers not quite in contact with the ceramic. She pushed it away from her and pulled in a deep breath. “I think I should go home now,” she said.
Remus ached. “Do you need me to come with you?”
“I can manage,” she said stubbornly.
He looked her in the eye, and gave up immediately. “Alright,” he said. “If you’re sure.”
She wasn’t. He could see that she wasn’t. But he knew she could manage, if she tried, and his old bones were begging to be rested.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
So she pushed her chair back and stood stiffly, placing her feet deliberately as she went back to the living room. He put the mugs in the sink before following, and lit the fire as she got her shoes on and picked up her backpack.
“See you,” she said. She turned to the fireplace and threw in the Floo powder, calling out “Oxford Covered Market,” and then she was gone.
Remus went back to bed.
It took several days for Hermione’s pain to subside. She didn’t do much, just lolled at home, reading when she had the energy to focus, accepting cups of tea when they were brought, eating small amounts, and alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen every few hours. Her mother also had her taking iron supplements and a multivitamin. She was getting increasingly twitchy about not knowing what lycanthropy actually was, and strongly disliked articles written by Healers. The wizarding grasp of anatomy was similar to that of Muggles, although some more obscure parts of the body had different names, but when it came to haematology, Muggles approached from a chemical angle, and wizards as if they were distilling a potion. Iron, they measured, but they had no concept of vitamins or even really of cells; if a wound wouldn’t stop bleeding, they would talk about clotting but not platelets. Infection was a foreign concept; who needed white blood cells when magic ran through your veins?
The Muggles didn’t have all the answers either, of course. Hermione was sure that they couldn’t have explained a blood-borne disease which could only be transmitted by saliva, quite apart from all the more obviously magical aspects of the lycanthropy.
Still. Perhaps Muggle medicine was the way to go.
Four days after the moon, Hermione decided that there was no point waiting to be pain free, and got dressed, struggling with her bra and picking a simple dress and her velcro trainers to compensate. It was early enough in the morning to be cool, and she forced her arm through the sleeve of a denim jacket before grabbing her book bag.
“Mum!” she called. “I’m going to the library.”
“No, you’re not,” came the easy reply. “Not without breakfast.”
So she sat at the kitchen table under her mother’s beady eye and forced down a bowl of cereal, a small glass of orange juice, and a multivitamin tablet.
“And you’re to come back for lunch, or show me a receipt for a decent amount of food, alright?”
She caught the bus into town, but rather than turning north up Catte Street towards the Bodleian, carried on westwards until the High Street turned into Queen Street, and led her to the Oxford Central Library. The Bodleian was one of the University libraries, and while any student of Hogwarts could access the Magical School, getting into the rest of it would have required Hermione to purchase a reader card. Even then, that card would only grant her restricted access, and only during the university vacation. The Oxford Central Library, on the other hand, was open to the public like any normal library.
It was there that Hermione started her research into chronic pain, which led her to conditions such as myalgic encephalomyelitis, which some authors called chronic fatigue syndrome. The term fibromyalgia showed up, and she diverted into looking at that. Neither condition had an identified cause, and neither was entirely believed to be real by doctors. More women than men were affected by both, Hermione read. Children rarely got ME, but they were more likely to make a full recovery.
She was rather alarmed when her stomach grumbled. She looked down at her watch: two o’clock already. Not terribly late for lunch, and there was a cafe not a minute’s walk away where she could buy a sandwich and something to drink. She left her pile of books neatly stacked on the table and found a librarian to explain she would be back in half an hour, so he needn’t trouble himself reshelving.
Hermione ordered a cheesy tuna toastie and (guiltily) a can of lemonade to take away from the cafe, and went to sit in Bonn Square. The grass of the memorial garden was patchy and bare, and there were odd pieces of litter scattered around. People were already perched on the walls surrounding the garden, and buses pressed close to them every time they passed, so Hermione went to its centre, and sat on the steps at the foot of the war memorial. It was a little dirty, but dry, and she took a minute to spread her denim jacket out on the ground before sitting.
The toastie was alright, if rather greasy. The lemonade really was sweet, though, and Hermione’s guilt was growing. She was turning the can round to look at the amount of calories in it when someone spoke.
“Scuse me. You got any change?”
Hermione looked up. The woman in front of her looked about thirty, but could have been as young as eighteen. She was white, with dull blonde hair hanging greasily about her face. Despite the pleasant summer air, she was wearing a hoodie, long tracksuit bottoms, and trainers not unlike Hermione’s, but grey and flimsy where Hermione’s were still fairly white and new. Her teeth, Hermione noticed, were distinctly yellow.
“No, sorry,” she said automatically. And then, “I haven’t finished the lemonade though. Do you want it?”
The woman ignored this. “You haven’t got change, but you just bought a sandwich from a cafe.”
In fact, Hermione had about six pounds in the little purse in her bookbag, and didn’t need any money for the rest of the day, seeing as she’d bought a return ticket on the bus that morning. But she’d lied once already, so she stuck with it: “No, sorry.”
A snort. “Sure. Twat.”
The swear word sent a thrill of shock through her, and she wasn’t prepared for the woman to reach forward and swipe at the can of lemonade, tipping it over Hermione’s lap. She gasped and snatched the can back, but she’d barely drunk any and the skirt of her dress was already soaked.
The woman had already walked away. If this had been Hogwarts, Hermione would have caught her with a trip jinx, but she wasn’t in school, and this wasn’t a bullying schoolgirl. Instead, she just watched her go, north towards George Street and its restaurants and theatres, and tourists.
Hermione stood. Her dress, pale blue, was showing the dark wet patches of lemonade and the skin on her thighs was already getting sticky.
She threw the toastie wrapper away and hoisted her bag, heading back towards the library. Her pile of books was still sitting at her table and, hurrying against the worsening sensation of stickiness on her legs, she made the hasty decision to check all but one of them out.
Mistake. Her bookbag banged against her right hip, and the strap pulled heavily on her left shoulder, and all the pain she had resolved to ignore that morning was forcefully making itself known. God, it hurt. Tears were pricking at her eyes, and she blinked furiously at them, at the pain, at the injustice of it all.
At the corner onto Queen’s Lane, an older Asian man sat, perhaps Pakistani, a limp cardboard sign laying against his chest. An old coffee cup with a frayed top sat close to his right knee, a few coins in its bottom. He didn’t look up at the crowds of passers-by, didn’t call out or interrupt. He just sat, and looked down.
The number 8 bus was pulling up. Hermione had stuffed her bus ticket away earlier, so she had her purse in her hand now. In a rush, she poured three pounds into the man’s coffee cup, and spent the rest of the journey home wondering if she’d done the right thing.
Remus didn’t hear from Hermione for a full week after the moon. He spent the time writing off for jobs and, generally, not hearing back. Publishers who had once happily used his editing skills were ignoring his letters. One of the few who did respond sent only a small clipping from the Daily Prophet: “ARE OUR CHILDREN SAFE? WEREWOLF SACKED FROM HOGWARTS STAFF.” Remus tried to take comfort from the fact that the clipping was from the bottom of page eleven; Sirius must still have been dominating the front pages when the story broke.
And yet somehow the week was still packed with correspondence.
He heard from Sirius once, a letter borne by a toucan of all things. He wondered if he was indeed in South America, or just stealing birds from zoos to cover his tracks. Argentina certainly wouldn’t have an extradition treaty with Britain, but Remus wasn’t sure about the rest of the continent.
Hope you’re alright. Hope cat-girl’s alright.
I’m feeling a lot better already. It’s remarkable, being human. Speaking to people. Small pleasures: soft cotton, sweet fruit, sunlight. Wouldn’t mind staying away for a decade, but for Pronglet.
I’ll be back. Different places.
The letter was unsigned, but a signature would have been purely indulgent, and this Sirius had not yet relearned indulgence. “Different places,” Remus muttered. “What does…”
He folded the letter along its creaselines, and then again, and again. And then he reopened it, and reread it: soft cotton, sweet fruit, sunlight. He stared at those words. Being human. God, he could cry all over again about the fate that had been visited on Sirius. Twelve years, the twelve years Remus had struggled alone, and Sirius…
His next letter was from Arthur Weasley; Hermione had come good on her promise.
Dear Mr Lupin,
I heard you were interested in experimental charms and in particular a small project of mine from a little while back. Glad to hear of a fellow enthusiast in this sort of magic!
The invention I was looking at was the tellyphone, a Muggle contraption which works in a fashion not dissimilar to the Floo, although limited to the transportation of voices rather than people. Hermione tells me you have a Muggle parent yourself, so you may be better versed in this sort of thing, but making such things workable in a magical environment is a small hobby of mine.
Of course, it goes without saying that I would never actually make or use such an item, but from a purely theoretical viewpoint, the study is quite fascinating.
As he read on, he found himself doubly impressed: firstly by the complexity of the charm work, which had somehow been built on a scanty, indeed minimal, knowledge of Muggle technology; and secondly by Hermione’s blackmailing skills. Weasley clearly knew that Hermione had told Remus all about his forays into the misuse of Muggle artefacts, and was aiming for mutually assured destruction. That was actually reassuring: if it hadn’t occurred to Weasley that he already had the means to get Remus thrown in Azkaban at the very least, then he probably wasn’t going to attempt it without provocation.
He allowed himself to spend the rest of the afternoon taking apart his telephone. Weasley had somewhat bypassed the idea of a telephone line, inadvertently creating something like a mobile phone. Perhaps his ignorance had helped him.
After a couple of hours, he was reattaching the last of the screws to remount the device on the wall. He glanced around the kitchen to check for any parts he might have misplaced in the deconstruction of the telephone and, finding none, picked up the handset and lifted it to his ear.
A mechanical, droning sort of noise. “Dial tone,” he said aloud, remembering the phrase only as he said it. “So that means…”
He needed a telephone number to call. There was no Yellow Pages in the house; he’d torn it up for kindling the last time one had been delivered. He knew the emergency number 999, and had the faint impression there might have been another number for the Muggle police, but didn’t want to register a hoax call.
But he did still have Hermione’s letter, the only record of her address. The rest of his letters were in the traditional shoebox under the bed, but they were memories, useless but for sentiment. Hermione’s was tucked inside a copy of Delia Smith’s Family Fare : stained, annotated, unsellable. He took it down from the cupboard where he kept his tinned food, and retrieved it, skimming.
Dear Professor Lupin,
... hope you don’t feel too badly… certainly don’t blame you… I hope I don’t presume too much... our number is...
He dialled slowly, actively looking for each number, unused to the layout of the keypad. He listened to the ringing on the other end, once, twice, and then a voice.
“Oxford 299123, hello?”
He smiled. “Hello Elaine, it’s Remus.”
“Remus! Goodness, what a surprise. Is everything alright?”
“Yes, yes, I’ve just been trying to fix my telephone, needed to try it out on someone.”
“Well, I think we can call that a success! It’s a good clear line.”
It was. He could hear her almost as if she were in the room with him. It was strange, the faceless voice, but not unduly so; Remus had never used a telephone himself, but he had heard his mother use one. He closed his eyes, and found that made the strangeness much easier to deal with. “Now I just need to work out what my telephone number is.”
“You might still be in the directory,” Elaine pointed out. “We’ll try looking you up that way first, before we start trying to ask BT. In the meantime, Hermione’s going to be baking a cake for Harry’s birthday tomorrow afternoon. Fancy coming over?”
“Of course,” he said, and meant it. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
“I’ll be out at my parents’, actually, but Jim and Hermione will be in, I’ll let them know to expect you. Say one o’clock?”
“That’s fine by me.” He paused, and then asked, “How’s Hermione?”
Elaine sighed. “Alright. Tired, in pain. I didn’t expect this much pain. How are you?”
“Much the same, I suppose,” he said.
“So it won’t get better. This wasn’t - the shock of the first full moon.”
Remus opened his eyes and looked at the keypad of his telephone. “No. It won’t get better.”
Elaine was quiet for a moment, and then said, “Well then. I’ll see you soon.”
“Bye,” he responded, and carefully replaced the handset on its cradle. “Success,” he muttered. He scrubbed a hand over his face, pulling at the old scar.
An owl tapped at the window. He looked up to see a lovely tawny, bearing a letter sealed with wax.
“Another one? Right now?” he asked, but he let it in and took the letter. The logo was a building with spires.
Dear Mr Lupin,
Thank you for your enquiry to the Bodleian Libraries Magical School. Unfortunately we have no openings for a permanent position at present. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that a part-time position could be made available on a fixed-term contract, as I am nearing retirement and wouldn’t mind reducing my hours.
In this instance, I would like to meet you in person before I make any suggestions to the management team, partly as normal procedure, partly as I have some scant knowledge of you from secondhand sources. If it is amenable to you, I will meet you at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House in Oxford tomorrow morning at 10am.
He read it once, and then again. He looked up at the owl, and then back down at the parchment.
“I’ve got an interview,” he said aloud.
The owl hooted balefully in response and Remus started out of his shock. “Yes, of course, I need to respond, let me just…”
He sat down to jot a quick acceptance, lest Madam Barrett judge his handwriting. He kept it to a single sentence, not addressing the “scant knowledge from secondhand sources” - best wait to discuss that in person. Anyway, surely the interview itself was a good sign.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Moony,” he muttered. And then, “Oh, my shoes.”
The Queen’s Lane Coffee House was at the bottom of the Lane as it adjoined the High Street, its dark façade shadowed by a cheerful red awning. Remus arrived half an hour early and picked a table, hiding his feet from view. The staff glanced at him a few times, but he positioned his old leather briefcase on the table and kept looking pointedly towards the door, and they didn’t press him to make an order.
At precisely ten o’clock, the door opened. The woman who entered examined each patron of the café quickly and intensely, and on catching sight of Remus, made a beeline for him. He stood up but did not move out from behind the table.
“Mr Lupin,” said Madam Barrett. She held out a hand to shake. “How do you do?”
“How do you do,” he echoed. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Have you ordered?”
“Not yet,” he responded.
“Then what would you like? Tea?”
She went to the counter to order. The young man behind the till recognised her and was already reaching for a small coffee cup as he said, “Morning, Marjorie!”
Marjorie Barrett was a short woman who walked as if she were six feet tall. She wore a suit in dark green and large, horn-rimmed glasses, but her shoes were high-heeled and therefore entirely impractical in a cobblestoned city like Oxford. Her hair was short and bleached yellow-blonde, incongruous against her dark skin, and her Caribbean accent was paired with a very deliberate way of speaking. This was not a woman to waste words. Remus waited at the table until she returned, bearing his tea, her coffee, and a small pastry.
“Turkish coffee and baklava,” she informed him as she took her seat. “One occasionally needs the boost. Now if I may be direct, I would like to ask if you know a Muggleborn girl who is a regular patron of my library.”
“Miss Granger,” he answered. “Yes, I taught her last year at Hogwarts.”
“That much I was able to deduce. You have no other knowledge of her?”
Remus hesitated. “I wouldn’t like to betray any confidences.”
Madam Barrett regarded him severely through her glasses. “Mr Lupin, Hermione is a diligent reader. She can spend several hours at her books without particularly noticing her surroundings. Now, a few weeks ago she was intensely involved in a research project on lycanthropy. The entire Hogwarts faculty is aware of your condition, I know, and it is entirely possible that she was merely interested in the topic due to your position as her teacher, but I have not seen her since the full moon. That observation prompted me to realise that she came back to Oxford earlier than the end of the summer term, presumably soon after the last moon. Now, Mr Lupin, would you like to correct or confirm my assumption?”
Remus had his hands wrapped around his teacup. It was clattering against the saucer. He lowered his head. “I think I should take it that my application is declined.”
“Not necessarily,” Madam Barrett said sharply. “It means I will be taking a character reference from Miss Granger. Your application was entirely suitable, if one overlooks the difficulties you have had in holding down steady employment. I can ensure its acceptance or rejection, and Miss Granger’s recommendation will be essential to that decision.”
Remus couldn’t help but smile. “Thank you, Madam Barrett.”
She noticed, and bestowed an approving nod upon him. “Now, to the interview proper. Please describe a situation where you have had to resolve a problem in a customer service situation or similar.”
When Remus arrived at the Grangers’ house the following afternoon, he was still grinning.
“I think you just got me a job,” he said to Hermione.
She was struggling to tip out flour into a measuring bowl, most of the weight of the bag in her left hand, using her right to control the flow of the flour. This was clearly too much to concentrate on in the face of his news; she put the bag down before asking, “What? How?”
“I applied to the Bodleian and had an interview with Madam Barrett this morning,” he explained. “She liked me well enough, but more or less told me that whether I got the job would be based on your recommendation. I’d ask how much time you spend at the library, but Madam Barrett already told me.”
Jim laughed. “Congratulations!”
“Is Marjorie retiring then?” Hermione asked.
“Just looking to cut down her hours,” said Remus. “Which suits me - so long as she can work the days around the moon, I can do whatever she doesn’t want to do.”
“You’ll see more of Hermione than we do,” said Jim. “I hope you’re prepared for that.”
But Remus chuckled. “I think I can deal with that.”
“Are we going to make this cake?” Hermione asked impatiently. “I want to get it to the post office before it closes.”
Jim gestured at the bag of flour. “No one’s stopping you.”
The cake recipe was a classic Victoria sandwich with jam and buttercream. It was probably fairly simple for a regular baker, but Jim had to translate concepts like creaming butter and sugar together for Remus, and Hermione continued to struggle with her unresponsive fingers, dropping shell everywhere when she tried to crack an egg, resorting to jamming bowls against her body with her arm in order to stir the contents. Her face grew blotchy and the frown line in her forehead grew deeper but she persisted, and persisted, until it came to the point where the batter was in the tin and it needed to be placed in the oven. She looked at the tin, and then looked at the oven, and then she stepped back.
“I don’t think I can open the door and carry the tin,” she said. “And I don’t want to drop it.”
“You get the door then,” said Jim. “I’ll get the cake.”
Remus considered the oven as they put the cake in to bake. The Grangers had a brand new electric oven and hob, not a gas cooker like the one in his kitchen, but it shared the same configuration, with the oven close to the floor and a door which tried its best to swing closed.
“If it helps,” he said, “my instinct would have been to open the door by hand and then levitate the cake in. It’s not the easiest thing even with two fully operational hands.”
Hermione closed the door and reached for an egg timer. She tried to spin it to twenty minutes, but could only grip it long enough to manage two or three at a time. Her nostrils flared as she fumbled the timer, and soon enough she gave up, holding it out to Jim. He took it without comment.
“I could have done that with a tempus,” Hermione groused. She opened a cupboard door and started putting ingredients away.
“We’re both handicapped, in a way,” Remus pointed out. “I haven’t cooked anything without magic since I was younger than you are now.”
Jim tilted his head at that, setting the egg timer down. “Would you see me as handicapped for that reason?”
He took a moment to consider. “I wouldn’t say so, instinctively. I’m a wizard, so without magic I become handicapped. You’re a Muggle. You’re not lacking magic, not in the same way that Hermione and I are right now.”
“And if Hermione had been born with her arm like that?” Jim prodded. “If that had been congenital malformation of her nerves, rather than an injury.”
“But I’d still be living in a world where you need two hands to tie laces,” Hermione pointed out, closing a cupboard door. “If everyone had one dodgy arm, we’d all be wearing slip-on shoes and have short hair.”
Jim shushed her. “I’m trying to see what wizards think of theories of disability,” he scolded her lightly.
Remus smiled. “You’ve picked a rather unrepresentative guinea pig, I’m afraid - you need a pureblood if you want to investigate proper wizarding culture. Ask the Weasleys next time you see them. They’re Muggle-friendly, but as far as I’m aware none of them has actually spent much time in the Muggle world.”
“Noted,” said Jim.
By the time Elaine returned from her parents’, the cake was out of the oven and Hermione was showing Remus how the electric whisk worked to make buttercream icing.
“So that’s the on switch,” she said. “Just be careful with the icing sug-”
Too late. The icing sugar exploded in a fluffy cloud just as Elaine walked into the kitchen. Remus spluttered.
“Hi, love,” said Jim, as though he weren’t covered in sugar. “How were your parents?”
“Not as bad as this kitchen,” said Elaine. “I’m going upstairs to get changed, and I expect this mess to be cleaned up by the time I come back.”
“Yes, dear,” said Jim.
“Sorry, Mum!” said Hermione.
“Sorry, Elaine,” echoed Remus.
“Quite right,” she sniffed. “And then who feels like a takeaway for dinner? I’m exhausted.”
Hermione brightened up. “Can we get Chinese?”
Elaine hesitated. It took Remus a moment to realise that Chinese meant chopsticks, which meant Hermione could get away without using her left arm. But Elaine only sighed and said, “Yes, Chinese, fine. Now get cleaning.”
They finished the buttercream and filled the cake with jam and cream before cleaning up the sugar. The cake wasn’t quite as neat as the photograph in the cookbook, but Hermione seemed unbothered; Remus supposed that Harry wouldn’t mind.
“Right,” said Jim. “I think we’re just about done here. Remus, are you staying for Chinese?”
Remus thought of Elaine’s mood. “I won’t, thank you,” he said. “I’ve got some leftovers to eat up at home. Perhaps I could take the cake to the post office on my way back?”
“Oh, I wanted to go,” Hermione protested. “I’ve only left the house once since the moon.”
In the end, they both went, and had another go at Side-Along-Apparition after Remus assured Hermione that it wouldn’t damage the cake. It was a shorter hop from Headington to Oxford than it was to St Mungo’s, and whether it was that or the passing of time, Hermione’s arm coped much better this time. She still had a tremor as they arrived in the little broom shop in the Covered Market, but it wasn’t so bad, and it faded even as they made their way through the alleys to the wizarding post office.
“Thank goodness for that,” said Hermione. “I know not everyone Apparates but we don’t have a fireplace, so it will be awfully convenient when I turn seventeen.”
“Not a fan of brooms?” Remus asked.
“Oh good lord, no,” she said.
The response was so quick and so Muggle that he laughed. She screwed up her face in indignation for a moment, but then caught herself and even let out a small giggle.
The man behind the counter clearly recognised Hermione; he looked up and smiled.
“Ah, Miss Granger! You’ve saved me an owl,” he said. “I got the Hogwarts letters through this afternoon to post out to the Muggle addresses - hold on a tick and I’ll find yours. Is that parcel for Surrey or Devon?”
“Surrey,” she said. “It’s a birthday cake - any chance it can go this evening, arriving close to midnight?”
“That’ll be nine sickles and four knuts. I’ll take this and find your letter. Give me a minute.”
The shopkeeper headed out back to his owlery with the cake as Hermione got out her purse.
“Will he be awake at midnight?” Remus asked.
Hermione was counting sickles. “He told me and Ron once, he always is on his birthday. They don’t celebrate it, his aunt and uncle, so he stays up and has some time just for him. And Hedwig, now. Have you sent him a card?”
No, he hadn’t; it hadn’t honestly occurred to him to do so. He knew Harry’s birthday, but it was with the academic knowledge of an amateur historian rather than because he had been there - both his birth and his first birthday had occurred while Remus was otherwise detained. He hadn’t even been able to send a present in 1981, with no money and no access to any sort of post office. But he had both now and at least some sort of relationship with Harry, albeit only as a teacher.
Hermione had looked up from her purse, but the shopkeeper emerged again before she could press for an answer. “Here we are, one Hogwarts letter, and I’ve got a good sturdy barn owl to take the cake tonight. Nine and four, please.”
Hermione handed over her fistful of change. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Have a nice evening.”
They stepped out of the shop, and Hermione tucked her letter into her little shoulder bag.
“Not going straight for the booklist?” Remus asked.
Hermione shook her head. “Not with everyone around. I’ll wait til I’m home.” She paused and then, all in a rush, “You know Harry really treasures any connection to his parents. Photos, stories, anything. He would really appreciate…”
“I know,” Remus said. “I’ll see you soon.”
She wasn’t satisfied, that much was clear from the set of her lips and the way she span away without saying goodbye. He walked slowly towards the broom shop and reached the doorstep before turning back.
Inside the post office, the shopkeeper was tying string around the birthday cake. “Oh, hello again,” he said. “You must be… Mr Granger?”
“No, no, I’m just a friend,” said Remus. “I was just wondering if I could add a card to go with the cake?”
Hermione’s Hogwarts letter was much as it always was: the normal booklist, reminder of uniform requirements, pet restrictions - and a note that all students in fourth year and up should bring along a set of dress robes.
“Does that mean formalwear?” her dad asked.
“I think so,” Hermione answered. “They make it sound like people will already have them.”
“Well, if it is formalwear, then probably anyone with magical families will have them, for weddings and christenings and things,” Mum pointed out.
“I’ll bet Parkinson and the Greengrasses have whole wardrobes of them,” Hermione grumbled. “But the letter doesn’t say what it’s for.”
“Hogwarts doesn’t have - I don’t know, a debutantes’ ball for the students finishing school?” Mum asked. “Or just an annual celebratory ball, like the Oxford colleges?”
“Not that I know about,” said Hermione. “I think this is a one-off thing.”
“Well, there’s been quite a lot going on these last few years,” Dad said. “Maybe they’re holding a party to cheer everyone up. Shall we go into London on Saturday?”
Mum bowed out of the shopping trip; she had a morning clinic. At Diagon Alley, they made the obligatory stop at Gringotts to exchange some money, and then Dad dropped Hermione off at the door to Madam Malkin’s.
“I’m not going to be of much help in here,” he said. “I’ll head up to the bookshop, get what’s on your booklist, then meet you back here.”
Hermione was about to protest, but he held up a hand. “And then after that, we’ll get a cup of tea somewhere and check the bibliographies of your textbooks for anything extra you want to get from Flourish & Blotts. Deal?”
She subsided. “Fine. But I still want to browse.”
Dad laughed. “As if I’d ever stop you. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Madam Malkin was helping a little first year boy get fitted for robes when Hermione walked in.
“Hogwarts too?” she called.
“Yes, but I’m here for some new dress robes,” Hermione responded. “I’m afraid I don’t know much about what’s in fashion though.”
“Not to worry, dearie,” said Madam Malkin. “Why don’t you take a look at some of the magazines on the table there? Get some ideas together and then I’ll help you find something.”
So Hermione was sorting through issues of Witch Weekly, a truly ghastly publication, when a girl from her year at school walked in. Embarrassingly, it took Hermione a second or two to remember the girl’s full name: Mandy Brocklehurst, Ravenclaw, particularly good at Charms, which she mostly seemed to use on lengthening her eyelashes and straightening her long chestnut hair.
“Brocklehurst,” she said in greeting.
“Granger,” the Ravenclaw girl returned. “I suppose you’re here for dress robes too?”
Hermione gestured at the magazines helplessly. “Fashion isn’t my strong point.”
Brocklehurst laughed. “Finally, something I can beat you in! I was so annoyed at your Charms score in first year. Want a hand?”
“Please,” said Hermione, gratefully. “What sort are you getting?”
“I was thinking burgundy,” said Brocklehurst. “Crimson’s a bit scandalous, but I do look good in dark reds. It’s the pale skin. You, on the other hand, you’re going to want light colours.”
She picked up one of the Witch Weeklies and flicked through it. “I’m sure I saw a society piece the other day - ah, yes, look at Madam Zabini, here.”
The lady she pointed to had much darker skin than Hermione, and was wearing a pure white set of dress robes. The neckline was cut square and low across her bust, and the floor-length, billowing skirt split at the front, showing a panel of scarlet underneath as she twirled for the camera.
“Obviously I’m not suggesting you wear anything like that, but you see what I’m getting at with the colours,” Brocklehurst said.
“I suppose,” said Hermione. “I tend to wear pastels at home.”
“There you go!” said Brocklehurst. “Good start. Now, what about your skirt?”
The next ten minutes were a whirlwind of information for Hermione. Brocklehurst led her round the shop, pointing at outfits on mannequins and the second-hand rails to show her various different styles of robe: the white and scarlet robe was actually based on a very traditional style which reminded Hermione of Tudor dresses, with an overskirt and separate kirtle underneath and bodice on top, except of course it had the built-in gown flowing down the back which made it a robe rather than just a dress.
“That’s what made Madam Zabini’s outfit so outrageous,” said Brocklehurst. “On the one hand, it’s the sort of dress you’d expect Professor McGonagall to wear, but on the other, can you imagine Professor McGonagall in bright white and scarlet? It’s practically a murder scene!”
Hermione much preferred the slimmer robes, more like the day-to-day robes that Brocklehurst was wearing now.
“Very modern,” Brocklehurst said, approvingly. “My grandmother would never have let me get away with that. She’d say it looks like you haven’t made an effort. As if the effort of carrying round a tonne of skirt and hoops is obligatory to look respectable! Thankfully my mother is more up to date, she’ll win Granny over.”
That made Hermione pause. “I don’t want to look too modern,” she said. “Someone would make comments about Muggleborns not respecting wizarding culture.”
“Oh,” said Brocklehurst. “I suppose you’re right. Gosh, I hadn’t thought about that. That’s exactly the sort of thing Parkinson would say.”
Madam Malkin had finished with her first year. She clucked at this statement. “It’s a shame, but it’s true. You’re Muggleborn then, dearie?”
“Yes,” said Hermione. She looked back at the hooped skirts. “Do you think I’d be better off in one of those?”
“Well, hold on just a tick, I may have an idea.” She bustled off and returned with a white dress hovering after her, like a ghost. “I haven’t coloured it yet, but how’s this for a compromise?”
“Oh, that’s perfect,” said Brocklehurst.
At first glance, it was much slimmer than one of the Tudor-like dresses, but it borrowed much from the style. The neckline was square, with a fringe of lace peeking over the top, and it had a similar bodice style, narrow and well-structured. The skirt was composed of dozens of layers of flowing chiffon, gossamer-thin, creating the same effect as a gown and kirtle without all the bulk. The sleeves, bodice and kirtle were silk, as was the long cape at the back.
“It’s lovely,” said Hermione. “It looks… In the Muggle world, I would think it’s a wedding dress.”
“I designed it for a bridesmaid,” said Madam Malkin. “I think it would suit you very well. Here, take off your cardigan for a moment and we’ll do some colour sampling to match your skin.”
Hermione was shrugging out of her cardigan when the bell above the door tinkled. The woman who walked in had the same chestnut hair as Brocklehurst, but hers was swept up into an elegant swirl at the back of her head. Her robes, now Hermione was paying attention, were slimline in navy velvet or velveteen or velour - Hermione couldn’t tell the difference - with a linen underskirt, only a shade or two lighter in colour. The bodice of the robe pulled her waist in, not boned like a corset but made of stiff structured material; it was cut into a low scooped neckline above which the linen undergarment extended, covering her right up to her neck. Rather than a cape, the robe had draping ribbons at the back, like the commoners’ gowns that students wore around Oxford at exam times.
“Mother,” said Brocklehurst. “I’m sorry, I haven’t even started looking for robes yet, I was helping Granger.”
Madam Brocklehurst did not seem annoyed by this; she smiled benevolently in Hermione’s direction. “Then, it seems you’re doing an admirable job, Mandy. Good morning, Miss Granger.”
“Good morning, Madam Brocklehurst,” Hermione replied politely. She was still trying to get out of her cardigan. The difficulty of getting her right arm out of the clinging sleeve without full use of her left hand was familiar by now, but it still required a certain amount of focus, so she almost didn’t notice when Brocklehurst, standing to her left, gasped quietly.
“We were thinking pastels,” Hermione said hastily, before anyone could mention the scar, and proffered her right arm. “I’m not much for pink, but maybe blue or green?”
Madam Malkin conjured some scraps of fabric in chiffon and silk, and charmed them to be seafoam green and periwinkle blue. She held them up to Hermione’s skin.
“Definitely the blue,” said Brocklehurst.
“Says the Ravenclaw,” Hermione rebutted jokingly. Brocklehurst laughed.
“Haven’t I already said that I’m thinking of wearing Gryffindor colours? We can swap houses for the night.”
Brocklehurst and her mother continued to browse as Hermione was fitted for the bridesmaid’s dress. It was mostly one structure, but the lacing at the back under the cape was impossible to manage alone; she would have to ask one of the girls in the dorm to help her.
“Nice, Granger,” said Brocklehurst, when she stepped out from behind the screen.
“Indeed,” agreed Madam Brocklehurst. “It suits you very well.”
“Well, I think we’re just about finished with you, Miss Granger,” said Madam Malkin. “Let me help you out of this, and I’ll be right with you, Madam Brocklehurst, Miss Brocklehurst. I believe you’d be after something a little more modern?”
“My daughter likes to be right up to date,” said Madam Brocklehurst. “I’m just happy I can keep her out of Gladrags.”
Madam Malkin tutted loudly. “Quite right.” She took Hermione back behind the screen to unlace her. “I’ll have the colour charms properly applied and layered in a few days, and then I’ll have the robes posted to you. I will need to take payment before delivery.”
“Thank you,” said Hermione. “My dad’s meeting me here so we can pay today.”
In fact, Dad had arrived whilst she was getting changed. She found him looking around the shop in gentle bemusement, and she tried to look at it with his eyes: by the long rail of school robes, a needle was darting in and out of a hem, the fabric itself holding the fold without any need for pins or clips. In the window, robes filled themselves with air to model the shape of a person, spinning occasionally to show off the back, resizing themselves along the bust and waist to show how they might fit different people. And beyond the magic: the furniture was all heavy wood, stained dark and carved in elaborate patterns. The floor was covered in an old Turkish rug. The walls were papered in brocade, and bore old-fashioned sconces at regular intervals, although most of the light came from the wide shop windows. The only shop in the Muggle world which might have looked like this would be an antique store, except even then there would be no one inside it dressed like the Brocklehursts. They looked, to Muggle eyes, as if they were reenacting some period of history which the viewer couldn’t quite place.
Brocklehurst was murmuring something to her mother, Hermione saw. She swallowed, and turned to Dad.
“Hi,” he said. “Did you find anything?”
“Yes, all done, just need to pay. Brocklehurst helped - um, that’s Mandy Brocklehurst, from school, and her mother.”
Hermione did have a vault at Gringotts, but all it contained was pocket money. Her parents had started depositing a small amount into it each time they visited Diagon Alley, but interest rates were higher in Muggle banks, so they kept the child savings account they had set up for her. When she turned sixteen, it would convert into a current account, and then she could decide how to split her money between pounds and galleons. Anyway, she had no need for her own money beyond petty cash, really. Trips to Hogsmeade, bus fares to Oxford, Floo fees for St Mungo’s - other than that, her parents were always there to foot the bill.
So Dad paid for her dress robes. Hermione was ready to get out of the shop and tear through her new books, but before they could leave -
“Mr Granger,” said Madam Brocklehurst. Hermione and her dad turned back from the door; she was smiling pleasantly, and inclined her head in a small bow. “A pleasure to meet you. I’m Generetta Brocklehurst.”
“How do you do, Mrs Brocklehurst,” Dad smiled, reaching out to shake her hand.
Madam Brocklehurst looked down at his hand, briefly confused, but took it after only a moment’s pause. “How do you do,” she returned. “It’s so rare that I get to meet the parents of any of Mandy’s Muggleborn school friends; can I offer to buy you a cup of tea? There’s a delightful teahouse just adjacent.”
Dad looked at Hermione. Hermione looked at Brocklehurst, who nodded.
Madam Brocklehurst made her apologies to Madam Malkin, promising to be back within the hour to purchase her daughter’s robes, and then showed them to a café a couple of doors down. She ordered a pot of Earl Grey, which appeared along with four dainty teacups, and then waved her wand in a circular motion around the table.
“A reversed silencing charm,” she explained. “I believe we may want to keep this conversation confidential. We’ll let the tea steep a little.”
Hermione tugged on the sleeve of her cardigan. Brocklehurst was looking even paler than usual. Her mother, however, was perfectly poised and calm as she addressed Hermione’s father.
“Mr Granger, I do apologise for interrupting your shopping trip. When Madam Malkin was colour testing earlier, I couldn’t help but notice Miss Granger’s injury.” Hermione bristled, but Madam Brocklehurst continued smoothly. “I was trained as a Healer before I married, and I recognise wounds treated with silvered dittany. Mandy has mentioned you before, Miss Granger, usually because you have outperformed her in Charms, so I knew that you were Muggleborn. Mr Granger, I merely wanted to offer any advice or support you may need.”
“That’s very kind of you,” said Dad. “Fortunately we’ve already been offered support from the school, but I do appreciate the offer.”
Madam Brocklehurst smiled gently. “Support in managing the condition, I’m sure, but legal advice? I think everyone at this table knows the perpetrator’s identity.”
Brocklehurst squirmed a little in her seat. “Listen, Granger, most of Ravenclaw had worked out that Lupin was a werewolf by the end of the year. And most of our year put two and two together when you disappeared on exactly the same day that he resigned.”
“Not that Mandy thought to inform me of this,” Madam Brocklehurst added. “Mr Lupin’s resignation was reported in the papers and has been discussed fairly openly in society circles, but the fact that he had bitten a pupil only came to my attention today in the shop.”
“Professor Lupin has been nothing but supportive!” Hermione exclaimed. Dad rested a hand on her arm.
“Hermione’s quite right,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it was Mr Lupin who first advised me and my wife of the law around infection, subsequent to the invention of Wolfsbane. He also offered up several names of people who might be able to act as our advocates in the event that we wanted to take any action against him.”
Hermione expected Madam Brocklehurst to argue, in her genteel manner, and was ready to give as good as she got. Instead, the older witch relaxed her posture a little.
“That is at least a little reassuring,” she said. “One cannot be too careful, though. I imagine you’re aware of our recent history, the war?” She waited for Dad to nod before continuing. “It wasn’t unheard of for werewolves deliberately to target children, for more or less political reasons. The children would then be taken by the perpetrator if they were old enough, or left for the parents to deal with if they were too young to be of use. It was during the war that I was working as a Healer at St Mungo’s, so I have some personal experience with this.”
That was what had happened to Remus, Hermione remembered. He had told her, just after the moon - his father had spoken out against werewolves, and in retaliation, someone had bitten him. Four years old.
Dad was frowning. “And you think Hermione would be a good political target.”
“Forgive me, but even I am aware that Miss Granger is best friend to the young Mr Potter. And as a very accomplished Muggleborn witch, much to her schoolmates’ envy, she is a political statement in and of herself.”
Hermione looked at Brocklehurst. “You don’t think Professor Lupin would do that, do you? After having him as a teacher?”
Brocklehurst pursed her lips. “Well, no, not if we’re judging on his behaviour in the classroom. But Quirrell wasn’t a bad teacher in our first year, and everyone said he was fired in the end for trying to steal a priceless artefact and attacking Potter. We were in first year, Potter was only eleven or twelve.”
Hermione couldn’t argue with that. Even the full truth - that Quirrell had been possessed by You Know Who after deliberately seeking him out - would only have made matters worse.
She looked again at Madam Brocklehurst. Her hair was thick and still vivid chestnut. There were no wrinkles around her eyes.
“Did you know Professor Lupin at school?” she asked.
Madam Brocklehurst appraised her. “Yes,” she said. “He was a few years below me, but he and his friends were quite unmissable. It’s… partly due to that knowledge that I was concerned about his appointment at Hogwarts this year, and about a potential motive in infecting you.”
“Because he was friends with Sirius Black,” Hermione said. Brocklehurst’s mouth fell open, but Hermione ploughed on. “He was friends with James Potter, too.”
Madam Brocklehurst nodded. “He was. And I believe we should let that matter lie before the conversation devolves into prurient gossip.”
That was confusing, but Dad was saying “Quite right, quite right,” so Hermione couldn’t ask.
“Now then,” said Madam Brocklehurst. “I think the tea will be steeped enough now. And I wasn’t lying about a lack of opportunities to meet Muggle parents of Hogwarts students - from your perspective, what do you feel is lacking from the curriculum?”
This was a topic the Grangers had discussed dozens of times round the dinner table, so Hermione felt vindicated about tuning the adults’ conversation out when Brocklehurst asked her opinion on the Defence booklist this year. By the time they had finished their tea, Hermione had a few extra titles she wanted to buy from Flourish & Blotts and felt she might have made a friend, although she hadn’t yet tried calling the Ravenclaw girl Mandy.
Madam Brocklehurst had already raised her wand to cancel her silencing charm when she paused and said, “Between you, me and the house elf, I hear that there has been a reactionary move in the Ministry since the end of the school year. You may want to keep an eye on the Prophet over the next few weeks. It may come to nothing, of course.”
The telephone, as it turned out, had a blaring ring, approximately the volume of a banshee’s scream. Remus leapt up from his seat when it rang on a Monday afternoon, and practically tore it from the wall in his rush to make it shut up. It was only as an afterthought that he remembered to say, “Hello?”
“Hi Remus, it’s Elaine. How are you?”
He breathed out as his heartbeat returned to a normal velocity. “I’m well, thank you. You?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Sorry I was in such a mood last weekend, my parents are rather hard work.”
“Difficulty explaining Hogwarts?”
Elaine laughed. “No, they think sending one’s daughter to an exclusive boarding school is a fabulous idea, it’s all my other life decisions which upset them. And god, if I had a penny for every time they’ve called Hermione’s hair messy, or uncouth, or some other such… Anyway, this is why I go on my own.”
Remus could think of no decent response to this. “Ah.”
“But that’s not why I called. I wanted to talk about the next full moon, although it might be easier in person so Hermione can be part of the conversation. Any chance you could pop over?”
“Yes, yes, of course. Now?”
“Oh, if you can, that would be lovely.”
“Alright then, see you in a moment,” he said. He replaced the phone onto its cradle and cast a gentle quietus on it before he could forget. He went to put on his second-best shoes - still the best pair he owned thanks to Sirius, he really should stop calling them second-best - checked his wards, and Apparated to the side path between the Grangers’ house and garage. Around a minute after hanging up the phone, he was knocking on the front door.
Elaine opened it. She was still in her work clothes, a white blouse and smart black trousers. “Well, that was quick. Where do you actually live?”
“Conwy,” Remus said wryly. At her raised eyebrow, he shrugged. “Magic.”
She shook her head. “I should have known. Come in, I would say the kettle’s on but I hadn’t actually got that far.”
Hermione was clattering down the stairs before Remus had finished taking off his shoes. “Hi,” she said. “I was going through my Defence books, they seem to be focusing on defensive spellwork, and recognising offensive spells. Do you know who’s teaching this year?”
“Not a clue,” he answered. “And I’m fine thanks.”
She smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. I got excited about the booklist.”
He had to smile back. “Understood. I’ll have a look at the list with you later if you like, tell you what I did differently for the fourth years last year.”
“Yes please,” she chirped.
Elaine poked her head out from the kitchen door. “Come and sit down at the table,” she said. “Before we get started on books, I want to talk about the August full moon.”
Hermione deflated. There was no other word for it: her shoulders dropped, she ducked her chin, and her last couple of steps down the stairs were decidedly desultory. “Yes, mum.”
Soon enough they were sat around the kitchen table, each with a mug of tea. Hermione had her hands wrapped around hers, holding her left fingers beneath her right.
“So, I think we’ve got some decisions to make,” Elaine said. “Hermione, sit up, please.”
She did, but then twisted round in her seat as Crookshanks scratched at the patio doors to come in. Elaine got up to let him in, and he leapt directly onto the table. Hermione scooted her chair back a bit and he stepped down into her lap, pausing halfway down to stretch out and present Elaine and Remus with his bottom.
“Charming,” said Remus.
Crookshanks span around and poked his head over the top of the table to yawn at him. Hermione folded her arms around the cat, and he began to purr.
Elaine sighed. “Back to the point. The August moon is coming up. What do you want to do, Hermione?”
She was looking between the two of them, and Remus had the disconcerting feeling that she was looking for the correct answer.
“Or what don’t you want?” he asked. “If that’s easier.”
It was; she let go of Crookshanks, who settled comfortably on her lap. “I don’t want to be alone,” she said. “And I would rather not be near you and Dad,” she said to Elaine.
Remus caught Elaine’s reaction to that: the brief closing of her eyes, the stiff set of her lips before she said, “Alright. That’s fine.”
“I’d rather not use the Shack again,” Hermione continued. “I know it’s the safest place, but it’s not… the most comfortable?”
“Agreed,” said Remus. He took a deep breath and made the offer: “Why don’t you come to mine? We know the Wolfsbane works, and I’ve transformed in smaller spaces before. We can stay in the sitting room.”
But her eyes had dropped again to the top of Crookshanks’s head. She scratched between his ears. “What about the Wolfsbane though?”
Now it was Remus’s turn to look down, but Elaine cut through: “I’ve already discussed this with your father. We’re going to take it as read that during the holidays, if you want to transform with Remus, we’ll pay for the potion for both of you. Alright? So you can stop worrying about that.”
Crookshanks was purring steadily on Hermione’s lap, a constant low thrum, but she was still tense. She buried her fingers in the fur behind his neck, and said, “Alright. Can we do that then?”
Remus nodded. “It’s fine with me.”
“But. Do you actually want me there? I don’t want to intrude. Or, or be a burden.”
He could have responded with an anecdote from the Welsh valley pack, could have told her of waking up and finding one wolf farther away from the pack, crouched defensively in front of a terrified, wounded, brand new werewolf, and respecting the right and the duty of the biter to take care of his victim. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear though, and in the end he put on a smile and said, “It’s nice to have company.”
Elaine nodded approvingly.
He ended up staying to dinner again. The conversation was mostly on the topic of the Hogwarts curriculum, prompted by Hermione’s booklist and a conversation that Jim had had with a pureblood parent they had met while shopping.
“We do normally try to get her picking up some other classes over the summer,” Elaine said to Remus. “Science, mainly, but French as well. We were going to -”
But she cut herself off. Hermione caught this. “Mum? What were you going to do?”
Elaine and Jim shared a look, and then she said, “Well, we were going to take a holiday to France this summer. We know skiing’s not really your thing, so we thought visiting the South of France might be a better way for you to get some language practice in.”
“But there’s always next year!” said Jim. “And now it’s not a surprise any more, so I’ll expect you to brush up on your French before we go.”
“And I still want to introduce Latin at some point,” Elaine said. “Most of your spells seem to have Latin roots, it might even give you a headstart.”
Hermione grinned. “That would be fantastic. Can I buy some primers? I could take them to school with me.”
“Only if you’re sure you can manage,” said Jim. “Latin can wait, your schoolwork comes first.”
But though her tone was long-suffering, her eyes were alight with glee; nothing made Hermione happier than learning something new.
Before he left, Remus caught Elaine. “You could have mentioned on the phone that you and Jim had already decided to pay for the potion.”
She grimaced. “Yes. That was badly done of me, I’m sorry.”
He nodded. “And when she says she doesn’t want you there at the moon -”
“She’s trying to protect us, I know,” said Elaine. She sighed. “She was middle-aged before she hit her teens, but sometimes I just want to shake her and remind her that she’s not the parent in this relationship.”
It took Remus back to the day he had first come to the Grangers’: “I’m fourteen!” she had protested. And: “I can’t protect them yet.”
But she was a child, a child whose parents fed her cat when she couldn’t, who begged her mum for her favourite takeaway, who forgot her manners when she was excited. Remus, who had also been called mature as a child, wondered if maturity was actually a misnomer for quietness, studiousness. Merlin only knew the list of mistakes he had made as a fourteen year old: ill-considered pranks, arguments with his parents which caused them no end of stress, all the full moons where Prongs, Padfoot and Wormtail had barely kept Moony from attacking a wandering student. He had been a teenager like any other, albeit with a trunkload more trauma. Sirius had been the same, dealing with his home life. Harry, too, for that matter. Quiet and stubborn to the world at large, but a reckless teenage boy when it came to new excitements like the Marauder’s Map and a chance to visit Hogsmeade with his friends.
Children, all of them.
When he arrived home, he was met by a large snowy owl, who followed him in through his front door to the sitting room. He opened a window wide, but even after he had taken the letter, the owl remained.
“Who are you from then?” he murmured.
The letter was written on parchment, but folded, not rolled, and sealed with sellotape, not wax. He slit it open with his wand, and took a second to recognise the handwriting.
Dear Professor Lupin,
Thanks for the birthday card. It came with Hermione’s cake. Hope you’re doing alright.
Remus sat down. The card hadn’t been any longer, just a wish for a happy birthday. Harry’s response was both a tremendous disappointment, and more than Remus could ever have hoped for.
The owl - Hedwig, Remus now realised - perched on the arm of his chair and ruffled her feathers.
“I don’t have any treats,” he told her. “You may as well be off.”
She looked around the room, as if confused. After a minute, she hopped to the other arm of the chair and lowered herself to pluck up the letter where it laid on his lap. She dropped it again onto his knee.
“I’ve read it,” he muttered.
She hooted - almost directly into his ear - and finally flew out of the open window, leaving him with his letter.
He would write back, he told himself. Once he knew what to say.
A week or so later, Remus was back in Hogsmeade to pick up the next batch of Wolfsbane. He timed it again for five o’clock, and kept his head down as he made his way to the Apothecary.
Mr Geberus wasn’t in residence today. Behind the counter instead was a young East Asian girl, no more than twenty one, who was sorting what looked like offal - frog spleens or something else equally disgusting - taking advantage of the lack of customers so late in the day. Remus’s nostrils flared.
“Good afternoon,” he said.
The girl looked up. “Afternoon,” she replied. She had a strong Scottish accent; a native of the area. “What can I do for you?”
“I ordered two courses of Wolfsbane,” he said. “Remus Lupin.”
The girl froze, and a spleen fell from her fingers to splatter onto the counter. When she looked up at him, her eyes were wide and fearful. “Oh. Mr Geberus didn’t say - sorry, let me just go and collect it.”
She ripped off a thin pair of gloves and incinerated them with her wand before hurrying out to the back room. Remus waited patiently, and after a minute she emerged again with the packing crate full of potion in her arms.
“I have to record your details,” the girl said. “And two courses, isn’t it, so I need to know who the other one is.”
“Of course,” Remus agreed. “Would you like me to fill out the ledger?”
She set the crate down behind the till, out of Remus’s reach, before fetching the book. She placed it on the side of the counter, well away from the spleens and had already started to back away when Remus said, “Do you have a quill I could use?”
There was one sitting in an ink pot behind the counter. She looked at it, and then back to Remus, and then gave up and fetched it. She set it down next to the book and backed away.
“Thank you,” he said.
No one else had signed the ledger since Remus’s last visit. He filled the date out neatly and then scrawled their details in as before. When that was done, he closed the book, replaced the quill in the pot and stepped back. “Thank you,” he said again.
The girl nodded, and took the ledger away, replacing it with the crate. Remus hoisted it with some difficulty, hearing the dull clink of wrapped vials. He inclined his head to her politely and turned to leave.
“You won’t be teaching next year, will you.”
He turned back. “No, I won’t.”
“Because my sister’s still there,” the girl blurted. “The Ministry’s right, you know.”
There were only so many Scottish East Asian girls at Hogwarts; this was another Miss Chang, unless she was already married. No need to tell her he knew who she was, no need to alarm her. She had set her mouth in a stubborn, thin line, which made her look quite unlike her affable younger sister. Rather, she reminded him in that moment of Hermione, and the way she pressed her lips together when she was facing some perceived injustice.
“The Ministry?” he echoed.
“It was in the paper this morning,” she said. “You people can’t work with kids any more. And they’re right, you know.”
“I’m sure they are,” he responded. “Good day, miss.”
He needed a paper. Christ, he needed a paper.
He stepped out of the shop and meandered back down the high street towards the Three Broomsticks to Floo back to the Covered Market. Remus hadn’t spent much time in Oxford before this summer, and found the hidden shops of the Covered Market very convenient. They weren’t concealed by brick walls like Diagon Alley, but simply in shadows and very gentle Muggle-repelling charms. The post office served as a corner shop and general haberdashery, and behind the Market Office the broom hire shop also held the public Floo point. The final magical shop was far less practical: an independent jeweller who skirted the edge of the Statute of Secrecy by selling to wizards and Muggles alike - prices available on request only, and questions about provenance answered only in the vaguest of terms. As Remus walked, he wondered how on earth the proprietor filed her taxes, and amused himself by imagining that she simply duplicated her Muggle papers and submitted them to the Ministry, who would then be forced to some small understanding of the Muggle economy.
Madam Rosmerta was behind the bar at the Three Broomsticks as always, one or two patrons already at a table. “Remus,” she said, warmly enough. “What on earth are you doing up here?”
“Collecting a parcel,” he answered. “Rosmerta, do you have today’s Prophet?”
“I must do somewhere.” But she rifled through a pile of magazines without success. “Someone must have taken it. Why, what is it? Not Sirius Black, surely that would have been on the front page?”
“No, something about - well, it’s not important, I’ll grab a copy on my way home,” he said. “Mind if I use your fireplace?”
“Oh, of course, dear.”
It took the better part of an hour to walk from central Oxford out to Windmill Road, and Remus spent most of it counting: footsteps, chewing gum on the pavement, red cars. When he ran out of things to count, he started humming tunelessly, challenging himself to remember the words to the hymns he had sung in Sunday school decades ago: All Things Bright and Beautiful… Be Bold, Be Strong…
The Grangers would have the Prophet, wouldn’t they? Elaine had told him they had a subscription.
Over these few weeks, Remus had become something of a frequent dinner guest at the Grangers’. He was there at least once a week, nominally with some new topic to discuss, but more often because Jim or Elaine had casually invited him to stay for dinner after he accompanied Hermione to an appointment or some other flimsy excuse. He couldn’t help but be grateful; his food budget had reduced to next to nil.
It wasn’t just food he was taking advantage of, though. Friendship, intelligent debate, a connection to the rest of the world. Remus did not take the Prophet, and worked wherever possible by correspondence only, as it made occasional illnesses less noticeable; he found it quite easy to go months at a time speaking only to the cashiers at Asda, and even easier to lose track entirely of current affairs. It had been like that since Albus had first sent him to live with a wolf pack; he had never quite reintegrated with human society.
Of course the Grangers would have the Prophet.
By the time he reached their front door, his shoulders were aching from carrying the crate of potion, and he had bitten all the dead skin off his lips.
Hermione must have seen him coming from an upstairs window, because she opened the door before he had to set the crate down to knock. She had the newspaper in her hand.
“Come in, come in,” she said, and guided him into the sitting room to set the potions down on the coffee table. He had barely accomplished that before she was asking, “Have you heard?”
“I haven’t seen the Prophet yet,” he replied. “How bad is it?”
She had clearly been anticipating the question - she handed the paper over. “No jobs with access to children, unless the parent of every child affected signs a waiver.”
“Access to? Not care of, responsibility for…?”
“Access to,” she confirmed.
He stopped there in the hallway to read the whole article, which was only a few paragraphs on the fourth page. Hermione watched him silently.
“It’s everything public facing, isn’t it?” she said.
“Worse than that,” Remus murmured. “Any employer could use that as a technical excuse not to employ a werewolf, unless they specifically have regulations to say that children aren’t allowed on the premises, and most wouldn’t.”
“They haven’t specified magical children, either,” Hermione pointed out. “And you can’t ask a Muggle parent to sign a waiver without breaking the Statute of Secrecy.”
“Paper rounds, delivery driving, even fruit picking on the basis that children might come scrumping for apples.”
“Remus,” Hermione said. It was the first time she’d managed to say his name without stuttering over it. “You’re shaking.”
The pages of the Prophet were indeed trembling as he folded the paper back up. “I’m so sorry, Hermione.”
She shook her head once. “What? You didn’t write this law.”
“It’s been passed because of me, though. Even if they don’t know I bit you, the scandal that a werewolf had been teaching at Hogwarts would have done it. And now-”
“Hey,” she interrupted. “Worry about me later. I’ve still got four years at school.”
Four whole years. Only four years. Remus tightened his grip on the paper, and felt it tear.
“I’m more worried about you,” she said. “What about your job at the Bodleian? What will Marjorie do?”
“I don’t know,” he said hoarsely. “She already knows, and she knows about you too…”
He trailed off, swallowing hard. Hermione took the paper from him.
“Come on,” she said gently. “Let’s take our potion, and then Dad’s made curry for dinner. Have you had a west African curry before?”
He hadn’t, and was surprised by the small bowls of fresh cucumber, tomatoes, tinned pineapple, hard-boiled eggs, and peanuts which were there to be added to one’s plate. “Elaine thought I’d served pudding with the main course the first time I made this for her,” Jim told him, and Remus tried to smile.
They ate at the kitchen table as they normally did, Hermione opposite Remus, and Elaine opposite Jim. Hermione was wearing a summer dress again, and this one only had strappy sleeves, leaving her bite clearly visible. Remus had never before had cause to know the exact shape of his jaws. He had been careful not to look too closely the morning after the full moon.
Hermione was subdued too, not chatting away as she normally would. She ate mechanically, making the most of a meal which didn’t require both knife and fork, and she kept stealing glances at Remus, just as he did at her.
“I had a patient today - worst fear of needles I have ever seen,” Jim was saying. “Bless the boy. Early twenties, I had to show him my hands every time I went near him so he knew I had no needles, but you know the strangest thing?”
“Hm?” Elaine prompted.
“He had the most amazing tattoo on his forearm.” He set down his fork to demonstrate on his own skin. “It was a design of a guitar neck, but it looked like his skin had been peeled back to show it, like they’d taken a scalpel in one long line down the centre and pulled it back so the guitar could be seen underneath. Fantastic art, I will say, but he can’t have had it done in one session. And yet he was terrified of needles.”
“Sign of the times,” said Elaine. “Perhaps he knows someone who shared needles.”
“Possible,” said Jim. “I didn’t ask.”
“Of course not.”
They lapsed into silence. Remus scooped up a forkful of rice.
“How’s your homework coming along, Hermione?” Jim asked. “You were working on your maths this morning.”
“Fine,” Hermione said shortly.
Elaine’s fork clattered to her bowl. “Right, that’s it. Shall we talk about the elephant in the room?”
“Elaine,” Jim said quietly.
“No, we’re clearly not going to be thinking about anything else. Hermione, summarise the new law for us.”
Hermione sat up straighter. She glanced at Remus before speaking directly to her mother. “Sufferers of lycanthropy are no longer permitted to gain employment in positions where they may have access to children, unless the parent or guardian of every child potentially affected gives their informed, written consent. Those already in such positions must seek such parental consent, or risk their employment being terminated at the discretion of the employer.”
Almost verbatim from the article in the Prophet. Elaine nodded approvingly. “Now, let’s look on the bright side. Who doesn’t this affect?”
She had to think about that one, but this was Hermione and of course she had an answer. “Anyone already in employment where there’s no potential access to children. Or anyone with a sympathetic employer who won’t fire them outright.”
“The self-employed,” Jim added. “If you’ve got control over your own premises or conduct your business entirely through the post, it becomes a non-issue.”
“Unless you’re self-employed in a child-focused role,” Elaine batted back. “Tutors, childminders and the like.”
“Is that statistically likely?” Jim asked.
Remus cleared his throat. “Statistically? Impossible to say, we don’t have sufficient data on werewolf populations. Practically? No. As a broad generalisation, werewolves are generally undereducated, and according to prevailing social attitudes wouldn’t normally be trusted around children anyway, in case of…”
He trailed off, and there was a moment of quiet before Hermione finished his sentence quietly: “Situations like ours.”
Remus nodded. “Precisely.”
Jim was chewing this over. He spoke slowly. “You’ve got a self-perpetuating cycle there,” he said. “Prejudice informing the law, which in turn informs public prejudice. And I don’t suppose there’s a public figure who might be willing to speak out against? Any high-ranking politician, or celebrity...”
“I think it’s more like high society than celebrity for wizards,” Hermione said. “And the really high society people are usually purebloods, and they’re usually conservative.”
“Well, look at Princess Diana,” Elaine pointed out. “She’s a royal, should be conservative as you get, and she’s still visiting hospitals.”
“What about your headmaster?” asked Jim, but then he grimaced and answered his own question: “Although perhaps not now, given…”
“Our situation,” Remus finished. “It had occurred to me that the most influential figure who would be sympathetic would probably be Harry.”
But Hermione was wincing and looking down. “He hates being the Boy Who Lived,” she said. “I wouldn’t… I don’t know if I could ask him for that.”
“Well not now,” said Elaine. “He’s still a child. But worth keeping in mind for the future.”
Hermione didn’t argue with that, but she was chewing on her lower lip.
“So we don’t have the resources for direct counteraction,” Jim noted. “Is there anything that can be done in terms of mitigation?”
“But you haven’t considered the full effects of this yet,” Remus pointed out. “Unemployment, reporting - that’s only the surface. The beginning.”
“The beginning,” Jim echoed.
Remus nodded. His throat was tight; he had to clear it again. And again. “I’m sorry,” he said. His voice was hoarse. “I’m not sure I can debate this dispassionately.”
“Hey, I’m not sure my daughter can debate anything dispassionately,” Jim joked.
“Dad,” Hermione protested.
“My main concern,” Remus said, forcing the words out, “is the precedent.”
Elaine’s gaze was every bit as piercing as Albus Dumbledore’s. She had pushed her own bowl away. “The precedent?”
But before Remus could answer, Hermione had it: “Access to children,” she said. “Now it’s in the workplace. But what about in public places?”
“Or private dwellings,” Remus pointed out.
“Parental rights,” Jim said softly.
There was a familiar anger in Hermione’s expression; she was indignant. “But that would imply - surely you can’t legislate against people having children. Although I suppose - But surely not today! That’s barbaric!”
Remus looked down at his half-eaten curry. Perhaps she was simply too young for the horror that was tightening around his lungs, the despair that was settling low in his belly. Her frustration was grating on him.
“The thing is, Hermione, I’ve never met a werewolf parent,” he said. “It’s not… I’m not sure if it’s even biologically possible.”
He looked back up at her face, and no, she wasn’t too young for horror. Her eyes were wide and she had her right hand pressed to her mouth. She blinked furiously, and then the emotion passed, and she was analytical again.
“Of course,” she said. “With the change… But surely for fathers?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
And it was all theoretical, of course it was. Remus had never made a decision not to have children, because the idea was so patently atrocious as to need no consideration at all. But still, his throat was closing up again.
“But that’s almost beside the point,” he continued, pushing the words out. “Given the lack of werewolf parents anyway, if you take away their ability to provide for themselves, let alone any dependents… It’s almost just finishing the job off. Hermione, there’s a reason I wasn’t named Harry’s godfather.”
“I didn’t realise you were that close to his family,” said Jim.
Both Remus and Hermione started at that. Jim and Elaine were watching with curiosity; he had lied to them about this, the very first time he entered their house.
“His parents were my best friends,” Remus said. “I… wasn’t allowed to keep in touch with him after they died. And I was in no position to insist.”
There was silence for a moment, and then Elaine said, “I see.”
Remus felt himself curl down with shame. He hadn’t spent enough time with Harry as a baby, always away with the Order, with the werewolves, even just with work. When everyone else was dead or gone, he hadn’t been there to step in. And even now, a decade later, he had yet to respond to the only letter he had ever received from the child who might have been his godson.
“Well, that certainly puts things into perspective,” Elaine continued. “But… if I can take the conversation back slightly. I take it Jim and I needn’t plan for… for grandchildren.”
All he could say was, “I’m sorry.” And, “I should never have taken the Defence job.”
She didn’t deny it.
Remus got to his feet. His chair slid smoothly on the linoleum; it should have scraped loudly, should have scratched the floor and left an indelible mark. “I should-”
“No, wait,” said Hermione. She was standing too. “Remus. We already decided it’s not your fault. It was - oh, it could have happened any other night of the month, or we could have made different decisions - if I’d just gone a different way back through the castle...”
“No, don’t say - Hermione, it can’t be your fault that I…”
“That’s not what I’m saying!” she retorted. “I’m just - don’t just leave. We’re in this situation now, that’s done. Please, just…”
But her eyes were shining and her voice was shaking; she turned to her father, who stood to put an arm around her.
“I think we should take a step back,” he said. “Is anyone going to finish their food?”
Hermione shook her head. Elaine pushed her chair back and started collecting plates off the table.
“Save it for lunch tomorrow,” Jim suggested. “Now, Hermione, why don’t you go up to your room for a bit, hm? Find Crookshanks, I’ll be up in a minute.”
But that had Hermione up in arms. “Stop sending me out the room!” she protested. “I’m not a child, Dad -”
“No, but you’re not an adult either,” interrupted Jim. “We’re not hiding things from you, sweetheart, we’re just trying to make our guest comfortable. Now, go on.”
The fight went out of her at that; she almost visibly deflated. “I’m sorry,” she said.
Remus couldn’t speak. He shook his head, and offered her a small smile. She hesitated a moment longer in the doorway, and then left, closing the door behind her. He let out a long, shaky breath.
Jim reached forward, slowly, letting his hand hover for a moment before setting it down on top of Remus’ shoulder. “I’m sorry we pushed.”
Remus shook his head.
Jim looked up at the back of Elaine’s head. “I’ll go and check on Hermione. You take a seat again. Take some time, hm?”
He withdrew his hand and left, following his daughter. Remus stood in the kitchen, stock still, until he heard a bowl fall onto the countertop, and Elaine swear.
He turned. She hadn’t loaded the dishwasher but instead piled the dishes next to the sink, which she was filling with hot water. She grabbed the bottle of fairy liquid and upended it, only small bubbles emerging as the liquid slowly flowed from the bottom to the top, patient, inexorable. Elaine squeezed it forcefully, hurrying it along.
He approached with careful steps, silent, but she didn’t look up. She seized a handful of cutlery and dropped it into the sink, then took up one of the bowls and stuck it under the spray of hot water. Her white skin was reddening, but she held it there, and held it there, until the sink was full and she could plunge her whole hand in to submerge the bowl. Just as quickly she withdrew it again, remembering: she hadn’t removed her wedding ring, and pulled it off now, placing it on the windowsill above the sink.
“Pass me a brillo,” she said.
There was a pack of six on the counter behind the draining board; Remus took one out and handed it to her. For a moment they were both quiet, and then a small sound made them both look up at the ceiling.
Hermione was crying.
“I’m so sorry,” said Remus.
“But it’s not your fault!” Elaine bit out. “God, I wish it were. I wish you were a monster who had set out to prey on my daughter, but you’re not, and you didn’t, and it’s-”
She grabbed another bowl and plunged it into the soapy water, splashing her silk blouse. “Shit,” she muttered. “Ignore me. It’s just - it’s my daughter, Remus. God, it’s Hermione.”
She didn’t dissolve as Hermione would have done, as Hermione had. She coughed to clear her throat, and then picked up the brillo pad, scraping at smears of sauce which came away with the slightest of touches. Remus took a tea towel and started drying. Together, they washed up everything from the table, and the pots from atop the stove, listening to Hermione cry and Jim comfort her, and only once there was nothing left to clean did Elaine speak again.
“Hermione’s right about one thing,” she said. “It won’t do anyone any good if you disappear now. Least of all you.”
“But it’s your family,” he argued.
“And you don’t bloody well have one. Don’t make me say things like that out loud.”
She opened a cupboard and started putting the saucepans away. Remus took the cutlery back to the drawer beneath the kettle and for a minute there was only the chink of metal and the clatter of pots.
“I’m an adult,” Remus said eventually. “I’m not your responsibility, and I have never wanted charity.”
Elaine turned on her heel to face him. “And does that make you better than the people who do accept it? More dignified, more respectable?”
He looked down, and she shook her head. “That’s not the point anyway. The point is that whatever happens, Remus, we’re not going to let you starve.”
“I can’t accept-”
“Oh, be quiet,” she snapped. “I’m not saying we’re going to give you envelopes of cash. But I’ll bet you’ve never applied for income support, have you? We can help you do that, whether or not the Bodleian let you work there. We can help you apply for Muggle jobs if we can find suitable ones.”
“And we can keep inviting you round for dinner,” Jim said.
He was leaning in the doorway, watching them. “Listen, Remus. I have faith that if Elaine and I weren’t in the picture, Hermione would find support from friends, or acquaintances, or even a kindly stranger. I have to have faith in that. But faith alone won’t make the change, will it? We are all God’s instruments. If we don’t help you now, why should I believe that anyone would do the same for my daughter?”
The overt Christianity made Remus shift, uncomfortable; Jim noticed.
“Ah, don’t listen to me,” he said. “Come and say goodbye to Hermione, and we’ll see you again tomorrow, yes?”
Remus followed him up the stairs. The landing was small, just a corridor leading to closed doors, although lined with bookshelves. These were less decorative than the ones downstairs and apparently arranged by category rather than author, with scruffy children’s books at waist height, and large photo albums numbered in black marker pen lining the bottom shelves.
Hermione’s door was ajar. Jim knocked. “Hermione? I’ve brought Remus up to say goodbye, okay?”
“Come in,” she called, her voice thin.
Remus’s first impression of Hermione’s bedroom was that it looked too young for her. The walls were primrose yellow, and hung with framed illustrations from children’s books: a Quentin Blake illustration of what must be a Roald Dahl character, a small girl sat on a stack of books, Tenniel’s original Alice in Wonderland, and one whose style he didn’t recognise, of three girls standing together, their right hands joined and raised as if making a vow. The bed, although neatly made, was covered in a checked blue quilt and was home to a well-loved teddy bear sitting placidly at its foot. Still more bookcases in here, but what Remus could pick out at a glance again seemed skewed towards a child rather than a young woman - the Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables and its sequels, all with creases down their spines. There was a piece of furniture which might originally have been a dressing table but had clearly been repurposed as a desk, with a stack of notebooks, a pot of pens, and two long quills set atop it, in perfect parallel lines.
Hermione was cross-legged on the bed, with Crookshanks purring loudly in her lap. He regarded the intruders with a considering look and then leapt down from the bed to wend his way around Remus’ ankles, still purring. This job accomplished, he returned to the bed, padding to a spot in the front of the teddy bear and curling up in a depression which perfectly matched his shape. Hermione reached out a hand and rested it on the back of his neck.
“You’re not actually leaving?” she said to Remus.
“Just for today,” he said. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
She nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said.
He sighed. “You have nothing to be sorry for, Hermione. You and your parents - you’re doing far too much for me.”
Jim tsked from the doorway. “Fine, we’ll have that discussion again later. I’ll be downstairs.”
Remus took the cue and came further into Hermione’s room. “May I?” he said, gesturing at the desk chair. She nodded, so he sat, and found he had no idea what to say next. “Where’s that one from?” he asked, pointing to the illustration of the three girls.
She twisted around to look. “Oh, that’s from Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild. It’s about three adopted sisters who want to get their name into the history books. The oldest becomes a Hollywood actress, the youngest goes to study ballet, and the middle one, Petrova - well, at the end of the book she’s planning to become a pilot.”
“Was she your favourite?”
Hermione shrugged. “Not at first. The actress, Pauline, she’s better than Petrova at English, she does a lot of Shakespeare. I’ve always liked books. It took longer for me to appreciate maths and science in the same way.”
“What do you want to do?” Remus asked. “For a career, I mean.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I thought about being a doctor, or a Healer, but I’m not that good with people, really. Same with teaching. Really, I’d like to be one of those students who stay in academia forever, but then you need funding and grants and all of that, and I don’t know enough about it. I wouldn’t even know what area I’d be researching yet.”
She sighed, and scratched between Crookshanks’ shoulderblades. He chirped affably, but gave no other indication that he was about to move any time soon.
“Anyway. It’s all… You Know Who’s out there. You know that, don’t you? And he’s going to keep coming for Harry. So even if you or I were free to get whatever job we wanted… Well, either we’re going to be busy, or we’ll be - well. Dead.”
Remus raised an eyebrow. “A little frank, but true.”
That made her smile briefly, but the expression faded. “Professor - Remus. I know I’m not a friend you expected to make, I’m just another student. But we are friends now, aren’t we? And Mum and Dad, too. You know that really.”
He nodded. What else could he do?
“Please don’t disappear,” she said, uncrossing her legs and leaning forward. “You haven’t been allowed to stay before. With Harry. But you can, with us.”
He cleared his throat. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Hermione.”
She smiled. So young. “See you tomorrow.”
Hermione woke up the next morning with a headache. Her eyes were puffy and her brain felt fuzzy; dehydration, and crying too much. The stairs felt insurmountable, but she managed to tumble down them, loosening her joints and letting gravity do the work that her muscles refused.
She achieved the kitchen, and managed to fill a glass with water. She slumped against the counter to drink it, feeling the pressure build against her hip bone like a bruise, but feeling too tired to do anything about it. Her mum found her like that, an empty glass hanging loose in her fingers.
“Well, first, why don’t you put that in the dishwasher,” she said.
She had to set the glass on the counter to open the dishwasher door, but she did it.
“Do you want to talk?” said Mum.
“No, it’s okay,” she said. “I think we all talked it out yesterday.”
Her mother nodded. “Do you have plans for the rest of the day?”
Hermione shook her head.
“Well then, let’s keep you busy. I didn’t get the dusting done at the weekend, do you think you can do downstairs and your room? And there’s always washing to do.”
Mum looked at her for a few seconds, and then smiled softly. “Make sure you eat today, alright?”
Hermione stepped forward and hugged her. They stayed like that for a few seconds, and then Mum stepped back.
“I’ve got to get to work, sweetheart. I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Her dad must have left already; Hermione could tell even without a spell that there was no one else in the house. She ate a bowl of cornflakes, then headed upstairs for a shower. It had been a while; she should wash her hair.
Hermione’s hair wasn’t easy to wrangle, not for her white mother and not for her black grandmother, not quite nappy enough for twists, not quite smooth enough to straighten. Taming Hermione’s hair took hours, either braiding or relaxing it, and everyone had given up making Hermione sit through that very early on. She wore her natural hair not quite with pride, but certainly with defiance, and managed it in her own minimalistic way. She combed it wet, and let it air dry when she could. In the winter, though, she used her mum’s hair dryer, with a diffuser so as not to tangle her curls too much. As a friendless first year at Hogwarts, she’d been snapped at more than once by older students who found a wet patch on the back of an armchair until Lavender Brown took pity on her and taught her the spell to dry her hair.
The following week, Hermione had swallowed her pride and asked where she was supposed to obtain sanitary products at Hogwarts.
Lavender had only tittered at such a question, but the gossip channels had done their work, and a couple of days later, the fifth year female prefect took her to one side and taught her the spells to reinforce her underwear so the blood vanished as it hit the fabric. The spells needed redoing every month, but it was a lot easier than dealing with pads and tampons. At some point in her second year, her periods had settled into a regular cycle of twenty nine to thirty one days, which had made life easier yet again. She put red dots in her diary to mark out day thirty.
She was currently on day fifty eight.
There may not have been any formal research into werewolf reproduction, but Hermione could theorise just as well as anyone: either the anaemia or the remaking of her womb every month could stop her bleeding.
Hermione had never thought much about children. It seemed like the sensible, responsible thing to do with her life, to build a career and a family, but both of those were fuzzy ideas at this stage: a silhouette in the place of a husband, the vague image of an office. She certainly hadn’t thought about the physicality of becoming a mother, but she took the time to think of it now. She looked at herself in the mirror as she stepped out of the shower, and imagined herself older, imagined a rounded belly and the way her centre of balance would shift to deal with it. She closed her eyes and thought of an ache in her lower back, and a weight on her bladder, all these things which she knew happened when one was pregnant thanks to the complaints of aunts and cousins.
She imagined a baby in her arms, with a soft downy head, hot skin under her fingertips. She imagined hugging a small child to her, kneeling down to meet it as it ran towards her.
She thought of Lily Potter. How strange to think of her best friend as a baby, but she thought of Lily Potter holding a small child, and then she imagined the room around her: a homely, friendly place, a kitchen with brightly coloured walls and the sort of old-fashioned kettle that sits on the stove rather than plugging into the wall. She imagined Lily sitting at a wooden table with one leg slightly shorter than the other three, to match the slightly uneven flagstones. Goodness only knew if the Potters had really had a kitchen like that, and Hermione would never have lived in such a place herself, but it seemed to fit with the image she was building.
She pictured James Potter: Harry, but older, taller, with different glasses and brown eyes rather than green. She tried to picture Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew, but couldn’t: she had only met them once, and they were both so ravaged by the lives they had lived that she couldn’t imagine them being young.
So she imagined Lily passing the baby to Remus. In her mind, she lightened his hair and removed the grey, and lessened the perpetual bags under his eyes, until she felt she had a reasonable picture of how he might have looked at twenty, and then she gave him Harry. She could just imagine him smiling gently at the baby, a bit tentative, a bit unsure, but so happy. She could imagine him playing peek-a-boo, or lifting the baby above his head.
And if it hadn’t all gone wrong...
Well then. Unless they all died in another war, she knew there was no way Harry or Ron would keep her from their children. She would be aunt to Potters and Weasleys, and that was that. She opened her eyes, and went to fetch a comb.
When Remus arrived that evening, he was holding a letter, and his eyes were downcast.
“You haven’t got the job any more,” Hermione said.
He offered her the letter rather than answer. She led the way into the sitting room, reading as she walked.
Dear Mr Lupin,
It is with regret that I must withdraw the Bodleian’s offer of a position at the Library. As you have not yet signed your formal contract, one must presume that the recent Lycanthropy Workplace Act applies and that you are no longer permitted to sign such a document.
I plan to tell the main office that you received a better offer, so that in the event of the Act being revoked they will not look unkindly on a new application.
You are welcome as a reader at the Bodleian, and I plan on telling Miss Granger the same the next time I see her.
Hermione folded the letter back up, sharpening its creases with her fingernails. “I’m sorry,” she said, for lack of anything better.
He nodded, and took the letter back, tucking it into a pocket.
Hermione felt dangerously like crying and swallowed twice to stop herself. “Come on,” she said. “I helped with dinner today.”
“That sounds dangerous,” he said. His voice was lower than normal, rougher, but he smiled slightly. “Should I save the Wolfsbane for after?”
She scoffed, and for the rest of dinner they spoke of little more than dentistry and household chores.
Remus was in the kitchen when the fireplace sprang to life a few days later, preparing a large pot of leek and potato soup which would keep while he lacked the energy to make anything else. He reduced the flames to a very low simmer, and covered the old battered pot with an unmatching lid, before heading out to the living room. Hermione was dusting herself down.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m not early, am I?”
“Only slightly,” he replied. “I’d have been surprised if you weren’t.”
She had a clutching grip on her bag, and she stood with her feet very close together. She looked very young.
“Come in and have a cup of tea,” he said.
He made her the tea, but she only managed a few sips before it went cold. She was chewing on her lower lip.
Remus tried to smile, and probably failed. “Hermione, you know you can get through this.”
“Yes, but I know how much it’s going to hurt this time,” she retorted.
He sighed. “I know. But you can do this.”
She ran her thumb around the rim of her cold mug of tea. “I wish Crookshanks was here,” she said.
“It’s alright,” he said, but that was an outright lie, and she didn’t bother responding to it.
The light through the kitchen window was golden, and lowering. Hermione’s hair lightened from near-black to dark copper as sunset approached. She tangled the fingers of her right hand in it and pulled, holding the curls taut and straight. Remus thought about taking hold of her wrist and stopping her, but instead just cleared his throat.
“We should get ready,” he said.
Hermione nodded, and unwound the hair from around her fingers. “I’m getting fully undressed this month,” she declared. “I’ll just - step into the hallway or something.”
“You stay down here,” Remus offered. “I’ll go upstairs, change in my bedroom.” But he paused. “Are you sure you’re okay, on your own?”
She hesitated. Remus waited.
“Yes,” she said eventually. “I think.”
“So you’re not sure,” he pointed out.
She pushed her mug away in a sharp, angry movement. “I should be,” she said.
Another day of the month, he might have smiled at that, but tonight he sighed, impatient. “Hermione, it’s only your second transformation. Just tell me how you want to do this.”
The tension of the approaching sunset was buzzing in both of their veins; Hermione scowled. “It’s a choice between being alone while this terrifying thing happens to my body or being naked in front of my Defence teacher.”
That sentence hung in the air for a moment. Hermione was trembling. Remus wanted to hit himself.
“I’ll conjure some sheets. I’ll go upstairs to undress, leave you to do the same in the sitting room, and then we can both be in there for the change, but covered up. Okay?”
She subsided all at once. “Yes. Thank you.”
He conjured two large white sheets and handed one to her; they wouldn’t last more than a day or so but they didn’t need to.
“I’ll just… be upstairs.”
By the time he came back into the lounge, knocking first, Hermione was sitting cross legged on the floor in front of the armchair. Atop it, she had laid out tomorrow’s outfit - a cotton dress, folded down presumably to cover her underwear. She had wrapped the sheet round her like a towel, tucking it into itself under her arm, leaving her shoulders bare.
“Alright?” he asked.
She pressed her lips together, but nodded. Remus went over to the window to check the position of the sun.
“About quarter of an hour, I think.”
He settled opposite her, kneeling at the other end of the room. The last time he had managed to sit cross-legged had been some twenty years ago. She was breathing deep and steady through her nose, and he could see the movement of her throat as she swallowed, once, twice.
“What do I do?” she asked.
“I don’t -”
“I mean, how do I make this easier? I didn’t ask last month. How do I - do I sit, or stand, or -”
“All fours,” he answered. “Keep your mouth open, helps not to bite your tongue. And try to relax.”
She huffed in disbelief.
“I know, easier said than done. Focus on it, on your muscles. It does help.”
She nodded, and closed her eyes, just breathing. Her toes were peeking out from the bottom of the sheet; they twitched.
“Tell me a story,” she said.
He looked up at her. Her eyes were open again, boring into his. “About what?”
“You,” she said. “You know my parents, you know my friends. Tell me something about you.”
Any further from the moon and he might not have said, “You know my parents and most of my friends are dead.”
“I know,” she said evenly, and waited. Her toes twitched again.
He considered her, and then said, “One of the best jobs I ever had was working in a fried chicken shop.”
Hermione blinked. “Really?”
He smiled at her surprise. “Oh, it was hard work, I came home with aching feet every day, and customers can be… challenging. But the people working there were fantastic. At least two of them were working with expired visas, one was a fourteen year old who was working far too many hours for her age… at one stage, I think I was the most legal employee they had. And when you’ve got a bunch of people like that all together, everyone relaxes a bit. There was one woman, Chloe, who told everyone quite happily that she’d been in jail last year for stabbing her boyfriend with a kitchen knife.”
Hermione stared at him, and he knew he was grinning properly now.
“We never asked if it was true. I think we all assumed that if it was, he deserved it. Chloe was assistant manager by the time I left, called all the student workers ‘treacle’ and never took the customer’s side. Everyone loved her. Then there was Vadim, he was the manager. Bit strict, wouldn’t let you clock in early or out late, even if you needed the extra time to open or close, wouldn’t let you stop working for more than ten seconds at a time. Patronising, too. But he was always singing, whatever was in the charts, and he never got the words right. Not that I would know, I wasn’t really listening to Muggle music at the time, but the others used to correct him, constantly, and he would just sniff and tell us that his version was better.”
“When was this?” Hermione asked.
Remus tilted his head. “Not long after the war ended. Eighty two, eighty three? It was probably that job that got me back into the world, really. I’ve worked in all sorts of jobs since then, tutoring, fruit picking, office jobs, anything I could find. But I think that chicken shop was probably the most fun.”
The sun was nearly set now. He didn’t need to check the window for that: the hairs on his arms and legs were prickling, starting to stand up.
Hermione knew it too. She shifted, moving from her cross-legged position to kneel.
“Okay,” she breathed. “Okay.”
And then it began.
Around two hundred miles away, Elaine was pouring herself a large glass of pinot grigio.
“Sunset,” Jim noted.
“I know,” she snapped.
Muggle kitchens were never silent. The dishwasher was churning; the fridge hummed as she put away the wine.
“Wish you hadn’t got those bloody books,” she said.
Those bloody books had been bought while Hermione was choosing dress robes and delivered to Elaine’s private clinic. The titles had been taken from the pile of notes that Hermione had left on the sitting room table when she’d first been doing her research, and added to with advice from Remus. Elaine and Jim could not walk into magical libraries; they could not enter Diagon Alley without their daughter; they could not Floo or Apparate to other magical shopping districts. They could, however, go behind their daughter’s back to try and find out what she was hiding from them.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them they had taken from Hermione’s trunk, but it was brief and had no bibliography, Newt Scamander having done all of his research first hand. Hairy Snout, Human Heart had been a good start, but Elaine and Jim were healthcare workers, not sociologists. No, the books which had provided them with the information that they were missing were grimmaries. Bestiaries. Detailed descriptions of “the curse”, of “victims”, from horrified bystanders who had watched in terror as normal-looking people were twisted and contorted into slavering beasts.
Intrepid explorers related the bone-chilling fear induced as a human scream became a wolf’s anguished howl. The braver amongst them described the converse, hearing a tortured howl become an agonised scream, and finding a man - usually a man - sprawled naked on a forest floor with blood on his jaws and yawning wounds on his body.
Elaine and Jim knew what Wolfsbane was, what it did. A very dry potions compendium detailed its effects, ingredients, some of the brewing instructions, with a note that the full recipe was still under patent. Nowhere in the entry did it mention any sort of analgesic effect.
They settled in the sitting room. Jim put on a VHS of a ballet, and they pretended to watch it. It was a hot August evening, and the heat had settled on the town like a dusty blanket. The window was open. Two doors down, a barbecue was ongoing. Someone had wired up some outdoor speakers to the hi-fi, and Bob Marley was playing.
“North Wales, he lives,” said Elaine. “We can’t even drive to pick her up, what with work.”
Jim considered. “Well, we can plan ahead next summer. Or Christmas - ach, we need a moon calendar. If we take the days as annual leave…”
“If she wants us to,” Elaine interrupted. “The Floo is quicker. A long car journey probably won’t help her joints at all.”
The ballet finished. They switched over to the news - the Labour party’s new leader was doing well in the polls - and then went to bed. The old familiar routine of brushing teeth, flossing, Elaine brushing her hair. Slippers left beside the bed. It could have been any night during the school year.
It was Jim who couldn’t sleep. Elaine was snoring - she always did when she drank, no matter how little - and Crookshanks was uneasy, padding around the hallway and occasionally scratching at the door to be let in. Some time past midnight, Jim gave up, edging out of the bed. He scooped Crookshanks up before he could run in and wake Elaine, and they went downstairs, into the kitchen.
Moonlight had leached the room of colour. In shades of silver, Jim set Crookshanks down and stepped towards the patio doors. Too loud to open. Carefully, he took out one of the chairs from under the table, and sat, looking up.
He couldn’t say how long he stared at the moon. He prayed for a while, until it occurred to him that Hermione would never again see a full moon with human eyes. That was - distracting. The societal challenges, the physical struggle - that was an ongoing, endless battle, but to never see the full moon again, that was spiritual.
He went back to bed around four and surprised himself by sleeping through the sunrise. The alarm went off at half six as it did on days when he had to open the Luther Street clinic first thing. He made toast with Marmite, leaving the jar on the counter for Elaine, who always took longer in the shower. He left a bowl of cat food out for Crookshanks, who had disappeared at some point. No doubt he would show up just as Hermione did.
The house stood empty for most of the day. Elaine left a load of washing on before she left, and the machine churned through its programme, rattling through the spin cycle, making the kitchen floor vibrate until it slowed to a smooth stop. Unbeknownst to the Grangers, a couple of squirrels had taken up residence in their attic, and for a while they were the loudest things around, skittering and chittering in the rafters. The shower hose dripped, slower and slower until it ran dry. And under it all, the low thrum of electricity that runs through any Muggle house, background noise to -
The phone. They had three: one in the sitting room, one in the kitchen, and one in Elaine and Jim’s bedroom. They all rang at different speeds and with different tones, and all of them rang out after four rings. Hello, this is the Granger household. I’m afraid we can’t take your call at the moment, so please leave your name - click.
(Two hundred miles away, Remus was asleep, and Hermione had known that her parents would be at work but still couldn’t resist trying.)
Another three hours passed. Traffic picked up outside as people returned from work. It started to rain, straight down, no breeze, and the attic insulation was good enough that the sound of the raindrops hitting the roof was blurred and dulled into a single continuous noise. The temperature dropped and the thermostat clicked on. The boiler moaned as it awoke. The wooden floors creaked as the pipes below them flowed with hot water.
The bang of a car door. The crunch of a key in the lock, and the click as it turned. The door hadn’t yet closed when the phones rang again: one ring, two, three -
“Oxford 299123, hello?”
“Hi, mum,” said Hermione. “Would you be able to come and get me from the High Street? I’ll Floo back to the Covered Market.”
Elaine closed her eyes and thanked Christ she had the car. She wasn’t religious, not like Jim, but it was hardly taking the name in vain if she was genuinely thankful. “Absolutely, sweetheart. Give me half an hour.”
A tiny owl flew directly into Hermione’s window the following Friday morning. He left quite a distinct outline on the double glazing, and Hermione reflected that window cleaning was definitely easier with magic.
She opened the window, expecting to see a concussed pile of feathers down on the patio, but the little owl whipped straight past her and landed on her desk, knocking over a pile of books and then sticking out its leg to proffer its letter.
“Where are you from then?” she asked. “You’re definitely not a post office owl.”
The answer was Ron. Hermione sat on her bed to read.
This is Pigwidgeon, or Pig. Ginny named him. Harry’s godfather sent him to me with a letter for Harry, said it was because it was his fault I didn’t have a rat any more. He’s faster than Errol but he’s mad.
But anyway, Dad got ten tickets to the Quidditch World Cup final last minute through work and mum doesn’t want to come, so there’s two tickets spare, so I’m inviting you and Harry, except mum’s writing to his aunt and uncle by Muggle post first just in case.
Ron’s writing was atrocious as ever. She ran through the arithmetic in her head: ten minus two for her and Harry left eight Weasleys. She read on.
I thought you’d probably like the culture side of it even if you don’t really like Quidditch, he explained, showing a remarkable amount of insight. I did ask everyone else if they had people to invite, but they’ve all already got tickets or don’t like Quidditch.
You can come over tomorrow and stay the rest of the summer if you want, we’re getting Harry on Sunday.
And below his signature:
PS. I checked the calendar, full moon isn’t til we’re back at school.
That much was true: staying at the Burrow for the last week of the hols was easily doable if she could manage her pain, but Hermione still hesitated. He was quite right, she would love to go to the Quidditch World Cup despite the fact she had no idea which teams would even be playing. Whoever they were, their fans would be coming to Britain, providing a fantastic opportunity for people watching. And yet -
“What’s got you making that face, eh?”
It was her dad, delivering a pile of laundry, with Crookshanks dogging his heels.
“Letter from Ron,” she said. “Inviting me to stay with his family for the rest of the holidays, and to go to the Quidditch World Cup. His dad’s managed to get tickets, and there were two spare for Harry and me.”
Her dad raised an eyebrow. “You know what that sounds like to me? An opportunity.”
“Yes, I know, Dad,” she said. “I’m just - nervous. The Weasleys all know. And it’s one thing seeing just Mrs Weasley, or just Mr Weasley, but the twins are bound to try and make a joke of it, and I’ve never even met Bill or Charlie before!”
Dad put the clothes down on the end of her bed, and came to sit by her. “You’re gonna have to face them soon, sweetheart. You’re going back to school in just over a week.”
“I know, but I’ve got my own space there,” Hermione argued. “I can go to the library, or even just close the curtains around my bed. I’m going to be a guest in their home, I can’t…”
“Run away?” Dad finished.
Hermione looked down. Crookshanks yowled and jumped up onto her lap, kneading her thighs.
“Hermione, you’ve got to carry on with your life. It’s gonna be harder, yes, but you’ve got to carry on with it as best you can. And when you can’t, you ask for help. You try both of those things first before you say you can’t, you hear me?”
She dug her fingers into Crookshanks’s fur. “Mm-hm.”
“So which will it be? Are you going to write back to Ron and say yes, or do you need a bit of help first? Maybe we could have his family round to dinner beforehand, hey? Bit of a trial run.”
“I’m not sure they’d all fit in the house,” Hermione said. “Plus, Ron’s inviting me to show up tomorrow - is there time?”
“Of course there is! Saturday tomorrow - we’ll have a barbecue, and then you can go back with them to theirs afterwards. No, this is a good idea. Is that owl still here? Come on, let’s send them a reply.”
Hermione laughed, dislodging Crookshanks. “We should definitely check with Mum first.”
But her mother agreed that it would be nice to have the Weasleys round, to thank them for having Hermione, so the invitation was sent (along with Hermione’s acceptance of Ron’s original invitation) and an extensive shopping list written.
“You want to invite Harry?” her dad asked. “Or Remus?”
Hermione bit her lip, considering. “Maybe both. It would be nice to have some people who know what a Muggle house is like already. I don’t know if Harry would be able to come, though. He lives in Surrey, and I doubt his aunt and uncle would give him money for the train. Or even let him come, if he’s going to the Weasleys’ the next day.”
“Well, what if we ask Remus to collect him?”
Remus took a moment as he stood outside the door to number four, Privet Drive. Such a monumentally important building; it looked exactly the same as number two and number six.
He pressed the doorbell, a shrill, shrieking thing, and waited. The door was opened in under thirty seconds.
“Mrs Dursley,” Remus said. “A pleasure to see you again.”
The last time had been James and Lily’s wedding. Petunia had been engaged but not married at that point, and had elected not to bring her fiancé.
Since then, she had aged well, but only because she had appeared so middle-aged even in 1979. She didn’t resemble Lily in the slightest, except for the ways in which she did. Her hair was coiffed to within an inch of its life, but the dull brown did have some copper to it, and her eyes were so pale that it was difficult to tell, but possibly green. Her nose was longer than Lily’s, but they had the same upturned tip, and hadn’t Lily once complained that her lips were too thin?
She sniffed. “Mr Lupin. He’s to be back by ten, or the door will be locked. I won’t have him clattering around, waking the rest of the family up.”
Oh dear. “I understood Harry was going straight on to the Weasley’s tonight,” he said.
Petunia pursed her lips; they were so thin they almost disappeared. “Very well,” she said eventually. She turned back to the house. “Harry!” she called.
“Coming!” came a faint response.
They waited in silence as Harry came hurrying down the stairs, dragging his school trunk with him. Clattering indeed. His hair was a mess as always, Lily’s waves fighting with James’s thick hair, and he was dressed in a faded t-shirt which was far too big, and jeans worn ragged at the ankles.
Petunia saw him looking, and glared. “Well, off you go.” And as soon as Harry’s trunk had cleared the doorstep, she shut the door on them.
Harry snorted, and turned to Remus. “Hi, Professor,” he said.
That made him pause, just as it had the first time Harry had called him that. “I’ve already been through this with Hermione,” he said after a moment. “Just call me Remus.”
“And she’s managing that?”
“Since the July moon, yes.”
Harry looked embarrassed. “Right, right.”
“Come on, let’s find somewhere out of the way to Apparate.”
They set off at an ambling pace. After a quick glance around, Remus jabbed his wand in the direction of Harry’s trunk, and it suddenly gained wheels. Harry stumbled slightly, then realised what had happened, and granted Remus a grin of thanks.
“How are you, anyway?” Remus asked. “Holding up?”
“Yeah. Dudley’s on a diet, but Mrs Weasley and Hermione sent me a stash of food, plus birthday cake, so I’m alright. You?”
“The Grangers have been having me round to dinner quite a lot, so I’m alright too.”
That bothered Harry less than the mention of the moon; he just nodded. He had such a serious face, Remus thought, so much less lively than James’s had been at the same age. At fourteen, James’s biggest concern had been - well, Remus and Sirius, and they had both had serious concerns, but even when Sirius had been kicked out of his parents’ home, James had had a smile ready for him.
Harry had been such a happy toddler.
“This will do,” said Remus, as they entered a small alleyway. “I’m guessing you haven’t Apparated before?”
“Alright. What I’m going to do is teleport us to an alley near the Grangers’ house,” Remus explained. “It’s not a pleasant experience, I’m afraid, particularly not for a passenger, and particularly not when you don’t know your destination.”
“Great,” said Harry.
Remus smiled. “Sorry.” He held out his arm. “Grab hold of my wrist, hold on tightly, and brace yourself. Tense all your muscles, try to actively feel all of your body. I’ll hold your trunk. Ready?”
“Good. In three, two, one.”
When they arrived in Headington, Harry’s face was screwed up, but he was all in one piece.
“Yeah, not pleasant,” he said, slightly out of breath. “Thanks for the warning.”
“Need a minute?”
“No,” he said quickly. “I’m okay. How far are we from Hermione’s?”
“Just round the corner. Have you been here before?”
Harry shook his head. “I’ve only visited Ron before, and they kind of had to kidnap me. I thought about telling the Dursleys I was going straight to the Burrow, but I’d already tricked Uncle Vernon into saying yes to going tomorrow, I thought that would be pushing it. I’m pretty sure Aunt Petunia only let me come today because… well, maybe because the Grangers are Muggles,” he finished hastily.
Until this moment, Remus had been fairly sure that Petunia said yes because Jim had telephoned and come close to asking some awkward questions, such as why Harry wasn’t allowed to visit friends or when he had last visited a dentist, but he let the comment go.
“I get the feeling Hermione’s expecting some of the Weasleys to be quite disconcerted by a Muggle household,” he offered.
That got a small smile out of Harry. “Nice not to be the one out of your depth.”
A sign on the Grangers’ front door bid them go straight to the back garden, so they went round the side of the house, unlatching the gate. A large plastic table was laid out with a paper tablecloth, cutlery and plates already in place, along with three sets of salt and pepper, and small bottles of chili oil. The kitchen table was outside too, sitting next to the barbecue and already covered in clingfilmed platters.
Hermione came barrelling towards them and immediately grabbed Harry in a hug, to which he submitted happily enough. His head almost got lost in her cloud of hair.
“Hi, Hermione,” he said.
“Remus!” Elaine called. “Come and give me a hand, would you?”
The patio doors were wide open, and Elaine was bustling around the kitchen just inside. Three large salads were on the counter, and she was now stripping the leaves from a large pile of corn on the cob. “They said I wouldn’t have to do any work for this, the liars,” she said. “Could you just pile up all the sausages onto a platter so we can put it out next to the barbecue.”
Remus went over to the fridge and did a double-take at the amount of food still inside. “I see you’re prepared for a horde of Weasleys. Where’s Jim?”
“Buying more charcoal. Honestly, a barbecue was his idea,” she said. She looked out to the garden, where Hermione was talking Harry’s ear off about something, gesturing animatedly with her right arm. “Everything alright at Harry’s?”
Remus looked at him again. The sleeve of his t-shirt was slipping down one arm, the gaping neck of it revealing half his collarbone. “He told me that Molly Weasley is sending him food.”
Elaine tsked. “Thank God for the Weasleys, honestly.”
“He also said Hermione had sent some things. Besides the birthday cake.”
That made her frown. “I wasn’t aware of that.”
They kept working for a few seconds, until Elaine set down an ear of corn with slightly more force than was necessary. “Has no one tried removing him from his aunt’s care?”
Sirius. “I don’t know,” Remus answered. “I think - when his parents died, there weren’t a lot of options left, myself included. And then no one saw him until he turned up at Hogwarts. I wonder if it’s not too late.”
“He’s still a child,” Elaine pointed out. “Heaven’s sake, Jim and I would have him under this roof in a heartbeat if we didn’t know that we couldn’t protect him.”
“That’s the thing,” said Remus. “I doubt anyone feels like they could protect him sufficiently. And even if someone did, they’d be putting their own family at risk, hosting the Boy Who Lived.”
The gate opened, and Jim appeared, dragging a sack of charcoal. “I’m back!” he called. “Ah, hello, Harry!”
“Hi Dr Granger,” said Harry.
“Call me Jim, or we’ll all get confused. Hi Remus!”
“Hello Jim.” He glanced at Elaine, a smile on his lips. “Got everything now?”
Jim laughed. “Think so. We’ll find out when I’m in the middle of cooking. How long have we got?”
“Half an hour, if they’re on time,” Elaine said.
“Marvellous, I’ll get this fired up then.”
The barbecue, unlike most other things in the house, was not new: a large, metal beast with a lid that shrieked with rust when Jim forced it open.
“When did you last clean that thing?” Elaine asked.
Jim muttered an answer that sounded suspiciously like ‘last summer’.
“Mum,” interrupted Hermione. “I’m going to show Harry my room, okay?”
“Fine, fine. Shoes off on the carpet!” she told them both.
They thundered up the stairs, the two of them. Remus smiled to watch them go.
“So what do you think?” Hermione asked.
Harry looked around slowly. “Honestly, less books than I’d expected.”
She tried to fix him with a glare, but couldn’t hold it. “I’ll have you know that at least a third of the books on the shelves downstairs are mine too.”
“That’s alright then,” he said.
There was a pause as they both adjusted to existing together in this new space. Hermione had experienced much the same thing all summer with Remus visiting, and really, it should have been less strange to have a school friend over for tea.
“How’ve you been?” he asked. “You know. Since.”
Hermione tilted her head to the side. “Alright. It is horrible, though. The moon, obviously, but my arm too - it’s just so annoying having to work around it all the time. I can’t wait to get back to Hogwarts so I can use magic again.”
Harry frowned. “Yeah, that must be a right pain.”
“What about you?” she asked. “Have you been alright?”
“Actually, it’s been okay,” he said. “I told the Dursleys Sirius was my godfather. He’s been a pretty good threat - it’s how I got them to let me come today and go to the World Cup. Really, it’s just been the food thing, but I still haven’t finished all my birthday cakes so, y’know, could be worse. Imagine if they’d done it before Hogwarts.”
Hermione screwed up her face in sympathy. “Have you heard from him? Sirius?”
“Yeah. He’s gone abroad somewhere sunny, sent me a couple of letters with these massive tropical birds. I don’t know how the neighbours haven’t noticed.”
“Maybe a Notice-Me-Not charm?” Hermione suggested. “Most post office owls have very weak ones applied regularly, not strong enough to affect a wizard but enough to keep Muggles from paying attention to them if they’re not expecting owl post.”
“Yeah, maybe,” he agreed. He was grinning. “I always forget how much I miss you explaining stuff.”
She grinned back. “Well, it’s going to be your turn this time - I haven’t done much reading about Quidditch.”
“Can’t believe we’re going to the World Cup final,” said Harry.
“I still don’t even know who’s playing,” Hermione confessed. “Ron didn’t say in his letter.”
“Ireland versus Bulgaria,” Harry informed her. “Seamus will be ecstatic.”
“Hermione! Harry!” Elaine called. “The Weasleys are here!”
Harry grinned. “Come on.”
By the time they reached the garden, the Weasleys were still pouring through the side gate. Fred and George were out in front, and they both stopped dramatically when Remus came out of the patio doors.
“Merlin’s beard, Hermione, you didn’t warn us a teacher would be here!” said Fred.
Hermione went to protest, but Remus got there first. “It’s quite alright, Mr Weasley, I’m not your teacher any more.”
“Although if it encourages the lot of you to behave respectfully, I’ll be sure to ask Professor McGonagall to accompany us whenever we’re visiting!” said Mrs Weasley. She turned to Hermione’s mum. “Mrs Granger, thank you so much for inviting us.”
Hermione saw Mum bite her tongue at the title. “It’s not a problem, after all you’ve done for Hermione. Come in, come in.”
“I’ve brought a couple of trifles for pudding…”
Ron came up to Harry and Hermione, grinning. “Hi. Did you really mean to invite all of us?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Of course we did.”
“How did you get here?” asked Harry.
“Knight Bus. Percy reckoned he could Apparate - he passed his test the other week - but Mum said not to be silly and that he could come with the rest of us.”
“Bet he didn’t like that,” said Harry.
Ron grimaced. “He’s been even worse since he started at the Ministry. Who thought Percy could be even less fun?”
Indeed, Percy was currently talking in the direction of a Weasley Hermione hadn’t met yet - Charlie, she thought - who was doing an admirable job of finding the correct places to nod without paying the slightest bit of attention. He waved at Hermione when he saw her looking, and then said, “I completely agree, Perce,” without giving any indication of knowing what he was agreeing to.
Mr Weasley had made a beeline for the barbecue - Hermione heard the word “contraption” and was glad that her father could field that conversation - leaving the rest of the Weasleys to naturally congregate round the table. Hermione found herself next to the other new Weasley brother.
“You must be Hermione,” he said. “I’m Bill, nice to meet you. Hope you meant for all of us to come.”
Bill was… Well, Hermione hadn’t spent too much time thinking about boys, and if she had she wouldn’t have thought of someone like Bill, but now that he was in front of her, she couldn’t help but look. He had long hair swept back in a ponytail, a fang earring, and quite scandalous dragonhide boots.
“Nice to meet you too,” she said.
And then Ginny was trotting up to say hi. “Are you sure you wanted to invite all of us?”
The Weasleys, as a rule, were a gregarious bunch, Remus decided. They folded Elaine and Jim into conversation with enthusiasm or ease, depending on the individual. Arthur’s words seemed to pick up volume when he spoke to them, but that might have been simple excitement, it was difficult to tell.
He discovered that even out of school uniforms, he had no idea which twin was Fred and which was George. He couldn’t even resort to calling them “Mr Weasley” as he had done in class, so instead he chose not to address them. This was rather difficult, as he noticed one of them slipping something into their mother’s pocket, but he reminded himself that he wasn’t their teacher, and looked away.
As ever, his eyes returned to Harry.
Harry, with the Weasleys, was a different child to the serious boy Remus had taught. He laughed openly, chatted easily; he kept his head up and his shoulders down. It was the most like James he had ever looked: leaning backwards behind Hermione to answer a question from Bill about the Gryffindor Quidditch team, nudging Ron on his other side to get his face out of his food and pay attention to Elaine, even calling down the table to ask Charlie about a dragon called Norbert, a story Remus would need explained at some point.
Hermione, on the other hand, was on alert. Her gaze flitted from person to person, keeping track of everything all at once, but always returning to Harry. She had her fork in her right hand, and her knife lay on the table, untouched. With the Weasleys, with Harry, she was reverting to the student Remus had known: too old for her age, always on top of the situation. The child he had come to know was melting away. In the wizarding world, she couldn’t allow herself to be parented.
He was interrupted from this train of thought by one of the older Weasley boys, the one who most resembled Ron. “I don’t think we’ve actually been introduced. I’m Charlie, I work on the dragon reserves in northern Romania. Just came over for the World Cup.”
Remus took the offered hand. “Remus. I taught Defence at Hogwarts last year.”
“So I hear,” said Charlie. “I feel like I should apologise for at least some of my brothers.”
“Nah, Ginny’s too smart to get in trouble,” Charlie said.
Remus laughed. “I can’t argue with that.”
Ginny heard this, and smirked in their direction. Charlie offered her a little salute, and she laughed and turned back to her conversation with the twins.
“She grew a lot, this year,” Remus said. “Wouldn’t say boo to a goose in September.”
“Ah well, she was pretty traumatised after the Chamber of Secrets,” said Charlie. “She used to be a scrappy little thing, much more than Ron or Percy, but when I saw her last summer, it was like she’d had all the fight wiped right out of her.”
Jim was listening with interest. “Hermione got caught up in that too,” he said. “She was in a coma for quite a while. Hardest thing, not being able to visit her.”
“Did she tell you what happened with Ginny?” Charlie asked.
Jim thought about it. “She said she was in the Chamber when Ron and Harry went down there with their professor. Was there something else?”
Charlie looked at Remus, who sighed. “Yes. Ginny was the one opening the Chamber - not of her own free will, of course, she was being possessed by an evil artefact. I suppose the full story wasn’t given to parents. Or the Prophet.”
“But Hermione knew?” Jim confirmed.
Remus nodded, and now it was Jim’s turn to sigh. “I’ll add it to the list,” he said.
Charlie raised his eyebrows. “Is that a common thing?” he asked. “Not knowing what’s going on?”
Jim rolled his eyes, a gesture which seemed borrowed from his wife. “All the time,” he said. “I imagine it’s the same at any boarding school, but we can’t even call the school office for an update. We can get into the magical post office in Oxford, since Hermione showed us where it was, but it gives you a hell of a headache. I only managed it once; Elaine just doses up on paracetamol and ibuprofen before going in. Even then, we have to have enough change in sickles and knuts to pay for postage. We didn’t know that initially, so we spent all of Hermione’s first term just replying to her letters. We could never write first.”
“Could you get an owl?” Charlie asked.
Jim winced. “Technically, yes, but everything we’ve read says they don’t respond as well to Muggles as they do to magical people. If we lost control of it, we’d have a wild bird in the house. Plus, we do have family visit the house, friends - how do you explain a pet owl? I was rather relieved when Hermione brought back Crookshanks last year.”
Remus smiled in sympathy. “I considered getting an owl a few times, when I was working mostly by correspondence, but most birds get uneasy around werewolves for an extended amount of time. I’d have to get an eagle owl, and that definitely doesn’t work out cheaper than the post office.”
“Speaking of that,” said Charlie. He lowered his voice and glanced around the table. “You heard about the employment law last month?”
Remus nodded. “I’m surprised you have, if you live abroad.”
Charlie shrugged. “I keep up with major international laws on magical creatures. Did a bit of prodding about this one, I know a girl in Auror training who’s got an interest through her mum.”
“Her mother’s a werewolf?” asked Jim.
“No, a healer on the ward for magical bites. Tonks is their name.”
Remus glanced at Hermione. “Small world. Andromeda’s the healer who treated Hermione.”
Jim nodded. “Go on.”
“Well, Andromeda’s daughter was my best mate at school, and she works in the Ministry now. She says the witch who proposed the law was a secretary of some kind, a woman called Umbridge, if you can believe that. Doesn’t have a vote herself, but put forward quite the campaign, flyers, a column in Witch Weekly, the lot.”
“Does she have children herself?” asked Remus.
“Don’t know,” said Charlie. “Can’t have Hogwarts age kids though, we’d have heard of them.”
Jim snorted. “I forget sometimes how few in number you wizards really are. Small town gossip, that’s how your world functions.”
Charlie snorted. “You’re not wrong. I don’t even live in Britain most of the time, but if there’s something here worth knowing, I can guarantee someone in my family has told me about it.”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “So you see why Elaine and I feel out of the loop sometimes.”
A loud laugh from the other end of the table broke through the conversation: Molly Weasley’s wand had spontaneously turned into a rubber chicken. She was berating the twins, but Harry, Ron and Ginny were all openly laughing. Hermione was not, but Elaine had a smile on her face.
“So that’s a fake wand?” she asked Fred - at least Remus assumed it was Fred.
“Yes indeed, Madam,” he said grandly.
“Easier to produce for your family,” George added. “We know exactly what Mum’s wand looks like -”
“- which is how we’ve managed to trick her twenty three times this summer,” Fred finished.
“But you want to produce them commercially?” Elaine asked.
“Not that they will!” Molly said. “They have three years of schooling to complete before considering a career.”
“Good luck with that,” muttered Charlie. “Remus, back me up on this - the best thing the twins could do with their lives is to get their OWLs and go straight into production.”
Remus considered. “I don’t know. I’m sure they’d be fine with the products, and it explains some of the odder questions they asked in class last year, but what about business skills?”
Bill leaned over at that. “They tricked Ron into buying his own pet rat back from them about four times in a month once. I say buying - the currency was second helpings of pudding, but if you know how Ron likes his food, you’ll know what an achievement that is. They could sell owls to Athens, those two.”
Peter. Remus tried to smile politely and was grateful to be interrupted by Elaine standing up and declaring it time to start clearing the plates, if some of the kids wouldn’t mind helping? He took the excuse and started collecting platters. As he rounded the table, Arthur Weasley stood up to catch him in conversation.
“Ah, Lupin! Did you find my charms study interesting?”
Remus smiled. “Yes, a fascinating theory.”
Weasley tapped a finger to the side of his nose before returning to his seat. “Good to know.”
Beside him, Percy Weasley was poised, perfectly upright. He watched this exchange through narrowed eyes. Remus nodded to him. “Mr Weasley, I imagine congratulations are in order for your NEWT results.”
Percy nodded shortly. “Thank you.”
He said nothing more, and Remus decided a retreat to the kitchen was in order. He passed Harry and Hermione on his way, just in time to spot Ron whisk a pile of plates away from Hermione before she could attempt to pick them up. Her mouth twisted; perhaps she was deciding between thanking him and hitting him.
He went into the kitchen, and found Elaine watching them too as she stood beside the sink. A small, sad smile sat on her lips.
“Slipping through my fingers,” she said. And then she straightened up. “Right, plates and cutlery into the dishwasher, platters and glasses for washing up. Chop chop.”
Ron stuck another plate onto his stolen pile. “Lupin knows his way around, doesn’t he?”
Hermione looked towards the kitchen, where Remus was loading the dishwasher while Mum filled the sink. “He’s been over a lot this summer,” she said. She scanned the table for something easier to carry.
“He’s a bit… weird, though, isn’t he?” said Harry.
“In what way?” asked Hermione.
Harry shrugged. “Doesn’t seem to know if he’s coming or going.”
Hermione bit her lip, but at the end of the day this was Harry. She lowered her voice. “I think he’s just a bit weird about you. He was supposed to be - something like an uncle to you, and then never got the chance.”
“Seems pretty simple to me,” said Ron. “He’s not our teacher any more, he could start writing to you.”
“But he’s a werewolf,” Hermione said. The boys looked at her as if she had lost her mind, and she shook her head impatiently. “Oh, Harry, didn’t you read the papers? Werewolves aren’t allowed to work with children any more, and you’re the Boy Who Lived, imagine if it got out that he had struck up a relationship with you after last year.”
That got Harry scowling, as she knew it would, but she pressed on. “The day that law came out, I thought he was going to run away and we’d never see him again. And I didn’t… I didn’t really know what I would have done without him.”
“You’d have managed,” said Ron. “You’re the cleverest person in the world and all that.”
She shoved him, but he just chuckled. Harry was still frowning.
“Maybe Lupin wouldn’t have managed without you though,” he said. “After June, I mean.”
Hermione and Ron both stared at him. “He’s an adult, mate,” said Ron.
“Yeah, but…” Harry tugged at his fringe. “Look, after my birthday, I went through my photo album. He’s in my parents’ wedding photos. If they were all that close, you know, the Marauders. Well. And - er - Padfoot couldn’t stay in Britain, so.”
It wasn’t the most eloquent of explanations, but Hermione knew what he was saying. Moreover, she knew why he couldn’t say it any more fluently. Ron took a few seconds longer to get there.
“Yeah, imagine if you two went and left me on my own,” he said. “I’d be a bloody wreck.”
Which wasn’t true, because Ron had parents, and brothers, and a sister, and other friends. Harry smiled at him nonetheless. “Yeah, you wouldn’t last a week without Hermione to take notes for you.”
Ron jabbed him with his elbow.
“Oi, are you bringing those plates in?” asked Ginny.
They hopped to, Hermione grabbing a single platter she could balance on her left arm and steady with her right. Soon enough they were back at the table and digging into Mrs Weasley’s trifle, supplemented by the fruit salad that Mum had put together.
“Your parents really don’t like sugar, do they?” Harry muttered.
Indeed, Mum was staring pointedly at Hermione’s bowl. Hermione retaliated by taking a sizeable bite of trifle. Mum sighed.
“You excited for the World Cup?” Ron asked. His own bowl was considerably fuller than Harry’s or Hermione’s.
Hermione nodded. “Absolutely. Thank you so much for inviting me.”
Ron waved this off with a mouthful of trifle.
Fred leaned forward. “You know World Cup matches can go on for days, don’t you? We might be there right up until September.”
“It’s a good thing you’ve already bought your school books,” said Mum.
Harry grimaced. “I haven’t, though. Couldn’t get to Diagon Alley with the Dursleys.”
“Not to worry, Harry dear,” said Mrs Weasley. “We haven’t got our lot’s things yet. I’m planning to take advantage of a quiet day in London while you’re all off at the Quidditch, I’ll just pick up yours as well.”
“Thanks, Mrs Weasley.”
She smiled indulgently at him. “You’re welcome.”
It had been the right idea to get the Weasleys round for dinner, Hermione decided. Just being at the same table reminded her that they were people, the same people she had known for the past three years. Ginny was still desperately trying to keep her cool around Harry, Percy was the exact same stickler for detail, and Mrs Weasley would forever try to mother Harry.
Mostly, Ron was still Ron. An idiot most of the time, but the best friend she could ask for. She was sure nothing could change that.
It was late by the time they finished eating, and a chill was creeping into the air. Bill glanced around the garden for any onlookers before casting a very light warming charm.
“We should probably be off,” said Mr Weasley. “Thank you very much for having us.”
“You’re welcome,” said Elaine. “Jim, can you go and get Hermione’s trunk?”
What followed was a chorus of shaking hands - Hermione definitely saw both Fred and George shake Remus’ hand at least twice each - and one awkward hug between Mum and Mrs Weasley, and then it was just Hermione and her parents.
“Right then,” said Dad. “We won’t be seeing you before you head back to school. Are you all ready for fourth year?”
Hermione smiled. “Think so.”
Mum folded her in a hug. “Make sure you write to us after the full moon, alright?”
“My go,” said Dad, and he hugged her too, swaying her from side to side. “No more mischief this year, hey? I want you to have a boring, normal school year.”
“So do I,” said Hermione, honestly enough.
“I’ll believe that when I see the proof of it,” said Mum sharply.
“You ready, Hermione?” Ron called.
She looked around. “Just a sec!”
Remus was hanging back from the family farewell, stacking bowls by hand. She went over and waited for him to put the crockery down.
“Stay in touch,” she said. “Please. I want to know you’re okay.”
“Don’t worry about me,” he said.
“Don’t worry me then,” she retorted.
She looked over at the gate. Only Harry and Ron were waiting for her, the rest of the Weasleys already outside on the street.
“You’re family,” she said firmly. “And I will see you at Christmas.”
And before she could lose her courage, she threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. For the first time, he hugged her back properly, squeezing her and pressing his face briefly to the top of her hair.
“Thank you,” he said, and his voice was hoarse. He cleared his throat. “And if they let you - you can come to mine for the moon, if you want.”
She pulled back and looked up at him. “Really?”
“We’d have to ask your parents, of course,” Remus said hurriedly. “And the school, and I need to find a way to pay for my own Wolfsbane, I can’t keep-”
“We’ll sort that all out,” said Hermione. “I’d like to come. Thank you, thank you!”
“And Hermione - keep me in the loop, please. I know what you and Harry and Ron get into, and I know you’ve not always had people to turn to. Adults, I mean. I can’t promise I’ll be there, but I can try.”
She didn’t believe him. Hundreds of miles away in Wales or Headington, the time to get a message to him would make him just as useless as her Muggle parents in the sort of scrapes Harry attracted at Hogwarts. But she believed that he meant it, and that was almost as important.
“Alright,” she said. “I promise.”
He smiled. “Do you know the Italian for good luck?”
“I know the French.”
“The Italian is much more fun. In bocca al lupo.”
“In… something to the wolf. Bocca, mouth?”
“Into the mouth of the wolf. In bocca al lupo, Hermione.”
She grinned at him, feeling her lips curl back over her teeth. “In bocca al lupo.”