Moondance: Bow to Your Partner
Disclaimer: Anything you recognize from canon belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just trespassing here.
A/N: Many thanks to Elanor Gamgee for her wonderful beta assistance...and to my family, who have cheerfully endured all my writing angst. They are my magic.
Chapter One: Bow to Your Partner
"Varying accounts have been given in regard to the effect of a lunar eclipse on the wolfbound patient. Recent studies have indicated a propensity to extraordinary muscular strength and endurance as well as an increased resistance to remedies that otherwise prove useful. Particular care and constant observation is highly recommended during these lunar anomalies."
'Magic, Monsters & Medicine: A Mediwizard's Guide to Dark Creatures', 1947
There was no way around it. The Wolfsbane Potion was foul and, even after all these years, Remus Lupin hated the smell of it. He looked down at the goblet in his hands then back up at Elias, who stared blankly back at him. Elias Kitchens had been a loyal friend to the Lupin family for many years, and there was no arguing his skill as a potion-maker, but he was never what Remus would have called a barrel of laughs.
"Go on, then. It's better when you don't let it sit too long."
"Easy for you to say, my friend," said Remus. "Truth is that it's better when you don't have to drink it." He tried his best to sound playful, but knew from Elias' reproachful expression that he had not succeeded.
"Perhaps so, but at least you have it to drink. It could be worse, boy." He scratched the back of his head, ruffling up his severely combed gray hair, and frowned. It was an expression that seemed at ease on his face.
Remus turned his attention back to the goblet. "Very well, then." He tipped it up and drank the potion down as quickly as he could, grimacing at the bitterness that always managed to catch him unprepared. He smacked his lips and opened his mouth wide, then managed a weak smile.
Elias nodded, pulling the shed door closed behind him. As Remus sucked on a Peppermint Humbug to mask the sourness in his mouth, he heard the sounds of the locks being bolted. There was a brief silence after the last lock and he heard Elias' voice very close to the door, much gentler than before. "You all right there, Remus?"
"Yes, thank you, Elias." Barrels of laughs are overrated, anyway. "It's an eclipse tonight, you know...you may want to lock up your house, just in case."
"It's done already. I wish you peace tonight, boy." The sound of his footsteps faded away toward the house and Remus stayed very still, his head bowed and his hands clasped between his knees. There was always the same benediction, always the same sense of loss as Elias walked away.
Peace. It was a rare and precious commodity for Remus Lupin and he never failed to recognize or appreciate it. He had been granted a larger share in the last year than in many of the years previous to that. Teaching at Hogwarts had been a renewal of his spirit, and befriending Harry had been nearly like having James back. Then there had been the moment, late in the school year, when he had seen Peter's name on the Marauder's Map...and oh, how the possibilities had danced through his mind. After a decade of questions, doubt and confusion, there had suddenly been hope.
The familiar aches and pains pulled him out of his thought. He removed his shirt and trousers, folded them and placed them on the bedside table. Sitting back down on the edge of the bed, he looked around the tiny room. It had been built by his father, with help from Elias, during his first year at Hogwarts. Elias had provided the location, deeding the Lupins a portion of the land close to his own house, far away from town and isolated. Inside, there were scarlet curtains on one wall simulating the presence of a window. That had been his mother's contribution.
But it was a room filled with deceptions. The false window, an illusion of a tangible connection to the world outside. The deadbolts and padlocks, an illusion of security against the unpredictable nature of a beast. A cushioned bed with pillows, an illusion of comfort in a chamber of pain. Finally, Remus himself, an illusion of calm in a life of disorder.
He had never liked transforming on the bed, for fear of doing damage to the linens or the mattress. So he went to the corner and sat propped against a wall, feeling the sharp twinges that signaled the beginnings of transformation. He closed his eyes and fought against the rising nausea, his heart beating madly in his chest. He tried to fix his mind on something else, to block out the shooting pains he knew were the next act on the program.
Padfoot. That had been his happiest moment of the last year, the realization that he was not the last remaining Marauder. Before he could even begin to consider Peter's betrayal, there was Sirius in front of him and he was innocent. He looked as ragged and desperate as a soul from Hell itself, but there was enough of Padfoot in his eyes to make Remus believe every word he said. That comfort had carried him through Peter's confession and his unexpected transformation on the way back up to Hogwarts. It had almost been enough to carry him through the next morning, when he awoke to find Sirius and Peter gone again. Almost.
A firebolt of agony shot through his spine and he squeezed his eyes shut against it. His memories of the reunion with Padfoot began to slip away and were replaced with raw emotion: hunger, panic, rage. He tried desperately to take control of his mind again, to find the calm place inside himself where he could quietly wait out the coming of the wolf. But there would be no refuge for him tonight.
The torment of emerging fur and claws shook Remus and he slumped over onto the floor. His mind was filled with flashes of blinding white and the sounds of rushing wind. It was wretched to be confined in that bare room that had never really been anything more than a glorified cage. He reached up toward the curtains and saw the wolf's paws rip them from the wall. The pleasure of destruction surged through him and gave him strength.
Maddened by the closeness of the four walls that surrounded him, the wolf charged the door, slamming his body weight against it again and again. Suddenly there was the scream of grinding metal as the door was ripped off its hinges and he saw the whole world before him, bathed in a hot reddish glow from the eclipsed moon. He threw back his head and howled up at it, then cast a savage look back at the house and bolted away into the night.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
In his dream, a huge black dog was running through a forest. The dog stopped to sniff the ground and seemed unable to pick up the scent he wanted. He threw back his sleek black head and howled, and the cry echoed through the woods and flew off into the sky, but there was no answer. It began to rain and the dog sat down under a holly bush and whimpered quietly...
His first thought upon waking was that he was cold. The exhaustion was expected, along with the disorientation and the aches he felt in every joint and muscle. But the cold breeze blowing across his skin was new... and there was an unfamiliar smell in the air. He breathed in deeply and recognized the scent as mulberry. He risked opening his eyes and found himself looking directly into a mass of tangled brown hair. Confused, but trying to remain very still, he looked around in all directions and discovered that he had been sleeping on a pile of leaves in a small thicket of mulberry bushes. He was laying on his left side, with his aching left arm trapped under him and his right arm wrapped around a small person who lay beside him, its back pressed against his bare chest.
He gasped with the surprise of this realization and the gasp was louder than he had intended. The figure jerked upright and spun around to face him. She was a child, no more than six or seven. Her dark brown hair hung in knots around her face and her eyes, wide with shock and fear, were blue, tinged with streaks of golden yellow...the same golden yellow that he knew would be in his eyes this morning. She fell to her hands and knees and scrambled backwards, away from Remus. She reached the closest mulberry bush and hurriedly crawled under it, breathing heavily but not crying. Then she flattened herself against the ground and peered out at him.
He lowered his head so he could meet her frightened and curious eyes. He spoke, making an effort to keep his voice soft and friendly. "Hello there!" She cowered back from the sound, but made no attempt to run further away. She also seemed unwilling to answer. Undaunted, he went on. "You all right over there? You're not hurt?"
She narrowed her eyes at him and stared at him in silence for a few moments, then slowly shook her head.
He smiled at her. "You don't want to spend the whole day under that bush, do you?"
She buried her face in her hands and her answer was muffled. "I can't come out, can I? Not without my clothes."
Remus was suddenly keenly aware of his own nakedness, and was grateful for the fact that he had discreetly remained in a crouched position turned away from the girl's sightline. He nodded at her matter-of-factly. "Well, we'll have to do something about that, then. Close your eyes."
She closed them tightly and covered them with her hands. Shakily, he stood and looked around, stepping past her hiding place to get a better view of their surroundings.
Just beyond the edge of the woods, he saw a farmhouse surrounded by a low stone wall. On one side of the house was a two-story barn with a large pasture; on the opposite side was a clothesline. Several articles of clothing were fluttering in the breeze. There were a few cows grazing in the pasture, but the farm looked otherwise empty.
He looked over his shoulder. "Stay here. I'll be right back." Then he darted out from the thicket and moved quickly to the clothesline, wincing at the pain in his knees and hips as he ran. Looking back and forth to make sure he wasn't seen, he grabbed a pair of trousers and a couple of work shirts and hurried back to the woods.
While her eyes were still covered, he pulled the trousers on and fastened them at his waist. "You can open your eyes now. Here...see if you can wear this." He tossed a large blue checked shirt to the girl, averting his eyes as she stood up to catch it.
She looked at the shirt in her hands. "I'm not a boy, you know!" He kept his back turned to her until he heard a plaintive grunt of disapproval that made him chuckle to himself. Yes, she sounded displeased...but she also sounded unafraid, which ranked high on his list of favorite emotions.
He grinned, keeping his tone as light as he could. "Apologies, young lady. They were fresh out of dresses." He turned to look at her and saw that, as he had expected, the shirt hung almost to her knees. "I'm afraid that, for the time being, that will have to do."
They silently surveyed each other for a moment. A hint of uneasiness began to show in her eyes, so he abruptly stood and gave her an exaggerated bow. "Remus Lupin, my lady...at your service." He glanced up from his bow to see the beginnings of a smile on her face. "And you are?"
One hand absently picked at the hem of her oversized shirt. She looked down at the ground, as though deep in thought. Then she looked up again and smiled shyly. "Bridget Logan."
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Logan." He tipped an invisible hat to her and then sat down gingerly on the bed of leaves. He stretched out his aching legs and patted the ground next to him. "Come and sit down. You must be as tired as I am."
She sat down beside him and yawned loudly, as if to prove his point. He looked up at the sky and then back at her. "I imagine we must have covered a lot of ground last night...but looking at the sun, it must be noon already, so I expect we've slept through some of the worst of it all this morning." He stretched and clenched his fingers and the joints popped and stung. "Are you hurting very badly?"
"No, not so bad, really. Mostly I'm just tired. And hungry...but I suppose that's a good thing this morning. What about you?" Her tone was nonchalant, but she glanced guiltily at him, as though afraid she had said something wrong.
He nodded solemnly. There was, after all, a grim satisfaction in the feeling of an empty stomach after a full moon. He had already felt it himself this morning. But it was sad to see that resignation on the face of someone so young.
"How old are you, Bridget?"
"I'm almost seven. For my birthday, Daddy says I'm to have a big party and all my friends can come and we can all go riding." She smiled broadly, revealing two missing front teeth. "We've already counted on the calendar and Daddy says my birthday comes twelve days after the moon, so it will all be all right."
Remus smiled back at her. "Your dad sounds like a very smart man. No doubt he's pretty worried right now..." His voice trailed off as he let his own thoughts wander to those people who had worried about him after full moons. Was anyone thinking about him this morning? With an effort, he pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. "Unless this is someplace you've come before...would anyone know to look for you here? Are we anywhere near your house?"
Bridget's face fell. She blinked several times and bit her lower lip. "I thought YOU knew where we were. Isn't that your house over there?" He shook his head slowly and she fought to hold back her tears. "You mean we're lost?"
He put on his best reassuring smile, the same one that had frequently found itself pointing in the general direction of Neville Longbottom last year. "Not really...it's just a matter of finding out where we are now and where we need to go." He stood up and looked in all directions around them.
She started trying to sort out her matted hair. He glanced down at her, noting how she grimaced at every flex of her fingers that, like his, were crossed with scratches and dark with bruises. She sniffled occasionally and he could see the tears falling into her lap.
He crouched down by her side and placed a hand softly on her shoulder. "Don't worry, Bridget, everything will be all right. What do you usually do on mornings afterward?"
Her breathing hitched a bit and when she looked back up at him, her eyebrows were drawn very tightly down. "I sleep."
"The whole morning?"
"The whole day." She pulled her knees up close to her chin and rested her head on them, turning her face away from him.
"Is this the first time you've ever run off like this?" A thousand questions were fluttering through his head.
"No." Her voice was quiet and small in the stillness of the forest glade. "I did a couple other times, too."
He paused and waited for her to go on, but she didn't. "What happened before when you ran off?"
She was quiet for a long while. A bird sang in the thicker part of the forest and they both listened as its song resonated through the trees. "Daddy had to come after me." Her face was still turned away from him. "He found me and took me home in the van. I don't remember it."
The van? A surprising new thought battered its way into Remus's mind...and he wasn't sure how to give voice to it. "Your father has a Muggle van?"
"No. It's a Ford van." He felt his mouth going dry. He gulped and tried another approach.
"You know..." he began casually, watching her through the strands of hair that had fallen over his eyes. "I sure am hungry. If I had my magic wand with me, I'd summon us some breakfast. Eggs and toast, maybe."
"Mmmm." She didn't say anything else for a moment, but just as Remus was beginning to feel the edge of relief, she went on. "We saw a real magician once at a theatre in London. He had a magic wand. He poured tea from an empty teapot and made a dove fly right out of his hat! It was brilliant."
A Muggle. With a barely perceptible sigh, he stood up and stretched. "Well, it seems that you and I are going to have to manage on our own...and without a magical teapot. Let's see what we can find to eat and then we'll have to start figuring out a way to get you back home. Which way should we go?"
She stood up and looked at the sky, then narrowed her eyes and looked in all directions around her. "That way." She pointed southward, away from the farm that had so generously (and unknowingly) supplied them with clothing. Remus accepted this answer with no request for explanation. Instinct was an advantage they both shared.
Smiling, he held out his hand to Bridget. Without hesitating, she took it and the two of them left the thicket behind, heading south down the path that ran away from the woods, with the early afternoon sun on their backs.