Bridget took a final bite from her apple and tossed the core back over her shoulder. She leaned back against the tree, lifted her right foot, braced it against her left knee and inspected the bottom of it. It was almost black with dirt, but it didn’t seem to be badly cut or bruised. She set it down and followed suit with her left foot. Remus watched her frown at a new scratch along her heel. She licked her thumb and ran it along the scratch, but all it seemed to do was smudge the dirt further.
"Need some help?" He bent down to look at the foot she was examining. She was putting on a brave exterior, but he saw that she was nearing exhaustion and the effort was getting harder as the day wore on.
"You have to keep dirt out of a cut or you can get an infection." She extended the small foot in his direction, pointing to the scratch and poking out her lower lip, just a little. He was continually surprised, even after almost a full day, at the unconditional trust she had placed in him. He turned her foot to look closer at the scratch and wished, for the hundredth time, that he had his wand and was free to use magic around her. It would have made everything so much easier.
He pulled the cuff of one of his trouser legs away from his ankle and used it to wipe her heel clean. The scratch was not deep, nor was it terribly long. "Does it hurt?" he asked, tracing a line beside it with his finger.
She shook her head, but continued to look expectantly up at him. He remembered an essay he had done for his Muggle Studies class back in his own Hogwarts days, when he had been amused by some of the foolish things that Muggles perceived as magic. He lifted Bridget’s foot to his face and quickly kissed the spot where the scratch was. "All better?" He smiled at her, trying to remember if there was anything else he was supposed to say.
Apparently she felt he had performed the spell correctly, because she smiled back at him and wiggled her foot around, as if trying to make sure it was completely mended. She stood and looked down the road they’d been travelling.
"Hopefully not." A quick glance at the way her face fell told him they wouldn’t make it today. She was too tired to go much further without sleep. Daylight was on its way out and it would be dark within another three hours. He bent down and indicated to her that she should climb onto his back. She silently obliged and he stood up, with Bridget clinging to his shoulders, her bare feet poking forward above his hips. He pulled another two apples from the tree they had rested under and slipped them into his pockets before starting off down the road again.
"You’re the only other person like me that I ever met." She spoke slowly, almost directly into his ear. Her head was resting gently on his left shoulder.
"Don’t know." She shrugged. "Just did, I suppose."
Remus was reminded of his conversation with Albus Dumbledore when he had gone to turn in his resignation. Dumbledore had shaken his hand and assured him that he understood, then he peered over his glasses, smiled warmly and said, "Remember, Remus, one need not stand in front of a classroom of students to find oneself in the position to be a teacher."
"No…there must have been something you noticed. Something you can put your finger on that gave away what I was. Think hard."
She cocked her head to one side and bit on her lower lip as she thought. "Your eyes looked like mine do, like there were lights inside them. You had scratches on your hands and arms like I always do." There was another pause. "And you smelled…I don’t know…familiar to me."
Remus nodded and turned his head to smile at her. "Wolves have an excellent sense of smell. That’s a great way to recognize another werewolf."
A violent shudder ran through her and her arms temporarily tightened their grip on his shoulders.
"It’s not a bad word, Bridget." She stayed silent. He softened his voice. "Is there another word that you prefer?"
Some of the color had drained from her face and for the first time that day, she wouldn’t meet his eyes. "There isn’t a good word."
"So what do you call it?"
"I don’t call it anything." Her voice trembled. "I just don’t talk about it except to my dad and he already knows, so I don’t have to give it a name with him."
He dropped the subject and they walked for a long while without speaking. Remus wondered, again, why she never mentioned her mother. He had attempted to bring up the question when they had stopped by the apple trees, but she deftly turned the conversation to another topic without answering. It was clearly a talent at which she was skilled.
"When did it happen to you?"
Yes…it’s easier to talk about this when we’re not face to face, isn’t it? Remus took a deep breath. "I was five. My family was staying in Germany while my father was doing some research. He was writing a book and he spent a lot of time gathering information for it."
"What kind of story was he writing?"
"It wasn’t a storybook, Bridget. He was writing a textbook - that's a book of information that professors can use to teach from. So he traveled all over the world, collecting facts and ideas from people in many different countries. Sometimes my mother and I got to travel with him."
"Did your mum write books too?" Her tone was slightly exasperated, as though writing books was the most boring thing she could possibly imagine doing with her time.
"No, she was a musician. She could play the piano, the cello and the flute…and all quite well. Once she played the flute at Buckingham Palace as part of a quintet. She wore a blue satin gown and had golden ribbons in her hair. She was lovely."
"Is she dead now?" Her voice was a whisper and he could feel her face pressed into his shoulder. He hooked his arms tighter under her knees to help support her weight.
"Yes. She and my father…" It suddenly seemed very wrong to be telling all of this to a child. Especially a child who could so easily understand all the implications of his life and draw parallels, however unwanted, to her own. He was relieved when she broke the silence that followed.
"I was three," Bridget whispered. The weight of her small head against his shoulder was oddly comforting in the gathering dark. "I don’t remember anything about it."
"I imagine that’s for the best. It’s likely a memory you’re better off without."
Remus was increasingly aware of an ache spreading across his shoulders and down his back. He was grateful when, a minute later, Bridget wriggled in an effort to shrug herself off his back. Back on the ground, she looked up at him earnestly.
"So it won’t just go away, then?" Her lower lip began to tremble, but she pulled it in and pressed her lips together. "If you were bitten when you were five and you’re still…one…then it doesn’t go away."
He shook his head slowly, considering and then dismissing each of the responses that sprang immediately to mind. It seemed he had an entire mental catalog of things he didn’t want to say, mostly things he wished weren’t true. Finally, he simply said, "I’m sorry, Bridget."
She sat down on the grass, covered her face in her hands and wept. Remus placed a hand on her bent head for one moment, then turned and walked a few steps away. She was in a place that his comfort couldn’t reach and he had no choice but to let her stay as long as she needed. He looked up into the sparkling darkness of the sky and wondered how long he had cried at his own realization, that long night at the hospital in Germany, when the mediwizards had told him the truth about his bite. He wondered how long his parents had cried and why the three of them had never all managed to cry together.
There had been a shred of that night in every full moon since then, just as there would perhaps be a glimmer of tonight in every future full moon for Bridget. He looked up at the stars and wished that he could have given her any other answer.
Suddenly he felt her small hand slip around his fingers. He looked down and she was standing beside him, looking past him at the waning moon.
"I still think it’s pretty. I don’t have to stop thinking it’s pretty, do I?" She took a step away from him, still holding his hand, and spun herself around in a circle. "Daddy and I sometimes go outside and dance in the back garden when the moon is mostly full. He says it's like laughing right in the wolf’s face."
Remus stood and watched her dance; a little girl in an oversized shirt, spinning in circles, under his raised hand. As she turned, her face was lit by the same moon that cursed them both and, in its light, he could see that she was smiling. Her eyes looked tired, but they were free of tears.
They walked on a little further, content to be silent again for a while, until he noticed a large willow tree off the path. "Let’s stop here." He took her hand and together they pushed through the low-hanging branches and looked around.
"Are we going to sleep here, then?" She looked petulantly at Remus, who nodded. "Daddy will be worried…I’ve never been gone like this before."
He bent down to clear a place on the ground. "What do you usually do? On full moon nights, I mean."
"Normally, I just go to sleep and wake up when it’s all over."
He sat down with his back to the tree, massaging his aching leg muscles. "How do you manage to do that?"
"Daddy gives me an injection. It hurts sometimes, but it’s better than being awake."
"An injection?" Remus was confused. Surely he would have heard if someone had found a cure…or even a treatment. "What kind of injection?"
"He has them in his office. It’s the same medicine he uses to make the animals fall asleep before he does operations."
Remus shook his head, feeling certain he had missed something. "What animals?"
"Oh, all kinds! Daddy is a veterinarian. He tends to sick dogs and cats and horses and sheep and hedgehogs…all kinds. He’s always taking in strays, too. We have three dogs of our own and their names are Bruno, Icarus and Eliza. Have you a pet, Remus?"
He thought for a moment, then smiled. "Sometimes I have a dog. He’s a big black dog named Sirius. He’s gone away from home right now…but he’ll find his way back."
"Dogs are good at finding their way back. Daddy says it’s because they’re loyal."
"Either loyal or hungry." He laughed quietly and settled himself against the tree, making room for her beside him.
She sat down and then, unexpectedly, leaned against his side and rested her head on his chest. "Remus, do you know any stories? I usually have a story before I go to sleep."
He hesitantly put his arm around her shoulders, assuming that was what she expected him to do, and was surprised to find that her closeness made him feel strong and yet vulnerable, as though he were both giving and receiving comfort at the same time. He wondered if this was what it was like to be a parent. He felt a deep pang of sorrow for James and Lily. They had never known this.
"Yes, I do know a story." He leaned his head back and looked upward, noticing with dim amusement that she followed suit and did the same. "Once upon a time, there was a boy called Moony. He lived with his mother and father, who were very kind and he was very happy. When the time came for him to go away to school, he was scared because he wasn’t very good at making friends and there were things about himself that he thought people wouldn’t like. But while he was at school, he found three wonderful new friends…they were the best friends any boy ever had. He called them Padfoot, Wormtail and Prongs…"
He heard a heavy exhale and knew she had fallen asleep almost immediately. But it was still a wonderful story and he didn’t want to stop telling it, so he lowered his voice and told the rest of it to the swaying branches of the willow tree. And since there was no one around to correct him, he took the liberty of changing the ending.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Remus…wake up!" In the gray place between wakefulness and sleep, he had a dim notion that his arm was being poked repeatedly. He ignored it, shifted position and tried to slip back into his dream. Moments later, the poking stopped and he just had time to register it before he felt two tiny hands grab his cheeks and begin shaking his head back and forth. "REMUS…please!"
His eyes snapped open and he looked quickly around before focusing on the nervous little girl crouching in front of him. "All right…I’m awake. What’s wrong?"
She took a quick scared glance behind her and then whispered loudly, "I heard sounds out there. We have to go! We have to go now!" She grabbed his hands and pulled with surprising strength. If she hadn’t seemed so frightened, Remus believed he might have laughed. Instead, he took both of her hands in his.
"Bridget, listen. If there is something dangerous out there, then it seems particularly unwise to just go dashing out into the open. Tell me what you heard."
"I heard something sniffing around and it sounded big…like a monster or something. It walked by here and I could hear its footsteps. I'm sure it was crushing the grass down. It was breathing loud, just like a monster would breathe." She gave a few exaggerated breaths, in and out, as illustration.
Remus put a finger to his lips, cocked his head and listened intently. "Well, I don’t hear anything now. Whatever it was, it’s probably gone on by, but I'll have a look." He stood and approached the willow branches.
"Wait!" she called, suddenly. "What if it’s only pretending to have left and it’s just waiting out there for us?" Her eyes widened. "If it’s gone, maybe it only went home to get its friends so they can all attack at once!"
He leaned forward and peeked cautiously between the branches. He looked left and right, then up and down. Then he turned and motioned for her to come closer. She stepped back and shook her head violently from side to side. He tried his best reassuring smile, randomly recalling that Sirius had once referred to it as his ‘You-Must-Be-Mistaken-Headmaster’ smile.
In this case, however, the smile proved ineffective, as did the conspiratorial wink and nod he tried after that. Bridget remained flat against the trunk of the willow tree, one hand at her throat and the other gripping the hem of her borrowed shirt. Remus finally dropped his smile and really looked at her. This had not been a silly childish overreaction. She was terrified.
He walked to her, dropped to his knees and met her eyes. "Bridget, there’s nothing out there. There were some footprints, yes, but they look like they were made by a fox or a weasel. It doesn’t look like anything big has been near here at all. What kind of monster did you think it was?"
She stared at him for several moments without answering, chewing on her lower lip and twisting her hands in her shirt. She looked from his face to the ground and back again several times. Finally she spoke and her voice was thick with fear. "Maybe it was a zealot."
His mind reeled with questions but before he could ask even one, she had thrown her arms around him and was sobbing hotly into his neck. He put his arms around her and could feel her entire body trembling. Whatever this fear was, he was instantly sure she had never mentioned it to another living soul.
After a surprisingly short time, she stopped crying and pulled back from him. Bless the resiliency of children, thought Remus, remembering the students that had amazed him again and again at Hogwarts.
"Remus, are zealots vicious and horrid?" She spoke quickly, rushing to get the words out. "Have you ever seen one?"
He shook his head slowly. "I’m not sure how to answer you, Bridget. The truth is that I don’t know what you mean. I know the word ‘zealot’ - it usually means a person who believes in something strongly or fanatically. But I’ve never heard of any type of monster being called a zealot." He watched her reaction carefully. "Where did you hear that word?"
"I don’t remember." He believed he saw a different story in her eyes. "I thought I heard someone say once that if any zealots ever found me, they’d tear me to pieces. Maybe I made a mistake."
Maybe you didn’t. "Well, I know a great deal about monsters of all kinds. In fact, I used to teach a class all about monsters…so if I haven’t heard of it, it probably isn’t real."
He couldn’t discern her expression, but decided not to push the issue any further. He stood and stretched, then stepped through the cover of willow branches into the dawn outside. A moment later, she emerged after him and seemed to have shaken off some of her fear. They smiled at each other and began walking back toward the road.
"If there really is no such thing as zealots..." she began, "I suppose I shouldn't be afraid of them, really. But I still am. Is it silly to be scared of something that might not be real?"
"Sometimes we can’t help what frightens us." His legs ached dully as he walked, and he could tell she was hurting as well. Keeping her talking might be a good distraction. "What other things scare you?"
"Fires do. Big ones, I mean. And when I know it’s almost time for a full moon. And Daddy read me Hansel and Gretel and I had bad dreams for a week." She shook her head.
"Hansel and Gretel? The two children who follow the bread crumbs?"
"Just the part where they get lost in the woods and captured by a witch. She’s horrible. Witches are very scary."
Remus slowed his walking. "Do you think all witches are scary?"
"Yes! Don't you know about witches? They all mix up horrible witch’s brew in these big black pots and they put curses on people to make snakes come out of their mouths and they steal children and EAT them...gosh, everything they do is bad."
"Just like all werewolves are bad?" He lowered his head, but kept his eyes on hers. She opened her mouth and then closed it immediately. She looked away and when she turned back, she was scowling.
"I’m not bad. Neither are you. You know that." She crossed her arms and glared at him. "Why did you say that?"
"Because you made a generalization, Bridget…and that can be very dangerous."
"I made a what?" Her angry scowl had faded, but her arms were still crossed.
"A generalization. That means making your mind up about a whole group of things based on only looking at a small sample of that group. For example, what is your favorite food?"
"Oh, that’s easy! Lemon custard!"
"Good choice. And what food do you really dislike?"
"Ugh. Kidney pie!" She stuck her tongue out and rolled her eyes upward.
Remus laughed. He had always been partial to kidney pie himself. "Well then, imagine if a person came to your house for dinner and had never tasted either kidney pie or lemon custard. They take one bite of the kidney pie and decide that all the food at your house must be dreadful, based on that one bite. They’d be lumping the good with the bad and calling them all the same thing. And that is a generalization."
She uncrossed her arms and let them fall to her sides. "I suppose I understand that. But you said it was dangerous." She gave him a quizzical look. "Why?"
"Well, you can make big mistakes…and sometimes those mistakes can lead to bigger problems," he answered. "Sometimes they can lead to all sorts of awful things, like prejudice and hate and even war."
"It would be a big mistake to think someone was bad when they were really good," said Bridget.
"Or the other way around. Generalizations about people are almost always the most dangerous." He took her hand. "Ready to start walking again?"
She nodded and they headed down the road. After a few minutes, she glanced up at him. "Are you cross with me?"
"No, Bridget, I’m not. I’m tired and I’m hungry, but I’m not cross at all."
"Good. I don’t want you to be angry with me. I like you, Remus."
"I’m glad…because I like you very much, too." He smiled at her and as they walked, she started singing a song that he didn’t know. She didn’t seem to know all the words and he believed she was doing a fair amount of damage to the melody, but her voice sounded happy and that was enough for him to thoroughly enjoy the song.