Lines of Descent
July 30, 1969. The morning after the full moon.
Elizabeth Phelan awakened at dawn with a mouth full of grass and dirt. Her hands were buried deep in the soil, near the bars of the cage.
As the Wolf (which she was inclined from time to time to call by a more colorful name for female canines), she was many things, but bright wasn't one of them. The day before every full moon since her transformations had begun, she and Maddoc had used engorgement charms on the lower bars of whatever cage they were using, swelling them too deep in the earth to dig under. Still, nearly every full moon, she tried, and there was nothing she hated more than waking up to the taste of earth in her mouth.
Well... one thing.
Waking up to blood in her mouth.
Someone else's blood.
That had been worse.
She had only vague memories of biting Remus Lupin, but her muzzle--and in the morning, her face--had been smeared with his blood. She'd spent that morning vomiting and weeping, thinking she would go crazy, half hoping that Mr. or Mrs. Lupin would come after her with a silver axe. Of course, they'd done no such thing--they'd accepted that she could do nothing about the transformation. They couldn't hate her for it, because to hate her was to hate the very thing their son had now become.
Of course, they also had withheld real friendship. The invitation to use first names had been tacitly withdrawn, and conversations with them were cool and focused entirely on lycanthropy.
She turned over, looking to see where Remus had finally curled up for the night, then remembered that he wasn't here this month. He wanted to become accustomed to transforming alone before he started at Hogwarts in September, so he was in an inconspicuous shed that his father had built in their backyard--inconspicuous to a casual observer, at any rate. The walls were sunk twelve feet into the ground. Even Remus, a prodigious digger when transformed, would not be able to claw his way out in a single night.
Her wand was in a case against the wall, locked up more to keep it from being broken than to keep her from using it. Under the moon, there was no desire for such a nicety. She unlocked it with a key that was hanging on a nail beside the case, then used the wand to pop open the lock on the cage. Pulling on a tattered old robe, she made her way out.
"How are you feeling?" Maddoc called from an upstairs window.
She gave him a weak wave. "I'll be all right. I need to check on Remus, and then I'll be in."
"I'll have your breakfast ready."
"Really, Maddoc, I'm not hungry."
"You'll eat anyway," he scolded, then turned away from the window.
She smiled, watching him disappear into the house. Their honeymoon had been shattered by a werewolf's attack, but he had never backed away from her, never even complained about the crushing changes that had come to the life they'd wanted and looked forward to. He shared her sadness about the emptiness in the house, the ghosts of children who could never be born, but never threw it in her face. He just helped her prepare for moons, made her breakfast the morning after, and took care of her until she felt strong again. She was lucky, and quite aware of it.
She walked around the barn, her legs feeling like her bones were knives, and her innards still feeling like half-set jelly. It took almost five minutes to work her way down the rail fence, slip between its slats, and kneel down at the back of the Lupins' shed.
She knocked on the wall. "Remus?" she said. "Are you awake?"
A hand slapped weakly from the other side.
"Can you talk?"
"All right, I'm coming in."
She tried to stand, but got dizzy. Crawling would make more sense. She hoped the Lupins weren't up and watching.
She crawled around to the front of the shed, pointed her wand at the latch, and said, "Alohamora." The door opened and she crawled inside.
Remus was curled up in the back of the shed, wearing a pair of battered shorts. He was shaking and covered with blood. "I bit my hands," he said, holding them up. "I don't want my mother to see."
Elizabeth nodded, coming over to him. "Give them here," she said. "I'll get it before she comes out."
Remus held out his hands docilely. The bites weren't deep, but they were bloody. It was obvious that he'd gnawed them in the night when he stopped trying to dig.
"Your mum knows what your transformations are like, doesn't she?"
"Yes... but knowing it and seeing it... I don't want her to see it. Or Dad." He wrinkled his nose and looked around the shed as Elizabeth cleaned the wounds and healed them as well as she was able. "I don't want them to know what it smells like in here, either." He looked down, embarrassed. "I think I was... marking."
"Well, that's easy," Elizabeth said, finishing up his hands. She found the dark spots on the floor and walls, pointed her wand at them, and said, "Scourgify." Remus was still looking at the floor, his face the dark, dull red of bricks. "You'll want to learn that one," she said, keeping her voice as sharp and business-like as she could, to take away as much of the sense of personal humiliation as she could. "As soon as you can after you get your wand."
"It wasn't so bad outside. It was normal outside."
"I know. That's why I have the cage outside. But that has its own dangers, as you well know."
He nodded. "It's going to be a house," he said. "In Hogsmeade. When I go to Hogwarts. Mum and Dad had it built. A house, and tunnel from school. I don't know where they got the money." Elizabeth said nothing. She had tried to give the Lupins money--Maddoc's family had plenty, and he was the only heir--but they had refused with something like horror. The debt they must have incurred for this must have been extreme, if even Remus had noticed that they were nervous about it. They wouldn't have discussed it with him. He shivered in the morning chill. "I won't be outside at all anymore. Professor Dumbledore came to see us two days ago. They found a Whomping Willow to plant right over the tunnel entrance."
"That's nice--they must be very eager to have you there, to arrange for so much to help you." Elizabeth gave him what she hoped was an encouraging sort of smile. She wanted Hogwarts to be good for Remus, but she also wanted to protect him from every one of the million things that could go wrong with this plan. When the Lupins had started contacting the new headmaster four years ago, Elizabeth had been certain it would come to nothing--who would accept a werewolf among children?--but as the impossible became the actual, as they worked through all the contingencies, her fears and hopes had both grown. She kept both to herself; worries for Remus's future belonged properly to his parents.
"Professor Dumbledore is a very nice man," he said earnestly. "He likes my book collection."
"Well, it's quite a collection." Elizabeth rocked back to a sitting position, leaning against the shed wall. "Is all the blood on you from your hands?" she asked.
"I think so. Maybe one of my feet." He carefully stretched his legs out. There were scratches up and down his calves, but no bite marks. "Can you see my toes?" he asked. "I'm a bit dizzy for leaning over."
"Your toes are all there."
"No. But they are filthy. I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to having a nice hot bath."
Remus nodded and gave her a tired but sunny smile. "Extra bubbles." He moved to get up, then fell back onto the floor. "Not yet, though."
"You can rest. I doubt it's much past five." She smiled. "You're getting to be an old pro at transforming alone now. Two months straight, and just a bit of paw-gnawing. You'll be fine."
"I hate this."
Elizabeth bit her lip and didn't answer. Remus wasn't looking at her.
"Feeling like this, I mean. And... all of it. I hate changing. I want to be normal."
Tears burned behind Elizabeth's eyes, but she refused to let them out. She was right to feel guilty, to feel... unclean. But she wasn't going to make Remus feel worse by playing on his sympathy for her. He wasn't responsible for trying to comfort her. It was the other way around. "I know, Remus," she said as soon as she was sure she could control her voice. "If I could fix it--"
"You make it better," he said quickly. "Really you do. I don't like transforming alone. I've missed you."
"I've missed you, too."
"Is that why you made me?" As soon as the question was out, he seemed to realize what he'd said. His eyes widened. "I didn't mean that, Elizabeth. I know it wasn't on purpose. I know--"
Elizabeth squeezed his injured hand carefully. "It's all right, Remus. You have a right to say anything you like to me."
"But I do know--"
"Of course you do."
But she hadn't failed to notice how casually the question had come out, how close to the surface of his mind it was. Remus loved her, she thought, but he also hated her... and he hadn't forgiven her. Nor would she ask him to.
A soft tap on the door interrupted them. "Remus?" Mrs. Lupin called. "Are you awake?"
"Yes," Remus answered. "Elizabeth came to check on me."
"Oh." The door opened, and Remus's mother came in, her eyes narrowed in a suspicion or jealousy that Elizabeth didn't even think she was aware of. "Will you join us for breakfast, Mrs. Phelan?"
"Oh, no thank you, Mrs. Lupin. My husband is taking care of that." Elizabeth pulled herself up, using the wall for balance.
Mrs. Lupin looked away, putting an arm around Remus's shoulders to guide him. "Really, Mrs. Phelan," she said coolly, "you look weak. You should let my husband walk you home."
Remus's father had appeared behind her, looking concerned.
"It's all right," Elizabeth said. "Really. There are quite a lot of things to hold on to."
"Don't be silly," Lupin said. He bent and kissed Remus's forehead. "I'll be right back and we'll all have a nice breakfast." He put one arm securely over Elizabeth's shoulders, and grasped her elbow with the opposite hand, obviously a well-practiced and confident gesture. She had to admit that she felt a good deal more secure. "Let's get you home, Mrs. Phelan."
She nodded and let him lead her out into the morning.
He took the longer route, through the gate instead of between the slats of the fence, and they were almost in her dooryard when he spoke again. "Don't mind Julia," he said. "She isn't sure where you're to fit in our lives."
Elizabeth looked up, surprised. "I simply assumed--"
"Don't. We've been watching Remus go through this for five years now, much more closely than he knows. We have to lock him away from ourselves one night a month. If he's a danger to us--to people he knows and loves--how much control could there be? Julia is angry at fate, not at you."
"I haven't the energy to be angry at anyone." He stopped just outside the door to Elizabeth's house. "Have you heard about the missing sheep?"
Elizabeth nodded. "It's true wolves. Nothing you need to worry about for Remus's sake. They took one of ours a week ago."
"But someone saw one last night."
"I Vanished the morning paper before I came out to the shed. Elizabeth, they're talking about werewolves."
"That's absurd. The first sheep went missing when there wasn't a full moon!"
Lupin laughed. "You and Julia really would get along well if you would try. She said the same. In the same words. It doesn't matter, though. People are talking. They'll be looking next. I just wanted to make sure that you're careful."
"If they do start hunting, even after Remus goes off to Hogwarts, you are welcome to transform in the shed. You'll be less likely to be found."
"If I am found, people will wonder why you have a shed with such deep walls built for a neighbor lady who is practically a stranger, and who has a good sized property of her own. It will come back to Remus."
Lupin seemed to fight this out in his mind, his chivalrous instincts at war with his basic instinct to protect his son. The latter was considerably stronger, and he nodded in resignation, offering no argument. "Let's hope it doesn't come that," he said.
They took leave of one another with a final smile, and Elizabeth went inside to her husband, her breakfast, and her bath.
With extra bubbles.