Catherine held the small boy close as they drove down the road. The houses on either side of the dirt lane were old with peeling paint. She thought sadly of their little house in the friendly neighbourhood back in her hometown; they would never see it again. It tore at her heart to have to move, but given their circumstances, they could not risk living close to other people. She wished they’d been able to afford a nicer place. The boy stirred in his sleep when the car jostled from a rut, rousing her from her thoughts. ‘Nicholas, slow down or you’ll wake him.’
The man behind the wheel looked at the boy. His brow creased. He reached out his hand and made to touch his son’s calf, which was dressed in a large sterile bandage. Catherine drew the boy closer to her. Nicholas withdrew his hand and returned his focus on the uneven dirt road. ‘We should be there soon.’ He heard his wife’s shuddered sigh. ‘I’m sorry Catherine,’ he added more quietly. ‘I’m sorry there wasn’t more time.’
They drove on in a strained silence, each glancing at their son in turn. The small boy slept on, not at all bothered by his parents’ concern. Outside the automobile, the houses became sparse and the sun hung low in the sky. Their new house would be a long way from everything, so nobody would suspect and nobody would be in danger. Nicholas had spent the last month looking for such a place after they’d received the upsetting news. He’d cursed paperwork. They nearly hadn’t had time to buy the house before the hospital had told them to leave. What would they have done then, with no safe place for their son?
In his hurried search, he’d looked at the house only once, making sure of the storm cellar. The structure was sturdy, but in much need of care; it had not been lived in for many years. Catherine would enjoy the garden and he the forest surrounding it. The sun was almost set when they finally arrived at the small stone one-storey house. Catherine shook the small boy gently. ‘Remus,’ she whispered. The boy groaned and tried to snuggle up against her, but she shook him a little more urgently and stole a glance at the rising moon. ‘Remus, time to get up. We’re here.’
‘Mum,’ the boy mumbled into her dress, ‘Leavemealone.’
‘Shh-shh now,’ she said, brushing his light brown hair from his eyes. ‘You can sleep once we’re inside. Daddy and I will unpack.’
Nicholas opened the door. ‘Catherine, hurry: it’s almost nightfall. We need to get him inside.’ He hurried up the steps, fumbling in his pocket for the house key.
‘Sweetie,’ she said, shaking the boy again. Remus snuggled against her more closely, clutching tighter to her dress and refusing to budge. ‘I’ll carry you, then.’
Nicholas met them in the entry, his wand lit. ‘We should tell him,’ Catherine whispered as they started down the dark hall.
‘Catherine, we’ve been over this. He’s only six. He won’t understand.’
‘He will,’ she insisted. ‘Nick, we can’t just leave him in that room alone like this!’
Nicholas set his wand on a table and started tapping the wooden floor. ‘What would you do?’ he said, his voice strained. ‘Hold him? You have no protection from him: no wand, no magic. The mediwizard told us that even without the moonlight on him, he’ll still… We’ll just have to face it. This is how our lives are going to be from now on!’
‘A mattress? A light then, at least?’ she pleaded.
‘No, no light. What do you think he’ll do when he sees himself?’ His tapping produced a hollow echoing now. He took his wand from the table and pointed it to the spot. ‘Alohomora,’ he said softly. A portion of the floor lifted to reveal a stairway leading down. ‘Come on, Catherine, you’ll have to let him go now,’ he whispered when they had descended.
Catherine nodded and lay Remus on the mattress Nicholas had Summoned. Tears dripped from her chin and splashed the boy’s face. He stirred. ‘Sweetie, Daddy and I have to unpack now. You go back to sleep.’ She wiped her tears from his cheek.
‘Mum, why do you always cry now?’ Remus asked, reaching up to her face and wiping her tears away. ‘Did I do something bad? I didn’t mean to play with the dog.’
‘Oh Remus, honey, you didn’t do anything bad,’ she said, hugging him to her.
‘Catherine,’ Nicholas warned her from the top of the stairs.
‘I’m coming,’ she called up.
‘But I did. The Mungo people said I had to go today.’ Remus looked up into his mother’s face. He touched his bandaged calf and winced. ‘And we didn’t go home.’
‘This is home now, Remus,’ she said as she let go of her son and stood. ‘Go back to sleep now.’
‘Catherine, it’s almost down. Get out!’ Nicholas leaned into the cellar and held out his hand.
Catherine stepped away from Remus, but the boy grabbed at her dress hem. ‘Mum, why are you leaving me? I’m sorry I played with the dog.’
‘No Remus, Daddy and I have to unpack. You need to sleep. We’ll wake you for breakfast.’ She removed his hands from the hem and started to climb the stairs. The trap door closed behind her and Remus was swallowed up in darkness.
‘Mum!’ he yelled after her. He tried to stand, but his leg burned from where it had been bitten a month ago. He lay on the mattress, looking into the endless black around him. ‘I didn’t mean to,’ he told it. ‘It’s not my fault. He just bit me.’ He started to cry. It was just so unfair. They were leaving him and he hadn’t even done anything wrong!
Above the sounds of his shuddering sighs and well-spaced dramatic sobs, he could hear somebody moving about the house, setting down large things and moving others. They didn’t care that he was down here alone and that he was sad. And why weren’t they home?
‘MUM!’ he cried out suddenly. His skin was burning. Every inch of him was covered in pain. What was happening to him? He could feel his heart beating in the bite. ‘MUM!’ he screamed. ‘Daddy! Help!’ He looked at his hands, but he could only see the dark around him. He was sure his skin was ripping apart. Maybe he was on fire! His stomach began to burn, too. His head was burning now. His screams turned into high shrieks.
The morning sun shone on the dark wooden floor of the hallway. Nicholas knelt and placed his ear to the closed trap door. Not a sound. He backed away and cast the unlocking charm hesitantly. The door swung open; he started down the steps alone.
Catherine had sobbed uncontrollably at the sounds of her son’s anguish turning to the snarls of an unearthly creature the night before. She had refused to sleep, saying she would be awake for her son in the morning. She had finally fainted from exhaustion just before sun up.
Nicholas found Remus laying in the middle of torn cloth and padding; what was left of the mattress. The bandage had been ripped from his leg and a new bite bled lightly onto the floor. Ragged bites and scratches scored his arm, visible as his sleeve was torn away. There were traces of blood all over the stone floor and a little on the walls as well.
And little Remus was sound asleep in the middle of all this.
It was good that Catherine was not awake to see this, Nicholas thought as he picked his son up from the floor. She would not bear to see what her little Remus could do, how dangerous he was…a small boy of six. He carried his son up the stairs to clean him, dress his wounds, and put him to bed in his proper room. He could not allow himself to be thankful it was over. This would only be the first of countless full moons.