Many thanks to my beta reader Suburban House Elf, for her wonderful suggestions and help. And of course, thanks to JKRowling for the many hours of wonder I and my daughter have enjoyed.
Chapter 1 The Encounter
Catherine, hands on hips, looked over the last of the many rows of jars and vials, making sure everything was organized and tidy. This was crucial for an apothecary. One could never be too careful. Selling someone the wrong herb or emulsion by mistake could be disastrous. Satisfied that everything was in its place, she tucked a few damp tendrils of her brown hair back and paused. She could hear her large dog Maximus - tan and brown with golden eyes and a lazy kind nature - snoring at her feet. Nothing woke that dog up and just watching him for a moment relaxed her and brought a smile to her lips. She turned next to dusting the shiny stone countertops. She'd been working non-stop since the morning. There was always something to be done here - never a spare moment - and Catherine performed her job well.
It was her parents' apothecary, although she really was the main person running it these days. She had grown up here watching her parents work, and as soon as she was old enough she began helping out herself. The shop was small, the wooden cabinets and shelves dark, distressed and worn with use over the years. But it was clean and well stocked and earned her family a decent living. The fireplace in the corner was unlit for it was a sunny and warm spring day and the light shone through the large windows flanking the heavy oak door. She could see the dust particles sparkle and sway, floating in the light's path.
As she continued to dust, she came across an envelope pushed back into a low shelf. It was addressed to her. She took it out and paused for a moment, looking at the familiar crossed wand and bone in the upper left corner. She opened it and sighed as she read the letterhead at the top of the page - St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. She began to read.
To Catherine Elizabeth Lawson:
It is with grave disappointment that I accept your resignation from the post of Trainee Healer, signed February 7, 1985. There are many in need of the Healer's skill and care, and few with the talents or conviction to make it their life's work. The staff here saw promise in your hard work and empathic concern for our patients. I understand your reason for leaving is but another expression of this promise, as your father is in need no less than those in our care here. You will be welcome to return and continue your training if circumstances should change in the future...
Could it have been five years since she had left St. Mungo's? She could still picture some of her patients so vividly, even after all this time. Her time there had been exhausting, frightening, even at times devastating, but always exhilarating. She crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the wastebasket, returning to her dusting with increased vigor, as if she could clean this memory from her mind if she rubbed hard enough.
Catherine had always had a natural curiosity for the work, and a keen mind for learning the many ingredients and products sold here. But she also had a natural inclination to care for others, the sick or wounded. She'd wanted to study medicine as long as she could remember. While at Beauxbatons School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she'd taken any extra classes she could find related to medicine and healing. After graduation she'd returned to England and her family because her father had taken ill. Incredibly he had improved for a time, and her parents had insisted that she pursue the career she'd dreamed of. But it was not to be. Unfortunately her father went into a decline somewhere towards the end of her second year of training, and with the long hours and frequent overnight call, she knew she could not be there for her parents as much as she needed to be. She'd made the decision when she realized her family was in danger of losing the apothecary. That would have finished off her father right there. He'd placed his heart and soul into that business, and it was her family's sustenance.
And so here she found herself, twenty-seven years old, still living at home, doing what she'd been doing since a small girl, her dreams put on hold. But Catherine did not usually dwell much on what could have been. That was one of her strengths. Her parents needed her and that was that. Still, a little excitement would be quite welcome.
She smiled to herself. Excitement? Around here? The family business had been here so long they practically knew everyone. And it was a quiet sort of place. She walked to the doorway and looked out onto the street. The shop was in the center of the village, located on a cobblestone street that, with a bit of imagination, could be thought of as the business district. It was lined with small, but neatly painted and kept shops, offices, and eating establishments. The street was pretty and quaint, and the proprietors took care to keep it green with plants, trees, and patches of grass. Beyond this street were mostly cottages and houses. The village was named Gansville, small and nestled in the countryside outside of London, on the far side of a forest. Muggles lived there as well, blissfully unaware of the magical world in their midst, for it was well-hidden, either in clever disguise, attributed to eccentricity, or truly beyond the realm of the non-magical. The wizards and witches of Gansville had long ago learned and practiced a number of Muggle customs such as dress, in order to maintain this peaceful coexistence.
Catherine finally finished her dusting and sat behind the counter, reading. Suddenly Maximus jumped up from his nap and trotted to the door, whining and pacing back and forth in front of it.
"What is it Max?" Catherine asked, puzzled and a bit concerned. The only activity Maximus usually displayed was slowly opening one eye.
The chime on the door jingled as it opened. Catherine looked up to see a man enter. Maximus immediately jumped up and started sniffing him excitedly. Catherine had never seen this man before. He was somewhat taller than average, his light brown hair just beginning to gray. He looked tired, walked slowly, but when he saw Maximus he smiled an easy, kind smile that completely changed him and jolted Catherine out of her book. He knelt down to pet Maximus, who was deliriously happy by now. As Catherine watched him, she realized the man was quite a bit younger than she'd initially thought.
"May I help you?" she asked. He stood up - stiffly she saw - as if his leg was injured.
"Yes, thank you. I've come for a few things."
His voice was soft and friendly, but he avoided her gaze as he listed the items he'd come for: worrel root, foxglove, monkshood, cane syrup, wolf hair, and a simple salve for cuts and scrapes. Catherine was already quite intrigued by this stranger and stole a few more glances at him while she gathered his requests and he looked around the shop. The worn tweed coat had seen better days, but he was clean and well groomed. His tie and briefcase gave him a scholarly look. As she measured out the syrup, she couldn't help but wonder what the ingredients were for. This was one of her ways of passing time in the shop - trying to figure out what people were going to mix, and why. She knew it was nosy of her, but it did no harm and it helped her use her medical knowledge. She had done it so often, it had become somewhat of a game, but with this man it was different. Catherine didn't know why - maybe it was the seriousness of his expression as he waited, or the slight limp - but she was concerned for him.
She prepared the last item - the small packet of wolf hair - and wrapped everything for him to take. When she told him the cost, he rummaged around in his pocket for the coins and handed them to her. She again saw that easy smile. As she took the money she noticed he had nice hands. She looked up. His eyes were blue. She could feel a blush rising on her cheeks. She handed him his package. Again, she didn't know why, but she felt another wave of concern for him.
"I hope you feel better." She blurted out softly.
He took a sudden step back, smile gone. Damn it Catherine - what did you just do? she scolded herself. She hated her tendency to speak before she thought carefully. But what was that she had seen in his eyes? It was like he was searching her, just for a second. Then without saying anything, he gave a short nod and turned around. Maximus followed him to the door, gave a little whine and sat and waited, watching him walk down the street. The door slowly closed behind him.
As Catherine watched the door click shut, she took a deep breath and sighed. Why did she always have to be so impetuous? She'd been this way as long as she could remember - speaking before thinking, acting on impulse. Her closest friends loved her spontaneity and truthfulness. But she'd embarrassed herself with her honesty on more than a few occasions when discretion would have served her better, and she was frustrated that she'd let it happen again. He had been taken aback by her words, she could see that clearly. This stranger had intrigued her and she had practically pushed him out the door, with her big mouth. Resolving to change, she closed up the shop and walked with Maximus through winding streets to her parents' home, lost in thought.
Lying awake that night she again mulled over the ingredients the man had purchased. Foxglove could be used for heart problems. Maybe that was it. It could explain why he looked tired. Worrel root had calming properties, but he certainly did not seem to be an anxious sort. He struck her as quite the opposite, in fact. The cane syrup could simply be used to sweeten a bitter tasting mixture or potion - nothing much there. And the wolf's hair? She had never heard of that being used as an ingredient before. She was curious about that. She sighed and turned over, sleep overtaking her after the long day of work. Later that night she dreamed she was back in St. Mungo's, wearing the familiar lime green robe of the Healers. She was walking toward a patient who was sitting on the edge of a bed, his back to her. In front of the man was another Healer speaking with him. Catherine saw the Healer refer to a piece of parchment and shake his head sadly. The man then hung his head, silent. His hair was light brown, with flecks of gray...
A week later Catherine was balancing the ledger, red and black ink wells sitting on the counter next to the large book. The sun was just beginning to set, and as the light in the shop faded, she felt a shiver. She closed the windows to keep out the cold wind, lit a lamp, and set a pot of water to boil on the stove in the storeroom, for tea. That would warm her. She suddenly realized how late it was and that she was quite hungry. She'd better just close up shop and return home for supper. But at that moment Maximus jumped up from his nap to whine and scratch at the door. Catherine's heart began beating faster. The door slowly opened and the stranger was standing there. He seemed a bit out of breath.
"I know it's late. Are you still open?" he asked. No smile this time. He seemed more serious.
"I was just ready to close, but..." Catherine began to answer.
"Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you," he said. He started to turn away. He was so tentative, so guarded, she thought.
"No, please come in, of course I can help you!" Catherine replied quickly, silently cursing herself again. What the hell was wrong with her? Couldn't she think for a moment before she spoke?
He walked in. He looked a bit haggard. His limp was more pronounced and he had a fresh cut over his right eye. Catherine wondered what had happened to him. He handed her a list and as Catherine took it from him she saw deep scratches and bruises over the back of his hand and forearm. He saw her eyes widen a bit and linger there. He looked down at his arm and quickly covered it with his sleeve. Maximus seemed concerned for him too, sitting quietly right next to his leg.
Catherine looked over the list. Most of it was unremarkable: a tea for settling the stomach, more salve. But there was one ingredient she had not used before - petals from Blue Lupine. She'd have to look that one up. She smiled to herself at how very curious she had become about this man and the circumstances that had brought him to her shop. She tried to look detached and professional, but as she gathered the items she felt a strong urge to help him. She heard him sigh, and saw him lean against the counter. He seemed so...alone. She pressed forward in her characteristic way. (The very same way she had so recently resolved to change.)
"I, um, can dress those for you." She said it softly, but he jerked his head up in surprise.
"I'm sorry?" he asked, looking puzzled. She pointed to the area above his eye, and to his hand. He responded, "Oh, they're nothing, I..." He looked uncomfortable.
"No, really," Catherine interrupted him. "I've some medical training and they do look like they can use some care. Please, come here and sit down." She motioned to her stool behind the counter. He hesitated.
"I don't want to trouble you," he told her. "I've already kept you late."
She looked up at him earnestly. "Please." And then softly, "I would like to help."
For a moment she was afraid she'd gone too far. Just like before. But there it was again - that fleeting searching look. What was he looking for? she wondered to herself. Finally, he gave a brief nod and sat on the stool, grimacing as he did so, as though the movement hurt him.
Catherine quickly gathered what she needed. She dipped a clean cloth in a cleansing solution and dabbed the cut over his eye. He winced a little. She was so close to him she was sure he could hear her heart pounding. She placed a small bandage over the cut.
"Now, let me see your hand," she asked. And as she took his hand to inspect the injuries, she felt something. Their eyes met immediately, but his quickly looked away. He felt it too, she thought. And that realization excited her. She tried to act calm and relaxed as she began to clean the scratches on his hand. They were fairly deep. His hand felt cold. As she worked, she felt she had to get to know him better. There was an undeniable pull towards this man that she couldn't understand and didn't want to fight.
"My name is Catherine," she said as she worked. She tried to keep her tone light, and didn't look up.
He hesitated. Finally, "I'm Remus, Remus Lupin."
She glanced up at him now. He looked very tired and a little pale. The wind was getting stronger, they could hear it rustling the branches outside the windows, and the shop began to feel cold. Maximus was now lying at Lupin's feet, his head resting on one of his shoes. Suddenly she had an idea.
"Wait there! Please. I need to get something." She quickly walked to the storeroom.
He watched her as she walked away. He seemed puzzled by her. There it was again, thought Lupin. That directness. It had caught him off guard the first time, and again tonight. He'd learned long ago to keep to himself. It was better that way, less complicated. And it bought him extra time in each new place he'd had to start over. It had been ages since he'd even contemplated being close to a woman. After James, Lily and Peter's deaths, and Sirius' imprisonment, he didn't even have true friends anymore. But here, in this shop, he felt something he had not felt in a long time. He felt someone cared. He felt he could trust her. He couldn't explain why, he just felt it. He laughed to himself almost sarcastically. Wishful thinking from a lonely soul. He shook his head as if to clear these crazy thoughts from it and stood up to leave.
"Oh please!" Catherine told him as she walked back into the room. "Don't leave yet!" And more softly - "Not until you've warmed yourself with this. It's cold out there!"
She set a large mug of steaming, frothy hot chocolate down on the counter in front of him. She had one for herself also. He inhaled its rich aroma and smiled his first true smile of the night. Her eyes sparkled. The smile she returned was genuine and friendly and he suddenly felt warm down to his very soul, before he'd even taken a sip of the chocolate. They began to talk.