The Sugar Quill
Author: Ms. Avi  Story: The Beat of a Wild Heart  Chapter: The Beat of a Wild Heart
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

"Stop being so bloody proud and let us help you, Moony

 

THE BEAT OF A WILD HEART

 

 

"Stop being so bloody proud and let us help you, Moony."

            A small, wry grin touched the corners of Remus Lupin's mouth.

            "I'm not being proud, Padfoot.  I'm trying to maintain some modicum of self-respect."  He smiled gratefully up at Lily as she placed a steaming mug of tea before him at the Potters' new kitchen table.  She returned his smile, adding an encouraging wink.

            "You know," said James loudly, with a quelling look at Sirius, "you're more than welcome to stay with us.  We'd appreciate it, actually.  Lily and I have been so busy lately, we barely have enough time to collect the post, let alone read it."

            "Prongs, we've discussed this," said Remus quietly.  "I'd sooner take up permanent residence in the Shrieking Shack than move in with you and Lily."

            "Well isn't that friendly," James muttered, scowling.

            "It's only common sense," said Remus, trying to suppress a broad grin at his friend's expression and failing miserably.  "You and Lily will need the extra space in a few months.  Not to mention that I don't imagine a werewolf would be the best choice in babysitters." 

            "Bollocks," said Sirius angrily, sitting backwards in a kitchen chair with his arms folded over the wooden backrest. 

            "Padfoot--"

            "Your damned 'self-respect' is going to see you dead in a ditch somewhere, and I'll be damned if I'm going to sit here and let it happen.  You won't live with James and Lily because of the baby; fine.  You won't live with Peter and his mother; totally understandable.  But you and I both know there isn't a reason in the world why you can't live with me.  I've got a whole bloody house to myself.  You're being an obstinate ass."      "No reason besides the one, you mean," said Remus, nodding genially in Sirius's direction.

            "We figured out how to deal with that in our fifth year at Hogwarts!" Sirius yelled in exasperation.

            "That's the whole point, Padfoot.  I don't want anyone to have to 'deal' with it.  A situation like that wouldn't be fair to either of us, not to mention that I flat-out refuse to take any chances when it comes to safety.  I'll be happy to pay you long, exploitative visits whenever you like, all of you.  But live with you?  No.  I won't be doing that anytime soon."

            "Then tell us what your plans are, Remus," said Lily, sitting down in the empty seat next to James.  "You must have something in mind."

            Remus sighed, staring down at his mug of tea.

            "The Hill House," he said, after a pause.  No one spoke for a few stunned moments.

            "I thought your parents sold that house," said Lily.

            "So did I.  After all the horrible things I said to them when they told me they'd bought it, I'm surprised they didn't.  But Mum wrote to me just before graduation to say that it would be there if I ever wanted or needed it."

            "You've never even seen that house, and you want to live there?" asked James.

            "As long as it has a roof, and as long as the nearest neighbor is a good 20 kilometers away, it'll be perfect," said Remus to his tea.

            "I thought you said hell would freeze over before you lived in that house," said Sirius darkly. 

            "Yes, well, I've said a lot of things I now regret."

            All four of them sat in silence for several minutes.

            "Well, regardless of where you're living at the moment, you're going to stay here for dinner tonight, and I won't take no for an answer," said Lily, patting Remus's arm as she stood and pulling James up with her.  Remus smiled up at her again and then turned to look at Sirius, who was still frowning.

            "I expect you'll be thanking your lucky stars that I turned your offer down soon enough," he said, grinning.

            "Yeah?  Why's that?" asked Sirius, his eyes narrowing.

            "An incorrigible ladies' man like me?  You'd bring them home and I'd steal them right from under your nose.  You'd have kicked me out within a month."

            Remus watched with deep amusement as the muscles in Sirius's face worked furiously to maintain his scowl.  It was only a matter of seconds, however, before a loud, bark-like laugh burst from his mouth.

            "You wanker," Sirius sighed, grinning and shaking his head as he stood up from his chair and walked out of the kitchen.  Remus followed him into the dining room to help set the table, indulging in a wide, self-satisfied grin.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

            Despite his resolve, Remus stared at the knob on the front door for several long minutes before he could bring himself to take hold of it.  A cloud of dust swirled up from the floor as he pushed the door open.  Every flat surface in the cottage was covered with a layer of grime roughly five years thick, and Remus set a new personal record when he sneezed violently six times in a row.  The cottage had only three rooms.  The living area had an ancient wood-burning stove in the far corner on the left side of the room and a threadbare armchair next to the stone fireplace on the right.  Clenching his jaw against a fresh wave of depression, he made his way to the little hall.  He paused only to glance at the tiny bathroom on the left before entering the bedroom, which contained nothing but a bare bed and a door-less closet standing woefully open to the room.  He tossed his suitcase onto the bed with perhaps more force than he usually would have done and went back to the living room.  It was then that he spied a letter sitting in the middle of the small table near the stove, half-concealed beneath the dust.  He picked it up, shook off the dust, and saw that the envelope was addressed to him.  With another spectacular sneeze, he tore the envelope open and read the letter inside:

 

Dear Son,

I know that this is not the home you always dreamed of, and it's not the home you deserve, either.  Your father and I love you so much, if we cannot have you with us, then we at least want to make sure that you are somewhere safe.  If you ever need anything, you have only to ask.  You know that.  Never forget that we love you.

All my love,

Mum

           

Remus’s throat tightened uncomfortably as he read the letter, written so many years ago.  He had said some cruel things to his parents when they’d told him about the Hill House, and to his mother in particular.  It had been the first and only time he’d made her cry on purpose.  The memory still filled him with shame, regret and self-loathing whenever it came to him.  He left the letter lying open on the little table, and set out to clean his new home. 

It was very slow going, and it took him the entire day to clean the living room to his satisfaction.  He found a large family of mice living in the old stove.  The shaggy curtains on the kitchen window had the usual complement of doxies making themselves at home.  It took him forever to dislodge the bundimun from the under the rug near the fireplace.  He was so exhausted by the end of the day that he took only partial notice of the mud all over the floor in the bedroom, the scratched wood around the window, and the bare spot in one corner, which his sleepy brain recognized as signs that a wild animal had somehow figured out how to come and go as it pleased.  The room had a faint smell that was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t decide which animal it might be.  He didn’t even have the energy to start a fire in the grate.  Telling himself that he’d worry about the bedroom in the morning, he went back to the living room, collapsed on the armchair, and drew the shabby crocheted afghan on the backrest over his arms.  He fell asleep quickly, for once able to shut out the worries and guilty memories that usually kept him awake.

            He slept poorly, his dreams turning as they so often did to nightmarish visions of eerie, distorted shadows and garish moonlight, ghostly echoes of inhuman screams and the all-too-familiar smell of blood.  One particular nightmare tormented him at least once a week with the image of the spidery branches of bare trees bending and snapping beneath the weight of an enormous full moon that threatened to come crashing down on his head, the deafening pound of a rapid heartbeat driving him to the very brink of madness.  It wasn’t the sights or sounds, or even the smells in this nightmare that inspired the most terror when he woke.  It was the exhilarated feeling that consumed him afterwards that he feared, though he wasn’t exactly sure why.  It visited him again as he slept in the armchair, and he woke with a start, grateful to have escaped the worst of it.  His hands shook as he wiped the cold sweat from his face, taking deep breaths in an attempt to slow his racing heart. 

He was startled again when a short, loud bang rang out from the bedroom.  It sounded as if something had slammed into the window.  He shoved the afghan off his lap and hurried cautiously to the little hallway that led to the bedroom. He drew his wand as he neared the bedroom door, hoping that it was only a post owl.  As he neared the bedroom, he heard soft scraping noises, a dull thud as something landed on the floor, and another short bang as the window slammed shut behind whatever had invaded his cottage.  Peering around the doorframe, he saw a thin, shadowy figure straightening from a crouched position on the floor. Its back was to him, and Remus could just make out a long, scraggly mane of dull brown hair.  The creature turned around, and he saw that it was a girl, not so many years younger than he but much the worse for wear.  She was absolutely covered with dirt; every square inch of her bare skin was black with filth.  Bits of leaves and twigs stuck out from her long, unruly hair.  Her clothes were barely recognizable as a pair of jeans and a jumper, now hanging in shreds from her painfully-thin body.  She wore no shoes. 

Remus had just opened his mouth to address her when she noticed him.  Without warning, she began to screech at the top of her lungs, whirling around and scrabbling desperately for the window behind her.

Petrificus Totalus!” he shouted in alarm, his wand pointed at her back.

Instantly, the screeching stopped and her entire body went rigid.  She balanced on her feet just long enough for Remus to catch her as she fell, and he lowered her gently onto the floor.  He moved around to kneel beside her so that she could see him, and was greatly troubled by the animalistic panic raging behind her wide, pale eyes.  He was so close, and she so frightened, that he could almost hear the frantic beat of her heart.

“It’s all right,” he said soothingly.  “I won’t hurt you.  Don’t be afraid.  You surprised me, that’s all.  Here, I’ll remove the spell.”

He lifted the body-bind curse, and instantly the girl scrambled away from him, using her arms and legs to slide along the floor on her back until her head met the wall near the closet with a loud thump.  At least she’s not screaming anymore, thought Remus.  But her eyes were still wide, and even through the dirt he could clearly make out an expression of wild terror. 

“It’s all right,” he repeated.  “My name is Remus Lupin.  My parents own this cottage.  Have you been living here?” he asked, thinking of the mud on the floor and the scratches around the window.  The girl continued to stare at him, wide-eyed and motionless.

“What is your name?” he asked, using the most calming, pleasant tone he could muster.

Still, she neither moved nor spoke.  Remus sighed, having no idea what to do and realizing quickly that his brain was much too tired to make any kind of rational decision without at least a mild stimulant.  He pointed his wand at the window.

Defigo,” he muttered, and the lock on the window snapped closed.  He used the same spell on the windows in the bathroom, the living room, and on the front door.  He didn’t wish to cause the girl any more distress, but he needed some answers.  In the meantime, however, he was going to make himself a cup of tea.

He was already on his second cup when she finally emerged, skulking in the hallway with her eyes flickering between him and the front door.  He smiled kindly at her.

“The door is locked,” he said in a low, friendly voice.  “I don’t mean to keep you captive, but if we’re to be roommates, I think we should get to know one another, don’t you?”  He nodded toward the chair across the table from his own.  “I could get you a cup of tea if you like.  And I have a tin of biscuits here.  Please help yourself.”  He prodded the tin across the table in her direction and sat back, sipping his tea in what he hoped she might take for a nonchalant, carefree manner.

From the moment he began to speak, the girl had fixed him with a piercing stare.  He couldn’t tell if she had looked at the tin of biscuits or not, but she made no move toward it until he had finished his tea and inched his chair even farther away from the table.  He heard her sniffing the air and quickly suppressed a grin.  He feigned a sudden interest in the ceiling.  She crept slowly toward the table, and then, quick as lightning, snatched the tin from the table and retreated to the little hallway.  Remus watched her sink to the floor, devouring the biscuits with a ravenous fervor.  His heart suddenly ached for this girl, who obviously went hungry on a regular basis. 

He stood slowly from the table, wincing as she hurriedly rose to her feet, clutching the empty tin in front of her like a shield.  He went over to the sink, pulled a drinking glass from the small shelf above it and conjured some milk into the glass.  He walked back into her field of vision, placed the glass on the table, and prodded it toward her like he’d done with the tin.  Then he withdrew to his chair to watch.  It took much less time for her to decide to approach the table.  She grabbed the glass, spilling milk onto the floor, and this time she took only a few steps back from the table.  Remus was heartened enough to speak again.

“I know I’ve mentioned this, but you might not have heard me in all of the excitement.  My name is Remus.  Remus Lupin.  My parents bought this house five years ago, and I’m going to be living here now.” 

He watched her for the smallest reaction, but aside from staring at him over her glass of milk, she gave no sign that she’d understood him.  She finished the milk, licking the rim of the glass as far as her tongue would reach.  When she’d cleaned it to the best of her ability, she inexplicably let it fall from her hand onto the floor, where it shattered into tiny pieces.  Automatically, Remus drew his wand, pointed it at the glass shards at her feet, and murmured, “Reparo.”

Even animals know the significance of a suspicious-looking object pointed in their direction.  The girl took one look at Remus’s drawn wand, let out a loud yell, and threw the empty biscuit tin at him.  The tin caught him on the forehead, and he reared back in pain, tipping his chair over and landing on his back, feet in the air.  By the time he had righted himself, the girl was tugging furiously at the doorknob, kicking with her feet and screaming as if she had been the one hit in the head with a biscuit tin.  He rushed over to her, not knowing what to do but wanting to calm her down somehow.

“It’s all right,” he said again, adopting the relaxed, soothing tone from before.  “I just wanted to fix the glass.  I should have warned you about my wand, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to scare you.” 

Nothing he said seemed to make much difference.  The girl continued to pound angrily on the door, her screams slowly turning into sobs of frustration.

“Look,” he said, bending down to retrieve the repaired glass.  “Look, I fixed it.  That’s what I did with my wand.  I can do lots of things with my wand.  Watch, I’ll show you.” 

In desperation, he made sure she was watching, if only out of the corner of her eye, and quickly conjured some more milk.  As though he’d flipped a switch, the girl stopped screaming and pounding.  She turned to face him, staring open-mouthed at the full glass of milk, and then at the wand in his other hand.

“Here,” he said softly, holding the glass out for her to take.  “I promise I won’t hurt you.  You don’t need to worry about that.”

She took the glass from him, but did not guzzle it down like she’d done with the previous one.  She stared at him, and he was very gratified to see the unmistakable light of comprehension in her pale eyes.  He walked back to his upended chair, set it back on its legs and sat.  He pushed the other chair toward her with his foot, and she sat almost immediately.

“So,” he said conversationally, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, “we know my name is Remus.  How about you?  What’s your name?”

The girl adopted a look of mild confusion, as if he’d asked her a difficult and rather unpleasant question.  Remus waited patiently, dabbing at his slightly bloody forehead with a handkerchief from his pocket.  Then, she spoke her first intelligible word of the night.

“No,” she said quietly.

“No?”  It was Remus’s turn to be confused.  “Do you mean that ‘No’ is your name, or that you don’t remember what it is?”

“No,” she repeated simply.  Remus’s brow furrowed.  This was going to be even more difficult than he’d anticipated.

“Where is your family?” he asked, trying a new tactic.

“No,” she said.

“Where did you come from?”

“No.”

“How long have you been staying here?”

“No.”

“So I take it you’ve been alone for quite some time, since you seem to be a bit rusty with your conversational skills,” he muttered, dabbing his forehead ruefully with the handkerchief.  The girl was silent for a moment, watching him.  Finally, she said,

“Yes.” 

Remus stared at her dumbly for a moment.  Then his face broke into a wide grin.

“Do you remember my name?” he asked, hopeful.

“Yes,” she said.

“Can you say it?”

She regarded him in silence for another moment, and Remus couldn’t tell if she really was trying to remember his name or if she were playing with him, making him wait.

“Remus,” she said, and though the consonants were a little garbled, it was indeed his name.  Remus couldn’t help himself; he let out a triumphant little whoop, smiling from ear to ear.

“Well, you speak English; I think that much is clear.  If I had to guess, I’d say your memory seems to have suffered some damage.  You must have a name, so I suppose it’s only a matter of time before you remember it.  That’s quite all right.  Plenty of time for all of that.  In the meantime, however,” he said, standing from his seat, “do you remember what a bath is?”

“No,” she said, watching him with a slightly apprehensive look.

“Then please allow me reacquaint you.  It’ll make you feel much, much better, I’m sure.  And while you’re doing that, I can find you something more substantial to eat than a tinful of biscuits.  More substantial, and less dangerous,” he said, winking cheekily and saluting her with a flip of the handkerchief.

 

 

 

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

            Remus spent the next two days teaching some of the finer aspects of human interaction to his unusual guest.  He discovered quite quickly that her sense of humor was remarkably unpredictable.  She would sit in total silence through jokes that had once had his friends howling with mirth, only to burst out in hysterical laughter at the silliest of his remarks or gestures.  As far as he could tell, her comprehension was as good as any teenage girl’s.  Yet, for whatever reason, she was either unable or unwilling to say more than a few words at a time.  From what he could glean during their initial conversation, the girl had been routinely breaking into the Hill House for many months to use as shelter while she slept.  When he asked where she spent the rest of her time, she would only point vaguely in the direction of the huge forest that bordered the cottage on one side.  She could not tell him why or how she came to be alone in the world, and after two attempts to ask her about it met with nothing more revealing than a blank stare, he dropped the subject.  But the question was answered for him, at least in part, when she took her second bath.

From the sloshing, banging and splashing sounds that came out of the bathroom during her first experience in the chipped, clawed-foot tub, Remus gathered that bathing was much like language for her, in that she remembered it well enough but was simply out of practice.  He had shown her how to use the taps, laid out a towel and some of his own clean clothes, handed her a fresh bar of soap, and left her to it.  When she emerged, clean and smiling, Remus had marveled that the girl beneath all of that dirt and grime was actually rather pretty. 

She had disappeared into the bathroom of her own volition early the next morning, and Remus grinned to himself when he heard the running water.  He went into the bedroom and laid out a towel and another set of clothes on the bed for her.  And then he received a shock when he turned around to find her standing in the doorframe, dripping wet and as naked as the day she was born.  Once he had sufficiently quashed the flutter in his stomach that sprang violently to life at the sight of a naked young woman only a few short steps away from him, he received another shock when he dared to venture a closer look.  Nearly her entire body was covered with scars of all different shapes, sizes and severities.  The worst ones by far were in a large crescent shape extending from her collarbone to her right shoulder.  There were similar scars, and others that followed a different pattern, scattered all over her slight frame.  And in a suffocating rush, Remus understood a number of things all at once. 

“You’re a werewolf,” he breathed, the words nearly catching in his throat.

The girl stared at him impassively for a few moments, apparently quite unconcerned about standing completely naked in front of a man she’d just met.  She crossed the room toward him, reaching out to take the towel that was sitting on the bed just behind him.  He instinctively shrank away from her as her bare skin brushed his arm, turning his eyes to the wall and hoping his face was not burning as red as it felt.

He risked a glance at her a moment after she’d moved away, and his eyes snapped back to the wall when he saw that she hadn’t covered herself, but was using the towel to vigorously rub the dripping water out of her long hair.  He took a step back when she brushed by him again to take the shirt he’d left for her on the bed, still carefully scrutinizing the wall over his shoulder.  He waited an extra-generous amount of time before turning slowly to face her once again.  She was wearing one of his old white oxfords, her hands hidden in the sleeves and the hem brushing her knees.  Remus swallowed and took a deep breath.

“You’re a werewolf,” he said again, and the girl’s brow furrowed slightly, clearly expressing her mild confusion.

            Remus reached down to roll up the left leg of his baggy trousers as high as it would go.  There, just visible beneath the bunched fabric, were the unmistakable marks of a severe animal bite buried deep into his upper thigh.  The wound was still an odd pinkish color, despite its obvious age.  The girl stared down at his leg, and then looked up at him, confusion still lingering behind her pale eyes.  Remus pointed to the scars on his leg, tracing their crescent pattern, and then pointed to where her own scars lay beneath the borrowed shirt.  There were subtle differences between his scars and hers, but they had unmistakably been caused by the same thing.

            “I was bitten as well; I have the same scar.  I am a werewolf also.”

            After a moment’s silence, the girl bent down, reached for the rolled leg of his trousers, and roughly shoved them further up so she could get a clearer view of his scars.  She traced the pattern of them slowly with her fingers, her eyes mere inches from his skin.  He shivered involuntarily as she touched him, clearing his throat in embarrassment, but he did not move away.  When she finally released her grip on his trousers, he let the cuff fall back to the ground, and she stood to face him.  Her confusion had been replaced with a knowing look, and though she betrayed no sense of happiness or amusement, he thought he recognized something like satisfaction in the corners of her mouth.

            “What is it?” he asked, intensely curious.

            The girl pointed to the window, her one-word answer so much more enlightening when he met her meaningful gaze.

            “Moon.”

            “You’re right!” Remus exclaimed softly.  “It’s tomorrow night, isn’t it?  Strange, I’m usually much more…aware of it by now.”

            He instantly understood her expression.  The knowledge that, for the first time in his life, he would spend his monthly night of torment with someone who knew exactly what it was like was grimly satisfying to him as well.  Three of his friends at school had gone above and beyond the normal bonds of friendship to learn the difficult animagus transformation, violating a long list of wizarding laws in the process.  Transformed into animals, they had been able to accompany him on the nights of the full moon.  He owed them so much; his good humor, his sanity, his battered and bruised, but functioning sense of self-worth.  They were amazingly empathetic; they loved him, and he them.  They were dearer to him than anyone else in the world.  And yet, they would never be able to fully understand.  This girl, however, could.

            Their relationship evolved quickly after that one brief exchange.  For reasons he could not articulate, Remus no longer felt the need to ask her any questions.  He still spoke to her at length, telling stories and giving her information about the world that had apparently forgotten she ever existed.  He explained more about his wand and that it meant that he was a wizard.  She seemed to absorb this information with complete indifference; she listened to him intently, and yet her expression did not change in the slightest from the moment he started speaking.  He wondered if she might be a witch, bitten as a child and somehow separated from her wizarding family.  Without magic to help them, most Muggles didn’t live long enough after receiving a werewolf bite to truly become werewolves themselves.  Judging from the severity and viciousness of her old wounds, he also wondered if she might be another victim of the werewolf who had bitten him so long ago; Fenrir Greyback.  He thought it very likely, since she had obviously been bitten when she was quite young, and Greyback’s trademark was brutal attacks on young wizarding children.  He knew there was no way he could possibly learn the details of her transformation, at least not until she grew more comfortable with the English language, so he put all of these musings out of his mind.  He focused on making her feel comfortable, safe, and most of all, on making her laugh. 

He fixed them a large lunch, heavy on the potatoes, knowing that they would both need their strength for the next day.  They were just cleaning up when there was a knock on the door.  Without a word, or even a glance, the girl slipped silently into the little hallway and disappeared into the bedroom.  Remus felt a slight twinge of apprehension as he opened the door, but sighed in relief and smiled broadly when he discovered Sirius Black standing on the other side of it.

            “Thought I’d bring you your housewarming gift, and maybe join you for a little romp in the woods tomorrow night,” said Sirius to Remus as he stepped inside.  “It’s as boring as death in that house all by myself.”

“Well you know I’d normally welcome the company,” said Remus, smiling.  “But I’m afraid your presence might disturb my new houseguest.”    

Sirius froze.  A devilish grin crept slowly over his face.

“You’re joking.”

“Well, maybe about welcoming your company,” said Remus with an exaggerated wink.

“Oh really?  So do I get to meet this phantom houseguest?” asked Sirius, scanning the living room for evidence of another inhabitant.

“If you’re lucky.  She’s a little shy.”

“Don’t tell me,” said Sirius, the grin still thick on his face.  “You’ve adopted a stray cat.”

“Well…I suppose you could say that I’ve taken in a stray.  But a cat?  No.  For some odd reason, most cats don’t seem to enjoy my company very much.”

“Well, then, where the hell is sh--?”

Sirius broke off mid-word when he caught sight of the girl, who was staring at him from the shadows in the small hallway.

“It’s all right,” said Remus, smiling reassuringly at her.  “This is my friend, Sirius Black.” 

It suddenly dawned on him that he still had no idea what to call the girl.  Turning back to Sirius, he said,

“We’re still having some trouble figuring out her name.  I’m sure she could tell us both what it is, but unfortunately, it seems a mild case of amnesia has damaged her ability to speak.  As far as I can tell, anyway.”

Sirius continued to stare at the girl, looking surprised, and curious, and almost as uncertain as the girl looked herself. 

“Hello,” he said tentatively.

The girl did not respond.  She inched out of the hallway, and then quickly moved into the living room, standing behind Remus so that she was all but hidden from Sirius’s view.  Sirius raised his eyebrows questioningly at Remus.

“It’s all right,” Remus repeated, hoping he sounded much more confident than he felt.  “Once we’ve all had a cup of tea and a good chat, I’m sure it will be fine.”

Sirius gave a little shrug and walked toward the kitchen table.  Before he’d taken two steps, however, the girl let out a little whimper, streaked back to the hallway, into the bathroom, and slammed the door shut behind her.  The two men heard the distinct click of the lock as they sat opposite one another around the kitchen table.

“Remus…” Sirius began, his eyebrows lifted again.

“She’s just skittish.  She’s been through a lot.”

“Like what?”
            “Like a werewolf attack,” said Remus darkly.

Sirius blanched.

“You—you didn’t…?”

“No,” Remus answered quickly.  “No, it wasn’t me.  It happened many years ago, though she still can’t tell me exactly how old she was.  She’s been breaking in here for a while now, to sleep.  I shouldn’t wonder she reacted the way she did,” he said on a sudden inspiration.  “It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that she’s had some bad run-ins with the Werewolf Capture Unit.”  Both his voice and expression gained a hard, bitter edge.  “They’ve always been trigger-happy, and her lack of fluent speech would be all the proof they’d need to label her as feral and treat her accordingly.”

“How do you know she hasn’t gone feral, Remus?” asked Sirius soberly.

“You’ve only been here four days.  I’m not sure that’s long enough for a proper evaluation, mate.”

“It’s long enough for me to know that her humanity has survived intact,” said Remus shortly, trying to rein in his temper.

“Look, you know my opinion of those sick, werewolf-killing gits in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.  You want to keep the Ministry out of it; best decision you could make, I’d say.  But if she’s lost part of her memory…you’re going to need some help, Remus.  You know we’re all here for you, but you might consider talking to Dumbledore about this.  He fixed it so you could go to Hogwarts.  Maybe he could help this girl the same way.”

Remus frowned, staring crossly at nothing in particular on the tabletop.  The fact that these implied admonitions were coming from Sirius, who was usually the one in desperate need of some rational guidance, galled him horribly.  The truth was that Albus Dumbledore could probably help the girl in ways that would never even occur to Remus.  Undoubtedly, Dumbledore could help her regain a command of the English language faster than anyone else.  He might even be able to discover her origin; she might have a family out there somewhere, ready to welcome her home with open arms despite her affliction.  But Remus didn’t want anyone else involved just yet.  This was the first chance he had ever had to take care of someone with needs that far surpassed his own.  He was tired of always being the one to receive help.  For once he was able to really give it, and he burned with shame at the realization that he was being selfish.  But Dumbledore would always be there, he reasoned.  He would try to build up the girl’s strength and confidence himself, and then seek some further assistance with the more difficult aspects of her rehabilitation.  Surely a few more days at least would do no harm.  And really, he thought angrily, who is more qualified to help a werewolf than a fellow werewolf?

Sirius stayed just long enough to give Remus the gift that he, James, Lily and Peter had selected for his new home.  It was a wizard’s wireless; a very nice one with all the latest bells and whistles.  With another pang of deep shame, Remus thanked Sirius for the gift, asked him to heartily thank the others on his behalf, and assured Sirius that he’d be ‘round to visit them all very soon.  Sirius did not say anything else about Dumbledore or the girl’s condition, but Remus could not miss the sullen look of disapproval his friend wore as he left.

Remus and the girl spent the rest of the night listening to the wireless.  She sat on the floor before it, transfixed, as he did his best to ignore the doubts that weighed his thoughts down to the floor and knitted his brows together.  He’d been sleeping in the living room armchair since she’d arrived, leaving the bed for the girl.  But that night, he sat awake for many hours after she’d gone to bed, trying to convince himself that he’d made the right decision.  You want to do what’s best for the girl, don’t you, his conscience asked him in earnest.  What’s best for her?  As reluctant as he was to admit it, once he had decided to ask Dumbledore for help, the shame and doubt he’d felt earlier evaporated.  The next day would be his last alone with the girl, he told himself firmly.  The day after that, once they’d both sufficiently recuperated from the effects of the full moon, he would take her directly to Dumbledore.  With his conscience satisfied, he sank back into the armchair and quickly fell asleep.

It was still dark outside when a strangled scream jolted him awake.  Instantly on alert, he jumped from the chair and ran into the bedroom, pulling his wand from a pocket as he ran. 

Lumos!” he cried, shining the beam of light from his wand onto the bed.  The girl was tangled up in the sheets, her limbs tucked into her body, her chest heaving as if she’d been running and her eyes wide.

“What is it?” Remus asked nervously, peering around the room as he aimed the light into the corners, the closet, and at the window. 

The girl didn’t answer.  When he shone the light at her again, she looked over at him, and he saw that her cheeks were streaked with tears.  He’d certainly had enough nightmares to recognize the signs.

Nox,” he whispered, pocketing his wand and approaching the bed.

“It’s all right,” he soothed.  “It was only a dream.”  He pulled the twisted sheet from between her limbs and laid it over her carefully.

“They’re unpleasant, but they can’t hurt you,” he said, bending to retrieve the blanket from the floor.  He spread the blanket over her as well.

“After our monthly ordeal tomorrow night, I’ll take you to see someone who can help you.  He’s helped me more than I could ever repay.  I know he’ll take good care of you too.”  Remus smiled warmly.

“Try to get some sleep,” he said, and turned to leave.  He stopped when he felt her hand close tightly over his wrist.  He looked down at her in surprise.

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said, guessing at the meaning behind the entreating look she gave him.  “I won’t leave you.  I’ll be right there with you.  You won’t be getting rid of me so easily.”  He indulged in a small grin.  She stared up at him with the same imploring expression.  After a pause, she pulled his wrist down, forcing him to come closer and stoop slightly over the bed. 

“No,” he stammered, catching on.  “I—I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

She tugged his arm forcefully in response, and he had no choice but to lean awkwardly on the bed, still trying to keep his feet on the floor.

“I’ll be just in the living room, in the chair, if you need me,” he said as he tried to wrest his arm from her grasp, his voice a bit higher than usual. 

“Please,” she whispered, quite clearly.  He stared at her, nonplussed.

“Sleep,” she said, lying back onto her pillow.  She wriggled away from him, only releasing her grip on his wrist when she’d made a large enough spot for him on the bed.  He sat gingerly on the edge, carefully avoiding her eyes.  His mouth rapidly grew very dry.  He slowly lay down next to her, staring at the ceiling, and suddenly very aware that he’d forgotten to brush his teeth that night.  She did not seem to mind, however, as she inched closer to him.  His whole body tensed when he felt her face nuzzling into the side of his chest.  She took a few minutes to situate herself, snuggling up close beside him and sighing contentedly when she’d found a comfortable position.  It took him quite a lot longer to relax.  But once he’d gotten over the initial perplexity of the situation, he silently reveled in the warmth of her body next to his, and the pleasant, undeniably feminine scent of her hair just below his chin.  Somewhere in the back of his mind, he recognized her scent as the one he’d been unable to place when he’d first encountered the muddy cottage bedroom, and he smiled.  Once his own heartbeat had settled back to its normal rhythm, he began to hear hers as well.  He could feel its steady progression through his hand, laid gently on her back.  The steady rhythm lulled him to sleep faster than he’d ever been able to do on his own, and he soon joined her in blissfully dreamless oblivion that lasted well into the next morning.

When Remus woke and found her still cuddled close to him, fast asleep, he could not remember ever feeling happier.  She began to stir not long after, yawned extravagantly through his shy greeting, and shuffled sleepily into the bathroom.  Remus couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed, though he chided himself furiously for it.  He refused to entertain any sort of romantic idea.  She was so young, and though he might have only been a few years older, he was barely twenty himself.  She didn’t need a lover, she needed a friend, and he was determined to be a good one.

Neither one of them felt up to anything much more strenuous than lounging in front of the fire, drinking tea and trying to force bits of toast into their weak stomachs.  Soon after lunchtime, Remus lost his appetite completely.  He began to feel the familiar urge to liberate himself from four walls and a ceiling, and it became slowly overwhelming as dusk grew nearer.  The girl was obviously having the same experience; she was staring fixedly out of the window and biting her lower lip with a look of increasing agitation.  Finally, she stood and walked shakily over to the window, her face bathed in the soft amber glow of the setting sun.  After a short while, she swayed slightly, trying to angle her head to get a look at the forest.  She made a little noise of impatience, turned, and walked over to the door.  Her hand extended to take the knob. 

“Wait,” said Remus hesitantly. 

In the more than ten years that he had lived as a werewolf, he had never willingly given in to the inevitable.  During the earliest days of his lycanthropy, the day of the full moon slowly sapped away his basic sense of self along with his strength.  By the time the moon had fully risen, the adolescent werewolf was no longer aware of anything but the need to run, bite, and to sing out in hopes of meeting his fellows.  He did not have enough presence of mind to remember that he was not always a wolf, much less to resist the change.  However, as he aged and gained more experience, he found that he could hold out longer and longer.  Even with the comfort of the companionship that his three best friends had brought to him in their fifth year, he still did his best to fight against his transformations.  Each moment spent battling what he knew must come anyway cost him dearly, and yet he did not care what it cost.  It became a sort of morbid game he played against himself.  How long can Remus Lupin remain a man before he becomes a beast?  And now the girl was proposing that he leave the sanctuary of the cottage before the moon had even gained the treetops. 

She looked at him, her hand on the doorknob and bewilderment on her face.  He could tell just by watching her expression that she had never resisted her transformation as he had resisted his; perhaps the thought had never even occurred to her.  He wondered what it might be like to simply give in.  How different would it be?  But then, not being alone would already make it different.  He sighed in resolution, and stood slowly from his chair.  The girl turned the knob and yanked the door open, stumbling a bit in her haste to get outside.  She took a few quick steps toward the forest, and looked back to make sure that Remus followed her.  The powerful, anxious, jittery feeling that Remus had fought to keep at bay doubled in the moment the cool night air hit his face.  He shuddered forcefully.  The girl waited for him to lock the cottage door and to find a safe hiding spot for his wand.  When he caught up to her they walked toward the tree line in silence, shoulder to shoulder.  Remus’s heart fluttered uncomfortably beneath his breastbone and he took several deep breaths in an effort to rein in his distress.  He could not tear his eyes from the spot just above the trees where he knew, at any moment, the moon would make her appearance.  But when he felt the girl’s small, lean fingers slip beneath his own and squeeze his hand tightly, some of the fear that had threatened to consume him since he’d stepped outside faded. 

The girl drew a sudden sharp intake of breath and released his hand.  Before he could turn his head to look at her, the moon broke over the horizon and bathed the earth in a bright, silvery light.  His body went rigid, and the first searing pains washed through chest.  He gasped, and staggered to one side as every bone in his body fractured and reformed beneath his skin.   He was only marginally aware of the thrashing and agonized moaning coming from the girl next to him as his muscles bloated and stretched, filling him with a burning sensation so intense that he felt as if his internal organs were spontaneously combusting in unison.  But the worst came last, when his skull shattered into splinters and he feared that his head would explode.  As his nose and mouth lengthened into a muzzle and the fur sprouted suddenly from every pore on his body, his brain began to grow cloudy and muddled.  But this time, instead of screaming in rage and terror, the part of his mind that still recognized himself as a man named Remus Lupin simply surrendered to the change.  It sank into the recesses of his bestial identity, instinctually aware that it would not be long before he was back in control and reassured with the knowledge that he was not alone.

Remus could only remember that night as he remembered every other night of the full moon; in flashes of blurry, shadowy images and primitive emotions.  He remembered running full-tilt through the forest with the moonlight on his back.  He remembered another dark figure running beside him, and that his heart had rejoiced in the rhythm of their combined footfalls on the forest floor.  He also remembered the wild beat of his companion’s heart, and how that one steady sound had intoxicated him, filling him with euphoria and intense satisfaction.  His brain slowly registered these flashes of memory as he passed in and out of consciousness the next morning.  Once his debilitated body allowed him longer than a few waking moments at a time, he rolled over onto his side and slowly sat up.  He sighed feebly at the sorry state of his robes, but knew from experience that it could have been much worse.  He looked around, searching for any sign of the girl, but she was nowhere to be seen.  He could, however, see the Hill House roof peeking out at him from between the trees.  It was mercifully close.  He took his time standing and carefully made his way up the gentle slope toward the cottage, intent on his wand and on finding the girl.

By the time he had ferreted his wand out from its hiding place and conjured himself some decent clothing, it was almost noon.  He gazed worriedly up at the sun, hoping that wherever she was, the girl was whole and unharmed.  She wouldn't have survived so many years on her own if she hadn’t known how to take care of herself, but still, he wouldn't be able to feel at ease until he knew she was safe.  Thinking of bringing her something to eat, he walked around to the front of the cottage.  He froze when he saw the door standing wide open, remembering very clearly that he had locked it before concealing his wand.  Wondering if the girl had beaten him to the cottage and somehow managed to unlock the door, he entered cautiously, his wand held firmly in his hand.  The girl was not in the living room, so he headed for the bedroom, hoping he might find her asleep on the bed.  The moment he entered the little hallway, however, a loud voice behind him cried out,

Expelliarmus!” 

His wand flew out of his hand and slid across the floor to stop at the feet of a large man with wiry, lanky limbs and a scraggly grizzle covering his head and face.  The man was holding his own wand aimed at Remus’s chest, and he placed a filthy bare foot with cracked and yellowing nails over the wand on the floor.  His mouth curved into an ugly, lopsided grin as Remus met his eyes. 

“Hello m’boy,” he muttered in a low, raspy growl.  “Can’t tell you how long I been waitin' for this moment.”

“And I’m sorry this moment had to come at all,” said Remus in disgust.  He knew the man’s name without having to ask.  It was Fenrir Greyback, the werewolf who had cursed Remus into a pitiable, hellish existence years before he’d even reached puberty.  Greyback was one of the most feared and reviled figures in the magical world, and he not only deserved this reputation; he reveled in it.  His desire to inflict his own brand of savage lycanthropy on wizarding children in particular was widely known.  Even being in the man’s presence filled Remus with hatred and revulsion

“To what do I owe this utter displeasure?” he asked venomously.

“Just droppin’ in for a visit,” said Greyback snidely.

“I wasn’t aware that you cared enough about any of your victims to give them a second thought, much less force a visit on them.”

“I don’t, usually,” he said, leering at Remus in a most discomforting way.  “But you’re special.”

“Then why wait until now?” asked Remus, trying to buy some time as he frantically tried to think up a way out of this abhorrent situation.

"Oh, I been keepin' a closer eye on you than you might think," said Greyback with a sneer.  "You was one of my earliest successes."

            "You have a very different idea of success than I," said Remus through tightly clenched teeth.  "If I were a sick, evil bastard bent on creating an army of bloodthirsty werewolves, I wouldn't brag about transforming a man who would rather die than harm anyone and a girl who is so traumatized that she can barely even speak."

            "You're referrin’ to the girl who's been livin’ in this little hovel with you?" asked Greyback slowly, each word sliding from his tongue as if he were reluctant to give up such delectable treats.  Remus glared at him, trying to suppress the surge of alarm he felt at Greyback's detailed knowledge.  "Yeah, I been watchin’ her too.  But that particular 'success' weren't mine, I'm afraid."

            Greyback's face twisted into the most grotesque smile Remus had ever seen.

            "As much as I would love to claim responsibility, I got to give credit where credit is due.  Congrats Remus, m'boy, she is magnificent."

            The blood drained so quickly from Remus's face that he became light-headed and stumbled backwards, only just managing not to fall.  His face contorted painfully.

            "That's a lie," he breathed.  "YOU'RE A LIAR!"

            Greyback began to laugh; a rasping, uproarious laughter that ended in a triumphant bark-like shout.  He stared at Remus, his eyes twinkling with gleeful malice.

            "I could hardly believe it m’self, when it happened.  Back in them early days, when you lost yourself completely to the change.  Back when your parents still didn't know how to handle your transformations.  You escaped them puny restraints they put on you on that loverly summer night; and they was too scared to chase after you.  Can't say that I blame them.  You was almost as bloodthirsty as me in them days."

            Remus could barely contain the urge to retch.  The blood was throbbing behind his ears, and yet Remus could not hear every single word.  Greyback continued with his story, greedily licking his lips as he watched Remus's agonized realizations.

            "Still 'mazes me that you found her.  A little Mudblood right there, ripe for the pickin' and so blithely unawares.  Her scream was so satisfyin' when you bit her.  I can still hear it; the beautiful terror in her voice, and the rippin’ fabric, the snappin’ bones.  But I think the sound that I liked best was the lust in your howl when you raised your head and sang to the moon.  I went to look her over when you'd finished, and imagine my surprise that she weren't dead.  And then I smelled the magic in her blood.  You can always tell a witch.  They taste especially nice."

            Remus felt like he might faint and be sick all at once.  Silent sobs racked his body, contorting his face and hunching his back as the muscles in his stomach convulsed.  His mind was at war with itself.  It scrabbled desperately to hold on to the belief that Greyback was lying, but his traitorous memory kept fitting pieces into the horrific puzzle: his recurrent nightmares, the slight differences between her scar and his, the strange familiarity of her scent.

            "I reckon you could give me some credit for how she turned out.  She might not 'a done so well if'n her barmy Muggle family had ever managed to find her.  I took care o' that," Greyback said, slowly licking his lips.

            “It’s a lie,” Remus sobbed vehemently, falling to his knees.  The last thing he heard before he passed out was Greyback, cackling hysterically.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

He heard it clearly, though it had to be at least five kilometers away.  As steady and strong as the beat of a distant drum.  He wasn’t hungry; he’d had the good fortune to bring down a deer that had stayed in a forest clearing too long after sundown. But the beat caught his attention, calling out to him provocatively.  Seductively.  Should he announce himself?  He might scare it away.  And he wanted it.  Whatever it was, he wanted it.

            He’d barely begun his journey through the forest before he caught its scent.  He still wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but at least he could tell that it was female.  With renewed determination, he increased his pace, slipping between the trees and through the bracken with barely a sound.  Closer…closer…and then a new scent: fire.  New sounds: loud, chattering voices.  Human voices.  Softer, slower beats than the one he sought.  He veered away from the humans, intent only on his prize.  And then he saw her.  She was a human as well; smaller and younger.  She wasn’t near the fire like the others.  She was inside his forest, looking up at his moon, and the beat of her heart throbbed in his ears like the sweetest music he had ever heard. 

            But she was still too close to the other humans.  If he took her now, they would hear, they would come, and he might lose her.  So he waited.  She moved slowly, picking her way through the brush on the forest floor, gazing up at the sky with large, pale eyes.  He crept silently through the trees to circle behind her, cutting off her escape route.  It took all of his willpower to resist the urge to go after her right there, but she was still too close.  She found a little deer track, and her way through the forest was easier.  She walked at nearly a normal pace, following it down a small slope to a little clearing in the trees and bushes.  She stopped to look up into the sky once more, mesmerized by the huge, brightly-glowing moon hanging over the treetops.  And then he leapt for her.     Her scream was cut short when he crashed into her, knocking the wind from her lungs.  The beat had grown rapid and almost painfully loud against his eardrums; loud enough that the scream she made when he bit into her shoulder was strangely muffled.  Her blood was hot and sweet, and so different from the deer's.  But the deer had been his meal, and he had no desire to eat this small human.  What he wanted from her, his brain could not quite place.  He bit again, deeper, and felt the satisfying snap of her collarbone between his jaws. She let out another blood-curdling scream, but he did not release her.  He held her body in his teeth, careful not to tear too far into her flesh but unwilling to loosen his grip.  And then, through the insistent pounding in his ears, he heard other screams that were not coming from the little human beneath him.  The bigger humans had heard, and they were coming.

            He dragged the girl, who instantly passed out from the pain of being moved, to the edge of the clearing, hoping to escape with her.  But her extra weight slowed him just enough that he knew it was no good; the other humans would catch up.  He could fight them off.  Just kill them.  Then he and his prize would be free.  But for reasons he could not comprehend, he did not want to kill any humans that night.  He’d had enough experience with large animals and their progeny to know that if this girl was the offspring of the bigger humans, they would not stop until they had taken her from him.  If that happened, he would have no choice but to kill them.  Reluctantly, he released the little human from his grip, gently licking her wounds.  At least he had managed to mark her.  Nothing the big humans did could change that now.  She was his.  He threw back his head and howled in triumph. 

            He retreated a short distance away and watched the bigger humans enter the clearing.  There was a lot of screaming and loud noises when they found his prize.  The biggest male, their alpha, scooped her up into his arms and ran with her back towards the fire.  The bigger female followed close behind them.  The other male, younger than and not as large as the alpha, peered around the clearing, pulling from a pocket something that glinted menacingly in the moonlight. 

            His prize was gone, and there was nothing else to hold his interest.  He bounded away through the forest, howling again to the moon in thanks and gratitude.  The scent of her body clung to his fur, and the taste of her blood lingered in his mouth.  His own heart beat violently in celebration of the evening’s success.  He would find his prize some other moonlit night.  There was nowhere she could go that he would not find her.  He would never be alone again.

 

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

            Remus woke and immediately retched, emptying the meager contents of his stomach onto the cottage floor.  He scanned the living room, half-expecting to see Greyback in the armchair or at the kitchen table, watching him with the same malevolent grin.   But he was alone.  He spied his wand still lying on the floor where Greyback had stepped on it.  Coughing painfully, he crawled along the floor to grasp it in his hand.  The feel of the smooth, hard wood reassured him and provided him with enough strength to stand.  His beleaguered mind focused onto one singular purpose: find the girl.  Nothing else mattered.  He stumbled out of the cottage, not even stopping to close the door, and pelted down the hill toward the trees. 

            “Invenio girl!” he cried as he entered the forest.  He let out a shuddering gasp of relief when the spell took effect, knowing it meant that she was not more than a kilometer or two away.  A faint tugging sensation behind his navel pulled him deeper into the forest, leading him on a course through brush and heavy thickets.  Abruptly, the sensation disappeared.  He turned around on the spot, searching for the girl, but there was no sign of her. 

            “Where are you?!” he called out despondently.  “Invenio girl!”

            The spell didn't work this time, and just as he cried out in frustration and worry, he heard a loud, rasping laugh from off to his right.  He whipped around, his wand held high.  The curse he sent hurtling at Greyback’s face as he emerged from behind a large tree met and clashed with the one Greyback sent flying at him.  The two spells deflected off one another into opposite directions.  The men held their wands aimed at each other, Remus’s face full of fury and hatred while Greyback regarded him with a smiling, almost hungry expression.

            “Where is she?” Remus spat.  “What have you done with her?”

            “Much less than you’ve done to her, m’boy,” said Greyback, grinning nastily.

            “Shut up!”  Remus was shaking, though his wand was still steadily aimed at Greyback’s head.  “Where is she?!”

            “Not far,” said Greyback airily.  “She and I had a little chat while you were sleepin'.”

            “Bastard,” Remus whispered contemptuously.  “What did you tell her?”
            “Only the truth, m’boy, only the truth,” said Greyback.  “But she might also be under the impression that you killed her family as well as turned her to our kind.  Dunno where she picked that up.”  Greyback flashed Remus another lurid grin.  Remus was so furious that he couldn't speak.  Greyback took the opportunity to continue with his tale, obviously enjoying himself a great deal.

            “We’re old friends, she and I, didn’t you know?  It was me what turned her to this forest, and then when I knew you were comin’, to your little shack.  But then, it was me what made sure your parents bought it in the first place.  Sent them an advertisement, ‘specially.  I considered it my duty, I did, reuniting you and your chosen mate.  Figures it had to be a Mudblood, but that’s you, isn’t it m’boy?  Just like your Muggle-lovin’ father.”  Greyback smirked, baring his canine-like teeth. 

“You didn’t know no better, I reckon, since back then, you couldn’t keep any part of your human brain on during the full moon.  Not like I could.  I knew you’d be wantin’ her again soon enough.  What else could I do for my favorite?  I got rid of her filthy Muggle relations for you, and kept the others away too, when they came lookin’.  Made sure she stayed alive, but not too comfortable, mind.  Had to keep her pure.  She forgot all about her life before, quicker than I thought she would too.  It might a’ been those first few transformations what did it.  Hit her pretty hard, they did.  She didn’t have no parents gettin’ in the way, neither, like you did.  It’s a beautiful thing, when Nature can take her own course.  She was good n’ ready by the time I let slip to your landlord what you are.  Guess I owe you an apology for that.  Knew you’d get kicked out, and I did it anyway.  But see, I only wanted to do my part to bring you two lovebirds back together.  Hopeless romantic, s’what I am.”  He began to cackle loudly again, very amused with himself.  Remus’s head was reeling.  He hadn’t thought it possible to hate any one person as much as he hated Greyback at that moment.

“Azkaban is too good for you,” he growled, with a voice so unlike his own that he surprised himself.  “An eternity burning in hell is too good for you.  But I suppose it will have to do!”

Remus sent another curse at Greyback’s head, but the older man was ready for it.  He ducked, laughing maniacally as he disappeared behind another tree.  Remus ran after him, blasting shrubs and bushes out of his way.  Greyback moved amazingly quickly through the forest, bounding easily over obstacles and weaving through the trees.  Remus silently marveled that the transformation didn’t seem to have left Greyback as weakened as he felt, but then, he was so intent on ridding the world of this monster that his own strength had unaccountably returned en force.  Even so, he couldn't keep up with Greyback, who appeared to have an intimate knowledge of the forest and its hiding places. 

Remus plowed his way through the underbrush, seething with fury.  He paused to check the ground for footprints and heard a twig snap just a few yards in front of him.  He shot up, wand at the ready, just in time to see the girl staggering in his direction, looking over her shoulder as if she were being chased by something terrifying.  Lowering his wand, he saw that she was in a sorry state; the clothes she had borrowed from him were ripped and frayed, and she was once again covered with dirt and bits of forest debris.  But when she turned around and saw Remus standing there, she stopped dead.  The look on her face pierced him like a sword through his heart.  She wasn’t only afraid of him, though her fear was plain.  Her eyes, shining with unfallen tears, held him in conspicuous disdain.

“It isn’t true,” he said in an odd, strangled voice that still didn't sound quite like his own.  “I didn’t kill your family.  I swear to you, I didn’t.”

He took a small step toward her, and she quickly backed away, her hand clutching the spot on her neck where the torn fabric concealed the wound he’d given her so many years ago.  She regarded him with an almost demanding expression, the tears finally spilling down her cheeks.  He understood her all too well.  She wanted to hear him deny the other part of Greyback’s accusation.  For a moment, he was tempted.  But he knew there was no way around it; regardless of the consequences, she deserved to know the truth.

“That part,” he said, his voice breaking, “is true.  I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.”

The girl let out a grief-stricken wail, but instead of running away from him as he’d expected, she rushed at him with her hands clenched into tight fists.  She began pounding his chest and slapping his face, shouting in incoherent anger.  He took her abuse without defending himself, at first out of shock, and then because he refused to rob her of the right to punish him for his crime.  She kicked his shins repeatedly, and he fell on his knees, not even allowing himself to grimace in pain.  When he fell, she stared down at him angrily.  Slowly, he looked up at her, watching her tears as they trailed streaks through the dirt on her cheeks.  She smacked him hard on the face, and his head twisted to one side with the force of the blow.  When he recovered, he looked back up at her, and she smacked him again.  He righted himself once more, looking up in stolid anticipation, and found that her expression had changed.  The rage and scorn had given way to an intense sorrow that Remus had seen in the mirror many times.  She sank down to her knees before him and threw her arms around his shoulders, muffling her sobs with his robes.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated, his voice heavy with anguish.  “I didn’t know until today.  I couldn’t remember.  I didn’t want to remember.  I’m so sorry.”

She continued to cry into his chest as if she hadn’t heard him, though he knew that she had.  He desperately wanted to hold her, to comfort her, but it would have felt too good to put his arms around her, and he told himself coldly that he didn’t deserve to feel good.  After a few minutes, she pulled away from him, staring up into his eyes.

“It’s all right,” he said dully, as if answering a question.  “I won’t ever be able to forgive myself, so you needn’t worry about forgiving me either.”  He stared above her head, determinedly avoiding her eyes.  He only looked down when he felt her lips gently graze his with a soft, timid kiss.  Tears were still falling down her cheeks, though her expression had changed yet again.  Compassion had mingled with the sadness in her bright, pale eyes. 

“I forgive,” she whispered.  “I forgive.”

And with those two simple words, Remus completely broke down.  He drew her into a fierce embrace, weeping uncontrollably into her hair.  She closed her arms around him again as they rocked together slowly, unified in identical grief and understanding.  How long they held each other like that, neither one could tell, but they broke apart in alarm when a sudden voice startled them from very close by.

“Ain’t you just a pair,” said Greyback, sneering.

Remus made to stand, but froze when Greyback fixed his wand at his chest.  Instead, he interjected himself between Greyback and the girl.

“Looks like you two have kissed and made up just fine,” said Greyback, who didn’t seem very pleased with the turn his grand manipulation had taken.  “That puts a little damper on my plans, I guess.  I was lookin’ forward to having a mate again.  Last one didn’t suit me so well.”  He bared his pointed teeth and spoke to the girl, who peered at him from behind Remus’s shoulder.

“Up you get, dearie.  A few memory charms, and you and me will be thick as thieves.”  When the girl did not immediately comply, he stalked forward to get a better shot, and said,

Imperio!”  

Remus moved again, but stopped when Greyback growled in warning.

“You try it, and I’ll make her crush her own pretty throat.”

He could only watch helplessly as the girl stood and walked over to Greyback, came to a halt next to him, and turned slowly to face Remus.  She swayed slightly on the spot, and Greyback regarded her out of the corner of his eye for a moment before he once again pointed his wand at Remus. 

“Figured I’d win her fair and square once she knew the truth, but I guess it makes sense she’d pardon you, she bein’ yours an’ all.  But it’s true what they say; all’s fair in love and war.”

            “Like hell!” Remus shouted, glaring at Greyback in disgust.  Both men were so absorbed in the conversation that neither of them saw the girl swaying again, a deep crease between her brows.

            “You think she’s ever gonna be happy, livin’ like you do?  You want her to hide in that pile of rocks with you, pretendin’ like you’re nice, normal folks?  Like you’ve been so happy that way.  I can show her how to live like our kind was meant to live.  With me, she can run free and go where she pleases without no one lookin’ down on her or tellin’ her what she can and can’t do.  Who knows, she might even like my way better.  Only one way to find out.”

            “Over my dead body,” Remus muttered savagely, slowly rising to his feet.  Greyback sighed.

            “Yeah, I thought it might come to that.  It’s too bad, really.  I weren’t lyin’ when I said you was my favorite.  But if it’s between you an’ her?  Sorry, m’boy, but I ain’t had a woman in way too long.” 

He took aim at Remus’s chest, and Remus steeled himself.  But as Greyback drew a breath, the girl moved almost imperceptibly to one side with a slight shake of her head.  Remus’s eyes widened when saw her move, but Greyback hadn't seen it.  His lips were just forming the first syllable of his curse when the girl’s hand shot out, her nails clawing at Greyback’s face.  Astounded, Greyback turned as he spoke, and the spell caught the girl full in the chest.  She collapsed onto the ground at his feet, her features frozen in an expression of fury and defiance.

“NO!” Remus screamed in horror.  He stood rooted to the spot, still not fully believing what he’d just seen.  He wrenched his eyes from the girl to look at Greyback, who was staring in shock, slowly retreating from the girl’s supine form.  When Greyback met Remus’s gaze, however, his confounded expression melted into a broad, jeering smirk.  Remus went for his wand, but was too late; by the time he’d freed it from his robes, Greyback had already disapparated with a small pop.

Remus sank to the ground beside the girl’s body, his misery absolute.  He was well beyond tears.  He lifted the girl into his arms and carried her back to the Hill House.  He washed the dirt from her body, and cleaned and repaired her clothes.  He laid her on the bed, and gently coaxed her eyelids closed.  Then he went into the living room, sat in the armchair, and waited numbly for exhaustion to claim him.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

            When Albus Dumbledore’s knocks on the Hill House’s front door repeatedly went unanswered, he decided there was nothing for it, and let himself in.  The smell of death accosted his nostrils the moment he opened the door.  He closed the door behind him and immediately spied Remus Lupin, staring intently into the black grate of the fireplace, his face dark with stubble and his eyes glazed over.

            “Remus?” Dumbledore murmured in concern.

            The younger man did not respond or even acknowledge his presence, which only increased Dumbledore's trepidation.  He walked over to the chair and saw that Remus’s wand was sitting on his lap, held tightly in both hands.

            “Remus, what happened?” he asked softly.

            “She’s in the bedroom,” answered Remus in a hoarse whisper. 

Dumbledore turned and disappeared into the bedroom.  He reappeared shortly, his gentle, wizened face drawn into a grave expression.

“Emily Harris,” said Dumbledore sadly.  Remus finally tore his eyes from the hearth to look at Dumbledore.

“Was that her name?  Emily?”

“Yes,” Dumbledore answered, conjuring himself a squashy armchair and sitting down across from Remus.  “She was due at Hogwarts when you were starting your fifth year, I believe.  I read of the attack on her family in the Muggle newspapers, and I went to investigate myself.  The remains of her parents and her elder brother were found in their campsite, but she wasn't there.  Both the Muggle authorities and the Ministry representatives concluded that a wolf, or a werewolf in the case of the latter, had simply dragged her off and eaten her.  I was not so convinced, but for all of my searching, I couldn't find her.  It appears that I did not try hard enough,” he finished somberly.

“Greyback hid her,” said Remus jerkily, turning his head to stare into the fireplace again.  “He kept her away from other humans.  He wanted to make her wild, brutal, like he is.”

“I suspected it was Fenrir Greyback’s handiwork,” said Dumbledore grimly.  “One could hardly doubt his involvement after witnessing the gruesomeness of that campsite.  No mere wolf, and very few werewolves, can even approximate his particular brand of ruthless barbarism.  The only reason I had to doubt was the fact that she was Muggle-born.  Given Fenrir’s abiding belief in pureblood propaganda, I didn't think he would target a Muggle-born witch.”

Remus was silent for a moment, before the confession burst out of him with a dry sob.

“He didn’t,” he croaked, his face contorting in exquisite suffering.  “I attacked her.  I bit her.  It was me.”

Dumbledore waited while Remus took a few gasping breaths.

“I was not aware that you’d ever had the opportunity to bite anyone.”

“I didn’t remember until Greyback told me.  I blocked it out.  I couldn’t bear to face the truth, so I conveniently forgot all about it."  He spat out the words venomously.

“I think, perhaps, you do yourself a disservice, Remus,” said Dumbledore, after a pause.  “It is my understanding that most individuals who are inflicted with lycanthropy retain very little memory from the times they spend in their wolf-like state.  You cannot hold yourself responsible for failing to remember something that you did when your mind was not working at full capacity.”

“But it was there!” exclaimed Remus, glaring at Dumbledore as if they were having an argument.  “The memory was there, in my mind, the whole time!  I saw it for myself after Greyback told me, right after I passed out.”  He emphasized the last two words with a contemptuous wrinkle of his nose.

“Yes, it was there, all of the memories are there.  But just as your wolfish persona cannot access your human memories, you cannot delve into your memories of the full moon at will.  It takes a great deal of concentration and meditation, or sometimes, very rarely, a memory will surface after a stressful ordeal.  I would certainly categorize any confrontation with a man like Fenrir Greyback as stressful, myself.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Remus in a hollow sort of voice.  “Greyback wouldn’t have had anything to do with her if it hadn’t been for me.  He killed her in the end, and I hope he rots in hell for it.  But I killed her first.  She’s dead because of me.  She was worse than dead because of me.”  Remus’s hands clenched his wand reflexively.  “I can’t let this happen again.”

When Dumbledore didn't say anything, Remus looked over at him, staring rebelliously into his blue eyes.

“Suicide is not a very fitting way to honor the memory of Emily Harris,” Dumbledore said quietly.

“I can request a termination from the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures,” said Remus, betraying to the older wizard just how much he’d reflected on his death-wish.  Dumbledore regarded him over his half-moon spectacles.

“I imagine Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and James and Lily Potter might have something to say about that.”

“I don’t care,” said Remus bitterly.

“Of course you care, and so do they, very much,” said Dumbledore calmly.  “Sirius cared enough to tell me about your mysterious guest, despite his concern that by doing so he was going against your wishes.  There are many people who love you, Remus, and would be very upset with you indeed if you were to be so rude as to engage in assisted suicide.”

“They’d get over it,” said Remus obstinately.

“True, with time, their pain might lessen.  But why force it onto them if it is not absolutely necessary?”

“Because it is necessary,” said Remus loudly, standing from his chair.  “I can’t go through this again, and I won’t.  I’m too dangerous to stay alive.  I could try to find a place where no one else is around to stray across my path, but there would always be that chance.  And I’m not willing to take that chance anymore.”

“So, had Emily lived, would you then expect the same of her?  From the description Sirius gave me, she was quite unstable as a human.  Surely such a human would be twice as dangerous as a wolf?”

Remus glared at Dumbledore as if the older wizard had slapped him in the face. “That’s not fair.  Emily never bit anyone else.”

“Assuming for a moment that you are correct, though we have no way of knowing, there was still the chance.  The same one that you are no longer willing to take.”

Remus sat back in his chair, thinking in silence.  When he finally spoke, his tone was hopeless and full of heartache.

“How can I live with this?” he asked, barely above a whisper.

“Simply by choosing to live,” said Dumbledore gently.  “To die in the stead of those he loves is an action worthy of a good man.  But to die in the hopes of relief from guilt and regret is not.  Positive action can come from past mistakes.  Think of all the plans you must have had in store for Emily, and you will see what I mean.  She was not the only troubled young person in the world that could very much use your help.  Make the choice to live, and every choice you make from that moment on could benefit others in ways that you cannot even begin to fathom.”

Dumbledore left Remus to think this over, and busied himself at the ancient stove with the kettle and the teapot.  Remus began to pick absentmindedly at the pills on the old afghan, staring once more into the sooty fireplace with glazed eyes.  After many quiet hours, and a few very strong cups of tea, he felt enough like himself to offer Dumbledore something to eat.

“Thank you Remus, but no, it would spoil my appetite.  We’ve both been invited to the Potters for dinner.  I would beseech you to accept.  Lily Potter gave me the most dazzlingly threatening look when she made the invitation, and I fear for my personal safety if I should arrive on their doorstep without you.”

Remus actually managed a weak smile.  During his visit, in spite of the dread he felt when Sirius finally broached the subject of his strange houseguest, Remus found that it was actually a relief to tell them all about his experience with Emily.  He told them about her unusual sense of humor, and the tin-throwing incident, although he kept the memory of their one night in each other’s arms for himself.  He told them about Greyback’s elaborate scheme, and Emily’s triumph over the Imperius Curse, and how she had died trying to save him.  Together, they planned her memorial service.  They were there for him through the funeral and the burial.  Remus found himself still mulling over the things Dumbledore had told him as he stood beside her grave.  Sirius stepped up beside him, staring sadly at the freshly-overturned earth.

"Wish I'd gotten the chance to get to know her," he said quietly.

"I think you would have really liked each other," said Remus.  He marveled at the small smile that came to his lips at this idea.  Sirius looked over at him, his brow furrowed slightly.

"I won't say I know what you're going through, 'cause I don't.  But I do know what she must've meant to you.  And I'm really sorry, mate."

"It's all right, Padfoot," said Remus, offering the small smile to his friend.  "It's always going to hurt, I know that.  The only thing I can do is to see that something good comes out of it."

"What do you have in mind?" asked Sirius.

"I have no idea," said Remus.  "But I'm looking forward to finding out."

 

 

//
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