Disclaimer: Naturally I do not own JK Rowling’s characters. She invented them and the wonderful world of Hogwarts. I am just visiting her world for a while, and write this as a small tribute to her genius.
Author’s Note: This was the first fanfic I ever wrote. The idea came from an article I once read on werewolves. For some reason I held it back, because I started on ‘Little Boys’ and then ‘Student’, both of which are a little happier. But then I re-read it, and decided maybe I should post it after all …
The small book’s green cover was worn, its gold lettering faint in the late afternoon sun. "Guide to the Dark Creatures of Europe" by Jonathan van Elsing. Remus Lupin ran a hand through his grey hair, sighed and stacked it in the pile on the table to his right. He paused, gripping the edge of the table as another spasm swept over him, then picked up the book again, slowly flicking through the fading pages of ornate print. He smiled wistfully at the scrawled notes and drawings which almost obliterated the text in places.
Beserkers – James had done those decorations. One looked suspiciously like old Professor Lutz, and another bore an uncanny resemblance to Severus Snape. He chuckled at the accompanying comments in Sirius’ angular scrawl. Very Sirius!
Lethifolds. The thought of their creeping suffocating death had terrified him as a child, and for a while he had refused to have even the smallest scrap of carpet in his room. Vampires – more comments, drawings of crosses and what appeared to be a misshapen garlic bulb. Peter’s writing near that – oh Peter, why, why, why?
Werewolves. How well he knew these pages, and countless like them. How well he remembered the comments, the sneers, the looks, the hostility. Part of his life, part of the pain. Certain phrases leapt out at him. ‘Werewolves … generally do not live to more than 30 years … must be killed without mercy when discovered … turn into vampires after death … their corpses should be completely burnt lest any taint remain … Werewolves are best killed by …’ The passage went on to describe the procedures in gruesome detail. He remembered that lesson, the way Professor Lutz’s eyes had flashed as he described the creatures, the methods of killing …
Werewolves, he reflected, were not known for their longevity. Many who suffered the bites as children were killed out of hand by horrified parents or ‘sympathetic’ doctors. Paradoxically, childhood victims often adjusted better than adults, many of whom went mad and killed themselves within months of being bitten. Adjusted better – well that was hardly saying much. In many countries werewolves were hunted down without mercy, pelts and teeth sold as trophies or for use in certain Dark Magic potions, bodies burnt in triumph, the world freed from yet another monster. At least the worst excesses of werewolf hunting had abated in Britain these last hundred years or so, where they were now just registered like dogs, and afterwards just shunned and left to themselves. Though that certainly changed if you actually bit someone.
And Wolfsbane Potion was more readily available now, thanks to the efforts of a few enlightened souls in the Ministry’s Werewolf Registry. Although most apothecaries dispensed it more to protect the community than from any desire to help the werewolves in question.
Yet the few who survived like Remus were still doomed, no matter how much supernatural strength or ability they possessed, or how much care they received from family or friends. The repeated strain of monthly transformations - bones and muscles straining, contorting, breaking, changing - imposed a burden that eventually wore down even the hardiest and most controlled. The transformations would get harder, the pain would get worse, until one day the body would simply collapse in its final agony. He had known and accepted this, even as he waged his monthly battles against the wolf.
But he couldn’t accept the consequences of death.
Werewolves turn into vampires after death. Vampires, the undead. Nosferatu … Out of nowhere he remembered that strange old Muggle movie they had once seen as part of a Muggle Studies class. The students had laughed themselves silly at the strange gaunt figure and Muggle ideas about vampires. But he hadn’t laughed.
Vampires. The thought had haunted him, given him nightmares during his childhood. He recalled nights when he’d woken in bed at Hogwarts, terrified, shaking, the bedclothes tossed round him as he fought the demons within. Sometimes he had wanted to crawl away to die and escape the wolf … but dying meant becoming a vampire. What if he bit his friends as a wolf? But how much worse would it be as a vampire?
He’d woken his friends with those nightmares. And it made no difference once they found out what he was. They would pull aside the bed curtains, hug him and reassure him, tell him they were only dreams and he was safe with them. Sirius had the next bed along; he always got there first. And it was invariably Sirius who’d stay with him till he went back to sleep, sometimes talking softly with him to drive away the dreams, often just sitting there in quiet understanding and comfort.
Sirius – the brightest star. Sirius the ultimate prankster, with a truly wicked sense of humour and that sudden flashing grin which could light up the Great Hall. A single dry comment from Sirius could devastate an entire classroom, even Professor McGonagall’s. The slightly deadpan ‘seriously Sirius’ expression which he often assumed was a convenient mask that hid exceptional talent, a razor sharp mind – and a passion for magical mischief and general mayhem. But his eyes gave him away – those dancing dark blue eyes which looked out on life as a wonderful game, a challenge to be met and savoured to the last drop. But oh Sirius, what bitter drops you had to drink.
Remus snapped the book shut, placed it back on the pile. He straightened up, wincing slightly as the waves of pain surged through him again. He would not, could not, afford to think of those friends now, would not let the memories flood over him. He’d built up the piles of wood round the shed outside so the fire would be hot, would burn for a long time. Sirius – I know you’ll be angry and hurt, but please understand. As you have always understood so much. He swallowed, told himself sternly that his oldest and dearest friend was far away and need not know until it was all over. He would face this alone.
There was no breeze, no sound except for the faintest buzz of summer insects outside in the rambling bank of wild roses. Through the open door the sun was warm on his back as he worked. Plenty of time before nightfall, before the full moon rose.
"Spring cleaning, Moony?" Sirius leant casually against the doorpost, a tall figure in deep green robes. He was still lean, still darkly handsome, though the black hair was streaked with grey.
"Just tidying up a few things." Remus met his eyes briefly, then turned back to his work.
"Uh huh. And you were – I assume – going to send me a letter. Or were you just going to leave me a note to find when I dropped by tomorrow to see how you were?" Sirius’ tone was deceptively light.
Remus did not answer, just placed two more books on a larger pile to his left.
"Think I’m blind as well as stupid, Lupin? Think I didn’t read those textbooks too? That after all these years I don’t know what’s happening?"
There was still no answer, so after a moment he moved quietly forward to stand beside his friend, picking up a thick black volume to examine the inscription inside.
"Harry’d like that one," he remarked calmly.
"Yes – James gave it to me that Christmas we all went to his place. Fourth year, wasn’t it?" Remus took the book and put it on the left-hand stack. "Thought he should get the ones from James and Lily – doesn’t really have much from his family."
Sirius picked up another old textbook, scribbles and notes in four different hands, small drawings, underlinings. James’ writing – the normally elegant script somewhat crooked, obviously written in a hurry. Probably under the desk in class. Remus’ calm, rounded lettering, neat and controlled. Peter’s hand – small, stiff and a little cramped – a measure of the man he became? And his own slightly untidy scrawl, the letters racing over the page with energy and passion. He looked inside the front cover. "MARAUDERS FOREVER!’ in large bold letters across the title page.
Sirius’ expression softened as he flicked through the pages, remembering. "Seems this one belonged to all of us," he mused. "Harry’s too?"
Remus smiled. "You decide. Everything goes to you anyway. This place isn’t much, and there isn’t too much else. But you might like some of the books. Those ones there – " he gestured to a pile on the far side of the table, "they were Dad’s …" His grin broadened. "Can’t possibly imagine why he was so fond of you!"
Oh yes I can. You were my friend, the first one to come and visit me at home, the one who could even stay during full moons because you understood, and weren’t afraid or ashamed. How Dad laughed at the things we got up to! Like that first day when we went exploring and came back so wet and filthy … and Mum just made us have a bath and then cooked my favourite dinner. How I loved those summer evenings when we would all sit outside, talking about anything and everything under the sun, arguing, debating, laughing and eating Mum’s cakes and drinking endless glasses of her special lemonade.
They worked in silence until the two bookcases were cleared, their contents neatly sorted. Harry’s books, a few for Professor McGonagall, the rest for Sirius. The sun was settling behind the distant hills, the air was mild with the faint scent of flowers. Remus stood up and turned away from the table, stretched, then tensed slightly, his eyes closing against the pain. So soon? In a sudden surge of panic he wondered if he would be able to transform at all this time. Would bones and muscles and organs just – collapse?
"Remus? Remus! MOONY!"
Sirius stepped forward, seized Remus’ shoulder and spun him round. The face before him was etched with harsh lines and shadows. An old/young face. The skin was greyish and almost translucent, the grey eyes shining unnaturally bright out of deep shadows. Pain – and a desperate longing.
"Hurts like hell, doesn’t it." Sirius’ eyes held his. "It’s been getting worse these last few months. And you’ve been avoiding me, not wanting me to be with you, trying to make out everything is OK, not wanting to bother me. No one else noticed, and when have you ever been one to say anything about pain." He paused, his voice a little husky. "Even as a kid you never complained, just went off alone every month to scream and cry and rip yourself apart in that damned freezing shack. At least, until we worked out how to be with you and try to help. Now you’re doing it all over again. Not a word, just disappear."
"There’s nothing to say." Remus gave an almost-smile.
"The hell there isn’t! You think I don’t know what you’re frightened of? So what were you going to do? How were you going to manage it? Set up some stupid Muggle contraption with a silver arrow or bullet? Or just lie down till the almost-end, then fling yourself on the fire over there at the last."
Sirius shook him slightly, then suddenly caught Remus roughly against him and held him fiercely.
"You great stupid fur-brained idiot! Damn you Moony – did you really think I was going to let you die alone like that!" Sirius’ voice was muffled against him.
Remus froze at the touch, resisting almost in reflex: he felt Sirius tighten his hold. Why was he fighting? Fighting Sirius … He swallowed, let his body relax, feeling the tension drain away and his own too-thin arms creep slowly round to return the embrace. He was not alone, would never be alone now. He closed his eyes, resting his head quietly on Sirius’ shoulder.
He could feel his own heart beating, felt Sirius’ heart through the soft robes. Clean robes - they smelt of soap and sunlight. His breathing slowed, matched Sirius’. Pain – no, there was no pain any more, just strong arms and inexpressible comfort. It was so peaceful.
Sirius. Padfoot. Why did I ever think I could hide it from you, that you wouldn’t be here? I know I was being selfish. I didn’t want to hurt you any more – and this will hurt you even more than me. But yes, I’m glad that you’re here now, and will do what has to be done. I want you – I need you – need you to stay and drive away the nightmares. I wonder if I will be strong enough to run under the moon with you one last time. Dearest friend. My pack brother.
At last Sirius released him, stepping back to move away and gather a small sack from near the door. He placed it on the bench near the stove. His tone became light again, off hand, matter of fact. But Remus had seen his eyes.
"James and I always knew of course. We talked about it a lot once we’d found out about you. We turned the libraries upside down to find out everything we could, in case there was something we could do. We even consulted experts after we left school. But everyone said the same thing. So we promised each other we’d be there with you."
He paused. "Mind you, if we’d followed all the advice we got in those damned books, you’d have been dead years ago." He grinned suddenly, an echo of the old Sirius. "But there was no point in you missing all the fun, and we thought there was a good chance you’d come to a bad end with us anyway!"
"Very kind of you!"
"Our pleasure! Think of all that stuff we learnt doing those extra essays. And I bet we cleaned the whole school by hand at least twice over. Remember – James wanted to start the Marauders Cleaning Service! You know, I was trying to think if there was a single teacher who didn’t give us at least one detention each term. Well, James and me any rate – we got caught more than you."
"Can’t think of any. We drove most of them mad. And none of them could make up their minds where we should sit in class – up front or down the back, all together where they could keep an eye on us, or as far apart as possible!" Remus leant against the table and smiled back. "You know, despite the best efforts of Fred and George Weasley, I think one Sirius Black still holds the record for the most number of detentions in a term!"
"And a particularly fine term it was, I recall. A vintage term no less! The school owls could reach my parents blindfolded – at least Mum and Dad didn’t send many Howlers!" Sirius chuckled, then picked up a large cup and sniffed suspiciously at the thick greenish liquid inside.
"What’s that concoction? Surely not Wolfsbane – it’s not supposed to be green like that."
"It is Wolfsbane – just a slightly improved version. A couple of things added."
"What sort of things?" Sirius eyed him. "Something for the pain? Or – did you add something a little stronger this time?"
"It does help the pain a little," Remus admitted, "but it’s a bit late now for that."
"Mmm." Sirius reached into the sack and produced several bottles. "Well, I can guarantee this stuff tastes much better than that. Has the same general effect mind you, but at least you can enjoy drinking it!"
Remus picked up a bottle, turning it to examine the label, and snorted with amusement. "You always did have a taste for the finer things of life! But you’ve excelled yourself this time – I’m impressed."
He reached into a cupboard and took out two goblets, then tensed again briefly. "Shall we sit outside?"
Sirius collected cushions and an old rug from the battered couch, moved outside and threw them down on the grass near the long wooden seat. Then he drew the cork from one of the bottles, sniffled appreciatively, and poured the deep red wine into the goblets.
"Moony – are you going to drink that brew of yours before we start on the good stuff?"
Remus grabbed the cup and gulped the contents. He tossed the dregs onto a nearby rose bush and smiled ruefully. "Latest cure for black spot!" He stretched out on the seat, took a goblet from Sirius and raised it. "To the Marauders! May their spirit live on!"
* * *
The full moon was overhead, cold silver, shining from a cloudless sky. On the rug, a shaggy black dog was stretched out quietly, nose on paws, eyes half shut. A lean grey wolf lay curled beside it as though for warmth, head resting against the dog’s side. Its coat was thin, its breathing shallow, rasping, irregular. Occasionally it twitched slightly and shivered, whimpering softly. At this, the dog would turn its head, nuzzle the wolf gently, then resume its silent vigil. The wolf had only been able to go a short way this last time, just to the gate into the field and back.
The moon and stars continued their slow passage across the sky.
For a while the wolf seemed to be sleeping peacefully. Then suddenly it whined again, gave a half yelp, and shuddered. It opened its eyes briefly, then sank back against its companion, twitching fitfully. Ragged breaths rattled harshly in its chest. Its paws scrabbled as it tried to stretch out, then it whimpered with pain and huddled back down again. The dog nuzzled it softly, licking its face gently until it rested peacefully once more.
After a few moments the dog eased away and stood up stiffly. A quick flicker, and Sirius stood looking down at the figure on the rug. Stepping quietly, he moved into the cottage and felt for the sack. A faint clink of glass and he reappeared with a small bottle of pale blue liquid.
He bent down, stroked the wolf gently, lovingly, feeling the coat which he remembered as being so thick and soft, but which was now brittle and harsh. He scratched it behind the ears, then removed the stopper from the bottle and carefully raised the wolf’s head.
"Here Moony … drink this."
Obediently the wolf opened its mouth, swallowing the contents in a few painful gulps. Sirius tossed the bottle aside, then sank down beside the wolf and cradled it against him.
"Go in peace for ever, dearest Moony," he murmured, stroking its head. "May you look at the full moon without fear. She is beautiful tonight." The wolf opened its eyes once more, looked long into Sirius’ face, and almost appeared to smile. Its tail thumped softly, rough tongue licking his hand briefly. Then it closed its eyes, relaxed and lay calm under the gentle stroking. Its breathing slowed, faltered, stopped. But Sirius’ hands continued to move quietly over the still body.
As the eastern sky grew lighter, Sirius rose once more. In the cottage he quickly conjured several sacks, piled the books into them, and placed them outside under the trees. He collected bottles and goblets, dumped them near the stove, then moved slowly through the cottage. A carved wooden jewellery box, photos – he gathered them from walls, mantelpiece and the small bedside table, took several leather albums from the desk, and added them to the sacks.
The last thing now. He paused near the rug and cushions, then wrapped them tenderly round the wolf, placing the bundle in the centre of the room.
Nothing else. He strode to the edge of the clearing, faced the cottage and its tiny shed, raised his wand firmly and spoke a few words. Instantly the buildings blazed with fire, the flames leaping through the old timbers, darting over furniture, climbing high from the roof and windows into the pink and gold dawn. For an instant Sirius imagined he saw a wolf-like shadow in the heart of the blaze, then it was gone and the flames burnt fiercely till the old cottage was nothing more than a small heap of smouldering ashes.
Wizard fire – there would be nothing left.
Sirius pointed his wand at the sacks, muttered a brief spell, then swung them over his shoulders, magically light. He strode off into the trees without a backward glance.
He could just Apparate home of course – but the morning was fresh and clear, and he thought he’d walk the first few miles.