The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Most Unusual Student  Chapter: Chapter 2 - A Werewolf in the Family.
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There was plenty of material about lycanthropy in the library, I discovered, but as I had suspected, most of it was in books generally used in Defence Against the Dark Arts. Or even in old Dark Arts texts themselves, carefully secured on the highly restricted shelves. “Caring” for a werewolf? – it appeared there was no such thing. It seemed that wizards were mainly concerned with finding them and killing them. As often and as painfully as possible. There was plenty of information about their general appearance and the means to identify them (though much of that seemed to be more superstition than any reasoned analysis, I considered, weighing up the material critically) and there were of course volumes containing horrific tales of “encounters” with werewolves.

I’d bought a new large book in which to record my findings and my medical notes once Remus arrived. But though I read steadily in my spare time over the next two months, at term’s end the sum total of what I considered “useful” research was barely more than half a dozen pages.

Three days after the students and staff had left for the summer, the dwarves moved in and began digging. Albus joined me in the grounds as I watched the first loads of earth being moved for the tunnel – he had decided to build a new walled garden area near the eastern wing, which would nicely get rid of the excavated material.

“Poppy,” he said as we stood watching them, “I gather your research has shown up very little.” His eyes were twinkling at me - he was certainly well-informed. “Would you like to meet the Lupins before Remus arrives?”

“I think that would be a very good start!” I replied fervently. “Albus, I have absolutely no idea what I am going to be dealing with. I have excellent experience in removing hexes and curses, administering antidotes after spilt potions and restoring hair and teeth. I can apply lotions for pimples, give draughts for colds and fevers, mend broken bones and heal cuts and stings …. all that and more. But what am I going to have to do for a werewolf? Or should that be a were-cub?” I added - I hadn’t found anything to enlighten me on that particular aspect.

“Did you know,” I went on with some feeling, “that despite all the stories we hear, I have only been able to find properly documented details of four cases of childhood lycanthropy in the last two hundred years? Of those, one child was injured so badly in the actual attack that she died only two days later. Another was killed by his parents.” I shuddered at that. “And the other two – well, they and their entire families were driven out and subsequently killed by local villagers. There must have been others, I assume, but I have found nothing other than the usual allegations, rumours and fourth-hand reports. None of which shed any light on our problem!”

He chuckled. “Poppy, Poppy, I can assure you that there will be nothing you cannot cope with! This is why I suggest you meet the Lupins, especially Gwendellyn – they can probably answer most of your questions.”

Well, that was something. There was a full moon four days before term started, so Albus suggested I should meet the Lupins in London the week before that, when they brought Remus up to get his school things. Arrangements were made, and I left for my own holidays somewhat happier.

I met the Lupins in front of Gringotts at nine o’clock. Edmund Lupin was a tall, fine-looking man of medium build with blue eyes, neat sandy hair and thin gold-rimmed glasses. He introduced his wife Gwen: about my height, she was slender and very pretty with brown hair, wide grey/green eyes and delicate features. And then there was Remus.

I’d wondered if I would feel awkward meeting him – the idea of shaking hands with a werewolf was still oddly disconcerting – but when I saw him my reservations vanished instantly and I held out my hand with a smile. “Hello Remus. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Good morning, Madam Pomfrey. It’s very kind of you to come here.” He returned my greeting softly and shook my hand, gravely polite in a strangely old-fashioned way. I found we were both studying each other.

He was slightly built, thin really, and a little small for his age, wearing simple blue robes. He mostly resembled his mother – the same hair, the same pale skin and delicate features. And his eyes - beautiful eyes, I realised with surprise: a deep blue/grey, almost slate colour, they seemed large in his little face, with the faintest of shadows underneath. Intelligent eyes, which were somehow very knowing, yet sad. There was that indescribable look you find in children who have been very ill, or who have seen things no child should ever see. Those eyes regarded me solemnly as he stood almost motionless next to his father.

“I’m glad we could meet, Remus. I’m sure you’re looking forward to coming to Hogwarts – it’s a wonderful school.”

He seemed slightly startled at my response: the idea that someone may actually want to meet him was obviously a little strange. Mrs Lupin glanced between us, then at her husband.

“Edmund, Remus, why don’t you two go off to do your shopping before it gets crowded. Madam Pomfrey and I will sit down somewhere and have a talk, and we can meet up later. What about at Florean Fortescue’s at eleven – I’m sure you’ll be ready for chocolate ice-cream by then, Remus!”

He smiled at that and we parted company. I took Mrs Lupin to Druids House, where the Ancient Order of Surgeons and Apothecaries had their offices. The building has always been a rabbit-warren, but it is blessed with numerous small meeting rooms which I had often made use of when in London. I secured a small pleasant room at the back, overlooking several large plane trees - a good private place to have a talk. We ordered a pot of tea and some biscuits, settled into armchairs near the window, and sat there quietly assessing each other.

Mrs Lupin broke the silence. “Madam Pomfrey, I’m so glad we could meet – but I hardly know where to start. All this …” she smiled a little wistfully, “well, I guess we both hoped for a miracle, but I suppose we never really expected Remus to be able to go to Hogwarts. I’m not really sure what you need.”

“Well, as you can imagine Mrs Lupin, I have never been faced with this sort of situation before. I know almost nothing of lycanthropy - it is not something I have ever had to deal with. So, please tell me about young Remus. And yourselves.”

I’ve met a lot of parents over the years. Fussy ones, anxious ones, ones who are furious that somehow the school did not prevent their little darlings from getting a broken arm or being subjected to a Jellylegs hex. Some are very easy-going, whilst others overwhelm you with their concern and long lists of instructions. But even on such brief acquaintance, Gwendellyn Lupin did not strike me as any of those. Despite her apparent hesitation, she somehow had an air of calm practicality and common sense that I found very reassuring.

“Almost anything will be of use,” I went on. “I can identify a transformed werewolf at fifty paces, I certainly know how to kill one, but my research so far has yielded very little which would seem to be of much practical use in actually helping your son at school!”

To my surprise she burst out laughing. “That’s exactly what we found too!” She shook her head ruefully, and then went on more soberly. “You know, anyone can tell you how to identify and kill a werewolf. They can tell you all about how “it” needs to be registered with the Ministry, what sort of jobs “it” is not allowed to hold, what sort of restrictions on travel there are, all those sort of things. But the idea that anyone would want to help a werewolf seems to be beyond them. Despite what they call their ‘Werewolf Support Unit’.”

“Do you know,” her eyes blazed suddenly, “we went to a physician a few months after Remus was bitten, and he suggested that it might be “easier” if we simply had Ministry experts put him down! Like some sort of mad dog!” She snorted. “I slapped him across his fat, smug, self-satisfied face of course. Lucky I didn’t turn him into a slug! Or worse. Poor Edmund was quite shocked at my behaviour!” She gave a swift smile.

“I’d have done much the same, I think!” I responded. “Only it probably would have been something worse than a slug!”

She smiled briefly again, sipped her tea slowly and went on. “I suppose it’s only to be understood. I mean, any family with a werewolf needs to keep it very, very quiet, so they’re not likely to write great books on what do, even anonymously. So we’ve really just had to find things out for ourselves. Like how to care for Remus before and after his transformations, how it affects him on days other than the full moon, what sort of food and medicine will help him, how to heal injuries. How to suddenly find your boy is regarded as a monster and a dark creature.” Her tone hadn’t altered at the last sentence, but I saw the sadness in her eyes, the way she twisted slowly at her wedding ring. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

“The physical effects are dreadful of course,” she continued. “I don’t think anything prepares you for those. The first full moon after Remus was bitten, we didn’t really know what to do, what to tell him. He knew something was wrong of course – he’d been feeling it all week – but he was only five. And he couldn’t really tell us what he felt, and we didn’t properly understand things ourselves yet. We just knew we had to lock him up that night and keep him safely away ... How do you explain that to a five-year-old? We tried our best, but … well, I think at that stage all he really understood was that something terrible was going to happen to him, and he sensed we were upset, and of course he got upset too.”

“Anyway, Edmund had built a shed which we made as strong as possible, and we knew we’d have to put silencing charms on it. But when we went to lock Remus in there …”

She stopped briefly, studied her cup of tea. “He was shivering and crying so dreadfully when we shut him in, he was so terrified. I didn’t want to leave him, nearly shut myself in there, just to hold him and be with him. Edmund pulled me away of course … and we shut that damned door … and he put the silencing charms on … and then we just waited, and waited … and we cried … and we sat out there that whole night, sat there in the garden and watched that door and that shed and the moon ...”

It was only at these last words that her voice shook a little: she paused again briefly before resuming in her previous even tone. “When the moon set, we waited a while – we didn’t know how long before he changed back. After half an hour or so we thought it must be safe, so we opened the door and found him. He was just lying there with his eyes shut, whimpering … there was so much blood … he’d ripped himself all over, clawed himself and bitten and scratched ... his nails were all torn and bloody … and he’d been sick too ... We just ... well, we just picked him up and took him inside. I sat there with him in my arms while Edmund washed him and we tried to heal the worst injuries. And he was awake properly by then and he was crying softly in pain and looking at us and he was so confused … we were trying not to cry, to be calm and reassuring, but we were both so scared. I gave him a sleeping potion and something for the pain, and he drank a small cup of milk … we put ointment on all his wounds and we bandaged him and then we put him into bed and let him sleep. He had so many cuts we couldn’t even put his pyjamas on him, we could only pull the sheet up over him.”

“One of the cuts on his leg was very deep and I thought we needed a proper healer, so I stayed with him while Edmund went to get her. We told her some story about being attacked by a dog … don’t know if she believed us or not ….. anyway, she came and healed him and he slept the rest of the day. And after a couple of days he was better. Well, he’d healed physically, that is. And then we went through it all a month later. And again, and again.”

I’d nursed children for years and seen all sorts of injuries and illness. Patients, parents and families cope with sickness, grief and death in so many different ways, and I’d seen some tragic situations with very young children. They were usually the worst. Yet I somehow couldn’t even begin to imagine what Gwen and Edmund Lupin had gone through, were still going through, every month. What I would have to face next term. My insides felt sick and twisted as her quietly spoken words became images in my mind.

Mrs Lupin must have seen this in my face, because she reached out and touched my hand gently. “You know,” she said, “the second time, when I saw all the scratches he’d made and how he’d torn himself about …. well, it sounds so stupid, but I had this sudden wish that I could somehow clip a werewolf’s claws like you do a dog! “ Incredibly, she chuckled. “We’d put Remus to bed and he was asleep. And I sat there in the kitchen and started laughing like anything, at the idea that you could somehow trim the claws on a werewolf! And that maybe I should be filing down his teeth. I just laughed and laughed – Edmund later said he thought I’d cracked completely. But when I told him, he saw the funny side of it too, and he laughed. Remus never laughs about it all of course, and we never, ever laugh about it in his hearing. But somehow, if Edmund and I hadn’t been able to keep our sense of humour about everything generally … well, I think we’d have gone mad.”

“It is said that there is a very fine line between laughter and tears,” I replied softly. “Tell me – how does Remus manage?”

“Better than anyone could expect, I think,” she said. “He’s an intelligent boy - and no, that’s not mere motherly pride! – he really is. He was reading at an early age, and he’s always been so quick and bright, asking questions, wanting to know things, wanting explanations. When he was little he was such a happy boy, always laughing and running around, into everything, happy to meet people. After the bite all that changed of course – he became very quiet and withdrawn, and we were very worried about him for a while. But he wanted to know what was happening …”

“We tried to explain, in terms he’d understand. But then one night – I think it was just before his sixth birthday - we heard something downstairs in Edmund’s study, and we came down and there was Remus, sitting up with a great big book about Dark creatures, and he was looking up werewolves.

“After that, we had no choice. We sat down and read things through with him, tried to talk about it with him, make him understand that whatever happened, we’d be there for him and that we loved him. He would never be a monster to us – it didn’t matter how bad things got, he was our Remus. But he knows what other people think of him when they find out – the Headmaster’s probably told you we’ve had to move several times because of it. So he’s very wary and fearful: he doesn’t really trust people any more. I sometimes feel it’s like he’s built a wall around himself and forgotten to put in a gate – you have to somehow find a way in, because he won’t come out from behind it.”

“And I think he somehow blames himself for everything that’s happened. Which is stupid of course, but he does. Edmund and I somehow felt so guilty about it all for a long time, blamed ourselves even more, even though there was nothing we could have done, no way we could have foreseen this. Remus going all the way down there to the edge of the pond on a wet night to rescue a toy – I mean, it was all just so ... so … well, it’s happened, so there’s no point in going over it, is there.” She gave a rueful smile.

“Have you read any books on what Muggles call “psychology”?” Her change of direction surprised me. Yes, I replied, I’d read some when I was studying healing. Sometimes the power to heal lies very much in our minds, in what we want to do. I’ve always been interested in that aspect.

Mrs Lupin nodded. “I read them too. We read everything we could, in fact. About lycanthropy and how it was treated in both the wizard and Muggle worlds. And about how we could help Remus cope. How we could “manage”. There’s plenty of good advice of course, about how to tell children about death, and illness, and terrible things that happen. But we never found anything that told us how to explain all this to Remus – I mean, how do you tell any child that once a month they are going to become a raving monster that has to be locked away because they’re dangerous, and they won’t remember anything? And that there is nothing we can do to help them.”

“So we just somehow muddled through and did our best, even when sometimes the only thing we could do was sit down and hold him. He had terrible nightmares, too - still has them sometimes. When he was little I used to sit beside him and sing to him till he went back to sleep. I still go in and sit with him, you know – if he wants me. He …”

She stopped very suddenly, and looked deeply embarrassed. “I’m awfully sorry Madam Pomfrey! Please forgive me! I’ve been sitting here, ranting and raving on about things all over the place. I don’t know what you must think of me!” She fell silent and sat there, staring at her hands and turning the empty teacup around and around.

I didn’t think she had been raving at all, and said so. She sounded amazingly sane and rational, incredibly composed. And I wondered just how long it was since she had been able to talk freely to anyone about what she and her husband were going through. Did she have any other family, I wondered? Any friends she could talk to?

At last she placed the cup back on its saucer and looked up. “Well, anyway we didn’t know what you’d need, so Edmund and I prepared this for you – maybe it will help.” She reached into her bag and handed me a small blue notebook. I found it was neatly written and carefully indexed, and filled with notes under a variety of headings. There were even recipes for herbal and other teas. I skimmed through the contents, surprised at some of the detail.

“This is amazing,” I assured her. “I had no idea you would go to all this trouble, Mrs Lupin. I’m most grateful, this will be an immense help to me.”

“Please call me Gwen,” she said with a smile. “I feel I’ve told you half my life, and here, I’ve only just met you!”

“Only if you will call me Poppy,” I found myself replying. And I meant it. This was a remarkable woman; one I hoped I would get to know. Normally I try to keep my relations with parents on an amicable but professional basis, but this was a very different case. Any ideas of formality dissolved: we ordered a new pot of tea and found ourselves chatting as though we had known each other for years. The time flew, and we suddenly discovered that we were well overdue for our ice-cream appointment.

Edmund and Remus were seated under a large umbrella, Edmund sipping a cool drink. Remus was already tucking into a huge chocolate ice-cream concoction, covered with a multi-coloured sauce, a large dollop of cream and layers of chocolate and honeycomb pieces.

“Remus!” exclaimed Gwen in mock horror.

“We decided to order when you were late,” laughed Edmund. “Remus said he was starving! And we’ve certainly done some shopping.” He gestured to the surrounding packages and bags.

“So I see!” said Gwen. Remus had paused for a moment to greet us, and then resumed his attack on the dish in front of him.

“Did you get everything then, dear?” Gwen asked her husband.

“No,” he replied. “We still need a potions cauldron, and the ingredients, but I thought it best to leave those till last so we don’t have to carry them round all day. We got all the books though, and new quills and ink, and his new robes. And, of course, his wand!” Remus made no comment but looked quietly happy about his day so far.

We chatted some more as we ate our ice cream: Remus even managed a second (smaller) helping. After he licked the spoon for the final time, Edmund handed him some money. “You go in and pay for it all now. And you can buy one large carton of ice-cream to take home – ask them to put a good freezing charm on it – and you choose the flavour.” Remus disappeared with alacrity.

“No prizes for guessing what flavour he gets,” chuckled Gwen. “Remember, Poppy, that boy will eat anything chocolate, anytime, anywhere! I shudder to think what he’ll buy when he is eventually allowed into Honeydukes.”

Remus reappeared with a large bag. We stood up, Gwen and Edmund sorting the other shopping between them. I said my good-byes, then turned to Remus.

“Remus,” I said quietly. “I’ll see you when you get to Hogwarts. I’ve told your mother what we’ve arranged, and when you get there I’ll show you. Come and see me after classes one afternoon in the first week – not the first day, as that’s always very busy at start of term. But any afternoon after that. And remember,” I smiled at him gently, “you can always come to me about anything, any time you need me. I’ll always try to help you. And I’ll always listen.”

He stared at me gravely, his eyes meeting mine as if searching for something. Then he held out his hand and solemnly shook mine again. “Thank you Madam Pomfrey,” he said.

I watched the family as they headed into the crowds down Diagon Alley, Remus striding along at his father’s side, swinging the bag with the ice-cream carton. I saw Edmund reach out and put an arm round his son’s shoulders, and then they disappeared from sight.

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