Disclaimer: The words are mine. Irena is mine. The innkeeper is mine. Remus is not mine. But if JK Rowling would give him to me, I'd be a very happy girl indeed.
A huge thank you to Kerosene for her wonderful beta work, and to Achinoam "Noa" Nini for unintentionally inspiring this fic through her songs "Space" and "Too Painful."
"As Moon on Forest Falls" was originally published on FictionAlley on 11 October, 2003.
Remus watched with drooping eyelids as the landscape rushed past. Sparse forest replaced gently rolling hills as the train drew closer to its destination, and still he clung to wakefulness with a fierce tenacity, though every muscle in his body begged him to give in to sleep. He counted the trees that he passed. He measured in seconds the snores of the elderly woman who sat beside him. He tried to smooth the peeling letters on his suitcase. He did anything and everything he could to keep his mind occupied and alert, for he meant to make himself experience every single second of this day, for better or worse.
After what seemed an eternity, the train slowed to a none-too-smooth stop. A long line of passengers formed, and one by one they disappeared onto the platform. Remus politely nudged the snoring woman awake, and she thanked him groggily and left as well. He, however, waited until he was the very last person aboard before he finally stood up and carried his suitcase out onto the platform. He afforded his fellow passengers neither smiles nor frowns, but merely wove his way through the crowd, through the station, and into the streets of the little town without catching anyone's attention.
He had never been there before, yet he felt as though he knew it well. It was the sort of town that inspired fairy tales: a little village nestled among the trees, heard of by very few save those who dwelled there and those who passed through on their way to grander places. It was an unimposing place, lacking the penetrating noisiness of Remus' London neighborhood, but through the haze of sleep-deprivation he did not have the presence of mind to appreciate its quaintness. He could not simply remain by the side of the road, where the slanted rays of the afternoon sun threatened to lull him to sleep where he stood, so he asked a passing young man for directions and set off down a series of cobbled roads.
The inn lay in a quiet hamlet, a couple of minutes away from the comparatively busy center of the town and much closer to the surrounding forest. Like the town, it was charming in an old-fashioned sort of way, though Remus suspected that its true draw was the Red Lion Pub, which was advertised in huge letters on a board carved in the shape of, predictably enough, a lion. As he had hoped, there was a sign beneath the pub's board that advertised available rooms for rent. Ignoring the two gentlemen who were enjoying an early drink at the pub, Remus sought the bartender and asked if he might have a room for the night. "Anything you have is fine," he said with a thin smile. "All I need is a bed and some privacy."
"Not a problem, my friend," said the innkeeper with a friendly nod of his head, apparently pleased with the traveler's lack of choosiness. Muggle money changed hands, as did a labeled room key, and Remus thanked him and headed up the stairs.
Remus, having had far too many bad experiences with rented rooms, was pleased to find this one simple and clean. A plain blue quilt adorned the bed, the hardwood floor had been swept, and a set of unremarkable blue curtains framed the large window on the far wall. Satisfied, Remus set his suitcase down on the floor and sat upon the bed to wait. The sun would set soon. It would only be a short while until the full moon rose.
Seven days before the full moon, Irena Turner the apothecary always knew to expect Remus Lupin at her door, looking to pick up his monthly order of potions. And even though his order was exactly the same every month, he still insisted on owling it to her two days in advance, just for the sake of professionalism. She was greatly perplexed, however, upon receiving his order for the month of June.
"Your order is different this time, Mr. Lupin," she commented with a frown after they exchanged the usual formalities upon his entering the shop.
He nodded tersely. "It is. I hope you had no trouble finding all the necessary herbs?"
"No, no, of course not," she said, dismissing this with a wave of her hand. "But… you didn't list the Wolfsbane Potion." She lowered her voice at these last two words, even though she and Remus were the only two people in the shop.
"I didn't," he affirmed with a smile.
She nodded, letting out a sigh of relief. "Ah. I wasn't sure if you'd left it out by mistake. I wondered if I should brew it anyway, in case you'd forgotten."
He looked mildly alarmed by this. "I hope you didn't take the trouble," he said quietly.
"No," she replied with a smile for his concern. "I do have all the ingredients on hand, though, in case you want me to prepare it while you wait."
A sad sort of expression flitted across his face, but it was immediately replaced by a look of calm resolve. "Thank you," he said. "That won't be necessary."
Her brow furrowed but she said nothing further on the subject, instead silently gathering all of the potions that she had prepared for him: his usual pain-removal draughts plus several more potent brews, including a skin-mending salve and a complicated remedy designed to repair cracked bones. She did not allow herself to think about the kinds of injuries he must be foreseeing this month, if he expected to have to use potions such as these.
She handed him the small box of potions, carefully packed so that those in glass vials would not knock against each other and break. He paid her entirely in Galleons, letting her keep the change as a tip for her services, as was his wont. And with a last nod of thanks in her direction, he left just as quietly as he had come.
Irena watched thoughtfully as he closed the door behind him and walked away into the London crowd. She had met Lupin over two years ago, not long after he had left his teaching position at Hogwarts. As he had explained upon first visiting her shop, Headmaster Dumbledore had known that she was very skilled at brewing the recently discovered Wolfsbane Potion. As Lupin required a full dose every month (for obvious reasons) and did not wish to retain the services of the school's potions master after his single year on the job (for reasons upon which he refused to elaborate), the headmaster had recommended that he pay Irena a visit.
Lupin's order had been exactly the same every month since then: a full seven days' worth of Wolfsbane Potion, plus two pain-removal draughts for use after the transformations. And considering that he had told her on numerous occasions that he considered her skills invaluable – "I don't know how I'd get by without your Wolfsbane," he would say with a smile that bordered on shy – she could not help but wonder why he would suddenly decide to go without the one potion that made his life a little easier.
Or, for that matter, why he seemed so resolved to avoid discussion of the subject.
Whatever the reason, she knew instinctively that it couldn't be anything good – and considering that, she felt bad for not pressing the matter and seeing what was wrong. But as another customer wandered in, she put on her usual friendly smile, reminded herself that she was a businesswoman, and pushed all thoughts of Remus Lupin from her mind.
It was exactly twelve minutes before moonrise, and Remus paced his small room at the inn. He was not restless; on the contrary, he paced to keep himself from falling asleep. Despite his body's protests, he had not allowed himself a wink of sleep since the previous morning – and with only twelve more minutes to go, he could not afford to give up now. So he paced on shaky legs, focusing his mind on anything but the weariness of his limbs and the pangs that had already begun to course through his veins in anticipation of the forthcoming transformation.
Eleven minutes. Then ten. Remus had meant to wait until two or three minutes, but he hadn't foreseen the weakness that he now felt in his body. He knew it wasn't entirely from lack of sleep, either; he had been taking the Wolfsbane Potion every month for over three years, and he was quite certain that he was now going through what might be loosely termed withdrawal. His human body was no longer used to the pain of transformation, and the wolf….
Remus shuddered. He had no idea how he would react to the lack of Wolfsbane while in lupine form. Would he be enveloped in agony as he was now? Would he even care? Would he scratch himself to bits, or would he run wild and hunt other prey? Would he howl at the moon in despair or in joy? Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Remus afforded himself a wry smile. Even now he wasn't entirely sure how his mind worked when he was a wolf – not the human-wolf that he became with the Wolfsbane, but the real wolf: the creature that stalked, hunted, killed, and probably did all sorts of other things that Remus never even knew about.
Testing the strength of his legs once again, Remus decided that waiting until three minutes would be the epitome of poor judgment. If he waited a moment longer as it was, he felt that he might not have the strength to Apparate at all. So he carefully stood up and removed his clothes, folding them neatly and placing them in a pile on the bed. He hid his wand in its usual place inside his suitcase. He stood, concentrated hard, and soon felt a familiar rush of wind around him: the next thing he knew, he was standing on a carpet of soil and soft roots, surrounded on all sides by seemingly endless forest. Neither his ears nor his nose gave him any indication of human life nearby. Exactly as he had expected.
The Apparation had drained what was left of his strength. (He shuddered to think that only yesterday he had seriously considered Apparating here all the way from London in hopes of saving the money on train fare.) Too weak to stand any longer, Remus knelt beside the trunk of a large fir, burying his fingers and toes in the dirt. His heart was beating faster. The pain was stronger. He had left his watch back at the inn, now miles away, but he knew that only a few minutes remained.
He steeled himself against the agony that he knew would come soon – the agony that he hadn't felt for three years, but that he had to feel tonight. He closed his eyes, remembering that the wolf's vision would blur his own; the transition was always easier with his eyes closed. His skin began to tingle, then to itch, and then to burn, but he did not let himself make a single sound in protest. He just stayed focused on remaining human as long as possible, on feeling every sensation that he used to feel before the Wolfsbane eclipsed them all. Feeling his heart being squeezed as the muscles in his chest contorted and his ribs cracked and reformed. Feeling his skull change its shape and his nails grow longer. Feeling his skin grow a sleek coat of gray fur. Feeling his eyes open, and seeing the world changed before him. Feeling his human mind fade away….
And then: just feeling.
The moon set over the forest, leaving the trees in a dark, misty stillness. Remus lay on his back at the edge of a small glade, naked and cold, his pale blue eyes wide open and staring at the sky. Sleep threatened him from all sides, and part of his newly awakened human mind seemed quite willing to give in, but he had long ago lost the childish trust that allowed him to slip from wolf form to human form and straight into unconsciousness. During his growth into adulthood, Remus had begun to find himself able to stay awake after the full moon, usually just long enough to find a bed and crawl into it.
Now though, he made no effort to find a comfortable place to curl up and sleep. He knew that a bed awaited him back at the inn, and he knew exactly how far to Apparate in order to get there, but he did not want to sleep. He wanted to lie on the ground forever, surrounded by the eerie stillness of the forest, and to listen to the insistent rhythm of his own heartbeat.
It no longer took an effort to keep his eyes open – probably because he had ceased to think about it. In fact he had ceased to think at all. His conscious mind had disappeared, and for the moment he was merely aware. He felt the cold morning air that made his skin prickle, but he also felt each blade of damp grass that lay crushed beneath his back. He felt warm blood trickling from innumerable scratches and slashes all over his body, but he also felt each cool, soothing droplet of morning dew that settled on his skin. He felt with a certain level of detachment that his left ankle was sprained, or perhaps even broken, but he also felt the strength within his own body that promised to heal it. He felt every particle of dirt that kept him from sinking into the ground, and he felt the gentle weight of the Earth's atmosphere as it kept him from floating into the sky.
He felt pain and he felt pleasure – and as he lay still on the forest floor beneath the dark morning sky, he realized that he couldn't tell the two apart. As his conscious mind slowly awakened again, he began to think that this was an absurd idea. It should have been impossible to experience both feelings as if they were one and the same… and yet it wasn't. Not when he didn't think about it.
For Remus, however, thought was inevitable. He was an intellectual by nature, and he knew that he would eventually have to tend to his wounds and get some sleep. But he was determined to keep this heightened sense of feeling as long as he possibly could. He closed his eyes, remembering in his mind's eye everything that he saw in the forest. "I'm alive," he whispered, as if the feeling would linger just a bit longer if put into words. "I'm alive, Sirius. I'm alive enough for both of us."
And for a moment more, it almost seemed true.
Remus opened his eyes, and only then did he realize that he was once again completely human. He was cold, filthy, and in much more pain than he had ever remembered being. More than that, he was quite sure now that his ankle was broken. He though again of the name that he had just invoked, vaguely wishing that his friend could tend to his wounds while he slept, just as he had before everything had gone wrong.
But that was fifteen years ago, and there was no need to dwell on it now. He sighed and pushed the thought from his mind, concentrating only on his present position, his destination, and the distance that he would need to move. His mind did not fail him: in a split second he was back at the inn, sitting on the clean floor of the orderly little room. His first instinct was not touch anything for fear of soiling it, but he reminded himself with a roll of his eyes that he knew basic cleaning spells just as well as the next wizard.
Careful not to move his battered ankle more than absolutely necessary, Remus inched his way across the floor toward his suitcase and began to sort through his box of potions. By the time he had taken everything he needed, including a draught that would keep him awake long enough to catch the first train back to London, the sun had already risen.
Remus slept soundly on the journey back, not even stirring when a very young girl accidentally dropped a bug on his knee and bounced all over the seat beside him as she tried to retrieve it. But though his body was exhausted, his mind, which had already had a long rest that night, remained awake and entertained itself with dreams.
He had been expecting this. Nightmares had always followed his monthly transformations without the Wolfsbane – dreams of blood, anger, and throat-rending howls – but once he'd begun to realize even as he slept that this was only his human mind regaining its control over his lupine mind, he'd learned not to mind the nightmares so much.
But this time the nightmares never came. He dreamed instead of running through forests and fields, sometimes as a wolf and sometimes as a man, of looking at the moon as one might look at a lover, and of feeling his heart beat wildly in his chest, reminding him that he was alive. He dreamed of Padfoot, and of all the full moons they had spent running wild together, racing through the Forbidden Forest and leaving Wormtail and Prongs far behind.
He dreamed of Sirius, in every form he had ever known him – and he smiled as he slept.
Someone awakened him when the train stopped, and he merged into the crowd to leave the train and the station behind. He did not have the strength to Apparate back to Grimmauld Place, but even if he had, he did not think he would have done so. It wasn't a far walk, and besides, the bustling commotion of London was almost welcome after nearly a day away from its familiar noise. The din of the city enveloped him from head to toe – but for once it could not penetrate him. For once, even surrounded on all sides by its deafening pressure, Remus felt peaceful.
Louder than anything else, he could still hear the constant beating of his own heart.