The first time Remus Lupin tried to board the Hogwarts Express, he went to Platform Eight-And-A-Quarter by mistake.
It was an easy mistake to make really. He'd been so excited when the invitation came, and so anxious through the summer, halfway convinced that at any minute one of his parents might say he couldn't go, or that the school would write to say they had made a mistake and couldn't take a young werewolf after all. Once he was in Kings' Cross it was hard not to race ahead of his parents. It felt as though it couldn't truly be really confirmed until he was really on the platform, and they went so slowly. No matter how many times his father repeated that they had plenty of time, Remus was certain that he might miss the train if they didn't move a little more quickly.
So, he hurried on ahead, letting his parents follow at their own pace, anxious to find the train. There was Platform Nine, and he carefully paced what seemed to him to be a three-quarter-length between that platform sign and the next before stepping through the wall.
He came out in a crowd of people, most of them taller than him. Surely students weren't meant to be this tall? And where were all of their uniforms? Remus glanced down self-consciously at his own clothing, wondering if perhaps they had read the letter wrong. Perhaps he hadn't been meant to change into uniform until they reached school or something.
It was hard to make out the crackly noise of the announcements over the noise of the crowd, but most of them were definitely moving towards the edge of the platform where – oh dear! – a train was already waiting.
Remus glanced back over his shoulder, hoping against hope to see his father appear with his trunk. Hadn't he said they would be late? He wondered worriedly what happened to those children unlucky enough to miss the Hogwarts Express. Perhaps they had to wait a whole year before they got to try again. Perhaps they didn't get to go at all. Fears like that escalated in his head uncontrollably until he was half frantic.
The platform was quickly emptying now, and there was still no sign of either of his parents. Remus hesitated, his normal inclination to behave himself warring with fear of still being stood there when the train left. Surely, luggage could always be sent on if you needed it to be, and once he was at the school, it wasn't as though they would send him home again.
The Guard's whistle blew, and he lost his nerve, sprinting to try and get to the train doors before they closed. It was only luck – and the fact that the Guard was both sharp-eyed and friendly – that prevented him from boarding it.
"Hey – hey, let me see your ticket!" the man called as Remus tried to scramble past him onto the train. "I know that uniform – Hogwarts' boy, aren't you?"
"Yes sir." It was the first time anyone had ever called Remus that, and he stood a little straighter, feeling a swell of pride, even as he reached for his ticket.
It wasn't in his left trouser pocket where he usually put things – or in his right one either. It took only moments for Remus to turn frantic, patting his pockets as though that might make his ticket magically appear. "I have it! I remember picking it up this morning, I just put it…" With a sinking heart, he remembered exactly where he'd put it – in his father's wallet for safe-keeping until they got to the station.
"It's all right, lad." The Guard seemed mildly amused by his panic. "This isn't your train anyway – not if you're headed to Hogwarts."
"It isn't?" Not quite sure whether to believe him or not, Remus stared at him. "They said Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters…"
"And they were right. But you're on Platform Eight-And-A-Quarter. Lucky I caught you, or you'd have been off to visit the mermaids at Weymouth with this lot," the Guard explained. "Head back to Platform 9, and it's the other direction."
Of course! In the hurry to get there, Remus hadn't thought to check which direction headed towards Platform Ten and which towards Platform Eight. Flushing pink, Remus apologised, turning to go as the train pulled away.
It was much easier to find Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters on the second look, especially as his parents were already standing at the wall that formed the entrance, looking for him anxiously. With the time he had spent getting lost, there really was a chance now that he might be late.
They managed to bundle him onto the train with only seconds to spare, sparing time for only the briefest of farewells before he climbed on – onto the right train this time. The doors closed behind him, and Remus relaxed, finally on his way to Hogwarts.
It was the first time Remus encountered the other Platforms at Kings' Cross – the ones no Muggles could ever access - but it was not to be the last. Going back to school seemed to spur his parents on in investigating 'cures' for werewolves – surely, they reasoned, if their son could behave so normally for a good deal of the time, it would only need a very small thing changing for him to be normal all of the time.
There were plenty of people who would have liked to have them believe so, but such magical cures were not available at St. Mungos or on the NHS. It became a normal thing for Remus' school holidays to be made up of one doctor visit after another, obediently swallowing potions and pills, or having one Charm after another tried out on him.
Those so-called cures had some very odd side effects. Remus was turned multiple colours over some of those visits, spent several days floating a foot in the air when one Charm refused to allow itself to be removed, and on one memorable occasion was turned into a giraffe. (The theory, that witch had suggested hopefully, was that the herbivore part of the giraffe would neutralise the predator part of the wolf breaking the pattern of monthly change when he was turned back into a human. The reality was that he spent three uncomfortable days living in the shed as the house door wasn't big enough, and still changed at the end anyway. Remus was always very relieved that Hogwarts was not the type of school to ask for essays on 'what I did on my holidays'.).
They could have travelled by Floo to all these places of course, but floo powder was not cheap, and doctor's bills were already climbing far too high. It would have been a waste to use powder for so many short journeys, and so time and again they ended up back at Kings' Cross, trying to find their platform.
"Platform Five-And-Two-Fifths – leaving in seven minutes," Remus' father announced, consulting a timetable which seemed to blur and reform to update times and platforms even as he looked at him. It was, Remus supposed, a good way to ensure that the train could never be late. "There it is, Remus – not too much to the right now, or you'll end up on Five-And-A-Half."
"They put these things too close together," Remus commented, stepping through onto the almost-empty platform.
"They do," his father agreed. "But it's only a very small line, so I don't suppose they think it needs much room. Not so many people coming through."
"Do they allow less room for the smaller lines then?" It wasn't something Remus had much considered before. "I thought everyone just got the fraction they'd signed up for."
The idea got a chuckle from his father. "I can't see that working very well, can you? Not unless people took a tape measure along. Imagine all the people who would bang their heads if they were an inch off!" He shook his head. "No, it's more like – think of the radio your grandfather got you."
"What about it?" Flopping down on a bench to wait for the train, Remus looked up at him enquiringly.
"That station you like listening to – the one with all the music – what frequency do you have to tune it into for that?"
"Radio 1?" Remus didn't have to think about it to find the answer, well-used to fiddling with it to find the best signal. "247 metres."
"Right," his father nodded. "But with that little knob they give you to tune it in, it's really hard to see if you can get 247 exactly, isn't it? So you twiddle it about, and maybe sometimes you get 247 and a bit, and maybe sometimes you get 246 and a half, but it doesn't really matter because as long as you're within a certain small range, you'll still get music."
"So as long as you walk in within a certain range, you'll hit the right platform," Remus said, understanding.
"And weren't you telling me that on Sundays your guys take over Radio 2's wavelength so they can play that Top Forty program you like so much?" his father asked, continuing the analogy.
"We do that too?"
Another nod from his father. "On the start and end of term for you lot, I think you can walk anywhere between three-fifths and five-sixths from Platform 9 and still reach the Platform. But it would be a waste to use all of that space the rest of the year when barely anyone has to use the platform, so they use it for other things."
"Don't people get confused and get the wrong platform?"
"Sometimes, but that's what the timetables are for," his father said, waving the one still in his hand. "And there are signs above every platform telling you where the next train is due to go in any case. As long as you pay attention, there's really no reason you should get the wrong train. Speaking of which," he glanced up the line, "here comes ours. Come on, let's find our seats."
Of all of the things Remus had to worry about in life, public transport came somewhere near to the bottom of the list. Life was busy – full of studying, and friends, and quidditch, and monthly trips to the Shrieking Shack. There was no time to spare for just sitting around thinking about train-stations and how they might or might not work.
He didn't really think about it again until he was back at home again for the Easter holidays. The weather had turned out stereotypically English – grey, cold and dreary with a slow drizzle of rain falling constantly. In other words, perfectly normal weather for any time children had time off school.
Still, it wasn't too bad. There was the fire indoors at least, and Remus sprawled out comfortably in front of it, reading his book, enjoying what was unaccustomed quiet when you had grown used to the bustle of the school dormitories.
It was a decent book, and he was deeply enough engrossed in it that he didn't notice at first when the hiss and crackle of the fire quieted to a different sound – almost what could be described as an absenceof sound as a face stared out at him from the fire.
He almost dropped his book when the watcher decided he'd had enough of waiting quietly and cleared his throat.
"Hey you – you there! I'm looking for Clifford Lupin."
Remus sat up hastily, glancing into the flames. "That's my father, sir," he offered, unsure who it was firecalling but wanting to be helpful. "He's out at the moment, but I can take a message."
The man in the fire eyed him, gaze not entirely friendly. "Your father, hey? You'd be the young pup then."
"Yes, sir," Remus reddened, but answered politely. As far as ways to describe werewolves went, 'pup' couldn't even be counted in the top ten of worst phrases. Still, it was always a little uncomfortable for him to be identified by his affliction alone.
"Tell your father not to forget his Ministry appointment. He's been booked on the Thursday train at ten sharp – have you got that?"
"Let me just get some paper." It would be about him again – these Ministry appointments always were. Appointments to discuss his safety, whether he was being restrained suitably in full moons, whether he posed a danger to those around him… The Ministry – perhaps with just cause – did not trust parents to be able to decide whether or not their precious children could be considered a danger to those around them, and updates on Remus' condition as he grew older were a legal requirement.
Remus hated them, but only very quietly and only to himself. There was no use causing his parents more worry by complaining about something that already caused them too much stress.
"Thursday – ten sharp," the man repeated slowly so that Remus could write it down. "Platform Three-And-A-Bit."
Remus had written it down carefully up until that point, but his head jerked up at that, and he stared at the fire suspiciously. "That's not a real platform!"
"Isn't it now?"
"No! They're all meant to be proper numbers – or fractions at least. You can't just have three and a bit." Remus wasn't sure if perhaps the man thought he was young enough to be teased with made-up platform names, or even whether he might be intentionally giving the wrong platform so his father would miss the train, but either way he didn't like it.
The man seemed more amused by his protest than anything though. "Well, Merlin forbid I should argue with the clearly all-encompassing knowledge of a thirteen year old werewolf."
"It's not a real number!" Remus insisted. "You can't just have a bit – nobody would know exactly how much it was!"
"Somebody wants to be an Arithmancer when he grows up, I see," the man commented. "Listen, just tell your father. He'll know where to go."
The fire flickered and sparked, and the face was gone, leaving Remus staring still at the words he had obediently written down.
He expected his father to laugh at him, or at least to not believe him when he grudgingly passed on the later. He didn't expect his father to just sigh as though such messages should be perfectly normal.
"Arithmancy lot wanting to see me again, is it? I'll make sure to get your paperwork in order then. They do so like to dot their i's and cross their t's."
Remus stared at him, unsure if perhaps he had said it wrong, or his father had misheard him. "I don't know. The man just said the Ministry," he said, trying not to sound as confused as he was. "Uh – I did tell you Platform Three-And-A-Bit, didn't I?"
"Always the Arithmancy lot if you're leaving from Platform Three-And-A-Bit," his father nodded. "They like their fancy numbers there."
"Three-And-A-Bit isn't a fancy number!" Remus protested, more bewildered by the moment. "Three-And-A-Bit isn't even a number at all!"
His father laughed at him. "You're right of course, but what you're seeing is the Arithmancer's quest to make life every bit as complicated as it can possibly be, while the rest of us try to just phrase things simply so we can get on with life. Go get my timetable, there's a good boy. I'll show you."
Remus did as he was told, resisting the urge to complain that nobody over the age of ten should really be referred to as a "good boy" if they wanted to maintain the least semblance of dignity. That was Sirius' bad influence rubbing off – he didn't usually mind so much.
Once it was unfolded, his father glanced through it, finding what he needed quickly. "There we go, look. Read that platform number for me."
Curiously, Remus looked where he pointed, reading it out loud. "Three-Point-One-Four-One-Five-Nine-Two-Six-Five…" he broke off. As he read, the numbers seemed to scroll, running off the side of the page to reveal more and more digits. "Hey! It's not meant to do that!"
"That's Arithmancers for you. Always doing things they aren't meant to." His father grinned, reaching to ruffle Remus' hair lightly. "There was a bit of a row when they got the platform as I remember it. Kings' Cross offered them Platform Three-And-Three-Twentieths but they said that wasn't right – not accurate enough, or magic enough or something. So they demanded this instead, and the rest of us round up like sensible people. It's a nightmare for the poor people who announce a train's arriving – by the time they've got the platform number out it's gone again."
"It's a silly number for a platform," Remus complained a little grumpily. "Are there any more like that?"
"Oh, a few," his father assured him. "Mostly down to Arithmancy again – they do like to play people around! There's a Platform Sine and a Platform Cosine, and it takes a long time to work out where they should be, and every time they build onto the station they move a little. Your grandfather even used to tell me about a platform that could be found at the square root of minus one, but I think that was just a story. No-one I know ever managed to find it anyway."
"The square root of minus one?" Remus repeated, confused. "But that would be easy to find, wouldn't it? It'd just be minus one so you'd have to go down from Platform One..."
"Would you?" The smile his father gave him said the question was a test.
"Well, yeah, because minus one times minus one would be…" Remus trailed off as he did the sum in his head, coming up quickly with the answer. "Oh. It wouldn't be."
"That's my smart boy." His father ruffled his hair again. "Yes, I knew you'd get it. A minus multiplied by a minus makes a plus, so there can be no square root of minus one. Still, it makes a pretty story."
"Where's it meant to go to?" Remus scrutinised the timetable again as though it might appear. Sometimes things like that did if you looked hard enough, or in the right way.
"Oh, Merlin knows. Your grandfather used to say it was only for those people who had nowhere left to go. No-one else could find it."
"I bet I could find it," Remus decided. "It's only a number. Numbers shouldn't just mess around being not there. I'd just have to work out where it should be, that's all."
It got a laugh from his father, and he reached to pluck the timetable back out of Remus' hands, tucking it away in his pocket for safe-keeping. "I reckon you could if anyone could, kiddo. I don't think a number would dare not be in its place if you told it to be." He smiled at his son, obviously proud of the boy who managed to race ahead in lessons despite the extra difficulties life held for him. "For now though, let's go see what your mother has for tea, hey?"
If Clifford had thought his son might forget the mysterious platform, he was wrong. The puzzle occupied Remus for the rest of the Easter holidays, distracting him from his parents' worried expressions, and the way they kept going through to the kitchen to have private little talks every time his father came back from a meeting. It was much easier to focus on where someone might have placed an impossible platform than let himself wonder what they might be talking about.
He did try walking to Platform Minus One when they went back to the station after the holidays, just in case the people who built the station didn't know that two minuses multiplied made a positive. It just gave him a bumped head when he walked into the wall though, and strange looks from the people around him, so he thought that they probably did.
The other Marauders were interested in Platform Square-Root-Of-Minus-One until they realised that Remus' plans for finding it involved a lot of quiet work with paper playing with numbers rather than just roaming through the station walking into the walls at random intervals. That seemed a little too much like voluntarily taking on extra lessons to them. They would happily keep the secret of where he went and what happened to him once a month, but asking them to do extra lessons was just a little too much and so they left him to it.
Remus ended up going to the library, which was the usual place he headed when lessons got too much for him. Usually, if things were hard someone would have written down a way to think about them more easily somewhere.
The answers he got from books were almost as bewildering as his questions however. Apparently the square root of minus one was imaginary. That was fine with him, as he was old enough now to understand that 'imaginary' could encompass a lot of things that people just didn't quite know how to find or explain yet. They were discussed in the Muggle Studies books though, and that was strange. Muggles usually had no time at all for things that were imaginary! They said it was invented by renegade mathematicians, and that was a funny image. Remus giggled quietly to himself, imagining mathematicians roaming the world, upsetting the natural order of things by inventing numbers that no-one else understood.
He quite liked the idea of being a renegade mathematician, and practiced saying "ahahaha, I have now invented… imaginary numbers!" under his breath until he realised some of the other students were looking at him strangely.
The second book said that the square root of minus one was 'i'. Remus put that book back without bothering to read much further. It might be true, but it didn't matter if it was. Platforms weren't marked by letters. He needed a number to go to.
The third book said, confusingly, that the square root of minus one was both one and zero. He tried to read that one, as that one seemed to be the one with the most hope with coming up with a number, but after a while it made his head spin. It was full of equations and Advanced Arithmancy – far too deep for a third year, even a smart one! Reluctantly he put it back, deciding his head would probably ache less if he tried the Marauders' favoured 'walking into walls' method.
Besides, there was no way a person could go to both Platform One and Platform Zero. That would be like going somewhere and nowhere all at once.
The Marauders approved of the idea of just finding a platform by walking into walls though. Going home for the summer meant passing through Kings Cross again of course, and in the ten minutes before anyone's parents arrived to take them home they did some determined research, walking towards walls with their eyes closed so they couldn't let themselves hesitate.
James managed to break his glasses though, when he walked into one of them a bit too hard, and then Sirius' parents arrived and said they were all little hooligans and they were surprised Mr and Mrs Potter let their son hang around with such types, and made the Guard take them all to wait into his office until someone came to get them.
Sirius' parents didn't like Remus much. He had thought, at first, that it was the werewolf thing again – that Sirius had told them despite what they had all promised. He had been quietly miserable about that for a while until the other two had noticed, and explained that no, actually, it was something to do with Mum's parents being Muggles and nothing to do with Remus at all. And that Sirius' parents didn't really like Peter either, for the same reason, and anyway it didn't matter because thinking like that went out years ago, and everyone knew they were being stupid.
By the time his father came to pick him up, he was grinning again, back in his usual good spirits. It took so little to please Remus sometimes, and someone reassuring him that they liked him was more than enough to take away both the sting of Sirius' parents' expressions and the disappointment of still not finding that dratted Platform-Square-Root-Of-Minus-One.
He'd been cheered up enough not to notice his father's expression, or how tired he looked when he did finally arrive, and had chattered happily all the way home. It was nothing important, just the stuff that didn't fit in letters, talk about House points and the Marauders, quidditch and lessons.
It wasn't until they had reached home, and Remus had bounded inside to find and hug his mother that he realised that something might be wrong. There was something horribly tense about her expression as she turned to his father and asked quietly, "Did you tell him yet?"
Tell him what? Remus looked enquiringly back at his father as the man shook his head. "Not yet. I thought it could wait until we get home."
"You always leave all the bad news to me," his mother sighed, taking Remus by the shoulders and leading him gently to sit down. "Remus, sweetheart, we've got some news for you. You aren't going to be seeing any more of those doctors."
"Oh, good!" The reaction was an instinctive one, and Remus didn't think before he said it. No more doctors meant no more poking and prodding, no more stupid experimental spells that never did anything anyway, and holidays to do what he wanted to do, just like his friends had. No doctors was a good thing… wasn't it?
His mother looked as though she was trying not to cry. "I don't think you quite understand," she said carefully. "It's… we've spoken to the finest doctors the Ministry can recommend, Remus. No-one has a cure for you. And the people we've been going to see – they're expensive, and they weren't doing any good any way."
"It doesn't mean they'll never have anything to help you," his father added hastily. "People are always doing research on these things. I'm sure they'll find something… given time. But right now, there's nothing they can do to stop you being a we- getting sick." He changed his wording on that quickly, always so careful around the W word. "Do you understand?"
A few years ago, Remus might have cried over the news, or at least tried not to cry in front of his parents and had a private snuffle later on. But now there was Hogwarts, and Hogwarts changed everything. "It's all right, Dad," he said quickly, hating to see the unhappy looks on both his parents' faces. "The guys I know now – they know about the werewolf thing already, and it's okay. They're okay with it. Sirius said that even if I change into something awful once a month, I still can't be as bad as his cousin who's awful all the time, and James said it doesn't matter if I'm sick because it's not like I'm not really smart anyway, and Peter… well, I don't think Peter cares one way or the other really. And school doesn't mind, and it's a bit of a pain having to go away once a month, but I'm getting used to that now anyway, so it's okay." He looked anxiously from his father to his mother, hoping that news would make them smile again. "It is. Really."
They didn't smile. "The thing is, Remus," his father began heavily, obviously hating what he had to say, "You might not find that the rest of the world is always as tolerant as the friends you have now. When you grow up…"
"But they'll still be there when I grow up!" Remus protested, not letting him finish. "We swore that we were going to be friends forever! And I don't think they would let anyone be nasty to me about it, Dad. Really, they wouldn't." He beamed, alight with the new-found confidence in friends who had promised him they'd always be around.
His father looked as though he would like to say more, but it was his mother who stepped in. "Well, I'm glad to hear you're making such good friends, sweetheart," she said firmly before his father could say anything more. "But you must tell us if anyone ever says or does anything about it that upsets you, do you understand?"
Remus nodded obediently. "I still don't think the others would let them though."
"That's good to hear," she said encouragingly. "Why don't you go up to your room now? We've rearranged things a bit while you were at school, and I'm sure you'll want to see how it looks, and get your things from school put away."
It was hard to miss that his parents' expressions still didn't match the cheerful tone of his mother's voice, but sometimes it was easier not to argue. Remus nodded, grabbing his trunk and dragging it away up the stairs to his room.
Behind him, he could hear his father say something too quietly to make out, and then his mother's sharp reply. "Well, what did you want to do – keep going until you'd convinced him that his life would be awful no matter what? He's fourteen for God's sake. Let him believe it can be okay for a little longer. He'll find out soon enough – is it such a crime to allow your son to be happy for a few years?"
Sometimes, it really was better just to pretend you didn't hear.
After that, all thought of the platform at the square root of minus one was forgotten, dropped in favour of the more important quest of Cheering Up Mum And Dad. All that summer Remus worked on it, babbling at them endlessly about school, and begging them to let the others come visit so his parents could see how nice they were. Sirius' parents never allowed him to visit – Sirius sent an owl with a sulky-sounding note about how his family thought they all might be a bad influence, and wouldn't let him come. The other two came though, and they had a fine time exploring the neighbourhood, laying plans for school next year, and accidentally turning Peter purple while messing with Remus' Muggle chemistry set. Remus wasn't sure his parents looked happier after the others left exactly, more sort of dazed, but it was a start at least.
It was time for school again all too soon, and Remus forgot the platform entirely, lost in a whirl of lessons, and quidditch, and trying to keep his friends from actually getting themselves expelled for one thing or another. It had been interesting for a while, but life was full of interesting things and if you thought about all of them all of the time, you would have no time left at all for anything else.
Years skipped by, almost indecently fast. Remus passed his OWLs with flying colours, and chose his NEWTs with care, picking Arithmancy, Defence Against The Dark Arts, and Ancient Runes only after deep discussion with his teachers about which paths such subjects might open up for him. They in turn were too kind, or perhaps too optimistic, to tell their bright young student about just how limited the career path of a werewolf could be, and encouraged him on happily with no regard to the reality of his ambition.
By the time he had left school and discovered this omission, there was already a war beginning, and what most students wanted to be when they grew up very quickly became Not-Dead. Life was going to be better after the war. People kept saying that, as though when the fighting stopped, when Voldemort was vanquished, people would suddenly have learnt the art of being nicer to each other. It was easier not to question it, to keep fighting and waiting for that magical day when "life would be better". Sirius bought a house, and that was a happy thing, James and Lily got married and that was another happy thing. Harry being born was a third happy thing, and Remus kept on holding on, waiting for his own happy thing which had to be around the corner any minute now – a job, a girl, someone prepared to give him a chance the way Dumbledore had, anything.
And then a lot of things happened very fast, and most of them weren't happy at all.
When the dust cleared, the war was over sure enough, but as far as Remus could see that part where life was going to be better just hadn't happened at all. Peter was dead, so were James and Lily. Sirius was in Azkaban, a traitor to them all. He was the only one left who wasn't either dead, or a convicted criminal. Even if life had suddenly improved beyond his greatest imaginings, how could it possibly be better at all without them? They had been the ones who were always going to be there for him and they'd kept to that right through to that bitter, oh so bitter end that knocked away his certainty.
And in fact things seemed to get worse after that, not better. People remembered that many of the werewolves had fought with Voldemort, and no-one seemed to take the time to listen to Remus' protests that he had been on the other side. A local newspaper with no exciting stories to run on a slow Monday morning decided to publish a picture of Remus' photo with the caption "A danger to our children?" and after that things went very bad, very quickly. Problems that had before been limited to being unable to find work suddenly increased. His parents house where he was still living, unable to earn the money to move out, was daubed with graffiti night after night – nasty ugly phrases suggesting that Remus should go back to his own kind, or that it was a shame he hadn't been killed when Voldemort was defeated. He took to getting up about an hour before his parents so he could try to evanasco them away before they saw. It was worth it to stop his mother crying, and his father going into a rage about ungrateful people who didn't appreciate those who actually were on their side.
Three times the downstairs windows were smashed by someone who threw a stone at them and ran away. Once someone took it further, and Remus woke to the acrid smell of smoke spreading slowly through the house from the fire that had been set to burn in their living room.
They were lucky to get everyone out safely and unhurt – broomsticks were handy things when you needed to escape from an upstairs window. Remus offered to leave, but his father strengthened the protection charms around the house and said no. This was their home, and he wasn't going to let any of them be driven out of it by ignorant idiots.
It wasn't just the vandalism that was a problem though. Old ladies who had given Remus sweets when he was tiny suddenly seemed unable to look him in the eye, and hurried away when he approached. Mothers called their children in when he passed their houses. After a few weeks someone posted a letter through their door. It was a petition, it said, signed by everybody in the street. Remus was making people uncomfortable, making them worried for their children, driving house prices down just by living there. They understood, it said, that Remus had actually worked against Voldemort but this werewolf thing – it wasn't something he could control, was it? And he only had to escape once on a full moon for someone else to be infected or dead. They were very sorry to ask, but they would be very appreciative if Remus could leave as soon as possible, for everyone's sake.
It was worse than the official controls from the Ministry, and Remus had always thought before that those were about as bad as things could get. At least once you'd demonstrated that you were under adequate restraints and control during full moon, they left you alone mostly. This – he couldn't do anything to demonstrate to these people that he was under control, that he had never hurt anyone yet, and that if he could help it he never would. They simply weren't willing to take the risk.
He didn't bother to do more than scan the names of those who had signed the petition. There were times when you really didn't want to know. His father was ready to rage and storm – at everyone in the street if necessary, one by one, until they backed down.
Remus left him fuming over it in the living room, went upstairs, and quietly packed a bag.
"I'm going to stay at a friend's," he announced when he came back down, hefting the bag onto his shoulder. "Just until this quiets down."
"Because of these fools?" his father jabbed at the petition furiously. "Don't give them the satisfaction, son. Wait it out."
"Remus, you mustn't." His mother was horrified by the idea. "What about the Ministry? You know they have to know where you are."
"I'll tell them where I've moved to then." Remus shrugged. "It's not worth waiting it out any more, Dad. I'm sick of it; the looks, the vandals, the not being able to do anything to help you guys – I can't even find work to bring in enough to pay for my food! You don't need to upset the entire street on my behalf. Like I said, I'll stay with a friend. Go where people don't know my face. This… it isn't worth it for you."
Neither of them asked which friend. Neither of them pointed out the obvious – that everyone Remus might once have stayed with was either dead or in prison now. Like Remus himself, his parents had learnt that there were times not to ask questions because the truth would be too much to deal with.
Still, it wasn't easy. He could see his mother holding back the tears as she looked at him, all packed and ready to go. "You don't have to do this, you know," she said quietly.
Remus thought again of the night of the fire, thought of what might have happened if he hadn't woken at the smell of smoke, and shivered. All that needed to happen was somebody trying that again on the night of a full moon, and everybody would be in a lot of trouble. "Yes," he said soberly, "I think I do."
She sighed, and reached to squeeze his hand, as though she could fit all her love for him into that tight grip. "Let me make you some sandwiches for the journey then."
That was how Remus ended up back at Kings Cross Station – where else? – with some clothes, a little money, a bag of egg and cress sandwiches, and no idea where to go next. He had had no real plan beyond that point – it seemed best to go to some Muggle town where they had no idea at all of the reality of werewolves, but the question was which?
He stared intently at the boards with their lists of arriving and departing trains, hoping one would leap out at him. There was a train to Hull – but he vaguely remembered some of the students from Muggle families at school talking about Hull, and it had sounded a terrifying place. There was one to Bristol Temple Meads – but wasn't it meant to be dreadfully expensive to live there? He didn't have all of that much money.
Peterborough, Leeds, Royston, Newcastle… he scanned the list of locations, finding fault with every one of them. Too Southern, too Northern, too expensive, too dangerous, not home.
That was the problem of course. The truth was, that given a choice he didn't truly want to go anywhere. It was difficult to shake the nagging feeling that if he left, he might miss something. If he stayed… things might change. Somehow it might turn out that James' and Lily's deaths were mistakes, that Peter had only lost a finger and not died at all, that Sirius was innocent. If only he stayed at home, there was always the chance that somehow, someday, they might come strolling down his street to knock on the door, and life would be okay again. Life could go back to the way it had always been.
If he left, how would they ever find him again?
He thought again of the fire, and strengthened his resolve. He couldn't stay – he couldn't put his parents in danger just for some silly fantasy that his friends might somehow come back from the dead. He had to go somewhere.
And if he had nowhere to go… well, maybe he should just choose at random which way to go. Certainly, he would find a problem with anywhere he tried to choose.
Taking a deep breath, he shut his eyes and walked forward, ignoring the complaints of people he nearly trod on as they shifted out of his way. Forward, forward, and here he turned left and kept walking, hoping desperately he was heading for a platform and wasn't about to break his nose by walking headfirst into a wall.
That was it then. Whichever platform he was on, whichever was the next train to come, he would get on it, no arguing. Hoping desperately it was headed to neither Hull or Bristol, Remus opened his eyes.
Flashing in red letters on the sign directly in front of him were the words Platform √-1.
He had finally found the place you end up when you have nowhere to go, and yet you must go somewhere. Only here may nowhere and somewhere exist in the same place.. Zero and one, nowhere and somewhere where destinations could be impossible, imaginary but without question always necessary. Sometimes there just had to be a balance, even when it came to public transport.
A train was already drawing into the station, although it had no sign on the front. Passengers hurried to get on, and Remus knew he should follow them. He had promised himself after all.
It didn't stop him from being nervous though, and he hesitated, and then turned as he saw a Guard walk past. "Hey – hey you! Where is this train headed please?"
The Guard stopped and looked back at him enquiringly. "Where was it you wished to go, sir?"
That was the question, and Remus bit his lip before giving a quick shake of his head because the places he wanted to go were the past where his friends were forever, to a future where there was a cure, and a present where he wasn't alone . "I don't know," he admitted. "Just that I have to go somewhere."
"Ah." The Guard smiled at him, a warm welcoming smile, and nodded. "Then yes. This is exactly the train you need to take to get there."