Year One: Dawn
Branches whipping at his face, scratching at his legs, clawing at his arms. Sweat trickling down his forehead, mingling with the tears streaming from his eyes. His lungs screamed for air; gasps tore through his raw throat. An excruciating stitch in his side and damp loam beneath his bloody feet, between his toes. He cried as he stepped on something sharp and hard, but he didn't stop. He couldn't. Keep running, keep running, keep running The thought repeated over and over again in his mind like a mantra, a ward against evil. Keep running…
The moon was full, a lone and ghostly specter rising over the forest to sit in the starless black. Silver light stabbed through the skeletal trees, probing the darkness for his small frame, and a howl shivered through the woods, an incisive blade that penetrated his soul. He panicked. Eyes cast around for a place to hide. But there was nothing—nowhere where he wouldn't be found. He choked down a sob as he continued his wild flight through the darkness.
Over his own harsh and ragged breathing, he somehow heard the dry crackling of leaves and dead twigs behind him. A bestial snarl beat against his ears. Don't look back, don't look back, don't look back. He already knew who – no, not who but what – would be there hounding him: a monster with sharp claws and yellow teeth and stinking breath and golden eyes and—
—a guttural voice filled with loathing.
A fallen log sprawled on the ground before him. He didn't see it until it was too late. His bare knees collided with the rough wood. Went down headfirst, shins scraping against splintery bark. His hands shot forward to catch him, palms digging into the forest floor. Warm and slick blood dribbling over ripped skin. Ignoring his protesting muscles, he shoved himself up, started running again.
Keep running, keep going. But suddenly, he came up against a rock face. Stern and unyielding. The moonlight threw the jagged edges into sharp relief. He collapsed against the cool stone. Caught. Like a rabbit in a hunter's trap. Helpless, he sank to the ground, his face dry. Numb. Unbelieving. He had stopped crying. Had run out of tears.
A shadow fell over him. Another chilling howl burst forth from the prowling shape. He cowered against the cliff, knees drawn up to his chest. Let his head hang forward. He didn't want to look, didn't want to. He was going to die. He knew it; the truth of it rang through his heart like a sliver of ice.
"No," he whispered, his voice weak and tremulous.
Close your eyes, close your ears. Pretend.
Agony erupted in a shoulder. Burning knives burrowing into his flesh. Then a wave of coolness. He sank into it eagerly.
Chapter I: Storm Passing
It was raining, grey drops pattering against the windowpane, sounding for all the world like a hundred drummers beating on a hundred snare drums. A flicker of lightning lanced across the gloomy sky, and the wet streets below glowed briefly with a sudden intensity. There was a faint rumble of thunder.
Remus John Lupin, sitting on a battered stool, stared forlornly out of his foggy bedroom window, his cheek resting against the chilled glass as he listened to the howl of the wind. After reading for hours and hours to pass the time, he had finally decided to just wait. What he was waiting for, he wasn't entirely sure, but it gave him a sense of purpose, and a sense of purpose was exactly what he needed right now, what with his future being unclear and thoroughly dark.
The letter, after all, had not come.
He knew for a fact that the owls had been sent out three days ago. While he normally didn't eavesdrop on his parents, he had overheard them arguing with each other yesterday evening after he had gone to bed. They obviously weren't aware of the fact that the walls and floors of the house were very thin, and that their son was a light sleeper.
"The bloody letter didn't come, Silvia!" his father had cried. "And I even checked the mailbox! There's nothing—nothing! Hogwarts sent out the letters the day before yesterday! It should've gotten here by now!"
"Calm down, Maris! Just calm down!"
"Calm down? How can I calm down? I'm here to ensure a decent future for my son! And how can I do that—"
"A future? A future?" his mother had said, disbelieving. "Didn't you say that it would be difficult for him to get a job regardless of his education? Didn't—"
"The Ministry may have relaxed their laws by then, and when they do—"
"You mean if they do. And anyways, there are plenty of other jobs he—"
"Muggle jobs, you mean!"
"Yes, Muggle jobs! He doesn't have—"
"He's a wizard—he doesn't belong—"
"Nonsense! He's eleven, he can still learn!"
"But it's not safe! I told you before! We're at war; with Voldemort and his Death Eaters running around, the safest place he can be at is Hogwarts!"
"And why would this Voldemort come swooping down on this house in the first place? For god's sake, Maris…"
And on and on. When they had finally stopped, it had been close to two o' clock in the morning. But Remus had not drifted off to sleep; he had lain there, fully awake, staring at the shadowy ceiling as ropes of despair coiled themselves around his heart. His owl had not come. He wouldn't be going to Hogwarts…
Which was why he was here, sitting in his room and gazing out the window. What would he do? he wondered. His mother was an accountant; surely she could teach him something about her job…
"Remus?" His mother's voice broke through his musings.
"Yes, Mum?" Remus said listlessly without taking his eyes off the sodden lawn outside. Stalks bending over under the weight of the water, the flowers looked like they were drowning.
"I'm going out to do some shopping. Want to come?"
"No, thanks. I think I'll stay home."
There was a pause as Remus heard footsteps ascending the creaky staircase. He turned just in time to see his mother's tall silhouette against the doorframe before she proceeded into his room, placing her hands delicately upon his thin shoulders. Her hanging hair tickled his cheek.
"Are you feeling okay? You seem to be getting thinner. And you're so bony!" She squeezed a shoulder.
"I'm fine, Mum—really."
He looked up at her and saw her frowning, but she quickly composed herself. "Sure you don't want to come?" She winked at him. "We can pick up some ice cream along the way."
"Yeah, I'm sure." Remus gave her a wan smile.
"All right, then," she said, sighing as she removed her slender hands. "But be careful. Don't—"
"I know, I know. Don't answer the doorbell unless it's someone I know, don't leave the house, don't pick up the phone—I know it all already, Mum. You don't have to worry about me. I'll be fine. And anyways, Dad'll be home soon."
He could've sworn he saw her lips tighten at his last statement, but it must've been his imagination, because it was gone already. "If you're sure…"
"Yeah. I'm just feeling a bit tired. Think I'll catch up on my sleep."
"Okay. See you in a few," and she left the room. Remus went back to watching the rain. The garage door below his bedroom gave a particularly nasty screech as it jerked open, and he saw his mother's car back out of the driveway, smoke piling out of the exhaust pipe. Another screech as the garage door closed. The car disappeared down the road.
He didn't move for perhaps another fifteen minutes, and then he got up. He had a sudden urge to walk outside in the rain, despite what he had promised his mother earlier. Maybe the fresh air would do him some good. Grabbing a jacket from atop his bed, he pulled it on, descended the stairs, opened the front door, and stepped out onto the front step of his parents' house. Droplets of water immediately pelted his skin, and in a matter of seconds, he was completely drenched.
But the stormy atmosphere did indeed liven him up a bit, strangely enough. He could feel his spirits rising as he walked down the street with the smell of rain in his nose. Never mind the fact that it was cold and wet. He liked the touch of the rain against his body. It felt cleansing, purifying, and, after all he'd been through, he needed to feel cleansed and purified.
For Remus John Lupin was a werewolf.
Bitten six years ago, Remus could safely say that he still remembered everything—the stench of dirty fur, the flashing yellow canines, the hate-filled pupils, the pain as the werewolf bit his right shoulder. Uncomfortably, he shrugged as a twinge shot up the old wound. Memories seemed to trigger a sort of phantom pain, and it didn't help that he had nightmares about the incident; night after night, he found himself staring up at the same malevolent figure, and when he awakened, his shoulder would be throbbing like mad and he would feel as contaminated as it was possible to feel. Like there was a monster inside his body trying to break free. And there was, for all intents and purposes. The cruel truth did not make him feel the least bit better.
It was worst at full moon. His monthly transformations were, to say it politely, agonizing. His parents locked him in the cellar and chained him to a wall so that he couldn't escape. And what was worse was that he couldn't remember anything. He always came to his senses with a feeling of dread. Had he broken free? Were his parents dead? Was that their blood on his hands? Thankfully that had never happened, but it was still a strong possibility, and he was thoroughly scared of himself. His father had reassured him that nothing like that would ever occur but what if, what if…
Remus stopped. His feet had carried him to the local playground, which was now deserted and swamped in mud and water. He weaved his way between the slide and the swings and the seesaw and sat down on the rusted carousal, hands between his knees, gazing at his reflection in a rippling puddle before him.
Ragged light-brown hair plastered to his forehead and cheeks by the rain, pale skin and shadows under his grey eyes. His mother had called him bony, and bony he was. He decided that he looked rather unhealthy. A smile crossed his lips. No wonder his parents were so overprotective of him; he appeared about ready to collapse.
But his smile faded as the problem at hand wriggled its way back to the front of his mind. His future…what would he do now that he couldn't go to Hogwarts? His education was most likely more than a little behind. He had been home-schooled by his father for as long as he could remember, and not on arithmetic and science and all the other "regular" subjects that they taught at Muggle school. He had been taught other things, things about magic and wizards and witches—all of which was good and jolly and all but would probably not be applicable to the Muggle world. Granted, his mother had made sure he knew something, but was it enough?
He heaved a heavy sigh as he reviewed his (dismal) life. His mother was a Muggle and his father was a wizard. He was raised in a Muggle neighborhood, but he was being home-schooled by his father in the arts of magic (somehow his father found enough time outside of work to do this during the normal school year). He had no friends. He was a werewolf. And, according to his father's books that he had gone through this morning, werewolves were prohibited from going to Hogwarts and every other wizarding school out there (if there were any more) in Britain by some such decree issued by the Ministry of Magic years ago. What to do, what to do?
Resting his elbows on his knees and his chin in the crook formed by his hands, he bent over and looked out at the gloomy world. Such a harsh place to live. If he had been anything but human, he would've died ages ago. Survival of the fittest, he thought darkly, blowing some water off his lower lip. He supposed that his parents could send him to public school now. It couldn't be that bad; maybe he'd even make a few friends, come to think of it…
For how long he sat there reflecting on his past and his unpromising future, he didn't know. But all of a sudden, it had begun to grow dark and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. Gathering himself up, he sprinted back down the street, sneakers squelching noisily on the lawns. By the time he made it back home, the streets were filled with pitch-black shadows that not even the streetlamps could dispel.
And his father had not returned, if he could judge by the stillness within the house.
Remus opened the front door and checked the grandfather clock. Right, his father was overdue by about an hour, and his mother was still out shopping, which wasn't much of a surprise he had to admit. Shutting the door, he crept upstairs into his room, changed out of his wet clothes and into some dry ones, and lay down on his bed, head cushioned by his thin arms. Just as he was dozing off, an abrupt crack and pounding footsteps startled him awake. Remus jumped out of bed just as his father burst into his room.
The first thing Remus was aware of was that his father was beaming at him. The second thing was that he was now being held in a tight hug, swathed in black wizard robes. What was going on?
"Dad?" he said once he had been released. "Wha—"
"You've been accepted into Hogwarts!" his father said, his usually weary eyes shining with exuberance.
Remus stared at his father, hardly daring to believe him. "But I didn't get a letter."
"Doesn't matter, your letter should be getting here tomorrow! I had a chat with Dumbledore—wonderful man, absolutely wonderful, Headmaster of Hogwarts—and he agreed to enroll you! Of course, there'll be certain precautions that must be taken…"
But Remus didn't hear the rest of what his father was saying. Blood was rushing in his ears, and his heart pounded with a fierce joy. Hogwarts—he had been accepted! It was a miracle come true! Suddenly, his future seemed much brighter.
Gazing out the window, he realized that the storm had passed. Stars winked brightly overhead, glittering diamonds strewn across black velvet.