"Number 12 Grimmauld Place," he mumbled, gripping his cane a little tighter as the House of Black materialized, forcing itself between two Muggle residences. Light from the waning moon filtered through a cloudy scrim, casting an opaque silvery shimmer on the cold grey walls of the old house. For a fleeting second, it almost looked pretty. A bitter smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. There could be no beauty here—or anywhere for that matter. Not when war had begun . . . again.

He stepped up to the front door and stared at the black serpent-shaped knocker sitting like a sentinel before him. He touched it and whispered "phoenix wings" and watched as the snake's eyes began to glow a blood red. It twisted and squirmed, writhing in silent anguish. Then he heard the familiar clicking sound as lock after lock unlatched and the door cracked open. He stepped inside.

The house smelled of mould and mothballs and before he could stop himself, he sneezed. He glanced quickly at the portrait hanging near the door and sighed in relief. Green velvet curtains hung heavily across Mrs. Black's austere—and thankfully still silent—face.

The hallway was awash in shadows, but toward the end of it he saw a sliver of light peek out from under the door to the library. As he walked down the hall he heard the muffled voices of Order members already engaged in deep discussion.

He reached for the doorknob, but stilled his hand when he heard Sirius's booming voice.

"It is my duty and my right as his godfather! No one is better qualified--"

"Sirius, dear, you know that's impossible," Molly interrupted in a voice she usually reserved for small children and invalids.

"Nobody asked your opinion. And stop treating me like some petulant child."

"Then stop acting like one," he heard Snape grumble.

Remus leaned heavily on his cane and rubbed his eyes. The last thing he needed right now was to sit through a row between Sirius and Molly or Sirius and Severus. . .or Sirius and anybody, for that matter. All he longed for was a hot bath and a deep, dreamless sleep beneath the softest duvet man and goose ever produced. Was that too much to ask?

Yes, he thought grimly as he opened the door; given his luck lately, it probably was. He would have settled for a seat in one of the splintering folding chairs Sirius's sadistic house elf usually dragged out for these gatherings, but to his surprise, he found the meeting room filled to capacity.

"Lupin. So good of you to grace us with your presence—even though you are a half an hour late," Snape said from the spot at the front of the room reserved for the meeting leader. "We have been awaiting your report." Lupin noticed the gavel in Snape's hand and imagined how desperately Snape wanted to hurl it at him. Given the way his temples throbbed, Remus decided that being rendered unconscious by a flying gavel might just be the high point of his day.

From somewhere in his diminishing stores of calm, Remus mustered a smile. "Forgive me for my delay; I was detained by a personal matter." He looked around in vain for a chair before leaning carefully against the back wall.

"Your report, Lupin?" Snape asked impatiently.

Remus glanced around the room and suddenly felt the weight of everyone's gaze upon him. His stomach gave a familiar twist as he noticed how many faces shown pity or embarrassment on his behalf. He felt the heat rise in his cheeks. The moon had been full only the night before. What with his peaky face, tattered robes and limping gait, he knew he must look a mess.

"I'm sorry, Severus. I'm not prepared to give my report at the moment. I . . ."

"You are a senior member of this Order," Snape broke in. "And as such, you have certain responsibilities to fulfill. How are we to achieve our goals if you are unable to perform something as simple as giving a status report? If you are not up to the task . . ."

"Oh, sod off Snivellus," Sirius interjected. "You go and have your bones rearranged one a month and see how easy it is for you to give a ruddy report."

Remus winced. He knew where this was headed.

"The fact that Lupin turns into a raving monster at the full moon does not preclude him from satisfying his duties to this Order," Snape replied, a steely spark flashing from his dark eyes. "And furthermore, Black . . ."

"I believe Moody has yet to enlighten us with his report, Professor Snape."

Remus breathed a sigh of relief and closed his eyes. Dumbledore always knew how to defuse a situation.

He heard Moody tramp his way to the front of the room and begin his usual lecture about "constant vigilance." Remus fought back a grimace. Vigilance. It was a popular word all around the Wizarding community these days.

Dolores Umbridge and her cronies had recently pushed through another piece of anti-werewolf legislation requiring that all registered werewolves report to the London City Holding centre for the full moon. With the coming of war, the Ministry considered this a necessary precaution to keep the Wizarding world safer from the dark creatures. Remus breathed through a wave of pain and wondered what legislation there was to keep werewolves safer from the Ministry.

He'd awoken that morning in a haze of cold sweat and weeping wounds, unforgiving stone pressed hard against his body. He wondered vaguely how the Death Eaters had captured him. Then he heard the grating screech of a heavy metal door, footsteps tramp toward him, and a voice grumble, "Waste of time and money, this lot. We should just put 'em all down like the rabid dogs they is." And then he remembered where he was. London City Holding—or Azkaban South, as Remus liked to refer to it.

"Oy! Get up."

The guard's voice echoed against the cell walls, vibrating in Remus's ears like a kick to the head. He felt a chill steal through his naked body and he groaned.

"This ain't a holiday resort you lazy bastard," the voice said. "All the others is gone, all except you."

Remus gasped as a steel-toed boot caught him in the ribs, forcing his eyes open. He squinted into the gloom. The cramped cell was dark except for the orb of blue-white light emanating from the guard's wand. Remus focused his eyes and saw a short and stocky with a pasty face and thinning hair the color of mouldy hay. He looked surprisingly like Peter Pettigrew. "Fitting," he thought as the irony hit him. He coughed out a laugh.

"Find me amusing, do you? We'll you're a right piece of work, yourself." The guard shoved his wand against Remus's face and he turned his head sharply against the light. Pain shot through his eyes like daggers.

"Bloody monster," the guard sneered.

Remus took a breath and, with a supreme effort, lifted himself to his hands and knees. He felt blood dribble down his trembling arms. He paused for a moment, trying to still his racing heart and slow his breathing to something approximating normal.

"I got more important work than to chaperone trash like you to the back gate," the guard growled as he circled around Remus. "Did you hear me, you filthy mutt? Get up, I said!" Remus tried to move, but he was too slow. The guard thrust his foot against Remus's hip and he toppled back to the floor.

"Or are you too stupid to follow orders?" He snapped.

Remus clenched his teeth as pain and fury shot through his throat and crashed together in his mouth. If he'd had the energy, he would have taught that boorish brute a lesson or two in manners. But as things stood, all he could do was whisper, "May I please have my clothing? And my cane." He was thankful he had hidden his wand at his flat the day before. If he'd brought it with him to Azkaban South, he was certain he'd have gotten it back in two pieces, or not at all.

"Personal effects is down the hall. You've got to pick 'em up yourself."

"Right," Remus responded as he dragged himself to a stone slab jutting out from one of the cell walls. He leaned a hand on the slab and pressed up into a standing position. His head spun and he reached out, resting a palm against the wall. Icy water trickled from the stone and down his arm.

"Go on," the guard said, pointing his wand at Remus, "I ain't got all day."

Remus felt a shock jolt through his body and he jerked forward.

The guard stepped back a few paces as Remus limped past him. "And don't try nothing funny or you'll regret it."

"Try anything funny?" Remus thought indignantly as he made his way down the dank, dimly lit corridor. Naked and bleeding, he was so tired couldn't even Apparate to the loo if he'd wanted to. And as much as he'd like to try something "funny" on that repellent cousin of a mountain troll, he wanted to get back to his flat—and a halfway decent bed—even more.

They finally reached the end of the corridor and stopped at a pair of black metal doors that were bared fast. To the right of the doors, a small window materialized in the wall and a gruff, bald-headed man appeared.

"Number," he barked.

"031094," Remus answered, rattling off his Registry number—the only "name" he had that the Ministry officially recognised.

The man in the window raised his wand and called, "Accio 031094!" Remus's clothes glided into view and flew through the window, falling in a heap at his feet. His cane followed soon after, clattering to the ground beside him. Then both the man and the window disappeared.

"Get a move on!" The guard ordered as Remus fumbled with his robes, trying to ease them on without irritating the scratches on his back. When he'd finally covered himself and retrieved his cane, the guard pointed his wand at the doors. The bar lifted and they cracked open into bright sunlight. Remus staggered back a step and shaded his eyes.

"Get out where you belong—with the rest of the filth," the guard spat, and once again Remus felt a shock race through his body as he was propelled forward through the doors. He lost his grip on his cane and stumbled to his knees as the doors slammed together behind him. He felt a rush of air as they disappeared into the grungey alley wall.

For a moment he sat catching his breath and steeling his stomach against the sour stench of rotting rubbish. He was thankful that his flat was only a few blocks away, well within walking distance.

He fumbled for his cane and dragged himself up and out of the alleyway, squinting in the bright sunlight. The sky was a deep, clear blue and he felt a warm breeze gently brush by his face. It was the first fine day after a week of heavy rain and the Wizarding public was out in full force to enjoy it. He gritted his teeth and gripped his cane a little tighter as he stepped down the sidewalk.

He kept his gaze downcast as he silently trudged forward. He felt more than a few pairs of eyes on him, burning their way into his chest, collapsing his heart under the heavy weight of their judgment. His pulse raced and his breathing struggled to keep pace.

"Mum, what's wrong with that man?" a little girl asked.

"Keep away from it, Meg," he heard her mother answer, her voice quick and severe.

He heard a shuffling of feet as mother and daughter hurried to the other side of the street.

"Filthy beast," a man snarled as he walked past.

"I thought they were all condemned to Azkaban," a female voice whispered.

"Don't worry, they soon will be," her male companion responded.

He paused for a moment, leaning back against a nearby building to catch his breath. What he wouldn't do to have James's invisibility cloak right now. He bit back a bitter laugh. How many moons had he transformed through? How many years' worth of looks and snide remarks had he endured? He couldn't count them anymore. Yet even now a sideways glance or a malicious comment cut him to the quick. He felt hot shame rush into his cheeks. And he called himself a Griffindor?

"Hey you!"

Remus turned his head and found himself face-to-face with a man whom he suspected owned a shop in the vicinity. His face was cold and set, his wand pointed at Remus's chest. Remus noticed how the man's hand trembled ever so slightly—whether out of rage or terror, he couldn't tell—probably a bit of both.

"Clear off or I'll have the Aurors after you," the man ordered.

"Griffindor courage, mate," he mumbled to himself as he pushed off the wall and limped the last block to his flat. Simply the sight of the dreary, ramshackle building was enough to coax a grin to his lips. He sighed in relief as he reached the front entrance and placed his hands over the door handle. Silently, he recited the charm to unlock the door and he waited. Nothing happened. He tried again; this time, whispering the words aloud to make sure he had them right. The door remained stubbornly locked.

Remus searched his memory, struggling to recall whether or not he had the most current charm in mind. He thought back to the afternoon before; the charm had worked then. Why not now? A sudden anxiety, like a cold, hard stone, dropped into the pit of his stomach. Something was wrong.

He rapped on the door. There was no answer. He knocked again, harder this time. "Mr. Swindley?" he called. His landlord, he knew, lived on the ground floor and was nearly always at home.

"Mr. Swindley?" he called again, "It's Remus Lupin. Please, can you let me in—I . . . it seems I've forgotten the charm."

He was about to knock again when he heard a shuffling sound. The door opened to reveal a flabby middle-aged man dressed in filthy robes, his wand in one hand and an amber bottle of his favorite Muggle ale in the other.

Remus smiled with relief. "Thank you," he said as he stepped forward. "I'll be more careful in future."

Swindley took a swig of ale and remained rooted in the doorway.

Remus looked past his landlord into the darkened entry hall and started to move forward again, but stopped short as Swindley's wand came in contact with his chest. Remus stepped back and smothered down his frustration. He was sure he'd just broken the record for the number of wands pointed at a werewolf in one day.

"Where are you going?" Swindley asked casually as he took another drink.

"To my flat," Remus responded in what he hoped was a firm tone, but came out sounding more like a question.

"Ah, well," Swindley began, examining the label on his bottle, "there's where we've got a problem."

"A problem?" Remus repeated.

"Yeah, seeing as you don't have a flat anymore."

"Excuse me?" Remus said, struggling for calm.

Swindley eyed him coldly. "Rent was due a week ago."

"Yes, I know," Remus answered quickly, "but don't you recall our arrangement? I promised to have the rent to you this week—with interest."

"Funny how things can change," Swindley replied with a leer, exposing his stained and crooked teeth. "Why just this morning, a bloke come 'round here asking about a flat. Well, seeing as you're always behind on the rent, and I'm sick to bloody death of listening to you beg for an extension every month, I showed him around your place. He said he'd be willing to pay twice what you do and was ready to pay the first month's rent in cash up front. That was enough for me."

Remus felt as if someone had aimed a Diffindo at his gut. He struggled to compose himself as he asked, "But . . . but what about my possessions? I'll need to retrieve them."

The landlord drained the last of his ale and belched. "You mean my possessions," he said.

Remus shook his head. Obviously he had misheard the man.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

Swindley smirked and Remus noticed an odd sort of gleam appear in his eyes. "They're not yours anymore," he explained. "The flat and everything in it is now mine by law."

"By law?" Remus responded, indignation rising in his voice. "Whose law?" he demanded, although deep in his bones he already knew the answer.

"Anti-Werewolf Legislative Measure 31—Payment and Reparations. Any building manager who's got a blood-sucking, good for nothing werewolf on his hands, not paying up like good Wizarding folk do, is entitled to chuck out said werewolf and keep his things—such as they are—as payment for what he owes. Ministry passed it yesterday. The whole thing was written up in this morning's Prophet."

Remus was fairly certain the Ministry had phrased it differently in the official document, but was sure that their meaning was just as clear as Swindley's. And even without reading the legislation, he knew well enough that he had absolutely no power to challenge this action.

Power.

A sudden bolt of anxiety shot through him. His wand—it was still hidden in the flat. If he left everything else behind, he had to at the very least retrieve his wand.

"All right," Remus said hurriedly, "you can have everything—except for one item . . ."

"The flat and everything in it is mine now," Swindley repeated. "You can't give me what I already own."

"Yes, I understand that but . . ."

"But nothing," Swindley interjected as he took a step out of the doorway. He raised his wand toward Remus's neck. "Now, seeing as you've got no more business here, I suggest you clear off before I call for the Aurors."

Remus started to protest, but stopped short as a wave of nausea surged up inside him, reminding him of the throbbing in his head. He took a breath and swallowed hard against his queasiness. He had to find a place to sit down for a moment. After a rest, his mind would be strong enough to conquer his emotions and logic would help him find a way back into his flat. For now, his wand would have to wait.

"No need for that," Remus said, smiling weakly as he turned away. "I'll go." He walked forward a few paces, but something inside urged him to stop and turn back.

Remus eyed his landlord thoughtfully for a moment. Swindley's wand was still raised, his mouth curled in disgust. Remus straightened up his posture. "I appreciate your information about the new law, Mr. Swindley," he began in his most professorial tone. "However, you are misinformed about one thing. Vampires are the bloodsuckers."

"Werewolves just rip the heads off of smarmy gits like you," he mumbled to himself as he turned and walked away.

He shuffled down the street and turned into a nearby park. The cool earth felt soft under his feet as he eased himself down beneath an ancient maple tree, its sagging branches outstretched above him, as if welcoming him in a perpetual embrace. He set his cane down beside him, drew his legs to his chest, and rested his head on his knees.

Everything was gone. Not that he had much—his wand . . . a few treasured books and a second set of worn robes, a tattered old suitcase held together with twine and a handful of photographs—nothing extraordinary, but they were his. Things he thought he owned outright—things that could not be taken away from him. But they had been taken away, like so much else.

A breeze blew through the branches of the old maple and Remus heard it whisper a reply. The rustling of leaves rested on his ears like the brush of a kiss and the memory of his mother's smile materialized in his mind's eye. He saw her eyes, shining bright blue like the sky, her honey blonde hair drifting down past her shoulders, her long slim fingers reaching out for his.

He felt the tears then, stinging against his cheeks as they fell. His breath shuddered against his chest and he could almost feel her pull him in, enveloping him in the spiced peach scent of her perfume; her hair drawn around his face like a curtain of golden silk; her arms wrapped around him in a secure embrace.

"Remus," he heard her whisper, "Come, now . . . everything will be all right . . . I'm--"

"Sorry! Oh, Gods . . ."

"Get off me, you bumbling twit!"

Remus's eyes flew open and he blinked at the sight before him. Snape was sprawled out on the floor of the Grimmauld Place library, grumbling curses as he tried to extricate himself from beneath an elderly woman with blue rinse hair who had somehow fallen on top of him. For a moment, his exhausted mind struggled to comprehend the scene. Then he heard Sirius's barking laughter and he took in the rest of the assembly. The Order meeting—he was still at the Order meeting.

"As I was saying," Moody growled as he grabbed the old woman by her frumpy coat and hauled her to her feet. His magical eye spun around in its socket as he shot her a sour sideways look. "I'd like to introduce you our newest recruit—hopefully soon to be our newest member."

Remus glanced at Dumbledore and shook his head in bewilderment. "An old lady? How would she fight the Death Eaters—beat them off with her walking frame?" He grunted out a laugh. Maybe he could partner up with her: the wandless gimp of a werewolf and the blue-haired pensioner—making the world safer for the aged and outcast.

Then suddenly, the old lady disappeared and a trim young woman with a heart-shaped face and a shock of short cobalt blue hair stood in her place. The assembled group breathed in wonderment. Remus glanced again at Dumbledore and grinned. So he'd recruited a metamorph. Dumbledore always had a surprise or two up his sleeve. Soon, Nymphadora Tonks was voted in as the newest member of the Order of the Phoenix.

The meeting ended shortly afterward and Remus felt his stomach twist uncomfortably as members began to leave. He wandered over to the darkened window and peeked outside. Wind whistled and whipped a heavy rain against the panes. Not the most ideal situation for sleeping rough.

He sighed and eased himself down into one of the vacated folding chairs. He didn't have to sleep rough tonight; he knew that. Grimmauld place had enough room for one more occupant, even with Molly and Arthur and any number of Weasleys living here. Sirius wouldn't mind if his old friend kipped here for the night. In fact, he'd probably welcome him in permanently if Remus asked to stay.

He frowned. But therein lay the problem . . . having to ask. The Ministry had been able to take much away from him over the years—his ability to earn an honest living; a place to call his own; the respect of most of the Wizarding public—they could even take the clothes from his back now, if they so desired. But no matter how they marginalised, humiliated, or beat him down, they could not take away his dignity. He would never make himself a burden on anyone; he would never beg for help.

"Remus!" Sirius's greeting cut through his reverie and he turned as Sirius placed a warm hand on his shoulder. Remus looked up into his friend's eyes and offered him a small smile. Nymphadora Tonks stood next to him, her dark eyes shining.

"I don't believe you've met my cousin," Sirius began as Remus stood to greet them.

"Sirius!" Molly called as she started toward their little group. Sirius's eyes flitted around the room like a mouse who'd just scented a cat. "Sirius, don't run away from me again. You have got to do something about Kreacher. Now he's stolen my favorite whisk and magic mixing spoons!"

"Oh for the love of Merlin," Sirius grumbled as his eyes darted from her to the exit. "That woman is on my back from dusk 'til dawn! She's nearly as bad as my batty mother."

Sirius smiled as Molly joined them—a smile which Remus noticed didn't reach his eyes. "Of course, Molly," he said. "Why don't we discuss this little matter outside?" He gestured toward the door and began to follow after her. "I'll be back in a minute."

Remus turned to Tonks with a hesitant smile. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Nympha--" he began, but she cut him off.

"Oh, I hate that bloody name. Call me Tonks," she smiled and extended her hand.

For a moment, Remus could only stand and stare at the proffered hand. It was youthful and smooth and creamy white—wholly untouched by the brute world with which Remus struggled. It was so unlike his, which was hard and calloused, encrusted with dirt and riddled with scars.

"She must not know what I am," he thought numbly.

And then he felt her hand reach out a little further and touch his, her slim fingers wrapping around and warming his own in a firm, comfortable handshake. The warmth seemed to travel up his arm and settle in his chest, easing his heart out of anxiety's convulsive grip. He shook his head slightly and breathed deep as he returned her handshake and offered a shaky grin.

He raised his eyes to hers and was met with a wide smile that seemed to ignite the atmosphere around her. He noticed her hair was now a vibrant pink. "Moody's told me all about you—I've never heard the old codger rave so much about anyone."

"Moody?" Remus asked in disbelief, looking over Tonks's shoulder across the room to where Moody stood lecturing to Arthur Weasley.

"He said you're one of the bravest people he knows and I can believe it," a sour expression passed over her face as if she'd just bit into a lemon. "What with Umbridge and her crowd shoving laws and regulations at you left and right. It's amazing a werewolf can breathe without being threatened with Azkaban these days."

Remus simply stared.

"Don't get me wrong, there are definitely werewolves out there who deserve a right kick in the arse and then some—like that bastard Greyback—but it seems to me that there's a lot more out there who are just decent people who've had a bad break—been in the wrong place at the wrong time, you know? And now they're suffering for it."

"You know what I am?" Remus breathed, still not quite able to wrap his mind around this woman—so open, so unafraid.

She looked at him as if he had turnips growing out his ears. "Of course. Like I said—Moody told me everything."

"Right," Remus replied blandly.

"Anyway," Tonks started, her cheeks tinting slightly as she glanced away and then rested her eyes on him once again. "I was wondering—would you be willing to, I don't know, give me some pointers on getting by with this Order business?"

When Remus furrowed his brows in confusion, she continued, "I'm a qualified Auror—I graduated the academy six months ago—but I've also noticed I'm the youngest member here. And I've already bungled one thing up . . ."

Remus recalled the mortified look on Snape's face, struggling and heaving beneath Tonks's old woman and couldn't help but laugh.

Tonks's eyes snapped. "Cheers," she said sarcastically. "I know I'm a right klutz. You don't have to rub my face in it."

Remus struggled to compose himself, and then Tonks's expression melted and she giggled. "Snape's a right prat, though. I suppose I did him a favour--that's probably the first time he's been under a woman in ages."

She reached out and touched his arm and Remus felt a strange, comfortable tingling where her hand made contact. "Maybe we could partner up on patrols once in a while? Then you can catch me up on all the things I need to know."

Remus smiled. He was about to respond that yes, he would like to patrol with her, when he remembered that his means of defending himself was still locked up in Swindley's derelict block of flats. He felt the anxious grip close in around his heart again, and his temples throbbed.

"What's wrong?" Tonks asked, as Remus eased himself back into his chair. His face flushed hot.

"Nothing," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. "Just a little tired." He heard her reposition a chair as she sat down across from him. He opened his eyes and was met by her gaze—deep with concern; it penetrated his bruised and battered body and touched his very soul.

As he fixed his eyes on hers, he began to feel the dark, heavy wall of his defenses begin to crack and understanding start to seep through the fissures. Not everyone in his world was a Swindley or an Umbridge or nameless stranger pushing him away with insults and abuse. Not everyone was an enemy.

And he heard his mother's voice again, whispering through his mind like a warm breeze, "Everything will be all right."

"Are you all right, Remus?" Tonks asked again.

"Yes," he breathed. "Only . . ." he glanced away, chuckled awkwardly. "Only, I'm afraid I've misplaced my wand." He looked back at her and heaved a sigh. "In all honesty, I was evicted from my flat today and . . . and I foolishly left my wand there. Now, I can't go back to retrieve it." He forced a breath through his nose. "Some great wizard I am, eh? Can't even keep track of my own wand."

"Is that all?" Tonks asked, sounding somewhat relieved.

Remus looked at her in surprise as she rolled her eyes at him.

"I'm an Auror, remember? I can get access anywhere I need to. Who's your landlord?"

"Argus Swindley," Remus responded.

"Swindley the Swindler? Oh Gods, how'd you fall in with that old bloater?"

Remus opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, Tonks cut him off. "He's notorious amongst the Aurors. Always violating codes—it'll be easy to get past him and into your flat. I can pop by on my way to work in the morning."

She smiled in satisfaction and Remus couldn't help but return it.

That night, he lay back against the soft, clean pillows piled on the bed made up for him at Grimmauld Place and let his mind drift back over the day until it finally rested on a pink haired woman with shining eyes and a beaming smile. Amidst the prejudice and pain, the dank, depressing cells and bitter bloody moons—amidst everything that defined the curse of lycanthropy, hope and comfort still existed . . . even for him.

I'd like give a special mention to Mercutio Rane and her excellent writing. I got the idea (and indeed the name) for the London City Holding centre from her story "Of Blood, Ice, and Fire." Please check it out. It is a most amazing tale!