6: Zenith

'Are you sure about this?' Lavender asked nervously.

'Certain,' Mark told her as he sat on the edge of her bed.

Things had been moving with a bewildering speed over the past two days. He and Lavender had spent almost every off duty moment together. Now, for the first time, he was in her bedroom. This was their second "official" date, or so she claimed, and he was going to spend the night with her.

He'd arrived at her red brick dormer cottage soon after breakfast and they had spent the day exploring her part of the world. They had visited Hastings and Camber and several other south coast settlements before returning to sleepy Appledore.

He watched as she nervously paced the floor of her bedroom. The room was huge, as large as his living room and kitchen combined. It had originally been two bedrooms she'd told him. The two side walls sloped inwards following the roof, and each contained a dormer window.

He examined the room carefully, trying to remain calm. It was pink, and lilac and (of course) lavender, it was gauze and lace ruches, and definitely her. The bed was a large four-poster hung with pink lace. Only one thing looked out of place among the pastel flounces and frills. A steel cage, six feet on each side stood in one corner.

'You're the first man ever to see my bedroom,' she told him. 'This will be our first night together; I hope that it won't be our last.'

'It won't be,' he told her confidently.

'Oh, you're the expert now, are you?' she teased.

'On some things, yes,' he said. 'No one knows everything, you certainly don't.' She gave a disparaging snort.

'What do you think of my room?' she asked, raising her arms above her head and twirling around.

'It's … frilly,' he observed.

She laughed. 'Is that good, or bad?' she asked.

He shrugged. 'It's entirely you, essence of Lavender, so it must be good.'

'You are so sweet, Mark.' She pushed him back on the bed, jumped on top of him and kissed him passionately.

After a very enjoyable minute she rolled off him, stood, and began to unbutton her blouse.

'What are you doing?'

'Getting naked, of course, we don't have long and I don't want my clothes to get torn.'

'Torn?'

'It's happened before, Mark. I lost a very expensive leather bustier that way once.'

Mark wondered what a bustier was, it sounded interesting and he hoped that he'd find out one day. He watched as Lavender stripped to her underwear and hung skirt and blouse in one of several large wardrobes. She owned more clothes than anyone else he knew.

'Is the cage really necessary?' he asked.

'You know that it isn't, but it's a legal requirement,' she said. 'I know that you've got experience of this sort of thing, but this will be my first time, you know. I've never done it in front of an audience.' She stepped inside the cage and pulled the door closed. Reaching through the bars she locked herself in and matter-of-factly removed her underwear. His jaw dropped.

'Be a dear and put these in the laundry basket for me,' she said, handing him the flimsy scraps of black lace. They were warm in his hand. He examined them closely.

'Keep them as a memento, if you want,' she teased. Blushing, he stepped across to the basket and dropped them in.

'How are you feeling?' he asked from the corner, keeping his back to her.

'The moon is rising,' she said nervously. 'I can understand if you don't want to watch.'

She had misunderstood the reason he'd turned his back. He forced himself to turn and look. She was nonchalantly naked and he felt himself blushing again. She didn't notice.

'I can feel it in my bones. I've got ten minutes until sunset and the change – you don't have to suffer through this, you know,' she again offered him the chance to leave.

'I do,' he reassured her. 'I want to see you at your second-worst.'

'My second-worst? What's my worst?

'That would be, "without make-up, Mark, you wouldn't recognise me without my slap," apparently,' he said. 'At least, that's what you said at the Potters New Year party. So, I'm assuming that the slavering hairy creature you're about to turn into is better looking than you are without your makeup.'

'I say some stupid things sometimes.'

'Only sometimes?'

'Don't make me come out of this cage and teach you a lesson,' she threatened. He forced himself to look up at her face.

'You're in the nuddy, Lavender, it wouldn't bother me at all if you did,' he said. She stuck out her tongue at him.

'Stop joking, Mark, this is serious. The Lycanthropy-Plus potion has always worked for me before. It has always worked for everyone, but it's still only a couple of years old. I don't want iyou/i to be in any danger, so leave me in here, whatever happens. You'll know if I'm still me after the transformation because if the potion doesn't work I'll be trying to get through the bars to attack you.'

Mark nodded, 'I know, I saw my dad go through it often enough, and there was no potion at all in those days.'

'That must have been hard for you.'

'It was harder for him,' he assured her.

'If it does work I'll simply be sitting there, but please don't uncage me, I'd hate for something to go wrong.'

'Did you ever try the old potion, Lavender, the one Professor Lupin used?' he asked.

'No, this one was already being tested when I was bitten. I know a lot of people who used the old one. The side effects were serious; it always led to weakness and illness. Poor Remus Lupin always looked ill. This potion has fewer problems. I just have to release the beast, at least partially.'

'You will still be you, inside?'

'Yes, I retain my mind, but my body changes.'

'So you won't be able to talk.' He looked for confirmation.

'Obviously not.'

'You'll be stuck in a cage unable to talk and unable to escape, Lavender. You will just have to listen to me rambling. I could sing, very badly, or tell jokes, and you won't be able to stop me. There's the bright side for you.'

She began to laugh but stopped suddenly and grimaced.

I can feel the moon's pull. The sun is almost set. The transformation … aaargh … the transformation isn't pleasant. I won't blame you if you leave me and never come back. Aaargh. See you at moonset, if you're still here,' she gasped painfully.

'I'll still be here, Lavender, and you're certainly not going anywhere.'

'You don't smell afraid, Mark, thank you ... Aiieee!'

Mark watched carefully. Bones cracked and splintered, hair sprouted. Her spine twisted. Her pretty face elongated into a hairy snout. Her hands curled into claws, her back arched in pain and, finally, thankfully, female screams of anguish were changed by curse altered vocal chords into a wolf-like growl.'

'Lavender?' he asked.

The beast nodded its grey-furred head.

'You told me that the transformation didn't hurt. You lied,' he scolded gently.

Again, the beast nodded its grey-furred head.

'Please don't lie to me.'

The beast did its best to look remorseful, Mark smiled. Stepping forwards he reached into the cage and stroked her ears.

'Somehow, tonight, I don't think that it's me who'll "trot around like a well trained dog," Lavender. Did you know that your eyes haven't changed colour, not much anyway. They're a little more purple than usual, that's all. They are beautiful eyes.'

The beast-Lavender shrugged, pushed her head into his outstretched hand, and gave a contended grumble.

'Do you like that?' he asked, scratching her scalp. The contended sounds continued so he sat against the cage and continued to scratch. He began to talk. She curled contentedly on the cage floor and listened as he talked about his parents and his sister.

Six hours later, at about half past midnight, Lavender was asleep. He gently stroked her back and watched the rhythmical rise and fall of her chest. He continued to observe the sleeping wolf until, at half past three, he woke. His leg was in cramp and his shoulder was numb from being trapped between the bars. It had been three o'clock the last time he'd checked his watch and Lavender was still sleeping peacefully.

He carefully extricated his arm from the cage and tried to massage some feeling back into his shoulder and leg. Lavender did not stir.

"I'll be awake all night," she'd said, "but there's no need for you to stay awake with me." But he'd promised himself that he would stay awake, that he'd be with her; watching all night just as he'd done with his dad. This was so different, so peaceful compared to his youthful vigils. It was the potion of course. His dad had been a ravening, slavering beast on the moon-night, watched over to ensure that he didn't break free. Lavender was still Lavender.

She continued to sleep, so he sat on the edge of her bed and watched his girlfriend, the werewolf. iHis girlfriend/i, he smiled happily and raised an imaginary glass of thanks to Janey Scott. Lifting his feet onto Lavender's bed, he lay on his side and watched her. It was now four o'clock; sunrise was a little under two hours away, moonset was less than half an hour after that.

The next thing he knew was the soft caress of lips on his cheek.

'It's half-past ten, lazybones,' Lavender whispered. 'Thank you for a wonderful night. We have a couple of hours to get you clean and presentable before I take you to meet my parents. I'm making us some breakfast, and then you're going to have a bath and put on some smart clothes.'

'Mmmm…' He stretched and groaned. 'I'm going to work in two hours, Lavender. I have time for breakfast, but that's all. I probably do stink, sorry.'

'You do smell, but I've smelled worse. I iam/i smelling worse… What on earth is that?' she asked. He sniffed.

'That's the smell of my girlfriend burning eggs instead of frying them,' he told her.

Cursing, Lavender fled the room.