The four werewolves appeared in the boreal forest suddenly, in a clearing about a quarter of a mile from Valerius' cabin. The forest was untamed, pristine almost, since people rarely came there, and then only to make sure the population of deer, bear, moose, and wolves were kept under control. The forest was vast and almost immediately Severus felt oddly at home in it. He had never set foot in a wilderness like this, unless one counted the Forbidden Forest, and that was a magical wood. This, however, was even more ancient than that wood, somehow Severus could sense the great age of this forest, and it both humbled and awed him. For long moments he was still, breathing in the crisp air, that held a tang of mint and fresh water and the recent passage of three rabbits. As Lily had noted earlier, his nose was ten times as sensitive since being bitten. He took quick gulps of the air, and felt an odd sensation in the pit of his stomach. He later would identify it as an urge to run, to feel the wind in his hair, the ground beneath his feet, his heart racing as he stalked an unwary rabbit through the underbrush.
He glanced about, and saw that like him, Lily and Lupin were also caught up in the sensations the ancient wood roused in them. Their eyes shone and he could smell their eagerness. When he looked at Valerius, he could feel contentment in the big man. Clearly, he was at home here. It made Severus relax for a fraction of a second. Though he didn't quite trust his new teacher yet, he had always been wary of strangers, he sensed that Valerius was a responsible individual and that he took his duties seriously. He exuded the confidence of a seasoned soldier and reminded Severus of Tobias in a way. It was almost . . . comforting.
Valerius remained quiet for a time, then cleared his throat pointedly. "All right. We're here. Let's start down the trail to the cabin. It's not far." Without any further words, the big werewolf started down was looked like a game trail.
Though the trail was choked with brush and the occasional bramble thicket, Valerius slipped past the obstacles as if they were nothing. For his size, he moved like a wraith, his feet silent upon the ground. In contrast, Remus and Lily sounded like a herd of horses, and even Severus stumbled a time or two over protruding roots, though he was the most surefooted and graceful of the pair.
Valerius walked briskly, trusting the youngsters to keep up, though their noisy progress made him cringe inwardly. Clearly he would need to teach them woodscraft, and sooner rather than later. It was a myth that all werewolves were natural stalkers, like their wolf brethren, they had to be taught to hunt, and learn to move silently. There was some instinct to it, but not all weres possessed the ability to access their instincts while in human form, it required much practice. But then, Valerius had nothing but time to teach them what they needed to know to survive.
Soon they had reached the cabin, which was a large one, built of sturdy oak logs and stone. The front of the cabin was made of interlocking stone blocks and so was the chimney. There were two large bay windows at either end of the front porch, which was also done in flat slate squares. Two shallow steps led up to the door, which was painted a deep indigo shade, with a wolf's head knocker in the middle of it. A wood and wrought iron bench was on the porch, to the left of the door.
Valerius produced a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. Just before he stepped inside, he removed his boots and set them neatly upon a rack inside just to the right of the threshold. He turned to his young charges and said, "Take your shoes off before you come inside. The floors are highly polished wood and get scuffed easily." As he entered the house, he tapped the wall and lights came on, illuminating the interior brightly. He almost expected his wife Marianna to be there waiting, along with his sons and daughter. But the house was cold and still, a chilling reminder that his family was gone. He struggled to conceal his anguish, hurrying over to the fireplace and lighting it with a word. He then fed several pieces of wood to the flames.
After removing his shoes, Remus stepped cautiously inside the house. The cabin opened into a wide foyer, with a set of spiral stairs to the right of the entryway and a large living area and kitchen directly ahead. To the left were a small bedroom and a game room, which held a billiard table as well as several racks with weapons, some were of wood and others were of steel. Remus could see some of the game room through the open door and he itched to explore his new home.
Lily too was curious, and she walked quickly across the den and peered into the kitchen, finding it decorated in shades of blue with homey country scenes upon the wall, along with a framed wooden calendar, the kind which you could shuffle the days around to indicate special occasions or birthdays. Lily found the kitchen to be quite modern and yet it had a quaint country feel to it. There was a small cast iron stove, an oven, and a sink, plus a fridge. A long table with five chairs was next to a window, whose curtains were pulled shut.
She returned to stand next to Severus when Valerius stood up and called to her. "Come and sit down." He indicated the coffee colored couch, which had throw pillows in geometrical designs of blue, green, yellow, and white. "You may explore the house as you will, though I must insist you not play with the swords and crossbows in the game room," Valerius said, waving a hand towards that room. "Soon I shall be teaching you how to wield the weapons in there, but for now, leave them alone. There are two bedrooms and the loft upstairs, as well as a bathroom. One of the bedrooms is mine, the other two belonged to my sons. You and Severus may choose which ones you prefer, Remus. Lily, you can have the bedroom on the ground floor, it once belonged to my daughter Marcella." A wistful look of terrible longing passed over his face as Valerius spoke of his dead children. How odd that he had the exact number and gender in this group of werewolf children that he had in his own family. It was almost enough of a coincidence to make him believe in destiny. "I shall take all of you shopping tomorrow for some sturdy hiking clothing, though it looks warm here now, the nights can get pretty chilly this deep into the forest. We shall be spending a good deal of time outdoors and so you should have the proper outerwear."
"Valerius, can you really teach us how to control ourselves so we don't . . . go mad?" Lily asked tentatively. She was sitting next to Severus, who had his arm about her.
"Yes, if you follow my instructions and work hard, you can master your inner wolf." Valerius said calmly. "Would anyone care for a drink? Tea? Hot cocoa? Soda? I'm afraid I don't have any pumpkin juice or butterbeer, as those are not things I can get easily up here. Most of this house is non-magical in nature, it used to be a hunting lodge before I purchased it. That's why you see the trophies upon the walls." He indicated the mounted sailfish, deer heads, a moose with a huge rack, even some stuffed pheasants and woodcocks. He made a beckoning motion and several cups, plates, and saucers appeared on the table, with all the beverages Valerius had stated. "Help yourselves."
"Then you don't hunt, sir?" queried Severus. He took a cup of cocoa. Remus had tea, and Lily some Coke.
"Not like that. I hunt for food as a wolf, not for sport," Valerius replied. He settled himself upon a recliner, turning it to face his new students. "I always find it amusing when people refer to wolves and other predators as savage beasts. I know of no wolf or other wild animal that kills just for fun or merely for a hide to mount upon a wall. When you think about it, man is a more savage beast, and the greatest predator ever to walk the earth."
Remus looked startled. "I . . . never thought about it quite like that before, sir. But you're right."
Valerius nodded. "Most of what I will teach you will involve you seeing the world and the creatures upon it in a different way. I discovered long ago that if you feared what you became upon the full moon, the worse the transformation was. Fear hinders the Change, makes it more difficult and painful. I can teach you how to shift almost without pain, provided you pay attention and learn a new way of seeing yourselves. Many of our kind believe we are cursed, and that in turn generates fear and resistance. If you cease thinking of yourself as cursed, and instead see yourself as a wizard with an unusual ability, you will be able to accept your wolf. That is the key to everything. Acceptance of your nature, whether as man or wolf."
"How are we supposed to accept the fact that we become monsters?" Severus argued.
"You will only become a monster, Severus, if you allow your instincts to rule you. Not all werewolves go mad and bay at the moon and kill people. But I can see that you don't believe me. So much of what you've been told or taught about werewolves is wrong. But in order for you to understand yourself, you first need to understand what you become. So, tomorrow afternoon I shall take you on a short hike to observe a pack of wild wolves nearby. Our goal is for you to watch and learn from them how a pack behaves and functions. A wolf may be a predator, but he is also one of the few predators who knows how to work with others and lives like a family, sharing everything. "
"I learned that wolves mate for life. And that all the pack members help to raise the wolf pups," Lily said.
"Yes. But you'll see that for yourselves. I have only a few rules that I want you to follow. The first is to always let me know when you leave the cabin. This is not just because of the werewolf hunter chasing you, but also to prevent you from getting lost. It's quite easy to get lost out here, as there are no street signs to guide you. The second is to not fight amongst yourselves. The third rule is to try and use as little magic as possible, as this is not a wizarding house."
"We understand, sir." Remus said shyly. "We've been under Ministry Decree where underage magicians can't use magic outside of school."
"But we're of age now, Remus," Lily reminded him.
"All the more reason to use it wisely." Valerius said. "I would like you to be comfortable here, to think of this as your home. My family and I lived here for many years and this was one of my children's favorite vacation spots. However, I do insist upon keeping the house neat and that includes your rooms and bathrooms. I cannot stand a mess, and will not tolerate slovenliness."
"May we still brew potions, Valerius?" asked Severus.
"Yes, I have a stone workroom below here. My wife Marianna was an excellent brewer and I have kept the lab stocked as she left it. You may take a look at it after you unpack. If you're tired, take a nap. This first day is yours to settle in, after that we shall begin our training. You may also write or contact your family to let them know you are safe."
"Would you like help with lunch or supper?" asked Lily. "Both Sev and I can cook."
"That would be great. I only can cook basic meals, like pasta, salad, and hamburgers. Marcella planted an herb garden out back, and a vegetable one as well. There's also a magical plant section, for brewing potions and such. You should find anything you need as far as vegetables go. As an earth wizard, I have a green thumb."
"Are we going to . . . hunt our own meat?" asked Remus.
Valerius laughed at the expression on his face, which was somewhere between disgust and revulsion. "Only when we're wolves, young Lupin. Otherwise I live like any other civilized man, and buy my meat from a grocery store. Unless you happen to like rabbit stew or venison roasts. Those are two things I know how to make."
Remus wrinkled his nose. "I don't know if I could eat that."
"Me neither." Lily agreed.
Severus shrugged. "I don't mind trying anything once." He had never been a picky eater.
"I won't force any of you to eat something you think is revolting, but you might be surprised at how good a fresh venison roast tastes, or a stewed rabbit." Valerius said, his eyes dancing like a mischievous elf's. "In any case, we can leave that decision for another time. I expect you all to behave with responsibility and decorum while you are under my roof. You are all old enough to realize that every action has a consequence and to think before doing something you know is foolhardy or dangerous. I don't want to treat you like toddlers and keep tabs on you every minute, but I shall if I see that you need supervision like one. If you have a problem with my rules, I expect you to come and discuss it with me, not go behind my back and disobey me. My rules exist for your safety, you disobey them at your own risk. Understood?"
He met all of their eyes with his dark golden gaze and after a moment or so, each one of the young werewolves dropped their gaze to their feet.
"Yes, sir," Severus said.
Lily and Remus quickly gave their assent.
"Good. I am going to see what is left to harvest in the garden for supper. Lily, if you wish to help me with lunch, please meet me in the kitchen at half past twelve and we can decide on a menu."
"All right, sir," she agreed, smiling at him. Valerius reminded her a bit of Tobias, he had the same soldierly bearing. Then she bounced to her feet and announced, "I think I'll go and unpack." She started off towards the small room, removing her trunk from her pocket as she did so.
The two boys rose and followed her example, going up the stairs to the loft, where the other bedrooms were. Both were eager to get settled in their new domicile, and hoped that Valerius really could help them overcome the curse.
Severus chose the bedroom on the left of Valerius', it was done in a soothing green and beige, and had a small closet, bed, desk and chair, plus a large bookshelf and nightstand. After enlarging his trunk, he began to unpack, taking his time arranging his books upon the shelves, and also his potion ingredients. He carefully hung up Tobias' leather jacket in the closet, stroking the soft leather, which smelled like his father—a combination of Old Spice aftershave, smoke, and a unique scent that was Tobias' own. He vowed to make his father proud and Eileen as well. He thought about using the mirror to contact them, but decided to wait until after lunch, he didn't want to seem too eager, like a boy going off to school for the first time. He carefully placed his delicate beakers towards the back of the shelf, thinking that he missed his family already.
While Severus was busy placing his precious vials and containers, Remus quickly hung up his clothes and shoved his books upon a shelf. His room was similar to Severus', only done in blue and cream. As he unpacked, his thoughts flew to his former friends, the Marauders. He wondered what they were doing, now that they had been expelled. James and Sirius had inheritances, they didn't really need to work for a living, but Peter was not of their class. What jobs could be gotten by a wizard who had his wand snapped?
Very few, Remus suspected. Yet he couldn't bring himself to feel sorry for his former friends. They had brought this upon themselves. He then thought about his parents and hoped they didn't miss him too much. The excitement of the morning had fatigued him, so he yawned and lay upon his bed, drifting into a half-doze a moment later.
Lily carefully placed the silver framed picture of herself and Amy upon her nightstand, where she could look at it before bed. Though the picture was not magical, it nevertheless gave her comfort. It had been taken the previous summer, before Amy's cancer had returned. In it, her mother was smiling vibrantly, and looking at it made her heart ache. Oh, Mum! I'm so sorry this happened. I wanted to be together with you, but . . . She gently picked up the photograph and kissed it, then set it down again, dashing tears from her eyes. I hope Petunia's with you when . . . you go to meet St. Peter at the pearly gates. I miss you so much.
As she unpacked her trunk, starting with her schoolbooks, she thought about he rmother and all the good times they had shared. Her room was decorated with turquoise flowers and white pine furniture, it was simple yet elegant. She quite liked it, and felt sad that she had inherited the room due to Marcella's misfortune. Poor Valerius! What an awful burden, to be the only survivor of his family's massacre. She wasn't sure why, but she trusted Valerius, he seemed like a decent fellow.
Briar Stone strode into the room as if she, and not he, were Headmaster of Hogwarts. The young woman glanced about, her nose wrinkling as if she smelled some powerful stench. Her lips tightened and she said softly, "Did you have visitors, Headmaster? I smell something odd. A scent that reminds me of a werewolf." Her eyes narrowed. "Are you harboring a mad beast in your midst, Headmaster?"
"Not at all, my dear. Mad beasts and I have never gotten along," replied Dumbledore. "Would you care for a lemon drop?" He held out the dish for her.
She sniffed. "No. I want the truth. Did you or did you not have a werewolf here?" Her expression told him that she knew he had.
"You seem quite young to be making a name and a living hunting down werewolves," Dumbledore observed, ignoring her last question.
"I'm good at it and someone has to make the world safe for the kids and old people."
"Do you really consider werewolves that great a threat?"
"Yes. All it takes is one bite. Next thing you know you have a pack of the bloody things."
"Why do you hate werewolves?" Dumbledore queried. "This is more than just duty to you, isn't it? It's personal."
"Werewolves are the cause of my losing several people I care about. They are unstable and insane and cannot be trusted. They are a menace and need to be exterminated like rats. A were caused me to kill the one I loved best and for that, I shall never forgive." Her eyes were dark with sorrow, but an instant later it vanished and she was once again the ice queen, the Beautiful Dame Without Mercy.
"I can report you to the Ministry for aiding and abetting a criminal." Briar threatened.
Dumbledore spread his hands. "What proof do you have, my dear? I am alone in my office, the school is empty of students and staff alike. Very soon I shall return home. It would be a shame to delay your search for the culprit. Every moment you waste in idle speculation with me, Miss Stone, is one more moment you could be tracking the werewolf."
"You're hiding something, old man," she accused. "I'll find out what it is one day, and when I do, you'll regret it." She was frustrated and infuriated that she could not crack the old wizard's façade. She sensed instinctively that he was withholding information from her, knew that he was keeping secrets from her, but she had not caught him out, and so could not call him on it. She wished the use of Veritaserum were not so strictly regulated, otherwise she would have sprinkled some on his damned lemon drops before this.
She fingered one of her knives pointedly before growling, "Fine, keep your dirty little secret, Headmaster. But remember this, if your meddling ends up costing lives, you'll be the only one to blame. I have reason to believe that the werewolf entered this school. Will you grant me permission to search it? Or must I get a Ministry court order?"
"Far be it for me to impede you, Miss Stone. Feel free to search as you will, but this castle is very large, and contains many secret passages and rooms."
"So I have heard. That's why I want your assistance. Or someone else who knows the castle inside and out. Your caretaker, perhaps?"
"Mr. Filch?" Dumbledore queried mildly. "I shall call him at once. He will be quite happy to help you."
Briar nodded. "Good. At least someone here knows his duty." She flashed the Headmaster a scathing look before crossing her arms over her chest and leaning on the desk, waiting impatiently for him to summon Argus to her side. Perhaps the caretaker knew something about the werewolf rumors. When she had him alone, she would question him. She was no detective, but it didn't take a genius to figure out that something rotten was going on at Hogwarts School.
A/N: Thanks everyone for being patient while I finished Return to Prince Manor. My updates may be more infrequent because I need to take care of my mom, she was released from the hospital but still isn't well yet and needs a lot of help getting around. I am happy she is home, however. So please be patient. Hope you are all still enjoying the story.
This story is currently getting a co-author, Lady Julie Snape, who is working on the next chapter, and for now is on temporary hiatus until she finishes it. I apologize for any inconvenience! 3/27/12
Next: Valerius shows his charges a real wolf pack and they learn the truth about wolves and the nature of the predator they become. Briar Stone makes a startling discovery. Plus what happened to the Marauders.