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Chapter One Hundred Four: Out of the Fire
On Saturday morning Remus came downstairs to find that his mother had cleared the surface next to the cooker of its ordinary assortment of canisters and tins. In their place she was laying out little piles of vegetables, frequently consulting a book propped up next to her recipe album. After a moment's scrutiny Remus realized that it was his copy of Guide to the Cauldron.
'What's this?' he asked warily as she laid out half a dozen carrots in a neat row.
Mother looked over her shoulder to smile at him. 'We're going to work on your potions-making skills,' she said. 'As I'm not at all sure that either of us are meant to be working with wizarding ingredients, at least not at home, I thought this would be a nice compromise. Help yourself to some porridge, love: I'll be ready for you shortly.'
Remus ate, but more out of habit than any deliberate action. He could not keep his eyes off of his mother as she filled a little dish with flour and sprinkled small heaps of spices onto a china saucer. By the time she was finished the countertop looked uncannily like his workspace in Professor Slughorn's classroom, but with parsnips instead of nightshade and parsley in place of dragonswort. He emptied his bowl and got up to wash it, then tucked it away in the cupboard where it belonged and stood several pace back from his mother, feeling rather apprehensive.
'All right, then,' she said, stepping back and surveying her work. The potions text came with her, but the recipe book stayed where it was. 'There's your ingredients and your instructions.' She bent down and fished out her large stock pot, setting it atop the stove with a dull clatter. 'And this is your cauldron. I've added a few little details to the recipe, and I'll be watching to see that you follow it precisely. Oh!' She turned around and picked out something that gleamed in the morning sunlight. As she passed it to him Remus recognized his brass scales. 'Don't worry,' she said, smiling at his look of sceptical discomfiture. 'I've cleaned them very thoroughly: we shan't be getting any traces of your last project from them.'
'Thanks,' Remus whispered, not quite sincerely. He had been unsure about his mother's ability to help him with this problematic subject, but now that the moment was upon him he realized that his real fear was looking a fool in front of her. He didn't want her to see how useless he was at this subject, but there was no backing away now – not when she had clearly put so much time and effort into the matter.
He measured out water, pouring it carefully into the stand-in cauldron without spilling even a drop. He measured out powdered beef stock on the scales, standing back when prompted so that his mother could check the weights. The order in the recipe for two large potatoes, peeled and sliced, had been overwritten with his mother's elegant hand: two large potatoes, thinly pared and diced into half-inch cubes. This was precisely the sort of instruction that he found so challenging in class, and he picked up the paring knife with no small trepidation.
Mother watched quietly until he began to try to whittle out the cubes.
'Now, then,' she said, cheerful and factual. 'You don't want to do it like that: they'll come out every shape but the one you want. First you'll want to use the other knife: a good long, straight blade. Then cut across the length of the potato into half-inch strips.'
'Now turn each strip on its side and cut it into half-inch sections the other way. Good.' When he had finished producing a stack of half-inch square potato sticks, she nodded approvingly. 'Now all you need to do is lop off the uneven bits at the end and then cut off half-inch bits. Isn't that easier?'
'Much,' Remus said wonderingly, rocking the knife back and forth and producing a heap of almost-perfect cubes.
She helped him through the carrots in much the same way, and he managed to produce reasonably uniform strips. The onions he shredded, the garlic he crushed carefully with the side of a knife. Various spices had to be weighed out precisely, then worked to a fine powder in the little marble kitchen mortar. All the while he had to keep a sharp look-out on the simmering stock, stopping every ten minutes to give it two dozen full stirs with the long wooden spoon: thirteen clockwise and eleven anticlockwise. If he missed a step or set about doing something sloppily his mother corrected him, gently but firmly. It was an absurd amount of care to be taking over soup, of course, but he recognized all too well the precision and detail that was expected in Potions.
In the end the ingredients were all in the pot, and Mother put on the lid so that it could sit for a few hours. Remus cleaned up his workspace, and then turned away from the sink, waiting to see what she would say.
'You'll have to tell me, love, whether it was anything like what you do at school,' she said; 'but I think that all you really need to do is slow down a bit, and focus, and be careful.'
'Yes…' Remus said hesitantly, glancing over his shoulder at the pot sitting placidly above the blue gas flames.
'The trouble is you've learned all my shortcuts in cooking, and they aren't serving you well in Potions at all,' said Mother fondly. 'We'll try it again tomorrow, and I'm sure you'll manage without so much as a peep out of me.'
They did try the next day, and again on Tuesday evening, laying up a large quantity of soup to be frozen in meal-sized portions in glass jars that Mother had picked up at the greengrocer's. By the following Saturday's attempt – mutton broth from the bone this time, with much more stirring and worrying than the recipe had originally called for – Remus was indeed proceeding almost entirely without commentary from his mother. He could gauge the size of a slice with his eye, and his knife moved quickly and precisely. His mother was delighted, and Remus could not help but feel the tiniest bit pleased with himself, but he knew it wouldn't help at all when he was back at school.
It was all very well to focus and to take his time here, in the comfortable warmth of his mother's kitchen. It would be another matter entirely in Slughorn's damp dungeon, where he spent half of his lessons either drawing up achingly towards a transformation or retreating painfully from it; where he had to be constantly on the lookout for James or Sirius slipping a firecracker into a neighbouring cauldron; where the tormenting scent of wolfsbane hung heavy in the air, choking off his lungs and making his head ache. But he couldn't say any of these things to his mother, who was so happy and proud and so certain that she had helped him. So he chopped and diced and sliced with care, tared his scales with an apothecary's precision, and counted anticlockwise stirs soundlessly under his breath.
An evening came when he nicked his finger chopping a parsnip and hurled the taproot against the backsplash in tearful frustration. His mother, who had been reading serenely from her perch on the kitchen stool, tossed Sense and Sensibility aside and hopped down to come up behind him.
'There, now, dear heart, it's only a scratch,' she said, reaching around Remus's shoulder to press a clean cloth to the little wound. She raised a comforting hand to his cheek, but turned it almost at once from palm to back, frowning worriedly. 'You're running a fever,' Mother murmured. 'Oh, darling, I didn't think. Go and lie down on the couch and I'll bring you a cool cloth and a cup of tea.'
'I can finish what I started,' Remus argued crossly, trying and failing to shrug her off. He wrenched his hand away from hers and reached for the errant vegetable, thumping the butt of the knife against the countertop. 'There'll be days when I'm feeling ill at school, too, and I'll just have to keep on.'
His mother took a step backward, startled hurt on her face. 'Remus,' she said, a world of gentle reproach in the name.
He was chopping the parsnip again, far more viciously than was necessary. Over his shoulder the golden light that had bathed the back garden only a few minutes before was giving way to the violet of dusk. Soon the moon would appear above the tops of the houses, round and menacing and just a single day's sliver from the full. Half-blinded with helpless anger that he did not quite understand, Remus worked with almost inhuman fervour until the offending root was thoroughly demolished. Then he looked down.
What ought to have been neat quarter-inch coins was a random mess of shrapnel, some pieces as long as his thumb, others almost thin enough to have been shaved. None of them were even throughout their width, and several were spotted with blood from his still-suppurating finger. Shame and despair flooded Remus's chest, driving away the inexplicable rage.
'I'm sorry,' he whispered, hanging his head but not daring to turn to see the hurt in his mother's eyes. 'I oughtn't to take it out on you.'
She stepped up behind him and squeezed his shoulders gently. 'If you can't take it out on me, what will you do with yourself?' she asked, brushing her nose against his hair. 'Go and lie down: I should never have had you standing for an hour and a half, not tonight.'
Not tonight. The words followed Remus into the sitting room and hovered in the air above the fading but still mercifully comfortable sofa. Not tonight, on his last night as a human boy before the wolf came out to savage him again. Not tonight, when he was irritable and distracted and… and so very angry. That he did not quite understand. He was always choked with unhappy emotions when the full moon drew near: shame and fear and sorrow and even despair. But to be angry like this, angry enough to throw something, angry enough to snap at his mother when she was only trying to comfort him – this was something new and terrible.
Mother came into the room, bearing as promised a cool cloth for his brow and a steaming mug of fragrant tea. She did not linger, hurrying back to the kitchen to finish putting on the soup. Remus reflected bitterly that she wouldn't be making perfect quarter-inch coins of the parsnips, and then had to scold himself. Of course she wouldn't: that was only an exercise to help him with his potions-work. He lay back against the arm of the couch, closing his eyes against this strange and frightening belligerence.
The following day, Father laid aside the endless job-hunting to stay at home with his son. Remus almost wished he hadn't. The wizard went about the business of bringing him water, coaxing him to eat a little (soup, of course), helping him shift from his bed to the sitting room, and so forth, with an awkward earnestness that was almost offensive. Whatever the source of his unwonted irritability, it obviously had not abated with a night's sleep, and Remus found himself constantly biting back angry protestations against his father's well-intentioned fussing. It was almost a relief when the time came at last to thunder down the cellar stairs, strip off his robe and fling it after the retreating wizard. It was almost comforting to know that soon the wrath of the wolf would replace this newer and somehow far more terrifying rage.
Yet when the first anguished pull of the transformation tore through the long bones, Remus crumpled into a ball on the cold cellar floor, whimpering softly into the darkness. He didn't want this, didn't want to suffer through this, didn't want to lose control of his mind and his body and his soul, not again, not again, not again.
But of course it didn't matter what he wanted.
Mother had her left arm curled firmly and yet so very gently under Remus's neck and shoulders, raising his head up so that he could sip at the cool water with cracked and bleeding lips. Every muscle in his body, from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, ached with a deep and knotted fire, and he knew that he must have fought the transformation. He knew better than to do that; he was certain that he did. Yet just as he had been fighting his parents' efforts to make him comfortable during the last twenty-four hours before the moon he had obviously struggled against the pull of the wolf itself. Stupid, he thought dimly as he managed a small and tortured swallow. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
At least his wounds were not so much worse than average, or so he understood from his mother's soft murmurings. Certainly he was safe in his own bed instead of languishing in a St Mungo's corridor waiting for a Healer willing or forced to spare a few minutes for a tattered part-human. There was a tremendous, throbbing lump over his left eye, which was swollen so thickly that he could see nothing through it but a drab blur, and he thought perhaps that his right wrist was broken. Both legs were bandaged snugly enough that he could feel his ravaged muscles pulsing against them, but not so thickly that he could not make out where the old sheet rippled over them. There was blood in his hair: it tugged uncomfortably every time his mother breathed.
'That's my brave boy,' she murmured, easing him back against the pillow and stroking his cheek with the back of her finger.
He wanted to confess to her, to explain that it was all his fault and that she shouldn't trouble herself. He wanted to tell her about the anger, the irrational and all-consuming anger that had seized him, but he could not speak. He ran his tongue along his lip, snagging against a parched tear. The room was dark, the lamp dimmed with a table napkin out of deference to his stinging eyes. He knew that he had slept through most of the day, and he supposed he ought to be grateful for that.
His mother was petting his head, still whispering that he was a good boy, a brave boy, her beautiful boy, and that he might have his medicine the very minute his father got back. He wished again that he felt able to speak. He would have told her that he was in fact a stupid boy, a stubborn boy, and that he feared that he was losing control of the wolf.
Yes, that was it. He was terrified that the anger that had preceded the transformation was a sign that he was losing control. He had always wondered how the wolf could lurk inside him, silent and invisible if never forgotten, all through the month, when it reigned so fully on the night of the full moon. What if he wasn't strong enough to keep it inside anymore? What if it was starting to come out at other times, too? What if the reason he had been so cross and rude and difficult was that the wolf was starting to control his human mind?
A shudder of revulsion ran up Remus's back, and his mother gripped his hand. She was still muttering tender reassurances; obviously she thought he was shaking in pain. He screwed his eyes tightly closed so that she could not read the terror in them.
If the wolf was getting stronger, he would have to learn to be stronger too. He would have to learn how to watch for these fits of temper, and to beat them down. He would have to learn how to smile politely even when he was seething, because he would not, could not give in to the wolf.
Except when the full moon rose, he reflected ruefully as a cramp rippled through his ribs. He had to have the sense not to try to fight it then. Healer Ferrinby had said that agitation made the transformations worse. Madam Pomfrey said he needed to try to stay calm and relaxed. The change was easier when he didn't fight it.
A muzzy sleep of exhaustion was tugging at him through the pain, and Remus decided it was best not to fight that, either.
He woke again in sunlight, when Father came into the room carrying a glass of water, a medicine cup, and a cold compress for Remus's eye. He was wearing an anxious and apologetic expression, but he didn't speak until Remus had taken the drink and the potion and was settled beneath the cool cloth.
'How are you feeling?' he asked.
'It isn't so bad,' Remus whispered. His throat was raw and his voice hoarse even by the standards of the day after, but the concoction was taking effect and his aches were lessening tangibly. 'What is it? What's wrong?'
'That's the last dose of the pain potion,' Father confessed, looking as guilty as if he had drunk it himself out of sheer spite. 'I'll have to go into London to have more made up. I… that is… it only lasts about four hours, doesn't it? You'll be in pain again before your mother comes home.'
There was always some pain, even with the potion, but Remus did not feel this was the time to point that out. He remained silent instead, not quite able to lie about it either.
'Would you be all right for an hour or so?' asked Father. 'I could go and be back—'
Remus nodded, a brief and uncomfortable gesture. 'I'll be fine,' he promised. 'I shall probably go straight back to sleep. You needn't hurry. Only…' He cast his eyes away and fumbled with the coverlet. 'Only are you certain we can afford it? I could manage without.'
'I want some on hand regardless,' said Father firmly. He gripped his son's unscathed wrist and tried to smile. 'I'll be back in an hour, perhaps a bit longer if the apothecary is busy. Certainly no more than two.'
'I'll be all right,' said Remus. 'Don't worry.'
He smiled, a lopsided effort that made his swollen eye tighten. It was enough to reassure his father, however, for the wizard nodded and retreated from the room. Settling back into the indentation in his pillow Remus listened for the noise of Disapparation, but it did not come. Father must have gone by Floo, he thought drowsily. He was glad. It was a long trip to London, and a tiring one to Apparate. His one eye drifted closed and the other relaxed. He could feel sleep washing over him in comforting potion-soothed waves.
He thought he must have fallen asleep because he was startled into wariness by a crash and the clatter of fire tools in the sitting room. He frowned as he ran his tongue over his teeth. He could still taste the residue of the potion and his mouth was moist: he had only just had water. Father could not have been gone ten minutes and he was back already? His pulse quickened. Something was amiss. Perhaps there had been another attack in London; in Diagon Alley. Perhaps even now the Death Eaters were terrorizing and killing innocent people. It was even possible that Father had been hurt in the crossfire: he had never tripped over the fire tools before.
As his terror was mounting he was startled by a puzzled call from below. 'Hallo, is anyone home? Mrs. Lupin? Mr. Lupin?'
The steps creaked and then shuddered as someone with long legs came bounding up them two at a time. Again the voice called out for Mother and Father, and this time there was absolutely no mistaking it. Torn between jubilation and utter bewilderment, Remus called out.
'In here!' he cried.
The door opened like a Christmas cracker, bouncing off the wall and very nearly rebounding straight into the visitor's face. Dark hair and mischievous eyes and a broad companionable grin.
'Yoo haloo!' cried Sirius Black. 'Dear me, what have you done to your face?'