A Mother's Love
Sadly, sadly, the sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities and good emotions,
incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight
on him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.
The boy's amber eyes, bright with fever, reread this last sentence three times without comprehending a word of it. Then, with a heavy sigh, he found a sliver of parchment to mark his place and set the book on his bedside table, beside a small tower of novels his mother had brought to help pass the time. Already he had read a Hardy Boys novel and a bit from a Sherlock Holmes collection, but now, partway through Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, his focus finally waned.
His light brown hair clung to his sweaty face, and he impatiently swept it aside, shuddering as his fingers found the old, twisted scars he'd grown his hair out to hide. The scars laced his entire body, he knew – his arms and legs and back, a knotted, tangled web of ugly wounds that had long-since healed. Because of these scars, he had to wear long sleeves and trousers, even in the blazing heat of summer. But the scars on his face were the worst. You couldn't hide your face, no matter how you wore your hair.
A chill came over him, as though someone had just opened a window onto a blizzard. Shivering uncontrollably, he pulled his old, gray, wool blanket up to his chin and curled his knees to his chest, wishing he didn't have to feel so wretched. It was bad enough knowing what awaited him in just a few hours' time.
The heavy curtains in his room had all been drawn shut, and the only light came from the floor lamp beside his bed. It gave the room an artificial yellow glow, a diffuse light that fell across his room – bed with its worn linens and flat pillow, bedside table stacked with books, dresser with one crooked drawer, bookshelf with perhaps three dozen muggle and wizarding books, painstakingly collected from second-hand shops over the years. If you didn't look too closely at the book titles, or at the overabundance of parchment, it might appear to be the room of any normal, eleven-year-old muggle whose family was a bit strapped for cash.
But Remus Lupin was not normal; he hadn't been since he was five years old and made a terrible mistake. His eyes drifted toward the curtained window, through which cicadas and the rustle of wind and leaves could be heard, same as that night so long ago.
Another shiver took him, and he rolled away from the window, away from the door through which he would soon have to march – down the corridor beyond, through the kitchen and sitting room to the cellar door, and then…
A wave of nausea seized him, and he lurched toward the bin his mother had placed beside his bed. He had nothing to bring up, as he'd only managed to force down a few crackers at lunchtime, but still his body fought to empty his stomach, retching violently until his arms shook with the effort of holding himself over the side of the bed.
"Shh…" A hand appeared to rub slow circles on his back. When at last the nausea abated, Remus' mother spoke again. "Here, drink."
Too sore and tired to wonder when she had arrived, Remus accepted a small sip of water to rid his mouth of the bitter sick taste and leaned weakly into her waiting arms. Her startlingly cold hand found his forehead, and he shivered, sighing gratefully when she pulled his blanket up around his shoulders.
His eyes wandered to the far corner of his room, where a trunk lay half-packed with books and robes. If not for the chills and queasiness, like being trapped in a rowboat on a frigid, storm-tossed sea, Remus might have smiled. Two weeks more.
Remus had known all his life that he was a wizard. Both his parents were magic, although his mother came from a muggle family, and Remus himself had shown signs of accidental magic as a toddler. There had been no doubt in anyone's mind that Remus Lupin would attend Hogwarts when the time came. In recent years, he'd sometimes wondered what his House would have been – proud, clever Ravenclaw, like his father? Or gentle, loyal Hufflepuff, like his mother?
But after the horrific night of six years ago, he knew it didn't matter. Hogwarts was a school for young witches and wizards, not for dark and dangerous creatures like him.
Or so Remus thought. Then, just a few weeks ago, Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, had come, with a twinkle in his eyes and a smile growing amidst his long, silver beard. He had explained to Remus and his mother that he knew of their circumstances and nevertheless believed there was a place for Remus at his school. Remus had hardly dared believe his ears, and even still there were mornings he half expected to discover it had all been a cruel and wonderful dream.
His mother's voice brought him out of his thoughts.
"Sun's setting," she whispered, carding her fingers through Remus' damp and sweaty hair. "Not long now."
Tears prickled at the back of his eyes. He blinked furiously to keep them at bay and nodded, turning his face into his mother's stomach so she wouldn't see him cry. Her arms tightened around him as though, if she held him tightly enough, she could squeeze the misery right out of his small, scarred body.
They remained like that for several long minutes as the meager sunlight filtering through the curtains faded. Then, when Remus had calmed himself and banished his tears, he pulled back.
At once, his mother stood, put on a brave face, and extended her hand. Remus took it, shivering again as he left the warmth of his bed behind. He stared fixedly at his bare feet pattering along the worn wood floors as his mother led him through the house. He barely noticed as they passed her bedroom – desk and dresser heaped with old bills she didn't have the money to pay, floor littered with dirty laundry she didn't have the time to wash.
He didn't look up when they entered the kitchen, where a mound of chipped and stained dishes sat soaking in the sink. The cupboards, he knew, had been recently stocked with as much as they could afford so that Remus would have everything he needed in the coming days.
All too soon, they reached the cellar door. Remus gripped his mother's hand more tightly as she undid a series of locks and pulled the door back to reveal a dark set of wooden stairs. Giving his hand a quick squeeze and lighting her wand, she led him down toward the cellar. The steps were rough and warped beneath his feet, groaning under his weight as they went down, down into the depths of the house.
At the base of the stairs, they came to another, sturdier door equipped with two deadbolts, a chain, and a heavy iron cross-bar. Remus' mother had to drop his hand to move the bar, and Remus sagged against the wall as another shudder wracked his body. A deep ache had settled into his joints, and his head throbbed like a bludger was hitting it over and over and over again.
His eyes fell closed as he listened to his mother shove against the door, which stuck, as always, on the stone floor, grinding to a halt once with a scraping sound before she forced it open. Then she reached back and found his hand, and he allowed himself to be pulled into the cold cellar.
The icy floor shocked him back into wakefulness, and he wrapped his arms around himself as the cool, dank air swirled around him, bringing with it the odor of dampness and old wounds. The cellar was a large, empty room with a thick, short chain anchored on one wall and the remains of a shredded blanket strewn about. Dark smudges on the floor and wall that had never quite come out painted an all too vivid picture of what went on down here once a month.
His mother's arms went around him once more, but she said nothing as Remus pushed her away. He began to undo the buttons on his shirt, but the tremors had begun, his muscles shuddering and spasming until he had to give in and let his mother undress him. His clothes were stored on a high shelf by the door, where there was no chance of them going the same way as the old blanket.
He sank down to the cold floor with some relief, for the room was beginning to spin and he rather thought taking a tumble would make for a terrible start to this already dreadful night.
There came a rattling, rasping sound, and Remus turned to see his mother picking up the chain from where they had abandoned it last month. Though his stomach turned inside him, Remus forced a thin smile for his mother, who now looked as pale as he. This was the worst part for her, he knew, the act of chaining up her only son, of trapping him down here like a prisoner or an animal.
For his part, Remus was never quite sure which bit was the worst, for it all seemed unbearable in the moment – the hours of illness beforehand, the days of pain after, the maddening, lonely wait in the cellar. But whatever the worst was, it certainly wasn't the chain; the chain only kept him from hurting his mother or anyone else who happened to be nearby.
Drawing in a shuddering breath, she came and knelt beside him with the chain, and he obediently extended his right leg for her to fasten the manacle around. This she did with unsteady hands, clasping it around his ankle and then tapping it once with her wand. It sealed itself into an unbroken circle with a clink that made her flinch as surely as a physical blow.
Remus had never noticed how old she looked, how tired. But now, as she turned away to wipe away her tears, he saw the gray in her soft brown hair, the creases at the corner of her eyes, the sluggishness in her motions as she pulled her son into one last embrace and then stood. He watched her go, her shoulders shaking, but it was only as she tugged the door shut behind her that she let out an audible sob.
Then the door thudded shut, two bolts shot home, a chain rattled, and, after a pause, the iron bar clunked into place. A faint murmuring told Remus that his mother had started setting the charms in place – protective charms, charms to reinforce the door, a calming charm. (This Remus recognized by the warmth that suddenly blossomed in his chest. He doubted the calming charm had any effect once the transformation took hold, but it at least kept him sane until then.)
The last charm was a silencing charm, meant to keep any unexpected visitors and, in Remus' mind at least, his mother from hearing his screams and howls.
Silence felt unnatural to Remus, despite many happy hours spent curled in an armchair with a book. There was always white noise – birds singing, shushing wind, a distant rustle of fabric as his mother made dinner. Only here, in the cold cellar, cast now in shades of indigo as the sun vanished beyond the horizon, had Remus ever experienced true silence – maddening, isolating silence that surrounded him and made the cavernous cellar feel as close and stifling as a prison cell.
The tremors redoubled, as much from the impending transformation as the cold, and yet Remus felt hot, unbearably so, and he lay down on the cool stone, pressing his cheek against the floor and letting it seep away some of the fever.
He lay there in a kind of stupor for he knew not how long, the tremors swelling every few minutes, only to fade again and leave in their place a hollow ache. Every bone in his body hurt, every muscle strained as though he'd just run a marathon; his breath hissed in and out as he clenched his teeth against the pain and his eyes against the tears. And his heart continued its plodding rhythm, marking out the time until the transformation began.
The faintest glow of silver suffused the blue-black darkness, and Remus knew it wouldn't be long now. His pulse quickened at the thought, and he pulled his knees up to his chest and locked his arms around them to keep his heart from bursting through his ribcage.
Just come, he pleaded to the moonlight. Just take me. Just get it over with.
The wait was the worst, he decided.
As always, the first stab of pain caught him by surprise, flashing through him like lightning: white-hot and paralyzing, gone as quickly as it had come. In its wake, he was blind to everything but the moon, hiding just out of his sight beyond the walls and the trees and the clouds, always out of reach.
He shivered, and the shiver became a convulsion as his body began to contort, ripping itself apart from the inside. Joints popped, bones creaked, and skin prickled with thousands of needles as hair began to sprout. It was like being stretched and crushed and twisted all at once; he was on fire, every breath agony as a scream tore itself from his throat, high and raw and choking. He couldn't take this; it was more than he could bear, more than anyone could bear, and he would die. He would fade away and never wake up, and he would be free – free from the torment, free from the shame, free from his deepest secret.
The anguish went on, for far longer than should have been possible. And then the wolf began to stir, and Remus felt as though he were falling out of himself. His vision went first, and then his hearing – the silence falling as suddenly and surely as it had when his mother cast the silencing charm.
And then, for a long while, there was only pain.
The dawn, Remus thought as he came to his senses an eternity later. The dawn was the worst part – worse than the wait by far.
It was always the same: slow, muddled thoughts as he clawed his way back to consciousness, already aware of who and where he was (or at least, where he had been before the transformation).
Next came the pain, bursting all at once like a firework let loose inside his body. His right ankle screamed at him, but he didn't bother to check it – it would be broken, again. Broken in the wolf's struggle against the chain, broken as it had been broken once a month for as long as he remembered. He sometimes wondered how much longer it would be before he walked with a permanent limp.
His shoulder pulsed with irregular stabs of agony, and he could smell the blood pouring from what he knew must be a horrendous wound, though at the moment he felt too queasy to risk a look. More open wounds made their presence known in the coming minutes – on his sides, his legs, and one particularly bad one on his forearm that seized up when he tried to flex his fingers.
And of course there was a deep ache over it all. He felt like one giant bruise, like his body had not yet put itself right and he was just a lump of disjointed bones and flesh. Nothing in the world could make him try to move. He could lie here for days, bleeding and moaning until he succumbed to his wounds.
The glow of dawn filled the chamber, warming him, but also stabbing his eyes with blazing pokers of golden light. He screwed his eyes shut and turned his face to the floor, biting back a cry as his body protested. Tears threatened to spill from his eyes, but he fought them, the battle providing a welcome distraction from the pain.
After the waking and after the pain, after lying in his prison taking stock of his wounds – after all this, Remus knew, things got better.
Sound seeped back into the cellar. First the creaking and groaning of the house overhead, then the birdsong through the high, small windows, then the sounds of his mother working at the door. She had to undo all the enchantments and locks before she could reach him, a process that always seemed to take ages, especially once the last of the enchantments broke.
They did so now, and withdrawal of the calming charm left a sudden, staggering hole inside him. His heart drummed quicker as he realized the scope of his wounds, the intensity of his pain, the waves of hot, sticky, oozing blood pouring down his body and across the floor, another stain to mark his prison. His breath caught, and he couldn't hold back his tears any longer. They gushed from his eyes, running down to mingle with blood and sting his wounds, but the sting was nothing to the pain he already felt. Soft sobs shook his body.
The cellar door swung open at last; his mother burst in with her arms full of blankets and washcloths, which she dropped in a heap inside the door before flinging herself at her son and cradling him in her arms.
"I'm sorry, baby," she whispered, unshed tears in her voice as she held him close, heedless of the blood now staining her clothes. "I'm so sorry. It's over. I'm here, right here. Shh. I'm right here."
Remus clung to her, drinking in her presence. His mother, so strong, so loving, somehow able to make him believe, even now in the wake of the transformation, that everything was and always would be alright, that the monster he had been just an hour ago didn't mean a thing and that he, Remus, her son, was worthy of love.
She kept one arm around him, holding him tightly – but still mindful of his wounds – as she began her work. The manacle around his ankle fell away, and she banished it back to the wall before summoning the pile of things she had brought with her.
With a washcloth (or maybe several), she sponged away the blood from his body. Her touch was so light and gentle that Remus hardly felt it, and he began to drowse in his mother's arms. He didn't know how long she worked, but eventually she shifted, lifting him up to wrap him in a blanket and carry him upstairs to his bedroom, where she finished cleaning and dressing his wounds. Even when she finished, she didn't leave. Instead, she sat on his bed and let him lay his head on her lap as she hummed a lullaby, carding her fingers through his hair.
For the first time, Remus wondered whether he really wanted to go to Hogwarts. How would he manage the transformations without his mother there to care for him, to make him see that life went on, even after the full moon? Would anyone at Hogwarts be so kind? Maybe his mother could come to Hogwarts every month… He wanted to ask her, but he was tired, so tired.
"It's okay, baby," his mother crooned, as though reading his thoughts. "I'm here. I'll always be here for you. Go to sleep... Shh... That's right. There's nothing to worry about. I'm right here."
It was true, Remus thought sluggishly. He was safe and warm in his mother's arms. Thoughts of the future, of Hogwarts and his transformations in the coming months, could wait until later. For now, his body craved sleep, and so Remus gave in and let the darkness take him.