Five hours earlier.
Today hadn't been a very good day, thought Remus, stirring his soup with a morose air. Papa and Mama hadn't stopped talking in low voices in the living room and Cleo had sent him back to his room with a tap on the head every time she had caught him trying to listen at the doors.
That had prevented him from hearing whatever it was.
Cleopatra, Lucretia, and Marc-Antoine had also started to murmur amongst themselves after lunch and they had chased Remus away with a wave of the hand as if he had been an irritating insect when he had approached.
Later, Lucretia had found him under the kitchen table, red-faced, cheeks tear-stained, so he sniffled pitifully because no one wanted to say anything to him. She had taken him in her almost-adult arms that could participate in all the conversations and given him a smile that didn't seem half as sincere as the one that she had forced on her face during her First Communion.
She had told him that it was only boring grown-up stuff and that it would all be over tomorrow morning anyways. Then, she had shoved a wooden chariot hitched up to a stuffed horse into his arms and had sent him off to play.
That was when Remus had comprehended that something really serious was going on.
After all, Lucretia never lent out the chariot that Uncle Ian had made her for her sixth birthday.
But Remus only paused a second to bite his lip, frowning, before remembering that he had, at the moment, the chariot in his hands, and running outside to try and make it hurtle down the gravel path, forgetting all the adult discussions that had had the house buzzing since last night.
The conversations hadn't ended all day, but at the moment, they were all seated around the big round kitchen table to contemplate their soup in silence.
Even Ophelia and Demetrius had shut up.
Remus wanted to shout and stamp his feet: the silence wasn't natural, as if an invisible weight hung upon them all, slowly rendering the air more and more difficult to breathe. But Lucretia shot him a warning glance and he re-closed his mouth before pronouncing a single word.
Suddenly, their father got up from the table, pushing back the chair with a screech on the tiling. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and shook off the hand that his wife had placed on his arm as a calming gesture.
"Richard, please," she said.
"I'm going there, now: they're all waiting for me at McKief's place," he announced as if he hadn't heard her.
Remus felt his eyes fill with tears without knowing very well why and he burst out in sobs above his half-filled bowl of half-cooled soup.
The gaze of his father softened and he approached him. The violent hiccups that shook his shoulders resonated in the silent kitchen and despite his best efforts, Remus couldn't stop them.
Because despite the words that his father was murmuring in a gruff tone in his ear to reassure him, he felt as if he was watching the end of the world.
"Don't do that. I will be back tomorrow morning. Go on, stop whining, now: are you a man or not?" said his father finally, seeming embarrassed.
He looked back up and met the eyes of his seven children and his wife, whose eyes didn't seem dry enough to try and contradict him.
Remus shook his head so forcefully that he sent his spoon bounding off the tiling.
"No," he said, sniffling.
No, Remus Lupin wasn't a man. He was five years old and four months and he wanted to be able to sob and cling to the legs of his father without shame until the terror left the pale face of his mother.
His father ceased to smile. He ruffled his hair in a harsh gesture that made Remus grimace when he pulled too sharply on a lock of hair, tangled by an afternoon of playing outside.
His father turned again towards his mother.
"Lock the doors and don't wait for me," he said.
She nodded her head and only let a strangled sound that resembled the cry of a wounded animal escape when the noise of boots rang out in the entryway, then that of the door shutting.
Their mother stayed still a few moments as though frozen, then she sent all of the children upstairs with the long-defended iron box in which she kept the cookies reserved for tea with the grown-ups.
Cleopatra's hands trembled when she took the box and Remus believed for a moment that she was going to return it to their mother, demanding her to put it back in its hiding place so that things would go back to normal.
He would have wanted her to do so.
But she had brought the box upstairs, calling them to follow her and Remus had again found himself seated on the floor of the "nursery" with a square of shortbread in his hand before he could protest. Cleopatra and Lucretia had begun to tell a very frightening ghost story that Remus didn't hear the half of: his eyes returned incessantly to the window behind which the sun was slowly setting.
It was raining, and Remus couldn't help thinking that the cookies weren't nearly as good as he had believed when he had climbed on a chair to find the box within all the cupboards the week before.
He put what was left of the cookie on the ground. His stomach suddenly seemed to him so tight that he thought he'd never be able to make anything else go inside it.
He wondered where Papa had gone and if the others had noticed that the big gun had disappeared from its place above the chimney in the living room.
Their mother came to kiss them goodnight a little bit later, saying that she was tired and that she was going to go to bed. Then Cleo decided to put them all to bed early and she blew out the candle before leaving the room, despite the protestations of Marc-Antoine, plunging the room into the sinister grey light of the sky, so encumbered with clouds that one couldn't tell if it was still day or if night had already fallen.
Remus couldn't manage to sleep. After what seemed like hours, he could hear Alexandre's regular breathing by his ear and the noise of the covers made by one of the twins, who tossed and turned in their sleep while muttering unintelligible words.
Remus closed his eyes as hermetically tight as possible, thinking that the moment his father returned to the house would come much quicker if he slept. But each sound seemed three times louder in the sleeping house and the rain pattered against the roof in an incessant racket.
Bits and pieces of the ghost story that Lucretia had started began to come back to him and Remus buried his head under the covers, trying to breathe as quietly as possible in case a monster was in his room.
Or a ghost. Or a wizard, really.
What resembled a strangled cry rang out. Remus jumped and felt his hair stand on end.
It came from downstairs. Had something entered the house?
Something green, with lots of paws and red eyes like the monster in the closet that Marc-Antoine had told him about. Of course, since then Remus had refused to approach a closet, even when Mama was irritated because he wouldn't find his clothes by himself anymore.
But maybe the monster had come out.
Remus sat down, pulling the covers back up to his chin, and extending a trembling hand towards Alexandre to wake him up: he would rather face his wrath than the monster that he heard emitting strange noises at the base of the stairs.
But at that moment, noises of rapid steps rang out from the older ones' room where Cleopatra and Lucretia slept because Mama said that they were "young ladies" now. Marc-Antoine had wanted to sleep there too, but Mama had told him that there wasn't room for him and that they needed "intimacy."
Remus hadn't understood what this "intimacy" was when Lucretia had tried to explain it to him, however he had supposed that it had to do with shorter skirts, pink and slightly viscous sticks applied to their lips, which he did not have the right to touch, and with hair done up in chignons.
He hadn't understood why Marc-Antoine had tried to participate.
Remus lightly touched Alexandre's shoulder, then he heard another pair of bare feet on the floor of the hallway and he heard the noise of high-pitched voices, as though someone had wanted to cry out but was obliged to speak softly all the same.
He decided that he was too scared: he needed a grown-up.
He slowly pushed back the covers and slid out of bed, taking care not to wake the others. He wanted to know what was going on and then sleep in his mother's bed, because she knew how to make monsters go away, and if he was caught, they would send him back to bed once again without telling him anything.
Without bothering to look for his slippers in the dark, he left the room on tip-toes, pulling the door shut behind him without closing it completely, since he hadn't quite figured out how to use the doorknob correctly. He crossed the hallway to get to the stairs where the lights were turned on.
He could hear little noises coming from the bottom of the stairwell; unidentifiable and unhealthy noises that sounded like breathing or like that rabbit that Papa had run over with the car while backing up and that Mama had told him not to look at.
From where he was he couldn't see where the noises were coming from, but they still turned his stomach.
"What are we going to do? The telephone doesn't work anymore, Lia! What are we going to do?"
"I . . ."
Remus frowned, recognizing the voices of Lucretia and Cleopatra. He crouched down and carefully slipped his head through where Alexandre had pulled out one of the balusters, leaving a space in the railing.
Cleopatra, Lucretia, and . . .
Why would Mama be lying down on the ground and . . .
A piercing howl resounded, momentarily covering the rain, the still distant thunder that Papa had said would "churn" around the house all night, and the sickly sounds that came out of the stretched-out body.
Remus didn't even hear the rapid steps that were climbing the stairs and he jumped when Lucretia closed her hand around his shoulder.
"Shut up! Remus, shut up!"
A sharp rap on the head made him close his mouth while just understanding the fact that the cry was coming from his own throat.
"Mama . . ." he stammered, leaning on his hands to get himself standing again. "Why doesn't . . . why isn't Mama moving?"
He looked toward the ground floor only to notice that this wasn't strictly true: his mother fidgeted in jerky movements and her moans seemed to gain in intensity every second.
Terrified, Remus was torn between running away as far as possible from the terrifying sight while hoping that it would disappear from memory, and rushing towards his mother.
After all, she always know what to do.
"Remus! Remus, look at me!"
Lucretia grabbed his chin and made him turn his head toward her, pulling his eyes from the sickening scene.
"You're going to go back to bed. Cleo and I . . ."
"Oh my God, Lia!"
Lucretia turned towards the base of the stairs. Cleopatra had gotten up and Remus felt his eyes widen to the point of being painful noticing that her hands were red.
"I think . . . I think that Rosalinde's arriving," she said in a blank voice.
Lucretia paled visibly and her skin seemed yellow in the fluorescent light.
She hurtled downstairs. Remus followed her, too terrified to stay alone in the half-light of the hallway. He tripped on the next-to-last step and slid, stopping a few paces from his mother.
"Ow," he moaned.
He dragged himself into a kneeling position.
"Remus! Is everything okay? You're not hurt?" demanded Cleopatra, completely hysterical.
She was still on all fours near their mother and it was Lucretia who made him stand up. She stifled an exclamation looking at the red hems of his pajama pants before noticing that the blood wasn't coming from him but from the stairs on which he had slipped.
"Remus? Where are you hurt?" she calmly interrogated him.
Normally, Remus would have groaned and cried enough that his mother would console him and let him sleep in her bed with her after having given him a glass of warm milk. But tonight, he knew that it wasn't the time.
He lifted his pajama pants to show the red blotches warning of bruises on his knees and showed her his scraped palms.
"Okay. Okay, that's good," said Lucretia.
"And Mama?" asked Remus. "She's not doing okay? Is she going to die?"
He felt his lower lip start to tremble and fixed his wide eyes on Lucretia, not daring to blink.
If I don't close my eyes . . .
Everything will be fine if I keep watching. Papa always says that men mustn't look away because . . .
But Remus had forgotten why. And Cleopatra started to cry. Remus moved towards her and took her in his arms like she did for him when Alexandre had been mean to him.
"It's not serious," he soothed. "It'll pass."
She let out a trembling laugh and embraced him in return. Remus thought that it wouldn't have been nice to point out that she was getting blood on her pajamas.
Their mother chose that moment to open her eyes.
Her voice was more breath than true sounds and Remus recoiled involuntarily upon noticing the red, almost brown, in her light hair.
"Mama? Mama?" called Cleo, seizing her by the shoulders.
"Richard . . ." she breathed, before falling into unconsciousness anew.
Cleopatra shook her gently without result, and then let her lie back down on the ground, running her hands through her hair as if she wanted to pull it out by the handful.
"What are we going to do, Lia? She's too heavy: we can't carry her to the bed! And what are we going to do about the baby – she seems sick and she's making that noise . . . like the twins and Remus did. We don't know what we should do!" said Cleopatra in a strident voice.
Remus took a second to be shocked that the twins in question and Alexandre hadn't been woken by all the din they were making. On the other hand, Mama always said that those three slept so heavily that they could sleep through an earthquake.
"Okay," Lucretia said again. "Papa. He will know what to do. Remus, you go find Papa and you tell him that Mama fell down the stairs. Cleo and I will carry her to the sofa in the living room."
At that single moment, Lucretia had completely forgotten where their father was.
While his sisters bustled about the inert form of their mother, Remus got out his shoes form the closet in the entryway and slipped them on. He got up, ignoring the rub of them against his bare feet, and slipped outside the house without anyone noticing.,
He remembered perfectly that his father had gone to Mr. McKief's house, at the foot of the hill. But it was only once he had decided to leave the gate open behind him because reaching the latch made his arm hurt, lifting his eyes towards the full moon half-hidden by the clouds, that he understood his situation: all alone, in the dark.
With all the monsters prowling about.
He bit his lip and a sound that oddly resembled a squeak left his mouth.
He could go back to the house, but the idea of the carpet soaked with viscous fluids and of the immobile body held him back. He was happy to get away from it: the sweaty form had nothing to do with his mother and it frightened him.
And if he went very quickly all the way to Mr. McKief's house, the grown-ups would take care of everything and maybe Mrs. McKief would even give him a piece of the chocolate cake that he had seen on the kitchen table when Mama had made him come with her to visit.
Mama loved to visit all sorts of boring people and she always wanted to bring Remus with her.
He shook his head and trotted to the path that led to the McKiefs' farm. The rain had lightened up a bit but the ground was slippery and his short legs had a hard time fighting against the rocks and the mud. He got tired quickly and it only took a few meters after the lights of the house had disappeared behind him for him to be completely lost. Tears of frustration clouded his eyes and he advanced, sniffling.
He was scared, hungry, cold, and he couldn't see two steps in front of himself.
Because if he had been bigger, Remus would have surely thought to take a flashlight with him but Remus was only five years old and anyways, he couldn't reach the top of the refrigerator where they were kept, even standing on top of a chair.
He was halfway to the McKiefs' house when a howl sounded. An agonizing and terrible howl that had nothing human about it. It made him remember the reason that his father was outside tonight.
The wolves. Wolves with big teeth that devoured little children . . .
Then, there came gunshots that rang out like the noise of the fireworks on St. Patrick's Day. They were near and Remus thought he could hear voices.
He stopped dead, too frightened to dare to advance again.
If Remus had been an adult, he would have known that it was stupid to go out without protection in the middle of the night to walk in the middle of hunters likely to take you for a rabbit in the dark. If he had been an adult, he would have known equally well that to walk, covered in blood, in the territory of a pack of wolves, was also stupid.
It was neither hunters nor wolves, however, that found him at first.
No, it was two yellow eyes that observed him in absolute silence, hidden in shadow.
There was neither a dramatic chase, nor monstrous apparition in the faint light of the moon followed by howls.
There was only a light growl, almost nothing, then jaws dripping with drool and with . . . oh, that red was from Remus, he was almost certain. And it didn't really hurt yet, just something somewhere wasn't right.
No cries, just an "Oh . . .," breathless as if he had just ran up the hill, and the yellow eyes and the mud that was soaking his pajamas and making his skin slimy and so itchy it was driving him crazy.
Then the pressure on his shoulder ceased and the creature was enormous, so enormous that it made Remus' body disappear beneath it, and there was red everywhere, and . . .
The howls came.
Remus howled, and howled, and howled until he thought he felt his vocal cords give up in his throat and the creature that didn't look at all like the wolves in his picture book looked as if it were smiling.
It could have been watching him for an instant or for hours, he didn't know and it was getting darker and darker, to the point that the creature looked like a jigsaw puzzle, where the pieces flashed every second.
Finally, the voices were close and a gunshot rang out so near that Remus' vision toppled completely into obscurity.
There were shouts and confused noises. He thought he felt the teeth again before the heavy, hot presence disappeared into the night. The creature hadn't seemed afraid, however, and its howls rang out again as mockeries of the intention of the horrified hunters and of the child with his body in shreds who was drowning in his own blood in the midst of the mud and irregular rocks of the road that he had run down every day without remarking upon.
"Is that . . ."
"Richard! Richard, hurry up, I think . . ."
"Remus, Remus! Oh my God, go find a doctor! Remus, stay with me! Shit, move!"
Remus tried to smile, recognizing his father's voice – his father who would go back to the house and fix everything.
He would have started at hearing how feeble his voice sounded if he had still been capable of moving.
He felt the reassuring odor of tobacco penetrate his nostrils and chase off the metallic and lukewarm odor of blood when his father bent over him.
"It'll be all right, Remus. Don't worry, everything's fine: we'll get you back on your feet in no time."
His father's voice was strange, as if he had caught a cold and was very hoarse. But Remus was too tired to try to open his eyes.
"M'ma," he murmured in a thick voice. "Th' stairs. Ros'lin."
"What? What are you saying?"
"Stairs," repeated Remus.
Then, his mission accomplished, he let unconsciousness overrun him, throwing a merciful veil over the pain and the panic.
Not Rosalinde. And Harriet, less devastated than she would have like to have been, murmured in a low voice that she's always known that Remus would be her last little one.
Remus and his mother stayed in bed constantly for two weeks to recover from that terrible night, then things went back to how they were before. After all, the children were solid and Rosalinde had never really been there.
Yes, everything was the same and yet different. Even if no one ever spoke of it, the nights were haunted by the memory of the open front door that Harriet had forgot to close, the yellow eyes of the wolf that laughed at the terror of men and the white face of Remus covered in red. And every night, Richard and Harriet Lupin now sealed up the house to keep out all the monsters of the night.
Of course, at that moment, they didn't know that the monster was already inside.
In the nursery.
T/N (Translator's Note): Anyone who's been reading this: sorry for such a long wait! I was out of town for the first few weeks of August, so this was my first chance to update. If you like the story, the proper author is Shizuka21, and I'll be passing on your reviews. Hope you enjoyed it!