A Portrait in Silver

Chapter I: Little Red

Be mindful of the wolf, children. It's what every good grandmother says before sending her brood out into the world; whether it is to pick cherries from the orchard, or to call on the neighbours with hospitable intentions, she sends them off with a kiss and a well-heard warning.

-Be mindful of the wolf.-

And so I live knowing that no man, woman, or child will ever, ever touch me. It's right that they shouldn't. I wouldn't have it otherwise. A few have thought to domesticate me with intricate spells and tonics, but even when he sleeps inside me, in the end I am only the wolf: carnivore made from Adam, carnivore banished from the garden. He eats and lusts and wants; his appetite knows no limits.

For the last five years, I have kept the wolf in me muzzled, straining on the end of a long leash. The Wolfsbane placates him, and I am allowed to assert some measure of control. I am not what you might imagine-a friendly dog with a human mind, a possessor of empathy and wisdom. No, it is more like this: I am the man who holds the leash, and desperately, at that.

It is dawn, and I lie in an ancient stand of woods, trapped in a man-wolf stasis. The sky is faint lavender, and birds are beginning to call from tree to tree; despite this, the moon has not yet set. My human consciousness has returned, but I cannot remember last night's activities, save one: I did not get my Wolfsbane. This frightens me a great deal; if I wandered the whole night as a feral wolf, who knows what damage I might have done? Yet I taste no blood on my tongue, and my paws, which are just beginning to stretch out into hands, are smeared with nothing more than mud. One of them stings and is smoking faintly. I lick it tentatively, and pain-a blinding, thunderous pain-railroads through my body, all my muscles seizing up at once. I whimper and manage to curl into a ball. My stomach is now human enough to clench down a rising nausea, but only just.

When my sensitive ears pick up footsteps-light, and barely breaking through the underbrush-I begin to growl softly. Whoever it is, he or she should not venture near me. I am not safe. Not yet.

But my growls don't seem to fend the intruder off; instead, the footsteps come closer. I smell human, distinctly female, young and in good health. I raise the volume of my growls up a few notches; has the girl never been told to give wild creatures a wide berth? I look up at her approach; my vision has finally gone human, and I can only hope the rest of me will soon follow. She pulls the foliage aside and ducks through it, her eyes widening at what she sees before her: a monster melting into man, naked but still covered in fur-fine and gray as lint.

"Oh," she says, putting a hand to her mouth and stopping up short. I can make out not one of her features, aside from her vividly red hair-funny that a girl should stumble upon me without the legendary red hood, but is red-haired nonetheless.

The wolf in me snarls at her scent-offensive and tempting at once-but the pain in my stomach and limbs overtakes me and I whimper, both from discomfort and decidedly human shame.

"You're hurt," she says, foolishly reaching out a hand. I snap at it and she stumbles backwards, her muslin skirt catching on brambles. Wisely, she backs a few metres away, pulling from her jacket an object I recognize at once: a wand, crafted from bright cherry. Of course, I should have known that only a witch would have the nerve-or thoughtlessness, perhaps-to investigate after a dangerous, wounded creature. With a sudden pang, I realize that I have no idea where my own wand is, or how far I've strayed from my village and home.

For her own safety she casts a binding spell on me, and though it hurts, I am grateful-I can still smell her blood, after all, and the restless drum of her heart has already sent my salivary glands into a frenzy. I am far too heavy and dangerous to physically lift, even while bound, and she slowly levitates me a good bit off the ground. She is well-practised at this; no part of me bobbles as she begins to walk me through the clearing, still positioned a few metres back, guiding me with the aim of her wand. Even in mid-air, though, my wolf-body aches and throbs, and I thrash despite the fact that part of me knows better.

Before long I find myself guided through a pair of rotting oak doors, and into what is most likely an abandoned horse stable, smelling of hay and mildew and neglect. Gently, she lowers me into a corner so that I can curl on to my side.

"I'm sorry," she says, her voice low. "I have to keep you bound for the time being." With her wand she whisks a rough saddle blanket over my shaking, shifting form. The blanket is a far cry from being clean or cozy, but it is cleaner than I, so I can scarcely complain. Through slit-eyes I see her place a basin of water on the ground near my head-this is brave of her, seeing as how I could easily snap her fingers off from this close proximity.

"I'll return when the moon has set," she says, and leaves me behind, locking the stable doors behind her. I am left to chart the sunrise by way of a few thin beams of light, which creep through the uneven walls in slow, agonizing intervals.

~~~~

When I wake a few hours later, it is to the sound of her voice.

"You've finished shifting, I see," she announces. I dare to squint my eyes open a bit, glad to realize that though the fire in my limb has intensified, I can now finally move. She has unbound me, and I am once again a man. "You have a fever," she says, pressing something cold to my forehead. "And your hand is raw and wounded."

I look down and see that she is right; my hand-which had previously been a stinging paw-is now fully human, and across the palm there is a deep gash, coloured an abnormal, angry shade of violet.

"Silver nitrate, I'd guess," she says in a certain tone, one that causes me to glance up at her in surprise. She is looking at me not with the horror or revulsion I expect, but with nothing more than mild concern. She brushes back her red hair and I realize, for the first time, that she has a very familiar, particular shade of freckled, peach-hued skin. It's Weasley colouring; I'm sure of this at once.

"Ginny?"

She smiles faintly. "Professor Lupin. I didn't know if you would remember me."

"Ginny." I choke back on the word, on the thick, acrid taste at the back of my throat. "You shouldn't have brought me here. Not like.this. You could have been hurt."

"I'm sure my behavior strikes you as risky," she says, the slight smile not leaving her face. "But I assure you, Professor.had it been any other werewolf, I would have ran straight home, screaming for help all the way."

I shake my head and grimace at the pain brought on by such a simple movement. "You couldn't have known it was me, though," I say weakly, unable to fully admonish her.

"But I did know," she says simply, shrugging a bit. "At any rate, we need to clean that wound at once." Here she points at my injured hand. "If it is silver nitrate, we must wash out as much of it as possible." She nudges the basin of water closer, and dabs in a rag that stinks of bitter cleansing solution, and the stench alone is enough to make me wince.

Gently, though with a certain amount of expertise, she cleanses my wound; it burns like nothing I've ever felt, and wisps of silver smoke emit from the raw edges of the cut where the cloth has made contact. I try not to squirm as the pain continues, but it is difficult-amazing to think that such a small wound can be the source of such agony.

"Hmm," she murmurs, holding my palm to the light, carefully patting it dry. "I got most of the silver out, but you heal remarkably fast-some of it has already been sealed into your flesh, I'm afraid." She lowers the hand into my lap and kneels back on her haunches. "But there wasn't nearly enough silver nitrate in the wound to kill you, you'll be happy to know. Whoever cut you apparently just wanted you to be left very ill.for awhile, anyway." She raises her eyebrows in a questioning way. "I don't suppose you remember who cut you, Professor?"

I cough woodenly. "Call me Remus. I haven't been a professor for some time now."

She nods in agreement, cocking her head at a curious angle. "Yes.you've been out of touch for a while. Some of your former students have been worried, you know."

She is speaking of Ron and Harry, of course, and I cough again, in part to hide my discomfort. "I realize that I haven't spoken to either your brother or Harry since they left Hogwarts." I begin, uneasy. "But I've had some difficulties in this last year--"

She holds up a hand, bringing me to silence. "We'll talk later. For now you need rest. That silver is still in you, you know. I want you to come into the house. God knows there are plenty of beds.."

I shake my head in protest. "No.moonrise will come before midnight. You can't be near me then."

"Midnight isn't for a long time," she says firmly, and helps assist me to my feet before I can think to object. For a rather slight-though admittedly tall-girl, she is fairly strong, but I do my best not to over- burden her as we leave the stable and cross a pleasant garden, only to enter a most unusual, rather ramshackle house, made of both stone and wood, and built to be several stories high. She guides me into a large kitchen that is flooded with sunlight, and we both struggle up a flight of stairs that finally leads to a bedroom.

She deposits me on the bed and I sink into the pillows with appreciation, grateful that the room is dim and relatively cool. I glimpse a Ministry robe hanging from a door hook, and a twinge of concern penetrates my fevered mind.

"Ginny," I wheeze, eyes following her as she crosses the room, a glass of water in hand. "Is this your parents' room? I shouldn't be here."

"Shush," she says, setting the water glass on an adjacent nightstand. "My parents are on holiday in Egypt for most of the summer."

I squint at her, finding it difficult to focus. "You're here alone?"

"For the most part," she says, shrugging. "Though I'm sure Ron and Harry will visit soon enough-especially after I tell them that you'll be here at the Burrow for the remainder of the month."

"That's not necessary," I murmur, struggling to open my eyes against heavy, unbidden fatigue. "I will leave as soon as I am well."

She regards me with an expression of curiosity. "Somehow, I doubt that will be any time soon," she finally says, forgetting her medicinal duties long enough to cross her arms over her chest in a gesture of vague impatience. "Now sleep. I will be up with a tray later." Oddly resolved, she adds: "Perhaps by then you will remember what happened to you."

She exits, and in those first few minutes before I fall into slumber, I struggle to remember how I got here; how it was that I ended up wounded in the woods at all. To sleep on a mattress feels strange-alien. I want nothing more to curl up on the fireplace hearth, or better yet, to make my bed in a shallow trench and cover myself in the detritus of dying leaves and windblown twigs. To sleep in the earth-I know it to be more comfortable than it sounds.

~~~~

When I finally wake several hours later, I feel quite rested, if not still completely weak and aching. I have vague recollections of Ginny checking in on me, tempting me with bits of toast and lukewarm broth; I turned away at both, revolted. How could I possibly tell her that only one thing would do for me at this time of the month: -Might you bring me your freshest cut of meat, warmed through but very rare?-and no silver utensils, please.-But even at that, I might have blanched. My appetites are thoroughly banished for the time being.

She's left tea and toast on the night-table, along with an empty goblet that I recall as having contained a particularly foul healing potion. I curl up from my side and stretch, my muscles throbbing in protest. Despite this, I manage to reach up with my back leg and scratch behind my ear at a persistent itch.

That's when I realize.I am a wolf. And yet my mind is as sound as it is when I've taken my Wolfsbane on schedule. Moonlight, cool and pearly, fills the room with faint incandescence, and a soft rustle alerts me to Ginny's approach on the stairs. I find that I don't have the energy to stand on all four paws, so I sit and lay my muzzle between them, watchful as she pads toward the doorway, her feet bare, hair loose around her shoulders.

"You're awake," she says, her face starkly half-lit by the lantern she's holding, so that one cheek is a blinding white, and the other partially obscured by shadow, deep as a raven flush.

I blink at her wordlessly, then scoot over to the side of the bed and nose the empty goblet that sits on the night-table. I had thought it to contain a simple healing potion-perhaps I should have recognized the smell and taste of Wolfsbane, but it's a sad fact that most potions have an equally unpleasant flavor, and a thick, unseemly viscosity.

"Ah, yes," she says, moving closer. "You're surprised that I knew how to brew the Wolfsbane potion?"

This was it exactly; even as an adult in my thirties, it had taken Severus Snape several months to teach me how to brew the potion to perfection-much to his frustration, and mine, as well. And Ginny couldn't be more than what.Eighteen?

"I was always quite apt at potions, actually," she says, and the bed sags a little as she joins me on the mattress, crossing her legs yogi-style. This close in, I recognize her primary scent as one of wet soil, cardamom, and lavender. A pleasant-if not exactly perfumey-aroma. But underneath these rather benign smells, there's something else, something sharp and organic that I can't quite identify. It un-nerves me a bit, this duel-odor, but she continues to speak, pulling the nagging thought from my mind as she does so.

"I was never as bookish as Percy or Bill," she says, scratching her ankle absently. "But I liked potions-there was something soothing about all that methodical measuring and stirring. I don't particularly think I have the makings of a Potions Mistress, but I've been considering a career as a medi- witch." She stops for a moment and reaches out to stroke my muzzle, treating me as if I am an ordinary pet dog. Which I might as well be, I suppose, considering my weakened state and the stifling affects of the Wolfsbane.

"Anyway, during my Seventh year-last year, actually-there was a new first year who also happened to be a werewolf. Iain Kitchen was his name.quite an adorable boy, really. Since Professor Snape was the only one able to brew up Wolfsbane for him, he decided to instruct the Advanced Potions students in the task as well, hoping to unburden himself a bit. It was a fairly good deal for all of us, you might say."

I give her a slight nod of understanding, but feel quite undignified in doing so. As if sensing this, she ceases her petting and pulls away, dropping her hands to her lap. I stare at her for a few seconds, and a picture of her as a twelve-year old begins to take on hazy outlines in my mind. I was only her teacher for a year, but the Weasley children are, as a whole, quite memorable-if for nothing more than their vivid, crimson colouring. Though I am ashamed to admit it now, at the time Ginny struck me as the least remarkable of all the Weasley brood. She had been a quiet girl, timid and quick to blush in embarrassment. In the classroom, she appeared lost inside of herself, raising her hand half-heartedly and speaking in a voice that dare not venture to levels above that of a whisper. It seemed a classic case: she was youngest child in a family of boisterous boys-brothers who had sheltered her and outshined her throughout her life, leaving her with essentially no beliefs and views of her own.

But now, even as I watch her pluck at the bedding in what seems to be a nervous habit, I begin to question my former impression of her. During my brief tenure at Hogwarts, there had been whispers about Ginny.rumours that something sinister had happened to her when she was just in her first year. I never found out the full details, as snooping was really never my forte- when you hide a dark secret for the majority of your life, one thing you quickly learn is to mind the privacy of others'. In like, I've always known how hiding a dread secret can transform one into a silent, brooding creature, one whom people easily dismiss and overlook-and how this measure of self-silencing can become a dangerous retreat, a defense that will not permit even the well-meaning concern of family and friends.

Had Ginny been a shadow by choice? I must admit that she doesn't strike me as a silent wraith now-now that she's sitting before me, a full-grown wolf who hasn't eaten for over a day, whom she manages to regard with the warmth and hospitality one might bestow on a kindly uncle, or a long-treasured family friend. I am grateful for this, even if she does stroke me as if I were nothing more than a common dog.

Noticing my steady gaze, Ginny leans forward and meets it, her eyes crinkling with a half-smile. "It's hard to imagine that you're in there somewhere, Remus." she says. "Iain was always kept in the hospital wing when he shifted, so you're the first real, live werewolf I've ever seen."

A wolf never looks away first, but she stares at me for so long that I become rather restive; the predator in me sees the boon of her eyes as a challenge, an invasion of territory-even if said territory actually belongs to her. I look away first as an attempt to quell the restless carnivore within me.

"I see you didn't touch your tea and toast," she says, getting to her feet and gathering up the laden tray. "I was worried this might not suit your appetite, but if you are to fully recover, you'll need to eat, Remus. I'll bring up something more to your liking in the morning, if that's alright."

She turns to me as if expecting an answer, and I let out a low whimper in reply. Partly for her own satisfaction, and partly because I am genuinely exhausted, growing more woozy by the minute. It is a rare feeling, as well: In my wolfs-body I am generally healthy to a frightening, supernatural degree. It is disconcerting to feel this ill.

"I will leave you now ," she says, nightgown skimming the floor as she moves to the door. "Sleep well."

And I would do just that, if only a sudden memory didn't start to niggle at the cusp of my mind, taunting me with short bursts of disjointed imagery, unpredictable as an electric signal gone haywire. Two days ago, I had visited the apothecary to re-stock on some of the more basic Wolfsbane ingredients. I recall the shop owner eyeing me warily as I slid my purchases toward him, my hand holding out a fist-full of galleons and sickles. He took the money from me, and then..cut me with a razor, some kind of blade that he had tucked into the crook of his hand. My muddled mind struggles to remember the events that followed, but all that will surface is the pain.and the harsh, metallic smell of silver, as potent and beguiling as any unforgivable curse.

~~~~

~~In my dream I am a King, and I am cruel rather than kind. I reside in a palace made of silver and platinum, and there are dozens of maidens and manservants to do my bidding. They brush my long hair free of dirt and vermin until it shines like moonlight, like the silver walls that surround me. They bring me wineskins, barrels of grapes, platters of salty fish and lamb shanks studded with mint. I eat my fill and send the rest away.

A traveler comes asking for lodging; he is filthy and smells like an animal. Underneath his wild tangle of black hair, I recognize his red eyes- the eyes of a God, come to swindle me on this very day. He has glimpsed my fortune; has seen how powerful I've grown. I will kill him before he can take what is mine.

He waits at the grand table, bathed and ready for supper. I have just the dish to tempt his palate: the flesh of a lovely maiden, disguised as innocuous, fresh pheasant. I picked the maiden's bones clean myself, tipped her pale neck back and slashed open her throat. To eat human flesh is to send a soul into damnation that even a God can't escape. I serve him and he breathes in deeply, savoring the scent of smoldering innocence. Then his eyes meet mine-glowing red.

He does not eat. He has found out my terrible trick.

My palace is destroyed in a single roll of thunder, and the sacred silver and platinum burns my flesh on contact-sends me screaming into the forest. In there, my mind becomes more animal than human, and I possess teeth that are longer and sharper than moonlight. I wander. I hunger and thirst for all things forbidden. I wait for the nightmare to end. Will it ever?~~

~~~~

I wake with a start to find that I'm not on the bed, but on the floor, very near the fireplace. It must be well into morning; I am human again. The dream.it's one I've had the unpleasant experience of dreaming several times over. It is the story of Zeus and King Lycaon, the first human to be cursed with lycanthropy. When I was young and had just been bitten, it was the first story I found on the creation of werewolves-right in my parents very own library. Needless to say, it is not a myth that sits well with me.

I stretch tentatively, finding that my strength is still very much sapped. Realizing that I have been nude these past two days (though thankfully covered by either fur or bedding), I have the presence of mind to search the wardrobe for a robe. I find one that fits adequately, and silently hope that Arthur Weasley doesn't mind my wearing his things-or sleeping in his bedroom, for that matter.

Outside, I find a hallway that is lined with photographs, making it seem as if Weasleys are waving at me from all four walls. I spy Ginny and Ron, both with dark gaps in their baby teeth, swinging side by side in a leafy park. And here's the one that must be Bill, dressed in Hogwarts robes and wearing his Head Boy badge. Hordes of children and ancestors, all of them capering within the confines of their frames, and yet their presence only serves to make the house feel more empty. They are voiceless ghosts; reminders of an age that has long since passed.

Carefully, I ease my way down the stairs, fighting dizziness all the way. The kitchen is as bright and tumbledown as the rest of the house, yet decidedly quiet and still in a way that doesn't suit the ten or so chairs pulled around the large dining room table, nor the clock on the wall that features nine names, where the only hand that points to Home is labeled "Ginny".

Only she doesn't appear to be here-not in the house, anyway. I think I hear her voice coming faintly from outside, and by the time I reach the window I see her clearly, sitting on a garden stump, a bundle of chopped wood in her arms. Her appearance startles me: still in her nightgown, her hair is a wild red tangle, and there is a faint dusting of grime across her cheeks. Her eyes seem far away, nearly vacant. Despite this, she is smiling broadly-laughing, even-for no real reason that I can comprehend. She makes a cooing sound, one that women usually reserve for handsome men or small children, and tips her head back, blinking and disoriented at something that I can't see.

Or can I? There is a strange glare of light suspended just over her head; winking and dappled, it moves in a way that real sunlight never does, shifting in luminosity so that I can't be sure of what I am seeing. Ginny's strange double-scent reaches my olfactory glands, and I realize that what I am smelling is, in fact, two people: the rather unremarkable earth-and-spice scent of Ginny, and a second, heavily foreign odour--as strange and raw as a sharp whiff of ozone. The aroma of lightning before it strikes.

Sensing my presence, Ginny shakes free of whatever trance she's under and turns her head suddenly, her eyes uncharacteristically dark as she searches my face out in the window. For a moment I think she is angry with me and I pull away from the glass, wondering if I've over-stepped my boundaries somehow. But her grave expression is soon replaced with a warm smile, a sunny gesture that makes her dirty and disheveled state seem unremarkable by comparison.

"Remus!" She calls, waving with her free hand. "You're awake!"

She comes into the kitchen and dumps her wood onto the hearth, brushing herself off carefully. I back myself into a corner between the sink and a cupboard, unable to stop myself from staring at her curiously.

"Did you sleep well?" she asks, coming over to the sink and washing her hands.

"Yes," I reply. There is still a faint, electrical scent in the air. With as much subtlety as I can manage, I lean forward and breathe in deep, my nostrils twitching.

There is no doubt in my mind: that strange, second smell is coming from her. But yet it is not her natural scent-a fact which troubles me greatly.

"Ginny.how are you feeling?"

She laughs a little, patting her hands dry on a towel. "It's funny that you ask that, seeing as how you're that one who is ill."

I watch as she busies herself with kitchen duties: putting on the kettle for tea, charming a broom to sweep up the unevenly-spaced floorboards. Eventually she serves me a very rare calf's liver that's been kept warm in the oven. The look and smell of it immediately makes me stomach clench, reminding me that I have not eaten in days.

"Will this do you better than toast?" she asks, handing me the heavy plate.

"Yes," I say slowly, setting down the glossy red meat on the table before me. I keep my hands in my lap, fighting the urge to pick up the liver with my bare hands and tear into it.

"Well?" She tilts her head, not understanding my hesitation.

"You may want to leave the room for this," I say, unable to meet her gaze. "When I eat during the full moon, it tends to be....a messy ordeal."

"I grew up with six brothers," she says, seemingly amused. "I'm not easily repulsed. Please eat, Remus. It's for your own health."

Cautious, I cut into the liver with a knife and fork (aluminum, not silver), and-with as much restraint as possible-bring a small bite to my lips, gulping the pulpy meat down at once.

"This is what you call messy?" she asks, eyes bright with suppressed laughter.

"This is what I call me putting forth an effort to *not* be messy," I retort, smiling uneasily. She watches as I continue to eat, which means I keep up my show of manners-for her sake, anyway.

"Do you always eat nearly raw meat?" She asks, curious.

I swallow heavily, thinking this over. "I generally eat more meat than most people-my metabolism seems to require large amounts of protein." I finally reply. "But during much of the month I prefer it quite thoroughly cooked."

She nods slightly. "How old were you when you were bitten?" She moves closer and I can see that her eyes are calm, slick as blue enamel.

"Very young," I say, giving her the same answer I give to everyone. If she is unsatisfied by my ambiguity she doesn't show it; rather, she moves right along to her next query with smooth transition, as if conducting an interview.

"Is it true that eating human flesh will doom a werewolf's soul for eternity?"

I give her what I hope is a penetrating look. For the first time in my life, someone is asking about my lycanthropy out of genuine curiosity-and without a shred of pity, fear, or disgust, at that. It's something I've fantasised about for much of my life: to find someone who would perceive me as fully human, and speak to me as such. But now I find it disquieting that Ginny's barrage of questions is buoyed by little or no fear. I've never known a person who didn't fear me-or at least fear the idea of what I was deep down, beneath my so-called soul, beneath my outer costume of human skin and bones.

"A werewolf doesn't have a soul," I say, my tone as grave as my thoughts. "I don't even know if humans have souls, to be honest-how can I, when I don't really know what a soul is? What I can tell you is this: that yes, to eat human flesh is the worst form of self-damnation. To taste human blood once is to develop a thirst for it; to eat the flesh is to banish the human out of the werewolf completely.to give up one's humanity all together."

"Does that mean.?" She breathes in sharply, appropriate shock finally reflected in her features.

"Yes. If a werewolf eats human flesh, he will never go back to being a man again. He will become an animal. Carnivore incarnate."

She exhales in a thin sound that pierces the lingering silence. "Remus.that's awful," she says, her face contorted by confusion. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have made you tell me that."

I soften my stony expression. "No.if I'm to remain under your roof, you have a right to know these things."

She peers out at me from lowered lashes, lightly tugging at the neck of her nightgown. For the first time, I notice that she wears a small gold locket, embossed with the letter "V". This confuses me for a moment, but then I realize that her first name is probably not Ginny, but Virginia.

I am unsure of myself after this rather stern exchange, and say, quite uncomfortable now, "I don't mean to presume that I should stay here, Ginny. If you would make me more Wolfsbane, I will be on my way."

She gives me a rather uneven grin. "And where would you go, Remus? You weren't slashed with silver-nitrate by accident. My guess is that you've been leading a nomadic life ever since leaving Hogwarts. You travel from village to village, living a life of quiet solitude. When the locals began to catch on to the fact that you're a werewolf, you simply move on to a new place. Am I right?"

I nod carefully, not particularly surprised that she's pieced together the gist of my lifestyle. The only fact she has missed is the year I spent living in a Ministry compound, waiting for the Wolfsbane trials to be finalized and approved by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Once the Wolfsbane potion was listed as a valid form of control for werewolves, my life was supposed to become much easier-but it didn't happen that way. Rather, it gave the public new ammunition against the werewolves living amongst them. Nosy neighbours who noticed that I never left the house during the full moon would complain to the local authorities. Shopkeepers who saw me purchase Wolfsbane ingredients month after month would stop stocking the needed items, hoping to force me out of the community by simply refusing to provide me with what I must have in order to live out a normal existence.

"Quite astute," I say, raising my eyebrows. "As a matter of fact, just before I fell asleep last night I remembered that Fredric Owen, the proprietor of Owen's Apothecary, was the one who gave me this not-so-subtle message.I'm afraid I've been officially uninvited from the Village of Sidmouth." With these last words, I display my injured palm.

She blinks, appearing disturbed. "I would think the local Apothecary would be sympathetic to the needs of all customers. It's his job to aid in the magical alleviation of such health issues, right?"

"One would think," I say, shrugging lightly. "But even in modern times, prejudice runs amok.often in the most well-meaning of individuals."

"But bigotry is wrong," she says, voice wavering. "It's not your fault you're a werewolf."

I nod. "You're right.I didn't choose to be a werewolf. But some people do, and as a result, we're thought to be particularly evil and untrustworthy. I really don't blame Owen for trying to poison me, Ginny. I'm not happy about it.but I understand his position. He wants to protect his family and friends. Wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would," she says, shaking her head in a way that suggests she's distracted. She looks toward the fireplace mantle, and I follow her gaze to see that the hand labeled "Ron" has shifted positions on the clock. It now points to traveling rather than work. "Oh good," she says, straightening up and smiling. "We shouldn't have to wait long now."

Perplexed, I furrow my brow. "And just what are we waiting for?"

"You'll see." With her wand she sends my empty dishes to the sink, and then gets to her feet and whisks a variety of tea cakes and biscuits on to a platter. An heirloom tea service journeys from the china cabinet and magically arranges itself on the table before me.

When Ginny sets the earl gray on to steep a few minutes later, Ron apparates directly into the kitchen doorway with an announcing *pop*, his expression both weary and cheerful. "Remus!" he booms, and I can't help but return his grin. He looks wonderful: his face casually stubbled, and lean in a way that strikes me as adult. Tall and fit, he is smartly outfitted in a wool traveling cloak. Though not yet twenty, he looks entirely like a grown-up.

"Ron," I nod, and stand up to quickly embrace him. Upon pulling away I notice the Ministry labels on his cloak, which indicate that he works for the Department of Mysteries. This makes sense, seeing as how last I heard, Ron was undergoing a bank of difficult tests in hopes of being accepted into the Ministry's Auror Training Program. Clearly, he must be a full- fledged field Auror now.

After making a big-brotherly show of swinging Ginny around at the waist, Ron turns to me and smiles warmly, his eyes faintly shining. "I'm afraid this isn't a routine tea-time visit," he says, then magically enlarges his rucksack until it is the size of a large duffle. "You see, Remus, Ginny informed me that you might be needing a few things from your house in Sidmouth, seeing as how the locals chased you out before you could properly pack up."

I unzip the duffle and am delighted to see that much of my clothes and books are housed within its confines. "I can't thank you enough, Ron," I say, fully sincere. "Without my wand, I didn't think I'd ever get my old belongings back."

"Oh.speaking of wands," he says, then grins and pulls a second wand from his pocket. It is made of polished ash, and I recognize it at once. It is my wand. I can only stare at Ron in disbelief. I had no pervious inkling as to where I had left the wand behind, and yet Ron has recovered it for me.

"You.thank you," I say, palming the wand, relishing the familiar hollows where my fingers have grasped it all these long years.

He nods easily. "You left that behind at Owen's Apothecary. Mister Owen wasn't too keen on giving it to me, but I think my wit and charm finally convinced him."

"Oh, you," Ginny says, delivering a playful poke to her brother's side. "Probably just flashed your new Ministry badge, didn't you? What a show- off."

Soon enough, we find ourselves enjoying a comfortable tea-time at the large kitchen table. Ron's presence has helped to make the house feel a bit less lonely, but it strikes me as strange that we've all crowded at one far end of the table, leaving the rest of its long expanse empty, as if we expect that the rest of the Weasleys might join us at any second.

"With Harry playing seeker for England, the Ministry is in a real hurry to recruit him before the World Cup takes place in August," Ron says, responding to Ginny's inquiry after Harry's health.

"Who's recruiting him?" I ask, curious despite the fact that I have long tried to disassociate myself from the Ministry.

"Well, he's caught my boss's eye, for one," Ron says, pursing his lips in thought. "But the Dark Force Defense League is really keen on getting him in their fold. Now that most of the Death Eaters are in Azkaban, they're pretty anxious to go directly after You-Know-Who. Don't want to give him time to gather up a new following, I reckon."

I nod in agreement, though in truth this is all news to me. The majority of the Death Eaters in Azkaban? I find that I'm not much surprised by Ron's announcement: for a supposedly secret society, the Death Eaters were always foolishly apt at making their identities known through grandiose costume robes and arm-tattoos.

"Will Harry be able to get us good seats for the Quidditch cup?" Ginny asks, bouncing in her seat visibly, blissfully side-stepping the more serious discussion of Death Eaters and Voldemort.

"Well now," Ron drawls, giving her a sharp look. "You wouldn't be worried about getting a good seat if you'd taken that internship in Dad's office, would you?"

"Don't start in, Ron," Ginny warns, though she is looking at her hands.

"And speaking of.I have my own job to get back to. Remus? Might I have a word with you out in the garden?"

"Erm, of course," I say, discomforted by the tension between the two siblings.

"Oh yes, don't mind me," Ginny snaps. "I'll just be here in the kitchen.cleaning after both of you like a house elf."

"Good call, Gin." Ron stands up and ambles out the front door, clearly oblivious to his sister's anger. When I follow him into the yard he pulls me behind the garden wall in a covert manner, looking around guardedly before I can speak.

"Ron? I think your sister."

"Yes, yes," he interrupts. "She's righteously pissed at me. I'm fully aware. Look Remus, I've pulled you aside like this because I'm counting on you. You've been a trusted friend for years, and Ginny really needs a stable influence right now...what with Mum and Dad out in Egypt."

I stare at him. He appears entirely serious, his face uncharacteristically grave. "Influence? Ginny appears quite well to me-though perhaps a little lonely. I'm not sure I catch your meaning, Ron."

"Remus." he begins, running a hand through his hair. "Ginny hasn't done much of anything since she finished Hogwarts-which is fine. I lazed about the summer after my seventh year, too. But what worries me is that she seems to have no plans for her future. And she doesn't really have friends of her own, either. Scared of the world, I think. I suspect she'd be content to stay at the burrow for the rest of her life, if Mum and Dad would allow it."

I raise an eyebrow, surprised at the accuracy of my private assessment of Ginny's relationship with her family. Overprotected and sheltered-just as I expected. "I think Ginny may have more plans that you are aware of," I say, not unkindly. "She's mentioned a desire to become a medi-witch-"

"What?" Rom interrupts, clearly distracted. "She's never mentioned that to me. And besides, most of out family does work for the Ministry- nationally or internationally, anyway."

"What about George and Fred?" I point out.

"Erm yes, well.they've always had their own sort of thing, haven't they?" he says, looking uncomfortable.

"Maybe Ginny has her own 'sort of thing' too?" I suggest, tentative as always.

"Okay, fair go," he says, smiling a little. "So maybe she does have plans. She always did have a secretive side. But that doesn't change the fact that she's going to be here at the Burrow for most of the summer.and all alone, at that. She needs company, Remus. That's why I'm hoping you'll stay out the next two months here."

"If Ginny would like my company, I'd be happy to stay," I say, choosing my words carefully. "But she is capable of taking care of herself, Ron. Of this I am certain."

He shakes his head, looking somber again. "You don't know Ginny like the rest of us. She has a tendency to find trouble when she's left alone. Probably been left alone for too much of her life, I suppose. It's too bad she never had a sister."

"What kind of trouble are you referring too?" I ask, frowning slightly.

"Oh, nothing." He waves a hand dismissively. "It's all ancient history. But look.if she ever mentions Tom, I want you to get in touch with me. And straight away, at that."

"Tom? Tom who?"

Before Ron can answer, Ginny's shrill voice carries across the garden. "RON WEASLEY! Quit harassing Remus and apparate back to the Ministry where you're wanted! I'm not an infant that needs a babysitter!"

I squirm internally. Despite my previous assertion that Ginny can take care of herself, at this very moment she sounds every bit an unruly teenager. As if picking up on this, Ron gives me a knowing nod. "I do need to be going, Remus. I'll be by in a few weeks. Just remember what I said, alright?"

Before I can reply, he takes a few steps back and apparates out of existence; doves are sent up reeling at his sudden absence, and a few feathers catch the air, floating strangely. I stare at the empty spot where he had been standing, a lone question lingering on the edge of my lips, painfully unspoken.

-Who is Tom?-

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Thanks to the Gin 'n' Tonic ship over at FAP for all their encouragement. =) This is a work in progress, and should be read as such. A few acknowledgements: I was reading Angela Carter's "In the Company of Wolves" while I wrote this first chapter; as a result, the tone is decidedly Carter- ish. The story of Zeus and King Lycaon is based on actual Greek myth, though I've merely recreated it from memory here. Other facts about werewolves are a mix of legend and my own imaginings. To be continued. Thanks for reading, and please leave feedback on the reviewboard! =)