CHAPTER NINETEEN

Sunrise after Hunter’s Moon

Tuesday 2 November 1982

Kincarden Croft, Inverness-shire; from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts, the Grampians.

Rated PG for references to alcohol.

When Remus awoke on the morning after the Hunter’s Moon, there was glass on the floor, and the wooden boxes had been smashed to splinters. The door was scratched too, but it was still locked fast. He had a raging headache, every bone ached, and every muscle screamed when he moved it. Ignoring the pain, he tried to push himself to a sitting position, but he was so stiffly tensed against the biting cold that his body would not co-operate. He must get up. The wolf had been contained through the night, and the human was no sicker than could be explained by a bout of influenza. If he could move himself to somewhere warmer, he could collapse safely.

He managed to drag himself a few inches along the floor to run his hand along the crack under the door. But his wand was not there. It must have rolled away during the night. And he had locked himself in. He should have used an ordinary Muggle lock, he thought, for the wolf would never have managed the key. Then he saw that the door did not have a Muggle lock anyway.

Be that as it may, he had to move himself out of a magically-locked hut without using a magic wand. He was too weak to Apparate. He tried it, but his molecules were as unresponsive as a Squib’s; there was no danger of even a small splinch. So he was certainly too weak to batter his way out using brute force; he could not even haul himself through the broken window.

And it was too cold to stay here.

It was while he was still trying to move his mind around the hut – and the cold – that someone thumped the door from outside. He groaned. There was no way to explain the situation.

“Uss yourrself unside therre, Rremus?” That was William, shouting far louder than necessary.

“Mr Lupin?” That was Miss MacDougal, who evidently felt responsible for him. It was about half-past seven, earlier than he had suggested they come to look for him. If she had arrived just ten minutes earlier, she would have seen… Well, it was a good thing that she spent most of her time at school. He felt that if she lived on the farm, it would take her less than six months to understand his secret.

“I’m here,” he croaked as loudly as he could force out the sound. “But the door’s locked.”

“Key,” said William.

“There’s no key,” said Miss MacDougal patiently. “Let me – Alohomora!” The door flew open, and William stamped his way in. “Help him up, William. He’s hurt. Mr Lupin, is this yours?” She had found his wand.

Remus allowed William to haul him to his feet and to half-lead, half-drag him down the paddock past the sheep. It was a frosty morning; the cold was not only in his body. The three made slow progress across the farm, Miss MacDougal leading and opening gates, William dragging Remus with a diligent mindlessness that soon ceased to be supportive. None of them asked the others any questions. It was fifteen minutes before William pushed Remus through the door of the outhouse quarters and onto a bed. It was actually William’s bed, but Remus supposed it was too much to expect William to remember the distinction when they all had so much else to recall.

“William, go to my mother,” said Miss MacDougal. “She’s in the kitchen. Tell her that Remus is sick. He needs Pepper-up. Can you remember that? Bring it out when you can.” As soon as William had gone, she dropped to one knee so that her face was level with his. “Mr Lupin, what are you wanting me to tell my parents?”

“That I’m sick. Because that’s the truth.”

She nodded. “Mr Lupin, do you know who locked you in the hut? Are they around yet? Is there likely to be any danger?”

“Yes, I know who, and no, there is no danger at present. There are no enemies on the farm this morning.”

“So will it be safe for me to run up there and repair the glass?”

“Yes. I mean, no. Not for you, if they find out you’ve been doing magic outside school.”

“I’m already in trouble for that, remember? I’ll take a chance that they will not be asking too many questions about spells cast in a pure-blood household that includes six adult wizards. I’m inferring, Mr Lupin, that there’s some reason why you’re not wanting people to know about whoever it was who locked you in.”

“Correct,” he groaned. He knew she must be making connections between the “appointment” last night, the “enemy” who had locked the hut, and the real illness this morning. So far, she was guessing wrongly, but it was only a matter of time before she worked it out. “I’m sorry I can’t explain better, Miss MacDougal. And thank you very, very much for taking me on trust. But if you can allow your parents to believe that I’ve been in bed since yesterday evening… You probably won’t have to go as far as telling an outright lie, and it would help me a great deal.”

Mrs MacDougal was in fact too busy to ask many questions. Although she hadn’t exactly forgotten that the hired man had asked for this day off, it was obvious that he was genuinely sick, so the only sensible thing to do was to dose him with Pepper-up and leave him to sleep it off. She would find it strange that he seemed so unresponsive to Pepper-up; she would soon conclude that there was something else wrong with him in addition to the ordinary flu. She would certainly interrogate him about his symptoms when she was less busy…

* * * * * * *

As usual, Remus slept for most of the day. In his dreams, James and Peter were swooping down on the flying motorbike, waving happily, which meant that the Transformation had gone well. Peter was saying, “Remus, you got away with it again!”

“Yes, my job will live another month,” said Remus.

“And another, and another,” said James, the grin under his glasses infectious. He was more James-like than the real-life James had ever been. “We’re going to get away with it again, Moony, you’ll see.”

“The best way to get away with it,” interrupted Lily, “would be not to do anything illegal. Don’t you want Remus to be safe?”

Lily wasn’t supposed to be there; she didn’t approve of the motorbike. But of course the dream supplied an answer to everything. “Harry and I came by Floo,” she said. “We knew a family like the MacDougals would be on the Floo Network.”

“What are we going to do next month, Prongs?” asked Peter. His tone was flat and bland, somehow not like the real Peter, so that Remus was tempted to ask, “Where is Peter?” At the back of his mind was the thought that he wouldn’t like the answer to that question, but in his dream he didn’t know that Peter was dead.

“Not far away,” said the dream-Peter, still astride the motorbike and sounding more like himself. “What’s your plan, Padfoot?”

Now the dream was going wrong; Sirius definitely wasn’t supposed to be there. But he was sitting at the handle-bars. Of course, he must have been there all along, because it was his bike. “People with motor-Triumphs live dangerously,” Sirius confirmed. “We’ll have a dangerous time next month, and if Moony loses his job, he can come and live with me.”

Remus mustered all the willpower that a dream could allow him and hurled, “Go away, Sirius. You killed Wormtail and Prongs.”

Sirius leaned forward across the handlebars, raised a quizzical eyebrow, and asked, “Are you sure?” He sounded so much like Sirius – he looked so bemused and carefree – that it was difficult to remain certain that he had killed them.

Remus found his throat too sore from his Transformation to form any words. And Sirius’s face was looming closer, asking, “Remus, do you really think I would kill James?”

Remus struggled to remember that Sirius had sent James to death, that seeing his face so clearly and closely ought to be repulsive, but all that was left was the vivid sense of a personality, of the loyal and honourable person who should have been Sirius.

“How well do you know me, Moony?” asked Sirius.

“How well do you know anyone, Remus?” That was Lily’s voice. But somehow the face was not Lily’s; it was the face of the farmer’s daughter, the girl with luminously blue eyes. She definitely shouldn’t have been in his dream. But she repeated the question: “How well do you know anybody, Mr Lupin?”

“I don’t know you,” he gasped.

“But I know you,” the stranger lilted. “Your secret will be safe with me.”

You don’t know my secret, he hoped desperately.

“But I will keep it safely,” she promised. “Sit up, you’re needing to eat.”

He found that he was awake, and the blue eyes really were above his face. He wondered when he had awoken and how much he had spoken out loud. What nonsense had Miss MacDougal heard him spouting? What had he been dreaming? He knew Sirius had been there, yet it couldn’t really have been Sirius, for the dream hadn’t felt like a nightmare. And his employers’ daughter… What had she been doing in a dream about his friends, and what, for that matter, was she doing here now?

“I have it safely,” she repeated, showing his wand in her hand, then laying it down on the chest beside the bed. “Can you eat?”

He hauled himself upwards in the bed. He was ravenous, of course – he was always ravenous after a Transformation – but he didn’t know if he had enough co-ordination to find his mouth. Miss MacDougal stood quietly while he settled into a more vertical position, then handed him a mug of vegetable broth. He worried for a second that she was intending to spoon it into him, but she simply observed for a moment, then said, “I have to do the laundry. I’ll be back with you in a couple of hours.” And she turned to the door.

She might well have kept that promise, but Remus slept too deeply to be aware of it.

* * * * * * *

As usual, he felt better by dinner time. When William came to ask him if he would eat with the family, he was only slightly paler than yesterday.

There were seven of them at the dinner table. The daughter, he noticed, was still not at school; but the son, it appeared, was in London, dealing with the family’s commercial interests. He would not return until tomorrow.

“I’m wishing I’d known,” said Mrs MacDougal.

“I’m sorry, Bethoc, I was thinking you did know,” replied her husband. “Is it a problem?”

“I was expecting Kenneth to take Ariadne back to school this evening.”

“Can you not take her yourself, my dear?”

“I could have if I’d planned it. But, Malcolm, I cannot leave the potions in the fireplace half-brewed. It’s beyond Janet’s capacity to deal with the brewing by herself, and she’s not well enough to take Ariadne. I was counting on Kenneth.”

“How unlucky,” said Mr MacDougal, without much interest. “Kenneth could have postponed the business if he’d known we were needing him at home. But it’s too late now. Ariadne will have to wait until tomorrow. I would have taken her myself this morning, but she seemed busy.”

“There was work to be done this morning,” Mrs MacDougal agreed. “I could not spare her as soon as I was hoping to. By the time she had finished, Kenneth had gone and you were busy. Can you not take her this evening?”

“I cannot, my dear, I have the books to balance and letters to write. Tomorrow morning will do.”

Remus wondered how many more days of school Miss MacDougal would miss before her family finally decided that her education was a priority. Surely they had finished clearing away the aftermath of their party by now?

Miss MacDougal looked up from her plate. “Can I not take the Knight Bus by myself, Papa?”

“That is an unselfish thought, my dear, but you’re not knowing what strange types you might meet on that bus. It’s not safe for you to travel alone in the dark.”

“Then could I Floo to Hogsmeade?”

“That is hardly safer when you consider that Hogsmeade is full of pubs, and the road from the village to the school is unlit.”

It was becoming ridiculous. “Mr MacDougal,” said Remus, “will you allow me to accompany your daughter through Hogsmeade?”

Husband and wife exchanged glances and nodded very slightly. Remus suddenly wondered if discussing their business at the dinner table like that had been all along their way of asking him to take their daughter back to school for them.

“Professor McGonagall will worry if I’m not back at school this evening,” confirmed Miss MacDougal. “I owled this morning, to say I had been delayed, but she will not expect a second delay.”

“It will be an hour after dinner before we can move the cauldron from the fire,” observed her mother. “That will give you plenty of time to pack your bag, Ariadne.”

The potion was evidently more important, but finally Mrs MacDougal was willing to draw the simmering pot away from the hearth and offer Remus the jar of Floo powder. He picked up the tartan travelling bag and directed, “The Three Broomsticks, Hogsmeade!”

Even as he landed in the grate, he couldn’t help wondering if he would be waiting by the bar for another hour before Miss MacDougal was allowed to follow. He conceded that her parents did have a point about exposing oneself to undesirable strangers, for a few of the customers had become rowdy and were staring with unabashed interest at his shabby robes. He didn’t like to think of them sizing up a fresh-faced girl through their fog of Firewhisky.

Madam Rosmerta had just served the loudest table. She turned around, saw Remus standing outside the hearth, and asked if he were staying to drink. “I’m sorry I do not recall your name, but were you not James Potter’s friend?”

He began to explain that he was only using her Floo, which she had authorised to the non-drinking public during opening hours, but before he had time to add that he was waiting for another traveller, Miss MacDougal stepped out of the grate. She was now dressed in Hogwarts uniform, and she looked immensely relieved to have escaped; evidently she had shared his suspicion that she might have been kept at Kincarden all week before it became convenient for her family to allow her to return to school. She looked very young and vulnerable among the hardened drinkers and worldly-wise businesswizards, and Remus didn’t want to keep her inside the tavern for another second. So he merely waved to Madam Rosmerta, then ushered his charge down the thoroughfare and guided her out of the door as fast as he decently could.

“Thank you,” said Miss MacDougal as soon as they had stepped into the cobbled street. “I know it’s not really part of your job to do this, especially when you’ve been unwell. I am extremely grateful to you that I will not miss another day of school.”

She held out her hand for her travelling bag, but he swung it aloft out of her reach and told her to make a light.

As she shone her wand onto the Shrieking Shack opposite, it briefly occurred to him that he might have Apparated there last night. He could have found a safer place for his wand in the Shack, and in the morning he would have been able to charm his way out again by himself… No. He would still have been too weak to Apparate, so the only way back to Kincarden would have been by Floo from the Three Broomsticks. So he would still have stepped through the kitchen hearth looking like a drunken wreck, and that would certainly have provoked an inquisition of awkward questions. He tried not to think about what he would do next month. It wasn’t too hard to find isolated buildings where he could lock himself away; the real problem lay in explaining away his “illness” the next morning.

When they were clear of Hogsmeade and could hear their footsteps striking the path, Miss MacDougal spoke. “I’m knowing what you have to be thinking.”

“What am I thinking?”

“About my family. But it does not happen often. The last time they pulled me out of school was nearly two years ago. And that was after a series of Death Eater scares, when they were wanting me at home so they could see I was safe… You’re not speaking. Seriously, Mr Lupin. I’m knowing they ask a great deal from me. But that’s because they contribute a great deal too. You have to have noticed that.”

“They are good employers,” he said non-committally.

“They are. They’ve taken care of William for years, because they know he will not survive anywhere else. They never speak a cross word, or raise their voices, or make life in any way unpleasant for anybody.”

“Do you never guess wrongly what they expect of you?”

“Not really. My sister-in-law does not always get it right the first time. That does not matter. My parents just tell her again, then again, as many times as it takes her to understand them. And they do it with endless patience and never a hint of annoyance.”

He could not dispute that. They were extremely calmly-spoken people. He asked, “Wasn’t it a shock for you, Miss MacDougal, to discover that other people are more direct?”

“A great shock, in my first year at school,” she admitted. “It took a long time to realise that people can disagree or give orders or refuse requests, all without meaning to hurt anybody’s feelings. But, Mr Lupin, have you never had to learn to behave in different ways in different places?”

“I would certainly never have behaved at home the way I behaved at school. But that is no credit to me. I think you said, Miss MacDougal, that you are in Gryffindor?”

“Oddly enough. I’m knowing we look like a family who would invariably and instantly be Sorted into Hufflepuff. Were you not in Gryffindor too, Mr Lupin?”

“Yes, I was. But I only meant to ask you whether Professor McGonagall was the person to whom we should report your return.”

Professor McGonagall was in fact awaiting her errant pupil in the Entrance Hall, so Remus handed back the bag and abandoned his employers’ daughter to the warmth and light of Hogwarts. He tried not to wish himself back at school: occupied, provided for and befriended.

But the path back to Hogsmeade felt dark and very empty.

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