Cursed by Thunder Moon
Tuesday 10 March 1959 – Monday 26 June 1967
Old Basford, Nottingham; St Mungo’s Hospital, London; Paris, France; Maiduguri, Nigeria.
Rated PG-13 for explicit lycanthropy.
It was a very long time since Remus had thought of asking anyone for help, for at every major crisis of his life he had been alone.
He was alone on the moonlit night when he had wandered outdoors alone and met that large grey dog. The night was so hot, and the moon was so bright, that he didn’t see how anyone could have slept. He was surprised to find a stray dog in his back garden, but he wasn’t scared, for he liked dogs. It wasn’t until the last second, when he realised that the dog was actually going to bite, that he became terrified. It was too late then; there was no point in screaming. It was almost a relief when he realised that the bite was only a nip. Two of his fingers were bleeding, and all of them were stiff, but none had been actually bitten off.
So he withdrew his hand from the huge dog’s mouth with as much dignity as he could muster and turned around and marched back into the house. Fortunately, the dog did not seem to be in the mood to follow. He needed plasters on his fingers, so he knew he would have to admit to his parents that he had been out of bed.
“Mummy,” he said, “someone left a stray dog in our back garden.”
“Why aren’t you in bed, Remus?”
“I couldn’t sleep. There’s a dog in our garden, and it bit me. Look.” He waved his bleeding fingers.
At that moment, the dog howled.
The effect on his parents was electrifying. His father sprang from the sofa and grabbed Remus in his arms. His mother reached for his bitten fingers, and gently inspected them, one by one. Then his mother had tears spilling out of her eyes and running down her cheeks, even though she was a grown-up lady, and his father was looking furious, even though he didn’t shout a word. Then his father rushed him into the fireplace, shouting, “St Mungo’s!” which didn’t make any sense to Remus, because people went to St Mungo’s only when they were very sick, not just to have a plaster put on a cut.
He had no clear memories of the night in hospital, of the green-robed Healers speaking in hushed voices, poking and prodding, winding and unwinding bandages, spooning in medicines, while he tried to sleep. He thought he shouted, “Leave me alone!” at one time, but no one became cross with him for losing his temper, so maybe he dreamed that part. He didn’t remember his mother arriving, but he supposed she must have followed his father through the Floo; she seemed to sit all night on a hard-backed chair beside his hospital bed, nursing her two younger children, but weeping real tears and talking soothingly to him.
He didn’t remember what anyone said to him. He only remembered his mother’s words to the Healer: “But is there any hope…? Is there anything…? Surely we can do something…!”
And he remembered the Healer’s reply. “No, Mrs Lupin, there is no doubt. There is no cure and no treatment. Your son will suffer this condition for the rest of his life.”
The Healer was kind; he didn’t mention what else his parents needed to know. A few days later a wizard from the Ministry knocked on their front door. He had a grim face, and he told Remus, “I need to see your mother and father.” He sat down in the lounge and said, “I’ve come about Remus,” but he never spoke a word to Remus himself.
“It’s your job to keep him under control, Mr and Mrs Lupin. If you feel you cannot control him, we can dispose of him immediately.”
“No!” His mother was screaming, in the way she was always telling his sister Emily not to. “You can’t just put him down like a dog.”
“Before the law he is actually a dog,” said the grim-faced Ministry wizard, “and a wild dog too. If you want to keep him in your household, you must fill out these forms.” He handed over a huge wad of papers.
Remus looked and looked and he couldn’t see a dog anywhere in their house; he knew their family didn’t keep a dog. His parents wrote and wrote, filled out endless papers, and finally the Ministry wizard seemed to think they had written enough.
“He will be on the Lycanthrope Registry by this evening,” the man said, “and after that, Mr and Mrs Lupin, it’s up to you. If you can keep him under control, he can live with you. But one accident – and that’s it. We will then have no choice but to come for him; and if he’s under seventeen when it happens, there will be hefty fines and other penalties for the two of you. I hope you understand.”
“Understand? What happened to the one who bit Remus?”
“Tried to track it, but couldn’t find it. If we ever identify it, it meets the silver bullet.”
Remus’s mother started crying yet again when the man had gone. She pulled Remus onto her lap, and held him for a long, long time, sobbing over him. “But they won’t come for you,” she said. “Not ever.”
Remus still did not understand: the man didn’t want to come for him; he was angry about some dog.
The real crisis came a month later. His father had been working in the garage all weekend, warning the children to stay away. On Monday he was supposed to go to work, but he didn’t go; he seemed very anxious about something. Remus played in the garden with Emily, but their mother hovered over them and kept warning him not to go too close to her. He didn’t really want to be close because Emily was wheeling her doll in a pram, and Remus wanted to play trains.
In the afternoon it was rainy, even though it was supposed to be summer. His mother sat him on her lap and read stories. He remembered that for the rest of his life; for hour after hour, she read his favourite stories. She took almost no notice of Emily and Bruno, but treated Remus as if he were the only one.
Early in the evening, when his parents should have been talking about bedtime, they exchanged glances, and then his father nodded. “Remus,” said his father, “you’re going to sleep outdoors tonight.”
“In a tent?” he asked.
“In the garage,” said his father.
His mother clutched at him convulsively, then began to carry him to the garage door.
“I can walk,” Remus started to say, but she took no notice.
The garage looked different. For a start, the car had gone; it was parked outside by the kerb. The walls didn’t look like brick any more; they had been covered with some soft stuff, a kind of padding. The doors were dark because the glass windows had vanished, and now the doors were solid wood. In fact, the garage was dark – his parents were making no effort to light it with their wands. It was also very large and empty.
“There’s no bed,” said Remus.
“You won’t need a bed tonight,” said his father.
“I haven’t cleaned my teeth.”
“That doesn’t matter for once.”
“Daddy, I don’t think I want to sleep out here. It doesn’t look like a sleeping place.”
“You’re sleeping here tonight, Remus,” his father repeated.
His mother set him on his feet in the middle of the garage floor. Even the floor seemed covered with soft stuff over the concrete. She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. She seemed so nervous that he began to be afraid.
“Good night, Remus,” said his mother.
“Good night, Remus,” said his father.
And they walked out of the side door, back into the house, and closed it behind them. When the magical lock clicked fast, the garage was quite dark.
“Wait!” called Remus. “Mummy! Daddy! I don’t want to sleep here!”
But they did not come back.
Terror seized him. It was his bedtime, but he wasn’t sleeping in a proper bed. His parents had left him alone in this dark place, which wasn’t even a proper garage any more. He ran up to the side door and began to shout.
“Mummy! Let me out!” He banged on the door. “It’s dark here! I want to come in the house!” He wondered if he would dare to do the naughty thing that crossed his mind next. But it was very dark in the garage, and strange shapes seemed to be looming up in the dark. He summoned all his force and hurled himself against the door, kicking and battering it with his feet, and screamed, “Daddeee! Let me come hooooome…!”
Yet they did not seem to hear.
“I’ll be good!” he sobbed. “I won’t do it again! I’ll put away my toys! I’ll share with Emily! I’ll eat my vegetables! I won’t fuss at bedtime!” He realised, vaguely, that he was fussing at bedtime, right this minute, but he was too distressed to turn it off. “Let me iiiiiiinnn!” He meant to shout again, Let me in! but the howl that came out of his throat the second time was more like… a growl. The words weren’t clear at all.
So he tried again. The words were in his mind, but all that came out of his voice was, “Grrrrrr-ooooo-oooooh!”
But before he had time to worry about that, a sharp pain was crippling his shoulders… and his thighs… and his back. His back was hunching uncontrollably. He overbalanced and dropped down to all fours. Now his muscles seemed to be tearing away under his skin in all directions, his bones were twisting, and pains worse than indigestion were ripping at his insides.
He howled again: “Aooowwww-aaaaooooo-aaaaoooooo!”
And he never did remember much about what happened after that.
His next clear memory was of lying very stiff on the strange soft floor. Every twitch of his limbs was like being stabbed with a hot needle. He was bleeding but he couldn’t see where. Someone had torn at the soft stuff on the walls, so that it hung in ribbons in places, and the room was unnaturally silent.
“Mummy?” he asked, but it hurt to talk.
Suddenly the side door did open, and normal noises came flooding in – music on the Wireless, the baby grizzling, Emily shouting for toast. Strong hands were lifting him, and he was in his mother’s arms.
“Remus, are you all right, darling?”
His mother gasped. “Blood! Stan, he’s covered in blood!”
After that they rushed him to St Mungo’s again. He remembered more fussing from Healers, and inspections of great spiteful scratches that had appeared all over his arms and legs and chest, and a good deal of salving and bandaging, and a cross Healer saying, “It’s only a few scratches, you know. You can deal with these yourselves.” And something even stranger: “He isn’t dangerous when he’s human. A few spots of blood and saliva aren’t going to harm anyone else.”
He spent the rest of the day at home in bed, sleeping, waking, aching, then sleeping again. The next day he was able to get up without any pain to his muscles, and most of the scratches across his body had healed up. The day seemed very normal. But he didn’t dare ask his parents, “Why did you do that to me?” in case they decided to do it again.
It wasn’t until the next month that his parents were able to make him understand that it had to happen again. From now on, every month for the rest of his life, he would have to spend a night locked up alone.
“It’s no good shouting for us, darling,” said his mother. “The garage is sound-proofed. Once we close the door, we can’t hear you.”
“Mummy, I’ll be good. I don’t have to go there.”
“Sweetheart, you’re good, but you have an illness. The only treatment for this illness is to lock you up in the garage every time you’re going to be sick.”
“Don’t I need a Healer?”
“The Healers can’t do anything. We just have to lock you up.” She pointed at the gibbous moon in the sky. “Tomorrow the moon will be completely round. Whenever you see the moon as round as the sun, that’s when you’ll be sick and that’s when you have to be locked up.”
Slowly, Remus learned that his “illness” meant that he was no longer fully human. Whenever the moon was as round as the sun, he would become an animal. He was a dangerous wolf who could hurt and even kill other people, or perhaps turn them into wolves themselves. Even locked up, he could still attack himself; the morning after, his human body would carry the scars of the wolf’s attack.
“Could I kill myself?” he asked.
“Probably not,” said his mother, but she didn’t sound too sure.
“Can I have a light in the garage?”
“It would be too dangerous. The wolf could smash the light, or be burned by it. And the wolf isn’t afraid of the dark.”
“But I’m afraid of the dark. There are ghouly things in it attacking me.”
“The ghouly things are in your imagination, Remus. You imagine them when you’re afraid of the wolf.”
Inside or outside, the dark and dangerous shapes were always lurking for him. Something – inside or out – was always waiting to pounce and take control of him, waiting to turn him into something that would hurt himself.
“Daddy, can’t you stay in the garage with me when I’m a wolf?”
“No, Remus, because then the wolf would bite me, and I would become a wolf too.”
“So I’ll be always alone with the wolf?”
“That’s the only way to keep the world safe, Remus.”
By the time he had been a werewolf for six months, Remus knew that he was a danger to the world.
Another thing he learned early was never to talk about his affliction. He was already used to a life of secrets. His parents were both Muggle-borns, so they had a number of Muggle friends. Magical things were never, ever discussed or demonstrated when Muggle friends came to visit. The whole family behaved exactly as if magic didn’t exist. His four grandparents knew about magic, but the family tended to avoid magic even in front of the grandparents. It was a secret, his parents explained, that could really only be shared with other wizards.
But even in front of other wizards, they cautioned, he must never, ever talk about his illness. He must never mention that he sometimes slept in the garage, let alone why. When he was recovering on the day after, his parents would pretend he had a cold. Muggles did not believe that werewolves existed, so talking to them about werewolves was like admitting to being a wizard; and wizards were too much afraid of werewolves to treat them kindly.
“Shouldn’t we tell the truth?” asked Remus. “That’s what you told me when I smashed the casserole.”
“We should own up when we make a mistake,” said his mother, “but in many other situations we have to lie.”
“You mean we only tell the truth when it’s convenient for other people? When the truth is something they don’t want to hear, we have to lie?”
His parents both looked at him very oddly when he asked this, but they did not reply.
It was more than a year after the Bite that Remus started school. His parents sent him to the local Muggle primary school, with strict instructions never to talk about either magic or werewolves. By the end of his first week, Remus discovered that he had a third secret.
He could read.
Schoolteachers did not like children who arrived at school able to read. Teaching reading was their job, and they were angry with the idea that someone else might have taught reading first.
In his second week, Remus began to pretend that he couldn’t read after all. He pretended that he couldn’t do sums. He pretended that he couldn’t name the continents on the classroom globe and that he’d never heard of dinosaurs. He pretended so well that his teachers started to like him. He overheard them, when he passed the staff room door: “That good, quiet Remus Lupin, who tries so hard and learns so fast.”
By the end of his first year at school, Remus had also learned not to learn too fast. Teachers didn’t believe you if you finished your sums in the first ten minutes; you were supposed to make them last a whole hour.
His classmates did not share his teachers’ positive opinion of him. “Good and quiet” meant “weird” and “unfriendly”. “Learns so fast” meant “shows off” and “thinks he’s better”. They didn’t actually bully him, but they did tend to leave him alone.
He learned not to make friendly overtures. If he offered sweets, they would be accepted, but he would not be invited to join in. If he asked directly to join in, the answer was likely to be “No” – unless there was an unpopular job, such as watchman or deep fielder, of which he could relieve them. If he sat quietly, he would be left alone. By the time he was in Junior School, he was officially allowed to know how to read, so his teachers allowed him to bring a book from home, and he spent a great deal of playtime reading.
From time to time his parents took him back to St Mungo’s. They talked to Healers; they tried new potions. They were very insistent on wanting the strongest and safest pain-killers and sedatives. Once they saved all their money to take him to a distinguished Healer in France; another time, they even took him to Nigeria to meet a famous Kanuri surgeon in the remote savanna. But experts all over the world agreed that there was no cure for lycanthropy.