Playing dare at Hogwarts was probably about the craziest thing you could do, but that was what made it fun. That and the possibility of getting caught.
If any teacher caught them, the punishment would be dire; Fenrir and his best friend, Janus were aware of that. No teacher’d understand a game which involved a student ending up on the castle towers at two in the morning.
Fenrir’d got Janus back for that though, by daring him to fly his broom through the Forbidden Forest, past the Acromantula
“I just gave you a flying dare. That’s copying!”
“Flying up to the castle towers in the dark and flying past the Acromanula are two completely different dares. You’re just looking for a way out ‘cause you’re scared.”
“Go on then. Just above them, mind. There’s no point unless they see you.”
“They won’t catch me anyway. I’m too good a flyer. Unlike you. You nearly missed your broom getting back on.”
“Only ‘cause I wanted to show you I could stand on the window ledge. And anyway, I didn’t fall off. You would’ve.”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“Yeah, you would.”
Janus just looked at him disdainfully. “Wait until you see me fly through the Forbidden Forest. Then you’ll have to admit my flying skill. I’ll need you to keep a look-out though.”
“No problem. I’ll have to be there to be sure you do it, anyway.”
“You think I’d lie?”
He didn’t really. Janus had always been completely fair when it came to their dares, as had Fenrir himself. There was no point playing if you were going to cheat. The risks were what made the game exciting.
But banter had always been part of the game. Accusing each other of cowardice, of trying to cheat, of not being able for the challenge spurred them on to take greater and greater risks. They both knew the comments didn’t really mean anything, but neither wanted to be the one to prove the other’s jibes correct.
Like many of their dares, this one had to be timed carefully so as to avoid the notice of the teachers, but instead of sneaking out at night, they decided to do it when they should have been in class.
Both boys feigned stomach aches in History of Magic, choosing that subject because Binns didn’t care if they were faking anyway; he just wanted them to shut up so he could get on with the lesson. It meant they didn’t have to do much acting.
Fenrir made the bid for freedom first.
Binns glanced at him in amazement. It was unusual for any student to voluntarily comment in History of Magic.
“Yes, Mr. um Greyson?”
“I’ve a terrible pain in my stomach. May I go to the hospital wing, please.”
Binns waved a hand. “Yes, yes, go on. Now, in 1151…”
Fenrir dashed out of the room, not in the least concerned about 1151.
Janus joined him moments later.
“I told him I thought I’d caught your bug and I’d better go to the hospital wing too and he just waved me out too. I don’t think he was even listening to what I said. Can you even catch something that quickly?”
Fenrir shrugged. He neither knew nor cared.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get this done quickly before somebody sees us.”
Janus ran to get his broom, while Fenrir slipped down to the edge of the Forbidden Forest. He wouldn’t be able to see just how close his friend got to the Acromantula, but he didn’t really think he’d cheat anyway.
It only took about ten minutes. Janus jumped on his broom and flew at speed through the Forest, before coming back to land by Fenrir.
“My turn to give you a dare now!”
“Hey, wait a minute. Did they see you?”
“I think so. I wasn’t exactly waiting to hear what they’d say, you know.”
“Were there many of them?”
“God, yes.” He shivered slightly. “They’re creepy, Fenrir. The size of them, all clacking their pinchers! And their eyes. Ugh.”
“How close were you to them?” Fenrir grinned.
“Probably about a foot above them. A good deal closer than I wanted to be, I can tell you.”
“It still didn’t compare with jumping from a tower windowsill onto my broom.”
“I didn’t ask you to do that,” Janus scoffed. “You were just showing off. I only told you to fly up to the tower.”
“I still did it.”
“Bet you won’t do this one though.”
“Yeah! ‘Course I will. What is it?”
“Spend a night in the Forbidden Forest. It just occurred to me as I was flying over it.”
Fenrir paled. “That’s more of a copy than my dare was.”
“And we agreed that was all right, so so is this. Anyway, you don’t have to go near the Acromantula. Just the part Hagrid brought us into for that detention. That’s not so dangerous.”
There was a big difference between spending an afternoon there with an adult guiding you and spending a night there alone, but Fenrir wasn’t going to be the first to refuse a dare.
“Pfff, it’ll be easy.”
“I doubt you’ll be saying that at four in the morning. I’ll make a bet with you actually. Five Galleons says you’ll be back in the dormitory by three am.”
“Are you sure that’s a bet you want to make? I’d hate to think you were just handing your money to me.”
“Oh, I don’t think I’ll be handing it over. The forest gets pretty spooky at night, you know.”
“How do you know?” Fenrir scoffed. “Have you ever spent a night there?”
“Em, hello, it’s not called the Forbidden Forest for nothing, you know.”
“Well, I’m not scared. Like you said, that part isn’t so dangerous. Hagrid wouldn’t have brought us there if it was.”
He spoke confidently, but privately he wasn’t so sure. Hagrid wasn’t exactly the most reliable of people when it came to safely, was he? There were rumours he’d released some kind of monster ten or fifteen years ago when he’d been at school, but nobody seemed to know exactly what had happened. Some said it had all been hushed up, others that it was just a rumour and the only reason Hagrid hadn’t qualified as a wizard was because he was too stupid.
Fenrir had never thought much about it before. Hagrid wasn’t a particularly interesting person in his mind. If he thought about it at all, he’d probably have doubted he’d have done anything as interesting as releasing a monster, but now his safety depended on Hagrid’s reliability, the rumours came back to him. For all he knew, Hagrid could be keeping some horrific monster in there.
He pushed those thoughts aside. If he kept thinking like that, he’d never brave the forest.
“So when should I do it?”
Janus thought for a moment. “Tomorrow night? Then you’d have the weekend to recover.”
A thought occurred to Fenrir.
“Hey, how are you going to be sure I do it? Are you going to wait outside the Forbidden Forest to keep an eye on me?”
He thought Janus paled a little at the suggestion.
“I’ll walk with you as far as the Forbidden Forest,” he said quickly. “Then I’ll return in the morning to see you come out. I’ll trust you to follow the rules in between times.”
“Gosh, Janus, are you sure you’re not scared to wait outside for me?”
“Of course I’m not,” he snapped. “I just don’t fancy staying awake all night keeping watch, that’s all. Anyway, I know you wouldn’t cheat. That would just make the game stupid.”
Fenrir debated whether or not to wind him up some more, but in the end, decided not to bother. He was right, after all. Fenrir had no intention whatsoever of cheating. He would remain the night in that forest if it was the last thing he did.
Slipping out of school at midnight was difficult enough, but it wasn’t as if it was the first time they’d managed it. You just had to avoid the ghosts, any patrolling teachers or prefects, the caretaker and anybody else who might be wandering the corridors by night. They sneaked around the school quietly, ducking behind pillars or suits of armour whenever they heard a sound.
And finally, they were outside.
Freed from the need to be cautious, they both began to run, racing each other to the forest, without a word needing to pass between them.
“Beat you,” Fenrir said.
“I’d wait until the night’s over before you say that. There is the little matter of our bet, you know.”
“I hadn’t forgotten,” Fenrir said lightly. “You heading back to beddy-byes now?”
“Just as soon as you enter the forest.” Janus ignored the taunt in his voice. “See you at eight am, right?”
“And not a moment before.” Fenrir attempted a jaunty tone, but he was eying the forest warily. Janus had been right. It did look spookier in the dark.
It was harder than he’d thought it would be just to put one foot in front of the other and walk into that dark wilderness.
But he knew he’d no choice. Janus would never let him live it down if he were the first one to chicken out on a dare, so he plastered a smile across his face and strolled into the forest.
He didn’t go in too far. Just far enough to be indisputably in the forest.
Twigs cracked beneath his feet. Gosh, that sounded creepy in the darkness.
He heard his friend’s footstep, heading away, back to the castle. He was really alone now. Oh God, he wished this night was over.
In the distance, an owl hooted and he jumped. How ridiculous was that? He heard owls every day in the castle, but out here, at night, everything took on a sinister significance.
It was only one night, he reminded himself, just eight hours. Actually, it was less than that because it had taken them a while to get out of the castle unnoticed. It was probably more like seven and a half hours. He could handle that.
The time ticked by slowly. Even with the full moon, it was too dark to see his watch properly, so he’d really no idea how much time was passing, but he’d an uneasy suspicion it was less than it felt like.
Maybe he should lie down. If he could fall asleep, even for an hour or two, the time would pass more quickly. But he wasn’t sure he was comfortable closing his eyes in this place.
A rustle in the bushes made him jump and he backed away from it, but nothing emerged.
‘It could be anything,’ he reminded himself. ‘A bird, even. No reason to think it’s anything dangerous.’
But there was no reason to assume it wasn’t either.
He moved away from the bush, just to be on the safe side. In the darkness, it was hard to be sure what way he was going. He couldn’t help feeling he was heading deeper into the forest, which wasn’t really a thought he liked. But he didn’t like being too close to that bush either.
He had to be far enough from it now, he decided, as he leaned back against another bush. The ground was slightly damp beneath him, but he didn’t really care. What was the worst that could happen? Even if it was true that you could catch a cold from sitting on damp ground, that was definitely the least of his worries right now.
Eventually, he must have drifted off to sleep, because he was woken by a growling sound.
He leapt to his feet and squinted in the darkness. He wasn’t sure where the sound had come from, but he’d an uneasy feeling it was close by.
He glanced around, desperately.
It was probably nothing, he reminded himself. Maybe it was his imagination anyway. Maybe he’d dreamt it.
And then he felt a hot breath on his neck. Whatever it was was right behind him.
Rough fur rubbed against his arm.
Then a sudden pain pierced his neck and he knew no more.
When he awoke, he was no longer in the forest. Hazy though his impressions were, he knew that for sure.
He glanced around groggily. He appeared to be in bed. Had the whole thing been a dream? It had to have been, didn’t it? None of that could really have happened – the night in the forest, the strange noises, the beast that…attacked him. Yes, attacked was the word.
He tried to raise his head from the pillow. Was he in his dormitory?
Sharp pain engulfed his entire body. Was it real then? Or was he ill? Perhaps he was delirious and he’d imagined it all.
“Lie still,” a harsh voice said.
“What happened?” he asked, but nobody answered. Perhaps he’d only asked it in his head.
Over the next few hours or days or weeks, he drifted in and out of consciousness. He had no idea how much time was passing.
Gradually, it dawned on him that he was in St. Mungo’s. That scared him. Students injured at Hogwarts were usually treated in the Hospital Wing. Whatever’d happened to him must have been pretty serious for him to be transferred to St. Mungo’s.
Nobody seemed too anxious to explain to him just what had happened though. In fact, nobody seemed too anxious to get too close to him at all. As far as he could remember, he’d had no visitors whatsoever and even the Healers seemed to approach him only when absolutely necessary.
And yet, he reminded himself, there were big gaps in his memory. Sometimes he’d wake up to find it was dark outside when it had seemed only moments since morning. No doubt his parents had visited when he’d been asleep or unconscious or whatever. They must have, right?
His family had never been an extremely close one. His parents were slightly distant figures of authority and his siblings too young to be his close companions, but he’d always known he was loved. His parents were only stern because they wanted him to be a success and to stop getting in so much trouble. There was no way they’d fail to come and see him when he was in hospital.
Unless they blamed him for getting involved in the stupid game in the first place. Sneaking into the Forbidden Forest on a dare was a pretty stupid thing to do really and strictly against school rules. The last time he’d been caught out of bounds, they’d warned him he’d be in serious trouble if they got one more owl home about him. Perhaps this was the last straw that broke the camel’s back.
But, no, he couldn’t believe that. Sneaking out of school wasn’t that heinous a crime, surely. His parents would certainly be angry but it wouldn’t stop them caring about him, wouldn’t stop them wanting to know the exact state of his health.
When his little sister, Freya’d been in hospital, his father’d demanded almost hourly updates.
“I’m her father,” he’d insisted. “I’ve a right to be kept informed. My wife is going out of her mind! Do you really expect me to go back and tell her you idiots of Healers have no more information than you had this morning? What kind of incompetents do you have working here?”
In full flow, his father could be quite formidable.
“We’re very sorry, Sir,” the Healer’d replied. “I can assure you you’ll be updated immediately if there’s any change.”
“Make sure I am.”
So why wasn’t he here now, making a fuss? Fenrir’d never thought he’d want him to do that. It was embarrassing to say the least of it, but it was a whole lot better than wondering if he cared at all.
When he regained consciousness properly, it got even scarier. At least when there’d been gaps in his memory, he could assume he’d forgotten or missed their visits. Watching the minutes and hours tick by, with no sign of anybody was harder to explain.
Eventually in desperation, he plucked up the courage to hail a member of staff. He’d been hoping one would stop by his bedside as they stopped by other patients, to exchange a few words. Then he’d be able to ask about his parents. No doubt there was some good reason they hadn’t been in to see him that day. Maybe they’d even told him, but he’d been too groggy to hear it. He was probably forgetting things. That would explain why he couldn’t remember any of their visits.
But the staff seemed to studiously avoid his bedside, so it looked as if he’d no choice but to demand their attention.
Was it his imagination or was the Healer looking at him with disdain in his eyes?
“Um.” His voice faltered. “I was just wondering if my parents said what time they’d be in today. Or if they aren’t coming until tomorrow?” His voice rose hopefully.
The Healer scoffed. “Because they’ve been in so often since you were admitted!”
“But they have been in to see me, haven’t they?”
The Healer shook shook his head. “It’s hardly surprising, is it? In the…circumstances.”
“What are the…circumstances?” He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted that question answered, actually, but it was probably something he needed to know. “What’s…wrong with me? What happened to me?”
“You don’t know?” The Healer sounded surprised. “Nobody’s told you?”
He supposed they might have. After all, he hadn’t been entirely aware what had been going on since his attack. And yet he didn’t believe it. Somewhere deep down, he was quite certain nobody had.
“Nobody’s been near me,” he said bitterly.
The Healer bit his lip and Fenrir’s heart sank. Shouldn’t a Healer be used to giving his patients bad news? How dreadful was this that even he seemed reluctant to speak of it?
“You were bitten by a werewolf,” the Healer said finally.
The words resounded in his head.
The only comfort he had was that they hadn’t started learning about werewolves yet. They were supposed to do so later that year. He clung to that thought. There was a lot of misinformation in the wizarding world. Maybe, just maybe, what he thought he knew would turn out to be an old wives’ tale.
“Does that…does that mean…?
“Yes,” the Healer said brutally. “On the next full moon, you will transform into a werewolf.” He gave an involuntary shudder.
So that was it. From this day forth, he would be a creature hated and despised by the entire wizarding world.
There had to be some mistake. It couldn’t just be as simple as that. One mistake and he was a pariah forevermore. One stupid prank and even his parents didn’t want to know him.
Surely, they’d reconsider. He was still their son, after all. He knew they were concerned with their social standing, knew he was already a disappointment to them. His marks had never been what they’d expected. He got into trouble regularly. But for all that, they loved him. Surely, they couldn’t just cast him out, no matter what happened.
And what would he do if they did? He was only thirteen. Could he stay at school for the holidays? He knew some students stayed there over Christmas, but he wasn’t so sure about the summer. He rather thought the place was entirely closed up then.
He took a deep breath. His parents wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t reject him completely. They’d turn up. They probably just needed some time to come to terms with the idea. Yeah, that was probably it.
As the days passed, it became harder and harder to keep hold of that conviction, but finally, after he’d been fully conscious for almost a week and in hospital for he didn’t know how long, both of his parents appeared at the foot of his bed.
He breathed a sigh of relief. He should never have doubted them. Of course they wouldn’t reject him.
They didn’t look particularly friendly, but that didn’t really surprise him. They were bound to be angry. He’d broken the rules once again, this time putting himself in utterly unnecessary danger. There was no hope they’d understand how important it was to carry out a dare and the truth was he couldn’t think of any way to explain that didn’t sound unutterably stupid.
He braced himself for the upcoming onslaught, but the truth was he didn’t really mind. They were there. They could yell at him all they wanted; he probably deserved it. All that mattered was their presence. Everything else was tolerable.
But they just stood there in silence. If they were going to yell at him, he’d rather they did it and got it over with.
“Say something,” he pleaded.
“And what exactly do you expect us to say to this?” His father’s voice was like ice. “You’ve been expelled from Hogwarts, of course. It’s only to be expected. Sneaking off into the Forbidden Forest like that, when you were supposed to be asleep and it’s not exactly as if you’ve a clean record.”
He could hear in his father’s voice that he didn’t believe that and neither did Fenrir. It wasn’t sneaking into the Forest that had got him expelled; it was being a werewolf.
“And has Janus been expelled?” he asked, knowing they’d say “no”.
“Of course not. This is hardly his fault. He apparently told Dippet how he’d done everything in his power to dissuade you from this utterly unbelievable course of action. He’s blaming himself that he didn’t go straight to Dippet, but he was afraid he’d get you into trouble. Not that it wouldn’t be better than what actually happened, but I suppose he wasn’t to know that.”
Fenrir stared at him in dismay. “It was his bloody idea!”
“To be honest, it doesn’t really matter whose idea it was, does it? The point is that you’re the one who’s been turned into this…this…creature.”
“But that wasn’t my fault!”
“Really? I’d like to know whose fault it was then.”
Fenrir didn’t answer. He knew it was his fault, really, but he couldn’t help feeling he’d also been extremely unlucky. He wasn’t the only student to sneak out of school at night after all. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time he’d done it. He wasn’t even the first student to sneak into the Forbidden Forest.
He supposed they should have checked it wasn’t the full moon when they’d made their plans, but if he’d thought of it at all, which he hadn’t, he’d probably have felt it a good thing, that it might give him a little extra light.
He shivered remembering how dark the forest had been, even with the full moon.
Why hadn’t he just said no to the dare for once? Had he really needed to prove himself to Janus that badly, when Janus hadn’t even the guts to admit to their dare?
Not that it really mattered. The school had been looking for a reason to expel him. They’d probably have done so no matter what Janus had said.
But that wasn’t really the point. He’d thought he could trust his best friend to stand by him.
Just as he’d thought his parents would always support him.
Fenrir glared at them angrily.
“So what’s going to happen now?”
As soon as he’d said it, he knew he’d been too aggressive. He was totally dependent on them now, twelve months of the year. When he’d been at Hogwarts, there’d been some escape. If he’d messed up at home, his teachers wouldn’t care once the school year resumed. If he messed up at school, his parents would care, if they were told, but at least there was the hope they mightn’t be.
Going to boarding school meant there was always an escape route when somebody was mad at you, always somewhere else you’d eventually return. Now there was nowhere else.
Instead of answering his question, his parents just exchanged glances.
“We’ve been discussing that,” his father said finally.
“Obviously, we can’t risk your coming home,” he said. His mother let out a choking sob and his father turned to face her. “We can’t, Valda, you know that. We’ve Freya and Aylsworth to think of.”
“I know.” Her voice was almost a whisper. “We can’t lose any more children.”
“We won’t, Valda. This was a once-off. It won’t happen again. Freya and Aylsworth would have more sense anyway.”
“I’m not lost,” Fenrir defended himself weakly. They were speaking as if he’d died or something, as if he was permanently gone from their lives.
Not that it was the most concerning part of the conversation, but he couldn’t bring himself to think about his father saying he couldn’t go home. Maybe if he ignored it for long enough, it would stop being true.
After all, they couldn’t disown him. Where would he go?
“Your mother’s Uncle Ivar has said you can live with him,” his father explained.
It should have been a relief. At least he’d have somewhere to go. It was better than being cast out completely.
But he didn’t particularly like his Uncle Ivar. None of them did. He was cold and harsh and Fenrir’d always had the distinct impression he didn’t like children much. Whenever he’d visited them, he’d complained. About how noisy they were, how badly brought up. He’d no children himself and had never married, but he spoke as if he knew everything there was to know about raising children and Fenrir’s parents didn’t know much. He would surely expect his grand-nephew to be on his best behaviour at all times and Fenrir wasn’t sure he could manage that.
But perhaps he’d misjudged him. After all, his great-uncle was the one person willing to take him in, so maybe he cared more than any of them imagined. Maybe the sternness was just his manner.
Fenrir made up his mind to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Anyway, it wasn’t as if he’d an alternative. No matter how he felt about it, he was going to live with him, so he may as well make the best of it.