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Thaw by peppersweet
Chapter 1 : Thaw
 
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On Christmas morning the wolf breakfasted alone on condensation licked from the windows. The house was almost a hundred and twenty years old and, every winter, came close to collapse; the original sash windows were little defence against the creeping cold and howling winds. All night he had slept in the corner, tail tucked between his legs, making keening sounds as he chased hares in his dreams and the frost struck Lichtenberg figures on the windowpanes. The world outside was grey in sky and earth. No snow had fallen yet; all they’d had was rain and sleet, seven nights of smirr and sinking fog.

Had this wolf a voice beyond howls and yelps, he might not have called himself a wolf. The shaggy grey fur was a wolf’s fur, and the paws and claws and the fangs were wolf, but the snout was stunted and the eyes almond-shaped, lidded, a light hazel colour. He limped as he paced the room, nose to the floorboards that were gouged and specked with rust-brown blood, sniffing for the money spiders that to-and-fro’ed beneath.

In the corner, a pile of bones, worried clean by his pink and lolling tongue; the closest thing he had to a present. He’d made short work of the meat they’d left him with. It barely came close to sating the hunger that had racked his body, the hunger that felt as if his stomach had been carved out and left him hollow and gasping.

It was the dullness that bothered him now, that made him claw at the floor and his fur. A certain aching in his legs. It made him irritable. A collared dove cooed down the chimneystack, and he howled. He had paced a mile’s distance in the confines of the room, and the howl seemed to echo twice as far.

As time slipped by into the early hours of boxing day, the wolf began to shed his fur.

*


He came to consciousness with a crick in his neck. For a few moments it felt as if he were underwater, a great weight pressing down upon his head, then his mind focused with a sudden, sharp clarity. There was a searing pain in his hip. He lurched over, dry heaving at the wooden floor. He noticed then that he was clutching a bone.

The nausea came in waves. He kept hold of the bone for a few minutes, testing the strength of his fingers. The room was freezing; he had lost his clothes in the transformation.

It was just growing light outside. Beyond the frost at the window the sky was a washed-out navy. It rarely snowed at christmas. Not proper snow, anyway. Christmas was usually for rain - snow came in January, and choked up the roads. Wearily, he got to his knees, so that his eyes drew just level with the windowsill. The flowerbeds in the garden were dead, churned up with mud. No light from the village in the distance.

He estimated early morning - perhaps six a.m. - and discarded the bone. Then he crawled to the bolted door, pressed his lips to the keyhole, and called softly, ‘Mum?’

*


There were fresh towels laid out in his bedroom. He ran a bath and soaked in it until all the water had gone cold, contemplating the ceiling. The healing salve had made his entire right thigh numb.

Down in the kitchen, Mum was stirring porridge on the stove. She poured it into a bowl for him and stirred through a teaspoon of golden syrup from the cupboard. ‘Our secret, darling,’ she said, tapping her nose, as he ate it spoonful by careful spoonful until it had gone cold too. It didn’t stay down for long, and so Dad sat with him for a while as he heaved and coughed into a bucket.

‘It’ll pass,’ Dad kept saying. ‘You’re over the worst of it.’

The thing about Lycanthropy, however, was that the worst came round again like clockwork.

*


On the morning of the twenty-seventh they breakfasted on fried eggs, buttered toast, and a selection box of Honeydukes chocolates. Through in the living room, they unwrapped presents; socks for Dad, new gardener’s gloves for Mum.

At three in the afternoon, two days late, they sat down to Christmas dinner. It was difficult for him to sit upright with the bandage around his middle. The claw marks beneath still stung when he moved, despite the pungent healing salve he applied three times a day - Mum’s own recipe, because she worried about what they would think in the village when she bought it so often. All through dinner they sat and ate in silence, never quite looking at the bolted door behind the table. Then it was his job to stand by the sink in the corner and pick leftover bits of flesh and gristle from the turkey bones to use for stock.

At ten he sat by the fire, shedding the woollen cardigan they’d given him for a present as he shivered with the heat of a fever. ‘It’ll pass,’ Dad kept saying. ‘It’ll pass.’

‘I’m going outside,’ he said.

The house had stood in isolation for a hundred-and-twenty years. He had all manner of places he could walk to and not be seen. The nearest village was far away enough to become a blur, where the pinprick lights of pubs and houses could resemble distant stars. The darkness around the house, thus, was absolute, entirely carnivorous; one step into it and you would be swallowed whole.

He walked the length of the garden, gulping down cool air. For a moment he paused outside the sash window on the ground floor that had, for just over a day, been his only communication with the outside world. It was impossible to see into the room in the nighttime, and just as well. He could remember the feel of it, however; the splintered floorboards, the stale air that choked.

In the darkness, it is possible to vanish - in the darkness and obscurity of a lonely country lane, in the absence of a proper family, in the absence of friends, it is possible to fade and diminish into oneself. For your outlines to blur with the movement of the tides until it becomes impossible to distinguish nose from snout.

He was gazing at the dead remains of that year’s clematis when the back door opened; Mum stood on the doorstep, smiling at her twelve-year-old son. The smile did not quite reach her eyes.

‘I’m off to bed,’ she said. ‘Happy Christmas, Remus.’

‘Happy Christmas, Mum,’ he said.

The door clicked shut and she had gone. He nudged a loose pebble into the flowerbed with his toe, willing himself to ignore the way the wound on his hip burned as he moved. Eight years ago, his mother had been the one to improvise with fresh leaves of dittany and the teaspoons from a silver tea service to close his wounds. That was the year he had become a werewolf for Christmas.

Certain darknesses will vanish you, as if the turning of the earth was a spell.




a/n: hello HPFF, it's been a while. This one-shot is very very very rushed and not my usual standard, but I was absolutely desperate to get something written and posted to get me back into the swing of things, and the writer's duel deadline seemed like the perfect thing to coax me out of my shell again. This is for prompt one: family reunions, and was inspired by the all-consuming, soul-crushing sadness I experienced when I read Lupin's biography on Pottermore. I may return to edit a little later when I'm not so delirious from rush-writing the thing in one go. Anyway, thank you for reading, I'm sorry it was a bit naff, and hopefully I can post some more complete stuff soon!




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