The sound of dead leaves crunching underfoot pierced the quietness as the tall figure made its way through the thick forest. The light of the crescent moon hanging overhead in the starless sky filtered through the thick canopy of trees, offering only the barest of illumination. In spite of the lack of visibility, the figure continued its path unimpeded through the forest, seemingly directionless in its trek.
The figure stopped, silence looming through the forest as they surveyed the surrounding area. On closer inspection, the figure could have passed off as a homeless man. His patched and frayed overcoat and shabby hair looked worse for wear while his face looked skinny with prominent eye bags. In stark contrast to his appearance, his eyes were alert and concealed a sense of cunning intelligence, almost as if they were the eyes of a wolf. The man stopped for a moment’s respite, heaving a sigh as he looked at the night’s sky.
….got ourselves ‘ere!
The man whirled, hand instinctively reaching for his coat pocket as the barest trace of a voice reached his ears. Despite his exhaustion, a lifetime of paranoia had taught him to be alert for threats. Slowly, the man made his way to the source of the voice, careful not to give himself away as more voices joined the first voice.
Reckon we could get somethin’ for this?
Look at ‘im, he probably doesn’t even know ‘ow to fly!
After a few tense moments, the man reached a clearing in the forest, where three men dressed almost as shabbily as he were surrounding a child that couldn’t have been older than thirteen. One of the men stood separate from the rest as the other two stood menacingly over the child laying on the ground.
“Snatchers in these parts?” the man muttered, wand at the ready as he reached the edge of the clearing. All three Snatchers in the clearing had yet to notice his approach, giving him time to narrow the distance. His footsteps didn’t betray his presence, as the gap slowly closed between him and the group. Fifteen feet away from the Snatchers, the child’s eyes met his own and went by unnoticed by the Snatchers closest to the child. Deciding the distance was as good as any, the man rose to his full height and gave the child a reassuring smile as he raised his wand.
A blinding white light streaked away from the man’s wand and struck the Snatcher closest to him with a resounding crack. Before the unconscious Snatcher could fall to the ground, the man’s wand was lashing out again, the Charm’s incantation leaving his lips as the two Snatchers whirled to meet their assailant.
Another Snatcher fell to the ground, blown back a few feet by the impact of the spell. The last Snatcher remaining had pulled out his wand and managed to desperately cast a jinx that went wide, his panic evident. The man’s wand lashed once more and filled the clearing with light.
The last Snatcher fell, and the brief flurry of chaos had ended as soon as it had begun. The man rushed over to where the child lay, rustling his free hand in his pocket as he checked the child for wounds. “Are you alright?” he asked while helping the child to his feet. “Have some chocolate, it’ll help your nerves.”
The child nodded numbly as he took the chocolate from the man’s outstretched hand. After a few tentative bites another moment of silence, the child mustered the courage to speak. “Mister, who were those people? They were asking about all these strange things before you showed up…”
“Snatchers, mercenaries hired by Umbridge and that blasted Ministry,” the man muttered. “They should be looking for other wizards, not children. We’ll get you back to your parents, I assure you.” The man straightened his scruffy coat as he stood up before offering the child a hand. “Do you happen to know the way back to your home?”
Another moment of silence as the child looked around after standing. The child finally pointed at a part of the forest that looked no different from the rest. “Well, I trust you know your way, child. We’d best make a move now lest those Snatchers have any more friends hiding here.”
“Before we proceed, we should get introductions out of the way! My name is Remus Lupin. Pleasure to meet you!” he offered with what he hoped was a friendly smile. With how gaunt his face was, he doubted it was very convincing, but the child seemed to not notice.
“My name’s J-James…” the boy replied without meeting Remus’ eyes. “Wonderful name you’ve got, James,” Lupin chuckled, “One of my closest friends shared your name. Maybe I could tell you about him on the way back to your home.”
The pair set off from the clearing, relying entirely upon the boy’s uncanny knowledge of the forest’s terrain, who was apparently used to traversing the forest with his family as Remus had found out shortly. As he had promised, Lupin had set about telling the boy some stories from his past in an effort to lighten the mood for the scared child. Judging from the way the child had begun to smile at the more amusing parts of his stories.
“Mister, I wanted to ask…” James began to ask during one of their moments of comfortable silence, “Why are you out here alone?”
And there’s the Erumpent in the room, Lupin thought bitterly. His smile had unknowingly dropped for a moment before reappearing, albeit more strained than before. “If I tell you, will you tell me why you were in the forest alone as well?” A single nod answered his question, and Lupin braced himself for how best to phrase his words. Telling his fellow wizards was a challenge itself, let alone a child who barely had any knowledge of the wizarding world…
“I have a certain…condition that makes it difficult for myself to be around others. It’s not pleasant, I’m afraid. I tend to stop being who I am on certain nights and it’s very easy for me to hurt others if they’re nearby when it happens. I’m actually trying to stay away from certain people right now. They care about me, but it would make it worse on them if I stayed with them.”
James scrunched his face in thought at everything Lupin said, long enough that Lupin was ready to brush off everything. However, James looked up at Lupin and simply asked, “Why would it be bad for them? You seem really nice.”
His innocence had caught Lupin by surprise. Lupin chuckled, except it lacked the usual warmth, almost bitter. “Trust me, James. My condition isn’t one that can be simply
ignored. Everyone else is right to be worried of me for what I can do. They’ve done their best to stay away from people with my condition, and they’re right. It’s already ruined the life of my family…They don’t deserve to be associated with myself.”
If his response was meant to satisfy James curiosity, it only seemed to have sparked it into something close to indignation. “But it’s not fair for them to not like you without even knowing you!” James huffed as his small voice grew increasingly louder. “You’re so nice and you saved me, and you even gave me chocolate! Why would your family?”
Again, Lupin looked at James with surprise. Seeing someone place their trust in him so unflinchingly, even if it was a child, was so rare that Lupin couldn’t think of how to respond. He was so engrossed in forming an answer that he didn’t notice the forest opening up to another clearing except instead of an open field, a simple log cabin stood next to a stream. James noticed first and excitedly tugged Lupin’s empty hand, snapping him out of his stupor.
“We’re here, mister, we’re here! C’mon, I want you to meet my family to thank you for-“
Lupin coughed, catching James’ attention as he stooped down to meet James’ eyes. “Actually, James, I’m afraid I need to go now. I’d love to meet them, but they must be worried about you. I’m afraid I’m going to take your memory of this, you won’t feel anything, I promise.”
James looked blankly back at him for a moment before nodding. As Lupin raised his wand to James’ temple, James smiled for the first time. “I go into the forest to look for magical creatures. Dad teaches me a lot about them. Werewolves can’t be all bad, if there are werewolves like you, right?”
Lupin smiled again, except now it was a small, genuine smile as an orb of white light flitted out from James’ temple towards Lupin’s wand. “Take care, James”. With a wave of his wand, Lupin disappeared with a loud CRACK. James could only stare blankly for a moment before breaking into a smile.
“You’re not so bad.”
This story was submitted for the theme of the month competition (fantasy).
Story by Jun Yau
Picture from https://evilgeeks.com/2013/10/05/your-weekend-creature-comforts-the-halloween-classics-part-1-werewolves/