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Zvyozdochka

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It was not yet terribly cold; there wasn’t any snow on the ground, but frost hung in the air like a sparkling veil, smelling smoky and a little salty. The leaves were stiff and crispy, and crumbled apart pleasantly under Remus’ valenki. He sat down on the leaf-covered, solid ground, and leaned against the walls of his family’s hut. Remus felt a little chilly, but it couldn’t be helped; he was wearing an old kosovorotka and porty that were a little too short for him now, with his porty barely tucked into a pair of valenki that had holes in the toes. Remus’ babushka had sewn him new clothes, but he never wore it on nights like these.

Remus glanced upwards at the sky. The full moon gleamed like a blin, glowing against the deep grey of the night. Amidst the smoke coming from the various huts’ chimneys, Remus could see stars glittering like winking eyes. A gust of wind ruffled through Remus’ potato-coloured hair, and Remus wondered how it would feel like in the winter. It was now September, and the snow would probably come late October. He would have to wear his beautiful coat, which babushka had embroidered with red leaves and berries … it would break his heart to rip it, but it was his only coat, and he supposed that his parents would rather he rip it than come back with a cold.

It was Remus’ own fault anyway. Usually they kept him indoors, at the far end of the hut, away from the slumbering figures of papa, mama, and babushka, and that would be enough, but Remus had grown bigger over the summer, and in August he managed to claw a hole through the wall on his side of the hut, and when he woke up papa was trying to fill the wall with riverbank clay instead of being at work, and so the knyaz who ruled over the estate made him work extra late that night, well after the moon had risen to the sky and lit up all the stars. Mama said to him, “Rima, you’re a big boy now, we can’t keep you in the house anymore, it’s not big enough.”

So they herded all the cows into the hut and Remus was left, tied to the fences, sitting on the mud ground that the cows had trodden smooth and dry. He understood why this was necessary, but he felt lonelier than ever. He was already lonely, being not like any of the other village children, and also avoided by the other adults on the account that he was an ugly child, with scars all over his body from his condition, and his stupid potato-coloured hair and yellowy-brown eyes. And if anyone did have a child who wanted to play with Remus, their parents angrily dragged them away. Remus wished that his parents would give him a younger brother or sister, but they were not wealthy enough to raise another child and too busy, with the last harvest being poor and the knyaz more demanding this year.

Remus closed his eyes and leaned against the fence. He could feel the moonlight lapping against him like pond water. It would be any moment now, he felt uncomfortably. It was so quiet outside, where he couldn’t hear papa ’s gentle snoring and babushka talking in her sleep. Sometimes he heard babushka talking to dedushka. But here outside it was just quiet, with softly breathing smoke and rustling barley. They would cut it soon, and hopefully it would be enough to appease the knyaz, so life would be easier for all of them.

A faint prickly feeling started to itch at Remus’ chest, and he knew that it was time. Remus curled up into a ball and tried not to cry out loud as his fingers shortened, compacting the joints painfully, and his nails grew into claws. A tail started prodding the skin of his lower back, which stretched to accommodate it as it grew through a hole in his porty. Thick fur pricked through his skin and Remus felt like a porcupine rather than a wolf. He gnashed his teeth together as his arms and legs grew longer, and felt his teeth shift and move in his jaws until they became fangs. It was painful, yes, but nothing Remus that had not grown used to. He used to cry, but he’d wake the neighbours and then his family would get an earful from the rest of the village. So he’d learn to keep quiet and bother no one, even when the moon wasn’t bothering him.

Exhausted when the transformation finally finished, Remus felt himself slipping away and the wolf coming back. The wolf struggled against the ropes, but Remus’ papa had tied the knots sturdily and it would not be able to break free. The wolf continued to pull against its restraints, until it was clear that its efforts were futile. It curled up and howled sadly at the moon. People in the village used to be scared of the sound, but they learnt that it was just Remus, and now mainly ignored him. The wolf continued to cry softly at the moon, and Remus felt sad for the wolf. It was lonely too; it wanted to go back to the forest where all the other wolves were, but it was born as Remus, a human. “Everything will be okay,” Remus said to the wolf, but he wasn’t sure if it’d understand him, even though they shared the same body and mind.

He almost jumped when something squeaked at his foot. He looked down and saw a little trembling grey mouse, and was embarrassed at himself for flinching like that. The mouse turned around quickly and made to run away, but Remus put a paw on its tail. “Sorry I scared you,” he apologised, “Please don’t run away. I’m very lonely.”

The mouse looked up at him uncertainly. “What are you?” it asked.

“I’m a wolf-boy,” Remus explained. “My name is Remus, what is yours?”

“I’m Pyotr,” the mouse answered, “But you can call me Petya.”

“Where do you live, Petya?”

“I live in the knyaz’s house. But it is big and scary, so I like to be outside more. I have never seen you, though. Are you outside often?”

Remus shook his head. “I live in that house,” he pointed at his family’s hut, “But I am eleven years old and too big to live there sometimes. So, when I am a wolf, I sleep outside.”

The mouse twitched its nose. “It’s a nice hut. But it smells of cow.”

Remus laughed for the first time in his wolf form. It sounded a little like a harsh bark and Peter flinched. “I’m sorry,” Remus apologised quickly, looking embarrassed and guilty. “But yes, my family does keep their cows in the house, especially when I’m like this.”

“I like cows,” the mouse decided, “But they smell strange, like grass, not like the cheese they make. You smell strange, too. Not like a wolf. Not like a boy.”

“You smell like mouse.”

“I am a mouse,” Pyotr admitted proudly.

“Do you have any mouse-friends?”

“No,” Pyotr answered, “Mice are not friends. It is a difficult world for mice, not always enough food for so many, we must fight always.”

“Like humans,” Remus sighed.

“Yes.”

“Do you wish you had friends?”

“Not really. It’s not a concept for us.”

Remus passed a glance at all the huts, breathing smoke sleepily into the night sky. “All the other boys in my village have friends, but not me, because I am ugly and a wolf. I sometimes wish I had a friend.”

“I can be your friend, if you’d like,” Pyotr offered.

“Really?” Remus’ perked up, and his ears stood up straight.

Pyotr laughed out a mousy little chuckle. “Yes. You’re not a mouse. We can be friends because you will not eat my food. You eat your parents’ food.”

“If we are friends, then you should call me Rima,” Remus decided. No one had ever called him that except for his parents and his babushka, because he did not have friends. Remus did not tell Pyotr that babushka even called him Rimochka sometimes, much to his embarrassment.

“But if you ever want things,” Pyotr offered, “My papa says that you can wish on the moon or the stars, and maybe your wishes will be granted.”

“I see.”

Remus looked up at the sky with wolf eyes, and saw the moon shining wetly, and the stars twenty times more brilliant they they seemed with human eyes. There was one that shined more loudly than the others, almost like it was laughing, and Remus wondered if he could actually be friends with the star. Babushka always told him that a star was a person, and that every time someone was born, a star appeared in the sky; and every time someone died, their star fell from the sky. She tells him that she misses dedushka’s star. Remus nodded at her and held her hand, but he didn’t believe babushka’s explanation. Most humans, unlike papa, mama, and babushka, were cruel, greedy, and selfish people, like the knyaz. They insulted one another and fought a lot, especially when they’ve had too much to drink. They made fun of Remus called him a wolf-boy, and said that his parents didn’t want him, which Remus knew was not true but felt hurt by it nonetheless. Humans were not worthy of stars, Remus thought to himself. The stars were beautiful and quiet and kept to themselves, unlike humans. He wished that they could be his friends.

The wolf howled at the night sky, startling Pyotr a little, making the mouse jump, and the bright little star in the sky seemed to quaver. Instantly Remus sat up straight, and his tail waved uncertainly as he watched the sky.

The star came bounding down the sky like a dog across the fields. It landed at Remus’ feet with a soft thud and a bright flash, and when Remus regained sight he could see a glowingly black dog panting at him, tail wagging eagerly.

Remus laughed for the second time this night. “A dog?! You’re a dog?”

The dog cocked its head to the side and huffed, though it was not really offended. “No, I’m a star, you idiot.”

Remus extended paw and rubbed the dog-star between its ears. The dog-star closed its big eyes like silver coins, and smiled contentedly. “But you act like a dog. What’s your name?” Remus asked the dog-star.

“You look more like a wolf but you act like a human,” Sirius argued. “My name is Sirius. What are yours?”

“I’m Remus.”

“Pyotr.”

“I’m very glad to have met you.”

“Likewise,” Pyotr replied courteously.

“Will you be my friend?” Remus asked instead, a little desperate.

Sirius bark-laughed. “Of course. That’s what you wished at me, wasn’t it?”

“Well, I thought that, if you didn’t want to … that’d be okay.”

“You’re a good boy,” Sirius decided, “Of course I’d be your friend.”

“And mine?” Pyotr piped up.

Remus laughed. “Didn’t you say that you didn’t want friends? And mice didn’t have friends?”

“Mice don’t have mouse friends,” Pyotr huffed, “I can have wolf-boy friends and dog-star friends, though. You are not mice. Besides,” he looked down at his feet, “I don’t want to be left out.”

“We’d never do that to you!” Remus exclaimed, worried that he’d somehow offended Pyotr.

“We can all be friends,” Sirius nodded.

“Really?” Pyotr’s mousey eyes gleamed happily in the dark.

“Of course!” Remus laughed.

And so the three new friends talked excitedly to one another, with Remus having friends to confide in for the first time; Pyotr having an audience as he retold frankly terrifying stories from the knyaz’s house; and Sirius telling both of them fantastic stories about the adventures that he’s had, teasing dragons in the sky, and playing pranks on his little brother, Regulus.

“Is Regulus a dog-star like you, Sirya?” Pyotr asked.

“No, he’s not. He’s a good and proper star, the otchigin.”

Otchigin? What does that mean?” Remus asked.

“He’s the hearth-prince,” Sirius explained, “When my father, the Great Khan of the Sky Plains dies, Regulus inherits the centre of his empire. I get some of the rest.”

“But wouldn’t you like to be the otchigin?” Pyotr inquired. “Being a prince sounds pretty nice.”

Sirius let out a bark-laugh. “And have to stay in the same spot forever? Sounds too boring to me. I’d rather roam the skies and the earth, not bound by things like obligation and duty.”

A hot stab of envy prodded at Remus’ chest. “I wish I could travel the world,” he confided, “But I am a serf, I’ll never be able to leave the knyaz’s estate. I’ll never leave my parents’ hut, most likely.”

Sirius put a paw on his. “You can come with me, we’ll have the best of adventures!”

“You wouldn’t mind?”

“Of course not!” Sirius’ tail wagged excitedly. “We’re friends, after all!”

Remus hugged the dog-star gratefully. Sirius was soft and warm to the touch, maybe a little too warm. Remus wondered if it was because Sirius was a star.

“We can be andas,” Sirius exclaimed, “We can be sworn brothers!”

“I’ve always wanted a brother,” Remus admitted, “I am awfully lonely.”

“Then I’ll be your anda,” Sirius decided with a bark, and licked Remus’ snout affectionately.

The wolf-boy giggled. “Stop, Sirius, I’m ticklish!” Then, slightly guilty, he turned to Pyotr. “Petya, do you want us to be your andas?”

Pyotr chortled. “No, it’s fine. I have enough brothers and sisters at home.”

“If you say so,” Sirius nodded.

Remus stretched his arms out. He had a wonderful time but felt rather tired. Observant for a mouse, Pyotr suggested, “Perhaps we should leave; Rima, you looked tired.”

“No, please don’t leave on account of me,” Remus protested as he yawned. He was slightly angry at his body for betraying him, but if he wanted to be useful tomorrow he would need to sleep. Still, he was loath to leave his new friends, especially when they were both so exciting.

Sirius curled up around Remus. “I’ll stay,” said the dog-star, “I’ll be awake until the sun rises, I need to go home and sleep then. Petya, you should go back to your family in the house.”

“That I will do,” Pyotr said, and scurried off into the dark.

Remus snuggled closer to the dog-star. “Thank you, Sirya.”

“It’s nothing,” it said.

Then sleep overtook him.

 

----

 

The next day, Remus woke when papa shook his shoulder. “ Synochka, it’s time to work.” Remus loved his papa; his papa was much nicer than the other papas in the village, who were mean to their children and demanded that their children call them otets and not papa. Remus’ papa was never mean to him, despite Remus being a wolf-boy. So Remus tried his best to be a good son to his papa.

As he changed into a clean kosovorotka, porty, and valenki, Remus thought sadly that he would not meet his friends today or tonight, as he would not need to sleep outside for another month. He didn’t want to turn into a wolf, but if that meant that he would see Sirius and Pyotr again, he would do it in a heartbeat.

The sky was overcast and it was not hot to work. Since it was September already, the barley was ready to be harvested, and people were in the fields all day, swinging big heavy scythes. Remus was not yet big enough to use a scythe, and so he ran from the fields to the village huts, bearing bales of barley that needed to be picked and hulled. The harvest was not so bad as the last, and papa and the other men seemed pleased.

When the sky darkened, mama called Remus back to the house to help her cook. Remus peeled the potatoes while mama and babushka made bread to go with the cabbage soup left over from lunch. Papa came home just as babushka and Remus were boiling potatoes, smiling and carrying four small apples in his hands. “They’ve just started to ripen!” He told babushka happily, as she kissed him and put the apples on the table.

Dinner was soon served, and after papa said grace the entire family ate quickly so they could go to sleep early. It had been a hard day, and tomorrow was going to be harder as they tried to fit more work into fewer sunlit hours. Papa, mama, and babushka all ate their apples after dinner, but Remus held on to his. “Vnuk, why aren’t you eating your apple?”

“I’m saving it for breakfast,” Remus told her, even though he was thinking about saving it for Sirius and Pyotr, in case they came back to see him.

“My little Rimochka, always so smart; an apple does make better breakfast than just bread,” She praised him for his foresight.

“Rima,” his mother called, and Remus went over to her to put the covers back onto the stove. He helped babushka onto the stove, and clambered on after her himself. He curled up in his corner of the stove and tried to sleep, even though he missed Sirius and Pyotr. But soon the world was quiet save for the gentle huffing of the dying stove and papa ’s snores. And again Remus was completely alone, and felt even more alone having just last night discovered what having friends was like. So quietly he began to cry for his friends, and wished that they would come back to him.

The door of the hut suddenly creaked open a little. Remus stopped crying and froze. Who was it? He looked over his shoulder at mama, papa, and babushka, but they did not wake up. He turned back towards the door nervously. Moonlight flowed like milk through the crack between the door and the wall. Then a black boot, curved and pointed at the toe, wedged itself between the door and the wall, and Remus let out an alarmed yelp. “Sh!” The voice hushed him, chastising, as its owner pushed the door open even farther.

Remus was not one to face an intruder lying down, waiting to be slaughtered. He took babushka’s cooking knife from the table and strode towards the door as confidently as he could, even though he felt fear grip at his ribs like ice-cold fingers. Holding the knife in front of him as a warning, he yanked the door open, to see a young Mongol boy, about his age, with black hair and silver eyes looking back at him.

“Put the knife down, Rima, it’s just me, Sirius,” the boy pleaded.

“Sirya?” Remus lowered the knife and looked at the other boy again. The Sirius he knew last night was definitely not a boy, but, there was no mistaking the eyes, and the black hair that seemed to glow faintly even though it was dark.

“Yes, it’s me,” Sirius looked down at himself. “Perhaps I should have come as a dog. That would have been perhaps more prudent.”

“Please, come in,” Remus said as he laid the knife back down on the table.

“I brought Pyotr,” Sirius told him, and a mouse scampered up to Remus, chittering excitedly. “I have also brought an old friend of mine for you to meet,” Sirius said, as he motioned for something beyond the door to come in.

A giant silvery-white stag stepped over the threshold and into Remus’ hut. Remus watched it with wide, incredulous eyes, as it sauntered around gracefully and regarded Remus with its soft brown eyes.

“This is Yasha,” Sirius said proudly as he patted the deer’s back. “We’ve been friends for at least a hundred years.” Remus thought that was impossible and Sirius was just making a joke, and then realised that his friend was an actual star, and so figured that he was serious.

“Nice to meet you,” Remus said as he extended a hand to the deer, which nuzzled it in a friendly fashion. “My name is Remus, but everyone calls me Rima.”

“It’s very good to meet you, too,” the deer said in a surprisingly genteel voice, with a soft accent to it that didn’t sound like any other person, animal, or star that Remus had met before. Remus wondered what kind of deer Yasha was, exactly.

“Yasha used to be a tsarevich,” Sirius told him, as if reading Remus’ mind, “But now he lives as a white stag.”

“How did you turn into a stag?” Remus asked him, but then quickly felt bad for appearing so insensitive, and added empathetically, “I turn into an animal, too, I was born on the 24th of December, so I’m cursed to be a wolf-boy.”

“I know, Sirius has told me all about you,” Yasha nodded. “It is unfortunate. But at least your condition is not of your own fault; mine is entirely out of my own foolishness.”

“It makes for a great story though,” Sirius grinned impishly, and his almond eyes glittered like creek water.

Yasha sighed. “Yes, I suppose so. Though Lilya will never marry me now.”

“Lilya?”

“Go on,” Sirius urged his friend, “Tell them the story.”

“Very well,” the stag nodded. “Though may I sit down?”

Horrified at his own lack of hospitality, Remus nodded quickly and said, “Yes, of course, make yourself comfortable.” He sat onto the floor himself, and watched the stag gracefully fold itself down and Sirius promptly plop himself down on the floor.

“A long time ago, perhaps centuries ago, I was a tsarevich,” Yakov began his story, “I was the tsarevich of Kyiv, and my father called me Yakov.”

“I lived in a white palace with my father and my mother. I grew up surrounded by wondrous things, like the softest beds, the richest foods, and silver rivers and golden trees; but none of these interested me, after I first laid eyes upon Liliya Ivanovna. I met her at a ball in my father’s palace, when we were only eleven years old. I have never been the same since.”

“She would appear at my father’s ball every year, and when I was sixteen I knew that she would be my wife. I turned to my father, the tsar, and asked him to ask Lilya’s father for her hand in marriage. My father looked at me and frowned, saying that Lilya will not marry anyone, not even a young tsarevich.”

“My father told me that a curse was just cast upon the young lady, by a jealous knyaz in a faraway princedom whose advances had been spurned a year ago. He said that if he could not marry Liliya Ivanovna, then nobody would, and cursed death to anyone who dare ask for her hand in marriage.”

“But I knew that this would be the only lady I would ever love. At my father’s next yearly ball, she was even lovelier at age seventeen, with hair bright as flames and eyes verdant like emeralds. When she laughed it sounded like a running brook, and when she danced it looked like she was a spring breeze. She danced with me for the first time at that ball, and where I held her hands it felt like I was touching stars, and when she smiled at me it felt like snow was melting.”

“We danced for the entire evening and I saw nothing else, heard nothing else, felt nothing else, smelled nothing else, was aware of nothing else. And at the end of the ball, when all the dancers began putting on their furs and their boots, I asked Lilya to marry me. I told her I could give her everything, from the stars in the sky to the gems in the ground. I could offer her jade apples and golden birds. I would stop the seasons for her, so it would always be spring.”

“She looked sadly at me, and let go of my hand.”

“‘But you cannot give me freedom, Yasha,’ she said, and disappeared into the night.”

“I could not sleep that night. My thoughts were entirely her, and I could not find peace because what is peace without her by my side! I tossed and turned all night, and an ocean roiled within me. At the end I leapt out of my bed, grabbed my sword, and saddled my father’s best horse, and rode off to find her.”

“I asked everywhere for a maiden lady called Liliya Ivanovna, but no one was brave enough to tell me. Or they told me, ‘Son, you best run while you can. Liliya Ivanovna will do you no good.’”

“But I searched for her. I searched for her until my white coat was brown with mud, until my hair was white with dust, until my pockets were emptied of gold. After a year of running after every clue anyone would begrudgingly bestow upon me, pitying my state, I found my Lilya, in the greenest garden I have ever seen in my life, more beautiful than any flower I have ever seen at age eighteen.”

“I called out her name, and she was so startled by my bedraggled countenance that she began crying, thinking that this man, with his face paled by dust and his white coat torn by a years’ journey, was the ghost of her Yasha.”

“Once I assured her that I was alive, I asked her to run with me. I told her, ‘Lilya, freedom will never come to you if you are not willing to take the first step.’ I asked her to trust me, and to have faith that I would not die, because I had already survived such a hard year looking for her. I was no longer the young, weak tsarevich she had known a year ago; I had become a nastoyaschiy chelovek.”

“She was sad to leave her parents and scared of the evil knyaz, but she agreed that she had to take her life in her own hands, and that she would run away with me. We mounted my horse and rode away.”

“But as soon as we left, the evil knyaz came to us in the form of a crow, and pecked at my horse’s eyes until it went blind. Unable to move forward, Lilya and I ran into a forest nearby to hide. But the knyaz-crow was persistent, and patrolled the forest for days. We began to grow thirsty, and starve, and I could not do this to Lilya. I begged the gods above to give me help; and they sent water from above, rain so heavy that the knyaz-crow was driven away momentarily.”

“The storm yielded three small ponds around us. One was a white like fresh milk, the other red as flames and summer berries, and the third green, a deep, deep green like my Lilya’s eyes. The gods told me, ‘Drink from one of these, Yasha, and you can take your Lilya with you. But you must pay a price.’”

“I dipped my head into the third pond, and drank deeply. Lilya tried to stop me, but I could not leave her to die with me in a forest. I would not have that on me. So I drank, and drank, and drank, until I could not drink anymore, and stumbled away from the pond.”

“Then I felt my limbs taper into thin, spindly legs capped with white hooves, my face elongate, and something sharp prodding out of my head. White fur blossomed my skin. I looked into the green pond and saw that I had become a white stag. I turned to Lilya, and saw that she was crying tears, for her tsarevich had turned into a deer.”

“Licking her tears from her face, I told her to get on my back and I would carry her out of this dreadful forest. She did, and we rode back to the road, and tried to get as far away from the forest as we could.”

“We wandered like this, a girl and her white deer, for a year, before the knyaz found us. We were poor, and scared, and tired, but we were happy together. Lilya asked everywhere to see if there could be a cure for my condition, but you cannot take back what you have already paid, and I had resigned myself to that. I could not marry Lilya, as I was a deer, but as long as I could stay by her side, that would be enough.”

“But Lilya would not give up. She asked everywhere, and eventually came to a witch. The witch told her that she could cure me, and Lilya took me to see her. However, the witch turned out to be the sister of the knyaz, who came flapping down, as a crow and then as a man, with hard, flinty eyes and a knife in his hand. He lunged at me, but Lilya threw herself over me and took the blade.”

“She died almost instantly, the blood staining her dress even redder than the flames of her hair. I was distraught. I lunged at the knyaz with my antlers, but he had openly welcomed it, seeing that he had inadvertently killed the woman that he loved and deserved death. However, I will not fight a man unwilling to fight back, and I will not kill a coward who cannot live with the consequence of his actions.”

“I walked a long way, back to the forest where Lilya and I had hid when the knyaz was still looking for us. I laid my head at the edge of the green pond and cried. I mourned in the forest, alone, until the leaves fell from the trees, and frost rose from the ground, and winter spread its frigid shroud over the forest.”

“With the first snow, Snegurochka found me, cold and waiting to die so I could be with my Lilya. She went and found Ded Moroz, who saw me and took pity on me. Ded Moroz asked me to lead his winter procession, and in turn he would try his best to return my Lilya to me. He went to Maslenitsa, and begged her to return Lilya’s soul. He begged on my behalf for so long, that autumn lasted much longer than it had usually lasted. Maslenitsa told him that Lilya no longer had a body to return to, so she could not bring her back as a human, but she would make her soul a harbinger of spring, and she would be able to return to our realm.”

“And so Lilya returned as the spirit of spring. Each year, she will rise from Maslenitsa’s realm to bring spring over the world, and I, chasing after her, will hasten the procession of winter. But I only ever get to see her shadow before my journey must end, and winter must yield to spring. That is how our story must go; I was a fool for bringing this terrible fate on her in the beginning.”

Yakov dipped his head sadly as he finished his story. Sirius’ hand was gently stroking his white pelt, and Remus lifted his hand to do the same.

“Thank you, boys, for listening to my story and taking pity on this poor deer,” Yakov sighed.

“Thank you for sharing, Yasha,” Remus said. “I’m sorry you had to go through so much. I hope one day you can marry Liliya Ivanovna.”

“I am hoping as well,” Yakov turned towards Remus and blinked intelligently. “Sirya has been so kind to help me, but little progress has been made.”

“Well, I will help you as well!” Remus declared. “Many hands make light work, babushka always says.”

Yakov nodded again. “Your babushka is a wise woman, Rima. Thank you for your offer, I shall take you up on it.”

Remus felt excitement bubble within his person. He was going to be part of a larger story! He will not be just Rima, the wolf-boy, forever. He could have an impact on someone else’s life, and not be forced to keep to himself.

Silence fell upon them as morning began to dawn over the sky. Pyotr yawned his little rat yawn, chittered at the other three of them, and scampered off.

Sirius turned to Remus. “Rima, Petya has gone to sleep, and you should too, if you want to be any use to your mama and papa tomorrow.”

Remus suddenly remembered that he had something to share. “Wait, I forgot to share this with you!” He took out his apple and offered it to Sirius and Yakov.

Sirius laughed and waved the apple away. “Rima, you’re too kind! Please keep the apple for yourself. I do not eat myself, and Ded Moroz spoils Yasha with treats all the time, because he feels so much pity for our deer friend.”

“Oh, alright.” Remus felt a little foolish as he held onto his apple.

“Apples, though,” Yakov mused, “Autumn is coming. I must go soon.” He unfolded himself and stood up. “Thank you for your hospitality, Rima, I must be going as well,” he said and stepped out of Remus’ hut.

“Rima, up,” Sirius gestured for him to climb back onto the stove. Remus did so and found that it was cold now, but he did not care anymore and was fairly tired. “Sleep, Rima,” Sirius said soothingly to him.

“Sirya?”

“Yes?”

“Will you visit me again?”

“Yes, of course. What a silly question. Are we not andas?”

“... Would it be preposterous for me to ask you to visit me … every night?” Remus asked, and then felt foolish and greedy, for asking Sirius to spend so much time with him. After all, Sirius was a star, and must have more important things to do. “Sorry, that must be asking for too much, forget that I said that.”

Sirius let out a laugh. “Don’t be like that. If you want to, of course I’ll visit you every night.”

Remus let out a small sigh of relief. “Slava bogu, you know you all are my only friends, and I should very much like to spend more time with you-” He ended his sentence with a yawn.

Sirius patted his shoulder and smiled at him, his eyes narrowing mirthfully until Remus could only see the faraway glint of his silver eyes. “Go to sleep, Remus. I will see you tomorrow.”

Remus let out another yawn. “Good night, Sirius.”

And sleep draped him in a dreamless unconsciousness.