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The fog is so overwhelming that it doesn’t even feel like summer.

The moon will have turned again, tonight. It’s not even dark yet, but he can already feel it in his bones. Not that she ever really goes away, but her pull is different, depending on the day. And now, now it feels like she’s pushing him, the real him, out. He’d tried to explain it to his family once, as they stared at their shaking son in horror, but he could never find the words. Still can’t. Even “push” seems too weak a word.

He nods at his family, before walking away. They give him the pitying looks they always do, not bothering to get up to acknowledge the departure. Despite the embarrassment, despite the pain he knows is coming, there’s something soothing in this walk. Dusk draws near, the air in the forest seems crisper somehow, and the leaves brushing against his body as he gets farther and farther away from home feel right in a way they never do any other day.

As his body starts tingling with anticipation, his mind’s already drifted. His skin might look the same, but his instincts and concentration are all over the place, already. Was that the light footsteps of a rabbit he heard just now? He’s not sure.

He doesn’t forget these nights, exactly, but his memory gets hazy and confusing. Shapes, feelings and words without meaning come to his dreams and thoughts, but he can’t untangle, or understand them. Until it’s time again, time to transform. Then, just like now, his memories start having meaning, again. The smells, the shapes, the thoughts-- he understands them now, as if he’s been given a whole new language. A language he’ll lose again in less than a day.

The ghost of a smile plays on his face as he reaches the clearing. He looks at the sky, and smiles at the darkening clouds.

It’s time.

~

Everything hurts and he’s so sore he’s tempted to just stay where he is, but he knows he can’t. With a sigh, he makes his body get up on shaky legs. He has a sour taste in his mouth. It’s wild how his body can get so used to another form in just one night, and reject the other so. That’s why he thinks the body he’s in so infrequently is his real one. When the moon pushes it out, he feels more right than he ever has in the skin he was born in. His soul, he thinks absurdly, wants the moon to never change.

But that’s nonsense, so he walks back home.

The reception is cold as always, but they do make room for him between his father and one of his brothers, and offer him breakfast.

I don’t like it, his father huffs needlessly. The withering look is even less necessary.

I know, he replies, trying not to sound too pleased. He knows that that’s what his father’s referring to. His father hates the giddy attitude, the swing in his step, around this time. How happy it makes him to become what they call a monster.

I’m just worried. His mother doesn’t look at him, but it’s clear who she’s referring to. You’re always there, now.

I’m not.

He really isn’t. Not like he can, when the moon isn’t right. It would be too dangerous, in his normal body. If only he could… But he can’t let the townspeople know about him, lest they get curious where he disappears to. Make the connection with the moon. He can’t do that to his family, even if he could take the risk himself. They have to hide.

They’ll kill you, his father points out reasonably.

He does worry about that, sometimes, when he’s hiding in the bushes or walking through the forest. No matter how right he feels in that body, it’s an imposter’s body, really. No more or less easy to catch than a frog within leaves. Once you notice something’s wrong, it’s obvious. Until then… Until then he’ll enjoy this. Hide in the bushes and watch the townspeople from afar.

He knows it’ll kill him one day, one way or another. His family can’t tell, but the transformation is hard on his body as well as his mind. Every time he has to return to his real body his mind seems to reject it a little more. He doesn’t know if he’ll survive another winter of waking up bruised, aching and exposed in the middle of the forest once a month.

Even still, the moon can’t come soon enough. He’s already thirsty for it.

~

Another thing his family doesn’t know about is how un-monster-like he feels, when he turns. He’s still him. His thoughts get confusing, yes, but never outrageous. Or at least it doesn’t feel that way at the time. He has no desire to come back and kill his kin, like the stories say. He avoids his family, of course, because they run away in disgust and fear if they see him, but he’s certain he wouldn’t hurt them, if he could stay.

Not that he wants to stay. He had, at the beginning, as a kid. Now he looks forward to getting out. Both for the peace the solitude gives him before the transformation, and so he can see him.

He is called Sirius. They’ve never met properly, of course. He’s never met anyone properly, short of his small family.

On one of the nights he was wandering far from home, he’d been brave enough to venture into the outskirts of the city. And there he’d seen him. Sirius. Playing with a man called James, names gathered from their conversations. Something about their easy movements - nudging at each other’s shoulders, chasing each other - and their laughter had drawn him in, and he’d followed them all the way to a cottage just outside of town. Thankfully, they didn’t live in the town proper, because even in his excited state, he had had more sense than to put himself into that much danger.

If he were killed, how could he keep watching Sirius?

After that night, he kept going to the cottage every time he turned. More often than not, Sirius, James, and Lily were around. Lily was the third of the family, seeming to favor staying inside rather than join James and Sirius out on their play more often than not. There was an aura of warmth and respect around her that kept both boys calm and safe. Perhaps she was older, who knew? She didn’t look it, though. Probably only wiser. Leaders didn’t get there only with age, after all.

They sat out in the garden drinking, or sharing food, or sometimes sitting in silence. Sometimes Lily cried, and he wanted so badly to go and comfort her, bury his face in her neck, but of course he had to keep hiding. And no matter how often he watched them, he wasn’t their family, he couldn’t do things like that, anyway.

~

One night Sirius cries, alone by the door of the house, undrunk beer in his hand, and his throat hurts with the unvoiced howl. He has to be quiet, he has to hide, but it hurts, not going to Sirius to comfort.

Bad things come in threes, he finds himself thinking, as he walks home that night. He doesn’t know when he learned that, or who he’d heard it from. He’s not sure why he’s thinking of it at all, not like he knows why Sirius was crying. Maybe it’s heartache, he thinks bitterly. Maybe Sirius loves someone.

It’s not quite dawn yet, so he slows down as he approaches the tenebrous clearing he usually uses to transform. When he’s screaming and turning, nobody would dare approach him, but he doesn’t want to sit outside, exposed, for long. There are other creatures that crawl in the night, after all. No matter how miserable he feels right now, he’s not interested in becoming breakfast.

When his skin starts tingling and he feels the moon pulling at his usual form to come back into his body, he walks into the treeless circle. As he paws a leaf off of his face, he realizes there are tears on his face. He smiles, thinking there’s somehow still things that surprise him about this body of his. Then he doesn’t think much at all, because his bones are pulling at his muscles, and all that he can do is howl.

~

He’s staring, aghast, at his family. It’s wrong. So wrong. Every instinct he’s ever had, in either form, is screaming for him to attack. But there’s nothing to attack. He wonders where his parents are, but not for long. He can imagine it all too clearly. He’s seen the proof of it enough times in town, before.

His siblings are huddled around his oldest brother. One of his sisters is trying to stop the bleeding, but it’s no use.

How did he even get shot, he wonders, watching his brother bleed. Why would they do this to him? He approaches his brother, and lays down next to him, as close as he can get, surrounded as he is.

He tries his best to pretend that they’re just huddling for warmth on a cold winter night, but he can’t ignore the smell of blood. Still, he doesn’t raise his head. Doesn’t even look around to sense if there’s any danger remaining.

All of a sudden, his parents appear, and he raises his head to look. They’re unhurt, but clearly tired. They’ve been running for hours, if he had to guess.

They’re far away now, his mother confirms his thoughts. We’re safe.

His brother makes it, somehow. The wound grazed his skin and it was more blood than real damage, apparently.

Monsters, he thinks. Monsters. For the first time in his life, he means it.

~

Next moon, he doesn’t even pretend to trot around the forest for a bit, and immediately goes to the cottage. He needs to see that Sirius is laughing again. Happy, with his family. He needs to forget, at least for a night, what’s happened. How this town he so loves visiting, hates his family enough to kill them without reason.

Thankfully, Sirius isn’t alone this time. He still looks sad, but James and Lily are there with him, and they’re drinking something warm. James has his head tilted back, and they’re talking about something he doesn’t understand. Each says a few words at a time that hold no meaning to him. Maybe names?

He tries to get comfortable in the bushes, and ends up snapping a small twig. He freezes, not even daring to look towards the people on the porch.

“We already know you’re there, you know,” Sirius’ beautiful voice says.

“Oh?” James says, looking towards Sirius. “She’s back?”

“Why do you think they’re a she?” Lily asks, amused. “I don’t know that a woman would hide like this.”

“Mmm, I don’t know.”

“Come out,” Sirius says, towards the bushes he’s hiding in. He feels his heart might burst out of his chest. He can’t come out looking like this!

“It’s alright, we know you’re not a danger. If you wanted us dead, we’d have been dead months ago. And we’re of no danger to you, or you would be.”

Not true, he thinks. You can sense me somehow, know that I’m here even when I think I’m hidden. He can’t think of a more dangerous power.

He’s about to step out, but then he thinks of the hanging ropes he’d seen in town, a few times. Would they hang him? He doesn’t know why they hang, nor why they keep the skin after. Who’s to say that he, a stranger, wouldn’t be hanged just for being that?

“Suit yourself,” James says. “We’ll leave a beer out for you just in case. Good batch.”

“No,” Sirius says, walking towards the bush. “Enough of this. Get out.”

He gets up, feeling his skin burn. He doesn’t know how to explain this feeling, but he’s felt it before. Heart beating fast, skin burning, mostly around his face, and he feels like he has a lot of energy for no good reason.

Sirius looks at him. At him. It feels amazing. And bad. He doesn’t know. He’s so confused.

“Merlin!” James shouts. “He’s naked!” Then he starts laughing.

He loves it when they laugh, but it doesn’t feel right, this time. He doesn’t like it. Again, he can’t explain why, but he knows that this is bad. He’s so confused.

Sirius doesn’t say anything for a while, just looks at him. Mostly his eyes. He has noticed that they look at each other’s eyes instead of speaking, sometimes. It makes him feel part of them, a little bit.

“Let’s get you dressed up, shall we?” Sirius says gently, as if he’s speaking to a little bird who might fly off.

He does feel like taking off. But more than that, he feels like holding Sirius. The thought makes his skin warm up again. Then, before he can think about that, he feels something on his skin.

He shakes and looks around, trying to understand what’s happening. But there’s nobody touching him, he can’t see anything, but--

Oh. Oh, he’s wearing fabric now. Like them.

Sirius leads him to the porch, where they have an extra seat now. Instead, he sits on the porch itself. They give each other odd looks again, but don’t say anything. He’s grateful.

He doesn’t speak, isn’t sure how, but they don’t seem to mind. They talk around him, and he lets the sounds wash over him.

After that night, he doesn’t hide in the bushes anymore. He even keeps the clothes they give him, and wears them before he goes to the cottage. They get dirty, and he can tell it’s odd for them that he only ever wears what they give him, but they don’t seem to mind.

He even starts to speak, little by little. Hoarse, foreign sounding voices coming out of his throat. They’re surprised at first, having assumed he was mute, they say.

When they ask for his name, he thinks about it for a while, then he says “Wolf.”

“Wolf’s not a name,” James says, sounding unimpressed.

He shrugs. He doesn’t know what else to tell them.

“If you want a wolfish nickname, how about Remus?” Sirius asks. “You know, one of the Rome wolves?”

He - Remus - smiles, beaming at the attention. Sirius has given him a name. He likes it.

Before dawn, as always, he throws out dirtied napkins and bottles around him into the bin, before walking back home. The others have gone to sleep hours ago, of course, but he still likes spending the full night in the little garden, close to them. Sometimes even inside, now that the autumn cold has set in.

He glances up at the mirror they have hanging by the door, before he gets out. He pauses, looking. On good nights, he can forget what he is. When he’s sitting next to Sirius, who lets their legs touch, and smiles at him, and calls him Remus.

Looking at his reflection, though, he feels… dread. He thinks that’s the word for it. He looks at the crooked, almost-hairless face of a monster staring back at him. Someone with a face like this shot his brother, not too long ago. Someone looking like him would slaughter his whole family, given the chance. He doesn’t think James, or Lily, or Sirius would. But then again, he doesn’t know. Just because they have no wolfskin hanging on their walls or laid down on their wood floors, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t kill a wolf.

He walks back into the forest, towards the clearing. Unsure what he wants least; to keep his thin monster skin and be with Sirius and his friends, or get back in his natural, grey fur, and live amongst his own? He doesn’t feel like he belongs to any people, really. He’s in wolfskin most of the time, but they know what he is, and even his family looks at him with pity and a dash of contempt. And Sirius, well… who wants a mate they can only see when the moon is black?

The forest, at least, welcomes him. Always. He smiles a sad, crooked smile, and runs his hands over branches and leaves as he walks deeper and deeper into the darkness, away from the Potters’ lantern by their door. If he belongs to anyone, really, it’s the forest.