Btw, chapters one and two are up at SQ.
Table of Contents and Summary So Far
Lunch was unexpectedly pleasant, despite the fact that his shoulder throbbed and burned all afternoon.
Fenrir distributed all the food, and they were subjected to a disjointed speech about rights to blood and the "new power rising" that would give the Muggle world into their claws, but other than that, a passer-by would likely mistake it for a large family picnic. Remus had never been in a group of more than five werewolves before; unchained, he coulnd't recall having been in a group of more than two.
The men and women he'd visited over the past two weeks in their solitary squatters' lairs had been surly and suspicious, questioning him harshly and removing him bodily on occasion. But here, they behaved with an odd courtesy, a rough code of manners that everyone seemed to recognize. Sweet, who was becoming a good deal more talkative and outgoing as moonrise approached, appointed herself his guide. Alderman laid aside his earlier mistrust and sat with them, telling epic tales of his own hunting prowess.
"He's lying," Sweet chided after a particularly adventurous tale of deerslaying. "He can't take a grown doe by himself."
"Can so!" Alderman flicked a bit of rabbit grease at her, and she put her hand up to block it. "Just ask Blondin; he ate part of it." He turned to Remus. "I think Sweet's sweet on Blondin. All the little girls are."
"I am not! That's not allowed. And I'm not little. Greyback says I'm nearly full grown."
Alderman leaned forward and sniffed. "You don't smell grown yet."
"Is that right? Wait for moonrise then. You can't smell proper yet, anyway. You'll see."
"You stay in your own place when the moon's round," Alderman said, backing away. "I don't fancy breathing through some new hole."
Sweet blanched abruptly and left their group.
"Girls. They don't understand." Alderman rolled his eyes. "You should eat the rest of that rabbit, Lupin, or you won't be able to do much more than sleep tonight."
"I haven't made a habit of eating heavy meals before transformations."
"And you don't eat during?"
Alderman shook his head in disbelief. "Don't that make you tired? Greyback says we'll be ill afterward if we don't eat hearty around the moon. So eat... it's good!" He gestured with a handful of greasy rabbit.
The meal went on all afternoon, and Remus ate until he felt sick (and obscurely drunk, though there had been no spirits involved). The others continued long after that point. The boys started some kind of game together--it seemed to involve stalking one another and dropping out of trees--but Alderman refused it self-importantly, reminding them that he was going off with the men this month. Sweet had come back and started picking leaves out of his hair, and when this was spotted, a woman ushered her away and swept her into a group of smaller girls, who were affectionatly tugging one another's hair. Remus looked around and noticed that the clearing had become very clearly divided between men and women. Fenrir Greyback, who had been sitting silently atop the rocky rise for an hour, stood and came down. He went to the girls, looked at them, examining the older ones, then shrugged and left them as they were. He gestured to a woman of indeterminate age and she went to him and caressed his arms.
"Evvie, get 'em off to the caves." He pinched her bottom.
Evvie pinched him back flirtatiously, then went and corralled the girls, leading them off into the lengthening shadows.
Remus felt something warm on his thigh, and looked to see a small white hand resting there. A woman with sharpened teeth was beside him, looking at him with an unmistakable invitation. He touched her hand to move it away, but it seemed to remain in his own hand, and he thought of Dora, but it was somehow fuzzy and unreal.
"I told you to blindfold him, Mina, not rub him down." Greyback pulled her away and glared at Remus. He took a strip of cloth from her and wrapped it tightly around Remus's eyes, then shoved him off in a different direction. "Alderman, take him off with the little boys where he belongs."
There was some tugging and pushing, but Alderman was careful not to let him walk into any trees or rocks, and eventually he said, "Duck," and the smell of the forest changed into the smell of wet rocks.
The blindfold was removed. He blinked in the new dimness. It was a low-ceilinged cave, sloping down toward what looked from here like a large cavern. Boys were running in around them. A pair of them carrying Fenrir's crate nudged him aside. The animals inside the crate were utterly frantic.
His head was starting to clear from the strange drunken feeling. He looked at Alderman. "What...?"
Alderman nodded in a knowing way. "Told you, didn't I? Females. They'll stir your brains. You'll get a bit more used to them, but they'll always stir your brains this close."
"Remind me to listen to you next time."
"I will." He pointed down the slope. "You go on down there. I'm going with Greyback." He smiled nervously. "Reckon I'll be the runt," he said again.
"Be careful," Remus said.
"Are you careful when the moon's up?"
There was nothing to say to this, so Remus said nothing. He nodded to Alderman and headed down toward the cavern, where he could hear the boys shouting to one another. Before he went in, he glanced up at the entrance, and saw Alderman still standing there, bracing himself against the rock with one hand, a black silhouette against the twilight. He stayed there for a long time before Blondin and one of the other boys dragged him inside, apparently excited to have an adult with them.
"Come on!" the new boy said. "You should have a good spot, with lots of room!"
"And we still have to blood the rabbits," Blondin said, drawing his knife. They came upon the crate, which was now sitting beside an underground lake. A third boy tore off the boards and reached inside, pulling a rabbit up by its ears.
Blondin raised his knife, but didn't cut the rabbit. Instead, he cut his own hand, then cut the hands of the two boys nearest him. He stood expectantly in front of Remus.
"It's to make them smell right," Blondin explained, and rubbed his bloody hands over rabbit's coat, matting it. "Can't practice catching it if it doesn't smell right, can we? C'mon, everyone has to."
Remus offered his hand, and Blondin cut a thin line in it.
The rabbits were brought out one by one, covered in human blood, and set free in the cavern. Blondin howled after the last one and capered around the crate. "Let's meet the moon!" he yelled, and ran deeper into the cave.
The others followed quickly.
Remus looked at the crate, and at his hands. The smell of their blood hung rich around him and his stomach gave a powerful twinge.
Their voices came back from further ahead, echoing, giving human howls still, but soon enough...
One of the rabbits nosed back toward the crate, and Remus touched it, running his finger over the long, velvety ears. "I'm sorry," he told it.
It didn't care for his apology, and hopped away.
He followed the boys.
A cool breeze was blowing, and he found himself at the far side of the lake, where the cavern opened up to the sky in a narrow chimney. The boys were gathered at the base of it--there were only six of them, he thought--sitting on their haunches, their heads upturned, waiting.
Remus joined them.
No one spoke while they waited. It was a solemn time, full of dread.
And then there
is pain, pain, and more pain.
Fire rips through him, his claws push through tender flesh, his spine stretches. Bones break in his face, rearrange themselves, sharpen. Skin grows rough, hair itches its way to the surface, and then all things rush into the mind... the rich smells of the cave, the scents of his packmates, the sound of scuffling animals in the rocks.
The pups collapse to the rock wall, panting, the pain passing, and the large wolf among them rises, stretching, knowing and feeling that it is alpha, that all is its for the asking.
There is a deep smell, the smell, the only one that matters.
He puts his nose to the ground, tracks it.
The pups rise, capering around him, and he swipes one of them off to one side. It bites playfully at him, then rolls over and bares its belly. The wolf ignores it.
There are only flashes now.
The blood-scent. Small creature, cowering among the rocks. Ripping flesh and cracking bone.
A drink in the lake. A fish. He eats the fish, though it isn't what he craves.
He eats another rabbit.
The pups catch a third, and tear it among themselves.
Another kill. And another.
There is a narrow shaft in the cave, and the wolf can hear faraway howling. He howls back. There is another scent here, but he can't hunt it. The pups jump on him and there is a game of sorts, and he forgets the other howls.
The game goes on, and it is rough, and one ear is bleeding, but it is only pup play. The wolf rests on the rock floor, and after a bit, the pups gather around him, and they are all asleep and then there
was pain again.
It was less severe than Remus ever recalled it without Wolfsbane potion--a sense of tearing, the crushing feeling of his skull pulling inward.
The boys rose around him, howling at the rude awakening. Blondin, who had a bruise on his face from the cuffing Remus had given him early in the night, looked at him with great admiration.
"You should come every moon," he said.
"That's not going to happen," Fenrir Greyback said, coming down the slope from the cave entrance. "I think Lupin will be with us next month. If he'll be back, of course."
"I've nowhere else to be."
"Well, find somewhere to be other than here, and stop harassing people between moons. Find your own spot. And you can bloody well feed yourself now." He stood aside and waited for Remus to pass him, then grabbed him at the exact spot he'd bitten. "We aren't all pups," he said.
"Be back here next moon, Lupin. If you're not, I'll be looking for you, and you won't want to see me. You won't want to see me if you come and I found out you've been doing something you oughtn't, either."
"Honestly, Greyback, most of the time I won't want to see you, anyway."
Greyback punched the injury, and Remus was driven to his knees on the rocky ground. He stood and left the cavern.
He felt considerably less ill than he usually did and wondered (somewhat grudgingly) if Greyback might not have a point about eating heavily. He couldn't find any path that looked like a likely route back to the clearing, so he stumbled further into the forest. He saw none of the others.
When he'd gone far enough that he thought Greyback was no longer watching, he Apparated to a dingy back street in Diagon Alley, where Bill Weasley was waiting with an Invisibility Cloak to take him back to the Burrow for Harry Potter's sixteenth birthday.