Once you got used to it, being eleven wasn’t all that different from being ten. Oh, for the first few days it had given him a secret little thrill to say to himself, “I’m eleven, I’m eleven years old,” but that hadn’t lasted very long. It had been exciting the first time he’d said it out loud to the nice lady in the shop who’d asked him how old he was. It was close to the full moon though, and his mother, nervous of some laps that would display what they worked so hard to keep hidden, bustled him away.
The best part about being eleven of course, was that he would be getting his Hogwarts letter soon. His cousin Candice, a year older than him, had got hers last summer. She had come home at Christmas and Easter vacation full of stories about the castle, the forbidden forest, the eccentric head-master, the giant game-keeper, and her own house, Ravenclaw. He’d drunk in every word, counting the days until he himself would go with her to platform 9 3/4 on September 1.
He was in the back garden, digging in the sandbox. He knew he was a bit old for it, but his mother let him keep it, hoping it would help kerb his habit of burying things in the vegetable patch. He still got an uncomfortable squirm of embarrassment when he remembered his seventh birthday. After the family party, he’d taken the last piece of birthday cake out into the herb garden and dug a hole for it. He learned a hard lesson when he went to dig it up again a week later.
There were a lot of lessons like that. Visiting his uncle’s sheep farm, he had to be warned repeatedly against prowling around the edges of the herd, making sure there were no stragglers. His uncle laughed heartily and said how useful it would be to keep him around, but his parents had insisted he stop. They were always kind about it, but they said that if he was ever going to fit in, he’d have to act like everyone else. “Normal” people didn’t bury things in the garden, eat raw meat, or react to strangers by attempting to sniff their hands.
There was a cry of “Remus!” And Candice was there. She was his favourite cousin. She never rubbed it in that she was older than him, and she never made him feel bad for being different. He hadn’t seen her since his birthday, and being eleven got just a bit more exciting when her birthday present turned out to be his first, and very own wizard’s hat. He wriggled with joy, and ran in to look at himself in the mirror. Seeing his own reflection, he beamed with pleasure. Though it was only two months, September 1 seemed like decades away.
That night however, his elation suffered what felt like a fatal injury. He had crept downstairs for a glass of milk, when he overheard Candice and his parents talking in the lounge. Candice was speaking, and she sounded worried. “Auntie Suzie, I know there’s nothing really wrong with Remus, I mean not really, but you should hear the way people talk about…, about people like him, at Hogwarts. They make it sound like he’s, as though people like him are…, are…, bad, dangerous, not quite….” Her voice trailed off in distress.
His mother sighed deeply. “I know. I haven’t wanted to say anything to Remus, he’s so excited, waiting for his Hogwarts letter. We don’t know what to tell him. We just don’t know if he’ll get a letter, things being what they are.”
Remus, standing alone in the dim light of the kitchen, felt the bottom fall out of his stomach. No Hogwarts letter? He felt the familiar anger at the unfairness of it all, rising in his chest. As if it wasn’t bad enough to endure each full moon, as if the struggle to hide his nature wasn’t sufficient torment, now, the one thing he wanted most was going to be taken from him.
He felt like screaming. He grabbed a handful of his pajama top, stuffed it into his mouth, bit down, and shook his head violently from side to side. Realizing what he was doing, he pulled the sodden sleeve out of his mouth, and stood panting in frustration. He wouldn’t let it happen, he vowed to himself. Somehow, he was going to make them let him in.
He went back upstairs, and sat down on the edge of his bed to think. He tried to remember everything he had ever heard from Candice or his family about Hogwarts. The one person everybody always talked about was the headmaster, Dumbledore. They all said how odd he was, how strange, but they said these things with a kind of knowing smile, that made odd and strange, seem appealing rather than frightening. If Dumbledore was the headmaster, surely it would be up to him whether Remus would be getting a Hogwarts letter. Remus jumped up and began prowling around his room. Did he dare? Could he really do it? He did; he could.
He crept downstairs once more. This time it was dark and quiet; everyone had gone to bed. He went into the lounge, and was relieved to see that the fire in the grate hadn’t gone completely out. He knew how to do it when the fire was going, but he didn’t know how to light one. Grabbing a pinch of flue powder from the container on the mantle, he threw it into the fire before giving himself time to think, then stepped into the flames. He tried to say, “Dumbledore’s office,” but he was so nervous that he was afraid it hadn’t come out right.
He was right to be afraid, because it hadn’t. When he stepped out, he was in a room too large to be the one he’d heard described. The room was empty, which was a relief, but it definitely wasn’t Dumbledore’s office. It was round right enough, but there was no large desk, no spindly tables holding delicate and mysterious magical objects, and no oddly dressed man with long hair. Instead, there were tables, and a lot of squashy armchairs. He had a fleeting desire to curl up in one and go to sleep, but he pushed the thought away.
After a moment of panic, he concluded that he might be in one of the house common rooms. He made his way to the door and pushed it open. He clambered through, and found a portrait of a fat lady in a pink dress on the other side. She was startled, and looked hard at him.
“Students aren’t supposed to be here! You’re not even a Gryffindor! You’re not an anything!”
“Please,” he said, trying not to let his voice shake, “I need to see professor Dumbledore. Can you tell me how to find his office?”
“Well, I don’t know about that dear. I’m sure you’re not supposed to be here, or there.”
Thinking fast, he said, “Well then, the best way to get rid of me is to tell me how to find the headmaster.” She considered this, and seemed to agree, for she gave him detailed instructions, which he tried frantically to memorize.
In all of Candice’s descriptions of Hogwarts, she’d never described how eerie it was to be creeping down dark corridors, which, despite the fact that it was late June, were very chilly. He knew about the suits of armor, but knowing about them in theory, didn’t make them any less disturbing as they loomed grotesquely in the shadows. He got a terrible fright when a monk in one of the portraits lifted his head and called out, “Where do you think you’re going laddie!” Remus jumped, and only realized he was running when he got to the end of the corridor and had to turn either left or right.
The fat lady had given him excellent directions. The only time he nearly got lost, was when he smelled the unmistakable scent of a cat. Without stopping to think, he followed it, and discovered a dust-coloured, stringy cat sitting on top of a statue of a ferryman in a flat hat. Coming to himself, Remus made himself turn away, and retrace his steps.
He picked up his route, and soon, found himself gazing at two gargoyles, guarding the entrance to the chamber he was trying to find. The fat lady hadn’t told him what to do next, and he stood, shifting desperately from foot to foot. He’d come so far! As his thoughts got more and more troubled, he realized he hadn’t even thought about how he was going to get home.
Just then, the door before him opened, and a tall figure stood before him. He had no doubt at all that it was Dumbledore. The man’s light-brown hair fell down his back, and his beard flowed almost to his waste. He was dressed in a vivid yellow dressing gown of plush velvet, and holding an empty tray in one hand. He checked at sight of Remus, and stared hard at him, looking neither surprised nor accusing, only curious. He didn’t say anything though, and Remus felt more and more uncomfortable. Now that he was face-to-face with the man he wanted to see, he didn’t know how to begin.
Finally, Dumbledore took the initiative. “I was just heading down to the kitchen to make some hot chocolate. Why don’t you join me?”
Remus couldn’t believe his luck. He nodded, completely unable to speak. They walked side-by-side through corridors, down staircases, round corners, and finally reached the enormous kitchen, with its four long tables, and rows of gleaming cookware.
Over several cups of hot chocolate, and more than one plate of biscuits, Remus was finally able to pour out all of his fears. He told of his monthly transformations, of how his parents tried to teach him to behave like other children, how hard it was to remember not to chew bones or chase cats. “I just want to be normal!” He finished desperately, not knowing what to make of Dumbledore’s silence. “All I’ve ever wanted since I heard about Hogwarts, was to come here, to learn magic, to meet you, and now Candice says I probably can’t, because I’m a…, I’m…, I’m different.”
“What are you?”
“I’ve told you.”
“You’ve told me what happens to you, what you do, but tell me what you are.” Dumbledore’s voice was kind, but his eyes on Remus were intense.
Remus squirmed. They didn’t use the word in his family; they just referred to his “Problem.”
Remus took a deep breath, feeling as though he was being tested. “I’m a werewolf.”
Dumbledore’s face broke into a big smile. “That’s right!” He said cheerfully. “Never be afraid to use the proper name for things. Being afraid of a word, makes you more afraid of the thing itself, besides, it’s a lot easier and less confusing.”
Remus thought about this. It made sense to him, and he repeated experimentally, “I’m a werewolf.”
“Excellent!” Dumbledore said approvingly, then his face grew more serious. “Unfortunately, however, your cousin is right about some things. Many, perhaps most people fear and mistrust werewolves. It is true that, during the full moon, you do pose a danger to those around you. It sounds like your parents have figured out how to manage things so far, but here at Hogwarts, we will have to figure out some way to keep you and the other students safe. I’m sorry to say that you will have to keep your true nature secret. There are some who would disagree with me over my decision to welcome you to our school.”
Remus sat back, his whole body flooding with happiness. Two months from now, on September 1, he would be boarding the Hogwarts express.