Once Bitten, Twice Shy
I stare at myself in the cracked and ancient mirror. Searching desperately for a sign, however small it may be, that the smiling, laughing, carefree person I once was is still there behind the tired and dejected reflection.
I gaze into it for a long time, but the only person I see staring back at me is the one I always see. The person who recently I have come to despise. A fool. An outcast. A man who has just abandoned his wife and unborn child because he believes that is the only thing he can do. A coward. The voice I know so well rings through my mind. "I'd be ashamed of him." Harry's face, so full of a loathing I would never have even thought possible of him, flashes in my memory. How have I come to this? How have I come to be scorned by the one person I have always believed, since the day I first held him as a new born baby, would look up to me, respect me and maybe even admire me? How have I come to be despised by my best friends' son?
I was just five years old when this all started. This twisted curse that has cast a dark, frightening and powerful shadow over my entire life. I can still remember it. Even though it was so long ago the memory of that day has not faded at all from my mind. That cold, still, night in mid September, when the full moon had just risen in the clear sky, and I was standing just outside the back door of my home, gazing out upon the woods and fields that stretched before my eyes and disappeared into the gloom.
Why was I not asleep? Inside, in bed, as every five year old should be at such a late hour. I ask myself that now, wishing with every fibre of my heart that I had been safely tucked away in the warmth and comfort of the soft blankets. I wish that the howl that had fallen upon my ears had been a bad dream, nothing more than a nightmare that I could be woken from.
The howl should have scared me. I believe that was its intent. Its hollow and chilling sound did not invite company, nor did it evoke pity or compassion, sending a shiver down my spine so that I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. But instead of fleeing, of returning inside into the safe, familiar interior of my house and shutting the door as fast as I could, I was intrigued, standing still upon the doorstep, my face alert, my ears open for the cry to come again, curiosity overpowering any slight notions of fear.
That moment represents the first in a long line of stupidly foolish mistakes, all of which I have come to regret bitterly. At five years old can we be responsible for our actions? Can we really be expected to make the right decisions? Maybe not, but today, when I recall how dearly I have paid for that one moment of wrong judgement, the thought that I was too young to know any better brings me very little comfort.
I just stood there, a simple image of the senseless idiot that I was soon to become, not moving a muscle, barely breathing. I didn't hear the howl again. Instead a rustling of leaves in the nearby bush caught my attention. It couldn't be the wind, not on such a still night.
All I saw was a large amount of matted grey fur, two ferocious eyes with balls of raging fire for pupils, and two rows of sharp yellow teeth, set in wide, slavering jaws. I heard the snarling - I can still remember it with painful clarity - as the hideous creature emerged from behind the bush and began to come towards me, hackles raised, its sharp, steely claws scraping on the concrete ground of the back yard. The two fiery eyes met my own for a fraction of a second, before the monstrous animal pounced, and the next thing I felt was a burning pain in my right shoulder, and the trickle of warm blood seeping down to my elbow. My head hit the concrete as I sank to my knees in pain and fear.
I must have screamed. Half unconscious, but awake enough to feel the agony that was pulsing through my arm, my petrified wails of pain and anguish, accompanied by the snaps and growls of the wolf, must have carried to the upstairs bedroom of my parents, because suddenly they were down beside me. The wolf had disappeared. Someone's arms were round me, carrying me inside. I remember nothing more. I could hear murmuring voices, people touching my arm, assessing the wound, but it has become a blur. Images of that time pass through my head, but in no logical order, with no sense to them.
For many weeks I lay in my bed. I felt sickly, and my head and limbs ached horribly. The wound was by now burning through my shoulder, causing me unbearable pain. The slightest movement would result in a piercing throb shooting down my arm, as if someone had plunged a white-hot dagger into my flesh. Inside I felt ill and weak. Worst of all, I felt as if some terrible monster had been let loose inside me, and was trying to scratch its way out, fighting tooth and claw to escape, but forever trapped inside the damaged image of a small, scared boy. Inside me.
Someone came to see me. A healer, I learned afterwards. I didn't go to hospital myself. My father wished to have me in the house where he could be with me all the time, so the healer, who was also an old family friend, came to me. But there was nothing he could do, other than give me potions to numb the pain temporarily, and put new, clean, white bandages round the deep wound in an attempt to stop any fresh blood from escaping the ugly gash.
There was no cure. No remedy that could prevent me from becoming a werewolf myself. My father had known that, and had already broken the news as gently as he could to my mother, but she had nevertheless desperately wanted to believe that there was some way of healing me. She wasn't magical. She had been led into the magical world after falling in love with my father when they were younger. When she had afterwards learnt of his magic she had supported him in it, and had even endeavoured to comprehend the world in which he so clearly belonged, but had never fully understood the necessary link it held to his life. Until I was bitten I believe she thought of it as little more than a hobby, a lucky gift that he happened to possess, something that could only facilitate his life, because, after all, what could be easier than waving a magic wand to solve everything?
It must have come as a shock to her when the healer announced sadly that there was nothing more that he could do for me. It had almost as much impact on her as the wound had had on me. Although it had even then begun to heal, the scar it left was far worse than the small white mark on my right shoulder. It was a deep, plaguing curse, one which would torture me for the rest of my life.
I grew up alone. I had no brothers or sisters, and no friends to speak of. There were too many dangers in mixing me with other children, especially those who were not magical and therefore could not even be warned of my illness, and my father would not take the risk.
As I grew up I learnt more and more about my problem, my sickness, my condition. These are the words some people have used to describe it, in an attempt at kindness and respect for my feelings, but to me they are meaningless. It is a curse. A bewitchment. An evil that has lived with me now for over thirty years.
I found out the name of the werewolf that bit me. My father was reluctant to tell me at first, but my mother, surprisingly, backed me up in my argument that I had a right to know, and after several years my father relented and gave me his name.
After that, even the mention of that name made my blood run cold, my insides churn unpleasantly, and my throat convulse in hatred and fear. Sometimes in dreams I could still see those blazing eyes, those foul jaws. I could still hear him howling, and I could still feel the sensation of the damp, coarse fur brushing my neck as those terrible yellow teeth plunged mercilessly into my shoulder.
I found out that my father had offended the werewolf but I never found out how. My father refused to tell me and even my mother agreed that it wasn't my place to know. But it didn't really matter how it had come about. All that mattered was that on the night that he had chosen to take his revenge, I had been there, standing in front of my home as if I were waiting for him. As if I had been welcoming him with open arms. His task, his means of taking out his revenge, had been made so easy, thanks to me.
And so now at home I was alone. My parents were there for me as much as possible, but their relationship with each other had become complicated and difficult. They blamed themselves for what had happened, I could tell. My father because he had enraged the werewolf in the first place, and my mother because she had forgotten to lock the back door that night. We lived, at the time, in what we had believed to be a very safe neighbourhood (although we moved shortly after to a remote little house where no one would hear or see the tell tale signs of my transformations), and she regularly blamed herself for letting that lull her into a false sense of security.
I blamed myself. I still do. Even at such a young age I had demonstrated what a fool I could be, and as over the next few years my mother and father grew apart, I started to feel that the only thing holding them together was the guilt that they felt towards me. If they showed signs of going their separate ways, of parting from each other, it took only my transformation at the next full moon to remind them that I needed them. Both of them. My mother would be there with comfort and kindness, staying beside me as I wearily lay in my bed, or on the worn out sofa in the living room, recovering from my transformations. And my father would use his magic to heal the more superficial wounds as best he could. He would often tell me stories about the wizarding world, in an effort to make me forget my worries. He told me about famous wizards and witches of the past and present, and about his own time learning at Hogwarts school, and I would listen, enthralled and captivated by the tales I was hearing.
But under the fascinated exterior I felt an awful black hole, a great hollow emptiness that gnawed away inside of me. I knew that there was not even a possibility of going to Hogwarts myself. My father had told me that, as gently as he possibly could, when I was seven years old. I would present a huge danger to the other children and there was no chance that the teachers and governors would deem it suitable to let a werewolf among other, normal, children. Even at such a tender age, I was learning how much werewolves were ostracised and shunned by the entire wizarding community.
My mind was unhappy. My body was damaged. And my soul was tainted. Stained with an ugly black scar, which represented the foul creature forever present inside me.
My reflection fades back into my vision, having been temporarily cut out my the nightmares of my past. I lean down onto the sink and put my head in my hands. My chances of a normal life were thrown away the second those teeth pierced my flesh. How can I just go back to my wife and pretend that everything is fine, that I am not going to taint her life with my own, that I can be like any other normal husband and father?
And yet... difficult though it is to block out the memory of Harry's voice as he glares furiously at me and calls me a coward, other, much more welcome, recollections are starting to form in my mind. Harry, this time sitting next to me in the Weasleys' living room last Christmas, is telling me, in no uncertain terms, that I am normal, that I just have a "problem". Dora is furiously shouting at me, telling me that she doesn't care, her eyes sparkling with tears because I have pushed her away yet again, refusing to accept that such a beautiful young woman could possibly feel that way about me. Molly, motherly as ever, is saying that I should give myself a break. Sirius, as I journey even further back in time, is snorting crossly as I reject his offer to set me up on a date, and Peter is rolling his eyes as I exasperatedly explain why, while Lily tells me very gently that I really need to stop making things so difficult for myself. Finally, James is holding his baby son, the same son that spoke to me so angrily just hours ago, and telling me that one day, I will realise that what I am truly doesn't matter.
Are they right? I have refused to listen to such kind words and arguments for so long now that it has become my automatic response. It is habit now, which makes me continue to deny any good turn in my life because I feel like I don't deserve it, because I believe that it will work out better for everyone if I isolate myself and my problems and steadfastly refuse to let anyone else in. But looking at where I've ended up today, it hasn't done anyone, least of all myself, any good at all.
I study every inch of my reflection again, with less self-loathing but still with an unwillingness to accept the path that I think, deep down, I already know I must take from this day onwards. For now, reluctant as I remain to look towards my future, I let the memories consume me, and focus on my past.