what seems normal
PG-13, gen, AU. To Tonks, he doesn't sound insane.
She likes him. That’s the weird thing. Sitting here in the
garden, they’ve done the morning chores, she’s helped him with the shopping
because the borough council don’t like him going out on his own, and they’ve
unpacked, made some sandwiches and come out to sit on the grass. And she’s not
minded a minute of it. She likes him. And she thinks he likes her – she’s heard
rumours about what he did to the last girl who came in to help out, but to her
he’s been nothing but charming – and taken all together, it’s weird.
Because when it comes down to it, they don’t have much in common. She’s the one
who’s not got it but it’s in the family, who are being harmlessly eccentric at
home in Cheshire if not quite climbing the walls at Ashworth – although some of
them are doing that, too – whereas he’s not got a family but has got it in
himself, lurking down below but manifesting nowadays as the occasional flash in
feverish-bright eyes. She’s twenty-something, and aside from a few recent
hiccups, she’s got the world at her feet; she doesn’t know how old he is, but he
gave up living in the world a good long time ago. She’s doing community service;
he’s fucking care in the community.
Blinking in the light, he asks her, “What did you do to get the community
“Knocked over an off-license.” Off his look: “Fuck, you believe me. No, I got a
bit pissed a couple of months ago, drove home, got stopped before I hit anyone
but the judge wasn’t best pleased. It was this or a couple of months inside.
Call me crazy” – she waves an expansive hand at the sunlit garden, verdant green
and thick with flowers – “I picked this.”
“It’s nice out here,” he agrees. “I’m glad you picked this. I wouldn’t have
wanted to be deprived of your company.”
“How’d you get subjected to it at all?” She smiles a bit. “I mean... how did all
of it, you know, start?” She adds, hastily, “If you don’t mind telling me, that
She’s never been that good with tact, but usually, being direct gets results.
And she really wants to know how someone like him – him with his books and his
newspapers and glasses and air of knowing about everything in the world ever –
gets put in a room with glass in the door and smooth, soft white walls. At least
it’s care in the community now, she thinks. In his case, a misnomer, as mostly
he wants to be left alone, but it’s better than the other place. She’s seen it.
He laughs, softly. “The Mental Health Act 1959, statute law of England and
Wales, enacted on yours truly on October 31st, 1981. That’s about as specific as
I can get, really.” He looks thoughtful. “But really, I blame my parents.”
“Sort of like Freud?” she suggests. “Childhood trauma and that?”
“Not exactly.” He shakes his head. “A rose by any other name would smell as
sweet... but I doubt it. There’s such a thing as nominative determinism, you
know. My parents named me Remus Lupin. Twenty-one years and six months later, I
get diagnosed with clinical lycanthropy. Coincidence?”
“I don’t know,” she says, cautiously. “Remus is... Roman, right? Something to do
with Romulus and Remus?”
”That’s right. Romulus and Remus were the twin founders of the city of Rome.
According to legend, they were abandoned at birth and suckled by a wolf. And
still on the subject of Rome, how well do you know your Latin?”
“Not well,” she admits.
“Lupus, Latin meaning wolf, English adjective lupine, genus and species Canis
lupus, the common grey wolf, mangled through the Romance languages into
Lupin. I was doomed from the start.”
He laughs, and she joins in. She’s never seen him having one of his episodes, as
the people down the out-patients call it, but even so he’s never scared her the
way he does them. She knows the difference between intellect and insanity.
“I do believe,” she says, grinning, “that you don’t know my first name.”
“That’s true, I don’t. Why, is it particularly prophetic?”
“It is” – she grimaces – “Nymphadora. You can’t tell me you don’t think
“Save me from the perilous magic of nymphets,” he murmurs, almost too quietly to
hear. “It’s a beautiful name. Somewhat old-fashioned in these enlightened days,
I must admit.”
“Huh.” She leans back on the grass, staring up at the bright blue sky. “Trust
you to think it’s nice. I wish I’d been called something sensible, like Jane or
Mary or something. What the hell is clinical lycanthropy, anyway?”
Her change of subject doesn’t surprise him; there is a stillness about his eyes
that indicates resignation. He joins her in leaning back on the grass, staring
upwards, and there is a long pause. There are children playing in the street,
crickets chirping in the shrubbery. Above the background noise, she hears the
steady click-clack of horses being ridden out across the dusty road, past the
garden fence and out to sea.
“It’s a disease,” he says eventually. “A very, very rare disease. It’s mostly
considered a separate manifestation of schizophrenia, which by the way I also
have. Under control now, mostly, or so they tell me. I wouldn’t know, I’m crazy.
Clinical lycanthropy is to do with damage to the parts of the brain that affect
self-perception, mental body image, that sort of thing. Unusual activity in
those centres makes the sufferer believe that they are somehow changing into
something or someone else, etymologically a wolf – which is the case with me, as
it happens – because their feelings are filtered through cultural and folkloric
influences that give a coherent shape to the disturbances.”
“Wow,” she says sincerely. “You’ve read a lot.”
“I don’t have much else to do with my time. Except eat sandwiches with beautiful
young women, of course.”
She isn’t impervious to the compliment, and feels herself blush. She’s fairly
sure her face must be a study in clashing colours, what with flaming cheeks and
recently-dyed-pink hair. But she knows there’s more to all of this, more to the
question than he’s told her, and she has to go on. “What does it feel like?”
“Like nothing at all.” His voice is dreamy, wistful. “Like everything at once.
Like I’m something better than myself, but not human. It must sound mad to you.”
She waves an airy hand. “No, not really. My relatives are mostly mental. They
sound mad to me. Always getting arrested for cavorting naked with sheep, that
sort of thing.”
“How... um, eccentric.” She can tell he’s trying not to laugh. “Do you associate
with them often?”
“Not if I can help it. They’re super rich and super bigoted.” She smiles to
herself. “That’s why they’re eccentric rather than schizophrenic, I
“Such is the way of the world.” He sighs, and the humour fades, for the moment.
“It’s all relative, mental health. That worries me. Have you ever broken your
She blinks. “Yes, actually. Fell down the stairs as a wee thing. Why?”
“When they took you into hospital, did they spend half an hour debating to what
extent your leg was broken and whether it would be culturally or socially
appropriate to treat it?”
She shakes her head, doesn’t answer. “Remus, it’s three o’clock. Time for your
She waits for him to grimace at the slang, and then turns to go inside, her
boots making tapping sounds on the hard kitchen floor. She finds the bottles on
their usual shelf, neatly and meticulously labelled in his small, sharp
handwriting, and reaches carefully up, trying not to knock anything over. He
doesn’t scare her – he couldn’t, he wouldn’t – but there are paths she doesn’t
want him to lead her down, and she knows the signs not to follow.
There are other things on that shelf. A battered, old, well-loved fountain pen.
A photograph of four long-haired teenage boys, against a setting she recognises
as Camden Lock. A five-pence coin, a nickel and a dime, spoils of long-ago
quests. A hypodermic syringe. A glass.
She takes it to the sink, washes it, fills it again. Thus equipped, she goes
back into the garden to find him unchanged, still staring upwards at the
cumulus-bedecked sky, eyes reflecting muted blue. Sitting down beside him, she
pours the capsules into his outstretched hands. “Pretty,” he murmurs. “Always
beautifully packaged, aren’t they?”
She nods. “Like sweets.”
“And with them comes the sweetness of oblivion. I wonder if they show you your
real self, or hide it from you. Which would be easier?”
“The first one, I guess. Because,” – and she knows as she says it that she’s
learnt this from him, this slow, quiet parry of academic argument – “if you
believed the second one, you’d have to believe your real self needed hiding. You
couldn’t have one without the other.”
“Precisely.” He swallows the pills. “I wonder. Perhaps the world needs a few
crazy people. Perhaps you need us to show you what normal is.”
“I wouldn’t like to be normal,” she says, lazily. “You wouldn’t, either.”
Her voice is light, but she’s heard the subtle shift; you and me, us and them,
the people who walk the streets of granite and cobbles, live and work and teach,
and the wanderers in psychedelia, the travellers in the distant land she’s only
ever been on the wings of doves.
“Maybe I would,” – and his gaze is so level and intense that she turns away,
stares uncomfortably down at green, green grass and listens for his breathing.
She looks up. “Don’t call me that.”
“My apologies.” He doesn’t sound apologetic at all. “This serving the community
project of yours...”
“Yeah?” she asks, as his voice trails off, dreamy.
“This devoted, noble, single-minded, service of your community, the modern-day
quest of a pure heart?”
“Get on with it.” She’s grinning.
“Does it, in its virtue, prohibit the consumption of cakes and ale?”
She laughs at him, sitting there with his eyes flashing wickedness. “No.”
“Then run in and get the biscuit tin, there's a love.”
She stands up, still grinning, and walks across the grass. It’s getting darker,
now – they’ve been sitting out there nearly all afternoon – and she thinks
she’ll get the picnic blanket, too. He’s not watching her as she goes. In the
dimmer light, she looks at his profile, the shaggy hair, the loose curled
fingers that have locked in his mind as claws, and thinks, for a single, faraway
moment, that in another time, another place, he’d have fought the good fight,
still under blue skies like these, but with words as weapons, with the books of
ancients he keeps as dusty memories inside his head.
She gets the biscuits, gets the blanket, puts the pills back in their place. She
finds her mobile on the table, calls home to say she’ll be late, goes back
outside. They can fight on together.