Remus caught a carriage from Hogsmeade up to the castle. It was a quiet ride, he was the only person in the carriage, no driver, and the thestrals pulling it were non-vocal as ever. Legs across the seat, leaning against the door, he took a deep breath. Those thestrals were bound to get a lot more attention than they were used to this year, and he didn't really want to think about that.
Coming through the front doors of the castle, trunk floating along behind him, felt strange—it was the same as it as always been, when he'd taught before, back when he was a student, but also different, the stones maybe not in the same order or turned a different way around since being put back together. Something had changed in a way he could feel but couldn't quite place. Maybe it was something about the magic woven through the building.
Madam Hooch came out of the Great Hall, a mug of coffee cuddled to her chest with one hand, the morning paper in the other. She saluted him with her mug. “Good morning, Remus.”
“Morning, Rolanda,” Remus replied. “Did you just get here?”
“Been here since yesterday.” She sighed and tucked the paper under her arm. “I took a much needed holiday, went home just long enough to do laundry, then came right here. How's your summer been?”
“Busy.” Remus let his trunk settle on the masonry next to him. “Which is probably for the best.”
“Oh, definitely,” Madam Hooch agreed. “Keep your mind off things.”
“Yeah.” Remus sighed. “Well, I'd best get my things to my room—unless it's moved.”
“Ought to be right where you left it,” Madam Hooch smirked. “See you this afternoon then.”
Remus allowed himself a bit of a chuckle before he waved his wand at his trunk for it to resume following him and made his way toward his office. Along the way, down a side hall, he saw a pair of upsettingly young looking ghosts. Remus passed by quickly for fear of recognizing them.
The office was indeed right where he'd left it, up the stairs from his classroom and empty but for the desk and a couple chairs. The bedroom past the office was just as bare—bed and dresser and nightstand. Remus let his trunk drop with a thunk. With a few flicks of his wand he opened all the drawers and sorted his things from his trunk into them. Then he flopped on the bed and stared at the ceiling for a minute. This was going to be a very long year.
Remus decided he really didn't want to sit down for lunch so he grabbed himself a sandwich from the Great Hall and went for a walk. He didn't think he liked the school without the students there—it was too quiet. There were only two people in the hall when he got his sandwich, the librarian and a young witch he didn't recognize bent over a book open on the table between them. He passed Professor Sprout as he went out to the grounds. The bridge had been rebuilt, the breezeway repaired, all the stonework and roofing on the castle set right. Up on the hill across the bridge, though, the quidditch pitch was conspicuously absent. He sat on the bridge to eat, legs dangling. He pulled a tomato out of his sandwich, dropped it down to the water below, and watched a couple water fowl squabble over it.
Once he finished his lunch, he brushed the crumbs off his hands and trousers, checked his watch, and walked back to the castle.
Remus settled into a chair at the table in the staff room and waited for the rest of the faculty to arrive. McGonagall was already seated at the head of the table, consulting notes she had spread out in front of her. Remus nodded to Flitwick and Madam Hooch as they each came in. He steadfastly ignored Filch, who extended him the same curtesy. Hagrid gave him a clap on the shoulder that nearly knocked him out of his chair.
The last person to show up was Professor Binns, who drifted in through the wall almost twenty minutes after the meeting was supposed to start.
“How kind of you to join us, Cuthbert,” McGonagall said with exaggerated patience.
Binns blinked at her and said, “I was reading.”
“Of course you were.” McGonagall's nostrils flared and she neatened her notes. “Now that we're all here, let's get started, shall we? This year is going to be a bit odd. We're a smaller school this year than we're used to being—between not bringing in any new first years and what students are taking a year off to recuperate from everything that's happened or who are tragically no longer with us, the student body will be about half what it has been the past decade or so. Because of that, combined with the fact that we're a bit understaffed, some electives are not being offered until further notice and for this year, and possibly the next, some classes won't be divided by house. You'll see that reflected in your class schedules, which I'll be giving each of you after this meeting.”
She took a breath. “On the subject of our staffing situation, we have a few new faculty. This is Elizabeth Lee,” McGonagall gestured to the young witch Remus had seen in the Great Hall at lunch. “She'll be teaching Muggle Studies. Elizabeth, do you have anything to share?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Just, glad to be able to say I'm the first muggle-born Muggle Studies teacher at this school. I'd dare say it's about time,” she said, her accent sounding a little off. “Oh! And Irma and I have greatly expanded and updated the Muggle Studies section in the library. Hope that's helpful for everyone.”
“Thank you, Elizabeth,” McGonagall said. “Angelica Stebbins is taking over my former post teaching transfiguration.”
Remus sat up straighter in his chair and looked at the blond witch down the table from him as she gave a little wave. He hadn't recognized his former classmate—or, more accurately, he hadn't paid enough attention to notice her.
“I'll try my best to fill your shoes,” Angelica said brightly. “Tall order that it is.”
“No need to flatter,” McGonagall chided with a bit of a smirk. “Aleksandr Ramsey is our new potions master and head of Slytherin House.”
“Wish me luck,” Ramsey said wryly.
“Good luck,” Remus said.
McGonagall turned her gaze on him. “And, of course, Remus Lupin returning to his Defense Against the Dark Arts post now that the position is no longer cursed. He's also my replacement as head of Gryffindor House.”
Remus almost choked. “I'm what?”
“You're head of house,” McGonagall said plainly.
“That's news to me,” Remus said, voice going to the high end of his speaking range.
“I was sure I'd told you, Remus,” McGonagall said, clearly taken aback.
“Must've slipped your mind.” Remus looked around. “I cannot possibly be the only Gryffindor on staff.”
“I mean, I was in Gryffindor,” Madam Hooch said, “but I can't be head of house. I have to referee, it would be a conflict of interest.”
“Poppy,” Remus began, “weren't you—?”
“I'm not a teacher,” Madam Pomfrey said. “I'm not eligible.”
Remus sighed and settled back in his chair. “Well, I guess I'm head of house.”
“It's good to have you back, Remus,” Madam Hooch snickered. Across from her, Elizabeth hid her face and her giggles in her hands. Professor Sprout bit her lip. And then the entire rest of the table started laughing, even Professor McGonagall.
“Remus, Poppy, Aleksandr, I need a word with the three of you,” McGonagall said as the meeting dispersed. The three of them hung back. McGonagall folded her hands. “Aleksandr, I trust you remember my mentioning that you're going to have a standing chore this year.”
“I do.” Ramsey folded his arms. “I assume I'm about to find out what that is.”
“Making wolfsbane potion,” Remus concluded.
McGonagall nodded. Ramsey's eyebrow ticked up and he glanced at Remus, then at Madam Pomfrey, then at McGonagall. “Wolfsbane potion?”
“I'm sure you're more than capable,” McGonagall said, eyeing Ramsey.
“I am.” Ramsey nodded. “I just—what's this about? Is there a student who's…?”
Madam Pomfrey nodded soberly. “There is.”
“And a faculty member,” Remus added.
“Oh...kay.” Ramsey rubbed his hands together and glanced at Remus. “Is it you?”
“Right. Who's the kid?” Ramsey asked. “Or do I not get to know that?”
“Draco Malfoy,” Madam Pomfrey said quietly.
“Malfoy? Damn.” Ramsey let out a breath. “Hang on, what day of the month is it? Moon wise. Do I need to—?”
“I don't have to start taking until next week and I already have a supply for this coming moon.” Remus ran a hand through his hair. “The full moon isn't until after the start of term but I'm sure Draco already has his supply as well.”
“Okay.” Ramsey nodded. “So next month. On which note,” he added enthusiastically, “would you object to a wee bit of experimentation? I think I've figured out how to make that shit not taste like shit—it's the sort of thing I do in my spare time—but I don't know any werewolves so I don't know what impact it may have on efficacy.”
“Not a chance,” Remus said sharply. “Not unless I have someone who can safely babysit me, which means an animagus bigger than a tabby. No offense, Minirva.”
“None taken.” McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey both looked like they were trying not to smile.
“Fair enough,” Ramsey agreed. “Fair enough.”
“We've got a letter from Remus!” Sirius announced loudly, his words cutting through the breakfast chit chat. Everyone turned to look at him as he scanned the parchment.
“Well, what's it say?” Ginny asked.
“Give me a chance to read, girl.” Sirius turned it over to finish reading what had spilled over to the back of the sheet. Harry reached for the letter and Sirius held it out of his reach. “Nope, there's a reason this was addressed to me. He says the castle's been repaired good as new but the quidditch pitch is still under construction. Other than him, there are three new teachers. Oh, damn, he's head of Gryffindor House.”
“Good for him,” Ron said through a full mouth.
“Yeah,” Sirius agreed. “He's looking forward to seeing Hermione, Ginny, and Draco on Thursday, and warns the three of you that this school year won't be like what you're used to, but it ought to be more normal than last year.”
“'More normal than last year' isn't exactly difficult,” Draco muttered.
“There's gonna be quidditch, though, right?” Ginny asked.
“I'd presume so,” Hermione said. “Otherwise, why would they be rebuilding the pitch?”
“I hope you're right,” Ginny sighed.
“If she's wrong I bought you a broom for no damn good reason.” Draco sipped his coffee. Ginny kicked him hard enough under the table that he spat it out.
“And,” Sirius interjected, “he asks that you refrain from telling anyone about the nature of his relationship with me, since his lycanthropy is an open secret at this point if a secret at all and he'd prefer to only have to field one scandal at a time.”
Draco gave a thumbs up while he cleaned up his coffee spill. Hermione nodded. Ginny sucked in a breath. “Oh, jeeze, I hadn't even thought about that.”
“Anyone asks,” Sirius folded the letter and tucked it into his waistcoat, “we're friends. Best friends. Just like always.”
Thursday morning, Hermione stood in front of her open trunk and ran her fingers through her hair—at least until they got stuck in a snarl of curls. “I think that's everything....”
“Ready to go, dear?” Molly asked, popping her head in.
“Yeah.” Hermione shut her trunk. “I'm ready.”
“Ginny and Draco are already downstairs.” Molly flicked her wand at the trunk to send it ahead of them. “Let's get the three of you to the train.”
Platform 9 ¾ wasn't exactly empty, but the usual press of bodies was distinctly sparse. Draco hung back and looked around the platform while Ginny and Hermione were passed from Weasley to Weasley to Weasley to Potter to Black to Weasley for hugs. It was hot and humid from a recently passed rainstorm that had left puddles on the platform and droplets of water clinging to the train and had Draco almost regretting his long sleeved black shirt. He rubbed his left arm absently as he watched a father detach his sobbing wife from their daughter to let her get on the train. Then he very nearly jumped out of his skin upon being swept into an extremely unexpected hug.
Mrs. Weasley rubbed his back. “You take care of yourself, alright?” She stepped back to hold him at arm's length, hands on his shoulders, and looked him in the face with a warm smile. “If you need anything, you're welcome to write. I'll keep an eye out for Euphrates, give him some bacon if he comes around.”
Draco nodded minutely. “Alright.”
She let go of him to dig in her purse, pulled out a waxpaper package, and handed it to him. “Sandwiches for the trip. Sweets from the cart aren't much of a meal.”
Holding the sandwiches to his chest, Draco nodded again. Mrs. Weasley pulled him in for one more quick hug as the whistle on the train blew a warning. She let him go, Hermione and Ginny each kissed their boyfriends, and the three returning students climbed aboard.
They left Ginny holed up in a compartment with their trunks, Crookshanks, and Euphrates while Draco and Hermione changed into their uniforms and went up to the front for the prefects' meeting.
Of the twenty-four prefects there should have been—thirty-two, if the returning eighth years were taken into account—there were eleven. There were no Head Boy and Girl. The eleven prefects looked at each other in uncomfortable quiet. “So,” Ernie Macmillan said slowly, “what exactly are we supposed to be doing? Ordinarily we'd be trying to keep the first years from losing their minds, but there aren't any first years, so…?”
“We try and keep everyone else from having mental breakdowns,” Padma said quietly. She was curled up sideways in a bench seat, her back to the wall. “Last time most of us were at school….”
“We were watching our friends die,” finished Orla Quirke, the one new Ravenclaw prefect.
Everyone looked away from each other.
“At least,” Jimmy Peakes, the one new Gryffindor prefect, said, “I mean, there's less students right now, right? So that oughta lighten the load, right?”
“Except there's less than half of how many of us there should be,” Hannah pointed out. “Hufflepuff has the most complete set of prefects right now, and we're still missing four people.”
Other than Hannah and Ernie, Hufflepuff had Eleanor Branstone and Owen Cauldwell, both fifth years. Gryffindor had Hermione, Jimmy, and Ramilda Vane, who had apparently somehow been made prefect in the midst of the previous year's Death Eater takeover. Ravenclaw had Padma, Orla, and a fifth year boy named Derek.
“Am I the only person in this car wearing a green tie?” Draco asked suddenly. Everyone looked around and started to nod slowly. “I cannot be the only Slytherin prefect,” Draco said with building horror.
“I think you're the only the Slytherin prefect,” Ramilda said way too chipperly.
Draco dropped his face into one hand and massaged his temple. “I'd ask what I did to deserve this but you lot would actually answer.”
Hermione gave his shoulder a sympathetic squeeze that earned odd looks from all the other prefects. “Good luck.”
The eleven of them sat there for a long moment. Padma sighed. Then Jimmy clapped his hands on his legs, got up, and walked to the door of the car. Then the rest of them started to disperse.
“Ramilda,” Hermione said, catching her underclassman sharply by the shoulder, “before we do our rounds, I have to ask, how the hell did you get made prefect?”
“Why shouldn't I have been?” Ramilda countered, yanking away from Hermione's grasp as she turned to face her.
Hermione made an incredulous sound that was almost a laugh. “You drugged my boyfriend.”
“I never did any such thing!” Ramilda crossed her arms under her ample bosom.
“Oh, yes, you did.” Hermione crossed her arms too. “You tried to slip Harry a love potion but Ron ate your tainted candies instead.”
Ramilda frowned. “Wait, really?”
“Why don't I know about this?”
“Because Harry is a good friend,” Hermione said sternly, “and he took Ron to Slughorn to be set right and saved him from public humiliation by making sure no one saw him mooning all over you. Oh, but then, Ron got into some poisoned mead that he wouldn't have been around if it weren't for your stupid chocolates. So you almost got him killed!”
“That's ridiculous,” Ramilda scoffed.
Draco took a deep breath and pressed past the quarreling girls. Then he ducked into the lavatory to steal a moment to himself before starting his duties as the only Slytherin prefect.
After he finished his rounds, Draco returned to the compartment where they'd left Ginny and dropped into the seat across from Hermione, who'd finished before him. “The train is so empty,” he breathed. “It's creepy. It's too quiet, it feels like when Dementors stopped the train.”
Hermione cringed. “You're not wrong.”
Ginny turned the page in her trashy romance novel—muggle, permanently borrowed from Hermione's mother. “At least it's good for reading?”
“I'm sure I'd appreciate that more if I weren't so acutely aware of whyit's quiet,” Hermione said softly. She petted Crookshanks in her lap. He yowled softly and stretched up, paws on her chest, to rub his face against her cheek, she kissed his nose, then he hopped across the compartment to crawl into Draco's lap.
“No.” Draco lifted the cat awkwardly and dropped it back in Hermione's lap. “I do not want hair all over me.”
Ginny closed her book around her thumb. “You realize you have fur on most of your clothes anyway, right?”
“I do not,” Draco snapped.
“It's mostly yours.” Ginny shrugged. “Unless there's a white cat running around Grimmauld place I don't know about.”
With a huff, Draco stood to get his sandwiches down from the luggage rack.
Hagrid wasn't waiting at Hogsmeade station. It made sense—no first years to ferry across the lake, no Hagrid—but his absence was a nine-foot hole in the students' morale. Madam Pomfrey was there instead, waiting with a high-backed, spindly-wheeled chair upholstered in black satin. Draco swept past to the carriages before he had to see who the chair was for. Hermione and Ginny trailed after him, more interested in chatting with Longbottom and Thomas than in keeping up.
Hermione paused mid-sentence, distracted. Neville nudged her gently. “What is it?”
“Those third years,” she murmured and nodded to a group of young Hufflepuffs anxiously eyeing the thestrals hitched to the carriage they were getting into. “They've never seen them before.”
“We knew it would be like this,” Dean muttered.
“Even so,” Neville sighed.
“Yeah.” Ginny took a deep breath. “Come on, let's go.”
The four of them got into the carriage with Draco. They kept talking during the ride up to the castle. Draco didn't say a word, just stared out the window, fiddled with his badge.
The house ghosts were in the entrance hall, greeting the students and asking they move all the way down their house tables to the front of the hall. Draco frowned at the instruction, passed through into the Great Hall, and resisted the urge to be sick. He'd come in on one of the last carriages so he was one of the last into the hall. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Dean join the not-quite half-full Gryffindor table. The Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables were slightly better populated than the Gryffindor. The Slytherin table might as well have been empty. It was a long walk to the end of the table. Long enough for him to get a good look at the shiny wood they hadn't bothered to set out plates on, the conspicuously empty space on the floor where the Sorting Hat and its stool should have been, the gaps at either end of the staff table left by the missing chairs there, the dirty looks he was getting from everytable including his own, and Daphne Greengrass in that blasted chair, parked next to her little sister at the end of the table.
Draco sat—farther from whichever of the Carrows that was than was reasonable—and ducked his head.
The students quieted quickly when McGonagall stood. “Welcome, everyone. I realize we have all been through difficult times, that coming to school this year is not what it once was,” she said somberly. “We have all lost friends and family, and many of you have lost your innocence.” She spread her hands on the podium in front of her and looked down at them before looking up again. “It hurts my heart to see this hall so empty. But I am so glad for each and every one of you who is here that you are here, and I want you to know that I am proud of all of you. We need to heal, each of us as individuals, and we as a school, as a family in our own way, we the wizarding community. To that end, we are here.” She smiled faintly but triumphantly. “We are joined this year by Professor Aleksandr Ramsey, our new potions master and head of Slytherin House.”
The maybe two dozen students at the Slytherin table applauded politely but unenthusiastically.
“Professor Remus Lupin, returning to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts and the new head of Gryffindor house.”
The Gryffindor table erupted into cheers, apparently trying to make up for their diminished numbers with excessive intensity.
McGonagall smirked indulgently and held out a hand to settle them. “Professor Elizabeth Lee, our new Muggle Studies professor, and Professor Angelica Stebbins, taking my former position teaching transfiguration. I trust you will welcome them, and be patient with all of us—this year is just as strange for us as for you. I hope that, together, we can move into a new era, unblemished by the hatred and fear that has scarred us all. Now, I think, a good first step toward that new era is to indulge our selves with a little too much to eat.”
She waved a hand and food appeared just like it always did, albeit in smaller than usual quantities.
Draco stared at his food as he ate and didn't taste it. Blaise Zabini moved down the table to sit across from him. “Malfoy?”
Draco glanced up from cutting his steak. He felt like he was scowling.
“Why didn't you sit with us on the train?” Zabini asked accusatorially.
“I had rounds,” Draco said shortly.
“Not the entire time.” Zabini stabbed a sausage with his fork. “So why didn't you sit with us?”
“Yeah, how many of 'us' are even left?” Draco snapped. He gestured down the table. “You, the Carrows?”
The twin girls looked up at the sound of their name.
“And Daphne,” Zabini noted. “You know, your friends.”
Draco shook his head. “None of you actually want me around. Don't pretend. And don't patronize me.”
“Why are you being such a dick?”
“Because I always am,” Draco said flatly. “And you already knew that.”
Zabini glared at Draco for a long moment and Draco stared back, expressionless, until Zabini looked away and slid back down the table to whisper with the Carrows. Draco ignored them and finished his dinner without speaking another word to anyone.
When the meal was over, the lack of first years to show to the dormitories left Draco free to trot to catch the unfamiliar, sandy-haired man who was now his head of house. “Professor Ramsey!”
Ramsey stopped walking and turned, expression open. “Hm?”
“Professor, I'm Draco Malfoy. Can I have a word?” Draco asked.
“Of course.” Ramsey lowered his voice. “Is this about next Monday night?”
“What? No,” Draco said quickly. “I'm not—that is me, but it's handled. I already have,” he stumbled through his words, “what I need. No. I wanted to ask, do you realize I'm the only Slytherin prefect? That can't possibly be right.”
“Do you realize,” Ramsey countered, “that you only have eighteen fellow Slytherins to keep an eye on?”
When Draco didn't say anything, Ramsey continued, “The other houses have about one prefect to every fifty students right now. You might alone, but you're not responsible for as much.” With a firm hand on Draco's shoulder, Ramsey steered him on toward the dungeons. “We're less than five percent of the school now, the sense of community that comes from being a part of a house is in danger, and I'm new—your classmates don't know me, they don't trust me. I can't be the one to hold us together, not yet. Daunting as it may be to go into this solo, they need you.”
Draco took a careful breath as they descended the steps into the relative cool of the dungeons. “I am probably the worse possible candidate for that.”
“The fact that you think that will probably make you better at it.” Ramsey clapped his shoulder at a fork in the corridor, one brach snaking away toward the potions master's office, the other dropping down a flight of stairs toward the Slytherin common room. “Have a good night, Mr. Malfoy.”
“Good night,” Draco mumbled automatically, “Professor.” He exhaled, turned down the empty staircase, and let himself into the common room.
The entirety of Slytherin house was assembled in the common room around the empty hearth beneath the elaborately carved mantle with its details thrown into odd-angled contrast by the green-glass lamps and lack of firelight. The room was too big for the nineteen of them, a good dozen of the black leather sofas and chairs were empty, what sofas were occupied only had one or two people on them each, and all the green velvet floor cushions were still stacked neatly in the corner, unneeded. Familiar as the place was, it felt oppressive in its grandeur and cold. Just like home.
Everyone turned to look at Draco as he came in and what little conversation there was stopped. The only movement was Astoria Greengrass braiding her sister's dark, pin-straight hair.
“What held you up?” Emmet Exavior asked, frowning slightly. Exavior had been one of Draco's roommates his entire career at Hogwarts but he was pretty sure this was only the second or third time the boy had directly addressed him.
“Had a word with our new head of house,” Draco said simply. He seated himself in an empty chair at the edge of the group. No one, including him, seemed to want to go to bed yet, despite it already being dark, the low, thick glass windows at one end of the room almost opaque, tinged slightly green rather than black only by the light of the almost-full moon filtering through the lake. It shouldn't have been that dark yet on the first night, it was only eight by the silver carriage clock on the mantle, but it was October, they should have been there for a month already.
Astoria finished braiding Daphne's hair and started on her own. The only two third years started murmuring to each other about what electives they were taking. Harper—Andrew Harper? André Harper?—asked something about quidditch and received a round of shrugs. One of the Carrow sisters leaned her head on the other's shoulder. There must have been a way to tell them apart but Draco had never figured it out. To be honest, he'd never particularly tried—but he had learnt to tell the Weasley twins apart this summer, though the various missing body parts did help with that. A second year girl whose name Draco was sure he'd never known started to fall asleep in her chair and very nearly fell outof her chair in the process. She only didn't because Mafalda whipped out her wand fast enough to catch her from across the soft Persian rug that graced the floor in front of the fireplace. Embarrassed, the younger girl got up and hurried to the girls' dormitory hallway, the glass beaded curtain at the mouth of the hall shimmering as she passed through rather than fusing together into a very solid wall as it did if a boy tried to go down that hall, which Draco knew from painful personal experience.
After that, they all drifted off to their rooms. Draco's trunk was sitting at the foot of the bed second from the door, Exavior's at the foot of the bed farthest. Neither of them bothered to turn the lights on, instead changing into night clothes in the green-tinged dark.
Draco got a bottle from his trunk, choked down its contents as quietly as he could, then pulled the curtains closed around his four-poster and stared up at the transparent vaults of the ceiling. The water of the lake was fairly clear, just deep, so even now he could see through to the sky well enough to make out the wavering spot of absinthe-green amid the midnight-verdigre that was the moon. The sounds of the lake were soothing, a kind of rippling pulsing thrum just at the edge of human hearing, but they did little to assuage the sick feeling that had settled at the bottom of his ribcage. The bed to his right had been Crabbe's, the one to his left Goyle's, the one past that had been Theodore Nott's. Crabbe, of course, was dead. Goyle and Nott were both in Azkaban. Draco didn't know much about Exavior but he knew the only thing that had kept him out of prison was a technicality. Now he was supposed to be some kind of role model. That sounded like the worst idea implemented at this school since Lockheart had been hired. Not only did no one like him, he was a shit prefect to begin with and he knew it.
He huffed, rolled over, and smushed his face into his pillow. He would have stayed that way all night if the need to breathe hadn't compelled him to at least turn his head.
Hermione and Ginny bid Dean and Neville goodnight at the bottom of the stairs, then Hermione gave Ginny a hug at the door to Ginny's dorm room and continued up the stairs to her own. The rest of her roommates were already there, getting ready for bed.
“Hey,” she said softly as she passed Fay and Kellah and they returned the greeting. Pavarti came out of the bathroom in a nightgown and sat on the edge of her bed next to Hermione's. Hermione hung up her robe, twisted one arm up behind her to unhook her bra then pulled it out from under her shirt. As she turned to drop it in the bottom of her dresser like she always did with her laundry, her eyes fell on the empty bed across from hers, her breath caught in her chest, and she turned back quickly, looking anywhere else.
“I know,” Pavarti murmured, knees pulled up to her chest. Fay glanced over at them, glanced at the empty bed, then went back to arranging her socks with more attentiveness than she'd ever shown them.
“Why'd they have to leave it here?” Kellah asked suddenly. Her bed was next to the empty one. “There's gotta be storage space somewhere in this castle. Does McGonagall think we need reminding our friend is dead?”
Hermione sighed. “I think, with everything,” she said carefully, “none of the staff have thought through it that we're….” She took a breath and looked over at what had always been and was still in all their minds Lavender's bed. “That we're coming home to empty beds like that and—I don't know.” She shook her head. “I just don't know.” She swiped a thumb under her eye, flicked open her trunk, grabbed her brush, and started brushing her hair with the same intensity Fay was giving her socks. Without a word, Pavarti got up and hugged her. Hermione hugged her back. “I'm sorry.”
“Don't you dare apologize,” Pavarti scolded gently. She lowered her voice. “I was crying in the bathroom for ages while everyone was still downstairs talking. You can ask Fay, she found me. We're all having a rough time of it right now.”
“Yeah,” Hermione breathed.
The room was quiet for a moment then, mostly to her socks, Fay said, “We're witches, we can use magic, we could vanish it or shrink it or something.”
The other girls looked around at the bed. Kellah shook her head. “No. I—I hate looking at it but that just seems disrespectful.”
Pavarti let go of Hermione, squared her shoulders, and strode over to close the hangings on Lavender's bed. Hermione pretended not to see the rough, patchy scaring on the back of Pavarti's arm when the sleeve of her nightgown rode up. “There,” Pavarti said stepping back. “That'll do for now, I think. It's time for bed anyway.”
Draco woke up a full two hours before he needed to, lay there unmoving for a while, rolled over, and flashed a rude gesture at the pair of young voyeuristic merfolk nestled in an exterior crook of of the ceiling, watching him. They darted off with a flurry of bubbles Draco took for giggles, he ran a hand over his face, got up, got dressed, and went up to breakfast through the still empty corridors.
This early in the morning the Great Hall was chilly, the light from outside dim and pale. There were a few people already at breakfast, not many, maybe a dozen total, and no one at the Slytherin table. Two girls at the Hufflepuff table were dressed in what Draco was pretty sure were muggle athletic clothes. Some Ravenclaws were sitting in a clump with a young looking ghost, the living ones, Luna Lovegood among them, all laughing through their tears. A second year Gryffindor boy was sitting apart from the other few at his table, staring into a mug of coffee like he was seriously contemplating either diving into it or trying to drown himself in it. At the staff table, Madam Hooch and Madam Pomfrey sat with their chairs pulled close together, talking in hushed tones as they ate.
Draco sat at the very end of the Slytherin table, at the edge of the bench, down toward the staff table. He yawned, grabbed some toast, and poured himself some coffee. He watched cream swirl languidly in his drink and he had to admit, drowning in coffee didn't sound like the worst way to go. He could think of at least five ways he had almost died that he'd prefer it to. He shook his head and took a sip. Starting the morning on such a positive note had to bode well for the rest of the day.
As more people started to trickle into the hall, Draco got up, taking his coffee with him, and went to wander the halls under the guise of prefect duties, schoolbag on his shoulder. He left his mug on a windowsill, trusting a house elf would pick it up. On that thought, he paused, pulled a slip of parchment from his bag, folded it into a bird, and left it with the cup. He slipped his watch out of his pocket to check the time, sighed, and headed to class.
Sitting in History of Magic with his five fellow Slytherins and the seventh and eighth year Ravenclaws, listening to Professor Binns launch into pretty much the exact same lesson plan as he'd had the year before, Draco wished he'd had more coffee. History of Magic at eight o'clock in the morning was absolutely cruel. He doubted even Hermione would be able to keep alert. If this class weren't a rehash, he'd have been worried for his grade.
When the bell rang, Draco shook himself out of his stupor, swept his things into his bag, and brushed out of the room past Zabini, Exavior, Harper, Morag, and Greengrass in her godawful chair—they'd be in his next class but just for the walk he didn't want the pressure to talk to any of them. The Gryffindors were already in the Defense Against the Dark Arts room when Draco got there, Hermione and Ginny sitting together near the front of the room. Lupin broke off chatting with a Gryffindor boy who must've been in Ginny's year to greet, “Good morning, Draco.”
All seventeen Gryffindors turned to look at him.
“Morning, Professor.” Draco heeded Hermione waving him over and sat to the other side of her from Ginny.
“How're you doing?” Hermione asked pleasantly.
“It's the first day of term and it's already been a long year,” Draco muttered, getting his things out of his bag.
She frowned. “It's only nine in the morning.”
“Exactly.” Draco set his inkwell on his desk. “I just had History of Magic.”
Hermione, Ginny, and Lupin all pulled faces. The rest of the Slytherins arrived and Blaise strode forward to drop his bag on the desk across the aisle from Draco. “Malfoy!”
“What do you want, Zabini?” Draco looked around at him impatiently.
“Why are you sitting with Granger?” Blaise sneered. “Aren't you going to sit with us?”
“You realize I've never had class with you before, right?” Draco turned away. “I'm not sitting with you.”
“Leave him alone, Blaise,” Daphne said softly.
“I don't need your help, Greengrass,” Draco snapped.
Lupin cleared his throat. “I know it's been a while so let me just remind you all, I don't assign seats in my classes,” he said pointedly. “Mr. Malfoy can sit with you some other time, if he so chooses, Mr. Zabini. Mr. Malfoy, I would advise you to check your attitude.” Draco snorted and Lupin continued. “In the meantime, I think we have some more pressing start of term matters to discuss than seating arrangements. Let's see here, do I have you Tuesday or Wednesday…?” He leaned back on his desk and turned a page in a planner that lay open there. “Yes, Tuesday. Alright. You will still have class, but I won't be there. I'm not sure yet who will be covering.”
A seventh year Gryffindor boy raised his hand.
“Yes, Mr. Trent?” Lupin prompted.
Trent put his hand down. “Why won't you be there?”
“Because he's a werewolf,” Harper sneered. “Didn't you know?”
“No, I mean—” Trent glanced at Lupin. “I knew you're a werewolf, sir, I just—” He broke off.
“I am a werewolf,” Lupin said patiently, “and as Mr. Harper seems to be aware, this coming Monday and Tuesday nights are the full moon. I'll have to commend you to Professor Sinistra, Mr. Harper.” He gave Harper an uncomfortably pleasant smile, focusing on him long enough that Harper looked down at the blank parchment on his desk and made quite a show of writing the date. Apparently satisfied, Lupin pushed off from his desk and wandered across the front of the room. “The odds of me getting much, if any, sleep those nights aren't very good so, for the sake of you getting coherent instruction from a teacher who is not sleep deprived and grouchy, you'll have a substitute.”
“Cool.” Dean held up a thumbs up.
“Thank you, Dean.” The corner of Lupin's mouth twitched up. “Now, then!” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I figure, you've all been here six or seven years already, you know a thing or two, and you've all actually had me as a teacher before—so let's jump right in, shall we? This year we'll discussing some of the more complicated forms of dark magic and how to combat them, when possible. Off the top of your head, examples?”
Naturally, Hermione's hand shot up.
“Miss Granger?” Lupin flicked his wand at a fresh bit of chalk sitting on the edge of the blackboard.
The chalk quickly scrawled HORCRUXES at the top of the board.
“That is about as dark and as complicated as you can get, yes,” Lupin said. “Also, technically banned from the curriculum but given recent events we're going to ignore that. What else? Miss Morag?”
“The Dark Mark, the actual tattoos.”
“Not inherently dark magic, but worth talking about.” The chalk scrawled DARK MARK. “And?”
Behind him, Draco heard Neville whisper to Dean, “What did Harry say those zombie things were called?”
“Inferi?” Dean guessed.
“Yeah, sounds right.” Neville raised his hand and was called on. “Inferi.”
“Very good,” Lupin praised. The chalk added INFERI – NECROMANCY to the board. “Keep 'em coming.”
Draco raised his hand.
“Wasn't there a curse on your teaching post?”
“Yes, there was.” HOGWARTS D.A.D.A. POST JINX was added to the list. “Jinxing something intangible, very tricky. Miss Weasley?”
“The tracking spell that got put on Voldemort's name.”
Most of the room flinched instinctively as the chalk added TABOO CURSE.“Another spell tied to something intangible. Mr. Malfoy, you've got another one?”
“The Unbreakable Vow.”
“Yes. Anyone else?” Lupin asked. The students glanced around at each other and no one raised their hands. “No? Well, six is plenty to start with. These are all complex spells to cast and, more importantly for our purposes, they're difficult or even impossible to undo.” The chalk drew boxes around HORCRUXESand DARK MARK.“The magic that creates these cannot be undone by anyone under any circumstances. Horcuxes, of course, can be destroyed—would someone other than Miss Granger like to tell the class how a horcrux can be destroyed?”
Exavior raised his hand cautiously.
“Yes, Mr. Exavior?”
“Fiendfyre and basilisk venom. I think that's it, isn't it?” Exavior asked.
“Also goblin-wrought silver that's been impregnated with basilisk venom,” Hermione added.
“Right,” Lupin said. “What if the horcrux is a living thing?”
“What if it's what?” a blond Gryffindor seventh year asked, sounding like she hoped she'd misheard.
“Living beings can also be horcruxes,” Lupin explained. “I know you all know Harry Potter, he halfway was one—”
“How can you halfway be a horcrux?” Harper asked incredulously.
“Voldemort—oh, quit cringing, he's dead, very dead, we were all there,” Ginny huffed. “Anyway, Voldemort never meant for Harry to be a horcrux, he just kid of accidentally halfway did what it takes to make a horcrux when he tried to kill Harry as a baby, but he didn't finish the process, so, Harry was halfway a horcrux.”
“Thank you, Miss Weasley. For the record, before anyone asks,” Lupin sighed, “no, we absolutely will not be going over the process of creating a horcrux. But yes, Harry was halfway a horcrux, and Voldemort's snake was a proper one—how do you destroy a living horcrux?”
“Well, I cut Nagini's head off with a sword,” Neville said almost bashfully.
“With the Sword of Gryffindor,” Dean corrected.
“Which is goblin-wrought silver impregnated with basilisk venom,” Hermione added.
“In short, he killed the damn snake,” Draco summarized. He muttered, “I hated that snake….” He noticed Zabini giving him an odd look. “What? My house was the Dark Lord's base of operations for the better part of two years—even when he wasn't there, the bloody snake usually was and it would watch me, I swear.”
Everyone in the room other than Lupin looked away from Draco.
“You killed the snake,” Lupin said, gaze sliding over to Neville, “with the Sword of Gryffindor, and that destroyed the horcrux. Yes, to destroy a living horcrux, you must kill it.”
“Then how's Potter still alive?” Daphne asked genuinely.
Lupin held his arms out in a shrug. “Because he's freakishly lucky and killing curses tend to bounce right off of him like rubber balls on tile.”
That earned a chuckle from the class.
Lupin allowed himself a grin before continuing. “As far as I know, fiendfyre and basilisk venom would both also destroy Dark Marks, but they'd also kill the person bearing the mark. The better removal technique is to cut out the Marked flesh, or to cut off the arm entirely, both of which I know have been attempted in Azkaban. The obvious problem with cutting off the arm is, well, now you're missing an arm, not to mention the risk of bleeding out or going into shock without proper medical attention. The same risks apply to cutting out the Mark, and anecdotal evidence from Azkaban suggests that the effects of the Mark are not constrained to the visible tattoo and failure to cut deep enough or with enough margin around the tattoo can leave parts of the spell behind, resulting in nasty magical burns, reappearance of the Mark, or death.
“Now, you all look a little sick. You should. This is unpleasant crap and we're about to start talking about necromancy so it's not going to get any better.”
By the time the bell rang, releasing Draco to three hours of free period and lunch, he really didn't feel like eating. No one else looked like they felt like eating either, but the majority of the class turned their steps toward the Great Hall anyway. Draco started off in the other direction but something tugged at his bag. He turned to see Daphne looking up at him intensely. “Are you alright?”
He jerked his bag out of her grasp. “No, I'm fine, we've just been talking about animate rotting flesh for the better part of an hour, why would I be anything other than fine.”
“No one's heard from you all summer and you've been acting odd ever since we got back,” she said gently. “Everyone's noticed.”
“I said I'm fine,” Draco huffed and strode off. He walked outside, pulled himself up to sit in an alcove between two pillars, and pulled out his history of magic textbook. While he read, he absently rubbed at his arm. He could feel the thickened ridges of skin even through two layers of sleeve. He dug his fingernails in.
A soft meow from beneath his perch gave him about half a second's warning before a mass of ginger fluff leapt into his lap and knocked the air out of him.
“Stupid cat,” he grumbled, trying unsuccessfully to prevent Crookshanks from stretching up to rub against his face. “No—get off!” He dropped the cat on the ground and glared at it. Crookshanks stared right back at him and meowed. “What do you want?”
Crookshanks meowed again.
The cat jumped up again and proceeded to wedge itself into the alcove behind Draco, mostly shoving him out of his seat in the process. Draco stumbled onto the grass. Crookshanks curled up in the warm spot he left behind.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
The cat started to purr. Draco flashed a rude gesture at the ginger tabby and begrudgingly went back inside and made his way to the Great Hall.
Draco took one step toward the Slytherin table, caught Ginny's red hair in the corner of his eye, spotted Hermione sitting next to her, and stopped. He looked back and forth between his table and theirs a few times then went to join the Gryffindors. Everyone around him stopped talking. Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. He grabbed a pasty from the tray in the middle of the table. “Your cat is stalking me.”
“Because he likes you,” Hermione said.
“Well, I don't like him.” Draco took a bite of pasty and looked around at the other Gryffindors still staring at him. “What are you looking at? All but maybe three of you saw me at Grimmauld Place, do we have to go through this again?”
“No,” Neville said slowly. “I just don't think I've seen anyone but Luna sit at not their house's table before.”
“They saw you where?” a black eighth year girl—Kelly? Kellis? Something like that—asked sharply.
“Grimmauld Place,” Ginny explained. “Sirius Black's house.”
“We lived there this summer,” Hermione added, gesturing across herself, Ginny, and Draco.
Before anyone could ask why, Draco said, “Black is my cousin, my parents are in prison, and my house is a crime scene.” He turned to Hermione. “How many times am I going to have to go over this.”
“Until the entire school's heard it twice,” Dean answered.
Hermione nodded. “At least twice.”
Draco was glad they'd had Slughorn, albeit briefly. It made it seem slightly less wrong to be in potions being taught by his head of house and have that person not be Snape. The memorial plaque on the wall, however, he'd probably never be able to look straight at. Professor Ramsey had them taking a pretest, which MacMillan, sitting across from Draco, was taking far too seriously. His nose was almost touching the parchment. Draco rolled his eyes and dipped his quill in his inkwell. It wasn't as though the questions were hard—they were mostly just terms to be defined. Terms they'd already learned years before.
Draco finished, rolled up his parchment, and went to drop it on Ramsey's desk.
“First one done,” Ramsey said, mildly impressed. “Let's hope this bodes well. I could use a word with you.” He herded Draco out into the corridor, stood such that he could still see into his classroom, and spoke softly. “You already have your potion for this month, I gather.”
“Yes,” Draco said shortly. “I've been taking it since Monday.”
“Alright, good. Do you need anything el—”
“No,” Draco cut Ramsey off. They both waited while a Hufflepuff girl saw herself out after finishing her pretest, then once she turned the corner up the stairs Draco continued, quiet and sharp, “I don't need anything from you, I don't want any kind of special treatment. I have a routine. I know what I'm doing. This may be new for you but it's not for me. I'll need you to make potion for me other months, but that's it. I don't need to be coddled.”
“I'm trying to do my job and I'm trying to help you,” Ramsey said, exceedingly evenly. “Watch your tone, Mr. Malfoy, I'm on your side here.”
Draco looked away and crossed his arms.
“I'm sure you're stressed,” Ramsey said generously. “Maybe we should try talking later next week when you've had some time to recover.”
Draco went for another walk before going to his next class, so even though he left potions early, he got to his Muggle Studies class the same time as everyone else. Professor Lee was standing by the doorway, greeting students as they came in. She looked young, Bill Weasley's age or so, and she was dressed in muggle clothes. Draco nodded in response to her greeting and took a seat at the very back of the classroom.
Across the blackboard it said Wands Away, Quills Away, Parchment Away.
With a curious frown, Draco leaned back in his chair and didn't get anything out of his bag.
A Ravenclaw third year darted in, followed by Astoria Greengrass who slid into the seat next to Draco and flashed him a quick smile just as the bell rang.
“Alrighty then!” Professor Lee pulled the door closed and moved to the front of the room. “Welcome, everyone, to Muggle Studies. I'm Professor Elizabeth Lee. You're welcome to call me Elizabeth or Ms. Lee. I hope you'll excuse my accent, I was born in the United States and moved back across the pond in '92; I've only been back in the U.K. a couple months. This being a class centered around the non-magical community, the no wands rule probably makes sense,” she said gesturing to the board. “The no quills or parchment probably seems a little weird, though, huh?”
The class nodded and murmured its agreement.
Professor Lee grinned, went behind her desk, and retrieved a stack of spiral bound notebooks and boxes of blue-capped pens like Draco had occasionally seen Hermione use. “This is a cultural immersion class, now,” Professor Lee explained as she began passing out the notebooks and pens. “These are what muggle students use, so you'll be using them too.”
Draco turned the notebook Astoria handed him over in his hands, opened it, then skeptically uncapped his pen and scribbled at the top of the page. Around him, most of the class was doing pretty much the same thing.
“So.” Professor Lee clapped her hands together. “Let's just start with what you all think you already know about muggles. Tell me.”
Students glanced at each other. Jimmy Peakes, one of the Gryffindor prefects, cautiously said, “They can't use magic.”
“There we go!” Professor Lee beamed. “I know it feels silly to say since it's so obvious but, yes, muggles can't use magic. Many would say that's their defining characteristic, and it does impact every aspect of their lives and culture. What else?”
“They can't see pixies or dementors,” a Ravenclaw girl said.
“That's right,” Professor Lee encouraged. “Tell me more.”
“They have fabric money, don't they?” Astoria asked.
“No,” Draco said. “It's paper. Some of it. They also have coins.”
“Very good.” For a long moment the room was quiet. Professor Lee crossed her arms. “I didn't tell you to stop. Actually, okay.” She picked up an eraser and cleared the board by hand. “Everybody grab a piece of chalk, come up here and write something you think you know about muggles or something you've heard about muggles, then we'll go through them playing true or false. Well, c'mon, grab some chalk.”
And the end of the exercise, the board was covered:
Muggles have lots of metal things
Muggles are stupid and violent
-Some individuals may be, just like wizards
Muggles don't keep owls but they do keeps cats and dogs
-Almost always true
Muggles can’t heal themselves when they get hurt
-Technically True, they can't heal things instantly but they have ways to help the body heal itself
Muggles are unobservant
-False, they just can't perceive some magical things
Muggle photos don't move
-True, but muggles have videos
Muggles can’t travel very far
-False, they have many kinds of vehicles for long distances
Muggles have lots of kids
-Some do some don't, just like wizards
Muggles spend all day washing dishes and doing laundry by hand
-Not anymore! There are machines for that now
Muggles think everything tastes like chicken
-Mostly False, some individuals might but “it tastes just like chicken” is a joke
Muggles have self driving carriages
-False, cars are self propelled (using fuel) but they need a driver
Muggles are loud
-Some individuals may be, just like wizards
Muggles can talk to each other from far away using radio things
-True, telephones or “phones” are used for long distance communication
Muggles have something called ayoelle?
Muggles are really good at killing each other and bad at killing witches and wizards but they try
-True, though they haven't tried much recently
Muggles have arcades with coin operated games
-True, the games are electronic
Muggles are dangerous
-Some individuals may be, just like wizards
Muggles can’t make potions
-Mostly True, they can try but the potion won't work
“So, a lot of you have grown up with stereotypes about muggles and have heard things about muggles that aren't true,” Professor Lee conclude after they'd finished going through the list, “but there is a lot you do know that istrue. Of course there's still a lot you don't know—that's why you're in this class. This weekend I invite you to reach out to any muggle-borns or muggles you may know. Talk to your friends, write your grandma if you're half-blood, it doesn't matter. Just reach out to them and listen to whatever they feel like telling you about muggle culture. I think that's all for today and I will see you all on Monday.”
Just as she finished speaking, the bell rang. She grinned and cheerfully waved farewell to her students. Astoria fell into step with Draco as they left the classroom, or she tried to. Between being several inches shorter than him and wearing heeled shoes, she had to do a little skip every few steps to keep up. She fixed her bag on her shoulder. “Why are you taking Muggle Studies?”
“Why are you?” he shot back.
She shrugged. “With everything that's happened, feels like the world is changing and there's things I need to know.”
She shook out her long, brown hair. “Why don't you sit with me and Daphne at dinner?”
“You never really hung out with us before so you can't hold 'fake friend' status against us like you are Zabini.”
“Just sit with us, okay?” She elbowed his arm then ran the rest of the way down the hall to where the Carrows were waving to her.
Remus found himself seated between Madam Hooch and Professor Ramsey at dinner, which meant that's who he was talking to while they all kept an easy eye on the students. At the Gryffindor table Remus could see Hermione talking to Dean—lecturing, from the look of it—and Remus wasn't sure if he should be glad Draco was actually talking to his own housemates or concerned that he looked to be arguing with his housemates. He was leaning towards the former.
“The pitch ought to be usable within the next couple weeks,” Rolanda said, answering a question from Remus. “At least that's what Minerva told me and I'm not inclined to doubt her. So, if the houses can get their teams together we can have the Quidditch cup like always. A month isn't long to prepare for the first game but I think the kids can do it and I expect it would be good for them.”
Remus nodded while he cut his food. “I'm sure it will. The whole school enjoys a good game of Quidditch.”
“Did you ever play?” Ramsey asked.
“Me?” Remus laughed. “Oh, no. Not on the school team. I got dragged into a few casual games with friends but I've never been terribly athletic.”
“You tried out a couple times,” Rolanda said.
“Only because my friends goaded me into it. I was rubbish!”
Rolanda leaned around him to tell Ramsey, “He wasn't as bad as he says. I was there for those tryouts. And from what I heard, Remus, you almost made the team your fifth year.”
“I would have gotten in on nepotism because the captain was my best friend until I pointed out that two games that year were on the full moon.” Remus picked up his wine and turned to Ramsey. “Did you play?”
“Beater my sixth and seventh years,” Ramsey confirmed. “So, uh, your friends knew then? About your condition?”
A loud crack sounded and every head in the room whipped around to see a plume of purple smoke erupt from the Gryffindor table to raucous laughter from the surrounding students. Remus shook his head and made a mental note to congratulate the twins, then cuff all three of their collective ears. “My closest friends knew. I think most of the staff knew.”
“By the time you took your N.E.W.T.s we all knew,” Rolanda said into her goblet.
Remus rolled his eyes and took a bite of what was left of his food. “It's a surprisingly difficult secret to keep and I've since stopped trying, consequences be damned.”
“I find that commendable,” Ramsey said. “Brave.”
“No,” Remus said firmly. “It's not brave. I'll give myself credit, I've done plenty of brave things in the last year alone. But this—this is me being jaded, reckless, and lazy. I give it until Halloween before there's at least one angry parent calling for my removal.” Remus ate the last bit of potato on his plate and wiped his mouth. “Excuse me.” He got up from his chair and made his way out of the hall.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a platinum blond head get up from the Slytherin table and follow him out. Draco caught up to him in the entrance hall. “Hey.”
“Good evening, Draco.”
“I was wondering if I could join you for, uh, coffee,” Draco said rather awkwardly.
It took Remus's brain a second to register what Draco meant, then he snorted and muttered, “Hell, I wish it tasted like coffee. Sure. Do you need to run by your dormitory, or...”
Draco shook his head.
They got to Remus's office, he pulled out one of the bottles Hermione had sent with him and poured himself a goblet while Draco drew a flask from his robes. Remus raised his goblet, Draco clinked his flask against it, and they each choked down their portions. Remus made a face and set his goblet on his desk. He tapped a finger against its base and looked at Draco. “Did you want to talk to me about something?”
Draco shook his head. He fiddle with the cap of his flask, screwing it back on. “This is just,” he shrugged, “habit.”
Remus nodded, pulled chairs out for them with a wave of his wand, and sat. “How was your first day?”
“Fine.” Draco sat stiffly.
“You seem to be having some...difficulty with your housemates,” Remus observed
“I don't want to go back to pretending like we're friends and everything is fine, like we all did before. There's no point now.”
“Has it occurred to you,” Remus said slowly, “that they weren't pretending?”
Draco frowned at him.
“They may—and I believe, do—genuinely think of you as a friend. They have no way to know that to you it was an act.”
Draco opened his mouth and snapped it shut again. His frown deepened. “I hadn't thought of that.”
“Give them a chance,” Remus said. “It's not too late to be their friend for real.”
Draco let himself sleep in on Saturday. Exavior was already gone by the time he got up, which was just as well. Even with just the two of them sharing a room, they hardly spoke. As he dressed, Draco threw a shoe at a grindylow clinging to the other side of the window to scare it off. The underwater view lost its charm once it became apparent a few months in to first year that every single thing that lived in the lake had taken to using the Slytherin dormitories as a peep show.
After trotting up the stairs to the entry, Draco went into the great hall—it was tempting to sit alone but Daphne had already poured him coffee and was holding the mug out for him.
“Deined to rejoin the waking world, did you, Mr. Prefect?” she teased as he fixed his coffee.
“Who's to say I was sleeping?”
“Emmet.” Astoria smirked as she buttered a piece of toast. “He says you were snoring.”
“He's a filthy lier.” Draco sipped his coffee.
“No, can't be. If he were, you'd actually be friends with him.” Daphne's tone was serious, but she was smiling.
Draco rolled his eyes. As long as he didn't look at Daphne's chair, this was almost nice. Of course, it was pretty much impossible to look at Daphne at all without looking at her chair. Draco busied himself with oatmeal.
After breakfast, Draco found Hermione in the library, most of her hair scraped up into a poof of frizz on top of her head with a few wayward curls stubbornly corkscrewing around her hairline, the table in front of her strewn with books and parchment and one beaten up spiral bound notebook. She looked up briefly at his approach. “Hey, Draco.”
“There is no way you have this much homework already,” Draco said incredulously. “We've only had one day of classes, and I know that at least Lupin didn't assign anything.”
Hermione shook her head and reached for another one of her books. “All I have so far is some reading for Herbology and I already did that last night. This isn't homework.”
“Then what are you doing?”
She propped the book on end so he could see the title while she read and took notes: Accounts of the Werewolves of Poligny, Their Terror, Trial, and Execution.
“It's one of the few well known instances in muggle history of a werewolf scare where the muggles were actually right about what was going on. Usually it was really just a madman or a hyenna loose from a private zoo that was killing livestock, or people, not that they—”
She stopped talking and slowly lowered her book. “I'm sorry. I—”
“It's fine.” He shoved some of her books and papers out of the way to make himself room at the table and sat. “I need your help with some homework.”
“What subject?” She frowned curiously.
“Well, uh, Muggle Studies.”
Her forehead crinkled, then she brightened and shoved his shoulder. “Why didn't you tell me you were taking Muggle Studies?”
He shrugged. “It didn't come up. Professor Lee told us to go talk to anyone we know who's muggle or muggle born over the weekend, so—”
“Oh, I know. Jimmy Peakes was interrogating me last night until one of his roommates rescued me by reminding Peakes his sister-in-law's muggle. He didn't mention you're in the class.”
“Sounds like he was a bit busy asking questions to tell you anything.”
“Yes.” Hermione sighed and leaned back in her chair. “What do you want to know?”
Draco shrugged. “We ran into that friend of yours—you'd gone to school with her.”
"Annelise.” Hermione nodded.
“Muggle schooling starts younger than we do.”
“Yeah, most kids start school at four or five, learn their letters, colors, shapes, counting in the first year or so, then reading and writing and basic maths, history, natural sciences. I could already read by the time I started school though, and I knew my times tables when most of my classmates were struggling to count by twos, so I was usually bored in class when I was little. I read a lot.”
“That sounds like you,” Draco snorted.
She grinned. “Some things never change.” She paused. “Actually, I have a question for you.”
“You've mentioned having tutors, and I know Molly taught all the Weasleys their reading and writing and maths at home, but how do other wizarding kids learn them? I wonder about it sometimes but I've never asked. Obviously, everyone's learned—our classmates are all literate.”
“Well,” Draco leaned into the corner of his chair, “I know most, uh, better off families have tutors for their children. Sometimes, if we had the same tutor we'd be taught together—I knew Crabbe and Goyle since I was about seven because of that. Many kids are taught at home, like the Weasleys. And I think in some places where there's a concentrated wizarding population there are grammar schools. I'm not sure who we know that grew up in a largely wizarding town, though.”
“There's no schoolhouse in Hogsmeade,” Hermione pointed out
“There aren't bloody many kids in Hogsmeade, either, are there?”
“I've seen...maybe six kids younger than eleven in the village, ever,” Hermione admitted.
“Exactly. I don't think the grammar schools are terribly formal, anyway. I've honestly never thought that much about it. I just had tutors and thought that was normal.”
That evening, Draco invited himself to Lupin's office after dinner. Remus opened the door and just looked at him for a moment. “You have amazingly good timing.”
He stepped back to let Draco in—there was a full goblet on his desk, smoking faintly. Draco slipped his flask out of his robes. “We've only been doing this at the same time all summer.”
“True.” Remus shut the door. They each drank their doses, grimaced, then sat in companionable silence for a while.
“What did you do for schooling before Hogwarts?” Draco asked abruptly.
“What do you mean?”
“I was talking to Hermione about how muggle children and wizarding children learn English and maths and so on. Muggle kids start school years younger than we come here. I had tutors. I was just wondering.”
“My mother taught me.”
“I assume Sirius had tutors.”
“Yes.” Remus grinned. “And he hated them. By all accounts his brother was a suck up so their tutors all preferred Regulus.”
Draco chuckled. “Do you know anything about local, informal schools?”
Remus nodded. “Yes. I know some mothers, mostly, who'd get together with their kids and one or two of the mums would teach. Harry and Neville's mothers had planned to do that.”
“That makes sense. It seems strange that no one really talks about these things.”
“There's a lot no one really talks about.” Remus sighed. “Figure I'll be seeing you tomorrow evening as well?”
“Most likely,” Draco admitted. “Are you teaching on Monday?”
“I am, but not Tuesday or Wednesday. At least not Wednesday morning. We'll see.”
Draco snorted and looked away.
“I'd tell you that your teachers would completely understand if you took some time off as well, but I don't think there's much point.”
Draco shook his head. “If I make a habit of cutting class on the days after the full moon, people would figure out what's going on—especially with you here.”
Sunday was a pleasantly slow day. Draco spent most of the day in the Slytherin common room working ahead on his coursework and reading after having gone around asking his professors what the next few days worth of homework would be. Maybe if he did his homework beforehand, he'd actually have time to sleep. That was the hope at least.
Starting with Astoria, then Blaise, most of the rest of the house joined him on the floor in front of the fireplace, all with their own schoolwork. None of them talked much beyond the occasional question between classmates.
After dinner, Draco found himself in Remus's office again, as predicted.
“What did you do,” Draco asked, “before wolfsbane potion was invented and you were in school?”
Remus let out the long breath. “I had to be away from people so….” He trailed off and shrugged. “Have you ever noticed, when you've gone down to Hogsmeade, that the Shrieking Shack doesn't actually shriek?”
Draco frowned. “Now that you mention it, yeah, but what does that—? Oh.”
Remus nodded. “That was me. Madam Pomfrey would sneak me out of the castle to the shack before moonrise, come get me when the full moon had passed. The rumors of the place being haunted by dangerous spirits were encouraged to keep people away and safe from me. They never really died, even after I'd left school and the place went quiet.”
“That's mental.” Draco shook his head. “I can't imaging having to juggle that all through school.”
Remus shrugged. “For me, it was normal.”
“How is being smuggled out of school to spend days alone in an abandoned house that everyone thinks is haunted because of you screaming in pain 'normal?'”
“The thing you have to understand,” Remus sighed, “is that I don't really know what it's like to notbe a werewolf. I was so young—I do unfortunately remember being bitten, and quite vividly, but I don't remember much from before. This has always been a part of my life, it may not define me but it is inseparable from who I am. I don't know who I'd be as a person without it. I doubt I'd recognize myself.”
Draco nodded slowly. He pulled his feet up and wrapped his arms around his knees. “What happened?” he asked softly. “When you were….”
“Bitten,” Remus finished. Draco nodded again. Remus sunk down in his chair and ran a hand over his face.
“You don't have to—”
“No, it's fine.” Remus took a breath, “I was in bed. I had just turned three. I wasn't quite asleep; out my window I could see fairies in the garden—we always had fairies in summer, I think my mother planted something they liked, I'm not sure. In any case I could see them glowing outside, all these little soft lights, then something blocked them out. This big dark something, I didn't know what, broke the window—not just the glass, it broke the frame out of its tracks and once it was inside—” He shook his head and rubbed at the now distorted scars through his shirt. “If you've ever seen a dog—or Sirius—shake a toy, that's what Greyback did with me. Everything was blurred and I couldn't breathe. Felt like fire, but wet. I was screaming, my mother was screaming, my father was—I don't know when they came in, I don't how how long it lasted, I didn't really know what was happening, I just knew this thingwas killing me.
“Then it was over. I was face down on the rug, everything smelled like metal, and I couldn't move.” He leaned forward on his knees and shrugged. “After that things are vague. I don't think I was entirely conscious. Spent the better part of the next two months in hospital.”
Draco chewed his lip. “You were at St. Mungo's when you first—”
“I was at home.” A moment passed, then Draco asked, “Why is the bite so cold?”
Remus sighed. “I have no idea.”
Draco picked at a thread on the cuff of his left sleeve. “After the Department of Mysteries, the Dark Lord decided my father needed to be punished and that the way to do that was through me…. So, we had Greyback caged up in the basement, my mother and Bellatrix and—and Voldemort were there. Greyback was snarling and pacing and clawing at the walls and grate, and it's all stone down there so everything echoed horribly. My mother hugged me justlike she would before I got on the train for school when I was little, but she was trying not to cry. I was trying not to be sick.
“Bellatrix put a hand on my shoulder, simpering like she cared, and told me to come along, dragged me over to the grate. Voldemort was standing next to my mother with his wand drawn, and I knew he'd kill her if I didn't do it.” He took a shaky breath. “I had to put my arm through the bars. I asked Bellatrix to make me do it—”
“Under the impirius curse?”
Draco nodded. “Voldemort told me to do it myself. I looked back at my mother—she'd shut her eyes—and I did it. I couldn't look, then I couldn't see. It was just,” he waved a hand in front of his face, “white. Burning, and cold, and wet—like you said. I couldn't feel my hand. I wound up on the floor. My mother was holding me, whispering to me, but I couldn't understand what she was saying. Voldemort grabbed me by the back of the head and made me look. I think I saw bone.” He shook his head. “I passed out. Woke up in my room a couple days later, whole arm bandaged up. My mother would come in a few times a day with food, or to change the dressings, but for weeks she wouldn't look at me. Snape started bringing me the potion. I locked myself in my childhood playroom for two whole days. Hardly even left to eat or use the bathroom. I didn't wanna see anyone.”
Remus nodded. “St. Mungo's has—or, at least, used to have—padded cells on the first floor.”
Draco scrubbed a hand across his eyes.
“Come here.” Remus levered himself up out of his chair and pulled Draco into a hug.
Draco took a deep breath; it stuttered as he exhaled. “I've never talked about it before.”
“It's hard,” Remus said gently. “I know.”
Draco sniffed, detached himself from Remus, and wiped his eyes. “I, uh, I'm gonna go. To bed. I don't expect I'll be by tomorrow. I think I'm going to take a nap after classes.”
“Sleep well,” Remus said, eyes soft.
Monday morning at breakfast, Draco looked up as the owls swooped in with the day's mail. The huge bulk of Harry's new owl, Jarnsaxa, was easy to pick out from the flock. She landed between Hermione and Ginny at the Gryffindor table. A scruffy little grey owl landed in front of Draco, dropped a letter, and flew off again. Draco picked up the letter and flipped it over. He immediately recognized his mother's writing.
“What's that?” Exavior asked casually. He and Draco were on speaking terms as of the day before.
“Nothing.” Draco shoved the letter in his bag. “I'm going on to class.”
He sat alone in the Transfiguration classroom for a while and just started to reach for the letter in his bag when Hermione and Ginny came in.
“Morning, Draco,” Hermione said brightly.
“Oh, we're ladies now?” Ginny asked.
Draco arched an eyebrow. “Unless there's something you're keeping from your boyfriends.”
Ginny snorted and Hermione rolled her eyes.
Professor Stebbins bustled in amongst the rest of the class as they drifted up from breakfast. She was no McGonagall, but transfiguration was transfiguration and class was mostly taken up by start of term housekeeping anyway.
Remus dropped into a chair at dinner without really seeing who he was sitting next to, dropped his head into his hand, and started massaging his temple.
“Are you alright, Remus?”
Remus looked up slowly at Angelica, who was eyeing him with concern.
“I'm fine. Thank you.”
“You don't look fine….”
“The full moon is tonight, I feel horribly dehydrated but I'm not. This is normal. I'm fine.”
Angelica frowned. Remus poured himself a glass of wine and started in on his steak.
“Professor Lupin!” Professor Lee took the seat to Remus's other side. “I've just been informed that I'm covering your classes tomorrow.”
“Okay, good. I was starting to get a bit worried no one was going to cover.” He picked up his goblet. “I can give you lesson plans after dinner.”
“Great.” Lee flashed a smile and held up a finger. “In exchange, I'm planning on having a sort of 'everything you always wondered about muggles but were too afraid to ask' session in a week or so and you should tell your students to go.”
Remus blinked. “Once you figure out exactly when you'll be doing that, let me know and I'll pass it along to my students.”
When they were both done eating, Remus had Lee follow him back to his office, handed over his lessonbook, and gave her a quick run through of what each class was doing. “Are you just covering tomorrow, or Wednesday as well?”
Lee shrugged. “I don't know. McGonagall caught me on the way to dinner to tell me I was covering tomorrow. I have classes of my own Wednesday and I don't know if they conflict with yours.”
“Hm.” Remus frowned. “Alright.” He pulled his watch from the pocket of his waistcoat. “Thank you for covering. I have some things I need to do before I'm, shall we say, indisposed.”
“Right. Of course.” Lee held the lessonbook to her chest. “Any particular notes? I know it's only been a couple days, but—”
“No. The seventh/eighth year classes are a bit freeform. That's it.”
“Cool. Well. Have a good night.”
“I'll try,” Remus said earnestly. “I'll try.”
Draco was just leaving the dormitory, the taste of wolfsbane lingering in his mouth, when Exavior was coming in. The darker haired boy frowned. “Where are you going? It's almost curfew.”
“Prefect duties,” Draco said easily and continued past.
“And you skipped astronomy,” Exavior accused at Draco's back.
“I took it last year,” Draco called back.
“You took everything last year!”
Ignoring his roommate, Draco went up to the seventh floor and turned left, as he had every month for the past two years of his schooling. But something was wrong. It couldn't be gone. There was not time for this.
Draco swore fluently and ran to Lupin's office. He pounded on the door until it opened.
“Now really isn't a good—Draco?” Remus had answered the door in his housecoat, which he was holding closed with one hand because it wasn't tied. “What are you doing here?”
“It's not working,” Draco explained, trying and mostly failing at not sounding panicked. “I can't get in.”
“The Room of Requirement. It's where I go, or it used to be. It won't open. I made sure I was on the right hall three times. No matter what I do, I can't get in. I don't want to hex my roommate, there's people in the hospital wing, it's—what, ten?—minutes to moonrise, and I don't know where to go.”
“More like five. Get in here.” Remus pulled him through the door then shut and locked it behind him. He nodded toward the stairs that lead up from his office to his bedroom. “Go, get undressed. I'll stay down here.”
“Thank you,” Draco said shakily and hurried up the stairs.
He was balled up in the middle of the floor, fur on end, his clothes strewn haphazardly around him, when Remus nudged the door open. Draco didn't move. Remus padded over and nosed at the young white wolf's shoulder. Draco recoiled from the touch, snarling, and Remus quickly backed away. Immediately regretting his reaction, Draco bowed his head, ears back—he couldn't bring himself to make eye contact. Remus pondered Draco a moment then, looking more like a Labrador than a wolf, dropped playfully to his elbows, back sloping down from his flank to his withers.
Draco gave him a confused, quizzical look. Remus made a low chuffing sound and proceeded to herd Draco out of the room. Reluctantly, Draco loped down the stairs then eyed Remus, who had come down behind him. Remus trotted past, reared up to paw at the bolt until it came unlocked, got the door open, and sat in the doorway, looking expectantly at Draco. Draco stared back in horror. He could not be suggesting what Draco thought he was suggesting.
Despite not actually having eyebrows at the moment, Remus quirked an eyebrow.
Draco tucked himself under Remus's desk and continued to stare.
Remus turned away with a movement that wasn't exactly a shrug and went out into the corridor. Draco could hear Remus's nails on the stone floor, clicking lightly down the hall. He was actually leaving Draco alone in his office. And he was just going to go wander the castle. As a wolf. He was insane. He had to be insane.
Draco peered out the open door. Remus had stopped at the end of the corridor, at the top of the stairs that lead down to the entrance hall. He was looking back, waiting for Draco, who glared. Remus play-bowed again, came running back down the hall, skidded to a halt in front of Draco, jumped over him, and shoved him out the door. Draco yelped and growled. Remus rubbed shoulders with him in a gesture Draco didn't really understand, then headed deliberately toward the stairs again, glancing over his shoulder at Draco the whole way. With a huff, Draco gave in and followed.
Remus loved Scotland at night—the cool wind off the lake carrying all the smells of water and stone and a million different trees and flowers and grasses, the stars strewn across the dark sky brighter and more numerous than they ever were in London, the sounds of the wind and the water and all the living things human ears couldn't make out. For all the pain, the fear, the hatred, Remus had learned to enjoy these experiences and—he thought—Draco needed to at least have them for himself.
Remus set off at a run across the grounds for the edge of the forest and the earthy dampness of its shadows. He could hear Draco behind him, lagging but following nonetheless. It was a bit nostalgic to be out in the forest—when he'd taught before he'd spent every full moon in his office, except for that last one. That one only half counted. This, he realized, was the first time he'd roamed the grounds of his right mind. Or with another werewolf. The thought stopped his loping feet.
Draco caught up and pressed close against him, breathing hard, head down, ears back, looking around warily at the dappled shadows that would have been darkness to human eyes. Remus realized something else: this was only the second time Draco had ever been outside on the full moon. He watched Draco sniff at the air, then lower his nose to the ground and follow a scent Remus recognized a few steps before stopping and looking back at Remus uncertainly. Remus brushed passed him, following the scent through the trees, along a stream that he knew eventually twisted its way around to to lake, then to a thicket. He stopped and howled. One, then two, then a dozen voices howled back. Draco froze, one forepaw off the ground. Slowly, a pack of wolves—true wolves, with long tails and near whiteless eyes—emerged from the thicket, ears pricked curiously.
These weren't the same wolves Remus—and Padfoot—had once upon a time had to convince that hunting Prongs was a bad idea. Those had been the now-long-dead parents and grandparents of these, but the cautious interest was the same. An older, dominant female came forward. She circled Remus, sniffing at him with her head raised, then did the same to Draco who looked like he might have forgotten how to breathe. The rest of the pack approached with varying degrees of apprehension. Remus went to stand assertively by Draco who was earning himself no respect hunched down like that. He nosed at Draco, making him lift his head. Draco glanced at him as one of the younger wolves, barely more than a pup, came up to sniff at them, head bowed. The young one licked at Remus's face. Remus pawed it away gently and it rolled onto its back submissively.
Then they all heard hooves.
The pack ran. So did Draco. Remus gave a sharp bark, got in front of Draco, and corralled him against a tree. Remus pawed at Draco's shoulder, reared up against the tree, and howled again. The other wolves didn't howl back, but the hoofbeats changed course and slowed. Then, through the trees came Firenze. He stopped and eyed the two of them warily. Remus barked, trotted forward, and sat. Draco did the one thing he seemed capable of that night and stared.
“This is not how I'm accustomed to seeing either of you,” Firenze noted with faint amusement. He crossed his arms and looked down at Remus. “Causing trouble on these nights is an unbreakable habit for you, isn't it?”
Remus glowered, ears back.
Firenze laughed. “So long as you cause no harm, your causing trouble is welcome entertainment. No need to take offense.”
Draco shook himself and turned back the way they'd come, pausing slightly to sniff for their own trail. Remus glanced up at the centaur then went after Draco, leaving Firenze laughing behind them.
Remus followed Draco all the way back to the edge of the forest, where the younger werewolf faltered, reluctant to step into the open. Remus passed him, stopped, and looked back for him to come along, which he did, up to Remus's office. Draco trotted up the stairs and pushed the door closed. The message was clear: I'm done.
Remus shut the door to the hall, flopped on the floor near his desk, rolled onto his back, and stretched—his hip pop and he whined. He should have lit a fire earlier. Nothing to do about it now, he'd have to remember tomorrow. He rolled back over, curled into a lump on the rug, and tried his best to sleep, ears twitching at every creak and scuttle in the old castle.
In the morning, Remus pulled himself to his feet with a groan, shrugged into his dressing gown, tied it clumsily, and leaned heavily on his desk, head bowed against a sick headache. He took a deep breath.
“I,” Draco said hoarsely, leaning over the bannister at the top of the stairs in rumpled clothes, “have questions. Starting with, are you out of your mind?”
Remus gave a short, dark laugh. “What makes you ask?”
“You ran off into the forbidden forest,at night!” Draco said, coming down the stairs, dragging his robe behind him.
“Why fear the wild things in the woods when you are the wild thing in the woods?” Remus asked, echoing James's words from years ago.
“You took us right to a pack of wolves.”
“We were wolves, you were curious, and true wolves tend to be fascinated by werewolves until they decide we're insane and start avoiding us. I've never had real wolves be aggressive toward me.”
Draco stopped in front of him. “And what the hell was Firenze talking about?”
Remus shrugged. “He's lived in the forest his entire life, I spent years running those woods with Sirius and James and Peter, generally terrorizing the wildlife. Sirius and I used to chase rabbits, for one thing. I'm sure Firenze bore witness to more of those misadventures than I realize.”
“Why did you make me come with you?”
“I believe we've already had the conversation about sitting around moping not being good for you.”
“Were you planningon running off into the woods last night?” Draco challenged.
“So you would have stayed here all night?”
Remus nodded. “Probably.”
“Why is that fine for you but not for me?”
“Because you think you have no other choice,” Remus said simply.
Draco ran a hand through his disheveled hair and shook his head. “I'm going to go shower and go to class.”
“Have a good day,” Remus said with mock brightness. As soon as Draco had shut the door, Remus went upstairs and fell into bed.
After showering, Draco made his way down to the Slytherin dungeon to change and get his school bag. He passed Mrs. Norris on the way and she yowled disapprovingly at him. He half lunged at her and snarled just to send her running. Stupid cat.
The drapes were still drawn around Exavior's bed so Draco kept as quiet as he could while he changed into something not wrinkled from a night spent on the floor. Even so, Exavior blearily stumbled out of bed just as Draco was slipping his shoes back on. He blinked at Draco. “Why are you up so early?”
“I have rounds.”
Draco shrugged. “There aren't many prefects.”
Exavior yawned and started lethargically getting dressed. “I never heard you come back last night.”
“You were asleep.” Draco grabbed his bag and went up to breakfast. He sat alone partway down the Slytherin table, fished his mother's letter out of his bag, and finally read it. She'd been moved to a safehouse with some other Mark-less spouses who'd agreed to testify. He folded up the letter and tucked it away before going to class.
He might have slept through History of Magic. Blaise poked him awake at the bell. On the way to D.A.D.A., Daphne wheeled alongside him. “Are you alright?”
Draco shook his head. “I had rounds last night and this morning, and might be a little bit sick. I'm fine.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
Professor Lee and the Gryffindors were already in the room. Draco took his seat next to Hermione and she wordlessly set a mug of coffee on the desk in front of him. He looked at the coffee, then at her. “Bless you, Hermione.”
She smiled. “Figured you could use some.”
“Did you have rounds, too, Granger?” Exavior asked.
She looked around at him, confused, then looked at Draco. “You start talking to me like a human and the rest of your house follows suit, that's how this works?”
“We probably all owe you apologies, don't we?” Daphne asked sheepishly.
“Yeah, most of you lot have been really shitty the past few years,” Ginny said.
“Language, Miss Weasley,” Professor Lee singsonged without looking up from the lesson notes in front of her.
“What?” Ginny crossed her arms. “It's true.”
“I think, given the events of last May,” Neville said reasonably, “we all would do best to forget and forgive all around.”
“But, Hermione,” Pavarti began, “rounds, is that why you were up at, what, six?”
Hermione nodded quickly. “Mhm.” She looked at Draco.
“We had rounds,” he said and sipped his coffee. Thankfully, the bell rang, cutting off any further interrogation.
“Okay.” Lee flipped Remus's lessonbook closed. “I have Professor Lupin's notes, but he told me your years' classes are a little freeform, so why don't you all tell me what we're doing?”
At the end of class, Draco slipped off for a nap in the alcove behind a tapestry. He woke up to Crookshanks kneading at his chest.
“Huh? Ow. Shit. Stop that.” He pushed that cat off of him. “Why? Why do you do this to me?”
Crookshanks meowed and swished his tail. Draco rolled his eyes and checked his watch. He'd slept a little too long to comfortably eat lunch, so he grabbed an apple from the Great Hall and ate it on his way out to Care of Magical Creatures. He dropped his bag in the grass and sat perched on the split-rail fence near Hagrid's hut, feet hooked through the lower rail for balance. He was the first one there, Hagrid wasn't even waiting for the class yet. He probably couldhave eaten lunch after all. Oh well. The bell rang a moment later anyway.
Hagrid came out carrying a large cage covered with a drape which he set down carefully. It was buzzing or humming intermittently, with smatterings of high pitched peeps coming from inside. Draco eyed the cage suspiciously.
When Hermione arrived, she ran up and hugged Hagrid, shared a few words with him, then came to stand by the fence next to Draco. She leaned toward him casually and whispered, “You're inventing prefect duties to cover your condition?”
“I have to tell them something.” Draco shrugged. “Prefect duties are rarely questioned.”
She sighed. “You look less dead than you did this morning.”
“I skipped lunch to nap.”
She shook her head. The rest of the class gathered, Ginny running up to the back of the group still cramming a biscuit in her mouth. Hagrid called a greeting to the class and rubbed his hands together excitedly. “I have a real special treat for you,” he said and patted the cage gently. “Come on, gather 'round. Nothing to be nervous of.”
With skeptical glances among themselves, the class neared the cage. Beaming, Hagrid pulled off the drape—underneath, the cage was woven of fine silver wire and inside, preening on perches or hovering around a sprig of big red flowers, were half a dozen tiny, fat, gold-feathered birds. A few people cooed. Draco almost laughed with surprise.
“Figure all of you what play quidditch recognize these little beauties,” Hagrid said happily. “Golden snidgets. They're visiting us all the way from the Modesty Rabnott Reservation in Somerset. Now, I'm not gonna let these guys out, 'cause we don't want Ginny or Draco to have to round 'em back up—” the class chuckled “—but I think you can see 'em well enough.”
Draco didn't bother to take notes as Hagrid ran through the history of the little bird, its use in quidditch, its near extinction by overhunting, and the subsequent conservation efforts, all of which he already knew from reading Quidditch Through the Ages. There was a whole chapter.
He stuck a finger in through the wires and one of the snidgets flitted over to investigate him. It prodded his fingertip with its long thin beak, flicked a tiny sticky tongue against his skin, then perched on his finger, folded its so-familiar wings, and peeped. It weighed nothing. Draco grinned.
Once the bell rang and the snidgets went back under their protective drape, the class started to disperse. Hermione shouldered her bag and gestured between herself and Ginny. “We have Potions. How's Ramsey—you've had him already, right?”
Draco nodded. “Yeah. He's good. You just have a pretest.”
“What do you have?” Ginny asked as they headed back up to the castle.
“Herbology.” He pointed in the direction of the greenhouses. They drifted apart as he went that way and the girls went inside. Herbology—like History—was just a repeat of last year, so that was dull, but a good fifteen or twenty minutes were taken up by Professor Sprout complaining that the local herbivore population had apparently figured out the scarecrows in the gardens wouldn't really hurt them. That was new.
“What if you bewitched the scarecrows?” Draco suggested. “If they were actually a threat they'd actually work.”
Hannah Abbot glared at him. He shrugged.
“I don't think,” Professor Sprout said slowly, “that would be the best course of action.”
After class, Draco went to find Remus in his office. He knocked as he stepped through the open door. At his desk, Remus looked up from the parchment he was reading. “Afternoon, Draco.”
Draco shut the door behind him. “I have to come here again tonight.”
Remus nodded. “Alright.”
“But I am not running off into the woods after you again,” Draco said coldly.
“Alright.” Remus re-rolled the parchment in front of him and set it aside. “Honestly, I need to try to sleep tonight.”
Draco frowned at him. “You do look like hell.”
“I feel like hell.”
“I've been in classes all day and you—haven't. How are you more worn out than I am?”
Remus sighed. “I'm older than you. And I've been going through this a long time. It takes its toll.” He rand a hand through his hair. “I started going grey before I even finished school. Lucky for you, your hair's light enough already, probably no one will even notice when you start going grey.”
Draco looked away. “Right. Well, I'll see you after dinner.”
Remus finished going over the notes Lee had left him from the day's classes then went to find her before dinner. She was in the staff room, sipping at a mug of tea, and writing. She looked up as Remus approached.
“Professor Lee,” Remus returned. She clicked her pen closed and he couldn't help but smile as he took his seat. “Don't let McGonagall catch you with that pen.”
Lee tilted her head. “Why not?”
He summoned himself a cup of tea from the sideboard. “Once upon a time, a lovely muggle-born girl named Lily lent her future husband a pen and he thought it was brilliant, so he went around the castle for about a week, clicking it incessantly until McGonagall got fed up, confiscated it, and banned them.”
“Oh.” She tucked the pen under what she was writing, hiding it. “Oops.”
He chuckled and sipped his tea. “Thank you for covering my classes today.”
She shook her head. “I'm happy to help. Especially with you repaying me by telling your students to go to my Q and A.” She paused. “How are you feeling?”
Professor Sprout bustled through to the faculty noticeboard, calling over her shoulder to them, “Hello there, Remus, Elizabeth.”
“Hello, Professor Sprout,” Lee replied brightly.
Lee folded her hands, looked to Remus, and sighed. “About tomorrow….”
He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “I'm not going to like this.”
“I have a class the same time as your sixth years in the afternoon.”
“I see,” Remus said carefully.
“I asked around, no one else is free. McGonagall says Trelawney is available, but….”
“Exactly.” Lee looked down apologetically.
Remus ran a hand over his face and leaned on the table. “I'll teach it.”
“Are you sure?”
“You just told me there's no one else. I have to.” He shrugged. “It's not until three-thirty, I'll mange.”
She frowned. “When I was in school here, there was a teacher on call to fill in from time to time—Professor Grubbly-Plank? I remember her covering care of magical creatures and transfiguration.”
“She was killed last May,” Remus said quietly.
“We lost so many people. That's why you're here, it's why I'm here. We don't have any spare manpower.”
“I know.” She looked off out the window. Suddenly she stood, picked up her writing, and folded it carefully. “Well, I need to send this off to my brother. I'll see you at dinner.”
“See you at dinner.” Remus leaned back in his chair and sipped his tea pensively while Lee left the room.
Professor Sprout came away from the noticeboard and looked at Remus. “I hope you know I'd be glad to cover if I didn't have my third years.”
“I know, Pomona. I appreciate it.” Remus set down his cup and fiddled with it.
“I'm awful sorry you're having to deal with this the first week of term….”
Remus shrugged, stood, and sent his empty cup back to the sideboard. “It's alright.”
“No it's not,” Professor Sprout said with quiet firmness.
“No,” Remus agreed, “it's not. But it's life. How's your first week going?”
She sighed. “Classes are fine. The students are...as well as I could hope. The one thing is all the rabbits and deer have found their way into the gardens and my usual tricks and charms aren't keeping them out.”
“That sounds frustrating.”
“It is.” Professor Sprout shook her head. “Well, I've got a new charm to try on the fence at Filius's suggestion, see if it makes any difference. I'll see you at dinner, Remus.”
Draco ate his dinner quietly, vaguely listening to the Carrows lamenting how much they missed having Astoria in their classes since she was retaking a year and they weren't, until he heard a voice from down the table say, “I can't believe that new Muggle Studies professor—she doesn't even try to dress like she's one of us, and I heard she's making her classes use muggle pens and things. It's frankly disgusting. And McGonagall's rehired Lupin when we all know he's a werewolf. It was bad enough when it was just Hagrid. I swear, this is supposed to be a wizarding school but there's hardly any real wizards left teaching.”
Draco's head snapped up to look at the gangly third year who'd spoken. “Hey, you.”
“Me?” the boy asked dumbly, pointing to his own chest.
“Yeah, you.” Draco dropped his fork. “What's your name again?”
“Right—your father works at the Ministry, or he did until he wound up rotting in prison with my father and every other piece of bigoted trash they could find running about, touting the kind of nonsense you just stupidly repeated,” Draco snapped. “Now, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're just an idiot who got swept up in You-Know-Who's sick little cult, rather than think you're actually evil. On that assumption, let me educate you a bit. Mafalda, move.” Draco got up and switched seats with the auburn-haired fourth year so he was across from Runcorn, folded his hands on the table, and stared the boy down. “Blood status means nothing. I can trace my family with absolute certainty to the early eleventh century. I grew up in a house older than many countries. We're rich, we're ancient, and as everyone in our world knows, we're pureblood. I used to be so proud of all that, I thought it was worth so much. I was wrong. I'm no better than anyone else in this room for having been born into a family where most marriages for the past few centuries have been between cousins. If you think you're any better, you're wrong too, and I suggest you get the notion out of your head before you either do something horrible, or get yourself punched.”
With Runcorn—and most of the table—gaping at him, Draco stood. “One more thing.” He paused, patted down the pockets of his robes, found a ballpoint pen, and tossed it onto the table in front of the underclassman. “Give it a try. They're much less hassle than quill and ink.”
Daphne started applauding softly; next to her, Astoria whistled through her fingers.
“Oh, shut up,” Draco grumbled.
Behind him from the Ravenclaw table, Luna Lovegood's soft voice said, “That was a very nice speech, Draco.”
“Shut up,” Draco huffed, and turned on his heel with a swish of his robes to stride out of the hall.
Remus let himself into his office to find Draco already there, sitting in the chair across from his desk, reading. Remus paused. “I know I locked this door.”
Draco turned the page. “They teach us alohomora first year.”
“Fair point.” Remus shut the door and came over to drop into his own chair. With a few waves of his wand, he lit a fire in the grate, drew the curtains, and summoned the last near-empty bottle of wolfsbane and a goblet. Draco closed his book around its ribbon and pulled his flask out from his robes while Remus poured his own dose. Remus held out his goblet. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Draco echoed darkly.
Remus shook his head as he set his now-empty goblet on his desk, grimacing. He cleared his throat and nodded at Draco's book. “What are you reading?”
Draco shrugged. “Novel Hermione lent me. It's...rather dry.”
“Yet, you're still reading it,” Remus pointed out.
“I got the distinct impression when she gave it to me that I didn't have a choice, and it's an excuse to not do my History of Magic homework.”
“Fair enough, but you probably should do that homework.”
“It's just reading,” Draco said. “That I already did last year. I still have my notes. I'll look over it before we have an exam or a paper.”
Remus hummed and pulled a sheaf of parchment from his desk drawer. “I'm sure you have other homework, though.”
“I already did it.” Draco fiddled with the corner of his book. He nodded to the parchment. “What's that?”
“Knowledge assessments from the second years.” Remus sighed.
“Essentially.” Remus unstoppered a well of red ink. “I have no idea what they were taught last year and what they weren't.”
Draco nodded. “Ramsey's doing something similar in all his classes.”
“I'm mostly only worried about the second years—I need to know if I'm starting from effectively nothing or not.” He dipped a quill and started going down the first length of parchment. “The third years—I trust the foundation they'd have gotten from Snape. Same goes for the fourth years.”
A smirk tugged at Draco's mouth. “Umbridge is as bad as Death Eaters?”
“Yup.” Remus scribbled a correction. “The fifth years, well, Crouch was a madman but by all accounts a decent teacher, if unorthodox.”
“That's being kind,” Draco muttered.
“I did say he's a madman.” Remus frowned. He turned the parchment for Draco to see. “Can you read that?”
Draco tilted his head, squinting at the writing. “Portugal, maybe?”
“That doesn't make any sense.” Remus took the page back. “Why don't you go get yourself a change of clothes to make the morning easier, then come back and help me try to get these graded before moonrise, hm?”
“Alright.” Draco grabbed his book as he stood.
By the time Draco returned with his change of clothes, Remus had managed to get through a grand total of nine assessments. Remus glanced up. “I think he meant 'portego.'”
“The one you had me look at?” Draco asked, closing the door and coming over.
“Yes, which is still wrong, but at least it's actually a spell.” He handed Draco half the remaining stack. “Here, and this is the question list. I've set an alarm for about fifteen to moonrise, so let's see how many we can get done.”
“No answer key?” Draco reached across the desk to dip his own quill in the red ink.
“I trust you know the answers,” Remus said with a small smile.
Draco snorted. “Write the number wrong at the top?”
“Yes. You remember how I grade.”
“I do.” A few sheets later, Draco asked, “How many of these are there?”
“And we've done, what, twenty?”
“Looks like it.”
Draco scratched a red X next to yet another wrong answer. “It would be faster if they weren't so bad….”
Remus shook his head. “I should have told Professor Lee to tell them not to guess.”
When the clock started ringing, Remus put a hand on it to silence it. Draco wrote the tally at the top of the sheet with a flourish and dropped it on top of the others they'd finished.
“More than half of them,” he noted.
“I'll finish them tomorrow.” Remus wiped off the tip of his quill and yawned. “Thank you, for the help.”
Draco shrugged. “I was going to be here anyway.”
“Even so.” Remus stood and stretched. “You can go on up while I get all this put away—I'll stay down here like last night.”
“Alright.” Draco got up.
“Toss down my dressing gown?”
The blond stopped partway up the stairs and turned back. “What?”
“I don't care what, but go do something tonight.”
Draco crossed his arms. “While you stay here and sleep.”
“Try to sleep, yes. But I will chase you out of here first if I have to.”
“Why?” Draco demanded.
“It's like I said this morning: you think you have no choice but to hide. Me telling you otherwise isn't going to change that, you have to live it.”
“And if someone sees me?”
“The staff all know, it's past curfew so your classmates ought to all be in bed, and if a straggler or someone looking out a window or something were to catch a glimpse of you, odds are they'd think you're me.”
“We don't look anything alike!”
Remus shrugged. “A werewolf's a werewolf, as far as most people care.”
Draco huffed and stalked the rest of the way up the stairs. A moment later, Remus's dressing gown came zooming down. He caught it out of the air and draped it over the back of his chair.
“Werewolf's a werewolf,” Draco muttered darkly to himself as he stripped and folded his clothes into a neat stack next to his bag, then sat down to wait for the pain.
Through the fog of his own transformation and his own cries, he heard Lupin's, and a thud, a clatter, and a crash. Draco lay still a moment, whined, opened his eyes, got shakily to his feet, and slunk carefully down the stairs.
Lupin was standing next to his desk amidst shards of broken glass, ears back with agitation, bleeding from a pair of cuts on the side of his snout, looking about as pissed off as Draco had ever seen him. He'd left the empty potion bottle on the desk.
Draco hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for Lupin to—he didn't know, do something. An insistent instinct in the back of his brain was telling him to go lick Lupin's wounds but that was not going to happen, so he didn't move. Lupin picked his way out of the shattered glass without stepping on any of it and threw himself down on the rug in front of the fire. His ear twitched and he pawed at his face. Draco took that as his cue to leave.
Being out in the corridors was uncomfortable; he felt exposed, like anyone could step out of a doorway any moment and see him. It put him on edge in a way that the heightened senses that came with the transformation did nothing to help. So, when he turned a corner and suddenly found himself nose-to-nose with Mrs. Norris, he jumped back, snarling. She yowled at him imperiously. He heard Filch wheezing and shuffling along the next hall, saying, “What is it, my sweet? Someone where they shouldn't be?”
Draco turned and sprinted the other way down the corridor. He skidded around a corner, nails skittering on the smooth stone of the floor.
He trotted outside, sat against the still sun-warmed stone garden wall, and caught his breath. He heard rustling on the other side of the wall and he reared up to look over. There were a pair of rabbits nibbling at the plants. Draco narrowed his eyes, jumped over the wall, and chased the rabbits out the gate, barking and growling. One of them veered off across the grounds, but he chased the other all the way to the edge of the forest. He probably could have caught it if he'd wanted to, but he let it go and sauntered back up toward the castle, head held high. That was fun, he'd admit. Maybe. If Lupin asked him directly.
As he approached the gardens he saw there was now a deer taking up where the rabbits had left off. He huffed, chased the deer away as well, then came back to find Professor Sprout standing by the gate, looking at him. He froze, one foot off the ground.
“I was wondering what I was hearing out here,” she said, smiling just a little. “Ten points to Slytherin, Mr. Malfoy.”
He set his paw down—then swiveled an ear toward a sound and turned to look just in time to see another rabbit squeezing into the gardens by a drainage hole in the wall. He growled. Professor Sprout stepped out of his way of the gate and raised an eyebrow at him. He went in and chased the rabbit out.
“Five points to Slytherin!” Professor Sprout called from her newly conjured chair as he ran past her.
Several rabbits and three more deer later, Draco was exhausted. He lay down in front of the gate, panting. Professor Sprout studied him a moment. “You look like you're done for the night.”
“And it looks like I need to put some grating over those drainage holes.” She stood and vanished her chair. “I appreciate you protecting the gardens, I swear something must have happened to the rabbits and deer around here, magic just doesn't seem to affect them ever since last year and I can't imagine what could be causing that. But anyway I think it's time you went back to—well, no, I suppose you aren't staying in your dormitory tonight are you? Back to bed, in any case. Before you nod off here on the grass.”
He yawned, got to his feet, and headed inside in front of her.
“That's what I thought,” she said gently. “Goodnight, Mr. Malfoy.”
He ruffed in response and made his way back to Lupin's office, where the older werewolf was curled up asleep in front of the smoldering remains of the fire.
In the morning, Draco redressed in fresh clothes, closed his eyes for a moment, and promptly fell back asleep on top of Lupin's coverlet. He woke again sometime later and sat up. He could see Lupin's shadow through the divider screen in the corner as the man dressed.
“What time is it?” Draco asked, voice hoarse.
“Just after seven.”
Draco groaned, pushed up onto his feet, shoved his old clothes in his bag, and went down to breakfast. Most of the rest of Slytherin house was already at their table, eating. Draco took a seat near the Greengrasses around the same time Mafalda joined the Carrows a few seats down. Across the table, Exavior looked up at Draco. “Where were you last night?”
“Hm?” Draco casually served himself some sausage.
“I never saw you last night,” Exavior said. “Where were you?”
Daphne frowned. “You mentioned you weren't feeling well. That got worse?”
“After dinner, yeah.” Draco summoned the nearest coffee carafe since it was just out of reach. “Just a cold, but made worse by lack of sleep. From having rounds.”
Astoria grimaced sympathetically. “That sucks. Hopefully you can sleep better now the full moon's over.”
Draco almost choked on his coffee. “What's the full moon got to do with anything?”
“Our mum always has trouble sleeping around the full moon,” Astoria explained. “Are you okay?”
Draco nodded. “Swallowed wrong.”
“She has trouble getting to sleep,” Daphne said, picking up her sister's train of conversation, “tends to wake up during the night, have really intense dreams. We're the same way, just not as bad. Figure we can't be the only people who're affected like that.”
“No,” Blaise said, “my mum's last husband was the same way.”
Next to Blaise, Harper nodded. “My godmum is a healer at St. Mungo's. She says they always seem to get the strangest emergencies in on the full moon.”
“Along with the occasional werewolf bite, I'd bet,” Blaise added, eyeing Lupin who'd just come in make his way up to the staff table. He had a plaster over the two cuts on his cheek.
Harper shrugged. “Couple times a year, yeah.”
Draco meticulously buttered himself a piece of toast.
Remus settled heavily into his seat at the staff table and poured himself coffee. Madam Pomfrey took the chair next to him. “Did you scratch yourself?”
“Good morning to you, too, Poppy,” Remus sighed. “And no, bottle fell off my desk.”
“I can fix that, then,” she said, drawing her wand.
He held up a hand. “I'd really rather you didn't.”
“Remus.” She gave him a hard look.
“It was the bottle I'd been keeping my potion in—you know how touchy wolfsbane is, I don't want to risk a magical interaction.”
She sighed frustratedly and put her wand away. “Well, come to the hospital wing after breakfast and I'll at least patch that up better for you.”
“Alright,” Remus agreed. “Thank you.”
Once Madam Pomfrey had fussed over him sufficiently, Remus returned to his office to finish the grading that hadn't gotten done the night before. Then he took a nap, ate lunch, and got his things together to teach the sixth years Professor Lee couldn't cover. He lingered just outside the classroom door for a moment and took a breath before going in.
“Good afternoon,” he said as he went up to his desk at the front. “Last week, we briefly began discussion of dementors. Of course, you're all familiar with them from a few years ago when Hogwarts played host to a few dozen of them.” He leaned on his hands on the desktop as his eighteen students blanched and nodded. “And who knows what spell is used to defend oneself from a dementor?”
A few of the Gryffindors raised their hands—the three Slytherins sitting together in the back kept their eyes on their notes.
“Miss Roth?” Remus prompted.
“The patronus charm,” Roth said—she was fairly obviously looking just over Remus's shoulder rather than at him.
“Very good,” Remus continued. “And does anyone here know how to produce a patronus?”
Half a dozen of the Gryffindors and the one Slytherin boy raised their hands.
“Can any of you produce a full bodied patronus? One with a distinct, recognizable animal form?”
All but one of the hands went down.
“Mr. Caruso, would you care to demonstrate?”
“Um.” The freckly blond glanced around. “Not particularly, no, sir. And, I'm sorry, sir, but, what happened to your face?”
Remus suppressed a sigh. “I had a bit of a disagreement with gravity and a potion bottle, nothing serious, I promise. Now, would you be more willing to demonstrate if producing a full bodied patronus would earn you ten points?”
“Well, yes, but, I can't always—what if it doesn't work?”
“You still get five for trying.”
The girl next to him shoved him out of seat to his feet. He drew his wand, cleared his throat, and enunciated, “Expecto Patronum!”
A wispy, vaguely rabbit-shaped cloud of pearl white mist burst from the tip of Caruso's wand, hopped once, then fizzled out.
“We'll call that seven points to Gryffindor. That was quite good,” Remus assured Caruso as the boy folded himself back into his chair. “Many qualified wizards find it nearly impossible to produce a patronus that's anything more than a wisp of silver smoke, so don't any of you be disheartened if that's the most you can manage. The charm is cast using the incantation you just heard Luca use—Expecto Patronum—while concentrating hard on a happy memory, the strongest and happiest you can think of. That memory is the source of the patronus's power—it is essentially made of happiness. Ideally, the result looks something like this….”
He called up a memory from James and Lily's wedding of everyone laughing as Sirius gave his best man speech, took a breath, and cast the spell. The etherial silver wolf that was his patronus bloomed forth and trotted silently around the room. The class watched it, a few of them oohing and ahhing.
“Each witch or wizard's patronus takes a form individual to that person,” Remus explained while his leapt up onto the desk next to him, sat with a swish of its tail, and began to slowly fade away. “Mine, as you can see, is a wolf. Luca's looked to be a rabbit. Professor McGonagall's is a cat, like her animagus form. Harry Potter's is a stag. And so on. The form of your patronus can be a chance to learn something about yourself, if you're able to produce a full one. Well, stand up, wands out, find yourselves a happy memory, and give it a try. Mr. Caruso, you get to help your classmates.”
Caruso opened his mouth, shut it, and nodded.
Within moments, the room was full of jabbing wands and eighteen teenagers all shouting Expecto Patronumat the top of their lungs, most of them producing little wisps of silvery smoke. From time to time, Caruso's half-formed rabbit made an appearance between him telling those around him, “You gotta focus on the happiest memory you can think of, like Professor Lupin said, I dunno. Just, happy.”
“If you start to get frustrated,” Remus called over the noise, “take a break, take a breath, tell a friend about your memory, tell a joke, laugh a little, then try again.”
Not a minute after he'd spoken, one of the Carrow twins threw down her wand on her desk and wheeled on him. “Why are we even doing this?” she snapped. “This isn't in the curriculum. It's never been in the curriculum! It's stupid.”
“The short answer,” Remus said, crossing his arms, “is 'I'm the teacher and I say so.' The long answer is, 'it is difficult magic, but it's difficult magic that won't go horribly wrong if not done perfectly so it's a good way to get you all some practice with more advanced spellwork, and—”
Across the room, Alice Tolipan shrieked excitedly and pointed at her newly manifested patronus. “It's a lynx!”
“—and occasionally that happens,” Remus finished.
“Well, I can't do it,” Hestia huffed.
“And that's alright.” Remus touched her hand gently and called over his shoulder, “Flora, would you come here?”
The other Carrow twin stepped up at his elbow.
“How's your patronus coming along?” he asked.
“Nonexistent,” Flora said sourly.
“So you're both having some trouble,” Remus said, “but you're sisters, you're close, so I figure you have a lot of happy memories in common. Why don't you talk through what memory each of you is using, see if you can think of any that are stronger, and try again together?”
The girls glanced at each other then nodded.
By the time the bell rang, the Carrows were managing pretty substantial wisps. Caruso lingered as the rest of the class left and came up to Remus. “Hey, uh, Professor?”
“I just wanted to say, I'm sorry for asking about your face in front of everybody.” He looked down. “I realize that was probably rude. It's just, I know we all noticed, and—”
“It's alright,” Remus said gently. “Whether you said anything or not, I would have known everyone was looking.”
“Well, I'm sorry.”
Caruso nodded and saw himself out. Remus let out a breath and dropped his face into his hands.
After his last class of the day, Draco went back to his dormitory and fell flat onto his bed, face first. He heard the door open a moment later, followed be Exavior's footsteps. They stopped near the end of Draco's bed.
“Malfoy, are you dead?”
“Yes,” Draco said into his pillow.
“I'm not notifying your parents,” Exavior said over the sounds of him rummaging in his trunk.
“McGonagall will do it.”
Exavior paused. “Does Azkaban even get mail?”
Draco shoved himself up from bed. “You shut up.”
“Oh, come on. Everyone knows that's where your parents are,” Exavior very nearly laughed.
“You don't know anything,” Draco said coldly and strode out to the common room, where he flopped onto the pile of cushions in the corner instead. He dozed there, half listening to the Carrow sisters argue about their sixth birthday party until dinner.
Friday morning, Hermione woke up early and went down to eat before taking her turn at rounds. Padma was already sitting with Hannah at the Hufflepuff table. Since the hall was almost entirely otherwise empty, she went and joined them.
“Morning,” Hannah said.
“Morning,” Hermione returned. Padma offered her the coffee carafe. Hermione took it. “Thank you, Padma.”
“No problem.” Padma lifted her own mug but stopped short, looking to the door. “Is Malfoy on the schedule for rounds this morning?”
Hermione and Hannah turned to look. Sure enough, Draco had just walked in.
“I guess he is,” Hermione said. She sat up straighter and waved. “Draco!”
“What are you doing?” Hannah hissed.
“You'd have him sit at the Slytherin table all alone?” Hermione countered. She turned back to Draco, who'd stopped in his tracks. “Over here, you towheaded prat, we have coffee!”
“Honestly, yes,” Padma mumbled, but Draco was already headed for them.
Hermione patted the bench next to her and Draco sat stiffly. She poured syrup on a waffle. “I just think that, especially this year, prefect solidarity and inter-house camaraderie are important. Besides,” she snapped the syrup closed, “you didn't seem to mind Draco joining us at Harry and Neville's party.”
“That was different,” Padma said.
“Why?” Draco asked flatly.
“It just was.” Hannah shot Hermione a hard look.
Draco shook his head and started to get up, but Hermione grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back down sharply.
“I'm not asking either of you to like him, I'm asking you to tolerate him just enough for him to have half a chance to redeem himself. He's not actually that bad when he isn't threatening to tattle to his father every ten seconds.”
Draco sighed. “I'm never living that down, am I?”
“Oh, there's a lot you're never living down,” Hermione said brightly, cutting into her waffle.
“Like almost killing Katie,” Hannah supplied.
“Okay, first of all,” Draco said sharply, “she already punched me for that. Second, she was never meant to be harmed, I wasn't trying to hurt her.”
“But you did anyway!” Padma objected. “It doesn't matter what you meant, it matters what happened. And what happened was you came about this closeto killing her, and you had her under the imperious curse—I really can't believe you weren't arrested for that. Do you have any idea what that does to a person?”
“Yes,” Draco snapped. “Yes, I do. I know full well. I've been there. Bellatrix Lestrange was my aunt, remember? You-Know-Who lived in my house, remember? Everything I did that year and last year, I did under pain of death, so I'm sorry but I didn't particularly want to be murdered.”
Hannah and Padma went quiet. Draco shoveled eggs onto his plate. Hermione sipped her coffee.
Once they'd eaten, the four prefects split up, Hannah and Padma taking the inside of the castle while Hermione and Draco went out to make a circuit of the castle permitter, each still carrying a mug of coffee to combat the morning chill.
“So,” Hermione asked, “how are you liking Fellowship of the Ring?”
“I gave up,” Draco said shortly.
She frowned. “What do you mean you gave up?”
“I stopped reading.” He sipped his coffee.
“One, that's not how magic works—”
“That's not the point and you know it.”
“—two, it reads like Binns wrote it, and three, I have better things to do with my time than read about a group of mates walking across the countryside to destroy a horcrux. If I wanted to, I'd just write Potter asking him what you lot did last year.”
Hermione sighed. “It's not a horcrux, but I see your point.”
Crookshanks leapt down from a window ledge in front of them. Hermione bent down to pet him while he twined around her legs. He then tried to twine around Draco's legs but he shoved the cat away with his foot.
“Don't kick him,” Hermione scolded. “He likes you.”
“I didn't kick him, I moved him,” Draco corrected. “And I have no idea why he likes me, it's not mutual.”
Hermione poured the last couple drops of her coffee out into the grass, pocketed her mug, and scooped up her cat to snuggle him. “I genuinely think he likes you because of your condition.”
Draco frowned. “Your cat is insane.”
She shrugged. “He likes dogs. He likes you, he likes Lupin and Sirius, he likes Fang.”
“Hagrid's useless mastiff?” Draco scoffed.
“Fang is not useless!”
“Even Hagrid says Fang is a bloody coward, don't even try.”
Hermione shook her head and shoved Draco with her elbow. He shoved her back. She snorted, grinning.
When they'd finished their rounds, they went their separate ways, Draco to History of Magic, Hermione to Charms where she slid into her seat next to Ginny just as the bell rang and Professor Flitwick started in where they'd left off on Tuesday discussing wandless magic. From the seat behind her, Ernie Macmillan poked Hermione in the arm. She glanced over her shoulder. “Hm?”
“Hannah told me you invited Draco Malfoy to sit with the two of you and Padma at breakfast?” he asked accusatorially.
“Yes, I did,” Hermione said shortly and turned back to her notes, bulletting everything Flitwick was saying even though she already knew most of it.
Next to her, Ginny mumbled, “Here we go….”
“Why?” Ernie pressed. “What's going on with you and him?”
“Nothing's going on.” Hermione half turned around in her seat. “I've just gotten to know him some over the summer, he's apologized to me for being such as arse the past few years and been trying to make amends. As Neville so astutely put the other day,” she continued with a pointed glance at the boy in question next to Ernie, who looked up startled from his textbook, “now is a time to forget and forgive.”
“Please don't pull me into this,” Neville pleaded quietly.
Talking over Neville, Ernie pointed out, “I don't see Ginny being all buddy buddy with Malfoy. Didn't you all live together this summer?”
“I hold a grudge like nobody's business, ask my brothers,” Ginny said, turning as well. “I thought Hufflepuffs were supposed to be welcoming.”
Ernie took a breath and opened his mouth but, at the front of the room, Flitwick cleared his throat. “Miss Granger, Miss Weasley, Mr. Macmillan, Mr. Longbottom, I'm sure whatever your discussing is very important, but unless it's to do with wandless magic I must ask that it wait until after class.”
With a groan, Neville put his face down on his desk.
As soon as the bell rang at the end of class, Hermione swept her things into her bag with her wand, shouldered it, and turned on Ernie all in one movement. “Trust me, I know exactly how awful Draco Malfoy can be. But I also know there's more going on than just the surface we all get to see and I know he's trying so hard to be better. He doesn't want to be like his father; he doesn't want to be the person he's been, but he can't turn that all around overnight, especially if no one will give him a chance. So, whatever anyone says,” she shot a glare at Hannah, “behind my back or to my face, I'm going to treat Draco as the friend he has become.”
She strode out of the room, stepping deftly around Justin Finch-Fletchley in the doorway. He called after her, “You know your 'friend' habitually calls both you and me mudblood, right?”
“I know he used to,” she shot back. “And I know if you confronted him about it now he'd grovel. He's not very good at it, but he tries.”
Neville caught up to her and tugged her by the elbow. “Let's go, Hermione….”
“He spent the last few years scared for his life,” Hermione continued. “I know what that's like, Justin. You know what that's like. And I know that when a person is afraid for their life they can and will do things they wouldn't otherwise. Things they will look back on for their rest of their lives wondering if they could have done it differently. It's bad enough when you know you were in the right.” She sucked in a sharp breath.
Ginny caught her by the other arm and pulled her away with Neville. “Breathe, Hermione,” Ginny said. “You might not be wrong but I really don't think you're helping.”
“He might have made up with you,” Neville pointed out, “but that doesn't mean he's made up with everybody, and while I don't think it's right for anyone to tell you who you can and can't be friends with...” he shook his head, “you really can't blame anyone else not reaching out to him. He's hurt all of us, you know that.”
“I do….” Hermione conceded.
“For some people there's just no making up for what he's done, and that's honestly fair.” Neville shrugged.
Hermione sighed. Ginny patted her back as they neared the D.A.D.A. room. “You really are too idealistic for your own good sometimes.”
“No, I'm not!” Hermione objected.
Neville leveled a skeptical look at her. “S.P.E.W.”
“House elf rights is an important cause.” Hermione crossed her arms. “I have a partial draft of a fair employment contract for the Hogwarts elves that I'm going to submit to McGonagall as soon as it's finished.”
Ginny and Neville shared a look then started laughing.
“What?” Hermione demanded.
“Never change, Hermione,” Neville said fondly. “Please never change.”
When Draco got to D.A.D.A., there wasn't an open seat near Hermione so he sat between Harper and Daphne instead. He could feel all the Gryffindors sneaking glances at him. Hermione caught his eye and mouthed, “Sorry.”
He shrugged one shoulder and busied himself with his quill and roll of parchment. Lupin got up and clapped his hands together. “I believe you finished up discussing necromancy with Professor Lee, so do we want to start on the Taboo curse, or the jinx that was on this teaching post? Show of hands for Taboo?”
A grand total of five people raised their hands.
“Post jinx it is,” Lupin concluded, waving his wand at the chalk.
As class ended, Lupin grabbed a pair of envelopes off his desk. “Ginny, Draco, hang back a second?” He held out an envelope to each of them. “Madam Hooch trusted me to get these to you.”
“Thanks,” Ginny chirped.
Draco took his note, said a quick “Thank you,” and went after Ginny. “Hey!”
She paused, turning back.
“Why were the Gryffindors all staring at me?”
“Hermione went on a bit of a rant about you deserve a chance to redeem yourself,” Ginny said coolly. “Most people don't agree.”
“You asked.” With a swish of her long red hair, she went off down the hall.
Draco shook his head, looked down, took a breath, and headed to the Great Hall for an early lunch. On the way, he unfolded his note and read it.
I'm pleased to announce that the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch has been fully rebuilt, as such, the Inter- H ouse Quidditch Cup will be held as usual. The first game will be between Gryffindor and Slytherin on Saturday, the fourteenth of November. Time has been scheduled for each team to use the pitch for tryouts next weekend, the seventeenth and eighteenth of October.
Gryffindor………………Saturday, 9:00 – 12:00
Slytherin………………..Saturday 1:00 – 4:00
Hufflepuff……….………Sunday, 9:00 – 12:00
Ravenclaw……………..Sunday 1:00 – 4:00
I look forward to this season, good luck to you all.
Draco folded the note closed just as he reached the Hall and looked up at the empty Slytherin table. “Well, shit.”
That evening, Draco stood to the side in the Slytherin common room and did a quick headcount. Sixteen, not including him. “Hey,” he called loudly, prompting every eye in the room to turn to him, “where's Mafalda and Simmons?”
“In their room,” the Carrow twins said together.
“Go get them. We need to have a house meeting.”
The other Slytherins glanced at each other, murmuring amongst themselves, while one of the twins disappeared through the beaded curtain to the girls' dormitory. She returned a moment later with the two forth years in tow.
“Alright.” Draco took a breath. “Madam Hooch sent letters out to all the quidditch captains today. We're having the Inter-House Cup just like any other year. We've been given next Saturday afternoon for tryouts. Problem is, there's so few of us it's going to take almost half our house to field the team, so I need everyone to try out.” He paused. “Except Daphne.”
Daphne crossed her arms defiantly. “Why not me?”
Astoria turned to her sister, mouth agape. “I don't know if you've noticed, but you're in a wheelchair.”
“So? Beaters' brooms have stirrups.” She looked directly at Draco. “I'm trying out. If I suck, don't put me on, but if I'm good, well, we need the best seven Slytherins out there, no matter who that is, right?”
“Right,” Draco agreed. He squared his shoulders. “So, everyone, you have a week to buy or borrow a broom if you don't already have one.”
Sunday afternoon, Hermione found Ginny sharing a patch of sun in the courtyard with Crookshanks and another cat, a tiny chocolate-tipped fluffball of a kitten. She had quill and ink and a pilfered spiral bound notebook laid out on the stone in front of her, half a page filled with her tight, crisp cursive.
“Hello there,” Hermione said, dropping to sit next to Ginny. She picked up the kitten carefully. “Who's this?”
“One of the Ravenclaw girls found her in the owlery this morning,” Ginny said without looking up from her writing. “She's been following your tiger around, and he's been following me around, so I'm pretty sure this is where the idea that witches have cat familiars came from.”
Hermione chuckled and set the kitten in her lap. “What are you writing?”
“Letter home.” Ginny set down her quill, swung her feet around to sit up, and stretched. Her back popped. “Letting the family know I've survived the first week, nothing has exploded, there've been no mysterious disappearances, all that good stuff. Also figured Harry and my brothers would want to know quidditch is happening.”
“Probably, yeah.” Hermione patted down her pockets for a pen. “Here, tear me off a couple pages, I should write home, too. To Grimmauld Place and Australia.”
By the time the sun had started to dip low into the early twilight of Scottish autumn, both girls had stacks of letters to send off, roughly a page per person back home. The cats had wandered off when their patch of warm sunlight had abandoned them. Hermione capped her fountain pen, they stuffed their letters into envelopes, and headed for the owlery.
As they walked, Hermione asked, “Are you excited to run tryouts next weekend?”
Ginny grinned. “Yes. It's just so normal, I love it. You're sure you don't want to try out, just for fun? It's your last year.”
Hermione shook her head. “I'm absolute rubbish on a broom. First year when we had flying lessons I managed to smack myself in the face with my broomstick at least once every class.”
Ginny snickered—and walked straight into Lupin turning the corner to the owlery staircase. “Oh! Sorry.”
“No, I'm sorry,” Lupin said, steadying her. “Are you alright?”
“I'm fine,” Ginny assured him.
“We were just on our way to mail some letters home,” Hermione said, holding up her three envelopes. Ginny held her pair of envelopes up, as well, and waved them a little.
“Well, wouldn't you know,” Lupin chuckled. He untucked two envelopes from under his arm. “I'm doing the same.”
“Great minds,” Hermione laughed, and the three of them mounted the stairs together.
As they sent borrowed school owls out into the evening with their letters, Ginny sighed. “I should get an owl.”
Lupin shrugged. “As long as you have access to a post office you really don't need your own.”
Hermione reached out to pet Neville's owl, Carlisle, where he was blinking at them from a perch. “A post office or friends with owls. You know Harry would let you use Jarnsaxa.”
“That's true,” Ginny conceded.
There was a high-pitched squeak and every owl in the room swiveled its head to stare at its source. The tiny kitten from earlier was standing in the doorway. Ginny ran to scoop up the little cat.
“You are going to get yourself turned into bird food,” she chided. “You are too small to be hanging around all these owls; they will eat you.”
Lupin stepped past her to the stairs. “Good luck convincing a cat it can't go somewhere.”
Midweek, there was a staff meeting. Remus watched McGonagall rub her temple. “So, what I'm hearing,” she said, “is that the second years are behind in almost every subject.”
“Yes,” Ramsey confirmed. “The older students have enough of a foundation that they seem to be able to make up for last school year being...” he trailed off.
“A sick joke?” Professor Sprout suggested.
“Something like that,” Ramsey agreed. “The second years, though, are pretty much having to start over.”
“In the case of Defense Against the Dark Arts,” Remus said, “they're just starting.”
“I expect we'll be cleaning up from last year for many years to come,” McGonagall said. “I'm afraid the best you can do is just teach them, try to catch them up but don't push them too hard. It would be a mistake to burn them out.”
“I'm also running into a problem in that at least half my students seem to hate Potions as a subject on principle,” Ramsey continued. “In particular, several of the forth and fifth year Gryffindors have been cutting class. Only about half of them showed up last week and the pattern is continuing this week.”
“I'll talk to them,” Remus said. “Give me a list of who's been skiving, I'll let them know they have detention.”
“In other news,” McGonagall said, “Professor Lee, you had something to announce?”
“Yes.” Professor Lee folded her hands. “I'll be holding a Q and A about muggles and muggle culture evening of the twenty-third. I'd appreciate it if everybody, especially the core subject teachers, would encourage the kids to come to it. Muggle-born kids too. My experience isn't universal, I'd love them to come add their perspectives to the conversation.”
McGonagall shuffled the sheaf of parchment in front of her. “That Saturday, the twenty-fourth, is the first Hogsmeade weekend. Heads of house, let your students know, make sure you have permission forms from your students, especially the third years. I think that's everything we need to attend to, so you're all free to go, except, Remus, I need a word.”
Remus stepped aside with her as the rest of the faculty made their way out. He folded his arms over his chest. “I have a guess what this is about.”
“I've had a few letters from parents,” McGonagall said softly.
“That's what I thought,” Remus sighed.
“Most of them have been easy enough to pacify with my assurances that I trust you, that you're safe, and that the students like you. I suspect the students themselves may be defending you to their own parents in their letters home. Loraine Abberley's mother, though, is proving implacable. She's demanding to meet with you.”
Remus took a breath, looked up to the ceiling, and exhaled. “Is she free Saturday morning?”
After breakfast Saturday, Remus wished the Gryffindor quidditch hopefuls good luck as they trudged en masse out to the pitch, then made his way back to his office to grade quizzes and wait for his meeting with the disgruntled Mrs. Abberley. As the appointed time for their meeting approached, he stood and stepped out into the hallway. She appeared around the corner being led by Orla Quirke, one of the Ravenclaw prefects. Orla gave a little curtsey and excused herself. Remus held out an arm, indicating to Mrs. Abberyley to go in ahead of him, put his hand on the door to pull it closed, thought better of it, and stepped over to his desk.
“Please, sit.” He gestured to the chair on the other side of his desk as he settled into his own seat.
She did as invited and eyed him for a long moment. “I know what you are.”
Remus smiled indulgently. “Yes, well, my condition hasn't been much of a secret for some time now, especially since the Daily Prophet identified me by name as a werewolf a few years ago.”
She glowered and studied him another long moment. “Do you have children, Professor?”
“No, I do not. None of my own at least, though I would have liked to. My life just hasn't worked out that way.”
“Because of what you are?” she sneered.
Remus set his jaw and met her gaze. “In part, yes.”
“Because you'd be an unfit parent?”
“No,” he said firmly. “Because the stigma attached to lycanthropy tends to make it hard for me to establish interpersonal relationships. And because a fear of passing on my condition to any children I could hypothetically sire has made me extraordinarily reluctant to try. My fate is one I'd not wish upon my worst enemy, let alone my son or daughter.” He lay his arms on his desk, leaning forward. “I presume you bring this up to imply that if I were an unfit parent I would also be unfit to teach. I assure you, your concerns are unfounded. I have a few bad days a month when I'm tired, sore, and grumpy. As a woman, I'm sure you can relate. I have lived with my condition since I was small child, I am well versed in managing it. I pose no threat to my students, your daughter included. I have no more to say on the subject. If you still take issue with the situation, I suggest you take it up with Professor McGonagall, the headmistress, who, incidentally, hand picked me for the post, and I know has been in correspondence with you already, attempting to assure you that I am safe.”
A muscle in Mrs. Abberley's cheek twitched. “I'll not not have a dangerous beast hanging around my little girl.”
Remus arched an eyebrow. “I still suggest taking this up with Professor McGonagall. Perhaps you should request Loraine be removed from Care of Magical Creatures if you're so concerned about her being exposed to 'dangerous beasts.'”
“That is notwhat I meant.”
“I know.” Remus turned his palms up. “At the same time, I know that she is in far more danger from the subjects of that class than she is from me.”
“Werewolves are dangerous!” Mrs. Abberley slammed her hand on the desk.
“You think I don't know that?” Remus asked sharply. “How do you think I became a werewolf? I was attacked when I was three years old, bitten nearly down to the bone. I almost died. The price of survival was to live my life cast out and harassed, constantly in fear I'd be the victim of a hate crime or—worse—that I'd do to someone what was done to me. Within the past decade, since the invention of the Wolfsbane potion, the latter is much less of a concern. If I did not think it was safe, I would not be here. Since the incredibly bigoted anti-werewolf laws of ninety-three were repealed this summer, I have as much right to teach at this school as any other member of staff. Now, I will not sit here and have you insult me. If you have specific questions and concerns, I will gladly address them. If you don't, I must respectfully ask you to get out of my office.”
Mrs. Abberley looked down at her hands. “I'm sorry,” she said quietly. “I—I just need to know my little girl is safe. She's all I have left. My son, her older brother, Roland, he died last May.”
“In the battle?” Remus asked gently. She nodded. He traced a fingernail along a groove in the wood of his desk. “I'm very sorry for your loss. I've lost or seen terribly injured too many people who are dear to me, some of them children. To some degree I understand your pain. I certainly understand your caution. I want to keep all my students safe.”
Mrs. Abberley nodded, eyes down, then she shook her head. “I still don't understand how you can teach, being what you are.”
“I enjoy my job,” Remus said honestly. “I love children. Hogwarts was a place of safety for me when I was young and I hope to help provide that for younger generations. I always wanted to teach, but I didn't think I would be able to. The invention of Wolfsbane potion changed that. So I teach proudly and gladly, regretting every class I miss due to my condition, eager to return as soon as the moon begins to wane.”
Mrs. Abberley looked out the window. In the distance, little dots zipped around the quidditch pitch.
Out on the pitch, Ginny sat astride her Blitzgewitter broomstick, watching her potential new teammates run drills. A fourth year boy ran into the stands for the third time and Ginny cringed. “Mauer, you're done,” she called. He started to protest but she shook her head. “No, land. Learn to fly where you're headed and try again next year.”
Mauer landed with a squelch in the damp grass and skulked off the field past Dean, who was taking notes for Ginny. Dean gave Mauer a clap on the shoulder as the boy made his way off the field. Ginny sighed, tucked back a strand of hair that escaped from her braid, and blew the whistle she had hanging around her neck. “Okay! Everybody who wants to be Keeper, line up at the bottom of those goalposts.” She summoned the quaffle and caught it easily in her gloved hands. “Everyone else, line up here at center field.” She waited to be obeyed. “Cool. Trent, you're up first.” She tossed the quaffle to the first would-be chaser in line. “Don't let Graham past you. Go.”
Graham tucked his head down, quaffle clutched to his chest, and sped toward Trent guarding the goalposts.
Just before noon, Ginny landed next to Dean. She waved to the remaining hopefuls all chattering excitedly, broomsticks thrown over their shoulders, making their way off the pitch. “I'll post the team roster before the end of the week!”
A few of them flashed thumbs up. Ginny returned the gesture, then turned to Dean. “Let's go nick butterbeer and sandwiches from the kitchens, hide somewhere, and make some initial decisions.”
“Sounds good.” He looped his arm through hers. “Did I just become team manager?”
“You sure did.”
After lunch, all of Slytherin house headed out to the quidditch pitch, lead by Draco Malfoy. Once there, he pulled on his gloves and announced. “You all have ten minutes to warm up, then I want everyone in the air at the end of the pitch.”
Draco went through his own warm ups, keeping an eye on his housemates all the while. He mounted his sleek new Blitzgewitter and did a quick circuit of the pitch. The broom responded so easily it felt as though he only had to think to steer and the flight was smooth as silk. He watched from afar while Astoria and Harper helped Daphne onto a broom and strapped her feet into the stirrups, which Draco really wasn't sure was allowed but, it wasn't strictly forbiddenby the rules, either. He'd double checked.
When everyone had gotten off the ground, they started with sprints—Draco watching for the speed and control required by the sport. The four second years definitely didn't have it, but Draco decided it was best to keep that to himself for the time being. To his surprise, Daphne was doing quite well, leaning to shift her weight in the turns to change direction more quickly.
They ran drills. Draco had everyone take turns practicing trying to score and trying to guard the hoops. When Runcorn's turn came to try his hand as Keeper against Mafalda, he did manage to block her, by taking the quaffle to his face, which nearly knocked him off his broom. Draco sped over and helped Runcorn land.
“I'm sorry!” Mafalda called down, one hand over her face, the other clutching her broom.
“He'll be fine,” Draco called back. He drew his wand, set Runcorn's nose, then conjured a handkerchief and handed it to him for his nosebleed. Runcorn pressed the handkerchief to his face, glowering, and tryouts continued.
With a few minutes left before their cutoff time at four, Draco wrestled the bludger they'd been using back into the ball case and buckled it in. He stood, breathing hard, kicked the case closed so the latch clicked, ran a hand through his hair, and turned to the rest of the Slytherins, who were all watching him. He took a breath. “That's all for today.”
“That's it?” Zabini asked as Draco went past him to put the balls away.
“That's it,” Draco confirmed.
“You're not going to tell us anything?” Harper pressed.
“When have you ever gotten results the day of tryouts?” Draco held out his arms. “It doesn't happen. I'll let you all know.”
They all made their way back to the castle. Draco turned away from the group toward the stairs. Noticing, Morag stopped. “Malfoy, where are you going?”
“To drown myself in the prefects' bathroom and decide our fate for this quidditch season.”
Draco sank into the bath up to his chest in fine seafoam bubbles that smelled strongly of cedar. He took a breath, dunked himself under the water, surfaced, wiped his hair and the suds out of his face, and pulled himself up on the edge of the enormous tub to stare at the blank roster sheet he'd charmed to the stained glass window, just under the pretty blond mermaid who was batting her eyelashes at him. He reached for his wand and waved it at the quill and ink sitting on the windowsill so it lifted and filled his own name in next toSeeker.
He sighed and sank back into the water up to his chin. He knew who hedidn'twant: not Runcorn, not any of the second years, and not Simmons, since she shrieked and ducked any time a ball got within three feet of her. He tapped the butt of his wand against his lips.
He heard the door to the hall open and he instinctively hid his left arm under the bubbles just in case whoever it was came around the frosted class partition that separated the tub from the rest of the room, but they just used the bathroom, washed their hands, and left. Draco let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
After much pondering and lip chewing—most of it while letting conditioner sit in his hair—he'd chosen his Keeper and Chasers, but that left the Beaters. He sighed and pushed away from the wall the float on his back. He had to face it, Daphne was the best pick—not only was she one of the few who'd actually hit a bludger when it came at her, but she'd smacked it clear out of the pitch. She might not've been able to walk, but her upper body strength was formidable. He needed to talk to Madam Hooch.
Draco pulled himself up out of the tub, set it to drain, rinsed under one of the gilded shower heads set high into the near wall, dried and dressed, then leaned on a sink and ran a hand along his jawline, feeling the near-invisible whiteblond stubble there. He could leave it another day.
Ginny buried her face in the mattress in front of her and groaned dramatically.
“Why is it so hard to make decisions?” she bemoaned, muffled. Neville patted her shoulder sympathetically.
She was in the boys' dormitory, sprawled across what had been her brother's bed, surrounded by Dean's notes, talking in circles with Dean and Neville about who should be on the team while the kitten from the owlery chased Neville's new remembrall across the floor. A note spell-o taped to the outside of the door forbade entry to anyone who had tried out.
“You know,” Dean said, “you don't have to finish this tonight. You could put it down, come back to it tomorrow.”
“I know.” Ginny flopped over to stare at the ceiling, feet propped up on the headboard.
“You've been at it for hours,” Neville pointed out. The remembrall rolled to a stop against his foot, and the smoke swirling inside it turned red. He frowned at it, then gave it a slight kick, sending it under the bed where the kitten dove after it. “You probably should take a break, sleep on it.”
Ginny put her hands over her face and sighed. “Maybe. It's just—everyone left on the list is actually really good and I don't know any of them well enough to pick based on nepotism.” She sat up with a huff and glared at the boys. “Why couldn't you two have tried out?”
Neville looked startled. “Me? Are you joking? I nearly killed myself first day of flying lessons first year, and I've hardly been back on a broom since.”
She looked to Dean, who held up his hands defensively. “Nope, no. I love quidditch, I do, but I want a calmer year for myself than being on the team allows for. I am perfectly happy to be your glorified secretary. Too late now, anyway. Everyone knows I didn't try out, if you put me on the team it would be obvious nepotism and there would be a riot.”
“Gyah, fine,” Ginny conceded.
There was a knock at the door then Hermione's head popped in. “Are you all planning to stay holed up in here all night, or are you gong to come down to dinner?”
Ginny rolled off the bed, dropped onto her feet and half skipped to the door, leaving the boys behind her to look at each other in bemusement.
Sunday morning after a rather late breakfast, Draco paused on his way to the staff room to look out a window toward the quidditch pitch, where he could just make out the Hufflepuffs having their tryouts, free from the overcast skies and intermittent drizzle the Slytherins and Gryffindors had had to contend with. He sneered and continued on his way.
He had just raised a hand to knock at the staff room door when it opened. Professor Ramsey stopped, startled, midway through folding a pair of reading glasses to the collar of his robes. “Malfoy. Good morning.”
“Good morning, Professor,” Draco managed, equally startled. He glanced past Ramsey into the room. “I was looking for Madam Hooch.”
Ramsey stepped back, out of the way. At the far end of the room, past the long table, Madam Hooch was situated in an armchair. She was holding an open issue of Seeker Weekly, but she had looked up at Draco, one eyebrow raised. “Well, come in then. What is it?”
Draco made his way over to her. Ramsey let the door close and followed, having apparently changed his mind about leaving. There was no one else in the room except for Professor Binns, asleep, floating about an inch above a chair by the fireplace, which Draco couldn't help but suspect was the one he had died in.
“I checked the rules,” Draco began, “and as far as I can tell, there's no reason a player couldn't be bound to their broom, but I've also never seen it done and I know I'd be inclined to call it cheating if I did see it, so I'm wondering what your stance is, or if you know of any precedent.”
Madam Hooch frowned and closed her magazine around her thumb. “Why would you want to bind a player to their broom?”
Draco glanced down then made himself look back up and meet her piercing golden gaze. “Daphne Greengrass tried out, and she's good, but she can't fly without having her feet strapped to the stirrups.”
Madam Hooch nodded slowly. “At least not safely, I'm sure. You are correct that it isn't specifically forbidden, though under most circumstances I wouldn't allow it. In this case, if it's what's needed to compensate for Miss Greengrass's injury...I'll make an exception. Good of you to come check with me, first, though. Uncharacteristically deferential of you, Mr. Malfoy. I like it. Ten points to Slytherin.”
With a snap of paper, she flicked her magazine open and resumed reading as though she'd never been disturbed. Draco blinked.
“I'm glad to see you putting such thought into the house quidditch team,” Ramsey said softly. “I hear we haven't won the cup since ninety-two.”
“Haven't won the cup since I've been on the team,” Draco said bitterly.
“It's your last chance,” Ramsey noted.
Draco squared his shoulders and gave his head of house a hard look. “I intend to win.”
“That's what I like to hear.” Ramsey grinned. He nodded to the door. “Do you have a moment? I have some things I need to attend to in my office but I've been meaning to speak with you.”
Draco hesitated half a breath, then nodded. “Of course. Sir.”
Ramsey lead the way out of the staff room and headed toward the dungeons, Draco following a step behind. Ramsey slowed just enough to make it impossible for Draco to walk at a comfortable pace without catching up to him.
“I'd meant to come watch try outs yesterday,” Ramsey said casually, “but some pixies got into the potions' cupboard and created quite a mess. I heard you got the entire house to try out.”
“I did,” Draco confirmed.
“How's everyone doing?”
Draco shrugged. “Fine.”
Ramsey gave him a curious look. “I somehow doubt that.”
“There's tension,” Draco amended reluctantly, “within the house, but there's always been tension. My first year, there wasn't so much, but ever since the whole Chamber of Secrets ordeal, Slytherin house has been…discordant, for one reason or another, every year. That hasn't changed and I doubt it's gong to.”
“I see,” Ramsey mused as he let them into his office. He had evidently replaced the lamp as the office, which Draco remembered always being dim and rather dank, was now bright and warm—almost cozy in a disconcerting way, with the shelves of specimens gone and a plush armchair shoved into the corner. Ramsey came around his desk, where he had out what looked like a particularly thick catalogue with a partially filled out order form across it. “I'd think,” he said, putting his reading glasses back on, “that right now, with there being so few Slytherins and with everything you've all gone through, would be the best chance to mend that discord, and also probably when everyone most needs the security and comfort afforded by house unity. Don't you agree?” Ramsey looked at Draco overtop of his thick-rimmed, square-ish spectacles. His tone was light and casual, but there was something sharp and probing to his gaze that made the fine hairs on the back of Draco's neck and on his arms prickle uncomfortably.
“Maybe so, but I don't see how I—”
“You're prefect and quidditch captain, Mr. Malfoy,” Ramsey pointed out. He looked down at his order form and continued filling it out. “You have quite a bit of standing.”
“Sir, I really do not have the kind of power over my housemates that you think I do.” Draco took a breath. “I might have, a few years ago, but that was before—before I and my family alienated pretty much everyone we know. At this point, I am personally responsible for much of the division within Slytherin, I—”
“Which makes you the perfect person to set about mending that division,” Ramsey said firmly, talking over Draco and cutting him off. He looked up at Draco. “Possibly the only person who can.”
At a loss, Draco stared at him. He balled his fists. “That's not fair.”
“No. It's not.” Ramsey took off his glasses. “Nothing in real life is fair. You know that. You're not stupid. But you have fucked up, a lot. I might not have been here to witness it, but I assure you word has gotten to me, and I know of your family, your father, and the things you've done. You're lucky that you have a chance to un-fuck anything, so I suggest you stop whining and take initiative. As prefect and captain you have responsibilities to your schoolmates. It's your jobright now to do right by them, to help them. I support you in that, I do believe you are capable of it. I realize it's a tall order, that it puts you in an awkward position given your history, but you have a duty given the titles you hold, and I dare say a moral duty to be a better fucking person than your father—”
“I'm trying to be!” Draco snapped.
“Then act like it,” Ramsey said shortly. Draco gaped at him, open mouthed and fuming. Perfectly calm, Ramsey put his glasses back on and returned to his form. “I'm happy to be a resource for you, but I don't suffer shirkers, fools, or those who dodge responsibility. In other news, I'll have your potion ready for you Tuesday of next week.”
Draco stood rooted to the spot, breathing hard, utterly speechless. Eventually, he managed to grunt an acknowledgement then turned and marched out of the office. He didn't pay much mind to where his feet were taking him, just walked until he had more or less calmed down. He was still mentally kicking himself for the gut reaction that had told him to threaten to tell his father on Ramsey when his foot hit something small and bright orange that went tinkling crystallinely across the stone floor of the corridor. Frowning, he picked it up.
It was an earring, made out of tiny glass beads carefully sewn together into the shape of a radish, and he knew instantly who had dropped it. He cast around, there was no one but him on that stretch of hall, and he was sure he hadn't passed her on his way, so he jogged to look around the next corner and called, “Lovegood?”
There was a bit of a scrabbling sound from outside one of the windows, which stood open allowing in a cool breeze, then Luna Lovegood popped up from below it, hanging onto the sill. “Hm?”
Draco's forehead crinkled. “What on earth are you doing?”
“Our charms homework.”
“Out there?” he asked incredulously.
She nodded. “I like sitting on the roof sometimes.” She tucked a lock of hair that was a bit too short to stay in her bun behind her ear. “What did you want?”
“Right. I found your earring.” He held it up.
Her eyes widened and she felt at her earlobes reflexively. “I hadn't realized I'd lost it.” She clambered in through the window, took it from him, and put it on. She glanced up at him. “Thank you.”
He nodded and looked toward the window. She studied him a moment then followed his gaze. “It's quite nice out today. The wind is rather nippy but the slate is warm from the sun, so it's comfortable to sit out there. This is the best place to go out on the roof, since these windows are only a few feet up from the roof below—everywhere else like that is too steep.”
“There's a place like that at my house,” Draco said slowly. “The window of my old playroom opens onto the roof of the kitchen. I snuck out there a couple times when I was little, before I got caught.” He rubbed absently at his collarbone then sneered. “I really just want to gut the whole place now, though.”
“I'm sure you do,” Luna said very quietly. She was staring at a spot on the wall, eyes focused far away, and she had gone pale.
A sudden, cold jolt of fresh anger and guilt struck Draco and he stepped toward her. “I am so sorry for what happened to you in my house,” he blurted. “I should have done something to prevent it, or stop it, or help you somehow, but I didn't because I was scared. But I should have. And I'm sorry.”
She was looking at him, stunned and a bit bewildered.
“And,” he continued, eyes stinging for reasons he didn't understand, “it all seems so stupid and trifling with everything else, but I'm sorry for all the horrible names I've called you, and for—I've encouraged people to take your things and hide them and that was wrong, and for that time I had Crabbe throw your bag in the lake, and there's probably a hundred other things I ought to apologize to you for that I don't remember.” He took a breath, rubbed at one eye, and looked down, taken aback by himself.
For a long moment, neither of them moved or spoke, then she took his hand, making him jump, and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I know you could have been killed if you'd tried to help me at your house, so, maybe you should have tried, but I can't blame you for not. As for those other things...you weren't the only one doing them, but you are the only one who's ever said sorry for it. Thank you.”
He shook his head, pulled his hand away, retraced his steps to the nearest boys' bathroom, leaned on the sink, and tried not to be sick.
When the usual flurry of owls came swooping into the Great Hall with the mail during breakfast Monday morning, two of them attempted to land in front of Draco. He had to snatch up his goblet of orange juice to prevent it from being spilled as they vied for position. With his free hand, he took each owl's letter and shooed them away.
One of the letters was from his mother, the other—in its charcoal grey envelope, sealed with silvery wax embossed with an illuminated M—was from the family winery, presumably the executive clerk, Mr. Lavigne. Draco had never gotten anything from the family business addressed to him before; everything had always been sent to his father or, when his father was unavailable, such as the last time he'd been in prison, to his mother. Now, though, his mother was only semi-available, he supposed, and he was of age, and—it occurred to him—now that he was of age, given the wording of the family charter, since he was a son born into the Malfoy line, control of family assets very well might have skipped over his mother entirely and gone straight to him with his father incarcerated.
“That looks important,” Astoria observed from across the table, nodding to the envelope.
“Family business,” Draco mumbled. He popped the seal with his thumb and unfolded the note inside. Below the Malfoy Apothecaryletterhead, it read:
Young Master Malfoy,
I regret not having contacted you sooner since your taking over as head of the Malfoy family, but certain upheavals outside of my control robbed me of the time to do so. I am pleased to report that despite the events of the past several months, business operations are continuing to run, albeit at a reduced pace as we have lost a number of employees. The rehiring process is underway, I will keep you apprised of progress in that arena.
Between the staffing issues above described and last year's regrettable damage to the vineyard from which we are still recovering, I fear this year's yield will be rather less than normal. I hope, however, that this will not ultimately result in a loss as this year's vintage being scarce should drive up its value.
We are, though, going to be facing a loss if we cannot address the fact that no one is buying the wine. There have only been four orders since last May, all of them under 200 galleons, two of them under 50. I unfortunately do not know what is causing this astonishing lack of demand. I will let you know of any changes in the situation and of any discoveries on my end that may lead the way to a solution.
I look forward to working with you.
Draco sighed and pocketed the letter. He'd never had much interest in the family business and he had less now than ever that his childhood suspicions that Mr. Lavigne was a blithering idiot had been confirmed. He took a bite of quiche and opened the letter from his mother.
My Dearest Draco,
I fear my last letter to you may have somehow gotten lost in the mail, or else your reply did, as I haven't heard from you. In case you didn't get my last letter, let me say again that I've been moved to a safehouse with a few others who will be testifying in the upcoming trials. I still can't come and go as I please but it is much more comfortable here. You'll have to write to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for instructions on how to visit when you have your school holidays.
How is school going? I'm sure you're doing well in your studies, of course, you've always been so bright, but I imagine things at Hogwarts are just as shaken up as in the rest of the wizarding world right now.
I miss you. I hope you're well.
Your Mother, Narcissa
Draco pocketed that letter too and grumpily took another bite of quiche. He should have responded to the last one she'd sent. Ignoring them wouldn't stop them coming, it would just upset her, which he genuinely didn't want to do. The problem was he didn't really want to talk to her, either.
He looked up to see Hermione walking towards him from the Gryffindor table, three parcels of varying sizes and a letter in her hands. She reached the Slytherin table and held the smaller two packages out to him.
“Jarnsaxa and Pig came from London with loads of letters for everyone,” she explained. “These came for you.”
“Thank you, Hermione,” he said, though he didn't feel very grateful, and took the parcels from her, keenly aware of the other Slytherins watching the exchange. He nodded to the other mail she was still holding. “What are those?”
“For Professor Lupin. It's really amazing how much Jarnsaxa can carry, she's such a big bird.” With that she strode off to the staff table.
Draco looked down at the parcels she'd handed him.
“You're popular today,” Blaise noted.
Draco didn't respond. He tore open the smaller of the two packages and a silver signet ring set with tiny, pale green stones around the side fell out into his hand. The flat of the ring bore the Malfoy coat of arms, precisely engraved. There was a brief note more or less crumpled into the parcel as well:
Found this in the back of a closet. Best guess is it was your great-great-great-great grandfather's, pretty sure he almost married my great-great aunt Elladora. Figure it's technically yours now.
Blaise had leaned over to snoop at Draco's mail. “S.O.B.?” he asked, laughing. “Who signs their letters 'son of a bitch?'”
“It's 'Sirius Orion Black,' you moron,” Draco snapped, shoving the note and the ring in his pocket with his other mail. “And don't read over my shoulder.”
“Sirius Black?” Harper asked, aghast. “What's Sirius Black doing writing to you?”
“He's my cousin,” Draco said exasperatedly. “I lived at his house over the summer. I've told you all.” He shook his head, flipped over the last parcel, which was slightly squishy, and opened it along its neatly taped seam. Inside was a finely knitted green cap monogramed in white with his initials, and another note:
I hope you don't mind me using you as an excuse to finally use up all my green yarn now the weather's really cooling off.
Hope you're doing well.
He stared at the note, the hat limp in his hand. Blaise leaned in again and scoffed. “Molly Weasley? Sirius Black I can understand, but why on earth would that fat old cow be—”
“Shut up,” Draco snapped, shoving the note in his pocket with the others. “You shut up, Zabini.”
Blaise gaped at him. “You always say—”
“Isaid,” Draco corrected sharply, gesticulating with his hat. “I said an awful lot of stupid nasty things that were mean spirited and unwarranted. She knows all about them, I'm sure, but she graciously doesn't hold that against me, which I frankly do not understand. The past three months she's been better to me than I've ever been to her—and better than you've been to probably anyone the entire time I've known you, Blaise, so you shut your stupid mouth.”
He did, glowering.
Up at the staff table, Remus, along with Professors Lee and Flitwick, were being regaled by Professor Sprout with the latest in her ongoing battle with the local herbivorepopulation when Hermione stepped up to the table, respectfully demure. “Excuse me?”
Professor Sprout paused.
“I'm sorry to interrupt,” Hermione said quickly, “but these are for you, Professor Lupin.” She set a flatish round package about the diameter of a bludger and a letter down in front of his place. “And good morning to you all.”
They all returned her greeting and she skipped off, back to the Gryffindor table.
“As I was saying,” Professor Sprout continued. Remus tuned her out andpicked up his mail. The letter was from Sirius, and he tucked it into his waistcoat to read later in private—he didn't thinkSirius would send anything too sensitive where it would go to the kids first, rather than straight to him, but just in case. The package, though, worried him for a slightly different reason: he recognized George Weasley's handwriting on the wrapping,differentiablefrom his twin's by the relative swoopier-ness of his capital letters. Carefully, he removed the paper. The package was a plain, label-less biscuit tin with SAMPLE ONLY scrawled across the top in what looked very much like muggle permanent marker. With cautious curiosity, he cracked the lid open. When nothing exploded or screamed, he opened the tin the rest of the way. There was a slip of parchment, folded quarter, sitting atop a bed of rather splotchy purple gumdrops. He unfolded the letter.
Our Dearest Darlingest Loony Lupin,
You may recall our conversation regarding Berty Bott's's egregious oversight in not producing a wolfsbane flavour. Since the stuff's so incredibly rank, we've decided it would make a fantastic flavour for a (literal) gag candy. These gummies are our best attempt to date. We would greatly appreciate your input on whether they're horrendous enough, or if it would be more accurate to their inspiration to make them worse.
Your favorite entrepreneurs,
Remus chuckled to himself and replaced the lid on the tin. While he was eating was not the time to test the twins' concoction.
Since he didn't have an eight a.m. class on Mondays, Draco went up to the library after breakfast, took out parchment and pen, and set about responding to his letters. First, to his mother:
Your last letter wasn't lost. I've been too busy with start of term and having been unwell to respond. I apologize.
I'm glad to hear you have more comfortable accommodations. I'll be sure to visit during the school holidays.
School is going fine.
He hesitated, handhovering just above the page. He could tell her about the new teachers, about how few students there were, being the only prefect, quidditch tryouts, Daphne, the ring Sirius had just found. A thousand other things. He could. He didn't. He signed the letter, “Your son, Draco,” and took out another sheet.
No one is buying because the entire wizarding world hates the Malfoy family right now. Take the name off the bottle.
Other than that, as I am currently occupied finishing my schooling I'm in no position to be running a business. Address all further correspondence to my mother until told to do otherwise.
He went up to the owlery and whistled for Euphrates, who swooped down from a high perch with silent grace and landed nearby. Draco reached out to stroke the eagle owl, earning a soft, contented hoot.
“Hello, Eu,” he said quietly. Most of the other owls were asleep at this hour. He ran a fingertip over Euphrates's beak and got an affectionate nip. “Do you want to go see Mother, or Mr. Lavigne?”
Euphrates blinked at him and hooted once.
“That's what I thought.” He gave Euphrates the letter to his mother and watched him fly off, then found a school owl that was awake to take his response to Mr. Lavigne. He checked his watch. There was still plenty of time before he had to get to Transfiguration so, deciding quickly, he took the shortest route he knew back down to the dungeons and pinned up his finalized quidditch roster on the bulletin board in the common room before going to class.
Remus took his lunch break in his office. Between bites of absolutely delicious pot roast, he eyed the stack of quizzes he really ought to have been grading. Instead, he took out his letter from Sirius. It was the first opportunity he'd had to read it.
I don't really want to start off a letter saying I miss you because that's about the sappiest thing I can think of, but I fucking miss you. I think I may have developed separation anxiety. I blame prison. In any case, by Fluer and Molly's reckoning my moping got so bad last week they've started giving me assignments to keep me busy. Fleur also said a bunch of other stuff I didn't catch because you know my French has never been all that good. Molly went so far as to threaten to teach me to knit. I think she's made a hat for Draco. She'd started on something else this morning. I have no idea what it is, but it's blue and the yarn's soft so it'll be comfortable whatever it is, whoever it's for.
Anyway, I've decided I'm renovating the whole damn house. Might as well, since we started fixing up the ground floor already. I'm trying to work out how to get all my old posters off the walls upstairs. The permanent sticking charm seemed like a good idea when I was thirteen. My mother swore I'd regret it. For once she might have been right, though I hate to admit it. I'll figure it out. Might have to do like we did with the portrait in the hall and tear the whole damn wall out.
I'm redoing the master suit e for us once I finally clean all the straw and animal bones out from between the floorboards. I can't wait to tear off the wretched puce wallpaper. At least I'm pretty sure that's what colo u r puce is. What do you think about a dark purple?
Harry and Ron have been working with Arthur at the Ministry. Harry has some sort of official internship with the Department of Muggle Relations but Ron's just helping, I think. Arthur's really gearing up for a lot of reform, reaching out to all the witches and wizards he can think of who grew up muggle for their perspectives, but he's forbidden the boys from bothering Hermione with it while she's busy with school. Thought you could have a word with that new muggle studies teacher you mentioned.
I'm sure you're busy. Between what I've heard from you, Hermione, and Ginny and what McGonagall was talking about when she came by with your job offer I know this year is weird. The full moon being right at the start of term, too. You know I wish I could change these things for you, and I hate that I couldn't even be there to keep you company. I guess you had the furball but he's not much fun, the little git .
I'm waiting ever so impatiently, I assure you, until we can next see each other. It had best be in a context I can drag you off somewhere and have my way with you, because even if it isn't I'm going to, I swear.
In place of a signature, there was a large inky pawprint in the bottom right corner. Remus couldn't help but smile. Finished with his food, he vanished his place setting, made himself a cup of tea, and experimentally tried one of the twins' gummies. He grimaced and spat it out. He scribbled out a quick response to them first.
Messers Gred and Forge,
Your gummies are of properly atrocious flavo u r. Good work. I may keep these on my desk just to watch the faces of anyone fool enough to take one. I must admit I'm rather impressed you've managed to recreate the taste after having only tried it once. Unless you went so far as to make yourselves a batch of the potion for comparison, in which case I'm impressed both with your dedication and your potion making ability.
Your favorite lycanthrope,
R. J. Lupin
He checked the time before penning his response to Sirius. He didn't want to be late to his own class and he could only write so fast.
I miss you too. Honestly, I'd think you'd know by now there's no point pretending to me that you're not an enormous sap, I've known the truth for years. It's sweet, really. At least I think so, and I dare you to tell me whose opinion on the matter is more important than mine.
I think it's good for you to keep busy, and the house needs fixing. Aren't the walls in your old room plaster? If I remember that correctly you should be able to chip the plaster out from behind the posters and take the posters with it, then patch the walls. That seems like less trouble and mess than ripping the walls out entirely.
That wallpaper is chartreuse, not puce. Puce is more of a dark reddish brown and actually a rather nice colo u r. You're absolutely right, though, the paper in that room is hideous and has got to go. Purple sounds good to me. I quite like the idea of sharing the master suite with you. Makes me downright giddy. One thing though, if you damage the built in bookshelves up there I will have your head, Black, mark my words.
I'm glad to hear the boys are doing something productive with their time and I'm sure Arthur needs the help. He's been working so hard ever since Kingsley took office. I really think the poor fellow could use a holiday but I don't dare suggest it—I don't think I have the attention span for the long list of reasons why he can't afford to take one I'd be sure to get. I can certainly talk to Professor Lee. She's already inviting all the muggle-borns at the school around to help her run a Q+A for the rest of the students who don't know a damn thing about muggles. I'll see if she wants to mention it there.
This year is definitely weird. There are so few students, the castle feels uncomfortably empty. Sin e stra and Sprout have both had the ghosts of students sit in on a couple of their lessons. I haven't, thankfully. I don't know what I'd do, I'm not sure I could handle it. There's three of them, all underage Ravenclaws who snuck back to the battle. I won't lie to you, I've been avoiding them. I feel bad but I can't face them. If I get a good enough look at any of them to recognize them I expect to break down for a while. The students are all dealing with the same sorts of things and it's just wrong. They're all so young. For fuck's sake at least you and I managed to hit twenty before our friends started getting murdered around us. I'm teaching twelve year olds who keep getting distracted by thestrals flying out of the forest in view of my classroom windows.
That's what I wish you could change for me. Forget the full moon, I've lived with the transformations this long, I'll live with them for however much longer. This month wasn't that bad. Only two nights, and next month is the same. I went on a run with the furball in the forest the first night. I'll have to tell you more about that in person. The second night I actually managed to get some sleep.
I look forward to seeing you. I hope that's a promise, by the way, you dog .
He folded up his letters and sealed them, then got his things together to go teach his class, with plans to swing by the owlery before dinner.
I didn't plan for this to be an epistolary chapter, but that's what it turned into, and honestly I really enjoyed writing all the letters!
Draco's last class of the day was Muggle Studies. They were in the middle of a lesson about muggle homes, during which Professor Lee had been explaining electricity, when she asked, “Now, do any of you know if your homes are wired for electricity?”
Most of the class looked around at each other uncertainly.
“Do you have light switches?” Professor Lee pressed.
Slowly, Draco raised his hand.
“Yes, Mr. Malfoy, you have switches at home?” she asked, beaming.
“Well, not at Malfoy Manor, no,” Draco said carefully, “but at my cousin's house in London there are.”
“Would you tell your classmates what the switches are like?”
“They're just pairs of buttons set into a plate on the wall.”
Something in Professor Lee's expression went oddly rigid. “Pairs of buttons?”
“Yes,” Draco confirmed, uneasy.
“How old is this house?” she asked sharply.
“Victorian. Maybe turn of the century,” Draco answered quickly. He was trying to work out what he could possibly have said to set Professor Lee on edge like this.
“Do you know if the house has been rewired?”
“I'm not sure what that means,” Draco admitted. He could feel the rest of the class staring at him. “I don't think so, though. It's been rather neglected.”
“Okay, then.” Professor Lee took a deep breath and let it out. “Those are push button switches—the name makes sense—and they are very old. Not original to the house, probably; I think that kind of switch became common in the twenties, but still very old. If the wiring is as old as the switches, which it sounds like most likely is, then it is not safe. I highly suggest you write your cousin and send it out today, explaining that no one should use the electrics in that house until it has been fully rewired by a professional electrician. I think now is probably a good time for us to talk about electrical fires.”
After class, Draco went down to the common room, half hoping to get a start on the lengthy Transfiguration essay he'd been assigned that morning before dinner. His hope of that vanished, though, when he stepped into the room and it became immediately apparent that the rest of the house had noticed the quidditch roster. Everyone who had already gotten in from their classes was crowded around the bulletin board, chattering excitedly, and each person who came in hurried to join the throng as soon as they stepped over the threshold. Draco hung back and set his bag on the low table next to his favorite armchair.
Lexus Mafalda broke away from the crowd and launched herself at him, tackling him in a hug that nearly sent him sprawling.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she squealed into his shoulder. She released him, stepped back, and seized his hands. “You won't regret picking me, I swear. I will be the best Chaser you have ever seen.”
She was pulled away by he fellow fourth year, Simmons, leaving Draco slightly dazed. Meanwhile, Nicholas Runcorn had shouldered his way through to the front of the small knot of bodies in front of the roster and was running his finger down it over and over, reading and re-reading the seven names, looking for his own. He slammed the flat of his hand hard on the bulletin board with a loud thud, followed by the quiet tinkling of several pins falling to the floor. Everyone went quiet, looking at him.
“Malfoy!” he roared, turning to glare daggers. Everyone between the two boys hastily stepped out of the way. Draco locked eyes with Runcorn and didn't move. Runcorn stalked towards him. “What is this?” he demanded with a sweeping gesture behind him.
“The quidditch roster,” Draco said like it was obvious, because it was.
One of the other third years quietly said, “Nick, don't….”
“Why's my name not on it?” Runcorn snapped, ignoring his roommate.
Draco crossed his arms. “Because you didn't make the team.”
Runcorn's face contorted. “I didn't and the cripple did?” He jerked a thumb at Daphne. “Bullshit!”
Next to her sister, Astoria puffed up threateningly.
“She's better than you,” Draco said shortly. He fiddled casually with the cuff of his left sleeve. “You broke your face attempting a block Icould have made, and let's just say there's a reason I don't play Keeper.”
“I made the save!” Runcorn shouted. “If it was such a sorry throw, you wouldn't have put Mafalda on the team, but you did! And I blocked it! You just have it out for me!”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Draco scoffed. “I've been more or less in the middle of a row with Zabini since term started and he still made the team. Sure, I think your attitude is shit, but if you played worth a damn, I wouldn't care! You're only a third year, you have four more years to make the team.”
Runcorn stamped his foot. “I should have made it this year!”
“If you had put in a good showing at tryouts, you would have!” Draco snapped back. “But you didn't! As Captain, I have final say in who's on the team and who's not, and you're not. Get over it.”
Draco saw Runcorn go for his wand and drew his own before the younger boy had the chance to finish the movement.
“Petrificus Totalus!” Draco shouted, whipping his wand at Runcorn. The boy's limbs snapped to his sides and he went completely stiff, except for his face, which was twisted with rage and an increasing amount of panic as he slowly tipped over forward. The thick rug was probably the only thing that saved him from another broken nose. Draco sighed, made a show of putting his wand away, walked over to Runcorn, rolled him over with his foot, and looked down at him. “For as badly as you seem to want to get me to think you're brilliant, you keep doing a spectacular job of convincing me you're too stupid to breathe.” He bent down close to Runcorn's face. “I know how to duel, you twit. Don't play.”
The next moment, Professor Ramsey stormed into the common room. Draco straightened up quickly.
“What the hellis going on in here?” Ramsey snapped. His eyes settled on Draco. “Malfoy, did you do this?”
Draco opened his mouth to speak, but Daphne pre-empted him. “Runcorn picked a fight with him, sir,” she said quickly, wheeling forward. “Then Runcorn went for his wand. Draco beat him to the draw, that's all.”
Ramsey looked down at Runcorn, whose face had turned quite red, looked at Draco, then at Daphne. “Tell me what happened.”
She did, all but verbatim. Ramsey pinched the bridge of his nose, took a deep breath, deliberately pulled out his wand and swished it at Runcorn, reversing the body-bind. “Get up.”
Visibly seething, Runcorn scrambled to his feet. He kept his mouth shut, though. Probably because Ramsey looked like he was actively restraining himself from cursing someone or something out of existence, both linguistically and magically.
Ramsey took a breath. “Runcorn, you are not entitled to a position on the team. You're being a brat. Insulting your classmates, your upperclassmen? Screaming at a prefect? Please tell me, what world do you think you live in that behavior like this acceptable? Well?”
Runcorn grit his teeth and looked away.
“It's not acceptable,” Ramsey said firmly. “At all. And you're old enough to know that. As for drawing your wand on a fellow student, depending on what you had done that could have been grounds forexpulsion. Not only that, but instigating a duel is just about the stupidest thing a wizard can do. Dueling is dangerous, Runcorn, and it can easily be lethal. So anyone with a lick of sense is going to avoid getting into a duel if at all possible. If it can't be avoided, they end it as quickly and neatly as possible—which Malfoy did, because he has dueling experience you do not, which makes your decision to try to fight him even stupider. You should count yourself lucky you didn't end up hurt. You're a good student, you have a good brain in your skull.” He poked Runcorn in the middle of the forehead with a blunt, gentle finger. “Use it. Think before you act or speak. Learn respect for your peers. Look around you. This is your house, these people are your family while you're at school. We're a very small family right now. If you alienate these people, who do you have left who will be there for you when you need someone? Can you afford to have no one?”
“No, sir….” Runcorn mumbled reluctantly.
“Now apologize to Miss Greengrass and Mr. Malfoy.”
“Sorry for calling you a cripple, Greengrass,” Runcorn said, continuing to mumble. Daphne quirked an eyebrow at him and crossed her arms. He turned to Draco. “And...I'm sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?” Ramsey prompted.
Runcorn sighed. “I'm sorry for disrespecting you as Quidditch Captain and for shouting.”
“And?” Ramsey asked.
“And for trying to draw my wand on you,” Runcorn added.
“Good.” Ramsey gestured between Draco and Daphne. “Do the two of you accept Mr. Runcorn's apology?”
Draco shrugged. Daphne said, “Yeah, it'll do.”
Ramsey smiled. “Wonderful.” He clapped Runcorn on the shoulder. “Fifty points from Slytherin and you have detention with me every evening for a week.” Runcorn squawked a protest but Ramsey ignored him, pivoting to face Draco. “And ten point from you, Malfoy. You're an authority figure and of age, you ought to be the adult in a situation in comparison with a third year. Runcorn was being being unreasonable, and all things considered you handled the duel quite mercifully, but you should have de-escalated the situation before it ever came to magic.”
Draco balled his fists but nodded curtly. “It won't happen again, sir.”
“See that it doesn't.”
Ramsey stayed in the common room until it was time for dinner, congratulating those who had made the team, asking how everyone's classes were going, even helping the sixth years with part of their homework they had due to him the next day since one of the Carrows asked him to explain something. Then the whole house went up to the Great Hall together, Ramsey wishing them all a good evening when he left them to take his seat at the staff table.
Draco didn't feel like talking to anyone, so while he ate he pulled out parchment and started writing a letter to Sirius explaining what Professor Lee had said about the electrics in Grimmauld Place, then, as an afterthought, thanking him for the ring. Then, as even more of an afterthought, asking him to thank Mrs. Weasley for the hat. After dinner, Draco turned his steps toward the owlery to mail this letter as well, and found himself walking behind Lupin. He jogged a few paces to catch up. Hearing footsteps, Lupin looked back over his shoulder. He smiled with a hint of amusement. “Good evening, Draco.”
“Evening,” Draco responded.
“I heard a very interesting story at dinner tonight,” Lupin said slowly, still smiling. “Something about a duel with a third year?”
Draco groaned and rolled his eyes. Lupin chuckled. “Runcorn is such a brat. You never heard that from me, though.”
“Never heard what from you?” Draco said coolly.
Lupin's grin widened. “No idea.”
Friday morning, Remus woke to find a strange bird sitting on his windowsill, feathers ruffled by the wind, scratching at the glass. It looked rather like a spindly-legged crow with bright orange feathers around its body and a white stripe along each of its black wings, and it had a bright purple envelope clamped in its sharp beak. Curious and puzzled, Remus opened the window to let the bedraggled thing in, away from the buffeting breeze. It landed on his nightstand and dropped its letter, which began to smoke faintly from the corners like a howler. Remus took several hasty steps back just before the envelope burst open in a shower of confetti and the Weasley twin's voices chorused through the room, “YOU MADE THE MAP! You made the Map! Youmade the Map!”
“I can't believewe never put it together,” Fred's voice said.
“We've heard you and Sirius call each other by the names you signed the damn thing with,” George's voice continued
“We are such morons,” Fred's voice lamented, “but I guess we just hadn't thought about it. When you used the word 'messers' we remembered. In any case—”
“YOU HAVE TO TELL US HOW YOU MADE IT,” both voices crowed, then added, “Sirius won't do anything but laugh at us.”
“Says it's mostly your handywork anyway,” George's voice sighed.
“Also, meet Dantes,” Fred's voice added, segueing suddenly. “He's a Venezuelan troupial. Bought him off a friend of Hagrid's. Clever bird.”
The letter exploded once more, reducing itself to a pile of tiny dots of purple paper on the floor. The bird whistled happily. Almost laughing, Remus shook his head, patted Dantes, got dressed for the day, and went down to breakfast. He sat next to Professor Lee.
“Good morning, Elizabeth,” he said, scooting his chair in.
“Good morning, Remus,” she returned brightly, reaching across him for a carafe of juice. She picked it up just in time for a small barn owl to land where the carafe had been and drop a letter on Flitwick's plate. “How are you?”
“Well enough.” Remus poured himself coffee. “I've been meaning to talk to you about something, though. I'm good friends with Arthur Weasley, head of the Muggle Relations Department at the Ministry. He's working on setting a fairly extensive overhaul in motion with regards to policy on use of muggle artifacts, interaction with muggle communities, things like that, and he's wanting input from as many muggle-borns as he can get in contact with. I know he'd like to hear from you, if you have any thoughts, and I wondered if you'd want to mention it to the students at your Q and A tonight, if they have any suggestions.”
She hummed curiously and twirled her spoon in her fingers. “Oh, I definitely have thoughts. I will mention it to the kids, too. I'm glad that, for once, the Ministry is actually taking the experiences of those of us who straddle both worlds into account. It's about damn time, honestly.”
Remus grinned a little. “Arthur wholeheartedly agrees.”
Draco spent History of Magic scribbling notes to himself about quidditch plays with Zabini and Harper reading over his shoulder, Blaise in particular giving more feedback than was actually helpful. Around the fifth time Draco hissed, “Shut up, Zabini,” Daphne gave up her pretense of ignoring them and full on moved over a desk to be at Draco's other side. Binns didn't seem to notice, but their Ravenclaw classmates did. Several of them, including Padma, glared pointedly at the little knot of Slytherins. Exavior was glaring, too.
“What are you doing?” Daphne asked quietly.
“I'mtryingto figure out what we're doing at practice on Sunday,” Draco muttered. “These two are nothelping.”
“I was just saying that,” Blaise started.
Draco flicked his wand at Blaise under their desks and hissed, “Silencio.”
Zabini made a rather feeble wheezing sound, clutched at his throat, and glared at Draco, mouthing what certainly looked like swearwords. Harper bit his lip to keep from laughing. Draco took a deep breath and turned calmly to Daphne. “I'm going to need you to either come to practice early, or stay late.”
She nodded. “I can do that.”
“Good morning, Hermione, Ginny, Dean,” Remus greeted as the Gryffindors filed in. Neville came jogging in the next moment, hugging his bag to his chest as the strap had broken. Remus cringed sympathetically. The rest of the Gryffindors, then the Slytherins arrived—Draco looking smug and Zabini looking even grouchier than usual. It took Remus about half a second to decide he didn't want to know. “Good morning,” he said loudly, quieting the chatter. “We've gotten rather ahead of the seventh and eighth year Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs, which is bad news for my scheduling, but good news for all of you as I've decided to treat today as a bonus day before we move on to curse breaking. You have three options for what we use this extra hour for: you can take a crack at the Patronus Charm, or practice it if you know it already; you can help me dispatch a nest of bogarts that a very distressed fifth year just informed me have taken up residence in one of the curtained cases in the trophy room; or, in light of recent events in the Slytherin common room, we could have some dueling practice.”
Layla Gardner, a blond Gryffindor seventh year, raised her hand and didn't wait to be called on, “I'm just gonna put it out there for those of us who don'treally know how to duel, there's at least, five, people in this class who do know how, and have, in, like, life and death circumstances. Even supervised, in a low-stakes setting, I don't really wanna mess with that.”
Several students looked around at their classmates, nodding.
“About the bogarts,” Dean asked, “just how many is a 'nest?'”
“If the fifth year who reported them to me is to be believed,” Remus said with a slight smirk, “at least six. That seems improbable to me, though; I've never seen more than three in one place.”
Dean whistled, leaned back in his chair, and held one hand up. “I'm putting a vote in for 'patronuses.'”
Remus grinned. “Who agrees with Mr. Thomas?”
Almost the entire class raised their hands.
“I guess I'll be handling those bogarts by myself later.” Remus clapped his hands together. “How many of you can produce a full bodied patronus?”
All the eighth year Gryffindors, about half the seventh years, and none of the Slytherins raised their hands, which provided a perfect opportunity to make the Gryffindors and Slytherins work together, something Remus knew very few of them were inclined to do without prompting. Each of the Gryffindors who could produce a full patronus wound up with one or two of their classmates, demonstrating, coaching, talking. Fay Dunbar said something that made Emmet Exavior snort so hard with unexpected laughter he started coughing. Remus smiled to himself—then immediately bit back a sigh as he heard Draco snap at Hermione, “It's not working!”
“Are you even trying?” Hermione snapped back, and Remus decided it was time to intervene.
“Yes, I'm trying!”
Remus put a hand on Draco's shoulder, and the boy jumped. Remus ignored it. “What's the matter over here?”
Hermione held her hands up. “I don't know what else to tell him. You focus on a happy memory and you cast the spell. It's not that complicated.”
“It's not complicated,” Remus agreed coolly, “but it isdifficult. Hermione, you naturally have intense focus and a sharp memory, both of which this charm requires. Now, Draco?”
“Take a breath.”
Draco did as told, glowering. “Now what?”
“Take another one and try to be less surly—producing a patronus requires tapping into positive emotion, you'll only make it harder for yourself by allowing frustration to get the better of you.”
Draco eyed him sideways. “How, exactly, are you supposed to tap into positive emotion while staring down a dementor?”
“Force of will.” Remus clapped Draco's back. “You're nothing if not stubborn, I think you'd manage once you've learned to do the spell. I suspect your problem may lie in your choice of memory.” Remus stepped away and said, loud enough for the class to hear, “If you're not having substantial results, try to think of a stronger memory.”
A few minutes later, Remus was talking to Neville, Ginny, and Andrew Trent about using patronuses to send messages when the bickering between Hermione and Draco spiked again and Draco stomped out of the room.
Remus bit back a swear, announced, “Hermione is in charge until I get back,” and followed Draco out. The hall was empty, but the nearest men's room door was swinging slightly on its hinges. The next second, a third year Hufflepuff boy fled the bathroom, glancing back over his shoulder and tripping over his own feet. Remus sighed and went in. Draco was leaning on a sink, glaring at himself in the mirror. Remus cleared his throat. Draco's eyes flicked to Remus's reflection, then he shut them and bowed his head.
“I can't do it.” Draco's voice was quiet and cold.
Remus walked over, footsteps echoing slightly off all the tile and stone. He rubbed Draco's back warmly. “I'm sure you can—”
“I don't have any happy memories,” Draco insisted, head snapping up.
“I highly doubt that,” Remus said smoothly. Draco started to protest but Remus cut him off. “Look at me.”
Draco straightened up.
“Pretty much every memory I use to conjure a patronus is one of me and my friends when we were young—Sirius before he was tortured and broken, Lily and James before they were murdered, Peter before he ruined all our lives. All of those memories are bittersweet in hindsight and the bitterness can be overwhelming. For the spell to work I can't think about any of that, I have to remember and make myself relive how I felt at the time. You have to find a moment, any moment, when you were happy, no matter when it was or what else was going on around it, and put yourself back there.”
Draco looked away, swallowed, and nodded. Remus fished in his pockets, pulled out a chocolate bonbon, and handed it to Draco. “Here, eat this.”
Brow furrowed, Draco looked down at the bonbon, up at Remus, then back at the bonbon. “How is this not melted?”
Remus shrugged. “I know I'm the sort of person who just carries chocolate around so I've put insulating charms on the pockets of half my clothes. Eat it, you'll feel better.”
Draco rolled his eyes but dutifully unwrapped the blue cellophane and popped the bonbon in his mouth.
“Ready to rejoin class?”
Draco tossed the bonbon wrapper in the bin. “Yeah, sure.”
By the end of class, Draco had just barely managed to conjure a very feeble, wispy, formless patronus that seemed to just piss him off more. Hermione saying, “No, really, that was very good! You've made so much progress, hasn't he, Professor Lupin?” didn't seem to be helping.
When the bell rang, Draco strode off with a huff. Daphne glanced over at Hermione. “Is he okay?”
Lips pursed, Hermione shrugged.
“Are you seriously asking if Draco Malfoy, pratlord extraordinaire, is okay?” Dean asked. “Has he everbeen okay?”
“No,” Exavior answered shortly on his way out the door,
Daphne looked thoroughly unimpressed.
“I think he's just frustrated,” Remus said. “Give him a while to cool down, then maybe give him some encouragement. He could use it.”
Daphne nodded, settled her bag in her lap, and wheeled out. The rest of the class trickled away after her. A few minutes later, the next class— the Hufflepuff fourth years and their two Slytherin cohorts—started trickling in, whispering urgently amongst themselves.
Remus shuffled his notes on his desk, worked on mentally switching gears over to book teaching from the readings he'd assigned on Wednesday, and silently prayed to the powers that be that this class didn't go like he was expecting it to.
“Alright, everyone settle down,” Remus chided indulgently as the last of the class found their seats. “Books out, but don't open them just yet. Did everyone read chapter nineteen like they were supposed to?”
Maybe half a dozen out of the thirty-four students nodded. Most were looking anywhere but at him, though they'd all obediently set their closed textbooks on their desks. Only one, Marian Posely, a girl after Hermione's own heart, spoke: “Yes, Professor Lupin.”
“Thank you, Miss Posely,” Remus said with a smile that absolutely was not forced. He flipped his own copy open to page 400, thumbed back a few pages, and lay his palm over the chapter's opening illustration, which he hated. “Can anyone tell me what chapter nineteen is about?”
The majority of the class fidgeted awkwardly. Marian raised her hand.
“Yes, Miss Posely?” Remus prompted.
“It's about werewolves, sir.”
“Yes, it is. Five points to Hufflepuff.” Remus looked around the room. “Can anyone give me another term to describe what this chapter is about?”
Hamish Faulker coughed quietly. Marian raised her hand.
Remus nodded to her. “Yes?”
“Very good. That's another five points to Hufflepuff.” Remus walked around his desk. “And who can describe for me, briefly, what constitutes lycanthropy? Otherthan Miss Posely.”
Marian, who had raised her hand again, laced her finger together in her lap.
“Anyone?” Remus asked. No one moved or spoke up and no one was looking at him. With an over dramatic sigh, Remus shook his head. “If no one else can answer, I guess Miss Posely is the only one who did her homework—I'd hate to have to give the rest of you detention, and on a Hogsmeade weekend, but if you didn't do your reading, I don't know what other choice I have….”
Suddenly a dozen hands shot into the air.
“Ah, that's better,” Remus said brightly. “Miss Simmons.”
Simmons lowered her hand and took a breath. “Lycanthropy is, well, a person with lycanthropy turns into a werewolf at the full moon.”
“Yes. Five points to Slytherin for Miss Simmons.” Remus took a step back to sit on the edge of his desk. “Lycanthropy is the condition of involuntarily transforming into a werewolf while the full moon is above the horizon and the sun is not. Persons affected by lycanthropy are properly referred to as lycanthropes, but are almost universally called werewolves, even when not transformed. Technically, though, 'werewolf' only means the canid form. Someone describe that form and its behavior for the class—Mr. Faulker, if you'd be so kind?”
Hamish looked up, startled, then glanced around in panic. “I don't think I know how to do that without being offensive, sir.”
“You're not going to offend me,” Remus said gently. He saw a score of silent conversations pass between deskmates around the room. He twisted to reach behind him and flip his book closed, then turned back and crossed his arms. “This is awkward,” he said simply and most of the class nodded, “but I promise it's far more awkward for you than for me. If I weren't comfortable talking about this, if I couldn't handle hearing how lycanthropy is handled in academia, we'd have skipped this chapter. Mr. Faulker, if you're worried about saying that werewolves are dangerous, that werewolves hunt humans—it's true. Lycanthropes know better than anyone how dangerous werewolves can be.” He paused, thinking, then asked softly, “Show of hands, and be honest now, you won't get in trouble, how many of you are scared of me?”
The students exchanged looks then, slowly, one by one, almost two thirds of them raised their hands.
Remus nodded thoughtfully. “Keep your hand up if you're more scared since reading the chapter.”
A few hands went down. Remus hummed shortly and pushed off from his desk. “Well,” he rubbed his hands together, “it's pretty clear you all know what a werewolf is, so there's little point continuing to quiz you on it—do make sure you know how to tell the difference between a werewolf and a true wolf, though, it will be on the test. Your textbook goes on a bit about how werewolves specifically target humans, seeking out people to attack. Many authors treat that as a defining characteristic of werewolves as much as the connection to the full moon, but I personally find the descriptions and explanations in frankly every textbook I've ever read somewhat lacking. To begin with, I must emphasize the point that a lycanthrope who is not being properly treated with Wolfsbane potion loses their mind when transformed—that's not to say that they've gone insane, but that their memories, their sense of self, is gone. They don't remember who they are or that they're human, anything about their life. They're operating entirely on instinct. How many of you have a pet dog at home? Or a cat, for that matter, at home or here?”
He waited for a response then nodded. “Enough of you, and I'm sure you've all at least seen someone playing with a dog or cat at some point in your lives. You throw a ball or a squeaky toy for a dog, cats get those bells and feathers on strings. They've been domesticated but cats and dogs are basically predators, so the way they play—chasing things, especially things that make noise—keys into a primal instinct known as the prey drive. A werewolf's prey drive—again, we're talking without Wolfsbane potion—is extremely strong, and happens to be mostly limited to humans. Werewolves do not consciously decide to target people anymore than you consciously decide to flinch when something gets thrown at your face.
“What Wolfsbane potion does,” Remus continued, “is suppress the prey drive and other wolfish instincts and allow the lycanthrope to remember who they are while transformed. Therefore, a werewolf treated with Wolfsbane potion is entirely safe to be around—they're essentially an animagus who can't freely turn back. And untransformed lycanthropes are no more inherently dangerous than anyone else.”
From the back of the room, Lexus Mafalda asked, “And you do take the potion, right?”
“I do,” Remus assured her. “One of the perks of working at Hogwarts is knowing I'll have access to it, thanks to Professor Ramsey. The stuff tastes horrible, but I would never choose not to take it.”
Class went a bit more smoothly after that. Even so, when the bell rang most of the class seemed relieved and the usual rush out the door seemed particularly hurried. One Hufflepuff girl hung back though. Shy, quiet April Davis stepped cautiously toward Remus where he was standing behind his desk. She was chewing her lip and fiddling with the end of her braid. “'Scuse me, Professor?” she asked softly. “Are we going to be on this same subject on Wednesday?”
“We are,” Remus confirmed, watching April for her reaction.
She glanced away, took a breath, and let it out, twisting her braid around her knuckles. “Would it be alright if, uh, if I missed class that day?”
“Can I ask why?” Remus was sure she hadn't been among those who had raised their hands that they were scared.
April looked over out the window, shrugging. “It isn't—it's nothing to do with, well no, it is.” She took another breath, pressed the heels of her hands to her forehead, exhaled, dropped her hands, and shook her head. “It doesn't seem right, this is your personal business and you're having to talk to all of us about things I can tell you don't tell people about. I just, it feels like we're reading your diary or something and I really don't like it, I don't wanna—” She held up her hands and folded them over her mouth.
Remus swallowed past a forming lump in his throat. “April, that's very sweet of you to consider, but I promise I don't say anything in class I'm not comfortable sharing with all of you. You're right that I don't often talk to people about being a werewolf, but it's because I couldn't safely, not because I personally want to keep any of it a secret.”
April nodded slightly.
“It's honestly niceto be able to talk about it, if I choose to.” He touched her arm gently. “Don't worry about me, alright? And come to class Wednesday.”
“Okay.” April sniffed. “Can I hug you?”
“You can hug me,” Remus said warmly. April threw her arms around him and gave him a firm squeeze, face smushed into his chest. She let go quickly, ducked her head, and scurried out, just pausing at the door to wave bye. Remus offered her a smile, then turned away from the door to stare at the papers on his desk. He swiped a thumb under his eye.
Fair warning: we're catching up to how far I've written ahead, so I may have to move to an every-other-week posting schedule soon. I appreciate all your support with this story.
At the end of his school day, Draco sat in Muggle Studies, hunched into the corner of his chair, taking notes while Professor Lee explained the muggle postal service, only half paying attention to what he was actually writing. A hand reached into his field of vision and quickly drew a smily face in the top margin of his notebook page. Draco looked up to glare at Astoria. She mouthed, “Sourpuss,” stuck her tongue out at him, then went back to her own notes.
“Your assignment,” Professor Lee was saying, “is to mail a letter via muggle post and receive a response. I have a post office box in the nearest muggle town which you will use as your return address. I'm hoping to get Professor McGonagall to agree to us all taking a field trip there next week so you can mail your letters yourselves, otherwise you'll give them to me to mail off for you. The letter can be to anyone you like—friends, family, a shop you bought a pair of shoes at one time, anywhere in the world. It doesn't matter so long as they have an address recognized and findable by the postal service. If you can't think of anyone, you may send a letter to any of my three brothers.
“I think that's all we have for today,” she concluded, glancing down at her watch. “Don't forget, I'm holding my Q and A in the Great Hall after dinner. It's five points extra credit in this class and five points to your house if you go.”
As they left class, Astoria poked Draco sharply in the side. “What's eating you?”
He batted her hand away. “Nothing.”
“It's clearly not nothing,” she said sternly. “You've been unusually grouchy, even for you, ever since lunch.”
“I am not usually grouchy,” Draco objected. Astoria just raised an eyebrow at him, shrugged, and skipped off down the hall.
The house elves were apparently feeling particularly artistic that day as dinner was almost entirely made up of hand-raised pies, each decorated with the house crest of whichever table they were on, or the school crest up at the staff table. Remus watched Madam Hooch carefully peel the Hogwarts H off a steak and kidney pie and pop it in her mouth with a self-satisfied grin.
Down at the Gryffindor table, Hermione was glaring coldly at an ornate pie while Ginny cut it and Neville said what was unmistakably, “Just eat.”
For his part, Remus ate more of what was ostensibly dessert than dinner, but it was mostly fruit, and he was pretty sure he was physically incapable of getting fat, so it was fine.
As dinner drew to a close, McGonagall stood, tapping her wand against her wineglass to get everyone's attention. “As I'm sure you're all well aware,” she began with the barest hint of sarcasm, “Professor Lee's Q and A session will be starting here in the Great Hall momentarily. I can't imagine why any of you would want to miss it, but if you've decided not to stay, please finish eating and be on your way for the evening. Those of you who are staying, please finish eating and step to either end of the hall so Professor Lee can rearrange the furniture.”
With a great murmuring and clattering and scraping of seats, the student body got to its feet. Remus placed the tip of his wand to his throat and called, voice magically magnified, to his students, “A reminder to Gryffindor house, each of you who stays earns five house points.”
Down the staff table, Ramsey did the same, calling, “Each Slytherin who leaves losesfive points.”
The other two Slytherin third years caught Runcorn by each arm and hauled him back away from the doors. Professor Sprout eyed Ramsey, who shrugged. All the Slytherins, most of the Gryffindors, and about half the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs stayed, along with most of the staff.
With several grand swishes of her wand, Professor Lee cleared the center of the hall—the tables stacked themselves neatly against the walls and the benches and chairs arranged themselves into two sections, facing one another. Standing in the middle, Lee clapped her hands together once. “Alright, would everyone with muggle background please sit over on this side of the room—that's if you're muggle-born or half blood and have grown up in touch with your non-magical relatives, been otherwise raised in a muggle or semi-muggle household for any other reason, or, for us older folk, if you've lived in muggle society since leaving school. Everyone with no muggle background, on thatside of the room please.”
There was a general uneasy shuffling. Head held high, Hermione strode over and dropped onto a bench at the front of the “muggle” section. She crossed her ankles with a graceful flick, smoothed her skirt, and stared intently at her classmates huddled in front of the staff table. Ginny, Neville, and Dean all glanced at each other, then Dean went to sit next to Hermione while the other two took seats in the other section. The rest of the assembly followed suit, filing off into the two sections. The whole of Slytherin house headed for the “non-muggle” seats, Ramsey included, but Mafalda faltered, squeezed Simmons's hand quickly, then ran across the Hall to slide into a chair behind Justin Finch-Fletchly. Remus sat near the back of the muggle section; McGonagall sat next to him and gave a small, proud smile.
When everyone had settled, Lee grinned around at them all and gestured toward the muggle seats. “So, who's surprised at how full this section is?”
Most of the room raised their hands. Lee's grin widened. “I'm not. The wizarding world likes to act as though it's wholly separate from muggle society, but that's just not true. It's never been true. So many of us have at least one parent who is muggle—and plenty of us have muggle siblings, too. Depending where and how we grew up, we may have childhood friends who are muggle. And obviously, from time to time, we fall in love with muggles—that's how come so many of us are half-blood!”
That earned a laugh from the room. Lee continued.
“The wizarding world is a minority population,” she said soberly. “It's simply impossible for us to be as insular as we pretend to be, but a long history of bigotry and prejudice means we rarely if ever talk about our experiences existing in both worlds, so for the most part we, as a culture, don't realize how blurry the line between those worlds is. Now.” She conjured a sparkly baton striped with all the house colours and caught it in mid air. “I don't want to stand up here and lecture, so here's what we're gonna do: This is a talking stick. We're going to pass the talking stick around the non-muggle side of the room. If you have the talking stick, you get to stand up and ask a question—any question you can think of about muggles, muggle culture, growing up part muggle.” She pivoted on the toe of her loafer to face the other section of seats. “When someone asks a question, if you have an answer for it, raise your hand. I'll call on a few people to respond. I'm just moderating. Right now, it doesn't matter what year you are, what house you are, if you're student or staff, we're all peers and we're here to learn from each other.
“Any questions before we begin?”
A few people shook their heads. Lee held the talking stick out to the non-muggle side of the room. “Who's first?”
A Ravenclaw third year raised her hand, Lee handed her the talking stick, and the girl fiddled with it a moment, twisting it in her hands, before asking, “With the International Statute of Secrecy, do you have to obliviate all your muggle relatives or what? That all seems very contradictory from what I've heard.”
“Because it is,” Lee said, turning to the sea of hands that had shot up on the muggle side.
“Not your immediate family,” Dean explained after being called on. “My mum, my stepdad, my siblings all know, but my aunts and uncles and cousins don't and shouldn't, so there've been a few times that got pretty close. If my mum weren't quick as she is with making up excuses I'm pretty sure my nan would've needed her memory modified a few times by now.”
A Hufflepuff boy admitted that, “My brother's oblivated his mother-in-law a few times. Figure it's going to happen more now his wife's having a baby.”
Then McGonagall added, “Generally, the muggle parents or guardians, siblings, children, and spouse of a witch or wizard may know about their family member's magic. More distant family may not. It's less common now, but it used to be a witch or wizard who married a muggle wouldn't tell their partner at all unless they later had children who were magical themselves. Frankly, it was a bad custom and I suggest none of you do that to yourselves. If you can't trust them with your secret, or they can't love you as you are, they aren't worth marrying.”
She gave a short, self-affirming nod and folded her hands in her lap as the talking stick was passed to Andrew Trent.
“So,” Andrew began, “muggles go to school way longer than us, right? What do they doin school so long since they're not learning magic?”
“Science!” a Ravenclaw girl shouted from the middle of the muggle side without waiting to be called on. “But really.” She stood, prompted by Professor Lee to continue. “They—no, westart school younger to learn a lot of the basics that wizard born kids learn at home. After that, History class is history class, and most all the other classes in muggle schools are skill building classes just like ours, but they're building skills for a world that runs on electricity and science and maths instead of on spells and enchantments.” She shrugged awkwardly and sat back down. Hermione twisted in her own seat to high five her.
“Couldn't have said it better myself,” Lee praised.
Ginny yanked the talking stick away from Andrew and asked, “Two part question: One, what is the thing from the muggle world you miss the most while you're away, and, two, what part of the magical world do we all take for granted that you really think we should appreciate more?”
“I miss pencils,” Justin said without hesitation, “and we should all appreciate being able to summon things more than we do. You don't realize how much time you'd spend just getting up to get things, let alone looking around for them, without that.”
Behind him, someone softly mumbled, “Amen.”
“This is going to sound odd,” a young Hufflepuff said, “but I miss magic? There's a kind of willful amazement to believing in magical things, things like unicorns or fairies, when the world around you is completely convinced magic doesn't exist. And for me, at least, when I got my Hogwarts letter I felt so, so, I don't know—”
“Vindicated?” Hermione suggested.
“Yes! Exactly. Vindicated that I was right all along, it's all real, but by now, and it hasn't even been that long, all that stuff is normal. It's hardly even interesting anymore, especially with everything that's happened, and that's sad. On which note, I think we all take for granted how cool it is that we're all freaking wizards.”
After a few other answers—missing delivery pizza and telephones or living down the street from most of their friends and classmates, taking for granted healing and repair charms or flight—Remus stood to answer. “I miss muggle music and music culture, and, on a more serious note, I think that now more than ever we should really appreciate how much less final death is for us as wizards and witches. Through ghosts and portraits we can walk up to and hold conversations with, our moving photographs that we can to some extent interact with, even the echos produced by the Prior Incantatospell, we have ways to keep in touch with those we've lost, to find closure and solace, that our non-magical fellows don't have. As much as those same things can be painful reminders, I think it would be wrong to take them for granted.”
There was soft applause as he sat back down. McGonagall patted his knee once without looking at him.
Later, Blaise Zabini got the talking stick and asked, “Why does it matter if I know any of this? My family is all wizarding, all my friends are pureblood, I've never even wanted to go shopping in muggle London or any of that. Why should I care? It's just muggle stuff, it doesn't have anything to do with me.”
“Do you realize,” Draco drawled from the seat next to him, “that your attitude is exactly why we just had war?”
Zabini glared at him. “It's an honest question.”
“May I, Elizabeth?” Professor Ramsey asked.
Lee nodded. “Be my guest.”
“You should care because of all of them.” Ramsey pointed across the room, clapping Blaise on the shoulder. “This is their lives, and they are your community. They will be your colleagues, the owners of the shops and eateries you'll frequent for the rest of your life, the teachers to whom you'll entrust your children. One of those pretty girls may even be your wife. That's why we should all care. Muggle issues don't just affect them, it affects their families, and we're their families.”
On the other side of the room, Mafalda stood up. “Besides, aren't we friends, Blaise?”
Zabini stared at her.
She shrugged. “I always thought we got along, and we're teammates now, right?” She glanced nervously at some of the many people looking at her and squared her shoulders. “My mum's muggle. And she's brilliant.”
Blaise huffed quietly and shoved the talking stick off onto Draco, who tried to quickly pass it to Luna, but she just blinked placidly at him. “You don't have anything you'd like to ask?”
“Uh, no. And if I think of anything later, I'll ask Hermione.”
Luna's lips twitched into a tiny smile, she took the stick from him, and stood to ask something about muggle pets.
The conversation continued until McGonagall cleared her throat to get Professor Lee's attention and noted, “We're approaching the younger students' curfew, Elizabeth. Best to wrap things up before Mr. Filch gets cross with us for keeping them out of bed.”
“Ah, yes. Of course,” Lee agreed. “If I can have the talking stick back? Thank you, Owen. One last thing before we call it a night: everyone with muggle backgrounds, especially those who live with predominantly muggle families, the head of the Department of Muggle Relations at the Ministry of Magic is asking for thoughts and input on reforming laws regarding Wizarding-Muggle separation. So, if you have anything to suggest or point out about how these laws affect you or could be improved, please write them up and bring them by my office at your earliest convenience.” She smiled warmly and vanished the talking stick. “Thank you all for coming. I hope this opens the door for you to talk more freely about these things amongst yourselves. Have a good weekend.”
As the group dispersed, the two sides of the room converged. Ginny and Hermione caught each other, both frowning,
“Did your dad mention to you about—?”
“No. Nothing from Harry or Ron about it either. I wish someone would have told me earlier, it's going to take agesfor me to write everything down,” Hermione bemoaned.
Neville slung an arm around her shoulders. “Weren't you working with Mr. Weasley's department over the summer, giving suggestions?”
“Well, yes, but—”
Meanwhile, Mafalda rejoined the rest of the Slytherins. Simmons pulled her into an awkward, sideways, walking hug. “You never mentioned to me about your mum!”
“I never mentioned to anyone,” Mafalda said.
“How were you in school last year?” Draco asked, brow furrowed. “If you have a muggle parent, you weren't allowed under You-Know-Who's rules.”
“Well, no, but since attendance was mandatory for everyone else, not coming would have been as good as announcing it,” Mafalda pointed out. “My mum left the country to stay with her parents. If anyone asked, my dad said my mum's a foreign witch. She isforeign,I'm half Swedish, so it checked out.”
“No wonder you were so jumpy last year,” Astoria said softly.
“Yeah,” Mafalda breathed. “I really thought I was gonna die.”
Simmons gave her a squeeze. “Oh, Lexus, I wish I'd known….”
Mafalda shrugged and shook her head. “I couldn't tell you.”
“Remus?” McGonagall asked as the tables set themselves right behind her.
“Hm?” Remus changed direction midstep to turn back to the headmistress.
“Could you come up to my office with me? I have a letter I've been meaning to send to Zonko's, asking them to restrict sales of a few items to underage students, but I having gotten around to mailing it, and I think they may be more likely to heed it if it shows up with an authority figure attached.”
“So, you want me to hand deliver it,” Remus concluded.
“Yes.” She smirked slightly. “Given your loyal patronage of the shop, you seem the natural choice.”