DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
All characters in this fic are OC's.
If one gets off the bus in Ottawa at the Laurier stop near the University campus and walks past Tabaret and Hagen Halls, there is a spot at 133-135 Séraphin-Marion which may attract one's attention. At least, if one is a wizard. Given that the building looks to be little more than the University of Ottawa's Academic Hall, most Muggles don't give it a second glance. It's been there as long as anyone can remember. It had a museum in it once. It's a playhouse now. There's nothing much to think of it, really, unless one's out to see a play or visit the Theatre Department's offices.
It's that 'once' that ought to catch the attention. Museums are funny places, all displays and exhibits and carefully arranged cases. Visitors never quite realise how much of the building they're in isn't actually visible- how much is stored in the basement, or behind the doors that say EMPLOYEES ONLY / RÉSERVÉ AUX EMPLOYÉS. Even the ones who do chalk it up to the museum's collection being bigger than they can show all at once, and leave it at that.
In the back of the first floor of 133-135 Séraphin-Marion, there is a staircase that dates to the old museum days. It's locked and fitted with an alarm, considered a defunct fire safety door now, but in the old days... well. You passed through the Zoology collection and into Ornithology, took a right turn at the Great Auk and headed down past the Marine Birds of the Northwest Territories, and waited for passers-by to find somewhere else that they wanted to be. When they'd gone, you placed your hand just on the center of the door and murmured the word; there'd be a click if you got it just right. And when you opened that door, the staircase on the other side didn't lead to the same place it did before.
That's the way into the offices of the Canadian Animagus Registration Board. There are other ways, but that one's simplest, and it works the same way today.
The Animagus Board's secretary, a witch of about nineteen years, stared in almost hypnotized fascination at the wizard waiting. He was a man somewhere close to his fortieth birthday, as far as she could tell, and the kindest word she could think of to describe him was 'horse-faced'. He'd been dealt more than his share of the undesirable cards in the Great Deck of Physical Traits: a long, overly boney face, a nose half again the size you could consider reasonably attractive, wind-weathered freckled skin, and thick, shaggy brown-black hair. The hair, at least, might've been attractive if it hadn't kept falling into his eyes. Then again, the eyes were no great prize either in her book- too dark, too deep-set, like something out of a Muggle museum on the ancestors of Man.
It wasn't his looks that had her attention, though. It wasn't even his robes, which looked like the set her father had brought home from Iqaluit as a souvenir. It was what he did with his hands. He had some kind of a stick-and-wheel contraption, balanced almost like a child's top, around which he'd tied some kind of soft brown yarn. With one hand he periodically took a bit of brownish fluff from a bag and pinched it against the yarn; with the other, he set the stick-and-wheel thing to spinning, the stick's long part dangling from the yarn as the wheel spun perpendicular to the floor. His movements were rhythmic, lulling. It took her some time to realise that every time he reached for more of the fluff, the yarn had grown a bit longer.
As he pulled up the contraption and began winding the yarn carefully into a tighter bundle, the young woman ventured to ask, "What's that you're doing, eh?"
The wizard looked up with a faint smile. "Spinning," he said mildly. "I'm making yarn."
"What- you mean, for knitting?"
He nodded, hair falling in his eyes again. With a small sigh he put the yarn aside and reached up to make an unsuccessful stab at straightening his hair.
Something about his appearance gave the young woman pause. He had an English name, true, but he looked awfully rural, and the envelope with his name on it had borne a Firekeeper Service stamp from the Nunavut division. "You know you can buy yarn down here, right?" she asked tentatively.
The man chuckled quietly. "I know," he said, giving up on his hair and reaching for the yarn again. "But I had the wool, and it's really not that hard to spin it myself."
"But- by hand?" Somehow that just struck the witch as wrong. "Without magic?"
The man shrugged. "Magic doesn't keep the hands busy," he said. "Spinning passes the time better than waving a wand at a pile of roving ever could."
She eyed him skeptically. "But- don't you have other things you could be doing instead?"
That drew a laugh more like a snort in nature. "I'm waiting for my appointment with the Animagus Registration Board," he said. "I've already read today's Morning Mirror four times-"
"I mean-" She flushed. "You had to learn that sometime, right? Isn't it awfully boring?"
He fixed her with a look, the expression in those overly dark eyes almost unreadable. Eventually, he said, "Miss, I'm stationed at Ellesmere. You don't know what boring is until you've spent a fortnight Apparating between the Firekeeper's house and the actual Fire because the snow's closed all your doors. There's really nothing else at all to do, some of those nights."
She felt her cheeks flushing even redder in embarrassment. Behind her she heard a click.
"Send Mr. Lyon in, please," came the voice of her boss. The wizard in front of her rose to his feet.
"Thank you, Miss," he said politely, "but I think I can take it from here."
The examiner shook his head. "You are a marvel, Mr. Lyon," said the old wizard slowly. "An absolute marvel."
"Thank you, sir."
"That wasn't meant as a compliment."
"Learning the Animagus transformation is a long and complicated process. Given your position as the sole Keeper for the Floo network fire on Ellesmere Island, the pursuit of such a potentially dangerous path does not speak well for you. I'm half inclined to have you reprimanded for dereliction of duty. If you didn't have such a sterling performance record, I'd be Owling Mr. Maynard in Hull right now to have your commission pulled."
"I know, sir."
"Do you. Really." The old wizard leaned back in his chair; it creaked. "Then perhaps you could explain why-"
"Well, sir," said Lyon, "it's not as if Ellesmere duty is exactly what you'd call exciting-"
The other examiner, a dark-eyed witch with robes of muted red and blue, covered her mouth with one hand. It didn't stop the smile from reaching her eyes. The old wizard sighed. "Excitement," he said, "is not something a man in your position ought to be pursuing."
"Maybe that wasn't the best choice of word," Lyon conceded. He ducked his head, pushing his shaggy brown hair back from his face. "'Novelty', maybe. Or 'something to do'."
"You do have a job to do. Even when the Fire isn't active, you're still on duty."
"I know, sir, but that kind of duty only carries you for so long. After a few months in the winter darkness, you have to find something more or go mad. How many times am I supposed to inventory the Fire additives and refill the wood-bin, eh?"
"Reading is generally considered an appropriate pastime," said the wizard dryly.
"Don't be stupid, Flaster," said the witch. "How many books can a man bring with him at once? Besides, books are heavy. He'd be spending all his salary on Owl Post fees if he tried to get any new ones."
Lyon nodded gratefully. "She's right, sir," he said. "Studying's all well and good, but I've been Keeper at Ellesmere for the last two and a half years. There's only so much studying you can do before it gets to you."
"Mmm." That was Flaster, peering over his spectacles at the younger man; but it was the witch who was leaning forward now, eyes alight with interest.
"And so you decided to pursue other studies?" she asked, canting her head slightly.
Lyon nodded. "The idea of becoming an Animagus didn't occur to me at first," he admitted. "It's not as if I brought any books on Transformative magics up to Ellesmere with me, beyond that one chapter in A Wizard's Guide to the Great White North. It's just that most of the time, the only company I have at the Firekeeper's house are the Inuit, and several of their wizards are registered Animagi."
"Peter Arnatsiaq and Madeline Qulitalik. Yes, we know." Flaster again.
"Right. I saw Mr. Arnatsiaq out hunting as a wolf one morning, when the Fire was temporarily closed, and it occurred to me that I'd have a much easier time keeping the pantry stocked if I could get food without having to send away for it. I didn't want to have to walk a trap-line every day, since that would take me too far away from the Fire, but Mr. Arnatsiaq said he got along pretty well on mice and bird eggs. And Miss Qulitalik's snow goose shape does her pretty well when the rest of her people are having a bad season."
The witch nodded thoughtfully. Flaster tapped one long, bony forefinger against his chin. "So you thought..."
"I thought it might be worth a try."
Flaster nodded. "There are many animals unsuited to life on Ellesmere, though," he said. "What if your Animagus form had turned out to be one of them, eh?"
"Oh, I was pretty sure it wouldn't."
"How did you come to that conclusion?"
Lyon shrugged. "Everyone's always said I belong up North. I was never really happy when I lived in Regina," he added quietly. "Or anywhere in Saskatchewan, for that matter. Too built-up."
"Saskatchewan." Flaster ruffled through his papers. "Says here you were a Firekeeper there for six months."
"Your nearest neighbours were on a First Nations reserve."
"And it was still too built-up?"
"It's why I took the transfer to Ellesmere, sir."
Flaster shook his head; the witch coughed lightly. "Back to the relevant questions," she said. "You thought you'd achieve a suitable form?"
"Something like that, ma'am." said Lyon politely. "All I know is, Ellesmere was the first place where I really felt like I was home. That had to mean something, I figured."
Even Flaster seemed to accept this. "All right," said the witch. "When did you ask the other Animagi on the island to teach you?"
"Oh, I didn't."
"I didn't ask," Lyon repeated. "They're busy people, and I had all that time on my hands. All I really did was ask them how they did what they did, and if I could watch them once or twice."
"You learned to transform yourself into an animal by a couple of questions and watching once or twice?" asked the witch. For his part, Flaster said nothing. The incredulous look in his eyes did all the speaking for him.
"It did take me nearly two years."
The wizard shook his head; the dark-eyed witch let out a little whistle that might've been admiration. "That's very dangerous," she said. "You could've permanently harmed yourself that way. There's all kinds of hazards on the way to becoming an Animagus."
"I know." Lyon ducked his head sheepishly. "Once, early on, I got myself to change a little bit, and then I couldn't change it back."
"What do you mean, 'a little bit'?" asked the witch.
"Um... I grew hair."
"Hair," repeated the witch.
"Yes. Lots of hair."
"What, on your-"
"I mean all over." Lyon looked up, ears reddening with embarrassment.
Flaster chuckled. "That must've been something to see," he said. "Given what your application says. Guard hairs only, or did you get an undercoat, too?"
"Both," said Lyon. "I spent a week sweltering before I finally shed the last of it."
"What did you do with it all?" asked the witch, who looked to be bursting with curiosity.
Lyon's ears reddened even further. "Well..." He reached into his robes and pulled out the spindle, wound all about with soft, fuzzy brown yarn. "I didn't want it to go to waste, and I wasn't about to try and change again for a while. Wizards and Muggles alike are willing to pay an awful lot of money for Northern fibers, so I thought I should do something with it."
The witch stared. "Are you saying- that's your-"
"Yes, ma'am. One hundred per cent."
She wrinkled her nose. "Eeew," she said in a very small voice.
Flaster laughed. "Seems practical enough to me, Wilma," he said. "All right, Mr. Lyon. I assume you eventually resumed your studies? One human body's worth of hair wouldn't take that long to spin, from what I've heard."
"No, it wouldn't, and yes, I did." He tucked the spindle away again. "I achieved the full transformation for the first time two months ago. It's taken me this long to get to the point where I can sleep through the night in animal shape and not wake up human. That's when I decided it was time to get registered."
"You really should've filed for it two months ago." Flaster glanced down at his papers. "Nevertheless, I think we can overlook that, since you contacted us voluntarily. All right, Mr. Lyon. Let's have a look at you."
Lyon nodded, coming to his feet and shrugging off his outer robes. He wore practical, if staggeringly plain, Muggle clothing underneath- faded, worn, grey, and several years out of fashion by anyone's lights. "I could change in the robes, too," he said, "but it takes a week to get all the loose hairs out when I change back."
"You are aware that a simple Scourgification will take care of the problem?"
"Oh." Lyon frowned a bit. "I'd forgotten, actually."
"You forgot how to-"
"No, no, I know the spell, but I'd forgotten you could use it for that." He gave a sheepish little smile. "It takes me a while to get used to having fingers again when I change back, you see, so I felt I'd better do as much as I could by hand-"
"So that you remembered your fingers faster," Wilma finished.
"Right you are, ma'am."
Flaster gave her a meaningful look. Wilma sighed. "We get the idea, Mr. Lyon. Very practical. Now get on with it."
With a faint sigh, Lyon closed his eyes. Nothing happened at first. An atmosphere of anticipation settled over the room; just as Flaster drew breath to speak, the air around the grey-clad man began to subtly shimmer. A look of intense concentration crossed his rough features, and his deep-set eyes grew even darker. Both his hands tensed, balling up into painfully tight fists. The line of his shoulders started to curve into an awkward-looking hunch.
"Mr. Lyon," said Wilma, "is something- oh!"
In the space between one breath and the next, a wave of distortion had swept over the man and left a different shape behind. Dark brown (nearly black), hump-backed, so thickly furred that Flaster's shoulders dampened with sweat just thinking about it, the musk-ox looked up at the two examiners and flicked its tail.
"Mr. Lyon?" ventured Wilma. "Ah- is that- that's you, right?"
The beast's head dipped, heavy-bossed horns falling and rising in a patently unnatural nod. My God, thought Flaster, he's still got the same eyes.
"Oh good," said the witch, leaning forward and peering at him. "Er- turn around, please? If you would?"
The musk-ox snorted, an almost laughter-like sound, and paced in as small a circle as a beast its size could manage. When it came to face the two examiners again, it tucked one foreleg up and sank down, effectively bowing.
"Very... er... yes." Flaster adjusted his spectacles. "All right, we get the picture. Now demonstrate the change back, please. We've got a few more questions to go over before we can conduct your marking survey."
The door closed behind Lyon as he walked out of the room on two legs, his robes tucked under one arm. Flaster leaned back in his seat and slipped both his hands under his spectacles. "What a peculiar young man," he murmured, rubbing his eyes.
"I'll say," Wilma answered. "This just goes to show what Jack Maynard's been saying all along."
"About reforming the Fire Service to take some of the load off the Keepers in the far north."
"Oh yes." Flaster sighed, dropping his hands. "I don't know what to say, Wilma. We can't exactly go around drafting young witches and wizards to tend the fires up there, can we? It's not as if we're at war right now."
"No, we're not." She was tapping her wand against her teeth as she examined the sheaf of notes she'd taken. It was a habit of hers that always made him wince. "But if this is what you get with voluntary Firekeeper recruitment-"
"Wilma, you were the one defending him. Anyone who has to stay at Ellesmere for that long is going to start getting strange ideas. Imagine what'd happen if the Keeper was up there against his will. He'd be able to cause a lot more trouble than just learning how to turn himself into a musk-ox."
"Yes," said Wilma, "I know. But you have to admit our Mr. Lyon was starting to get a lot more peculiar than is healthy."
"Oh, I don't deny that in the slightest."
She nodded. "And that was someone suited to the task, who wanted his post... you heard him, Flaster. Forgetting the basic uses of Scourgify, spinning his own animal-form hair into yarn, learning to eat grass because he didn't want to bother anyone... the job was getting to him and you know it."
"I suppose. But what are we supposed to do about it?"
She tapped the paper with her wand, frowning a bit. "We write to Hull," she said at last. "Our man John hasn't done anything wrong, per se, so we can't reprimand him- but I believe we're within our rights to recommend him for a temporary change of duty. Just for long enough to shake off the worst of the habits he's picked up."
Flaster stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Something with more human contact?"
"I think so." She set her wand down at last, and Flaster relaxed. "Recruiting, maybe."
"Among adults? There's not enough students at Champlain Academy for it to be worth his or Maynard's while."
"No... no, you're right. But we do have a mutual assistance agreement with other Commonwealth countries when it comes to matters of international travel, and that's pretty much all that Ellesmere is ever used for, isn't it?" She was smiling, for some reason.
"Other- wait-" Flaster's brows beetled as he tried to think. "You're not suggesting we ask Maynard to send that poor man overseas!"
"Why not? The British Ministry owes us a favour or twelve. And it'd snap him back into human society fast enough."
"That's a terrible thing to do to a man, you know. After all that isolation-"
"He learned to adapt to Ellesmere, Flaster," said Wilma as she straightened the papers out. "He'll adapt to this, too."