A/N: This went in a whole bunch of different directions before it ended up where it is now. Hopefully it was worth the effort. Melanie Brit-picked and con-crited the living daylights out of this fic, for which I am extraordinarily thankful, and I hope she will consider coming back for a second (and maybe third?) round. All remaining errors (and there probably are a fair few) are entirely my own. Please call attention to them by using the "review" button. Please use the review button even if you don't see errors. I realize I've probably taken liberties with Remus and Minerva's ages as well as other aspects of the cannon. So sorry, JK.
That last comment probably made it clear that I own nothing.
This is dedicated to Sasha (without whom this story would still be in its already two-year-long development a.k.a. passing thought phase) and, of course, Melanie. Much love.
End of an Era
Thunder Moon: The Potion
"Sir?" Severus Snape was unusually tentative. He had not been quite so nervous when approaching the Headmaster since he was a seventh-year Slytherin prefect.
Dumbledore didn't look up from the work on his desk. "Severus, I am quite busy now, what with term just ending. Is this terribly important?"
"Sir, I think it'll work."
The Headmaster set down his quill and looked at the younger professor. "It is a common misconception among the students that I am omniscient."
"My potion. The one I've been working on for the past three years." Severus paused to confirm that Dumbledore did in fact know which potion. "I was able to isolate the chemical that causes the curse and neutralize it with a rather complex combination of ingredients." He paused again, hoping Dumbledore would bring up the subject around which he had been dancing for fear of seeming over-eager, but Dumbledore waited for him. "You said that you would contact a subject for me when I had a testable formula."
Dumbledore nodded and threw a handful of floo powder into the fireplace. "Minerva's rooms," he said, sticking his head into the fire. Severus was disappointed to realize that he couldn't hear what Dumbledore said to Minerva McGonagall.
When Dumbledore pulled his head out of the flames he looked very serious, but—Severus wasn't sure if he was imagining this—a little excited as well.
"You know better by now, of course, than to joke about something of this . . . importance to another man's life."
"He will be the test subject then?"
The Headmaster nodded. "I know of no other willing to come to Britain with Ministry law as tight as it is. I know of no other who would be allowed into Britain, although surely there must be others about whom the Ministry has no knowledge."
"I didn't make the potion for him and I see no reason why I should damage my own integrity or the integrity of my work for the sake of a childish prank."
"Good." Dumbledore had a soft smile on his lips, so small that it was almost entirely hidden by his beard. The smile widened slightly when Professor McGonagall poked her head in the door to his office. "Very good."
Professor Minerva McGonagall checks the clock on the wall. The hand is not yet pointing toDismissal, but it is edging close.
"Alright. I suppose you can leave a few minutes early." The classroom explodes with the sound of chairs scraping against the floor and the rustle of parchments shoved roughly in satchels. "Mr. Lupin," she calls over the din, "would you please stay for a moment?"
Sirius Black gives Remus a playful shove and James Potter and Peter Pettigrew are making catcalls over their shoulders on the way out. Minerva has come to expect this from the senior students over the past few years. She is a young teacher, and not entirely unattractive. She has learned to carefully watch every word she says for possible innuendo, because if it's there, teenage boys will find it.
Remus stands very still in the center of the classroom, watching her as she tidies her desk. "You wanted to see me?" He is a slight boy with scruffy hair that always falls in his eyes and a perpetual hint of five o'clock shadow—or so it seems, but she rarely sees him outside their afternoon lessons.
"Ah—yes." She sits on the edge of her desk. "As the head of your house, Dumbledore asked me to talk to you about your plans for the next year. Of course, you will no longer be legally obligated to continue your formal education."
His face falls. "Are you saying I can't come back?"
"Oh, no." Minerva tries to be reassuring. "Of course you can come back. I hope you will." She is wondering if that sounded too personal. "There's not much you can do with only O.W.L. certifications. But the Ministry will no longer consider you a juvenile, so they can no longer enforce your education. I, however, would hate to see a young man of your talent and intelligence fail to further his academic career."
Remus looks horrified. "With all due respect, Professor, do you honestly believe I would leave Hogwarts after I spent so long trying to be integrated into the regular school system?"
"I was hoping not, and I'm glad to see that I won't be disappointed."
"Was that all?" he asks.
"Actually," she begins and then falters. "I wanted to know if you were interested in taking N.E.W.T. level Transfiguration."
Minerva can see that she has his interest.
"I was considering it."
"If you do want to take the class, I would prefer you to take it in private lessons from Professor Dumbledore," she says.
"The present curriculum focuses heavily on both voluntary and involuntary human transfigurations as well as transfiguratory curses. It might be easier if you didn't have to . . ." She grasps for words. "If you didn't have to hide your previous experience from your classmates."
"I don't want special treatment."
"This isn't special treatment. This would be for your own protection."
He's quiet for a moment and then says softly, "Will you teach my lessons? I can't imagine spending so much time alone with the Headmaster."
She smiles at him encouragingly. "We'll try to work something out."
The weather was wet and hot, and so was Remus Lupin. He waited at the corner, over-large trousers hanging low on his narrow hips and an old thin shirt clinging damply to his skin, making him seem even thinner than usual. Yellow light from the street lamp shied away from his eyes and the hollows beneath his cheekbones, choosing instead to highlight the forward plains of his face, giving him the skeletal look of malnourished wolf.
He wore cheap headphones with the wiring exposed at several points along cord attached to the clip-on Muggle radio hanging off his belt loop. There was a battered leather case wrapped in twine next to his feet that had once borne the words Professor R. J. Lupin in gold leaf. The case itself was a fond memory—a joking gift from a friend upon being hired for his first short-lived teaching job—but the letters had long since faded.
Remus was adjusting his headphones when a damp tabby cat rubbed against his leg. He looked down. It looked up. It walked away, and, turning off the radio, he followed the cat as it led him to a guesthouse.
The cat stopped outside a door, which opened on to a common patio on the back of the building. It meowed and scratched its collar until the snap came loose. There was a sliding key-card on the collar, which Remus used to let himself—and the cat—into the room.
He closed the door behind them, drew the drapes, and when he turned around, he faced a dark-haired, bespectacled woman with the look of a severe academic.
He nodded to her. "Professor."
"Remus, please, my name is Minerva. I haven't been your teacher for thirty years. I'm only—what?—seven years older than you."
"Five," he said. "I started Hogwarts when I was thirteen. Legal complications. You know that. A lot of things happened at Hogwarts that weren't supposed to happen—and that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been an seventeen-year-old fifth-year."
"Think you could use another contraction?" she asked. He was the only one who ever laughed at her jokes. But he didn't laugh. She didn't either. They both sat down, she in a chair, and he on the far side of the double bed facing away from the window.
"I want to be professional this time."
She shook her head dismissively. "The other times were nothing. We were young; it was stupid. The two go hand in hand—"
"We were both of age and we both knew it was wrong." He paused and fiddled with the alarm clock on the bedside table. "And what about the second time? Thirty-five and forty—just kids, right?"
"Can you leave the past where it belongs?" she snapped. "I want to be professional this time around just as much as you do, but you're making it damn hard." She stopped short, blushing and dangerously near to losing her carefully maintained composure. "That wasn't what I meant to say."
"If you really wanted to keep this professional, you would have asked Dumbledore or Snape to come."
Minerva stood and began pacing in front of Remus. "Severus was far too busy with finishing touches, and Albus . . ." A pause in her pacing matched the hesitation in her voice. "Professor Dumbledore was rather insistent in saying that he wanted me to tell you about the potion."
His head had been tilted down, but his eyes had followed her back and forth as though he was watching a tennis match. Now he looked sharply up and grabbed her arm, startling her.
"Tell me then. Why did they call me back to Britain?"
"Severus thinks it will work." She pulled away, but then sat down on the bed next to him. "Of course he hasn't had a test subject, so there's no guarantee. He thinks—three months of the medication. Each dose will lessen the symptoms. He guesses that the first two will have effects similar to the Wolfsbane Potion. The final dose will cure entirely."
"All he needs now is a guinea wolf."
"Summertime is ideal. He can maintain a controlled environment at Hogwarts. No students." She thought for a moment before trying a less clinical approach. "You're the only British werewolf the Ministry know about—the only one who hasn't been lynched. If this cures someone who's lived with the curse for forty years—it might just be the greatest medical discovery in magical history."
Remus walked around over to the drapes and pulled them back to look at the bleak car park outside. "And if it doesn't? What will happen if I'm not cured? The Ministry won't just let me stay in Britain, will they? Will I have to leave—again?"
Minerva reached across the bed and rested a hand on his shoulder. "Severus assured me that he is very confident in the potion."
"Damn confidence. What will happen to me if the Ministry knows I'm in Britain and I don't stop transforming?"
He could see her breasts rising as she took a deep breath and chided himself for noticing. "You'll probably be incarcerated for further testing."
"That's all I wanted to know." He looked at the lone bed settled deep into the carpet. "Does one of us have other sleeping arrangements for the night?"
She nodded. "Of course. I'll be going back to Hogwarts. If you decide to participate, we'll make arrangements for you in proper wizard lodgings." Minerva stood and straightened her robes. "Think about it. Please."
She Disapparated and he was alone in the room, clutching the radio and the cat collar with the key still fastened to it. The room was filled with her scent all night.
Remus meets Minerva in her office after dinner. Her usually tidy hair is falling out of her bun and clinging to her neck. She isn't teaching any more classes today, so she hasn't bothered reapplying the charm she uses to keep it in place.
"What did you want to do today?" she asks. That's a broad question. It could encompass any number of things. She meant to ask what he wanted to work on, but the phrasing was botched.
He lets that slip by and shrugs. "You said that you thought I could pass the N.E.W.T. as a sixth year, or . . . well, maybe anyway, right?"
"You've been doing N.E.W.T. level work all year. You're the only fifth year student I have who has been working at that level."
"What about James and Sirius?" Remus asks, not quite believing.
"Oh, there's no doubt they have the ability," she assures him. "James in particular, I'm sure, has more raw talent than I'll ever have. But talent is nothing without the inclination to apply it."
"They apply it."
Minerva smiles. "Transfiguring quills into roses for their adoring fan-club of vapid eye-candy is not exactly what I'm talking about."
He laughs. He has a nice laugh. She's sure she's heard it before, but no doubt it was during class, and she probably took points from Gryffindor for it.
He goes silent for a moment and then asks, "Could I graduate early, do you think? I mean, I would still be one year behind, but at least I wouldn't be here when I'm twenty."
"With your Potions scores, I'm afraid not. But I think we can manage to give you a lighter class load for seventh year. You won't miss as much when you're sick." She tries to make it sound as normal as she can.
He seems to take no notice of her efforts. "It's something, I suppose," he says and sighs.
"I know it's not what you wanted."
"I should be graduating this year," he tells her. "I'm older than half the seventh years."
"You're more mature than most of them as well." Remus smiles a little and looks up at Minerva as she continues. "You may room and study with fifth-years and you may be friends with fifteen-year-olds—more so than with those of your own age—but you still act seventeen. Like an adult. It doesn't matter what year you're in at school. That doesn't change who you are."
"Saccharine," he says. His smile has spread. "But I appreciate the sentiment."
Their meeting had been oddly sterile. He wasn't sure how to read her anymore. Or maybe there was nothing there he was meant to read. It had taken a year before their relationship had first crossed the proverbial line of appropriate behavior. Almost twenty years later they had been entirely detached for a full seven months. Three months shouldn't be such a stretch for two professional adults.
Remus approached the guesthouse's front desk. There was a boy of perhaps twenty-three working the counter. The only sound in the small lobby at this early hour was his tapping on the keyboard. The boy looked up when he noticed Remus.
"Can I help you?"
"I . . . yes." Remus fumbled to pull the key-card off the cat collar. The boy watched him with amusement. "I would like to return my room-key."
The boy nodded and took the key from him. He scanned it, hit a few buttons and smiled in the less-than-genuine coached way that shop assistants and doctor-office nurses do. "The bill has been taken care of. Have a nice day, Mr. Fawkes."
Remus paused at the name and gave a little smile. "Thank you," he said. He nodded to the boy and left.
He fiddled with the buttons on the radio, which he had charmed to pick up the Wizarding Wireless Network. It was as he walked, adjusting the volume as best he could with the cheap plastic knob, that he realized he was back on the street. He had spent a good part of his life on the street, and it wasn't an experience he wished to repeat. He couldn't hold down a job for long and most of his close friends were dead or as good as. Anti-werewolf legislation had started to gain momentum about fifty years earlier—Remus himself was only forty-six years old. Forty years, almost exactly, since he had been bitten, since he became a social pariah, and still the scar on his shoulder, creeping up near his neck, threatening to show above his collar—still it was pale and luminescent under a waxing gibbous moon.
He thought there was nothing that could bring him back to Britain. For years he had lived in London off and on. He was a beneficiary of the Ministry's don't-ask-don't-tell policy toward werewolves as a young boy. His family had had to notify Dumbledore before he could go to Hogwarts, but the Ministry was only minimally involved in Hogwarts administration. Remus was prevented from entering the school with other witches and wizards of his age because it took several years to obtain a Whomping Willow and build a tunnel to the Shrieking Shack, a place whose reputation would protect him from discovery. Purely safety issues, legalities to protect the school should parents find out about his condition and claim that their children had been in danger. As it was, even that wasn't quiet enough. Shortly after the Snape incident, anonymous parents had contacted the governors and Remus had spent a tense month up for expulsion.
The lynching of known werewolves—and the way that the Ministry didn't openly condone such practices but never condemned them either—and the growing prevalence of anti-werewolf legislation had led him to flee several years after to end of the Second Voldemort War. He wandered through Romania and Russia where registration laws were not as strict. He came close to forgetting about Peter and James and Sirius. Most of all, he wanted to forget Peter. And he almost did. Then the owl came.
He didn't know how it found him. Owls were like that. The message was an oblique reference to his wildest dream. Severus perfected Wolfsbane—ultimately. Second chance starts now. Meet at our corner, fortnight from Tuesday. It was unsigned, but he would know Minerva's handwriting in Mandarin Chinese. And if anyone else could make a reference to the corner, then he had bigger problems than he imagined.
As he saw it, he had two options. He could leave his home, never look back, spend the rest of his life wandering through Europe, evading various governments that might or might not find out what he was at any time. Or he could subject himself to Snape's Wolfsbane, which might work and might not. Either way, the latter option offered him three months with a very close, very old friend. He was still debating whether or not that was a good thing.
[end chapter 1]