Chapter II: Absurdity
Remus's initial burst of happiness was soon swept away by a wave of anxiety as he came down for breakfast the following morning. Had it been a dream? Was it real? What if Dumbledore had lied to his father just to get away? Remus was sure that Dumbledore was a busy man; after all, being the Headmaster of such a prestigious wizarding school must be a difficult job. And really—who was Dumbledore to ignore the decree of the Ministry of Magic? It was an actual law that forbid werewolves to go to school, not merely a cheap statement that could be thrown out the window like trash.
But his worries proved to be unfounded. As soon as Remus sat down for breakfast with his family, he heard a light tap on the window. His mother and father smiled at him, though he thought he discerned a tenseness in his mother's shoulders that hadn't been there before. Turning around, he saw a ragged barn owl fluttering haphazardly around outside, trying to perch on the windowsill; it was clutching something in its beak. With a glance at his parents, he crossed to the window, unlatched it, and slid it open. He was almost knocked over as the bird flew into his face before landing on the countertop and fluffing up its feathers. Behind him, a chair scraped. He heard a gasp and a soft murmur from his father: "It's all right, Silvia."
With trembling fingers, Remus pulled an envelope from the owl's beak, after which the owl gave a very dignified hoot and departed from the house. Turning the envelope over in his hand, he brought it back to the table. It was made of a rough type of yellow parchment that reminded him of old and dusty books, and there must've been several sheaves of parchment inside as well, judging from its remarkable thickness and heaviness. Written in emerald-green ink was the address:
Mr. R. J. Lupin
12 Ketton Crossing
He broke the seal – made of purple wax and bearing a coat of arms that displayed a lion, an eagle, a badger, and a snake surrounding a large letter H – and, sitting down, pulled the contents out of the envelope.
There were three pages inside, all composed of the same yellow parchment as their covering. He unfolded the topmost one he held, and his eyes were immediately drawn to the elaborate heading that proclaimed proudly, "Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry". The name of the current Headmaster Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore and a list of the wizard's various achievements were printed beneath the title. Remus dragged his eyes away from the words "Supreme Mugwump" to the body of the letter and read:
Dear Mr. Lupin,
It gives us great pleasure to announce that you have been admitted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A list of necessary books and equipment for the year is enclosed, as are directions regarding your monthly transformations. Read over these, especially the latter, carefully. If you have any questions, send them by owl before the start of term.
The school year will begin on September 1. The Hogwarts Express will leave on that day at eleven o'clock from platform nine and three-quarters at King's Cross station in London. Your ticket is enclosed in this envelope.
We eagerly await your arrival.
He blinked and realized that his eyes had teared up while reading the letter. Looking up at his father, he smiled.
As the days passed by and the end of August crept nearer, Remus waited patiently for the chance to accompany his father to Diagon Alley—and when it came, he found that he had got himself into a spot of trouble.
"Come on, Remus! We need to go to Diagon Alley to buy your supplies!"
"Hold on!" Remus shouted from his room. He frantically grabbed a book and flipped through its pages. Not there! Another book, then—but it yielded the same results. Where had he put it? Think, think, think! Where? He had used it as a bookmark (an unfortunate habit of his), but which book?
A novel with a pale cover caught his eye. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien—that was the book! Triumphantly, he snatched it up from where it lay on the floor. It automatically opened to a page, and he seized the envelope and the three letters that he had used as placeholders, shoving them into his pocket as he rushed down the stairs, taking the steps two at a time. He crashed into his father, who had just been about to check up on him, and they both tumbled to the floor.
"Sorry," Remus said, a little out of breath as he picked himself up off the ground. His father did the same and led Remus into the living room.
"No problem. We're traveling by Floo powder," his father explained, gesturing to the lit fireplace. "Here you go," he added, passing a Ziploc bag over to Remus. Remus took a small pinch of the glittering powder from the container, and his father placed it back on top of the mantelpiece. "Now, I'll go first to make sure nothing's wrong. But remember—"
"Speak clearly, close my eyes—Dad, I remember."
His father grinned. "See you on the other side, son," and he threw the powder into the fireplace. Instantly, green flames shot up from the grate. His father stepped into the fire, said, "Diagon Alley!" and disappeared in a whooshing blaze.
Remus was just about to follow when he heard his name being called. Not surprised, he turned.
His mother was leaning against a door casing. "Stay close to your father, all right?"
"Yeah, Mum. I promise." He gave her a reassuring smile. "Don't worry about me. See you soon!" Turning back, he tossed the powder over the grate and stepped gingerly through the flames. They licked at him warmly, but he didn't feel any pain. Opening his mouth, he breathed, "Diagon Alley," tucked in his elbows, determinedly shut his eyes, and braced himself for the ride.
Having traveled by Floo powder before, Remus knew by now exactly what to expect. A slow start, a slow spin, not unlike the graceful twirl of a leaf as it soars through the air. But he swallowed the lump in his throat as the spinning abruptly accelerated—it was as if he'd been caught in a violent whirlwind—his nostrils and throat burned as ash and soot made their way into his orifices—he tried to keep his lunch down—another swallow and the taste of vomit in the back of his throat—spinning, spinning, spinning and—
—blessed stillness. He nearly lost his balance and had to prop himself up against the wall of the fireplace for an instant. Opening his eyes, the shadows of green flames danced in his mind, twisting and flickering and wavering and quivering over a black backdrop as the world darkened. Breathe, he told himself, just breathe. Strong arms reached in and drew him out. He followed them blindly, trusting that they were his father's.
And they were. When the dizziness had faded, Remus saw that his father was watching him with something akin to worry in his eyes. They were standing in a dimly lit yet spacious room with no windows. It was hideously warm though and a haze of smoke hovered above the wooden floor; Remus soon figured out why when he noticed the several fireplaces that lined the walls. Occasionally, green flames would leap up, and a witch or a wizard would march out, brush off his or her robes, and then proceed through an open door at the opposite end of the chamber.
"Remus?" his father said. "Been a long time since you've used the Floo Network, eh?"
Remus managed a nod and coughed. He swore he saw a dark cloud of soot emerge from his mouth. "Yeah. Where are we?"
"One of the more useful rooms in the Leaky Cauldron."
Ah, so they were in the Leaky Cauldron. "But don't we usually use one of the grates directly in Diagon Alley?"
"Yes," his father said grimly, "but with the war going on, the Ministry's closed them all down—said we were to only use the ones here, because it's easier to monitor—also made sure we couldn't Apparate into Diagon Alley—have to go through here too—expect this decree to be overturned sometime later—it's outrageous…"
"Here." His father took a moment to brush off some clinging stains, and then said: "You have your list?"
"Right here." Remus extricated the crumpled letters from his pocket.
"Good, keep them for now. Come with me," and with that, they exited the room and entered a noisy and crowded area with a bar and tables. Witches and wizards pressed against him from all sides, and Remus felt stifled and more than a little helpless in the sea of black robes. Add to that the bad lighting, and he might as well have been blind. His father reached for his hand and tugged him towards the wall, where it was less cramped.
"Maris, fancy seeing you here! A drink?" Peeking between the bodies, Remus saw that the voice had come from the bald bartender behind the bar. He seemed to be missing a few teeth, and some wrinkles were etched lightly across his face.
"Not now, Tom!" his father replied. "Buying supplies for my son!"
"Going to Hogwarts this year, I presume?" Tom said, peering down at Remus with curiosity.
"Yes, he is. But we really must be going or we'll be here 'till the end of the day—if you'll excuse us…" His father gave Tom a bow of the head and dragged Remus towards the back of the pub where there was a line leading out of a door that opened up into a small, walled courtyard. Had it not been for the amount of wizards and witches trying to get into Diagon Alley via this passage, Remus supposed that the courtyard would have been completely deserted excepting a trashcan, a few weeds that poked up through the cement, and some rats. However, as it was, it was almost as packed as the interior of the Leaky Cauldron with some people standing in puddles left over by the rain yesterday.
Normally, one would have to tap a brick somewhere above the trashcan a certain number of times to gain access to the magical street, but today, the gateway to Diagon Alley was already open. And normally, there weren't two wizards flanking the entrance scrutinizing everyone who passed through.
"Roll up your left sleeves, roll them up," one of the wizards was saying loudly. "No, not your right, your left—that arm—your left, not mine—"
"Aurors—that is, Dark Wizard catchers—checking for the Dark Mark," his father said wryly, "though what kind of Dark wizard would openly walk into here, I don't know. The Ministry's getting too paranoid for its own good."
When their turn came, they lifted up their left sleeves and, once cleared (which took some time because one of the wizards was eyeing Remus distrustfully), were ushered hastily through the arched portal onto the famed street of Diagon Alley.
The last time Remus had come here had been a couple months ago. Knowing that Remus was quite prone to becoming bored, his father sporadically took him to Gringotts Wizarding Bank, where he managed the security on a branch of vaults during the day. It honestly was a tedious job, Remus thought, though he had never voiced his opinion to his father. While he accompanied his father on these "trips", he hadn't been allowed to wander around much outside of Gringotts, so he embraced the relative freedom he had now.
Witches and wizards, along with little children, walked through the cobbled street, dodging between strangers as they made their way towards the various shops and cafés that lined the road. There was an atmosphere of business here; he saw coins exchange hands, heard the clink of metal on rock as a nearby witch dropped a silver Sickle. Vendors called out the prices of their wares ("Enchanted candles! You'll never run out! Only fifteen Sickles a pack!") and haggled furiously with customers over supposedly high-priced items. He even glimpsed a young boy stealing into his mother's purse and coming out with a handful of Knuts and Sickles, after which the boy ran off out of sight in the direction of Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. And lording over all the buildings was the snowy white shape of Gringotts Wizarding Bank.
"So, what's first on the list, Remus?"
"Er—" Remus unfolded the sheaf of parchment. "It says I need to get three sets of plain black work robes, a plain black pointed hat, a pair of protective gloves made of dragon hide or something similar, and a black winter cloak with silver fastenings. And then after that, I'll need my books and wand and stuff."
He handed the list to his father, who looked over it critically and then pocketed it, giving Remus a bag of money. "Take that; you'll need it at Hogwarts. And go get fitted at Madam Malkin's. I'll buy some of your things while I'm waiting," and Remus set off for Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions alone, where he was measured and fitted by a thickset witch in lilac robes predictably named Madam Malkin. Remus supposed that she would have looked cheerier had she been less busy; she was fitting no less than five students at the same time, and kept saying under her breath that she would curse her assistant when she next saw him.
"Rubbish! Stuck in St. Mungo's on a day like this! What was he thinking? I'll make him wish…" But Remus never found out what she would make him wish, because Madam Malkin stated that he was done. He quickly paid her and stumbled out of the shop with an armful of clothing, slightly thankful for the fact that he hadn't heard Madam Malkin finish her sentence. St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries was just that—a wizarding hospital—and Remus supposed that anything worse than being stuck in the hospital would be, well, quite nasty.
His father was waiting outside Madam Malkin's with a cauldron, which was already full with a set of brass scales, a telescope, glass phials, and some jarred potions ingredients. Dumping his robes into the cauldron along with the rest of his supplies, Remus and his father stopped by Flourish and Blotts for his course books and Scribbulus Everchanging Inks for his quills, parchment, and ink before heading for the last store.
Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C., read a dusty sign hanging above the shabby doorway. Remus caught himself wondering whether or not the claim made by the sign was true; surely 382 B.C. was way too early?
Entering the shop, it was almost as if someone had plunged the world into darkness. Remus blinked, attempting to adjust his eyes to the low lighting while he listened to a miniature bell going off somewhere in the back. The tinkling sound, however, soon faded away into a thick silence, and he looked around nervously as defined shapes slowly came into view.
The shop was certainly a tiny shop. Though it was largely empty, the hundreds upon hundreds of thin boxes piled neatly up against the walls all the way up to the ceiling gave it a cluttered feel. Remus hugged himself, suddenly aware of a cold draft of air that flowed through the building, and shivered. What if all those boxes should fall? Even wands without an owner could cause quite a heavy bit of damage, he knew.
Abruptly, though, he was jolted out of his thoughts by an old man who emerged from behind a counter. "Good afternoon," Mr. Ollivander said, "and you'll be"—he peered at Remus's father—"Maris Lupin's son! That wand—ten inches, made of alder with a phoenix feather for a core, was it?"
His father smiled. "Haven't lost that good memory yet, have you?"
"Hopefully never will. Wand arm, Mr. Lupin?" he addressed Remus.
"Good, good. Stick it out—" A tape measure leapt up to take measurements of his arm while Mr. Ollivander shuffled to the back of the shop, explaining how no two Ollivander wands were the same and how each wand contained a different core. After examining a variety of boxes, the old man returned to the front with a stack in his frail arms, which he set on the counter. The tape measure slumped to the ground, coiling up like a snake.
"Give this one a try. Nine inches, hazel, dragon heartstring," he said, opening a box and handing Remus a wand. But he immediately snatched the wand away as soon as Remus touched it. "No, no—not that one—this one, then. Twelve inches, rowan, phoenix feather."
As Remus waved it in the air, Mr. Ollivander once again retrieved the wand when nothing happened.
And so the heap of discarded boxes grew until Mr. Ollivander had to go fish for more wands in the back.
"Dad, what's he waiting for?" Remus whispered.
"Anything, really. Remember, it's the wand that chooses the wizard."
A sudden fear seized him. "But maybe it can tell that I'm a—"
"There won't be any of that sort of talk," his father said sternly, cutting him off.
Remus fell silent as Mr. Ollivander came back with another box. The wand chooses the wizard? It could probably tell that he was a werewolf. Anxiety and apprehension crept through him, accompanied by no miniscule amount of despair. He wasn't going after all, he'd be stuck at home doing who knows what all through the school year or he'd be going to a Muggle school…
"Try this one—birch and unicorn hair. Eleven-and-a-half inches. A bit rigid though still slightly resilient."
Remus took the wand wordlessly, resigned to his fate. But when he touched it, a fountain of power welled up from deep within him, and as he brandished it in the air, a brilliant flash of light exploded in the room, as bright as a million stars. Several seconds passed during which he found he could see nothing but white. Eventually, though, the brightness faded, leaving the room in darkness except for the purple and green dots that flitted across his vision.
"Wonderful, though I must say that was a bit intense," Mr. Ollivander said, blinking owlishly. As soon as he could apparently see again, he tugged the wand out of Remus's hand, wrapped it in brown paper, boxed it up, and set it on the countertop.
"There you have it. Seven Galleons," he said, and Remus dug the money out of his bag, placing seven gold coins on the countertop. Mr. Ollivander scooped them up and handed the box to Remus before politely showing them out of his shop.
As they made their way down the street back towards the Leaky Cauldron, his father patted him on the back.
"See? No worries."
"Yeah," Remus mumbled, holding onto the box in his hands as if his life depended on it. The word "Ollivanders" was written on the cover in fancy gold letters, and a picture of a wand shooting out red sparks underlined the word.
Remus was not at all surprised to see that the two wizards who had been guarding the portal earlier had been replaced by two others when they finally reached the brick archway—it had grown late. This time, though, he did not have to endure penetrating glares; the cauldron full of school supplies seemed to clear him of any suspicion, and, one of the Aurors even gave him an encouraging smile. He smiled feebly back.
But when they reached the room with the fireplaces, a sense of unease overcame him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he moved closer to his father, still clutching the box tightly.
Only when he had begun to spin in the fireplace did he realize the source of his discomfort. A lanky man was staring at him and his father from the corner of the room, half-hidden in the shadows.
He swallowed, and then the tornado of green fire swept him away.