Het big bang and real life swallowed up everything for a long time, especially my inspiration for the end of this chapter. I finally found a little time and inspiration to finish it, and I hope that I have a couple more chapters up over Christmas break.
By the next day, the intense red had faded back to its normal pale pink and the scar had stopped giving off the overwhelming heat that had poured off it after Remus had shaken Linkin's hand. Tonks had wanted him to visit the hospital wing, so that Madame Pomfrey could at least inspect it and make sure nothing was wrong with it. But when he showed her the next day that it was back to normal, not even she could come up with a good argument for it. No one else had seemed to notice really, or at least, Remus thought no one else had noticed, until Professor Armistead called out to him as the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs filed out of the Defense classroom Monday.
"Remus, can I see you for a moment? It won't take long," he said, and Remus told Tonks and Adam to continue on to lunch without him before heading back up towards Armistead's desk, racking his brain for anything he could have done to be in trouble.
"You're not in trouble," Armistead said with a smile at the look on Remus's face. "I've seen that look before," he continued in answer to another one of Remus's unasked questions, "It's pretty much required material for teachers."
He indicated the chair he'd moved around in front of the desk, and once Remus had sat, studied him intently with silver eyes before speaking, "What was the business with you and Linkin at the ceremony yesterday? He's never been particularly happy about having to participate, but he looked down right angry yesterday to have to shake your hand. And you pulled away like you'd been burned as soon as he touched you, and I couldn't help but notice that your scar was even more, well, noticeable than usual immediately afterwards. You get on his bad side somehow?"
Remus squirmed for a second, his left hand once again reaching instinctively for the scar, before answering, "It hurt when I shook his hand, just around my scar, just for a second, but it hurt a lot. I don't know why it did that, except," and he paused, again feeling ridiculous, but Armistead raised an eyebrow at him and Remus continued, "There was something strange about his eyes. The centers were pale blue, but around the outside there was a darker ring, kind of green-brown. Sort of like, well, they were like Greyback's almost. And his teeth weren't normal either. Too sharp. I don't know what any of this has to do with my scar acting up, but it struck me as strange, I guess."
"Hmm," said Armistead before glancing down at the book sitting open on his desk. Remus waited for a moment in the silence as the professor read, before scooting forward in his chair a little and asking, "What's that, sir?"
Armistead looked up, and studied him for a second before he answered, turning the book for Remus to read, "I'm sure you've read about the recent robberies, the centaur ashes?" Remus nodded as he noticed the small stack of papers that had been sitting under the book. There'd been three additional robberies since the Halloween one, two from private apothecaries and another from a mid-level security vault at Gringotts, and TheDailyProphetseemed to now include almost daily updates on the search, if 'No new information has been discovered, and the authorities remain baffled' could count as an update.
"After the last robbery a few weeks ago, I remembered something I read a long time ago, must have been about my third year at school, in a book about rare healing methods based around magical creatures and so I went searching through my collection for it, and, lo and behold, there it was," he said, leaning forward slightly to point out the paragraph in question.
Remus read silently: Centaur ashes, while having several uses in some of the more complicated potions known to wizarding kind, have very little use in the medical field. One of the few known uses is in the healing of wounds caused by chemical or acidic substances, usually large burns. The ashes should be spread as thickly and evenly as possible on a large piece of granite roughly square and larger than a person's torso, so that the ashes cover the stone completely. When burned, the ashes produce a rather putrid smoke, which the injured person inhales. Several hours later, most of their injuries should have disappeared. The ashes are extremely rare, due to the longevity of centaurs and their natural avoidance of all humans. After potions masters and apothecary owners, the biggest demographic seeking centaur ashes are werewolves, seeking relief from silver burns. To be most effective against those, the ashes should be burned on moonstone, rather than granite.
Remus looked up from the book with a tightness in his chest, with werewolves, seeking relief from silver burns bouncing around his head, drowning out all other thought, to find Armistead studying him over his folded hands. Wordlessly, he handed the book back to the professor, who glanced over the paragraph himself before closing the book, using the stack of papers to mark his place.
"I know that Mr. Linkin suffered a severe injury to his spinal cord when he was younger, which is the cause of his stoop, but I don't know much more than that. I do know that he checked this book out of the library at the end of last year and never returned it. Madame Pince is rather forthcoming with information when it comes to late library books. I have a feeling she now expects me to personally hunt him down and demand he return it," said Armistead, giving a small smile at the joke, but obviously sensing Remus's anxiety. "When you reacted so negatively to his handshake, I began to wonder."
"Do you think he could have really pulled off all these robberies?" asked Remus, staring at the closed book rather than making eye contact with Professor Armistead, thinking of Linkin's obvious stoop, his slow shuffling walk, and couldn't picture him possibly getting anywhere near the entrance of Gringotts, much less into two mid-level security vaults without someone noticing.
"I don't know. Perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions. But your reaction to him yesterday, what happened to your scar, that can't be nothing, Remus. Please, don't ignore it if anything else happens between the two of you. I didn't like the smile he had after shaking your hand yesterday."
Remus nodded numbly, and Armistead stood, smiling and moving the book on to a small table behind his desk, "Well, I suppose we should be heading down for lunch. I'm sure you're hungry, and I know I am. Congratulations again on your victory yesterday, by the way. I remember how amazing it felt, like electricity. Remus?" he finished, when he noticed that the boy walking next to him wasn't paying attention.
"What? Oh, sorry, I just… I was thinking about, about Greyback. You don't think that he could, he could get a hold of centaur ashes?"
Armistead stopped just short of the staircase, surprised, "I hadn't thought of that. I suppose with your history, that particular sentence jumped out at you. I have no reason to suspect that Greyback is involved, but it could be possible. Do you have any reason to believe he's involved?"
Remus shook his head. "No. I guess it's just an automatic reaction. Sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry about. Very understandable, considering the circumstances. But Remus, please do keep me updated on the situation with Linkin. It may have just been coincidence, but I'd rather be cautious than brush it off as nothing. Did you go to see Madame Pomfrey yesterday? To have that looked at?"
"No. Once it went away, I didn't see any reason to. Tonks wanted me to," he said, and Armistead laughed.
"I think Tonks may have a point. If it happens again, I would most definitely recommend a visit to the Hospital Wing, as a precautionary measure, in the least. And again, anything that happens with Linkin that you notice, let me know. I've alerted Professor Dumbledore to my suspicions, but he knows more about Linkin's situation than I do and doesn't seem inclined to suspect him of the thefts. I did not tell him of your encounter with Linkin yesterday. Have there been any other incidents?" Something nagged at the back of Remus's mind, but, unable to put a finger on the feeling, he shook his head.
"Well, I'm glad we talked," said the professor as they approached The Great Hall after a long few minutes of silence, Remus lost in thought, trying to track down the memory that eluded him.
"Uh, yeah," said Remus, jerking away from his thoughts before waving a quick good-bye to Armistead and heading off to find Tonks and Adam.
November passed quickly into December. At the Slytherin-Hufflepuff Quidditch match, Kurt Davide showed off his amazing flying and Gary Sharpeton showed off his own awesome chanting skills in a big win, and anticipation for their match against Gryffindor grew. But nothing could match the anticipation of Christmas break that flooded the castle in the weeks following the match.
Remus hadn't had any further encounters with Linkin since The Race ceremony, but he was still relieved when it came time to board the train bound for Kings Cross Station a week before Christmas. The castle had felt stifling and cramped as he tried to avoid running into the caretaker, and despite the frigid December temperature and the snow that covered the grounds in a silent blanket, Remus had often fled outside to walk the shoreline of the frozen lake when it had become simply too much, tucked deeply into his cloak and scarf. Tonks and Adam trailed after him, Adam complaining about the cold loudly and Tonks rolling her eyes at the pair of them.
The train sped through the quiet, snow-covered countryside, and Remus had settled into a corner of the compartment the three Gryffindors had secured for themselves and watched as the other two played chess. Neither of them had any real talent for the game, but they seemed to have such fun playing that Remus couldn't help but smile as he watched them.
"First time I've seen you do that in a while, mate," said Adam, commanding his bishop forward. It was cut down almost immediately by Tonks's queen, and she did a little dance of celebration in her seat while Adam's unfortunate piece was dragged off the board.
"He's right, you know, Remus. You've been sort of broody this past month. Not bad broody, just sort of silent, long walks in the freezing cold, not talk about your problems kind of broody," added Tonks as Adam chewed the inside of his thumb as he considered his next move.
"Sorry," he said, apologizing because he didn't know what else to do. He hadn't told them about Armistead's suspicions or his own worry over Greyback's possible involvement in the robberies, hoping that by ignoring them they would slowly drift out of thought. Instead, he had spent large amounts of time pacing the snowy shore of the huge lake and hiding away up in his dormitory reading anything he could get his hands on.
"It's nothing to apologize for. Unless, is it something to apologize for? Knight to B4. Did you do something?" said Adam, turning away from the board to scrutinize Remus, and the other boy laughed.
"No, at least, I don't think I did. I suppose I just felt kind of shut up in the castle and wanted to get outside more than I could. Made me sort of stir crazy. Being home will help, I think," he said, moving deeper into the folds of his cloak, feeling suddenly sleepy. The others nodded in agreement before turning back to concentrate on their game. Remus dozed as he watched the board, smiling slightly when Tonks's knight viciously knocked over Adam's king as the train slowed to a halt.
"You two play some of the longest chess games known to wizarding kind," he said as they packed up the set and reached for their bags.
"It is not my fault that Adam routinely has to be reminded how each piece can and cannot move," said Tonks, as Remus stood, stretching and pulling his own bag from the luggage rack.
Adam snorted. "This from the girl who ended up with both bishops on the white."
"This from the boy who didn't realize it until the second to last move," Tonks mocked back as the three of them followed the crowd off of the train and on to the platform. Remus couldn't spot his family for a few moments, and bid Tonks and Adam Happy Christmas when they quickly left to search for their own families. He remained standing in the same place, near the train but out of the way of the rush of students still pouring out of the cars.
Eventually, he spotted his father's head across the platform, and pushed his way over as quickly as the crowd would allow. Almost as soon as he broke free from the press of people rushing around, saying goodbyes and looking for their own families, two blurs thumped into his legs with alarming force and latched on to them firmly.
Bending at the waist to wrap his arms around his younger brothers, Remus smiled as they loosened their grip to allow him to hug them properly. "Hey, Sam, Law. I'm not going anywhere, not for awhile, I promise," he said, and felt his hands shaking, realized just how glad he was to be home, away from the castle and his worries about Linkin and Greyback. When the twins finally released him, he wrapped his arms around his dad, taking a deep breath to draw in the familiar scent, old habits dying hard.
"Welcome home, R.J," he said, and Remus tried to calm his shaking, didn't want his father to worry as he released him and passed him off to his mother, who almost deformed his spine with her own crushing hug.
It was good to be home.
The next day, Gryffindor scarf wrapped tightly around his neck, Remus used the well-worn footholds in the wooden fence between his own backyard and the neighboring house's to hop over and land in the well-trimmed grass of the other backyard. Horton Quick had moved away shortly after the fall of You-Know-Who, having made a small fortune of his patent for his Quick Quotes Quill, and had been replaced soon after by the Samurs.
Janice Samur had been a good friend of Rosey Lupin's at school, as well as her sister Jean, and Remus could still remember the sadness that had filled the house in the weeks after their deaths and the death of Jean's husband in a Death Eater attack. When You-Know-Who had fallen and the world was returning to some form of normalcy, John and Rosey had sought out Janice's Muggle husband, Charles, and he and their two children, Nick and Jan, had moved into Quick's old house.
Nick Samur, a year younger than Remus, dark haired and dark eyed, was standing across the yard, tattered Quaffle clutched in his left hand. As he watched, Nick pulled back and unleashed a left-handed throw across the yard that hit the center of the painted white circle dead on and rattled the boards of the fence.
Remus scooped it up and tossed it back, "Nice shot." Nick nodded, wound up, and threw again, Remus picking it up and throwing it back. They continued in this fashion silently for a while. Nick would say something eventually, and until then Remus was content in the quiet.
"How's Hogwarts?" he asked after about five minutes.
"Amazing," Remus said with a smile as another thump sounded through the small yard.
"Your parents said you won The Race this year, showed me the letter. That's cool. Congratulations."
"Thanks. It was crazy, but fun."
"I'll bet," Nick said, a dreamy quality in his voice as he stopped his throwing rhythm for a moment, "How's the Quidditch?"
Remus grinned, knowing that Nick was most anxious to hear about the Quidditch, "It's brilliant. Looks like the Cup will come down to whoever wins the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff match, unless one of them gets upset. But it's amazing, fast and loud, and some of the players; I've never seen anything like them, Nick. Amazing."
"Good," said Nick, stars in his eyes for a moment, and then they were silent but for the thump of the Quaffle against the fence. Remus and Nick had been friends since the Samurs had moved into the house, and most of the time, they spent like this. Sometimes, Nick would throw a battered tennis ball into the air as hard as he could so that Remus could track it with his eyes and catch it coming down. Nick's uncle, Andrew, had been a star at Hogwarts, and he sought out the sport as his biggest connection to his decreased family members.
After an hour or so, Charles Samur called his son in for dinner and Remus climbed back over the fence to his own yard and his own dinner.
The next night, rather than going to bed, Remus sat in the window of his room, alternating between staring out at the full moon and re-reading the newspaper clutched in his hand, the title grubby from his tight grip on the newspaper but still readable: Ashes Thefts Continue! A knock on the door startled him, and he guiltily hid the newspaper behind his back as his father poked his head around the door.
"Thought you might still be up. What have you got there?" he asked, and Remus handed the paper over, staring at his hands as his father read silently.
"Hm. I thought you looked spooked when you saw this. Want to tell me why?"
"Just something one of the professors mentioned. That silver burns can be healed using centaur ashes," Remus answered with a shrug, gaze drawn to the full moon outside the window.
"Ahhh. And you haven't mentioned anything because…" said John, trailing off, and Remus shrugged again. John didn't move from his spot next to him, paper held between the two of them. "You know you can tell me, right? You can tell me anything. What else are dads for?"
Remus was silent for a few minutes more, staring, before he spoke, his voice small and scratchy. "It feels like I'm afraid all the time. Of him coming back. And it's dumb. I haven't seen him in five years, not one time, and I'm still scared all the time."
They were silent for a long while after that, John's arm around Remus's shoulders, before he spoke. "That's okay, you know? That you're scared sometimes. It's a strange circumstance, Remus, mighty strange, and anyone in your position would be scared. And I think you're wrong. I don't think you're scared all the time. I think that you get really terrified sometimes, and convince yourself that you feel that way all the time. But Remus, you're one of the bravest boys I know."
"You have to say that. You're my dad," Remus said, from the shoulder where he'd set his head.
"You're right, but I'm not saying that because it's my job. I'm saying it because it's true. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Where did the Sorting Hat put you?"
"Right, Gryffindor, where go the bravest and the boldest," said John, but when Remus didn't move his head from his shoulder, "Come on then." He said, standing and pulling his son up after him. Down the hall two doors, past the twins' room, John led Remus into his study, and crossed the room to retrieve a book.
"Learn. The more you know something, the less scary it is. When there's less mystery, there's less to be scared of. You're so brave, Remus. Let knowledge give you courage as well."
Remus flipped the book open to the table of contents, his brow wrinkling in confusion after a moment. "There's no chapter about werewolves in here."
John laughed, "Of course there's not a chapter on werewolves in there. You have to start a little smaller than that. You finish that and I'll give you another, and Hogwarts will have plenty more for you to choose from, all right?"
Remus nodded, and John smiled, "All right, to bed with you."
He returned to his room, but rather than sleeping, Remus spent the night reading. Christmas morning, he unwrapped two gifts from his father, books, one of which had a short chapter on werewolves at the very end. The Samurs came over for Christmas dinner, and as Remus sat with his family and friends after dinner, after so long at Hogwarts, reading and listening to the wireless, he couldn't remember a better Christmas.