Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Chapter-01: An epiphany
"What—what happened?" Ron groaned. "Harry? Why are we in here? Where's Sirius? Where's Lupin? What's going on?"
Harry and Hermione looked at each other.
"You explain," said Harry, helping himself to some more chocolate.
Despite the adventure and excitement of the previous night, Harry found himself awake early in the morning. Sunlight poured through the windows, but there was a shadow over his upper body. With a start, he realized that someone was standing at his bedside, reaching at the wall over his head.
"You're awake early, Mr. Potter. Did I wake you? I expected you to be asleep for a couple more hours." The figure said as it—she, judging from the voice—handed Harry his glasses. That could only mean one person.
"Good morning Madam Pomfrey." He muttered, wondering idly if the school nurse slept at all; she seemed to be on duty all the time. Come to think of it, while he had seen student volunteers around the hospital wing, he hadn't ever seen another healer or nurse. Was Madam Pomfrey the sole professional healer at Hogwarts, responsible for the health and well-being of the entire school? How did she do it? Was she using a Time-Turner like Hermione, or something?
Harry sat up in his bed and rubbed his eyes. He was still tired but did not feel like sleeping anymore. He didn't know how this was possible—there must be magic involved, he decided—but the beds in the hospital wing were even more uncomfortable than his old mattress under the cupboard. He turned back at the matron, who was looking at him with a rather unusual expression on her face. Harry suddenly realized where he'd normally see that particular look: whenever Hermione was planning "extra-curriculum activities" for the three of them. Harry glared at Madam Pomfrey suspiciously. "What?"
The witch was unable to keep up her usual, professional mask, and gave him a faint, mischievous smile. She put up a couple of silencing charms around Ron's and Hermione's beds, ensuring they wouldn't be disturbed by their conversation, before she spoke up.
"Do you know, Mr. Potter, this is the twentieth time you come to visit the hospital wing? You've been here so often and so long, you are on pace to break the record set by your father and his friends before your fifth year!" The mention of his father and friends—the Marauders—put a wide grin on Harry's face. "In order to commiserate such marvellous achievement, I have decided to dedicate this bed to your personal use."
Madam Pomfrey summoned a package from her office and gave it to Harry. Eyebrows raised, he tore it open and found a bronze plaque bearing his name and a list of dates. He recognized some of them: there was the day when he confronted Voldemort and his puppet Quirrell; that Quidditch game in second year when Lockhart Vanished all the bones in his arm; the afternoon at the end of second year, after the euphoria of rescuing Ginny and defeating the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets dissipated, that he reported to the nurse for much needed treatment; there was even his brief stay from the Dementor attack during their first Quidditch game early in the school year. He looked up at the matron, the grin long since vanished from his face.
"I wish I can say you are merely a clumsy student in a magical school, and that Quidditch is so dangerous it should be banned." Her dislike for Quidditch and its risks was well known to the school. "But as you might have noticed, a lot of your frequent visits involved dangers from… shall we say extra-curricular and rather life-threatening events. Trouble seems to follow you, Mr. Potter."
Harry was touched by the words from the school nurse. It was the witch, the real person beneath Madam Pomfrey, School Nurse that's voicing her genuine concern. He forced himself to smile and said, in a casual tone, "What can I say? It is a gift. I am the Boy-Who-Lived, you know."
His Lockhart-impression was rewarded with an evil glare. "You have no idea how much the Headmaster and Professor McGonagall worry about you. And for that matter, so do I." Harry lowered his head, embarrassed by her sentiment. "You have to take better care of yourself, Mr. Potter."
Harry was suddenly very interested in the plaque, tracing his finger on dates that indicate briefer stays. He couldn't recall those occasions, however. "What are these supposed to be?" He asked.
Madam Pomfrey took a look and replied after a moment. "Minor injuries from your lessons, which did not warrant overnight stays. Although I have to say, you seemed to have more Potions-related injuries than any other student in your year, save Mr. Longbottom. I was this close to dedicating a bed for his personal use, right next to yours."
Harry and Neville were the favourite targets of Severus Snape, their malevolent Potions instructor, as well as their Slytherin classmates. While Harry was often flanked by Ron, Neville had to fend for himself, especially this year as Hermione was so distracted by her Time-Turner-assisted lessons. And why did Snape pick on Neville so incessantly? Harry realized that he resembled his father James, and that James Potter and Snape were bitter enemies in school, which contributed to Snape's enmity towards him; but what had Neville ever done to warrant such animosity? Harry filed this thought away for later investigation, as another idea occurred to him.
"I wonder if you can teach me some basic healing charms, Madam Pomfrey, or perhaps show me some common healing potions that I can keep on my person? That way I can take better care of myself and not bother you as often. Unless, of course, for social visits." Harry knew that some students, interested in careers in Healing or Potions, would train under the school nurse, though that was limited to sixth- and seventh-year students. Penelope Clearwater, Percy's girlfriend, had been one of the selected few and explained this to him earlier in the year when he was recovering from the fall he suffered during the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff Quidditch game.
He didn't dare get his hope up, but the matron seemed to take it under serious consideration. "That may be a good idea, Mr. Potter." She gave the young wizard a critical look.
"While I normally don't take on students before they take their OWLs, you do have a particular need for the healing arts, and your friends can benefit from having you around. However," her tone sharpened as she continued, "I have to first see your grades, as well as the number of applicants for next year. I will not give you preferential treatment just because you are The-Boy-Who-Lived, you know."
"Yes ma'am!" Harry mock-saluted, and both Healer and patient burst out laughing. He would never have believed it before today, but the school nurse was sharing a laugh with him. Even if he did not get to train under her, Harry resolved to make good his promise and pay her social visits next year.
"You were not injured from your ordeal last night, merely exhausted physically and magically. You have recovered nicely, and I see no further need to keep you here." Pomfrey checked her watch. "If you run, you can still make it to breakfast in the Great Hall."
Harry glanced at his sleeping friends, but before he could muster the words, his stomach answered rather loudly for him. The school nurse chuckled. "Go now, Mr. Potter!"
After a quick wash in the bathroom and grabbing his cloak, Harry hopped down the stairs in a surprisingly good mood. While Wormtail was still at large and Sirius still framed as an escaped mass-murderer, his godfather was at least free. Exams were over and Hermione would have a few days before winding herself up again for the results. Buckbeak's escape would have Hagrid in high spirits. Last but not the least, thanks to their performance in the Quidditch Cup the Gryffindors won the House Cup for the third year running. The sound of laughter penetrated the castle through open windows, as students poured into the fields enjoying the glorious weather. In the distance, a number of people were flying on brooms, probably playing a pick-up game of Quidditch. Harry wondered if Ron would wake up in time and they could join in too, but his thoughts were interrupted when he ran into a group of Hufflepuffs.
"…always know something's wrong with that man! Disappearing in the middle of every month…"
"…can't believe Dumbledore could be so irresponsible! I mean, it's a Dark creature…"
"…he seemed nice enough, though…"
"…that makes it—not he, it!—even more dangerous!"
His good mood evaporated quickly after that. With a sinking feeling, Harry hurried to the Gryffindor table. He could see students huddled together, discussing something urgently. He reached the first familiar face and fired off his question, already dreading the answer.
"What's going on Neville?"
He was correct in that he wouldn't like the answer, and he didn't. According to Neville, Snape told the Slytherins of his misadventure the previous night, and 'accidentally' told them that Professor Lupin was a werewolf. The Slytherins, naturally, spread it as quickly and widely as they could; letters were being sent to parents and the media before breakfast was even over.
Harry was so angry he could barely speak. His appetite had vanished as adrenaline rushed through his body. Neville was regarding him closely, worry clear in his eyes. "It's bad Harry, but if he resigns quickly he could prevent further uproars."
"Resign? Uproar? He did nothing wrong!" Harry retorted. Neville shook his head sadly.
"The way Snape told it, it was a very close call. Not to mention the way wizards look at werewolves." The pureblood wizard calmly explained things to his Muggle-raised classmate. "The stigma associated with lycanthropy was horrible—even though most werewolves were victims of attacks themselves. They were shunned by society, unable to find employment, often disowned, fell into poverty—"
"Then help them instead of persecuting them!" Harry said hotly, before remembering that it wasn't Neville's fault the way things were. He apologized immediately and rose from his seat. "I got to go Neville. I need to see Professor Lupin."
Harry approached the Defence professor's office with a heavy heart. The door was open, and Hagrid stepped out with the tank of Grindylow under his arm.
"Harry! Wha're yeh doin' here?" One look at the boy wizard's face and he understood. Hagrid sighed. "So yeh heard already. He's packin' now, o' course."
"I'm here to see him, to say goodbye. May I talk to Professor Lupin in private?" Harry asked. Hagrid nodded sympathetically, gave him a pat on the shoulder (which nearly sent him into the wall) and walked off.
"I saw you coming," said Lupin, gesturing at the Marauder's Map. "Although I have to admit, I don't expect to see you up so early."
Harry looked around the office. There were stacks of books surrounding Lupin's old, battered suitcase. While his name remained the word 'Professor' had vanished from its surface.
"You really are leaving." It wasn't a question. Lupin smiled wryly.
"This time tomorrow, owls will start arriving from parents—they will not want a werewolf teaching their children, Harry. And after last night, I see their point. I could have bitten any of you…"
"No offense Professor, but that's bollocks!" Harry cut him off. "You had taken every precaution—last night was under extraordinary circumstances—you have been so careful all year!"
"Even if I were careless just once, it's still once too much." Lupin replied gently. "It was a mistake and it must never happen again. And that's why I have to leave."
"Can't you talk to the Headmaster? Can't he do anything?"
Lupin shook his head with a sad smile.
"Professor Dumbledore must remain above this. He had come under fire when he first hired me, and I owed him far too much as it is."
"It's not your fault that you're a werewolf! It's just a… a monthly condition!"
Lupin actually chuckled. "Your father and Sirius used to call it my 'furry little problem'. People thought I had a badly behaved rabbit."
The joke calmed Harry somewhat, as Lupin put a stack of books into his suitcase. "Where will you go, Professor? Can I owl you?"
The older wizard closed his office door and cast a silencing charm before answering.
"I will be visiting my father in France, at least for the next two weeks." Here he dropped his voice. "I received a note this morning from Padfoot. He's on his way to the continent with the hippogriff; I'll rendezvous with him there. The Headmaster tasked him to track down the Rat, who he believes to be heading for Albania."
"I'll write both you and Sirius," Harry told the older man firmly. "Please write back and come back as soon as you can. I'll miss you."
"I promise, to both, on one condition." He smiled at his best friend's son. "Call me Remus... or Moony."
With a heavy heart (and a rather empty stomach), Harry returned to the hospital wing. Remus had retrieved the Invisibility Cloak from the Shrieking Shack and returned it to Harry, along with the Marauder's Map.
"I am no longer your teacher, so I don't feel guilty about giving you this back as well. It's no use to me, and I daresay you, Ron and Hermione will find uses for it." Ex-teacher and student—now friends— grinned at each other before sharing a hug, and said their goodbyes.
Ron and Hermione needed to know what happened; they would want to see the DADA professor one last time, too. Harry entered the hospital wing to find Ginny chatting animatedly with the now-awake Ron and Hermione. The girl blushed furiously at the sight of him, a brilliant red to match her hair.
"Harry!" Ron beamed as Hermione handed Harry a sandwich (which he accepted gratefully). "Where have you been all morning?"
Harry pulled over a chair and sat next to Ginny. The girl looked like she was ready to faint; Harry ignored her. "I was visiting Professor Lupin. He's resigned because his furry little problem was out."
Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance, but neither of his friends reacted to this bit of news. Ron spoke up, an unusually grim expression on his face. "Ginny was just telling us."
"But it was so unfair! He didn't choose to be a werewolf! He shouldn't be treated like dirt for it!" Harry loved being a wizard but the many prejudices of the magical World were constant reminders that it had its share of problems too.
"Worse than dirt and as bad as Muggleborns," Hermione said with disgust. "You would have thought that, with its history, lycanthropy would be better understood and treated, but no. Wizards were just so happy to shun them and push them away, ignoring instead of trying to solve the problem."
Harry snorted. "And they wonder why werewolves go Dark, the bloody…"
"Language, Mr. Potter!" An older woman's voice interjected before Hermione could shout her own protests over Harry's swearing. Madam Pomfrey emerged from her office with a smoking goblet in one hand and her wand in the other.
"Drink this, Mr. Weasley. You're free to go with Mr. Potter and Miss Granger afterwards." She shoved the potion into the redhead boy's hands, before setting her eyes on Harry.
"I agree with you, Mr. Potter, that those inflicted with lycanthropy could be treated more humanely. But Healers across the centuries had tried to combat that condition. Do you know how much time and effort it took to perfect the Wolfsbane Potion? How difficult it was to simply study lycanthropy, with all the stigma and danger involved?"
Harry did not have the answer, but Hermione shot him a look and spoke up.
"We did look into it (Ron snorted and received an elbow in the ribs from Ginny), back when Professor Snape assigned that essay on werewolves. I couldn't help but wonder, though, whether the lack of progress was due to the practices of researchers. The tradition of apprenticeship for Potions Mastery was a really inefficient way to share knowledge and research."
"You'll have to change that system—and our society—from the ground up, then." Ron added his two Knuts to the discussion. He looked at his best friend, who had a distant look on his face. "What's up, mate?"
Harry was remembering Sirius's and Remus's tales of the Marauders. Of friends who learned a dangerous branch of magic so that they could help another friend, a brother in all but blood. But they never delved deeper, to get at the root of that problem, to offer a solution.
Harry was different from his father in this regard. He was more proactive, a warrior, a fighter.
He would fight this evil for the sake of his friend, and he would be willing to fight to the end, but he need to take that first step.
"Yes, Mr. Potter?"
"What does it take to become a Healer?"
A/N: Events in this chapter take place on June 10th, 1994.