XCV - The Beginning

Remus surveyed himself in the small mirror in the Staff Room, turning in small semicircles and straining to hunch down enough to view himself properly. He'd grown again, he finally noticed. It had been quite some time since he has taken the time to check his appearance, as it had never been a worry.

My final and greatest showing before the school, might as well look my finest. he mumbled to himself, squinting as he tried to part his hair evenly.

Oh, don't be such a drag, Moony, you're a sexy ol' chap and you know it. That rugged look really hits it off with the ladies, you know.

Grinning as wide as ever, Sirius Black appeared in the mirror just behind him.

'lo Padfoot, my good man. Where have you been? I'd have thought you would try and find me during my exams or blow something up-Come now, Moony, it's the last day we have in this great school, do you think I'd resort to something as childish as petty explosions? he asked, making a fake look of hurt. Remus grinned, and shook his head.

So, I take all of us marauders are going out with a bang, then? he said, smiling to himself. Sirius caught the grim undertone, and just nodded.

Nothing short of phenomenal, you'll understand. I'd ask you to join in, but we have other things to worry about. And right now, that would most definitely be you. He laughed, and started to pluck at the robes McGonnagal had left for him. Remus pushed him off, rolling his eyes as his friend pretended to be the old, fidgety women from the Hogsmeade robe shop. Oh, no no no my dear, this won't do at all. Your shoulders, far too broad for this cut, let me just take that hem up and by all means, chile, those sleeves simply will not do!.Come on, you just said I looked fine!Your hair looks fine, Remus, you look like you swallowed a vial of Insta-Grow and your robes are about to pop at the seams. Really, do all werewolves grow like that? I swear, you must shrink sometimes or something...I'm not even that big, though, really. he muttered, looking back in the mirror. The robes were a bit tight, and he couldn't move his arms very much in any particular direction as it was. Sirius had a point.

But your legs are scrawny as a withered tree, you know, and just as long. Not a very proportionate fellow. Sirius said with a shrug, whipping out his wand. Come now, we've work to do. Can't have you presenting yourself to the school looking like a beggar.

Remus nodded to himself, and struggled out of the garments. He stood in his shorts, arms crossed, as his friend tried to remember all his charms.

Seems so casual, but it isn't, even Sirius knows it.' he thought to himself. I won't be seen after this, and my impression now might sway some of them to support me once I'm taken into custody... Can't go looking like I was before with tattered clothes and a scratched face.'

Speaking of which, you should go shave. Maybe that rugged look won't be a good thing once the ladies figure out just how rugged you get every full moon. Might be a bit too kinky for their liking. Sirius said idly, smirking. Remus had been talking to himself and hadn't noticed.

I think I'm losing my mind...Too late for that, Moony, it's been gone for ages. Chipper up, you know? It's not so bad being crazy, and you get used to it after a while. Makes a good excuse for forgetting things and getting out of trouble with the women, too.Is that all you think about? Remus laughed. It had been so long since he had laughed like that, and it felt wonderful, even at the end.

Why, of course. I think you're nutters for not thinking about them all the time, to be honest. You worry us sometimes.

Remus threw a book at Sirius, and just laughed. How long he had wanted to return to this life, if only for a short while.

Their fun was cut short not long after Sirius had his friend wearing a bright-red robe that resembled a woman's ball gown, when their Head of House promptly knocked on the door and told Remus to finish changing. Sirius had quite a difficult time suppressing his laughter and presence as Remus attempted to change the robes back into the respectable Gryffindor-colored graduation robes. He was barely covered when the door opened, and McGonnagal did not look pleased to see Sirius in the room.

Especially displeased, rather, that he was wearing a fluorescent yellow mock of her own designer' witch's hat. He grinned sheepishly, and ducked under her arm and out of the room in a scurry.

Well then, some things just never change, no matter how dire the circumstance. she said with a disgruntled drawl. The little wrinkles near her eyes bunched up in irritation, making her look far older than she was. Sirius had a knack for getting her in a rile, and right now, it was particularly amusing.

Stop standing there like a flustered first-year and finish dressing, we've much to finish before the ceremony can begin. Can't have you holding up the rest of the school, now can we?What time is it?

She glanced at her own golden pocket watch, and frowned even more tightly than before. The ceremony begins in twenty-three minutes. If you are not there, in your seat, I suggest you not show up at all. For what it's worth, Professor Horder is still prepared to remove you from the school should you happen to change your mind. This was said in such a futile manner, even Remus could understand her conflicted emotions. Clearly she respected his choice to stay, but at the same time, she suppressed the urge to drag him out of the castle herself.

She turned to leave, but stopped halfway through her pivot and tisked to herself. Reaching into her long sleeves that hung to her waist, she produced a golden rope and presented it to Remus. It was a moment before he even thought to reach and take it.

The most fine and silky crimson hairs he had ever seen before were woven into a golden braid of similar thread, from what he could not tell. There was no conceivable creature or man-made thread this could have been woven from, and yet it was plainly resting in his own hands. It shimmered with all the glory of true polished gold, the red contrasting like rubies set in jewelry. Complex knots adorned each end, with graceful tassels hanging off. One end of the rope bore the Hogwarts crest, while the other, a new crest he had never before seen.

Mr. Lupin, you must be especially careful with this. McGonnagal interrupted, her voice suddenly soft. She too was looking at the fine rope in similar awe, though she must have seen this many times before, and carried it here as well.

What is it?This was presented to the first top graduate of the school, by Godric Gryffindor himself. It is quite rare that this is honored to a student. Every Headmaster has agreed that it should only be kept for those who display nothing short of exemplary behavior in every regard. The staff has decided that it should belong to you.B... Belong? he stuttered, his hands almost shaking. This was an heirloom of the school, not something to be handed down to someone like him. And was she implying-

Godric could not have chosen a finer student to carry the ropes, Mr. Lupin. We are honored to have it leave our school with you.

There was a warm smile, one he had never witnessed previously, locked firmly on her gentle face. Gone was all the harshness she displayed day to day, gone was the subtle look of gloom in her eyes. There was a light of respect and almost motherly care now, and Remus could only nod in response.

Now, hurry along... Musn't hold up the rest of your class. she said in a hurry, turning and dabbing at her eyes as she closed the door a little too quickly.

Nodding once more to nobody at all, Remus looked at Godric's crest, and felt a small warmth spread throughout himself. Perhaps there was some truth to their choice, he thought.

Best not let down my House Founder during the last stand. he said lightly, unfolding the golden rope and carefully laying it around his neck.

The mirror now reflected someone quit unlike Remus Lupin. In his place stood a proud Gryffindor, dressed proper and neat, a brave smile and firm stance.

There was no denying his heart now. It was time to face his last, and most grand presentation before the school.

Hey, Moony.

James was grinning ear to ear as Remus slipped into his seat as the last flock of his class entered the Great Hall. Like everyone else, he was dressed in his House color graduation robes, primed to look his very best. Peter too even looked quite handsome in his robes, but Sirius as usual had everything untucked and left his hair mussed. It suited him.

I know you didn't have a chance to get your things together this morning, Peter started quietly, leaning across the table slightly. so I packed everything into a trunk I borrowed. Thought you would want this, though. You left it on your night stand earlier.

Remus gladly took his watch, smiling as he read the inscription over once more. Marauders Forever, Let Us Roam As One.

Always together. James said, his voice catching in his throat. His hands were clenched on his robes, bunching the neatly pressed fabric. Remus shoved them away, and did his best to smile.

James, please. he said quietly as the Professors started to file in. I'm not going anywhere.At least you'll know the time now. Peter said, trying to make things a little more cheerful despite the grim reality. Just don't... Lose track of us, okay Remus? Don't forget-He told you Pete, he's not going anywhere. Sirius interrupted, chewing on the corner of his lip. None of them believed it, none of them wanted to accept what was happening.

The Great Hall was quite noisy for some time as a few stragglers were brought into the Hall. Remus looked around in a blur, not hearing as his friends tried to talk to him. The few Housemates who tried to ask where he had been were ignored as if mute.

Four tables, a brick of multicolored witches and wizards, sat all around Remus. The cobalt Ravenclaws idly discussing current events and exams, the sunflower-bright Hufflepuffs whispering of new attacks, his own scarlet Gryffindors chatting away about anything at all... And there, the ever snakelike Slytherins, almost petrified in place. There was no casual talk, no crying girls wishing for another year of Hogwarts, no hushed talk of the Dark Rise. There was no meaning in their graduation, as nearly the entire House was moving not into society, but into the darkest army of all. It was no joyous occasion for most of them.

Lily caught his eyes, and she tipped her hat and giggled. Even now she was so determined to remain optimistic, even knowing what was happening so soon. She mouthed something to him, and he motioned something in return.

Just smile! she whispered, clear as day when he concentrated in her direction. With a nod, Remus donned the best grin he could manage and weakly waved goodbye to her as he turned away.

The Professors were there now, having slipped in quietly while he was gazing around the Hall. Almost all of them looked flustered, struggling to smile back to their students, some not even bothering. Remus had a sick feeling that he was the cause.

Dumbledore stood up, bowed his head to the students and motioned for them to settle. The Graduation Ceremony will begin shortly, and I would thus like to ask the following to follow me.

He named the Head Boy and Girl, several of the better students and rounded Hogwarts favorites of his class, and at the very end, Dumbledore nodded to Remus himself. Mr. Lupin, hurry please. he said again with a gentle indication of to the side door the other graduates were filing into. They must know what was going on, because none looked surprised to hear their names called.

Moony, what's up? They revoking your diploma? Peter joked, smiling as his friend walked away.

was the muttered reply that wasn't heard.

Seven students, he counted, stood in a small horseshoe, Dumbledore standing tall behind them. They all stared as he entered, their faces rather blank, impossible to read. What was going on?

'lo Remus. one of the boys said, a Ravenclaw he had hardly ever spoken to before. His two Housemates nodded their welcome, and a Hufflepuff girl held out her hand.

It's an honor, you know. she said as he shook her hand, still confused.

We'll find a way to fix all of this. the Head Boy, Zachary, said with a firm nod. His eyebrows were furrowed together, and he was chewing on the left corner of his thin lips in thought. I'll be personally damned, with all due respect, sir, if they allow this to continue. This is not what this school stands for.

Was he just called sir? He looked to Dumbledore, puzzled, and then it hit him.

It hit him much harder than he had ever been hit in his life, and his breath refused to come. Something triggered deep within himself, and for a moment, he thought he had just died.

You're still awake? For the love of- Damn, Remus, just go to bed. he said, rolling his eyes. It's been three hours since I said goodnight, I'll have you know.Why are you still awake then?

Nothing could stop the inquisitive little boy, Romolus thought as he chuckled. He had been defeated by a small boy. Same as you, Remus, just a little preoccupied.What will happen, Rom, what will happen if this doesn't work out and they catch me? Tears were rolling down his deathly white face, freezing in the cold air. He tried to wipe them away, but they kept coming. He was shaking now, though it wasn't from the temperature, he was used to that. Temperature changed; fear didn't.

It's not going to happen, so stop your blubbering.Rom... They'll kill me if everyone finds out, you know it! He jumped up, eyes wide and afraid. If I stay in hiding, they'll never... They'll never...You can't hide from life, little brother. This isn't something you can just run away from until you're safe for a few days, a few weeks. Life is always chasing, do you understand that? There comes a point where you have to stop being afraid and just stand firm and accept it once it catches up, let it happen. If you're afraid of being caught, for everyone knowing who you are, then there's just no point anymore then. In the end, Remus, you have to stand up for yourself, whatever way you are, and just stop escaping.

Mr. Lupin, come now... Mr. Lupin, the Ceremony, up you get, we've already started...

Dumbledore's shimmering eyes faded into his view, and Remus nearly knocked heads with the old wizard as he shot upright.

Calm down, Mr. Lupin, there's nothing to be scared of here.I know that, Remus mumbled, his head spinning still. I know that now, anyway. They know?

The Headmaster nodded, and smiled. We had to inform them, it's their right to know why their Ceremony was changed, and I was sure they would take it as they did. Yes, they were scared, but you saw how they truly feel. There isn't a one among them that would find the hate in themselves to fear you. Remus, they respect you for this. he said gently, his voice quite soothing. Remus nodded, and slowly stood himself up.

Why am I back here, if you told them before?I didn't want a disturbance.What kind of-Albus, they're- a short, bulldog-faced assistant professor popped her head through the gigantic black curtains nearby, and frowned. Albus, we don't have much time. she said curtly.

Just continue the Ceremony as planned, I'll work this out here. The woman disappeared, not after glaring at Remus for being such an interruption to the orderly, timeless tradition.

So what do I do now, just wait for my name to be called and-Don't get ahead of yourself, Mr. Lupin. he interrupted, still smiling. No matter what the situation was, nor how grim the outcome may turn, Dumbledore always found a way to smile. The Ceremony started a little bit ago, and our Head Boy and Head Girl already addressed your class, as well as the student leaders. They've started to call for the students to receive diplomas, administered by their Head of House. Under most circumstances, I would go out and give a lengthy speech, but I feel that this is not necessary. There will be too much commotion soon enough, so for now, I ask that you wait here and try to prepare yourself. I'm sure you know what will come once you're called... I've arranged for you to go last to save the Ceremony for the other students, and since you're back here, you may go and watch your friends if you wish. There's a small opening to the left side you can peer through. he explained, extending his hand to the far end of the dark backside of the stage.

The minutes passed as the names were rattled on. All his classmates who he had spent so much time with passed before him, smiling and bowing as they received certificate of their graduation. Professors smiled, congratulated the; girls cried and wished for more time to spend together in school; others looks scared of adult life that has so abruptly come crashing into them. He saw James, Sirius, Peter, all of them laughing together as they still played childish pranks as the names rattled off one by one. Soon enough, even they waltzed on stage (Sirius literally waltzing to an unheard ballad) and accepted their new responsibility. Parents had been allowed into the Hall, filling the back of the magnificent room, huddled together and bursting with emotion as their children became adults. Rows upon rows of pointed hats and proudly displayed old House colors created a dizzying background for Remus' vision.

Remus watched, though he couldn't focus. Time seemed to move in some sort of drunken slur, twisting and wobbling this way and that, trying to find a steady pace. Moments passed before him in double-time, blurring horribly, and others carried on in the slowest of drawl. All of his thoughts centered on the moment, though even as he was living it, he thought in the wrong tense.

So many years he had longed for this moment, and feared it at all the same. He would be unveiled in moments, uncovered for the creature he was every month, he would be permanently shunned from the community, outcast more sharply than ever before. That was assuming he walked safely away from the school with the assurance of his life intact, even. He shivered; there would be no more running, but that single fear was so difficult to dislodge from his mind, so greatly and long it had impacted him.

Sharp, almost thunderous clapping snapped him back to reality, and time shifted back into normal lapse. Dumbledore appeared in his sliver of view, and waited as the final few students and parents took their seats. He cleared his throat, stroked his beard, and took in a long breath.

Students, parents, this is the most joyous of occasions, an endless tradition that Hogwarts has been proud to host for generations of bright, young, willing minds.Oh, Lord, it's only a minute away.'

...and our great school will continue to host all those who are eager to transform themselves into future leaders of our communities.

James, Sirius, Peter, Lily... He could see all of them, smiling somewhat as they looked around, craning their necks to find their missing friend. James looked worried among them, perhaps he thought he has already been taken by the Ministry?

Such leaders emerge in the most unlikely of places, brilliant minds leaping from what was thought to be nothing, innovative ideas shattering the common view, philosophies guiding us through war and peace alike.

War, how soon it would come, he thought. Everybody in the Hall understood his hidden meaning, and many turned solemn at the mention.

Remus fidgeted, and remembered his cord. He untucked it from underneath his robe collar, and allowed it to hang free over him, glittering for all to see soon enough. His calloused fingers played with the silky tassel for comfort, pinching at the miniscule gems and decorative threads of gold.

But there are those who are prosecuted for who they are, for what they have done, and for what they believe. These radicals shape our very existence, changing the world as they pass through history, no matter how greatly they impact that endless stream. So many are shunned, hated by their own world, only to be hailed as the greats generations later as we reach a new level of understanding. They are loved for what they were once hated for, and raised high as magnificent heroes. This school was founded by such men, such men once thought to be ambitious or shrewd fools, and today they are the mightiest of all legends. Godric Gryffindor himself was murdered by his own loving community because he was seen as a threat to our existence, our secret life away from the rest who inhabit this world.

Remus knew what Dumbledore was leading to, and those few choice students did as well, and all sat, eyes affixed on their Headmaster as he carried on. Many of the parents and students alike were confused, but waited patiently as he continued.

Today, we share a loving bond with each other, a kinship that will be tried and tested as dark times approach. But we must hold fast, and embrace those radical leaders, those individuals who will be beaten down and rise yet again to carry us forward! he said, his voice now booming in a very sincere plead. The time has come where we must look inside ourselves, and truly discover the maturity and good grace we have fought to learn these past years, by loving students. Become the leader, and defy what is seen by everyone else; carry those who are righteous with you, and triumph over what may bring you down at first. Life is always a struggle, a struggle far greater than the tests here in this school, but life will always be pushed forward by the strong men and women who dare to challenge life itself.

Dumbledore looked out, surveying his awed crowd, and Remus guessed he was now smiling. His shoulders shifted, lightened, and he relaxed. My loving friends, my dearest students and old peers, much awaits us in life, that I can promise you. So many hardships will follow, and the very future lies within each of your hands; choose you allies wisely, and most importantly, you must accept those who will guide you through these shadowy times. It is your choice, my friends.

He stepped back, and turned. Scattered claps broke throughout the Great Hall, but most were too stunned to react. He had said so much, and little of it made enough sense to most.

The Marauders went silent, and hung their heads. They knew what was next.

Dumbledore faced Remus, and nodded very slowly, his eyes closing in respect and wish of good fortune. With a final breath to calm himself, Remus went to face exactly what he had been longing for all these years, and meet his most wretched fear.

Dumbledore placed a hand on his shoulder for a moment, and eased him to the great oak podium. The entire congregation stared at him, wondering why he was brought out. He felt a squeeze on his arm, and was nudged to look to the side doors. Remus had to contain himself from gasping on two accounts.

They shouldn't have... he whispered as what seemed to be the entire Underground quietly gathered in the far corner. Rhint, Caleb, the twins... Romolus. He would see this day, too, his efforts had not gone to a waste. So many of them, hundreds, worked into that small corner, battered and tired but proud beyond all comprehension. Their savior, their friend, their family had proven all odds to be false. Nobody would forget this day, they were all sure of it.

Romolus met his eyes, and they both couldn't help but smile. The little brother had finally proven his might. Nothing was in vain; all their hardships and tremendous obstacles meant nothing now. And Rhint, there she was, grinning with all her wonderful heart, delighted to see one of them do what she had wanted. The boys jumped up and down together, waving their arms, trying very hard not to just yell out their love for their second Daddy.

Caleb was not as loving in gaze, as he indicated his head to the other gathering. At least a dozen Ministry officials stood mere feet away from the aisle leading between the tables, so close to the werewolves they despised. Remus recognized many of them, and his heart fluttered. This was truly real.

He took a breath, closed his eyes, but they were still there in front of him. It was time, he decided, to explain the truth to everyone, the real truth of the matter. The outcome was blurry, grim for the most part in his mind, but he was resolute. So long had he kept his life a secret, and so long had they all been sheltered from more horrible truths. There would be no lies, no excuses, no gentle omissions of terrible details.

So very long they had all waited for this day to arrive, wanting or shunning it all the same.