"I have to say that I'm rather impressed by your performance, Mr Lupin."
Phase One. Politeness, acknowledgement of capabilities.
"You've shown us that you can handle children really well, and the children adapted to you almost instantly."
Interesting. A prolonged Phase One this time.
"Surely there can be no doubt about your abilities as a teacher in general."
Ahh. What a creative transition to Phase Two.
"A teacher of Fighting Against Dark Magic, however..."
Phase Two! Cheers!
"... my colleagues, and I cannot blame them, have expressed their doubts as to whether... well..."
Transition to Phase Three, usually accompanied by slight stammering.
"... what I mean is... given your, er, condition..."
The opening word of Phase Three: "Condition."
"In short, Mr Lupin. I cannot, as a headmaster responsible for over 400 children, overlook certain factors... I am sorry to say that I will not be able to give you this job."
Bravo! The percentage of those using the word "sorry" has just risen to twenty-four. Very touching. He will never know of this honour, of course.
"Good day, Mr Lupin."
Nod, stand up, shake hands. Above all, keep your face neutral.
"And, erm... good luck."
At this, Remus had to raise his eyebrows, and although the headmaster was not very perceptive, he must have seen the small sarcastic smile that played around Remus' lips. "Thank you." His tone betrayed him. He walked out, past a nervous-looking secretary who would, as soon as he had disappeared, probably storm into the headmaster's office to check him for bites. Which was only natural, considering every Dark Creature was the same, had the same motives and should be treated in exactly the same way.
Remus stumbled over a few pieces of litter on the floor in the corridor, caught himself in time and reprimanded himself. Stay focused. Do not reflect on what just happened. Just... go on, go ahead, you know what happens if you don't.
As he walked past the room of "his" class, however, he had to stop for a second. He peered through the small, slightly blurry window. The class he had been allowed to teach for two hours. They were back with their old teacher now, an incredibly boring old man with a voice that was more like a grumble and made it hard for the class to follow his words at all. Not that those were overly exciting, Remus thought, smiling wryly when he read the inscription on the door. Fighting Against Dark Magic, indeed. He was sure that, had he been one of the students, he would have lost no time charming the writing into "Fighting Against the Stupor" or something equally fitting.
He was still gazing into the classroom, at the children who were dozing off, playing games in the back of the class or reading a book, when he caught one of the children's eyes. The boy's face lit up at the sight of him, and he waved frantically, unnoticed by the teacher who had been writing onto the blackboard for a few minutes; soon the whole class had seen him and was waving, mouthing for him to help them or making rather rude sign language at the teacher. Remus had to grin and he shrugged, motioning to them that he was leaving. And for a small moment, the shock on their faces made up for everything.
But the old man had finally noticed that something was going on and turned around, following the childrens' gazes to the door. Remus' smile vanished instantly. The man shot him a glare, obviously not very impressed that Remus was, after two hours, already favoured. And... there was something else in his glare that Remus knew all too well. Something inside his chest tightened, and as he turned around to leave, the door shot open, revealing a small, narrow-eyed Mr Thorge. "Care to say goodbye to your -er, my- students?"
Remus watched him uncomfortably. There was something about the teacher's eyes that he didn't like. Still, he had no choice - running away now was not an option. He nodded at the man, keeping his expression polite, and walked into the room. At once, he was met with cheers. "Mr Lupin, are you staying?" shouted a rather extroverted young man sitting at the window. "Er, no offence to you, of course, Mr Thorge." The class giggled. Remus smiled a small smile. "I can't. I'm leaving."
"WHAT? Why?" This came from all the corners of the room. "Didn't you like us?" asked a timid girl in the first row whom he had had to convince to put away quill and parchment in his lesson. (After a small period of shock at losing her two faithful companions, she had been delighted.)
Remus' smile tightened. He could almost feel Thorge smiling triumphantly behind him. "I..."
"He didn't get the job," the old man filled in for him, helpful as he was. Remus stiffened. The class stared at him.
"Why?" asked the boy at the window after a few seconds, breaking into a silence. Remus bit his lip, unable to say another word. Another uncomfortable silence followed. What should he say? The headmaster hasn't been impressed with the lack of theory in my lesson? Not even Thorge would have believed that.
"Class, turn to page 375," grumbled Thorge. Remus let out his breath slowly as the class, swearing under their breaths, turned to the page. He was just on his way outside when the timid girl in the front row made him freeze right in the middle of the doorway.
"Sir, why are we doing werewolves before vampires?"
A strange sort of numbness clouded his head. His hands clenched into fists, and his teeth gritted together so forcefully that it hurt. He was aware that he was still standing upright, although he felt more like leaning against the doorway for support; but he hadn't moved.
From far, far away, he could hear a voice.
"What's wrong, werewolf, has the moon been troubling you?"
The last thing he heard was a collective gasp from the class before he fled down the corridor.
I'm as good as I can be. A Muggle saw me yesterday and
alerted the fire department. And what lovely sirens they have!
Beaky's tired. Hell, so am I. Keep me updated about you. What
happened in that school? Something you weren't telling. Come
on now, you could never fool your old
That simply wasn't true, Remus thought as he folded the letter with a small, thoughtful smile. There had been a time when Sirius hadn't been as sensitive to other people's feelings. Just how much he had changed, they both had changed, was becoming clearer to him every day.
Things would be easier with Padfoot, he mused and moved to the kitchen, mechanically washing and drying the dishes -by hand, to have something to do- and cleaning up the kitchen. But he had survived without Sirius all these years. He wasn't giving in. Not yet, not so quickly, no sir...
Sir, why are we doing werewolves before vampires? Because werewolves are the most dangerous Dark Creatures that exist, my child. They actually make us believe they're human during the day, for a whole month. They can move in sunlight and touch Holy crosses. They're cunning. And they go out there looking for jobs, normal jobs, they actually try to work among normal people and be like them, but they will never be, not even during that month, they will always be... Dark.
A bit too late, Remus noticed that he had been squeezing a knife inside his clenched fist. The knife looked slightly deformed now, but his flesh wasn't hurt. Ironically enough. This always happened, didn't it? Who was playing their sick game with him?
So, no use telling yourself over and over again that you're fine, Lupin. Remus gritted his teeth and moved around the small space that served as both lounge room and bedroom, again more mechanically than consciously putting it in order, before he went down into the cellar to clean it up. Blood, his own blood, was still hanging heavily in the air. He hadn't managed taking off his clothes last time, as the meeting at Hogwarts had taken longer than expected and he had rushed back and locked himself in without further ado.
He picked up his torn robes and made a face. He wasn't exactly rich; the new robes had eaten into his poor savings rather dramatically. But they were necessary when you wanted to make a good impression on others...
He grimaced - a luxury he only permitted himself when he was alone. How ridiculous, Lupin! A Dark Creature tries to make a good impression to get himself a job? You could stride in there dressed in a paperbag, and they wouldn't notice.
"Why the hell am I doing this," he muttered angrily and threw his robes into the bin upstairs, a bit harder than necessary, making the bin sway back and forth. It was not only the cleaning of his little cell that seemed pointless. His search for a job, his attempts at making a good impression, his whole life had become a practical joke. Remus Lupin, the monster, in search of a normal life.
Ironically, it was again Hogwarts that was giving him the one gleam of hope in his life. Two years ago, Dumbledore had known to write at exactly the right time, a time that had been so grey and hopeless that Remus hadn't known how to go on. He had been starkly reminded of many more years before when, at the age of eleven, he had received a letter from Hogwarts. His parents had been there for him all along, but his friends had abandoned him, the word had spread, and they had had to move to another town. He had drowned himself in books. By the time he reached Hogwarts, he knew almost all of Shakespeare's works by heart, knew all about Muggle history, and knew possibly even more hexes than two certain dark-haired boys in his dormitory. Although they made up this difference by actually using everything they knew.
Hogwarts had changed his life. Not even his friends (what an exciting new word, friends) would have imagined just how much. And less than fifteen years later, he had been called to teach Defence Against the Dark Arts at this very same school - and his life had taken another incredible turn. His friend was back. Again, he would never know just how much this meant to Remus. Or perhaps he would, he might already... it might be the same for him. He had changed so much...
Remus opened his backdoor and breathed in the summer air. It was a very sad thing to be thinking, but all that was still worth living for now were the meetings at Hogwarts every week. They consisted of Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall, Arthur Weasley, Arabella, Mundungus - and occasionally Sirius, whenever he had broken into a house with a fireplace and a stock of Floo powder. Thus, rather irregularly. The group seemed small, but fortunately there were many other supporters, those who worked at the Ministry and had to keep silent, those who lived far away and didn't exactly have too much of an organisational talent - and numerous were those, of course, who neither knew about Sirius nor about Snape. Both preferred to keep the truth restricted to their small circle. Snape could not risk being exposed, and Sirius was aware that in order to keep the already endangered group intact, it was unwise to awaken people's mistrust. It had taken him some time to achieve being trusted even in their small circle. McGonagall, Arthur, Mundungus, Arabella...
A small, humourless smile played around his lips. Not speaking of trusting the werewolf. The worst of all was still Snape, but then gaining Snape's respect and trust generally seemed impossible. Whom did he respect? Dumbledore, in a way. McGonagall, probably... however, Remus watched him sneer rather openly at Arthur, narrow his eyes at the funny old lady that was Arabella, and raise his eyebrows at Mundungus whenever he started explaining one of his theories (which was, to tell the truth, always a rather tedious affair). And Sirius was out of question, of course. Snape wasn't easy. Yet, he was on their side, and although his manner made it clear that he would rather die than work together with them, he did.
Remus slowly walked through his absolutely overgrown garden. He never could find the patience to make it look acceptable these days... he had used to, in the phase of trying to seem as normal as possible to the outside. Now he just didn't care. He didn't care about anything anymore, except a few people in the world. Had it not been for them, he would have found himself wondering why the hell he was fighting for the Light Side when it seemed to be clear that it did not want him.
Why fight for all those people's lives when the next thing they do is turn their back on you? When they possibly never live in peace again the day they find out a werewolf saved their lives?
And the worst thing was - he couldn't bring himself to hating them. He couldn't. It would have made it so much easier, but all he felt was sadness and depression, and yes, still that irrational, self-destructive hope.
A rustle in the bushes behind him made him turn around sharply and go for his wand. His hand halted in mid-air, however, when the woman in front of him raised her hands in defence at once, with an alarmed look on her face. Alarmed? No panic or terror? Well, that was a first. Since last year, at least.
Her hands sank down now, and she smiled apologetically. "I'm so sorry to be sneaking up on you like this. I knocked at your door, but you didn't answer."
At once, he felt a rush of gratitude towards her for addressing him so politely, and called himself back quickly. How pitiful he had become. He suppressed another grimace and smiled at her politely. "I was just taking a small stroll in this wonderful weather. Shall we go inside?" He made his way towards the door, trying to ignore that tiny twinge in his stomach that told him he didn't like closed rooms, and beckoned her inside. She stayed where she was, however, and grinned. "I daresay we'd both rather stay outside."
Remus raised his eyebrows, and she added a bit hastily, "Like you said, the weather is wonderful. If you insist, you can get me a drink from inside and we'll talk here." Remus smiled and nodded. She was either very perceptive or just genuinely liked the outdoors.
I really need to stop suspecting everyone of deeper motives, he thought as he went inside to get some juice. Sometimes people just do things because they want to, you know, not everyone's final aim is exposing you. He groaned at himself and studied his guest through the kitchen window. She was one of the persons whom he would not have looked twice at -about his age, slightly shorter than him, pretty face, dark blond, shoulder length, slightly curled hair, black robes. She didn't seem like someone who wanted to attract attention, but not shy either. She was just... normal. Remus smiled as he realized that he was only surrounded by extroverted, extremely unusual persons - except Arthur, maybe. But then, that obsession with Muggle artefacts...
"Here you go..." he balanced two drinks and two chairs outside. "I hope you like orange juice?"
"I'd have killed for orange juice right now." She swallowed in big gulps, obviously very thirsty. "Took me a rather long time to find you. The fact that you live in a Muggle environment, I couldn't Apparate, and the neighbours weren't exactly helpful either. Well, admittedly I could have dressed differently." The woman looked down at her cloak and sighed. "Us magical folks, we're just too arrogant sometimes, aren't we?"
Remus smiled a small smile of approbation, not knowing what to say to that. "Why didn't you just send me an owl? I could have described it to you." His curiosity as to why she was here grew with every second.
"Oh, I didn't want to lose any time." Hm. "Oh God, I'm so impolite. My name's Charlotte Merlot." Stressed on the last syllable, her name sounded unmistakeably French; yet the pronounciation of her first name was definitely English. A paradox, to begin with. She stretched out her hand, again smiling apologetically, and Remus couldn't help wondering if she knew. She had to, but... "How can I help you, Miss Merlot?" There, he hadn't wanted to sound so impatient, but it would have had to come sooner or later anyway.
She put down her glass, looking at him with an odd expression - searching, and a bit curious too - apprehensive? Remus had always prided himself on being able to read people (an essential talent for him, he figured), but the emotions he thought to read on her face were so confusing and unusual that he wouldn't have guaranteed for anything this time.
"Mr Lupin, I opened up a school two years ago, of which I am now headmistress. Have you heard of the Centre for Lycanthropic Children?"
Remus almost choked on his juice and decided it would be wiser to set it down as well. He couldn't help staring at her. Was she making fun of him? But no, her expression was genuine...
"No, I haven't." The moment the words were out, he regretted his closed tone - a habit he had taken up years ago, one of the many defence mechanisms.
Charlotte Merlot didn't seem to pick up on his tone and nodded thoughtfully. "Well, it's not very known yet, and the people who do know it spread it... well, as a sort of dark rumour." An emotion that looked like disgust flitted quickly across her face before being replaced by the earlier, searching one. "Forgive me if I'm direct. I've heard about you from a friend whose daughter is at Hogwarts, and I imagine that after the... service... your colleague rendered you, you would have some difficulties finding a new job."
What an understatement. Remus nodded. "It has proven to be an adventurous search."
Miss Merlot shook her head, but rather at someone invisible than at him. "I thought so."
For a moment, they both sat there lost in thoughts, Remus quickly reviewing the last week -six schools, and each headmaster more creative than the previous one, the young woman opposite him staring at people and things only she could see. After a few seconds' silence, she looked at him again. "I would like you to work for me, Mr Lupin. I've heard that you are an excellent teacher, with a very profound knowledge as well as an unusually good hand with children."
As surprised as he was, Remus couldn't help smiling at such an unusual assessment by a child, as it must have been her friend's daughter who had described him like that. Miss Merlot watched him attentively, and he slowly breathed in and out. Could this be it - the upturn, finally?
He noticed that she was waiting for his answer and cleared his throat. "I -er- don't know what to say," he admitted, and a smile played around her lips. "Just say yes."
"Fine. Yes." He smiled back and briefly contemplated how strange it was: everything was upside-down. He was being offered a job, he was being asked, needed, and it depended on him. How strange indeed. "Which class do you have in mind for me?" he asked, suddenly realizing that he had no idea what was taught at her school. However, she raised an eyebrow as if it went without saying. "Defence Against the Dark Arts, naturally."
She must have sensed his surprise and added, "Unlike some people, it's my belief that these children have a right to the same education as all the other children." Her undertone sounded somewhat bitter. "We have the same classes and the same contents as Hogwarts, for instance. The building just looks a bit... different." Remus suddenly had a mental image of a thousand grey cells in a row and shuddered. Again, she seemed to sense this. "Don't worry, I'm sure you will like it."
Remus smiled again. "When does term start?"
Again the raised eyebrow. "September 1st."
Of course. "I'd like to have a look at the school soon," Remus said, again amusing himself because he was the one to be making the decisions. Miss Merlot nodded, standing up. "Whenever. I live there."
Remus raised his eyebrows and nodded, standing up as well. Suddenly he had grown incredibly impatient to see this school. "Would tomorrow be too early?" He was glad that he had kept himself from shouting 'right now!'. Miss Merlot nodded at once, and he began to understand that she was one of the most uncomplicated and unbureaucratic persons he had ever met. "Tomorrow then. What time suits you? Can I invite you for lunch, let's say one o'clock?" She grinned at his hesitation. "You don't want to miss that."
Remus grinned back. At some point in these past five minutes, a huge weight had unnoticeably fallen off his shoulders. It was a long time since he had felt this unrestricted and free. "Lunch at one then." She quickly described the location to him so as to make it easier for him to Apparate, and stretched out her hand. He grasped it quicker and tighter than was necessary, and she smiled warmly. "We're very lucky to have you, Mr Lupin." Remus smiled back, again. When was the last time he had smiled so much? Smiled so much and actually meant it? Probably at Harry's first birthday...
"By the way, who's this friend of yours who recommended me?" he asked as he walked her around the house.
"Her name's Dorothy Granger, why?"
Remus chuckled softly. "I should have known." He didn't respond to her inquiring look and shook hands with her again. "Thank you very much for visiting me, Miss Merlot."
"Charlotte. I'm looking forward to having you with us, Mr Lupin."
She grinned. And the usual question, altered slightly: When was the last time he had taken such an instant liking to another person? Well, that question probably had to be turned around, he thought, but quickly banished the slightly bitter feeling from his mind. It wasn't all that hard to feel happy right now, anyway.
"I'll see you tomorrow then." He only smiled in response. Everything he would have had to say in this moment was too long, too confusing and too emotional. He watched her walk around the corner before he pounded into the house like a teenager, grabbing quill and parchment and flinging himself across his bed.