The Sugar Quill
Author: Allemande  Story: Defence Against the Dark Creature  Chapter: Chapter 2
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Chapter Two

Chapter Two

 

 

 

Remus didn’t like Apparating. For one thing, it made him slightly dizzy. For another, and this was far more important, he regretted being thrown into an unknown, new place  without the chance of getting to know it slowly. He would never forget his first train ride to Hogwarts, which had also been his first train ride ever. The landscape he saw outside the window had still passed by too quickly for him to take in every detail, but it had been slow enough to adapt to the new atmosphere, to convince himself that he really was going to Hogwarts. To be honest, he had both looked forward to and dreaded arriving. He would have preferred walking, but admittedly, that would have taken him days.

 

And one good thing about Apparating, he thought as he looked around him, was that it was incredibly practical.

 

He was standing in the middle of a wide, wild field, full of cornflowers, poppies, daisies and some flowers he had never seen before, some of them coming up to his knees. It stretched as far as he could see to the left and behind him, and the wind and smell told him that to his right, a few miles off, there was the sea. He was in Cornwall, in the very southwest of England, far from any Muggle or wizarding town. He smiled while gazing over the field that was in itself much like an ocean. This place had been very well chosen. And he had been very well guided: he was standing right in front of the school.

 

The building was, to his relief, not the grey, institutionalised block that the word “Centre” had suggested. On the contrary, it was an extremely pleasant-looking old manor house. The walls were coloured a warm red-brown, and the overall style of the house immediately triggered an automatic part of Remus’ mind, which whispered ‘seventeenth century’.

 

But above all, the house was much, much bigger than he had thought. His first mental image, the hundreds of grey cells in a row, had seemed quite ridiculous to him a little while after Charlotte had gone. Surely there would not be more than a few children; after all, for a child to be bitten by a werewolf and survive was most unlikely, and he had never heard of any cases other than his own. And the ones he had heard of had died at a very young age.

 

This house, however, looked almost like a small castle – three storeys, at least fifteen metres wide, with a small tower on either end of the building.

 

He breathed slowly, suddenly overwhelmed by sadness. “So many of you?” he whispered, his face in a light frown.

 

An invisible clock struck one. Remus willed himself out of his reverie and started marching towards the house, eagerly, reluctantly. He had thought he wanted this more than anything, but now...

 

“Remus!” The voice came from above. He looked up to see Charlotte’s head sticking out of a window on the third storey. Her hair hung wildly around her face as if she had been running. “Are you going to get a move on, or shall I eat my lasagne alone?” He smiled at her and nodded that he was coming, unsure of what to say. Her head disappeared again, and the window slammed shut in what Remus assumed –hoped– was mock annoyance. He walked up the few marble steps that led up to the entrance, pushed the doors open –

 

–and jumped backwards in alarm as a huge transparent shape shot towards him and came to a halt mere centimetres before his face.

 

Enormous eyes stared into his own and, impossibly, widened even more. There was a  low, soft moan, and then a deep, quiet voice spoke.

 

“A lot of pain in those eyes, Remus Lupin.” The ghost floated backwards and, eyeing him from head to toe, raised an eyebrow. “Interesting. Quite… extraordinary.” Remus was too startled to ask what he meant, and instead chose to quietly study the ghost. He was at least two metres tall and more than half of that wide, was dressed in a formal suit with a cravat, and his hair was parted neatly in the middle. He looked quite the distinguished and important gentleman.

 

“Sir Anthony Middleton,” he declared in his pleasant baritone and, to Remus’ surprise, bowed deeply. “The Manor’s oldest inhabitant. We are honoured to have you with us, Master Remus.”

 

Remus didn’t know how to react to this entirely unusual greeting, so he merely nodded. The ghost who called himself Sir Anthony chuckled at his puzzlement. “But you must have a lot of experience with my kind from that school of yours?”

 

Involuntarily, Remus had to smile, and although there were a hundred questions swarming about in his head, the one that first came to mind was, “Is there anything you don’t know about me?”

 

Sir Anthony smiled pleasantly, obviously flattered with Remus’ instant acknowledgement of his wisdom. “Not much, young Remus, not much. I am an old, old ghost, and I have seen many of your kind, each one more intriguing than the last.” He frowned suddenly, and his massive head tilted to one side, he murmured, “Not quite as many like you, however.”

 

Remus had just opened his mouth to ask what the ghost meant, when he heard a noise above him and looked upwards to see Charlotte leaning over the white balustrades on the second storey, grinning. “I was wondering if you had lost your way. Did you plan to keep my guest to yourself, Sir Anthony?” She addressed the ghost in a bad imitation of a severe tone.

 

He instantly picked up on the game and bowed deeply, making a sorrowful face. “Ashamed, Mistress Charlotte; profoundly ashamed. I must admit that I had quite forgotten my task of escorting your guest safely to your quarters and chose instead to dwell in an analysis of this entirely fascinating person.”

 

Remus almost blushed, while Charlotte gave up her strict manner instantly and laughed. “All right, Sir Tony, considering these special circumstances, I will forgive you. Will you be so kind as to fulfil your task now whilst I dash ahead and make sure that everything is quite perfect for my entirely fascinating guest?” Sir Anthony chuckled and bowed again, while Charlotte disappeared.

 

The ghost turned to Remus. “Of all the persons who have ever owned Middleton Manor, this woman is decidedly my favourite.” He grimaced and added quickly, “But do make sure she never finds that out.” Remus had to laugh, and followed Sir Anthony, who was slowly floating upstairs. All the while, he had been studying the ghost and almost forgotten to take in his surroundings. Now, he looked around himself attentively.

 

Not so much unlike Hogwarts, he found himself thinking. It had the same ancient, mysterious touch to it; however, while everything was of course smaller, it was also lighter. That typical Hogwarts half-castle-half-dungeon atmosphere, rendering the place both majestic and intimidating, could not be felt here; the place was dominated by an extremely familiar feeling. The house was just as grand inside as out.

 

The hall was floored with large, black and white marble squares. Light streaming through the windows on the left and right of the great oak door he had entered through, illuminated a huge marble fireplace at the other end, big enough to stand in. Instead of the usual heraldic figures decorating it, however, there were two large, white busts of the same woman’s head framing it. Remus thought he caught one winking at him as he walked past, but he wasn’t sure.

 

He slowly started climbing the richly ornamented staircase, which was under the tower on the right, and looked down, taking in the panelled walls, dotted with swords, shields, and a few stuffed animals’ heads – Remus’ heart gave a funny jolt at the sight of a stag’s head, and he quickly looked on to the far end of the Hall, where there was a handsome minstrel’s gallery.

 

Looking back up, he saw Sir Anthony waiting for him at the top of the staircase, and he hurried upwards, glancing at the Muggle pictures of former inhabitants on the walls on his way. He thought they all looked very strict, sour-faced and unmoving. The pictures continued all the way up the stairs and also decorated the walls of the second storey. He stood at the top for a moment where Charlotte had done, looking down at the hall over the white balustrades.

 

Sir Anthony had apparently been waiting for him to catch up before he continued to climb the stairs. Remus briefly amused himself with wondering what would be behind the three doors on this storey, then followed the ghost, who finally stopped at the top of the stairs on the third storey. They passed the door to their left and entered through the one in front.

 

He found himself in a relatively small room, decorated in the same style as the hall. It looked like a common room – the teachers’, he assumed, seeing piles of books and magical ingredients lying around here and there. Four more rooms seemed to be connected to this one. The ghost led him to the door on the far right and turned around, speaking again for the first time in minutes.

 

“You will find Mistress Charlotte’s quarters behind this door,” he said, still in that oddly formal tone. “I wish you a pleasant meal.” And he floated away. Remus moved to open the door – but the moment he had touched the door handle, he felt something pull him in. Within a second, he was standing in the most peculiar room he had ever seen.

 

‘Room’ was possibly an inappropriate term in this case. A room, Remus reminded himself, had walls.

 

“Will you join me at my little table, Sir?” A pretty young lady who seemed to have come through a hole in time a few minutes ago sat at a high, white table a few metres from him, holding up a glass of red wine. Her neat, aristocratic coiffure, with hair pinned to the back and the occasional curl falling out at the sides, perfectly matched her seventeenth century clothing. So did everything else really.

 

The table was standing on a green hill, surrounded by most beautiful countryside stretching out as far as Remus could see, with trees and even small houses to be seen in the distance. Birds and insects were busily flying around him, and the air smelt of morning dew. Sure enough, when he finally dared to move, his feet made a slight squashing sound on the damp grass. He looked quickly behind him to see that the door had gone.

 

Charlotte watched Remus amusedly, but seemed to have no intentions of moving; instead, she waited for him to come up to her before rising almost lazily from her chair and holding up her free hand for him to kiss it. He did so, quickly, and she smiled. “My my, you are looking good, Sir Remus.” Remus gave a slight frown and wondered for a brief moment whether she was making fun of him – he wouldn’t have been surprised, since he had not exactly gone out of his way to make a good appearance. Never having cared much for elegant dress, his new robes were not extremely fashionable, just very simple and practical.

 

But when he looked down at himself automatically, he saw to his utter surprise that he, too, had somehow adapted to the surroundings; he seemed to have changed the moment he had entered the, well, the landscape. He was now dressed in rather odd clothes, as he found, yet oddly comfortable: Dark brown, neatly ironed trousers, black, polished shoes, a lighter brown waistcoat buttoned up to the very top; and the most peculiar thing was the white shirt, with a very high collar and long, wide sleeves. Yes, seventeenth century indeed, from what he remembered from History of Magic. Remus felt a bit clownish; but Charlotte seemed to think he fitted into the atmosphere.

 

Well, another eccentric Headmaster. Smiling wryly to himself, he sat down at the table opposite her. It had been set artfully, with majolica dishes, pewter mugs and – no, not silverware, but stainless steel cutlery, the only thing that seemed out of time. He found himself wondering whether seventeenth century people had eaten lasagne on a regular basis. He turned his gaze away from his surroundings to look at Charlotte, who was clearly enjoying his puzzlement and looked at him in an imitation of ladylike arrogance.

 

He was not going to let her win this little game. Lifting his glass which she had filled with wine, he exclaimed, “Cheers, my lady! I honour your attempt of surpassing Albus Dumbledore’s idiosyncrasy, fruitless as it may be in the long run.”

 

She looked at him for a moment in great surprise, then burst out laughing. “Sir Remus, I must admit to having quite wrongly assessed your character. What a delightful surprise.” Their glasses touched, giving a high, melodious tinkle. Remus smiled graciously. “Do not grieve, you are not the first to misjudge me.” He looked at his glass of wine and had to grin. “Merlot?”

 

Charlotte’s eyes narrowed in comical fury, and she set her glass down abruptly, some drops of wine falling on the tablecloth. “Remus Lupin! You have no idea how much I was tortured with that joke at school! You’re a bastard to be poking in that wound!” In, once more, mock offence, she leant back and crossed her arms, staring at him like a small, obstinate child.

 

Remus laughed out loud, sounding strange and unfamiliar to his ears. “So you really went to Beauxbatons?”

 

She dropped her manner instantly and smiled again, taking a sip of her wine. “Yes. I was born in England, but my family is French, and I was brought up in France. The Merlots.” She smiled sourly. “This is Pinot, by the way.”

 

“Ah. Well they do sound awfully similar.”

 

Charlotte snorted. “Bloody Englishman.” Remus laughed again, surprising himself; he had not even known her for a day and already felt more at ease around her than around others he had known for much longer. If she had this effect on everyone, she must definitely be a good Headmistress. She had Dumbledore’s aura of trust and warmth, combined with a certain motherliness. Remus hid his smile behind his glass. But Charlotte was busy anyway; she had risen from her chair and was now standing at a trolley that he was sure had appeared out of thin air beside the table, and filling both their plates with –yes, indeed, steaming lasagne.

 

“So tell me,” Remus said after his second helping of the strikingly delicious lasagne, “did you use the coincidental or the individual Mutatio Habitationis?”

 

Charlotte raised an eyebrow at him, but had to chuckle at the sight of his straight face. “Well, Professor Lupin, I am of course infinitely glad that I have hired such a competent teacher. Now try and immerse yourself in the art of empathy for a moment: What do you think would suit my character best?”

 

Remus tilted his head and studied her, pretending to consider this, and said after a moment: “I would think your personality requires the individual version of the spell.”

 

“Indeed. And why, Professor?”

 

“Because you would need a room that changes its surroundings according to your caprices.”

 

She glared at him. “The word is ‘moods’, Remus.”

 

“No, I believe I have chosen just the right word.”

 

Charlotte crossed her arms again, going back to offended child mode. Remus stared at her patronisingly. After a second or two, both started laughing.

 

“I’m glad you’re here.” Charlotte stood up and put their plates, cleaned magically, into a small cupboard that vanished as abruptly as it had appeared.

 

Remus stood up as well, helping her to clean up and then escorted her from the table. “So am I.”

 

“Shall we do a quick tour of the school?” Remus nodded, and before he could even look at her, they were standing in the common room again, wearing their robes. It was odd being back in a normal room – he couldn’t help checking behind him to find the door again, which looked perfectly innocent.

 

“Classrooms and teachers on this floor,” Charlotte said, motioning around her. “The teachers’ common room, and you’ll find all the teachers’ quarters behind these doors.” Remus quickly wondered which subjects would be taught by such a limited number of teachers, wondered why there were so little teachers, and laughed at himself for being so naive.

 

Charlotte was leading him back towards the door he had come through, and they found themselves in front of the staircase again. Charlotte motioned to the door on their right. “Classrooms,” she said, opening the door. “First we have Transf– putain!”

 

A pig was running towards them.

 

Remus stared. Another pig. And another. The room was crowded with them. Charlotte quickly slammed the door shut and cursed again.

 

Remus tried to keep a straight face. Charlotte turned around and raised her hands in comical desperation. “Yes, well. That was the Transfiguration classroom. The furniture seems to have taken on a life of its own.” She smiled an embarrassed smile. “Well, never mind – we’ll get Pablo to fix that, and I’ll show you the classrooms later.”

 

“The other classrooms are behind this one?” Remus inquired, following Charlotte down the stairs. He felt it was better to change the subject, since Charlotte seemed uncomfortable about this one.

 

She turned towards him. “Yes, all the classrooms are interconnected – but don’t worry, your quarters are connected to yours.” Remus saw no point in asking how that was possible. Hogwarts had taught him a few lessons. Besides, he had a hard time adapting to her small, quick steps and found himself more racing than walking behind her.

 

They had arrived again at what Remus had already baptised the picture gallery, on the second storey, opening down to the hall. Charlotte marched towards the door closest to the stairs and opened it.

 

“And voilà - the Common Room.” There was no mistaking the capital letters. They were standing in a very spacious, cosy room, furnished with numerous chairs, armchairs, sofas and tables. A fireplace was glowing in front of them, but Remus noticed it didn’t give off any heat – probably just for the atmosphere, he thought, smiling.

 

“These doors,” Charlotte motioned to their right and far left, “lead to the towers. Over there we’ve got the boys’ dormitories, here are the girls’. And over here-“ she walked towards the third door, to their left, “is the library.”

 

Remus had never realised just how much Hogwarts had spoiled him. This library was tiny. Well, what had he expected? The shelves reached up to the ceiling and were packed with books, but the room was rather small. He quickly looked for the Dark Arts section and thought he spotted a few books in the far left corner.

 

“Not spectacular, is it?” Remus looked around and saw Charlotte looking at him with an unreadable expression, and he quickly tried to put on a neutral face. “It will do.”

 

Bravo, Remus! Simply ingenious! As if she weren’t already apprehensive enough about your reaction to the school. For he knew why she was racing everywhere. She tried not to show it, but she was obviously nervous.

 

Remus smiled and took another, what he hoped was approving look around the library before walking out into the Common Room again. Charlotte followed him, and gazing around it she said, “It’s not always this empty, but not many of the children are here during the holidays.”

 

Something inside Remus twinged. “Some of them stay here regularly?”

 

She looked at him in surprise. “Well, not all of them have a place to go”, she said matter-of-factly. The simplicity of the phrase was painful. Remus felt his throat tighten. Of course. I of all people should have known... He suddenly felt unable to hold back the question that he had unconsciously been occupied with for the whole time.

 

“How many children are there?”

 

Charlotte looked at him quickly, obviously realising how much it had taken him to ask this.

 

“Twenty-one.”

 

Remus took a deep, sharp breath. This time, she didn’t look at him. “Thirteen boys and eight girls. They sleep in rooms of three each, so in the girls’ case we have two rooms of three and one room of two. They also have two bathrooms, for I assure you, girls can never have too many.”

 

Attempt to lighten up the mood registered. All the same, he felt a bit nauseated. Charlotte still didn’t look at him, but talked on quickly, obviously trying to avoid a silence herself.

 

“A few rooms are unoccupied. They’re not needed at the moment...” She let the sentence trail, and Remus felt he knew what these rooms were for, but he couldn’t ask.

 

She looked at him now, cautiously, probably not sure what to say next. Remus, having stared into the room, felt her gaze and turned around, trying to look composed. There was no point in worrying her. Come on now, you’re an expert at playacting. But before he could open his mouth to suggest that they go down to the dining room, or go and see about that herd of pigs –he was sure he would have come up with something witty– a door to his right opened. He heard it rather than saw it, and judged from the direction that it must be the entrance to the girls’ dormitories. Slowly, he turned around.

 

She was tall.

 

Almost too tall for her age. She can’t be older than Harry. Yet she easily came up to Remus’ eye level. She was also too thin, he noticed with a slight pang. Her cheekbones stood out clearly, and her face, illuminated by the flickering light above her, seemed waxen, almost artificial except for the dark eyes that seemed overlarge. She stood with her hand resting on the handle of the door, half opened. Remus could make out faint noises coming from inside, the creak of a chair, laughter, and was that a piano? He noticed sadly that while she was looking at him full of curiosity, there was also fear in her gaze.

 

“Nora,” Charlotte broke the uncomfortable silence, and the girl closed the door quietly and approached them, hesitantly, but seemingly relieved by the Headmistress’ presence. Moving her gaze away from Remus, she looked at Charlotte, and to his great surprise, smiled. It was a small smile, but nevertheless. Makes her whole face come alive.

 

“Miss Merlot,” Nora said, and seemed to feel she needed to add something. “You weren’t there for lunch.” It wasn’t so much a statement as an unspoken question, with another furtive glance at Remus. He looked at Charlotte and saw that she was smiling, as well.

 

“I had to welcome your new teacher.” Nora’s look at him was open now, curious, and surprised. Charlotte continued, adopting a purposefully formal tone: “May I present the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher – Professor Lupin?” She waved her hand elegantly towards him in introduction.

 

Remus marvelled at the sound of it. Professor Lupin. He hadn’t realised how much he had needed to hear it again.

 

Nora raised her eyebrows at Charlotte. “I thought you said you hadn’t found anyone for the position?” she asked, and Remus suddenly found himself comparing her tone to that of students addressing teachers normally. It didn’t lack in respect, but in... distance, he thought, and that was what he had remarked about Charlotte’s tone as well. They seemed more like two friends than anything else. He looked back at Charlotte and noticed that she was raising a meaningful eyebrow at Nora, who seemed to pick up on the message immediately.

 

“I’m sorry, Professor Lupin,” she addressed him, and he was relieved to see that her eyes had lost some of their fearfulness. “I’m Nora Hartfield. Thank you for accepting the job.” She made it sound like it was a perfectly normal thing to say. To Remus, it sounded almost comical.

 

When had a student ever thanked him for accepting to teach them?

 

“Hello Nora,” he said in his most pleasant tone. “I’m glad to be here.” She eyed him, still warily, but he could see that, as usual, his talents hadn’t let him down. Remus wasn’t a man of false modesty. He knew that he was a good teacher. He knew he was a person who seemed trustworthy to most, especially children. Which was, of course, incredibly ironic because –as most people these days would have readily agreed– something like him was far from being trustworthy.

 

Of course, it didn’t look like this one was going to give him an easy time – but he was beginning to break through her barriers.

 

”Disgusting, Remus, how you see them as objects to be conquered. They’re children you know.”

 

“Oh, shut up, Padfoot.”

 

“Well!” Charlotte’s voice broke into his thoughts. “I suggest I show your new teacher the dining room now, and you go and spread the gossip around the whole school. Right?”

 

“Right.” Nora looked slightly amused at Charlotte’s overly cheerful tone, but turned around obediently and disappeared again. For a small moment, before the door had fully closed, Remus could hear the noises from inside again. Chattering, which stopped abruptly. He smiled. Nora’s facial expression probably spoke for itself – although he did wonder what exactly it would look like.

 

“She’s extremely pretty, isn’t she?”

 

Remus turned to Charlotte, who was still looking at the closed door. He frowned. “I hadn’t even noticed that.” It was true – he had concentrated on her pallor and thin, too thin, body.

 

Charlotte turned her head and, seeing that he was serious, raised her eyebrows. “You would be the only male in here who hasn’t, then.” She smiled, taking his arm. “Come on, Professor Lupin, I’ll show you the rest of our school.”

 

 

 

***

 

 

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