The Sugar Quill
Author: FernWithy (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Shifts  Chapter: Chapter One: Back To School
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Shifts: Chapter One

Shifts
Chapter One: Back To School
by FernWithy

During Remus's first year at Hogwarts, Peter Pettigrew had fallen violently in love with pirate stories. He'd read them constantly, exhausting Madam Pince's short supply in the Hogwarts library and begging Muggle-borns to let him borrow Muggle versions (which all seemed to be packed with curses and magic anyway). For his birthday in February, James and Sirius had decided to throw a pirate party in the Gryffindor Common Room, to which everyone was expected to come dressed as a pirate--eye patches, vests, funny hats with skulls and bones on them, and so on. Remus had made his own and Peter's hats out of used parchment, covered with scribbled drafts of Transfiguration essays.

Smeltings reminded Remus obscurely of those costumes. It had all the right elements in all the right places to pass for a real school, but it wasn't fooling anyone under its tacky paper hat.

It wasn't old enough, for one thing. Barely ninety years, most of its bricks still sharp-edged and neat, even on the original building, which was still used for most of the classes. There was an arched bridge across a bubbling stream which Remus supposed was meant to be picturesque, but it was spotlessly clean to the point of sterility, and each stone was artificially even. The cupola on the dining hall was topped in gold leaf, but the ersatz stone of the building below it made Remus certain that if he were to fly up there one night, he'd discover it to be nothing but foil.

Why a family would have come here for three generations was a mystery.

Then again, Peter had kept that parchment hat, pulling it out of his trunk each year and hanging it from the posts of his bed. The night after their final N.E.W.T.s, the boys had passed around a few bottles of firewhiskey, taking turns wearing the hat and sharing increasingly drunken memories until they'd fallen into a chummy sleep on the floor of their dormitory. Remus had awakened groggily in the middle of the night to see Sirius sitting in the window, the hat cocked back on his head, looking out at the foggy, half-moon night. In hindsight, he wondered if Sirius had been melancholy at the thought of leaving the comfortable space of Gryffindor Tower after seven years of making it the first real home he'd ever known, but at the time, he'd just assumed that Sirius was planning some last grand prank, and had left him to it.

The hat, though.

Traditions had to start somewhere.

His own office was in one of the buildings that was new even by Smeltings standards--barely twenty-five years old, unapologetically ugly and utilitarian, lit by cold, humming lights, with walls of off-white breezeblock. He arrived on September the second at seven-thirty in the morning, though his first class wasn't until nine--second form, Stewarts and so on--but he wanted enough time to become comfortable here, in his new name and his new face.

The changes to the later weren't drastic. He'd finished graying his hair and let it curl a bit (as it was prone to do when he left it alone, anyway), and Charmed his eyes to appear blue instead of hazel. Simple Charms all, able to hold through the day without touching them up for several hours. Aside from that, he'd affected a neatly clipped beard and mustache, and acquired a pair of wire-rimmed glasses with plain lenses. (By nature, he had keen eyesight; lycanthropy had only sharpened it to a point of sometimes painful clarity.) The disguise was minimal, but his face was forgettable, so he hoped it would suffice.

He took the humming electric lift up to the third floor, clasping his briefcase tightly enough to turn his knuckles white. He knew better, but couldn't shake the feeling that these Muggle substitutes for magical power were likely to fail at any moment.

The lift let him out at the end of a long breezeblock corridor lined with doors and pinboards. The pinboards were covered with layers of handbills and handwritten notes--union notices, requests for rides, cars for sale, training opportunities. Remus quickly peeled off one the last, which trumpeted its ability to teach "even a caveman" the rudiments of computer use. It was probably as much a fraud as QuickSpell courses, but he would have to look into some sort of training.

His office was at the end of the corridor on the right, and he was surprised to see the light already on. He leaned around the door.

One one side of the office was an empty metal desk, a beaten up chair on some sort of spherical wheels, and a wall full of empty shelves. On the other, the desk was strewn with papers, the shelves piled with books and photographs, and the strange rolling chair occupied by a balding man wearing a threadbare suit, typing furiously away at his computer station.

He squinted at the screen, hit a few more buttons, then threw his hands in the air. "Idiot," he muttered. "Think you can out-think Einstein, do you?" He hit another key and said, "Hmph," then raised his hands aggressively over the keyboard, looking like he was reading for another round.

Remus cleared his throat.

The man started, pushing his chair back into the desk and causing an avalanche of paper, but when he turned, his face was open and pleasant. He extended his hand to Remus eagerly. "Lewis, I take it?" he said. "Good to meet you, really. I'm Alan Garvey. First, second, and third form maths."

Remus shook the outstretched hand, which was unpleasantly sweaty, but too cheerfully offered to rebuff. "Raymond Lewis," he said. "Er, history. All forms."

Garvey swept his arm vaguely at the blank side of the office. "It's all yours. I helped Joe Levinson clear his things out last week. He left his notes in the upper right drawer."

"Oh, thank you."

"He said to tell you not to let them bully you. They'll try."

"Sounds like he taught for quite a long time."

Garvey smiled. "Oh, yes. Joe was serving for life. Loved it, that one. Broke his heart to quit, poor bloke. Doctors can't make out just what's wrong." He sighed. "Well, you'll have a time with some of his boys, but he told them not to give the new fellow too much trouble."

"That was kind of him."

"Well, he's a good fellow." Garvey pointed at the shelves. "Feel free to put your things around. I won't insult your grandchildren if you don't insult Jadzia here." He jerked his head at a picture of a young dark-haired woman in tight clothing and waggled his eyebrows. She had scribbled her name on one slim hip, and Remus deduced from this that she was famous.

"No grandchildren to insult," he said. "Just myself. And my wife, of course," he added, kicking himself for nearly forgetting. He would need to get some Muggle photographs of her to put up.

"What's her name?"

"Dora. I expect she'll be in for lunch from time to time."

"Hmmm. My Anna stopped doing that years ago. Better things to do than listen to spoiled teenage boys go by. Say, would you and your Dora like to join us for lunch on Saturday? The faculty wives like to commiserate about their lot in life. I think old Joe and his wife Miriam will be there, if you'd like to talk to him. If he's feeling up to it, of course."

Remus frowned. He hadn't been told why Levinson was leaving school, and had simply assumed it was a retirement. It had been the only open position. "Was he ill for some time?"

"No, quite healthy, really, for a man his age. He'd been coaching the boxing team. They were doing quite well. But he started getting weak suddenly, dropping things. And there's something wrong with his eyes. He just couldn't teach anymore." Garvey shook his head sadly. "It's hardly fair, is it?"

"It's not at all fair."

"Well, at any rate, Harold Baden has taken on the boxers, so you needn't worry about them, except in class. They were devoted to Joe--they may give you a bit of resistance."

"Thank you for the warning."

"So... will you be able to make it on Saturday?"

"I'm sorry. We have... plans with old friends."

"Ah, well. Perhaps new friends next week?"

"I'll ask Dora if she has plans," Remus lied.

"Good show, then." Garvey turned his chair around. "Well, I'd best finish this up before my nine-o-clock, or I'll be thinking about faster-than-light travel instead of first form maths. History students--no offense--shouldn't try to talk about physics."

"You're... talking to someone?"

"Mailing list," Garvey said dismissively. "I love Star Trek as much as any of them, but don't pretend it's possible. One might as well power a starship on magic as antimatter." With an irritated squint, he bent over his electronic missive.

Remus watched him for a moment, trying to understand what he was doing, then settled in at his own desk to read his predecessor's notes.


Remus arrived in his classroom five minutes early, and sat behind the desk (a battered wooden thing that was much more to his liking than the metal monstrosity in his office), just feeling the quiet tension that filled any empty classroom. They had always seemed to him to be simply waiting for words to be spoken.

This particular room was on the top floor of Smeltings' oldest building, and had high, arched windows which faced east and let the morning sunlight stream in. It caught motes of dust floating above the rows of desks, and reflected from the polished wood floor in gleaming golden strips. Behind the desk was a clever arrangement of two blackboards, one of which could be rolled up in its frame toward the ceiling when he'd finished writing on it, to reveal a clean board underneath it. (Remus made a mental note to check the lower board before each class and make sure that whichever gang of boys served as Smeltings' pranksters hadn't left any questionable messages there. Being friends with James and Sirius had given him some advantages of foreknowledge.)

He closed his eyes and smelled the air, the faint ghosts of chalk and book dust, of old paper rotting unseen behind shelves, of nervous boys tapping their quills--pens--on examination papers...

He smiled. It was good to be back, however many layers of concealment he was using.

"Mr. Lewis?"

Remus opened his eyes. A small, dark-haired boy in a flat straw hat and a maroon tail-coat was looking around the door frame curiously.

"Hullo," Remus said, smiling. "Come in, then."

The boys filed into the room, looking around rather curiously, taking their seats. The first boy sat at a desk near the windows. He tentatively raised his hand.

"Yes?" Remus asked, checking a seating chart that Levinson had left. "Mr. Morse, is it?"

"Yes, sir. Sir?"

"Yes?"

"Were you going to turn the lights on, sir?"

Remus frowned. "Is it too dim in here? I rather like the sunlight, but if..."

There was a round of smiles among the boys, and a great deal of waving of hands.

"Very well, then," Remus said, coming around to the front of the desk and sitting comfortably on its edge. "We're going to talk about the Renaissance this term. Who can tell me what 'renaissance' means?" A hand came up in the middle of the classroom. Remus checked the seating chart. "Mr. Chellsworth?"

Chellsworth stood up straight beside his desk, clasped his hands at the small of his back, and said, "Rebirth, sir. It's French."

"Thank you, Mr. Chellsworth." Remus fiddled with a piece of chalk in his hands. "We're going to be talking a lot this year," he said. "You'll tire yourselves out like that. Let's try staying in our seats."

A kind of nervous twitter passed among the boys, and Remus realized dimly that he was flouting Smeltings' full nine decades of tradition, which probably seemed quite ancient to them. Less dimly, he realized that he planned to do things his own way anyway.

"So if the renaissance was a rebirth," he said, "what is it being born from?"

Slowly, hands began to come up.

It took them nearly fifteen minutes to become comfortable with the new system, but by the end of class, they were engaging one another in questions about the Middle Ages (which they'd covered last year) and asking Remus questions about what made the Renaissance begin. He assigned them their reading, and promised more talk about it in class tomorrow. On the way out, Morse gave him a wide smile.

He had his first form class next (the battle of Hastings through the Middle Ages) and then returned to his office for his posted "office hours"--a practice unique to Smeltings, as far as he knew, which struck him as a good idea, though not one which any of his students seemed inclined to take advantage of on the first day. Garvey returned at twelve-thirty, carrying a briefcase that was somehow already spilling over with papers. He dropped it onto his desk and smiled at Remus.

"Well, Lewis, my second formers tell me that we're becoming quite the Summerhill here."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Experimental. Sitting down to talk." He laughed. "I told them they were welcome to try it, but as it happened, Algebra doesn't lend itself to group discussion."

"Oh," Remus said. "I suppose I'll be answering for it...?"

"No. It's a tradition, not a rule. I imagine you've made an enemy of our Latin teacher, who doesn't make much of a distinction between the two, but I wouldn't worry. Care to join me for lunch in the staff room? They installed quite a wretched little overpriced cafe there two years ago. Or is your wife coming today?"

"Not today. I brought something to eat."

"So eat it with company."

There was no reason to argue, so Remus rather gratefully followed Garvey out. The grounds looked a bit more natural with boys lounging about on them, though Remus still found himself looking vainly for girls. How on Earth would they learn to interact with one another?

"So how do you find our bit of academic paradise?" Garvey asked.

"It's good to be teaching again."

"Not quite an answer."

Remus shrugged. "The boys are quite bright. I honestly wasn't expecting that. For various reasons."

"Hmm. I see our 'legacy school' reputation precedes us."

"Something like that. Does it ever strike you as strange not to have girls in your classes?"

Garvey looked at him with some surprise. "It never even occurred to me. Did you teach in a state school before?"

"No. Not really. Just one in which... well, this all-boys business is new to me."

"You're an odd duck, Lewis."

"Am I?"

"But my students wandered in talking about the Middle Ages. I can't remember the last time they were actually talking about another class as they came into mine, except to complain about a difficult test. So... oh, bother."

Garvey put down his briefcase and turned off the path, heading down a hillside toward the brook. Remus followed him.

The motion that had caught Garvey's eye became apparent as Remus came clear of the overhanging leaves of a willow tree. Behind their curtain, which must have tossed them aside for a moment, a group of older boys had cornered two young ones--first form. Remus had had them in class an hour ago. Southall and Metcalf. Metcalf looked up at him with terrified eyes and said nothing.

"You boys, let up!" Garvey scolded.

"Let up on what?" a thin, rat-faced boy said, entirely unconvincingly.

"Whatever it is you're doing."

"We're just showing the new boys around," the thin boy said, straightening out Southall's tailcoat. "Aren't we, boys?"

Remus took a deep breath. "Mr. Metcalf and Mr. Southall can find their way around from here," he said. "Are you both all right?"

They nodded frantically.

"What really happened?" Garvey demanded.

"What... what... " Metcalf jerked a thumb at the older boys. "What P-Piers said. Sh-Showing us around." He gulped.

Garvey started to say something else, but Remus put a hand on his elbow. If Metcalf and Southall spoke now, they'd be beaten all year. He would talk to them both after class on Wednesday. The point now was to get them out of the situation.

When the two younger boys had scrambled away, Garvey glared at Piers. "You're trouble, Polkiss."

Piers shrugged and started to turn away without bothering to acknowledge either teacher.

Remus reached out and grabbed his shoulder, turning him around. "Mr. Polkiss? I recommend rather strongly that you refrain from giving any more tours of the grounds."

Piers shook him away. "And who are you?"

"Who d'you think he is?" a new voice said from behind the tree. "New history teacher. Lewis or Lois or whoever he says. I hear he thinks he can do things better than Mr. Levinson."

A massive boy straightened up from where he'd been sitting on the other side of the tree's trunk. He was tall, with thick, corded muscle in his neck and shoulders. The last remnants of baby fat floated incongruously on his abdomen, looking fully transient, and his watery blue eyes had a nasty glint to them.

And that was how Remus Lupin first met Dudley Dursley.

Remus just blinked at him for a moment, entirely nonplussed. A part of him--no matter what he'd objectively known--had thought, "He's Lily's nephew; I'm sure Harry's exaggerating."

But he could see none of Lily in the boy before him, and precious little of scrawny Petunia, whom he knew as a sallow girl in a Muggle photograph on a shelf beside Lily and James's fireplace. As for Harry... Harry looked more closely related to Dora and Sirius than to this boy.

"Did you want something?" Dudley asked, not sounding like he cared about the answer.

"No. I'll see you all in class later."

Beside him, Garvey was looking at the boys with some distaste. "Come on then, Lewis," he said. "We should eat."

As they walked away, not talking, Remus heard Piers Polkiss laugh sharply. "I think the new teacher fancies you, Big D. You should flash a bit of leg and get us high marks!"

There was an unimpressive thud, then Piers yelled, "Hey! By doze!"

Remus sighed. "Should we go back and do something about Polkiss's nose?"

"No." Garvey shrugged. "Those two play rough with each other. Always have. If Polkiss is hurt, he'll see the nurse. We've all let it go."

"Is that wise?"

Garvey snorted. "You are replacing Joe, aren't you? He took a shine to the Dursley boy--that's the big blond chap--last year. Put him on the boxing team. Never saw the attraction myself, but there you have it."

Remus kept walking. He ate with Garvey, not talking, letting himself absorb the milieu. Garvey went on about a television program he enjoyed (not the one with the character called Jadzia, but one about immortal beings who made a game of chopping one another's heads off; Remus didn't catch all of it), and about the difficulty of controlling students, and about the school's substandard electronic equipment.

"I wouldn't know a good computer from a bad one, quite honestly," Remus told him.

Garvey laughed. "You'll get used to them. They're not going anywhere."

"I suppose."

After lunch, he headed up to his classroom. The fifth form class was already there, milling about in the hall. A wretchedly thin boy with a bad case of spots was standing by himself; he looked at Remus hopefully. Dudley and his gang were leaning sullenly against the doorframe. They didn't move when Remus approached.

He stopped and raised an eyebrow. "If you would be so kind?"

Dudley stared at him, then moved aside, sweeping his arm into the room. Remus went by and put his briefcase down on the desk. His first few classes with Slytherins at Hogwarts had been like this--Snape had not been subtle about his dislike--but eventually, he'd achieved at least a sullen cooperation from most of them, and even developed something resembling a rapport with Pansy Parkinson (as long as Draco Malfoy was elsewhere).

He could do this.

"Would someone get the lights?" he asked.

Dudley flipped a switch beside the door, and cold, steady white light flooded the room. The sunlight had been preferable, but the room faced east, and in the afternoon, they would need something. Remus would have preferred candles or torches, but this would have to do.

"Please take your seats."

The boys thudded into their seats, except for Dudley and Piers, who perched themselves on a low bookcase at the back of the room.

"As soon as Mr. Dursley and Mr. Polkiss are settled...?"

The two boys rolled their eyes at one another, and went to their seats.

"We're going to be talking about the Second World War this year," Remus told them. "The second world war. Now, unlike some of the material you've studied in other years, I suspect you all know something about this already."

"Sieg Heil!" Piers Polkiss called, giving a Nazi salute. "Vee are goink to take over zee worlt!"

A few other boys laughed. Dudley Dursley didn't, and neither did Remus. A boy in back, wearing wire-rimmed glasses, closed his eyes and folded his hands on his desk.

"There will be no Nazi jokes in my classroom," Remus said, and sighed. He didn't like being humorless, but there were certain things... certain behaviors that he couldn't allow a foothold. Draco Malfoy had tried a few Muggle-born jokes ("How many Mudbloods can fit into a broom cupboard?"/"Depends how good your Reductor Curse is"), and had needed to be slapped on the wrist as well.

Polkiss gave him a disgusted look, but sat back in his chair.

"Regardless," Remus said, "when we look back at Germany, at the rise of the Third Reich, it all looks a bit ridiculous, doesn't it? What I'd like to talk about today is how it came to be that something like that ended up in control of such great swaths of Europe. Does anyone have any thoughts?"

To Remus's surprise, Dudley Dursley raised his hand.

"Mr. Dursley?"

Dudley stood up, clasping his hands behind his back. "I talked to Mr. Levinson about it last year. He said that... those blokes before Hitler... the, er..."

"The Weimar Republic?"

"Right, them. Said they insulted Germans. Couldn't think of anything good to say, and treated people like they were stupid. Treat people like that, they'll get a bit rowdy. Then that psychopathic little twit showed up just when they were in a mood for it. Someone should have pounded the little runt before he got big ideas." He sat down.

"That's... an interesting perspective, Mr. Dursley."

A hand went up in the back, the boy in wire-rimmed glasses.

Remus checked the seating chart. "Mr. Freehof?"

"I can't believe I'm saying this--of my own free will, at any rate--but I agree with Dudley. Why didn't anyone? Pound him, I mean?"

Remus smiled and sat down on the edge of his desk. "I think it's a wonderful question. Let's toss it around a bit, shall we?"

It turned out to be a better question than he'd expected. The boys had various states of knowledge about the subject matter--gleaned, Remus thought, from films more than textbooks--and most of them had turned over the question in their minds from time to time. He found himself rearranging the curriculum in his mind, to address some of the misconceptions and include more fully some of the things that the pupils were showing greater interest in.

"Is it true that he was obsessed with the occult?" the thin, spotty-faced boy (whose name turned out to be Stephen Wells) asked. "The way the films say?"

Remus, who knew a great deal more about Hitler's obsession with the occult than he was allowed to share with his students, only said, "Yes."

"'Course he was," Dudley said. "All about power, that sort of thing, isn't it? Who has it, and where they're hiding it."

"I wonder sometimes if that's how he did it," Paul Freehof said. "Getting them all to follow him."

"It would be a comforting thought," Remus said. "That it was all a spell, and no one just made a choice. But the world doesn't work that way."

"Right," Dudley said. "'Course it doesn't. No one would do a thing like that."

"That and it being hogwash," Piers put in.

"Right. Hogwash." Dudley stared morosely out the window.

He didn't participate for the rest of the class, and didn't stop to talk to his friends on the way out. Several students came to Remus's desk to continue the conversation, and by the time he was able to get away from them, Dudley and Piers were halfway across the grounds. Remus watched until they disappeared into their residence.

Two sharp horn blasts distracted him, and he looked over his shoulder to see a beaten-up tan car with a flower decal on the corner of the windshield. A gray-haired woman leaned out the window. "Thought you might like a ride home, Professor," she said, and winked.

"Hullo, Dora." Remus got into the passenger seat and stretched out his legs. "Where on Earth did you learn to drive?"

"Dad insisted. It's his car, by the way. Dumbledore cleared me to tell my parents what you're up to, so Dad can help you out as well."

"Well, that's good."

Dora went through the main gate and turned off the Smeltings grounds. "Any luck with Harry's cousin?"

"It will take some time before I'm close enough to watch him properly without raising suspicions. Dora, I think someone's been here. I don't like what I've heard about my predecessor's illness, and what happened to Dudley with the Dementor this summer..."

"I'll check the files at work for anything suspicious in the region."

"Thank you. But be careful. Don't draw attention to it."

"It's difficult."

"I'll find out myself, Dora. It's better not to raise alarms at the Ministry."

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure."

She gave him a suspicious sidelong glance, then smiled and turned back to the road. "So, Professor... Tell me about your classes."

//
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