The Sugar Quill
Author: Seriana Ritani  Story: By the Pricking of My Thumbs  Chapter: Chapter 1: He's At Hogwarts
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Pricking1

By the Pricking of My Thumbs
by Seriana Ritani
***

Disclaimers: I bow to the genius of Jo Rowling and would not dream of infringing her copyright in any way, shape or form, and I am grateful she doesn’t fuss about us using her characters in our entertaining but profitless fashion.

Emmy Speech:
Thanks to Jourdan and Serena, who laughed, to Mum who thinks Fred and George are funny, to the good people of the Harry Potter Lexicon, and to Zsenya the Magnificent, Beta-Reader Extraordinaire.

I also need to thank my teacher, Prof. Sigfried, whose discussion of ghost stories really added a lot of dimension to this book for me. Most of the cool and/or Shakespearian imagery comes from her class.

Also thanks to her husband Mitch, who made me research forks.

***
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks, whoever knocks.

The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1

***
Chapter 1
He’s At Hogwarts
***

Out.

Have to get out. I have to get out. James, James . . .

He’s at Hogwarts.

I have to get to Hogwarts. I don’t care. Have to get out, back to Hogwarts. Have to kill him.

James and Lily are lying in rubble, cold, dead . . . it’s all over. Dead -- James dead . . .

Focus. Have to get to Hogwarts.

He’s at Hogwarts.

James . . . and Harry . . .

Have to kill him.

He’s at Hogwarts.

***

The alarm went off.

Remus Lupin sat up and silenced it, then climbed wearily out of bed. He wasn’t particularly tired. He’d just begun to dread mornings -- another day with no job and nothing to occupy his mind, watching the savings from his last job slowly dwindle away. Sometimes he thought the worst part of being a werewolf wasn’t the monthly demonic transformation: it was the sheer, omnipresent boredom of being a social pariah. Nevertheless, up he got, at seven o’clock like he’d done as often as possible for most of his adult life.

He dressed, noting as he did so that his left elbow of his robes needed patching again, and wandered into the kitchen of his basement flat. The cupboards were far from bare, but also far from full. He cast a practiced eye over the stores as he pulled out an orange for his breakfast and determined he had about a week’s worth of food left. Maybe more, if he was careful.

As he started to peel the orange, something tapped sharply on his window. He looked up and saw a screech owl looking at him impatiently through the dusky glass. He unlatched the window and let the bird in.

It was carrying two things: a copy of the Daily Prophet and a note that looked as though it had been hastily written -- it was folded in half very sloppily. Both were unusual. Only a few people wrote to him, and he didn’t take the Prophet.

As the owl took off again, he unfolded the note. He recognized the handwriting at once -- it was the scattered, energetic printing of Nymphadora Tonks, daughter of a cousin of an old acquaintance who was currently training for her Auror exams.

Dear Remus. Thought you should see this. Tonks.

Remus frowned. It wasn’t like Tonks to be cryptic or dramatic, and this letter was decidedly both. Something was up. Suddenly worried, he unfolded the paper.

SIRIUS BLACK ESCAPES AZKABAN

For a long time, Remus could do nothing but stare at the headline and the picture beneath it. It was of a man about his own age, his dark, filthy hair hanging around his sunken face, looking sullen, vicious, and utterly mad. But it was Sirius, nonetheless. Sirius Black, escaped? It was impossible. No one escaped from Azkaban, not even cocky, handsome, devil-may-care Sirius Black. A person could sooner come back from the dead.

After a long while, he managed to tear his eyes away from the picture to read the article. Convicted Murderer Confirmed At Large, the subheading elaborated. Sirius Black, known Death Eater and loyal supporter of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, is confirmed to have escaped from Azkaban prison late Sunday night. None of the Azkaban guards or Ministry administrators have been able to produce a satisfactory explanation for his escape at this time.

“It’s absolutely preposterous!” said Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge. “We’re doing everything we can to capture him as soon as possible.”

Remus scoffed. ‘Everything we can’ probably entailed running around like chickens with their heads cut off, if he knew the Ministry of Magic.

Sirius Black was sentenced to a life term in Azkaban after performing a single curse that killed twelve Muggles and one wizard . . . Remus knew all this, and considerably more. He skipped down. The Ministry is asking anyone who sees Black to alert the Department of Magical Law Enforcement immediately. Black is considered armed and extremely dangerous, and should not be approached. Armed? Where would he get a wand? But, then again, how would he escape from Azkaban? How could any of this be happening?

Remus turned the paper over to block out the image of Sirius’ starved, mad face and tried to think. What should he do? Should he do anything? Who could help?

Sirius was loose. He could be anywhere -- headed for Albania, following the rumors of Voldemort sightings, or to St. Mungo’s to finish off poor Frank and Alice, or . . .

Remus stopped breathing. He, alone, knew of Sirius’ one unique ability. He’d been a part of the Animagus spell, all those long years ago. He’d said they should tell Dumbledore, and Sirius had gotten angry . . . Remus was the only person left who could expose him, and that meant, if Sirius had a trace of sanity left, he’d be on his way to London right now . . .

Another owl came soaring through the window. Remus jumped like a startled rabbit, expecting to see Sirius charging into the kitchen with a butcher knife, the owl was unaccompanied by crazed murderers of any description. It was carrying a letter sealed with the Hogwarts crest.

He broke the seal and yanked the letter open.

Dear Mr. Lupin,

I wonder if you wouldn’t mind dropping round at Hogwarts for tea.

Albus Dumbledore

Remus almost groaned in frustration. Didn’t anyone write informative letters anymore? Not that it was unexpected. Dumbledore was always very careful about what he said to whom. If he wanted to speak to Remus in private, it was about something serious.

Something Sirius.

Sirius and James had both loved playing with that pun. Sirius had always used it when Remus voiced his worries. “I think this is a bad idea, you guys,” he’d protested. “I’m serious.”

“No, I’m Sirius,” Sirius had answered, like one speaking to a forgetful child. “You’re Remus, remember?” Then, with a grin, off he’d gone, straight into whatever new trouble he could find.

And now he was the first person ever to escape from Azkaban. He’d killed James, he’d killed Peter, and now he was free to come after Remus.

Remus grabbed his cloak and left the house. Tea was a long way off, and until then he wanted to be somewhere crowded -- somewhere he’d be hard to find, somewhere he’d be hard to kill quietly.

***
He spent the morning wandering up and down Diagon Alley, looking in every window and not buying anything, trying not to start at small noises, listening to the rumors that were already flying about how Sirius had escaped and where he was headed. Every time he heard the name, he winced, but it was better to be in a crowd hearing uncomfortable things than at home, alone, just waiting to be murdered.

Nonetheless, it was a relief when afternoon came. Hogwarts was safe, if anywhere was. Sirius couldn’t enter Hogwarts.

Remus entered Professor Dumbledore’s office precisely at half past four, looking as respectable as could be expected, considering his circumstances. Dumbledore appeared not to notice the shabby robes or the dark circles under his eyes, though Remus knew that his old Headmaster was a man who missed nothing.

“Remus Lupin,” said Dumbledore warmly, standing up to shake his hand. “It is good to see you back here again.”

“It’s been a long time, sir,” Remus answered. He avoided thinking about the circumstances, last time he’d been in that office -- it had been a memorial for Frank and Alice. Those had been bad days.

“Sit down and have a biscuit,” Dumbledore offered. Remus sat down, but didn’t touch the plate of biscuits on the desk. “How have you been? I hear they’ve just made some real breakthroughs at St. Mungo’s concerning your condition.”

“Yes, sir, they have,” said Remus. He usually wasn’t comfortable discussing his lycanthropy, but today it was preferable to discussing the news. “There’s a new potion. It’s difficult to make and they’re still working on perfecting the formula, but it weakens the wolf’s mind so that I can stay in control. It’s a real miracle, sir. The first thing that’s done any good.”

“That’s wonderful. Does it help with the pain at all? I know that was awful for you.”

“No, sir. But it’s all right. I can bear pain much better than madness.”

“The words of both wise and brave men everywhere,” said Dumbledore, nodding his approval at Remus. “But, speaking of madness, I assume you saw the news this morning.”

Here it came. “Yes, sir. Sirius has escaped.”

“Yes, Sirius has escaped. But what you may not know about it is this: he is coming to Hogwarts.”

Remus was struck speechless. Finally, he managed to say, “Surely even he can’t be that mad.”

“The limits of Sirius Black’s madness have not yet been explored. It is, however, very likely that he will come here. The Azkaban guards reported to Ministry investigators that for some time Black has been talking in his sleep. Always the same words: ‘He’s at Hogwarts’.”

Remus was surprised. He, himself, had been in London. “Who’s at Hogwarts, sir?”

“Harry Potter,” said Professor Dumbledore.

Harry Potter?” Remus repeated. “James’s little boy?”

“The Boy Who Lived, more to the point. Harry has thrice been the only thing that stood between Lord Voldemort and his return to power. A loyal supporter, like Black, would go to any lengths to kill him, and clear the way for his lord’s reascention.”

Remus nodded hesitantly. “That does make sense. It’s hard to imagine, though. It’s so unlike the Sirius I thought I knew. Sirius loved Harry. We all did.”

“Precisely,” said Dumbledore. “That is one reason I asked you here today. I wonder if you might consider taking the position of Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher here at Hogwarts.”

Remus stared. If he’d been eating a biscuit, he would have choked on it. “Excuse me, sir?”

“You’re excused,” said Dumbledore graciously.

“No, I mean . . . you want me to teach? At Hogwarts?”

“You’d be rather a poor teacher if you didn’t.”

“But I’m not a teacher. I’ve never studied education . . . I’m not even very good at Defense Against the Dark Arts!”

“You are, however, a hardworking man of good judgment, who remembers what it was like to be young.” Dumbledore smiled. “There was a day in your fourth year when I saw you sitting in the library with Peter Pettigrew. You’d been sitting there for about two hours, going over and over Shield Charms with him, remember? You never got impatient or raised your voice, and didn’t give up until he understood. That’s when I knew you would be a good teacher.”

Remus was astonished. “Thank you, sir.”

“I’ve wanted to invite you to join the staff for some time, but only the advent of the new Wolfsbane Potion has made it completely feasible.”

“But, sir, I get that potion from St. Mungo’s; I can’t brew it myself. And it’s too delicate to be transported all the way from London.”

“I have consulted the St. Mungo’s healers. They feel that Professor Snape is amply qualified to brew the potion here at Hogwarts.”

“Professor . . . Snape?” Remus repeated.

“Severus Snape has been teaching here for twelve years, and is one of the most accomplished Potions masters in the world.”

“Yes, sir, I’m aware of his talents, but . . . I just think it would be a bad idea for us to be working together. We haven’t spoken since our school days, and even then, we . . . weren’t on good terms.”

“I’m aware of that. Everyone at Hogwarts was aware of that, really. But you are both grown men now. I hope you are both capable of being civilized.”

“It would make for an awkward year, sir. So would having a werewolf on your staff. I’m fully sensible of the generosity of your offer, but I really don’t think that I’m the man for the job.”

“You are exactly the man for the job, for one simple reason: Sirius Black.”

Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “I’m going to confess something to you, Remus,” he said slowly. “For close to forty years, my life’s work has been fighting Voldemort. I understand him. I can sometimes predict what he will try to do. I can protect Harry from him, to an extent. Sirius Black is another matter. Twelve years ago, he managed to deceive me more completely than I have ever been deceived in my life, and my lack of understanding got James and Lily killed. There is something about him that I do not understand, some element of his mind that remains hidden from me and that makes him, in some ways, even more dangerous than his master.”

Remus nodded. “I’ve felt the same. Sirius’ betrayal went against everything I thought I knew about him. I felt that there had to be something I was missing, something that could explain how he could be so trustworthy and at the same time a cold-blooded traitor.”

“That’s why I want you here. You knew Sirius best. You probably understand him better than any man alive. If anyone has a chance of protecting Harry from him, it is you.”

Remus lowered his eyes. “Sirius was always more talented than I, and had a stronger personality, and deceived me as completely as he did you. But if you think I could help . . . well, sir, I’d sell my very soul to protect James’ little boy.”

“You won’t find a good market for it,” said Dumbledore. “The forces of good do not make such bargains -- the forces of evil do, but they cheat. Your soul is hopefully not required. Only your courage, good judgment, hard work, and loyalty to James’ child.”

“You have them.”

“Excellent. That’s a great weight off my mind. Welcome back to Hogwarts, Professor Lupin.”

//
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