The Sugar Quill
Author: Seriana Ritani  Story: By the Pricking of My Thumbs  Chapter: Chapter 2: He Could Be Anywhere
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Pricking2

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Chapter 2
He Could Be Anywhere
***

The entire staff of Hogwarts was assembled in the staff room, where all the couches and chairs had been arranged in a semicircle around Professor Dumbledore. For them, the summer was already over: it was time to get back to work and prepare for the students’ return in September.

“Well, here we go, plunging headlong into another year at Hogwarts,” said Professor Dumbledore, smiling at everyone. “And rather a unique year it’s shaping up to be! For those of you who may know few or none of the latest developments, let me enlighten you as quickly as possible.

“First, the least pleasant. Due to Sirius Black’s escape, and the likelihood that he may target our very own Harry Potter, Minister Fudge has decided that Azkaban dementors are to be stationed at the entrances to the school.”

All the teachers began talking at once.

“You’re joking!”

“Surely even Fudge can’t be so foolish.”

“Didn’t you try to overrule him, Albus?”

Dumbledore held up his hands, and quiet returned. “I protested the decision as much as I could. Outside this school, the final say belongs to Cornelius Fudge and he can place dementors wherever he likes. I have made it clear that under no circumstances will they be allowed on the grounds or in the castle, but that is all I can do. We will warn the students, of course, but I do not want any of you to let their presence interfere with your teaching, is that clear?”

Professor McGonagall nodded, and everyone else followed suit.

“Well, then. Next: Head Boy, Head Girl, and prefects for the coming year. Heads of Houses, if you would be so kind as to enlighten us?”

“Percival Weasley of Gryffindor has been appointed Head Boy,” said Professor McGonagall, “And the Gryffindor Prefects are Martin Beech and Katie Bell.”

“Cedric Diggory and Alice Merchant from Hufflepuff,” said Professor Sprout.

“Robert Thompson and Suzanne Watson from Ravenclaw,” said Professor Flitwick, “With Penelope Clearwater as Head Girl.”

“Roderick Spode, Marissa Hacks,” said Professor Snape without elaboration.

“Well, then. New staff appointments. As Professor Kettleburn’s retirement coincided rather conveniently with the clearing of charges against Rubeus Hagrid, I am pleased to inform you all that he has accepted the Care of Magical Creatures position and will be joining the teaching staff.”

No one spoke up to interrupt the meeting, but Hagrid beamed as most of the other teachers shot him looks of surprise and pleasure.

“And, of course, the Hot Seat,” Dumbledore continued. “This year’s Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher will be Mr. Remus Lupin.”

There was a thud. Everyone turned to see that Severus Snape, who, like a few others, had been taking notes on the meeting, had knocked his inkwell off the table. This was such a clumsy and un-Snape-like thing to do that an astonished silence fell. Glaring at them all, Snape picked up the ink bottle and corked it.

“It is my responsibility to inform you,” said Dumbledore, continuing as if nothing had happened, “that Professor Lupin does have lycanthropy. We are taking measures to ensure that no one in this school will be in any danger from him. Professor Lupin has, understandably enough, kept his condition a complete secret for most of his life, and I ask for the help of everyone here in ensuring that it remains a secret.”

Severus Snape never talked back to Dumbledore in public, but he came extremely close. Everyone could see the muscles in his jaw working convulsively as he worked to keep his emotions under control. He remained silent and still for the rest of the meeting.

When Dumbledore rose to leave, Snape was right on his heels.

“I wonder if I might have a word, Headmaster,” he said as the two of them headed for the Head’s office, each walking more quickly than usual.

“Have several, by all means,” said Dumbledore graciously.

“What possible measures could you have in mind to ensure the safety of the students and staff from Remus Lupin? I’m forced to remind you, sir, that many years ago, despite all your precautions, that werewolf nearly killed me.”

“I remember the event perfectly, Severus. The good people of St. Mungo’s have recently developed a potion that allows those with lycanthropy to maintain mental control while in their transformed state. They will be sending you the formula in the next few days.”

“Sending me the formula?”

“Yes. I need you to brew Professor Lupin’s potion.”

Severus stopped dead. “You expect me, on top of tolerating his presence here, to waste my valuable time and stores making him potions?”

“And taking his classes when he is indisposed, if you don’t mind.”

“I mind a great deal!”

Dumbledore regarded him calmly, and gave him a minute to get himself under control.

“The Ministry has its precautions against Sirius Black firmly in place,” he said at last. “Remus Lupin is my precaution. He’s the nearest thing there is to an expert on Black.”

“He’s Black’s last remaining friend. If you let him teach at this school, you give Black the most valuable ally he could possibly hope for.”

“I trust Remus Lupin,” said Dumbledore, in a tone that usually signified the end of an argument.

“You also trusted Sirius Black,” Severus shot back before he thought about it. “And you trust me.”

“I have never regretted my trust in you, Severus. All I ask is that you return the favor, and trust me in this.”

Severus twitched a little with the effort of restraining himself from saying things he’d regret later. With his jaw firmly clenched, he bowed to Dumbledore and stalked off down the corridor.

***
It was the first week of August. Remus was back in London, recuperating from his last transformation, which he had undergone at St. Mungo’s as one final test of the Wolfsbane Potion. He was going to move up to Hogwarts as soon as he had his strength back. Tonight, however, he was in his flat, trying to get as much sleep as possible to help his tortured body heal.

Ever since meeting with Dumbledore, he’d found it harder and harder to sleep. He was kept awake by worries about his new job and about the reliability of his potion. It was a new development, after all. If something went wrong, and he somehow got loose to bite a student, the guilt would be absolutely overwhelming.

Then there was the problem of Sirius.

Professor Dumbledore was right in assuming that Remus understood Sirius best. Remus knew the crucial secret: that to find Sirius Black, you didn’t look for a man. You looked for a huge black dog.

The Animagus Spell.

The worst mistake of his life.

Dumbledore had done everything, absolutely everything, to make sure Remus got an education. The Whomping Willow was expensive, and the construction of the Shrieking Shack and the tunnel had cost the school plenty. Remus was grateful. He was determined to work hard, to work himself sick if he had to, to make the most of his chance. He understood as well as his parents did that if he didn’t go to school, he would have no chance for a normal life. Hogwarts was his one hope.

But what was a boy to do, when Sirius and James got that look in their eyes?

They meant well. They wanted to stick by him, even after they’d worked out what he was. But in true James-and-Sirius fashion, they decided to stick by him in the most difficult, dangerous, illegal fashion they could think of -- becoming Animagi, so that they, along with Peter Pettigrew who was also in on the secret, could keep him company as animals on the horrible, lonely full-moon nights.

Remus was terrified and thrilled by the prospect. It took them years of study and practice to perform the incantation. By the time it occurred to Remus that having a werewolf, a stag, a huge black dog, and a rat wandering Hogsmeade might be a bad idea, it was too late. The spell was cast, the law was broken, and he was just as guilty as the rest of them.

He should have told Dumbledore long ago. But he didn’t. He was too cowardly to face the Headmaster’s disappointment and anger. And now, because of his cowardice, Harry’s life was at stake.


At least, Remus thought as he turned over to wrap himself tighter in his blankets, there were dementors on the case. They were the foulest things ever to walk the earth, but they would know Sirius when they found him, no matter what form he took. And they would haul him back to Azkaban by his filthy hair and torture him until he died.

His viciousness surprised him. Even after twelve years, it was still startling that the thought of Sirius in Azkaban brought him a sense of bitter satisfaction. The first picture of Sirius that always sprang to mind was the trusted friend, the loyal ally, that he’d known for so long. He would have charged into Azkaban himself to free that man.

It was hard to make himself remember that it had all been a lie.

He took a deep breath and let his suddenly-tense shoulders relax into the mattress. Just stay calm. That was the eternal mantra: stay calm, at any cost.

***

He dreamt he was in the Transfiguration classroom in the middle of the night, frantically trying to look up the Animagus spell, while James and Sirius tended a bubbling cauldron and Peter hurriedly chopped up the last few ingredients they were going to need.

“This is going to get James killed,” said Remus.

James didn’t hear him, but Sirius did. He walked over and put a hand over Reumus’s mouth. “Hush! It’s supposed to be a secret. Don’t tell.” He was grinning, a wild, hungry grin. His wand was pointed at the side of Remus’s head.

“Are you going to kill him?” Remus demanded, breathless and frozen with fear.

Sirius threw back his head and laughed. “You’re loony, Moony! I’d slice myself to pieces before I let anything happen to James. You know that, don’t you? Don’t you trust me? Come on, Remus . . .”

A particularly large bubble in the cauldron burst with a bang. Remus jumped and half woke up. He woke the rest of the way when he realized that someone was knocking at his front door.

Remus threw a cloak over his pajamas and went to answer it. There, looking pale and stern and not a little worried, was Minerva McGonagall.

“Prof . . .” Remus began, but she cut him off.

“Harry Potter has disappeared. The Headmaster wants you to come as quickly as possible. Number four, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey. You have that?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” said Remus.

Minerva Disapparated with a sound like a popgun. Remus grabbed his wand from the kitchen table, stuffed it into the inner pocket of his cloak, stuffed his feet into his shoes, and vanished as well. He didn’t like Apparating, but if ever an occasion had called for haste . . .

***
He appeared in the middle of a Muggle living room that was now swarming with wizards and witches. An enormously fat woman, looking unnaturally flabby in places and extremely dazed, was lying on the couch surrounded by Healers. A similarly fat man was shouting at Cornelius Fudge, who was shouting right back and waving his hat in agitation. Albus Dumbledore was in a corner, speaking calmly with a tall, bony, horse-faced woman who looked terrified out of her wits.

“Does he have any money with him?” Dumbledore was asking as Remus joined him.

The woman shook her head. “Not a penny, unless he stole it on the way out . . .”

“Did he take his broom?”

“Yes, a broom and his trunk and the cage for that awful owl.”

“Where in the world can the boy have gone?” demanded Fudge, who’d managed to extricate himself from the shouting match. “There’s no sign of him . . . we have people flying in every direction, heaven knows how we’re going to deal with the sightings . . .”

“What’s happened?” demanded Remus.

“Harry accidentally caused his uncle’s sister to inflate,” said Dumbledore. “He left the house fifteen minutes ago, probably trying to stay ahead of Ministry disciplinarians. He’s had run-ins with the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Wizardry before.”

“He could be anywhere, he could be dead . . .” Fudge groaned.

“I would know if he were dead,” said Dumbledore. “He has not arrived at Hogwarts. He knows the Weasleys are away in Egypt.”

“Gringotts,” said Remus.

Fudge blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“The boy has little or no money and he’s on the run. He’ll head for James’s vault in Gringotts.” When the minister still didn’t respond, Remus added, “I’ve had some experience in running away, Minister.”

“This is Remus Lupin, Minister,” Dumbledore explained. “My new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.”

Comprehension dawned on Fudge’s face. “Oh, the wer . . . the, um, new teacher. Gringotts. London. Yes, of course.”

He Disapparated with rather a louder bang than was necessary -- a sign of sloppy spellcasting.

“He could be in danger if he’s flying,” Remus continued. “Sirius’s motorcycle. We left it in the shed behind his house, but we didn’t take any extraordinary precautions with it.”

“He hasn’t been sighted, but in this darkness that’s no guarantee,” said Dumbledore. “We need to know if Sirius was here. Come on.”

Together, they left the house. Remus pulled off his cloak so he looked a little less conspicuous to any Muggles who might be peeking out of their windows. Dumbledore seemed unconcerned, and walked straight up the street so fast that Remus had to jog to keep even with him.

Remus lit his wand and waved the beam of it over the lawns as he trotted up the sidewalk. They were still wet from sprinklers and would take tracks well, if there were any to find. But Sirius would have known that, too. He would have tried to stay off the grass, if possible.

Wait . . . there! At the very edge of one lawn, some grass was crushed in what was unmistakably half of an enormous paw print.

“I think he was here,” Remus called. “But he’s long gone by now.”

“So is Harry,” Dumbledore answered. “Come have a look at this.”

Remus erased the print with a flick of his wand and hurried to join Dumbledore, who was kneeling in the middle of the road. There were two long, dark, parallel skid marks on the pavement.

“Those aren’t from a motorcycle,” said Remus.

“No,” said Dumbledore. “Look at the color.”

Remus turned up the light from his wand until he could make out what Dumbledore was talking about. The tracks, instead of being black, were dark purple.

“Purple tires. The Knight Bus.”

“The Knight Bus,” Dumbledore confirmed as he stood up. “Almost impossible to follow. Harry is safe, for the moment. Minister Fudge will intercept him the second he sets foot in London.”

Remus put out his wand. “Thank goodness. What was he thinking, running off in the middle of the night?”

“I can’t bring myself to blame him,” said Dumbledore. “His relations are, perhaps, not the most bearable people in the world. He has an unpleasant life here.”

“The woman you were talking to,” Remus asked. “Was she . . .?”

“She is Lily’s older sister, Petunia Evans Dursley,” said Dumbledore.

Remus looked back at the house in disbelief. “No wonder Lily never talked about her.”

Dumbledore started to walk, now more slowly, down the road. Remus fell into step beside him.

“I would have taken him,” said Remus at length. “We were like brothers, James, Sirius, Peter, and I. When James and Peter died within twenty-four hours of each other, and Sirius was shut up in Azkaban, I thought it was my responsibility to take Harry. Maybe I should have insisted. That is a horrible place.”

“Horrible or not, it is safe,” said Dumbledore. “Lily is not there, but her blood is, and it is an extremely powerful shield against any who would try to harm him. Even at Hogwarts, he is not as safe as he is here. Don’t regret the way matters unfolded, Remus. We have been extraordinarily lucky every step of the way. The fact that Harry is alive at all is a great achievement.”

“Keeping him alive until this time next year is going to be an even greater one.”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

//
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