and the Forest Guard
A Mission to Save the World
Granny gave him his wand as soon as he was buckled tightly into the passenger seat of the car with Checkmate sleeping in her basket on his lap, and told him sternly that if she so much as caught him using it to point to something, he'd be taught at home for another year. Then she ground her teeth, got behind the wheel, and headed out into the city traffic. She didn't speak. Teddy thought it was nerves about driving again, but when he looked at her more closely, he could see tears glittering in the corners of her eyes.
"I'll write to you tonight," he said. "To let you know my House, and who I'm living with."
"I hope I'll like them."
"Teddy, I have yet to see you meet someone you can't get along with. You get that from your mum. And she had all of her best friends by the time she got to Hogsmeade." She blanched. "Don't feel pressured if you don't. You have a lot of your dad in you as well, and he was a bit more reserved. And of course, you're--"
"--my own self," Teddy muttered, glad that he wouldn't be hearing that again until Christmas holidays. "I hope there are enough school owls for the first night letters."
"Oh, there generally are." Granny looked down a stretch of road that seemed very straight, then nervously reached down and pushed a tape into the tape player. A guitar-heavy band started doing a song whose lyrics Teddy couldn't quite make out over the warping. He knew it had been his mum's music, so he listened to it with some degree of contentment. It was good music, though he liked the Weird Sisters better. He and Granny had got tickets to their reunion concert in Diagon Alley over the summer, and he'd managed to get Kirley McCormack's autograph, and Frankie had laughed at him, as he had Harry Potter's signature on hundreds of letters and cards--some of them actually thrown out--and that was a bit bigger than any guitarist.
They edged into London at ten, pulling up to King's Cross at close to ten-thirty. Granny turned off the ignition with relief, then sent Teddy to find a trolley. By the time he got back with one, she'd taken his trunk from the boot--he guessed she'd lightened it magically--and was pulling his book bag out from the tire well, where its strap had got caught on something. She cursed at it mildly and dislodged it as Teddy reached her. They put the trunk onto the trolley together (making it look like it was a great effort, though it weighed no more than an empty cardboard box), then set Checkmate's basket on top of it. Checkmate, whose sleep was magically enhanced for the rest of the trip, gave a garbled meow when she was jostled, then settled her chin firmly back on her paws. Granny pushed the trolley inside, to the barrier between platforms nine and ten, then stopped and took a deep breath.
"It's time, Teddy," she said. "I'm not sure I'm entirely prepared." She opened her arms for one of her rare hugs. Teddy could see other Hogwarts students milling around, none of them being hugged. Granny caught him looking and rolled her eyes. "Oh, all right. On the other side, though..."
She took him firmly by the upper arm, each of them with a hand on the handle of the trolley, and pushed through the brick wall onto the platform, where the Hogwarts Express was waiting in its cloud of steam. Granny swept them out of the way of the arch, toward an alcove where a grizzled looking old man with a shock of gray hair was sitting in a Conjured easy chair, then pulled Teddy into a hug, whether he liked it or not. He hugged her back.
"I promise to write," he said again.
"Hopefully," the old man said, "you mean to keep that promise to more than your grandmother."
Teddy frowned and inched over, a suspicion growing in his mind. He reached up to the man's gray fringe, pulled it apart, and saw a pale, lightning-shaped scar.
Uncle Harry winked. "You didn't think I wouldn't come to see you off, did you?"
"Why the disguise?" Granny asked. "I've actually seen you walk down the street without one, you know."
"I didn't want to get the attention on Teddy's first day," Uncle Harry said. "Besides"--he jerked his chin in the direction of the train, where Teddy could now see a knot of people with cameras, and an older witch with curly blond hair and acid-green quill floating beside her--"it seems that the press has been called."
"Who are they here for?" Granny said.
"No idea. Not me, and not Teddy."
"Head of the Auror department, and you can't find out who they're after?"
"Unless it's for Dark magic, it's none of my business."
Granny nodded. "I suppose that's fair."
Uncle Harry put his hands on Teddy's arms, then pulled him into a rough hug, mussed up his hair, and let him go. "I'm proud of you, Teddy," he said.
"I haven't really done anything yet."
"I know. But I'm proud of you anyway. Are you too grown-up for a kiss from your godfather?"
"I think so."
"All right, then." Uncle Harry held out his hand solemnly, and Teddy shook it. The grip tightened, and he was drawn back into another hug.
"Geroff!" he said, pushing away and laughing.
Uncle Harry looked at him for a long time, smiling but quite serious now. "You're a very well-loved boy, Teddy Lupin."
"I know that." Teddy smiled for him. "I love you, too, Uncle Harry."
"Say it a bit more dutifully next time," Uncle Harry advised. "Your classmates might have mistaken that one for actual affection, if they heard."
A whistle on the train blew.
"You'd best go," Granny said, then pointed with her chin. "There's Frankie."
The Apcarnes, looking harried, had just come through the barrier, and Teddy pushed his trolley toward them. Frankie noticed him when he was halfway and waved to him. His toad, Galahad, looked up without much interest.
Teddy looked over his shoulder at Granny and Uncle Harry, who were giving him encouraging smiles. He held up his hand, sighed, and went back, giving Granny a firm hug and sticking his hand out to shake Uncle Harry's again.
"Have a good year," Granny said. "We'll see you at Christmas. Write."
Uncle Harry winked. "Enjoy Gryffindor."
Granny rolled her eyes and said, "Ha."
Teddy gave them one more smile, then went to his trolley, turned it so it was beside Frankie's, and together, they started pushing their trunks toward the Hogwarts Express. Partway there, they started racing, and by the time they'd got to the door, they were out of breath and laughing. An older boy helped them pull the trunks up, and Daffy took the trolleys away.
"Come on," Frankie said. "I saw Bernice in the window near the end. She put up our sign."
Frankie nodded. "You'll see."
He led them down the narrow corridor between carriages, past tall seventh year boys and impossibly pretty girls and Quidditch players placing bets and... really more older children than Teddy had ever seen in his life. He wasn't sure how he felt about not being eldest anymore.
Frankie finally reached a compartment that looked like all of the others, except for a piece of parchment stuck onto the window, on which someone had drawn a clumsy pine tree. Under it were the words, "The Forest Guard."
"Here we are!" Frankie said, pushing the door open with great aplomb. "Back again!"
A cheer went up, and Teddy looked around Frankie to see who else was in the compartment.
There were only three people, but they'd clearly settled in. One was a girl with hair the color of dirty dishwater. She had jumped up awkwardly on their entrance and was giving Frankie a suspicious look. The second was a boy with a huge nose and quite a lot of spots. He was wearing a t-shirt from a concert tour of an Australian band called "Didja Do?" The third was a small, neat looking boy with wire-rim glasses and thin blond hair. This one stood up and said, "Frankie, we were beginning to wonder where you were."
The girl stepped between them. "We should check his identity."
"Bernice wants to be an Auror," Frankie said to Teddy, then looked at her. "Go ahead."
"Who are you named after?" she asked, tilting her head wisely.
"The Fat Friar. Good to ask."
Teddy smiled weakly. Everyone who'd ever met Frankie Apcarne knew he was named after the Fat Friar; it wasn't exactly a security question. Then again, there was no reason for a security question in the first place.
Frankie pulled him forward. "This is Teddy Lupin. He's been my friend longer than you lot have. I vouch for him. He's definitely against evil." He winked, and Teddy realized that they were in the middle of some long-running game. He pointed at the blond boy and said, "This is Zachary Templeton, and the walking case of spots over there is Ken Lanagan. We're the Forest Guard. What d'you say, Lupin? Will you join us?"
"What, er... what do you do?"
Frankie sat down and grinned. "Funny you should ask. As turns out, we're on a mission to save the world."
Teddy frowned. "Save it from... what?"
"Dark forces!" Bernice said, and Ken put in, "Evil."
Frankie shrugged. "Mostly boredom. Though we did have an excellent row with a doxy colony last year, and lived to tell about it."
Teddy wasn't sure whether he was amused or disturbed, but decided that amusement would go further. He sat down, and took his place among the Forest Guard.
"We think it will come from the Forbidden Forest," Bernice said, pulling herself onto her trunk and crossing her legs. "There're plenty of bad things in there, no one even knows all of them, even Professor Hagrid."
"So we go out there every couple of weeks," Ken said. "At night, you know. After everyone's meant to be safely tucked in."
"What do you do there?"
Zachary gave a rather sheepish shrug. "We just muck about, really. We--"
"We look for evil things!" Bernice interrupted crossly.
"We tromp around a little. We know the Forest pretty well." Zachary grinned. "Sounds a bit silly, doesn't it?"
Bernice and Ken looked mildly irked that he'd say this, but Frankie seemed to take it as a matter of course, and just looked curiously at Teddy.
Teddy agreed with Zachary--it sounded more than a little silly. Then again, so did turning into animals to keep a werewolf friend company, and that had worked out all right. He smiled. "Sounds like fun."
"It's serious," Bernice huffed.
"Don't mind Bernice," Frankie said. "She'd find a way to make Weasleys' Portable Daydreams deeply serious."
Bernice pressed her lips together very tightly, but they were twitching, and a moment later, she smiled. It didn't exactly make her pretty, but it definitely made her look friendlier. "We also have a game of Muggles and Minions going in the Hufflepuff common room on weekends. If you're Sorted into Hufflepuff, you can join it. It only takes a few minutes to make up a character, and Frankie can mentor you until you get enough points to stay alive."
"I've never played that," Teddy said.
"Best game in the world!" Ken said. "You have to be a Muggle, and you can use any sort of Muggle thing there is, but you have to collect up points to buy big things, like cars..."
The others spent the next hour explaining the game as the Hogwarts Express wound its way out of London, all of them relaxing significantly as they got back into whatever habits they normally had at Hogwarts. Bernice pulled out a pipe and chewed on its stem, though she didn't have tobacco and didn't actually smoke. She played a character who stole cars, claiming that she wanted to learn to understand the criminal mind. Zachary's character was a detective, and Ken wouldn't say which side he was on. Frankie apparently made up all of the stories they used, and said he'd come up with something really good that ought to last until Christmas, if the lot of them didn't muck it up.
"We could start Teddy's character now," Frankie suggested after buying several cauldron cakes from the witch with the sweets trolley, leaving the door banging open behind him. "Then I'd have time to work him in."
"What if he's not in Hufflepuff?" Zachary asked.
"'Course he'll be in Hufflepuff. His mum was the ultimate Hufflepuff, or at least that's what my parents say. Totally loyal."
A girl was standing in the door, and Teddy recognized her as the dark-haired girl who he'd seen in Ollivander's. She looked at him with great distaste.
"Have I got something on me?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.
"I don't know. Is the moon full tonight? Maybe we'd best watch for fur. Well, I suppose you should be glad someone will take you." She looked disdainfully at the Forest Guard, then turned and went on down the corridor without looking back.
Teddy felt like he really ought to do something--rush off after her and curse her, perhaps--but he seemed to have lost hold of the ground he was standing on. He'd known, of course, that werewolves had a bad reputation. Hermione had even tried to warn him about just this sort of thing, but he hadn't believed her, not really. Everyone spoke kindly about his father.
Or, as the case seemed to be, everyone he knew had managed to follow some unwritten Teddy Rule against letting him hear otherwise.
"You all right, mate?" Frankie said quietly.
"Are you a werewolf?" Bernice asked. "Not that it would matter, but we'd have to go out when the moon wasn't full, of course."
"What? No. I'm not." Teddy smiled tightly. "I'm going to go find the trolley again, if it's all right. Meant to buy some Chocolate Frog cards. Believe it or not, I haven't got Professor Longbottom yet!"
He slipped out of the compartment and leaned against the wall, swallowing hard. He could feel his parents' wands, safely in his pocket, and he wrapped his fingers around them. After a while, he felt a bit better. He should have known. Deciding that it would look suspicious to go back without some Chocolate Frogs (and thinking one would be tasty, at any rate), he started to pick his way down the corridor. A group of older girls went giggling by, talking about going to "Donzo"'s compartment, and off to one side, he heard an older boy pontificating on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team's chances. He finally came to an impenetrable crowd of people blocking the way, and could see the trolley witch's head bouncing in the middle.
"Oh, will you all please wait in an orderly line!"
Teddy glanced into the compartment they were near, and saw a boy his own age, dark-haired and slightly familiar, surrounded by girls who didn't really seem to be paying attention to him. They were fawning at him, but Teddy thought he looked like a trapped rabbit. With a jerky motion, he reached into a bowl of sweets and tossed a handful into the air. One rolled to Teddy's feet--it was a Music Bite, meant to play a song in your head. This one was wrapped in a picture of the boy, who was dancing frantically. His name was apparently Donzo McCormack, and Teddy realized that he must have been the cause of the commotion on the platform. He vaguely remembered now hearing at the Weird Sisters' concert that Kirley McCormack's son was performing these days--Granny had said it was getting a bit ridiculous, both Kirley and his son still using his mother's maiden name just because she'd been a Quidditch star, rather than their legal name, which was Duke--but he hadn't realized they were the same age. Or cared, once he'd heard the stupid little song he did. He supposed that most Weird Sisters fans were a bit embarrassed by it. From the looks of it, so was Donzo.
A camera flash went off, and an excitable boy crowed, "I got it, I got it!" and barreled into Teddy, knocking him over.
"Aren't you Harry Potter's godson?" he asked. "What a great year!"
Teddy, who was turned away, morphed quickly, borrowing Bernice's sour face before he looked around and said, "Not sure what you mean."
"Oh." The boy looked less than impressed. "Well, sorry. My mistake." He went off without saying anything else.
Teddy slipped into the crowd and bought a handful of Chocolate Frogs, then, releasing the morph, went back to Frankie's compartment and got back to spinning a much more interesting adventure than was to be had on the train. One of the frogs, which Zachary had taken, turned out to be Dad's, and Zachary started asking questions about him, then stopped abruptly when he noticed the death date. He muttered, "Sorry, Teddy," and went back to the game, reverently tucking the card--which Teddy had got the first copy of when they originally started printing it--into the edge of the window, so Dad smiled unknowingly across at Teddy for the rest of the trip.
As the ride wore on, more students seemed to have taken to wandering from compartment to compartment, looking for their friends. None of Frankie's group seemed to care to do this, but more than once, older students had looked in to say hello. Some seemed friendly--a fourth year Ravenclaw stayed for quite a long time, and they talked about a Muggles and Minions interhouse tournament--but the majority seemed to have stumbled onto the wrong compartment. At one point, a seventh year girl nearly ran out screaming when she realized who she was asking for the time.
"Ellie Cattermole," Frankie said, rolling his eyes. "She thinks she's the little Queen of Hufflepuff because she's pretty."
"But she's dumber than a Honking Daffodil," Zachary said. "Kind of undermines her."
There were no further visits from the nasty girl with dark hair, and no one else seemed inclined to break the Teddy Rule, so with that single exception, Teddy thought the trip quite a satisfactory first day. He decided that when he wrote to Victoire, he'd tell her she'd need to practice a lot if she meant to be the rudest girl in school, though.
The sun had set long ago by the time the train started slowing as it approached Hogsmeade Station, and everyone scrambled to put on their school robes (Bernice made the curtain on the window march across the compartment so she could change in peace, though if anyone was watching the train, she'd be seen perfectly well from the outside). Frankie, in celebration of his return to school, was wearing his Hufflepuff top-hat again, and Bernice had put in badger earrings. Zachary had a small badger tie-tack.
"All right," Frankie said, "Let's give Teddy some Hufflepuff energy for the Sorting Hat to pick up!" They pressed around him, jostling him out as they hunted down their luggage and got it out onto the platform, one of the few places in Hogsmeade where Teddy hadn't spent any time. None of the shops or homes looked the same from this angle, and he couldn't see the hulking shape of the Shrieking Shack across town at all.
"Firs' years! Firs' years over here!"
"Ah, Hagrid," Frankie said. "Brings back memories..."
"From the vast depths of two years ago," Zachary said, mimicking Frankie's nostalgic tone. "However does the time slip away..."
"I have to go," Teddy said. "First year."
"Right," Frankie told him, then came closer. "Look, Ted, really, I'd love you in Hufflepuff, but if you get Sorted somewhere else, you can still come for the game, as long as we finish before you're meant to be wherever you live. There's no rule against visitors in Hufflepuff."
"See you inside, one way or the other!"
Teddy watched them head off to a carriage pulled by an invisible thestral, then headed down the steep bank of the lake, where a handful of the other first years had already made their way to Hagrid. The dark-haired girl was there, and Donzo McCormack. They'd been joined by a plain girl with gapped teeth, a small, pinched-looking boy with black hair and beady eyes, a very pretty blonde who smiled at Teddy in a watery sort of way, and another boy, this one still in Muggle clothes, who looked miffed at something. There were a few others milling around by the boats; Teddy guessed maybe a dozen had got here. The others must still be trying to sort out their luggage.
"Pretty impressive, eh?" a boy asked beside Teddy, and his accent was completely unfamiliar. "I'm kind of glad I didn't end up at the school in Nunavut. My mom said her family had been at Hogwarts for six hundred years, and I wasn't breaking tradition no matter where I was born. I'm kind of glad." He grinned up at the castle. "But I'm not eating anything with kidneys in it."
"All right, firs' years?" Hagrid said, thumping down the slope toward the boats. "We'll get across the lake--good night for it, too--"
"Excuse me," the plain girl said, frowning, "but aren't we waiting for the rest?"
Teddy looked around. The group had grown by three, leaving fifteen eleven-year-olds standing on the hill... but the carriages had left, and the platform behind them was empty except for luggage.
He looked up at Hagrid, whose face was a study in misery. "This is all of us?" he asked.
"Of course it is," the dark-haired girl said. "Most of any year is half-bloods. Exactly how many of them do you think were born the year we were?"