The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Most Unusual Student  Chapter: Chapter 1 - Supper with Albus
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Chapter 1. Supper with Albus.

Easter was late that year, and I had just spent a few precious days with my sister Julie in the Lake District, enjoying the beautiful countryside glowing in its spring clothing of soft greens and brilliant golden daffodils. Julie and I saw each other all too little, she always on the move with her busy Ministry job, me at Hogwarts coping with all the ills and injuries which students (and staff) can suffer. Regular correspondence however is no substitute for a good long chat.

Minerva McGonagall greeted me on my return that Monday afternoon. "Albus has asked us to supper with him this evening, Poppy. He says he has an interesting problem he’d like to discuss." We smiled at each other – an "interesting problem" in Albus Dumbledore’s terms could mean anything from a simple outbreak of blue spot fever to removing a horde of angry dragons from the school grounds. Though of course Minerva would be more use to him there.

Dear Albus! I thought as I unpacked my things. He was nearly twice my age of course, but we had developed an affectionate friendship quite apart from our mutual professional respect. Old Headmaster Dippett had retired barely two years earlier, and naturally no-one was in the least surprised when Albus was appointed to take his place. I wondered what sort of problem he had which required attention from both Minerva and me: I sincerely hoped it was not an outbreak of some highly infectious illness which meant contacting numerous parents.

Minerva McGonagall: now there was an interesting person. We’d known each other slightly at school, though she was two years younger and had been in Gryffindor whereas I had been in Hufflepuff. But our paths were very different after we left school. I had studied healing and the associated arts, travelled widely, married and raised a family - she had pursued a more solitary academic career. She’d studied and taught at several notable research institutes, published articles, and enjoyed an enviable professional status. She’d come back to Hogwarts about twelve years earlier, proving to be an excellent teacher though a strict disciplinarian. The previous year she had been appointed as the Deputy Head, and carried out her extra duties with all the competence that one had come to expect from her. I was probably one of the few people in whom she ever confided, and who saw her other side – the very dry sense of humour, her knowledge of French art and porcelain and her enjoyment of hiking.

As requested, we joined Albus in his sitting room, which was furnished with an eccentric assortment of mismatched items that somehow suited its owner. Minerva chose the big yellow squashy armchair, while I took the comfortable old rocker that Albus had once assured me came from his great uncle. Supper appeared on the low table in front of us, and after we had helped ourselves he settled back in his favourite high-backed chair, blue eyes twinkling at us as he sipped his tea.

"I am pleased to see you both looking so well after your short break," he beamed. "Much as I enjoy them all, an absence of students is occasionally most refreshing."

Minerva murmured assent but said nothing. We both wondered what was coming. Albus often approached problems from oblique angles, sometimes startling those who were not used to his sudden leaps from one idea to another. But this time he got straight to the point.

"We are going to have a most unusual student next term," he said calmly. "A very interesting matter for us to deal with." He regarded us both over his spectacles.

It was only April: the new students were not due until September. What sort of student could require some four months’ preparation?

"His name is Remus Lupin," said Albus. "Possibly you may remember his parents – Edmund Lupin and Gwendellyn Owens. I think they were a few years behind you Minerva – he was a Gryffindor and she was in Ravenclaw."

"I remember Edmund," she replied. I shook my head: I couldn’t recall either of them.

Albus nodded. "They married after he finished his legal studies and only have the one child. I understand poor Gwendellyn had several miscarriages and thought she may never have children, so they were overjoyed when young Remus arrived."

"And what is so special about the boy?" asked Minerva. "Is he a particularly difficult child?"

"Not in the way you mean," said Albus quietly. He set his cup down and regarded us with a strangely serious expression.

"Minerva, Poppy, of all people I am going to need your help in this matter." He paused. "Remus Lupin is a werewolf."

I froze. I heard a stifled exclamation from Minerva. A werewolf. A monster. A dark creature, a student here at Hogwarts? With hundreds of other students and staff. No-one would be safe. What on earth was Albus thinking? My thoughts raced ahead, but thankfully I held my tongue. There had to be more. And after another grave look at us, Albus continued.

"It is a most tragic situation. Remus was bitten when he was only five, by a man who himself had only recently become cursed in this way and who had not yet managed to arrange the appropriate controls." He sighed sadly. "Edmund says Remus had been playing down near the pond at the end of their field. He’d gone to bed but then remembered he’d left one of his favourite toys outside. When it started to rain he crept out and went down to get it. The wolf appeared out of nowhere and attacked him. The Ministry soon caught up with the poor man of course, but young Remus was badly hurt. And of course he will now be a werewolf for the rest of his life."

Five years old – just a child. A little boy out rescuing his toy. I thought of my daughter Amethyst at a similar age, how she had carried on in tears one night when her precious blue stuffed rabbit had been left outside and it started to snow heavily. She’d run outside in her bare feet, crying that poor Jimmy would freeze to death: Stephen and I had bundled her back inside, then spent half an hour searching our garden for the toy, only to find it safe and dry (and miraculously unchewed!) in the kennel with our dog.

And his parents. Despite all my fears I suddenly found myself wondering what it was like for them. What on earth did you do if a werewolf bit your child? How did you feel? What could you do, where did you go? How could you help your child? We’d all heard tales of families who immediately abandoned children who’d been bitten by werewolves or vampires. What would I have done if one of my children had been bitten? Jasper or Michael or Amethyst - could Stephen and I have treated any of them as a monster? Wouldn’t we still have loved them just as dearly? And Remus was the Lupins’ only child ... those poor, poor people. I realised that Albus was already answering some of my confused and unspoken questions.

"The Lupins have been everywhere, tried everything of course. Edmund has contacts here and on the Continent, and Gwendellyn knows many healers and apothecaries through her own work. They came to me quite early in the piece, and I have also tried to help them, put them in touch with experts here and overseas. But alas, no-one has yet found a cure, or even anything to assist them."

"Nothing in the Ministry?" asked Minerva. "Don’t they have some sort of Support Unit?"

I snorted in disgust. "I doubt they’d be much use Minerva! That whole section of the Ministry is unhelpful at the best of times – they’d be no use whatsoever on this. They’d probably give you reams of parchment to fill out, then wash their hands and leave it up to the parents." I’d had far too many dealings with those bureaucrats when Amethyst wanted to pursue her specialised studies of exotic creatures.

"Right as usual, Poppy," said Albus with a chuckle. "Fortunately the Lupins are a very sensible couple and love Remus dearly. They’ve coped extremely well in fact. They’ve had to move home numerous times though. Remus often needs expert healing after his transformations. Unfortunately, the local healers soon become aware of what is causing the injuries and refuse to treat him or have anything to do with him. Worse, some of them have gone and told their local community and the Lupins have virtually been driven out."

"They refuse to help an injured child? What sort of a healer would do that?" I later realised how strange it was, that you can be so full of fear and loathing of the monster, and yet at the same time pity the child who becomes that monster. Somehow we see the two as separate beings, not two halves of the same whole.

"Those who are blinded by their prejudices." Albus’ words struck home and I felt a swift surge of shame for my own initial reaction. "We even know them as ‘beasts’ not ‘beings’ – and yet I have met wizards who are more beastly than any werewolf. And probably less deserving of our pity." He looked strangely sad.

"They’ve lived in Devon for a year or so now," he went on after a few moments’ silence. "They found a local healer who is discreet and willing to help them. I believe that Gwendellyn is now growing herbs and flowers for her to use in her practice – she was always excellent at herbology. Edmund works in Exeter, so it seems they may now have found a settled home."

"And they want Remus to come to Hogwarts," Minerva said slowly.

"Yes. They’re desperate for him to have a proper education. They believe that only if he develops the proper skills for our community will he have any chance of a normal life. And though both are undoubtedly capable of teaching him most adequately, they are also worried that Remus is so very isolated. They’d like him to meet people, live with others, have fun and make friends like any normal boy."

"But he is not a ‘normal’ boy," I responded.

"No, he is certainly not. But what is ‘normal’ Poppy? There are wizards who are insane who spend their lives in St Mungo’s, not even knowing who they are. They’re not ‘normal’. Even so, we never consider them as ‘beasts’, and we treat them with all the compassion and care which they deserve." Albus’ eyes flashed suddenly. "But a little boy gets bitten by a werewolf, and suddenly he is a thought of as a ‘creature’ and not a person. And a dark creature at that. Yet for all but one day every month, he could pass for any other boy in our community. If we stood Remus Lupin in line with a whole lot of other boys his age, would anyone be able to tell that he was a werewolf? I think not."

Albus rose and wandered over to the window, then returned to his seat and regarded us. "I have always felt ashamed that we treat them like this. It is wrong and cruel. These people suffer a terrible curse, yet we treat them as though they are somehow to blame. We throw them out, despise them, shun them, tell them they are not welcome, prevent them holding many jobs, teach our children to fear them. Do you wonder that so many of them turn to the darker forces in our world? I sometimes wonder if perhaps we create our own monsters!"

I had seldom heard Albus so passionate, almost angry even. He was always a great champion of the underdog.

My eyes met his steadily. "So you are not just concerned with one small boy. You want to use young Remus Lupin to prove to the wizarding community that our treatment of werewolves is wrong. Are you taking up a cause, Albus?"

He smiled at me. "I do not want to "use" Remus at all, Poppy," he said gently. "Or to make him into some sort of cause. But I made it clear when I took on this position that I will never turn away any child who wants an education, that everyone is welcome here at Hogwarts. I want Remus Lupin to come to us and be welcome, to have the opportunity which Hogwarts provides, and a chance to live as normal a life as possible. And if by doing so we can quietly show that werewolves are simply ordinary people who suffer a terrifying illness, then maybe other youngsters like Remus will also, in time, get a similar chance."

There was silence for several minutes. I heard a soft shuffling and realised Fawkes had woken on his perch. His tail shimmered deep red and gold in the soft candlelight.

Minerva broke the silence. "Have you met him – Remus I mean?" She sounded very thoughtful and was obviously weighing up the situation.

"Yes, I met him a few months ago after the Lupins first approached me about him coming to Hogwarts. I wanted to make an assessment, see how I thought he might fit in."

"What’s he like?" I was as interested as Minerva.

"A quiet child, very well mannered. Extremely shy though – Edmund says he doesn’t have any friends. He’s been largely educated at home of course, though I understand there have been periods when he has gone to local schools. But they’ve moved so frequently that regular attendance is impossible, and his monthly absences are a little difficult to explain." Albus leant forward to help himself to another slice of lemon sponge cake, a dusting of icing sugar soon clinging to his beard.

"I talked to him for a while and he seems to be highly intelligent and sensible." He paused. "And very lonely I think."

I glanced at Minerva, who was stirring her tea thoughtfully. Of course he’d be lonely, poor thing. What a life he must be leading. What sort of life could he look forward to? Even the Ministry couldn’t decide whether werewolves were "beasts" or "beings", though our community invariably treated them as the former. They even had to be registered with the Ministry. I found myself thinking of all I ever learnt about werewolves. I realised I knew very little: their care and treatment was hardly likely to be a standard topic in medical textbooks after all. You were more likely to find material in Defence or Dark Arts books. All sorts of questions came racing to mind – how did you look after them? What were their transformations like? How long did they take? What effects did they have? What would I have to do if he came here? How badly would he be hurt? What would I need to do to help him? Did he turn into a fully-grown werewolf or was he only a cub until he reached puberty? How long do werewolves live?

I realised with a start that both Albus and Minerva were looking at me. "I don’t think they’re any different to ordinary little boys, Poppy," said Albus gently, reading my mind with uncanny accuracy. "They laugh, they cry, they bleed, they feel pain, they get frightened. They even need a hug now and then." That man! He knew me all too well, I thought.

Minerva gave a great sigh, took another sip of tea and regarded the Headmaster. "Albus, I am desperately sorry for the Lupins. It must be heartbreaking for them. But how exactly do you propose that we have him here to Hogwarts?" Ever the practical one, our Minerva.

"I have already made some arrangements," he replied, and she looked relieved. "He will certainly need to be safely isolated during full moons, and of course we need to make very sure that no-one can possibly get access to him whilst he is, ah, dangerous. And he will undoubtedly need medical attention afterwards, Poppy. Gwendellyn says that he often hurts himself quite badly." Werewolf rages, I remembered. Isolated, he would only have himself to hurt. How bad could that be …?

"It is much too risky to have him secured on the school grounds," he went on. "So I’ve acquired that small shack outside Hogsmeade. I’m adding a bit to it and making it completely secure, so he cannot possibly get out – and no-one can get in. It is indeed fortunate that there have been occasional suggestions that there is a ghost there. I intend to foster the idea that it is haunted – possibly I shall hint that I am … ah …. "relocating" a couple of meddlesome ghosts from the castle." He looked highly amused at the prospect.

"And how does he get there Albus?" Minerva pursued the issue doggedly. "We’re hardly likely to walk him openly through Hogsmeade every full moon you know! And if he needs medical attention afterwards - just how do you propose to arrange that?"

"We need some sort of hidden entrance," I found myself saying. "Something that only a few of us know about, that is safe but quick and easy to use. For Remus especially."

Albus beamed at me. "Precisely, Poppy my dear! And I have just the thing – a Whomping Willow! I have arranged for some dwarves from Dingle and Dell Constructions to come during the summer and dig a tunnel from the school grounds right out to the shack, and we will plant the Willow over the top to hide the entrance. I doubt any of our students will get beyond that!"

"Just as long as Remus can get in, Albus!" I replied dryly.

Minerva’s mind had turned in other directions. "Albus, do you propose to tell the other staff? And what are you going to tell the students?"

"I’m afraid that this is one issue I have not yet decided on. I certainly do not intend to tell the students – but whether or not we tell all the staff is something we need to consider most carefully. I propose to tell Filius Flitwick – I’m going to ask for his assistance with the security charms on the shack. But as for the others – well, I’d appreciate your thoughts, both of you."

Minerva frowned. "His Head of House should know, certainly. But we won’t know that until he is Sorted. If he’s in Ravenclaw, Filius will already know. Ivy Sprout will be no problem with Hufflepuff I should say, but what if he’s in Slytherin? How do you think Professor Lutz would react? He even teaches Defence, Albus!"

"I am confident that Bernard would treat the information in the strictest confidence, and that it would not make any difference to his treatment of young Lupin. Though I must admit that I rather hope he will not be Sorted into Slytherin: there are certain boys there who, I’m afraid, have some most dubious associations." We all knew whom he meant.

"So you don’t really think all staff should be informed?" I had my own reservations about several of our Professors.

"Absolutely not. I think the fewer who know about young Remus the better." Minerva was quite emphatic. "I have always tried to be impartial in my teaching, and not unduly favour – or indeed prejudice – students from one House over another. Even students whom I particularly dislike." I smiled inwardly: Minerva was a very loyal Gryffindor, though she was indeed known for her fairness. "But if everyone knew about the boy, I cannot believe that they would all be similarly inclined. And no matter how much you swear them to silence Albus, I’m afraid that one of them would let something slip one day, especially if he did something wrong. It is very easy to lose one’s temper and become indiscreet in such situations."

"What say you, Poppy?"

I didn’t answer immediately, studying the intricate pattern in the old Persian carpet beneath me. Albus was taking a great risk in having Remus Lupin at Hogwarts. On the one hand, it was only right that all staff should at least be informed, so that they could take any necessary precautions. But then – what precautions would they need to take after all? If Remus was smuggled to the safe house each month and remained secure there, what harm could he do to anyone? As long as he was responsible, and Albus, Minerva and I ensured he followed the proper procedures, would it really affect anyone else? And Minerva certainly had a point about the attitude of certain staff. I was under no illusions about the extent of prejudice he would face. The boy would probably find things difficult enough as it was – why make it any more difficult than it needed to be? And if Albus wanted him to be a "normal" boy, then he should surely start off on the same footing as every ot her student: his reputation in the school would then be a matter for him to determine through his own conduct. I looked up.

" I agree with Minerva," I said slowly. "The three of us, Filius, and then the Head of his House, whoever that may be. Fortunately," I smiled slightly "there’s a good chance he will be in Ravenclaw or Gryffindor. And we most certainly do not tell the students!" I could imagine the panic, the owls home, the fuss, the articles in the papers, Ministry officials descending on Hogwarts ....

"Some of them might work it out for themselves you know, " said Minerva. "I’d like to know what he intends to tell the boys in his dormitory in particular."

"Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it," said Albus firmly. "And as far as the other staff go, I suggest that if anyone questions his regular absences, I shall simply tell them that Remus has a rare illness which requires regular treatment, and that sometimes he has to go to a Muggle hospital. I believe that will explain matters adequately, especially if anyone notices he is not in sickbay one night when he is supposed to be ill."

We looked at each other for a long moment, then Albus waved his hand and a small tray bearing a purple bottle and three glasses appeared at his side. He beamed at us both as he poured out the deep golden liqueur and handed us each a glass.

"Well ladies. To our most unusual student – may he enjoy his time at Hogwarts!"

I sipped my drink slowly, savouring the flavours. Next term would certainly be "interesting" – and tomorrow I would go to the library and find out about werewolves.

____________

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