Werewolves gossip like old women. I swear that every single one in the country has heard about the dramatic little encounter I had with Fenrir the other night. There has been a constant parade of people coming to my door to hear the story first hand. I can't decide if they're genuinely fond of me or if they're just curious.
In the case of Royal and Celestia who were over this afternoon, I know they genuinely care. I also felt my face grow hot when I opened the door and found them standing there. "Don't say 'I told you so' because I know that you did." I said sheepishly. "You were right about the Fenrir thing."
"I was going to say nothing of the kind." answered Royal, his eyes following Megan as she walked right up to Mary Ann and began an animated conversation. "We just wanted to see how you were doing."
"How did Remus take it?" asked Celestia.
"Pretty well, actually." I admitted, feeling my forehead crease in confusion. After the scene he'd created when I'd first brought Mary Ann home, I had expected something similar from him this time around too.
Naturally Basil and the others had run right over to tell him after leaving Tonks that morning. When I came home from school, feeling like a zombie from lack of sleep, I internally groaned to find Remus waiting for me, expecting a fight forthcoming. To my surprise and relief he listened to my version of the story quite calmly and did not hit the roof after I finished.
I'm really amazed at how well he took it all, especially considering how much Fenrir pushes his buttons. It's enough to give me the courage to tell him certain facts about myself that I've been withholding --- almost.
"How are you all doing?" I asked, casting a glance over Royal. He looked better than when I'd last seen him. Better fed, not so sallow, but careworn and older somehow.
"We're managing." answered Celestia cheerfully, but I thought I detected strain beneath the surface.
Melissa, who had been unusually quiet, being occupied in staring at Fenrir's daughter as though she was a dangerous animal locked up in a cage, blurted out, "My dad doesn't have a job yet."
Celestia cast a furtive look in Royal's direction and I supposed this was the source of the tension I was sensing.
"Occasionally I get work as a handyman." Royal explained. "Some people are poor enough that they don't mind hiring a werewolf whose rates are cheaper than anyone else's. The problem is, it's those kind of people that I feel guilty charging at all. You feel sorry for people who are down and out -- but then I'm down and out too. With four kids."
"What kind of things can you do?" I asked, as an idea occurred to me. Hadn't Sophia said that she was thinking of hiring someone to help out?
"About anything. My father was kind of a handyman himself and I learned a lot from him."
"Have you ever worked on a farm?" I asked casually, as though the question was not vitally important. I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up.
"Some here and there."
"Royal may not have been to school, but that doesn't mean that he isn't educated." said Celestia loyally. "He can learn to do almost anything."
"I think he should learn magic while he has spare time." said Megan, pausing in her practically one way conversation with Mary Ann who was looking rather dazed by the assault.
"I'd like to, but wands cost money." said Royal, sounding slightly grumpy. I guessed that this was an ongoing family debate. "All it takes is one trip to Azkaban to make a person want to learn defensive magic. I know I did the right thing by going peacefully but I'm not sure I'd have the courage to do it again. One time was enough."
"Running wouldn't have solved anything." said Celestia cautiously. Probably she was imagining life on the run with four kids.
Well, I can't do anything about the government's unfair treatment of werewolves, but maybe I can do something to help Royal get his life on track again. I made a quiet resolution to discuss it with Sophia and volunteered to go over there with Remus to help him take care of the horses. I figured that would give me a chance to get Sophia alone. I knew that I couldn't mention this idea in front of him because I had a feeling he wouldn't approve. Royal is a werewolf after all, and Remus has hardly had anything to do with his family for years to spare them the shame of people finding out that he's one too. I do love him, but sometimes he can be so frustrating.
My plan did not go very well at first. Sophia decided to come out and help us rather than sit in the house like an old lady. I had to invent a way to get her alone.
"I need a drink of water." I said at one point.
"Go ahead and help yourself." Sophia answered.
This was not what I wanted at all. When Remus's back was turned, I gave her a long, significant look. After a few moments she caught my eye. "Do you know I think I'll go with you. I could use a drink too. Remus, should we bring you something?"
"No thank you. I'm fine." he answered, unaware of the conspiracy beginning to form right under his nose.
Sophia and I left the stable and headed slowly back toward the house. "How do you like the horses?" she asked conversationally.
"They're beautiful and have better attitudes than hippogriffs. And I certainly like them better than thestrals."
"I don't blame you about that."
"Listen -- I wanted to ask you. Do you still want to hire someone to help out around here?" I asked, with a sneaky glance behind me to make sure that Remus had not decided to come with us after all.
"Do you have someone in mind?"
I explained about Royal, winding up with, "The only thing is that he's a werewolf."
"Oh dear. Remus won't like that."
"He and Remus are friends actually so it wouldn't be anything personal. It's just that I know he worries about someone you know finding out that he's a werewolf, so I'm expecting he wouldn't appreciate them finding out that you have one working for you either."
"He means well but he tries too hard." answered Sophia. "Tell the man that I'd like to meet with him. I'll try to arrange things so that Remus doesn't blame you if I hire him."
So that's a little seed that I've sown today and I'll just have to wait and see if it bears fruit. I hope so, because I know that Royal and Sophia would be fair to each other in a business relationship. For once in his life, Royal might get paid a decent wage and be able to take better care of his family -- and hopefully get a wand for himself. It would be great if we could include Royal in our nightly magic lessons. Well, we'll have to wait and see what develops.
I spent most of the day at Hogwarts today, which is always nice. I can't wait to move back there for good and I'm hoping that when I do, Remus will be there too.
Dumbledore has always been good to me. I know how busy he is, but whenever I need his ear he always takes time to talk to me. I sent him a quick owl asking if he'd see me this morning and he said that he would without a problem. Maybe he likes me. Maybe he wants to keep a close eye on Voldemort jr. -- he certainly does seem to have a secure leash on my brother.
Speaking of Severus, I didn't run into him thankfully. I know he wouldn't have approved of what I was up to. As Merlin's Easter break does not take place at the same time as Hogwart's, classes were in session and he was probably down in the dungeons teaching and well out of my way.
I refuse to feel guilty for campaigning to give the job my brother wants to Remus. Severus has a perfectly good teaching job and Remus doesn't. He's going to call me a traitor and everything else under the sun, but I doubt it will last long since he'll probably stop speaking to me after graduation. Well I can't let him run my life, can I?
'Prune Pasties' was the current password to Dumbledore's office. Prunes?
Dumbledore was not behind his desk, but standing beside Fawke's perch, vanishing droppings and stray feathers. "He looks like he's burned within the last few months." I commented.
"Yes. Remarkable how fast they grow, isn't it?"
"About as fast as teenage werewolves." I said ruefully, which reminded me of another thing I needed to discuss with him. "How have things been around here? Severus says it's been quiet."
Dumbledore stepped behind his desk and motioned me to a chair. To my surprise, his lips twitched. "Clearly he hasn't told you about Lockhart's latest holiday surprise."
"What now?" I asked, apprehensively.
"It's been going on all week, and every day it's something different. This morning it was Easter eggs beside all of our plates at breakfast. Enchanted baby chickens burst from the shells and began dancing on the tables. The foxtrot I believe. Two of them stepped into Severus's plate and into the middle of his fried eggs. There were little yellow footprints trailing everywhere."
I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing and then quickly put a hand over my mouth. "Shame on me."
"No, I agree with you. It was very hard to keep a straight face, but I thought I had better. I am the headmaster after all. Besides, I was afraid that Severus might resign if I didn't. The mere sight of Lockhart seems to infuriate him lately -- though perhaps that's because of the rabbit ears."
"Yes. Professor Lockhart has been getting into the spirit of the season by wearing rabbit ears on his head all week."
"Well, I seriously doubt he'll be back next year." I said, trying to steer the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go.
"In all frankness, I hope not. Of course he does provide comic relief, but in light of certain recent events, the students must learn defensive magic. I don't believe we've had a decent Defense Against the Dark Arts class taught in this school in the past two years."
"Remus would make a good teacher." I artlessly suggested.
"I agree. And may I assume that's the reason you're here?"
"Now would certainly be the time to begin working on the school governors but I'm afraid I'm not very popular with them at the moment. If I mentioned Remus to them now, it would probably prejudice them against him more so than they already would be." answered Dumbledore gravely.
"Because I have two petrified students, a cat and a ghost still in the hospital wing with no clear explanation as to how it happened or who caused it to happen. The governors will not be happy with me until I produce the culprit ... or a likely scapegoat...which I will not do."
"Hagrid?" I asked anxiously.
"They have made that suggestion, yes, but I will not allow that to happen while I am still headmaster here."
This at least was reassuring. Annoyed as the governors might be, there was no way they'd ever push Dumbledore out. As long as Dumbledore was in charge, Hagrid would be safe.
"Maybe I should go back to searching again." I suggested.
"I promised your brother."
"Severus worries too much. I wish he'd get over it." For his dislike of Remus, they do have that one thing in common.
"Remus would be ideal for the job." said Dumbledore. "At the first opportunity that presents itself, I will certainly make the suggestion. Though perhaps I should discuss it with him first."
"He'll be thrilled to even be considered."
"There was something else you wished to discuss with me?"
"Yes. I have a problem. You know Fenrir Grayback, or who he is at least. Well, he has a fourteen year old daughter. I felt sorry for her and invited her to move in with me. She's been there most of the past year and I've been trying to find a home for her. I haven't had any luck with that and if I haven't found a place for her by the end of the year, then I don't see how I have any other choice but to bring her with me in September."
I saw something unfamiliar flash in Dumbledore's eyes. Surprise? Finally I had managed to come up with something that he hadn't already learned through his mysterious and seemingly all seeing sources of knowledge. "Indeed? What is the girl like?"
"She has a temper but she's not bad. I bought her a wand and started teaching her magic, but of course she'd never be able to attend school here at the level where she is now. She's just a beginner. We'd have to throw her in with the first years." I felt like I was rambling, which was understandable because I was nervous about broaching this subject. If Dumbledore refused to let me bring Mary Ann to Hogwarts, what was I going to do?
"We have had young werewolves here at Hogwarts before, of course. Just one, actually." answered Dumbledore. "And these days it's much easier with the wolfsbane potion. The governors won't like it at all, but then they don't necessarily need to know. They never knew about Remus. "
"I'll be responsible for her." I promised, beginning to feel hope.
"Is Grayback aware that these plans are being made?"
"No. Ideally, I'd like her to go completely into hiding from him but I don't see how I can do that if he figures out that I have her here. The situation with her parents is pretty bad."
"Knowing Grayback, I imagine that it is." Dumbledore agreed. "I have never turned away anyone from these doors who needs help. Fenrir Grayback will never set foot on these grounds." he continued, his voice like chilled steel. "The girl will be safe here."
"Does that mean I have permission?" I asked with a sigh of relief.
"I won't deny that I'd prefer that you find another, more suitable place for her to stay, but I certainly would not ask you to kick her out on the street. She may stay here."
I was so relieved that I was almost tempted to jump up and throw my arms around him. "Thank you so much." I said instead.
"Well, I guess that's it."
"It was nice to see you, Kerri." said Dumbledore. And something about the way he says that always makes you feel like he really means it. "I hope you enjoy your week off."
"I will." I assured him, getting to my feet. "I'm off to see Hagrid right now. By the way -- how did you know I was in the hospital."
"Professor Comes informed me. After you first began excelling so highly at Merlin, she wanted to know more about your academic history so she contacted me. She thought I might want to know that you'd been injured. She's making bets on you, you know."
"Yes. I do know." I answered, rolling my eyes.
"You should also know that you are very highly thought of. Severus is very excited about your graduation. I may attend as well."
This surprised me. I wondered if he knew that a huge blow up was impending for when Severus and Remus ran into each other. If so, I was very grateful. Severus wouldn't do anything too horrible with Dumbledore present.
Despite the fact that I was going to go visit thestrals I was in a fairly optimistic mood when I left Dumbledore's office. As far as the Mary Ann situation went, a huge weight was off my shoulders now that I knew I had permission to keep her. My mother is just going to have to deal with it for two months when I go home this summer. I wonder if there's any way I can somehow hide the fact from her that Mary Ann has lycanthropy?
I rounded a corner and almost walked right into Lockhart, who was indeed sporting floppy bunny rabbit ears on top of his head. Their inner part was pink and they matched his robes exactly. I spoke without thinking, "Hi there, Gorgon."
Lockhart's eyes widened in shock as he recognized me. It was the first time we'd seen each other since he'd attacked me last year and Remus threatened him within an inch of his life. Clearly the threat still held weight with him, judging by how quickly he began scrambling backward to get away from me. He stumbled over several students who all either laughed outright or insulted him. Except for one.
"Are you all right, Professor?" called a voice I recognized.
Percy Weasley. Of course -- only he would have anything resembling respect for an idiot like Lockhart. I wondered if he was really so dense that he hadn't noticed Lockhart was an incompetent moron or if he just appreciated Lockhart's position and wanted to stay on his good side. What a little butt kisser. I ducked down a side passage to avoid him, wondering if he'd treat me the same way when I was teaching there. An evil part of me was praying that I'd get the chance to put him in detention just once.
Hagrid was ready and waiting for me by the forest entrance, his crossbow in one hand and a bloody burlap sack full of raw meat in the other.
"I'll bet that attracts more than thestrals." I commented as we set out on the path with Fang trotting beside us. "Did you ever catch the bloosucking bugbear that was eating your...roosters...?" I asked as a lightbulb went on over my head.
It seemed too big a coincidence that Hagrid's roosters had been killed at the same time that the basilisk had been active. Someone -- someone who had to possess a body -- had gotten rid of them. I barely heard Hagrid's reply to my question as I made a mental note to pass this on to Severus. Either Voldemort has a body, or he's possessed someone again.
The forest was nice. I don't know why people are terrified of it. Okay, yes I do. It is a dangerous place but still a beautiful one. Knowing how to survive in it I feel secure enough to pay attention to the good things about it.
Underneath the tree canopy it was dim and damp. I paused to admire yellow fungi with red speckles stair stepping up a tree trunk. At the base of the tree, tiny bell shaped flowers sheltered underneath dark green leaves. All over the forest floor the flower spikes of some larger plant were just beginning to push up through the earth. Fang seemed to consider it his duty to 'water' as many as possible.
"How's the werewolf who got shot?" asked Hagrid.
"She's fine now. Although her father forced her to break up with her boyfriend." Nevertheless, I suspected Wes and Ana were still seeing each other in secret, just as they always had.
"Did you find out who shot her?"
"Walden McNair. I haven't decided what to do about it yet. Her parents don't want me to make a fuss because Ana was not supposed to be outside the commune during a full moon. The whole family could be rounded up and sent to prison."
"From the Blacks and the Malfoys and the McNairs, good Lord deliver us." Hagrid quipped, making me look up at him in surprise. "Used to be a sort of joke back in the time when You-Know-Who was taking over and those three families were right in with him. I guess without You-Know-Who around to give them victims, the McNairs have started killing werewolves for fun."
"Disposable victims." I agreed. "No one cares about werewolves. Walden works for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Dangerous Creatures so probably he just likes killing things in general."
"Yeah. That's about all those people in that department do. Figures that's how he'd end up. I remember him from when he was a kid here. Always teasing the animals."
"Are there any McNairs -- or Blacks or Malfoys at school now?" I wondered. Advance warning might be nice.
"All the McNairs have graduated now and all of the Blacks who were left after You-Know-Who disappeared are either dead or locked up. Well, mostly."
"And Narcissa Malfoy. Narcissa has a son who's here. He's Harry's age and he and Harry feud a lot. Kind of like James and Snape did."
"Have the unicorns some out yet?" I asked.
"I saw two mommas last week. So far I'll I've seen are two foals. Well, the unicorns had a rough time last year, what with....well, you know."
What with Voldemort running loose in the woods killing them off.
"Where are we going?" I asked Hagrid as we left the path.
"Something I want to show you and we can feed the thestrals from there."
I followed Hagrid through the dense brush. For the most part it was easy enough, because his huge body pretty much flattened anything that might have blocked my path. The only trouble I had was going up a steep, rocky hill, and Hagrid boosted me in spots that I couldn't manage on my own. It reminded me of when I was a young girl and he'd take me into the woods with him, carrying me up rocky slopes and over boggy spots.
"Down there." said Hagrid when we reached the top.
I looked at the place he was pointing. There was a shallow stream running through a lot of thick growing spruce trees. Behind the trees I caught a flash of turquoise blue, the kind of blue that simply did not naturally exist in the forest. "Is that ---" I began.
Suddenly a pair of young male centaurs came thundering in at full tilt, bows raised. "Ah-ha ! We have found you again, human contraption!"
There was the sound of an engine revving and I watched in bemusement as Mr. Weasley's car gunned across the little stream and around the shoulder of the hill, the centaurs in pursuit.
"Haven't they gotten bored with that yet?"
"Guess not." said Hagrid, "And I'd like to get it out of here. It doesn't belong in the forest. It isn't natural. I found a run over spider with tire marks on it three days ago."
I bit my lip to choke back laughter. Really, it isn't funny, but I've never liked those spiders.
"Charlie says that sometimes inanimate objects can become imprinted with the energy of their owners. Eventually it should wear off and then it will just act like a normal car and break down somewhere." I explained
"It's been putting up quite fight with the centaurs."
"It must take after Mrs. Weasely."
The hill was an ideal place for feeding thestrals because it gave them a good, clear landing place. It was very disconcerting to hear all those huge bodies descending at a breakneck pace around me. I felt like I was in the middle of a feeding frenzy of invisible sharks. It would have made anyone cringe.
"How is it that you can see them?" I asked, holding back as Hagrid fed a thestral meat directly from his hand.
"I was with my father when he died. I was at school, but they sent for me to come home." answered Hagrid with uncharacteristic softness. He took my hand and placed it against the side of the nearest thestral. It felt leathery and there were veins standing up in sharp relief -- a wing.
He handed me a piece of meat to feed the thestral. Although I've never seen a thestral in person, I've seen pictures and studied them. I tried not to think about sharp teeth so close to my skin as I held my palm flat for it to eat out of. I'm not sure I really feel fonder of thestrals after the excursion, but perhaps not so afraid of them. I'll be able to teach my upper level classes without doing something stupid like jumping if one gets too close.
More importantly, I had fun with Hagrid and Fang. Tomorrow I think Remus and I are going to go riding, which will be nice. Mary Ann is going to go visit Jillian. I keep hoping that her magnetic personality will win over Ryann and make her change her mind about not being willing to take her in...but this is Mary Ann I'm talking about, and she isn't exactly known for her charm.
Author's Note : Update on the sequel -- I'm having a banner made right now and am working on the timeline for the months of June through March.
Next Chapter: Sophia Lupin hires Royal, Fenrir pays a visit, and bad news arrives from Hogwarts.
It is with some reservation that I write this letter to you, but I know you will hear the news soon enough in the papers and prefer that you get the facts from me first.
There was another attack today in which two students were petrified. Professor Dumbledore has been relieved of his position as headmaster and forced out of the school. I know that this next part will especially upset you and wish there was a better way to prepare you for it. Hagrid has been blamed for the attack and was sent to Azkaban a few hours ago. I am sorry for the grief that I know this causes you.
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