"Stop scaring the First Years," Harry scolded Severus, as he followed him down the corridor towards the Headmaster's office. "It's not their fault."
"Who knows what they've got up to since my colleague has had them in his charge?"
"Remus isn't a bad teacher," Harry protested.
They arrived at the entrance to Albus' chambers, and Harry waited for Severus to give the password.
"Rum Ball Bouncies," he ground out, but the gargoyle at guard didn't move.
"Maybe he was expecting you?"
"Damnation!" Severus exclaimed, before directing a litany of sweets—that quickly turned profane—at the statue.
A stern voice cut through his tirade: "Twenty points from Slytherin for language unbecoming a professor!"
"Can she do that?" Harry asked, at the same time that Severus said, "Minerva, I—"
"Severus, I'm surprised at you! What is the meaning of this unprofessional display?"
"I can't get in. He's changed the pass—"
"Rum Ball Bouncers," Minerva interrupted, snorting in annoyance. "There. Are you satisfied?"
Severus ignored her and stepped upon the revolving spiral staircase, clenching his fists. "You knew it was 'Bouncers'."
"And I would have told you, too, if you'd given me the chance," Harry said, trying not to chuckle as he gave Minerva an apologetic wave.
"You had a cha—"
"Well, if it isn't my two favourite wizards," Albus greeted them merrily. "I was expecting my favourite witch, but this is a nice surprise."
"How could you?" Severus demanded. "We discussed this! You promised that you wouldn't ask Lupin to teach in my stead!"
"Yes," Albus replied mildly, "so I did—but I didn't—and it's wonderful to find you so animated. Do sit down," he continued, over Severus' splutters of outrage. "Sherbet lemon?"
"Sherbet lemons be damned! What do you mean, you didn't ask Lupin? He's here, isn't he?"
Harry sat down quickly, wondering how he would handle the situation once Severus learnt that Remus wasn't a member of the staff. I wish I'd had time to talk to Albus before we got here.
His eyes twinkling in their usual manner, Albus replied, "Why yes, he is, and I was quite pleased that Minerva found him so eager to accept the position on such short notice."
"Hells!" Severus exclaimed, as Harry, gobsmacked, thought, Tippy must have slipped Felix Felicis into the wine!
"Do sit down and tell me why you're here after you promised not to concern yourself with professional matters for the duration of the Courtship Ritual."
"You can hardly expect me to idle over the tea cups while that mo—menace—is instructing my brats!"
"Your concern for your students has always been commendable, but I assure you that Remus has them well in hand. Indeed, you left such exact and copious lesson plans that he's hardly had to lift a finger."
Severus, grumbling under his breath, did so.
"And you, Harry. Won't you sit down?"
"Actually . . . ."
"Ah, you'd like to visit Remus. I believe you'll find him walking by the lake, as it's one of his free periods."
Ignoring Severus' scowl, Harry made to leave, stopping as Albus called his name.
"Do come visit with me before you return to Snape Manor, dear boy. We've yet to finish our discussion about the possibility of your taking the Defence position."
When Harry's laughter had faded, Severus retorted, "You'll employ anyone, won't you?"
"That was ungenerous."
"And ridiculous, as well," Severus admitted, slumping his shoulders forward in defeat. "Why, Albus?"
"Why should I wish Harry to take up the Defence position?"
"Because it was expedient. Your change in circumstance left little time to prepare, you know, and Remus was interested in a change, himself. His bookshop's popularity since adding the tea room—"
"Notoriety doesn't lure the patrons?"
"You know it does, but the wrong sort," Albus said drily. "Given the debates in Parliament in recent months, the quiet life of a bookstore owner whose shop is favoured by some MWPs isn't so very quiet, and Remus has never enjoyed publicity of any sort."
"Wands were drawn in Flourish and Blotts just before the start of term, so I hear."
"Indeed, matters have become tense everywhere," Albus agreed. "Now then, tell me how Harry is."
"You just saw him."
"The incident with Frasier must have been most unsettling—for both of you."
"How odd to find you so well-informed about that, as well."
"Oh, Potter's quite well. He continues to survive and make . . . the best of things."
"I see. Harry's made a new friend, has he?"
"If you're going to root about in my mind, Albus, why even bother to ask?"
"Forgive me, but your thoughts are rather loud this afternoon."
"I suppose I have been behaving like a thwarted school boy."
"I accept your apology."
"How generous of you."
"Don't you ever find your tendency towards sarcasm wearying?"
"I did apologise. There's no need to treat me like a school boy."
"Of course not," Albus replied, reaching for a sherbet lemon and unwrapping it slowly.
"The Courtship Ritual."
"It's not going as I expected."
"I believe you were rather too intent on its outcome when you began it to consider its process, but I wouldn't worry overmuch about Harry befriending his fellow Eligibles. He agreed to participate for your sake, did he not?"
So he did. "But what of my students? My advanced students, in particular, cannot be well-served by such as Remus Lupin," Severus replied, no longer willing to consider his personal circumstances.
"As it happens, we are all in agreement on that point."
"You, Remus, and I. That is why Remus suggested that I teach your advanced students."
"But what of Kent? Severus asked, grasping for some subject about which he could complain in his displeasure at the situation.
"What of him?"
"Are you and Professor Lupin keeping him out of my stores?"
Albus chuckled. "Oh, Remus has Osric in hand, as well, I assure you. Despite all my efforts to educate Osric, he insists on labouring under the misapprehension that lycanthropes, after sufficient years under the regulation of Wolfsbane, can transform at will."
In spite of himself, Severus smirked. "You see, Lupin is a menace, and your judgment in selecting qualified staff remains far from commendable."
"You're too harsh in your criticism. Osric is competent enough in his way, and there is something you don't know about Remus."
Severus leant back into his chair and accepted a cup of tea from Albus as he waited to hear the news about Remus that Harry had just learnt from the man himself.
"What? Lockhart's charm was real? And it worked?" he asked, grabbing Remus' hands in his excitement. "That's great news! Why didn't you tell me?"
"Harry," Remus said, laughing softly, "it only just happened. I wasn't sure it had worked—so I decided to wait a few cycles before I told anyone. The Homorphus Charm was supposed to be defensive, you know, not Transfigurative."
"What made you decide to try it, anyway?" Harry asked, still grinning. "Did you cast it yourself? Did—"
"Give me a moment, and let's go inside where it's warm. I could use a cup of tea."
The two wizards returned to the castle and settled down in the sitting room in Remus' chambers, located in a part of Hogwarts that Harry had never seen.
"Well?" he demanded.
"First off, the charm wasn't Lockhart's. He stole it from Osric Kent and altered his memories."
"He did? But Kent's teaching here now."
"Yes, he is. I don't know if you'd remember this, but Kent was picked up by Moody in a sweep of those people selling fake defensive charms during the war."
"I remember," Harry said, frowning.
"It turns out that, during his interrogation of the man, Moody discovered Kent's mind had been tampered with. He realised Kent hadn't meant to create false charms, that he just couldn't remember what to do, so he arranged for him to be seen by Master Spurlock at the Spellcraftres' Guild."
"And the master cured him?"
"Yes, but not before discovering that Kent had, in fact, been the wizard to defeat the Wagga Wagga werewolf with the Homorphus Charm that Lockhart wrote of—and that he'd been researching how to use the charm to cure lycanthropy. Spurlock invited Kent to work on his project at the Guild, and then he contacted me some months ago when the charm was ready for testing."
"And it worked!"
"Yes, it did. I haven't had a transformation since two cycles before the beginning of term."
"It's so hard to believe. You must feel—you must be so relieved, Remus."
"After a lifetime of . . . yes, Harry. You have no idea how relieved I am."
"And that's why Albus asked Kent to come teach here, isn't it, out of gratitude for his having helped you?"
"I think so," Remus replied, smiling, "but I also think it's because he knows Kent isn't particularly interested in teaching for very long. The man's here until he figures out where to pick up his life again."
"And until I agree to teach Defence."
"Got it in one."
"That's the Headmaster for you—but have you told anyone else?"
Inexplicably, Remus blushed.
"What else haven't you told me?"
"It's nothing, really."
"You haven't told anyone else, have you—but you want to. Who? Is it someone you met at your shop?"
"It's foolish. I don't think—"
"Now listen, Remus. You shouldn't think. You're cured, now. You don't have to worry about the sort of rejection you used to fear when you were a werewolf. You should just go tell whoever it is that you fancy him. . . . Or is it her?" Harry asked, when Remus said nothing.
"Her," Remus said, blushing more deeply.
"Oh. I thought . . . oh. Never mind."
"You're not wrong, but Sirius was a long time ago, and I've always been more flexible in my tastes than some."
"What does that mean?"
"Among other things, it means that I fancy girls, too, and I think I may be able to love more than one person."
Now it was Harry's turn to blush. "I don't know what you mean."
"Of course you do. How is Severus, Eligible Potter?"
Before Harry could answer, a knock sounded on the door.
"Come in," Remus called.
"Lupin. I understand congratulations are in order," Severus said, entering the room and sitting down next to Harry on the sofa without waiting for an invitation. "Isn't this cozy."
Remus winked at Harry and replied, "Isn't it? Harry and I were just catching ourselves up a bit. How goes the Courtship Ritual?"
"Spare me your charming host routine. I've come to discuss my students."
"Oh, uh, I guess I'll leave you then," Harry said, anxious to speak to Albus—and more so to avoid discussion about Severus. But I'm going to have to work on Remus to find out who he's been fancying. "I'm really happy for you, Remus," he told his friend as he stood. "We should have a party or something—and tell everyone—when you're ready."
"Yes, a celebration does seem to be in order," Severus remarked when Harry had gone. "You've managed not to destroy my students' progress, it seems."
"It's good to see you, too, Severus."
"It's good to know you won't be eating any of my students, Lupin."
"If you're going to insult me, you might as well call me Remus—tea?"
Suddenly, Harry dashed back into the room, a little out of breath, and demanded, "May I tell Hermione and Ron? You know how much they'd want to know."
Severus, looking at the excitement in Harry's face and suspecting that he'd returned to assure himself that he wasn't being unpleasant to Lupin, thought, He's Harry's last link to his parents. I should be nice to him. He's no threat to me, not anymore, not if I don't alienate him—because Harry wouldn't understand it if I continued my . . . feud with him.
"Yes, fine. Tell your friends. Now go on. Severus isn't going to hex me," Remus said firmly, and Harry grinned and shrugged his shoulders, leaving at once.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I take one lump of sugar in my tea . . . Remus."
"Well. That wasn't so difficult, was it?" he asked, passing Severus a teacup and smiling comfortably.
Severus accepted the tea and reminded himself that he was Making an Effort where Lupin was concerned. "I'm to assume that students are an improvement over fractious politicians?"
Remus grinned, albeit ruefully. "One or two, I can stand, but having a entire chamber debating amidst the shelves was beginning to grate—especially as they'd begun attracting the press. That made it difficult to . . . to interact with my regulars."
Did it, now? Severus thought, his curiosity piqued.
Interestingly enough, Lupin—Remus, he reminded himself—didn't seem particularly put out about his no doubt reluctantly paying customers, and Severus wondered if it was merely the Homorphus Charm that was the cause of his obvious happiness. Given the large vase of flowers on the table before them, and the uncharacteristic tidiness of Remus' rooms—he'd occasionally brought Wolfsbane to him in his chambers when the man had taught previously at Hogwarts, and, in spite of the castle's house elves, his chambers had never been as neat then—Severus found himself wondering with just whom Remus might desire to "interact."
"Having one's establishment being the haunt of the socially notable and notorious," Severus said, remembering a relatively recent photograph of several Magical Wizarding Peers debating in Remus' shop that had appeared in the Prophet's gossip column, "must have been taxing, indeed."
"Let's just say that I prefer to debate than referee," Remus replied, his expression rather wistful.
Is that what we're calling it these days? "You're looking less bedraggled than usual. Being human suits you."
"Much as being in love suits you," Remus replied, undaunted, conjuring a plate of tarts.
Severus snorted and popped a tart into his mouth before he could say anything scathing.
Albus was eating a large piece of chocolate cake when Harry returned to his office, and he didn't look up until he'd finished it. After he'd picked the last crumb out of his beard and popped it into his mouth, he inquired, "Perhaps you feel the conversation is taking place out of order, but it seems we have time enough now to discuss whatever it is that is on your mind."
"How do you do that?"
"You know exactly what I mean."
"You're a Legilimens, too, Harry. It's a pity, though, that your Occlumency skills were never very sharp," Albus said, one corner of his mouth twitching.
"And yet you want me to take the Defence position," Harry teased back.
"I do, indeed, but that is not, I think, what you wished to discuss with me."
Albus was silent for a long time after Harry had told him of his conversation with Mrs Parkinson. At last, he ceased his consideration of the middle distance over Harry's shoulder and said, "I'm sorry, dear boy."
"For life continually interrupting yours."
"It's better than death interrupting it," Harry snapped, suddenly angry.
"Ah, you're speaking of your unfortunate experience in the catacombs under Snape Manor."
"Why didn't you ever tell me about my power? About it being like Merlin's? About Merlin not being a necromancer? Do you have any idea how . . . worried I've been, and for how long?"
"I've had some inkling," Albus admitted. "Gleaned, of course, for you never sought me out to speak of it."
"I . . . I never," knew how to talk about it, "I never wanted to know, I guess."
"And who was I to force such knowledge upon you?"
You always have an answer, don't you? Harry asked silently, but he was no longer angry. "It's very hard to stay mad at you, the way you put things—but I could do with more truth and less protection in future."
"Is there some truth about which you're curious now?"
"No. No, I guess not. I talked things over with Hermione and Blaise and decided that I wasn't a freak, but it would've been nice to have heard that from you."
Albus raised his eyebrows. "Have I ever treated you like a 'freak'?"
"No. Sorry. Things have just been . . . well, forget about it, will you? We've other more important things to consider. I should—"
"Return with Severus and allow me to investigate Mrs Parkinson's allegations—and find out the specifics of what that lady knows—for if you do otherwise, it might endanger her."
"I can't just enjoy myself while there's work to be done!"
"Harry, you're not merely amusing yourself by returning to Snape Manor. You know very well that I cannot speak to Mrs Parkinson, and getting Severus married is now more important than ever, I think."
"You think that they—the remaining Death Eaters—are trying to work their way into government?"
Albus smiled. "Your intuition, on the other hand, has always been quite sound."