Title: The Last Train Ride
Fandom: Harry Potter, Prisoner of Azkaban
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I'm just playing and poor.
Summary: Events leading up to Remus going to teach at Hogwarts.
Sneezefic Annual Challenge Bunny: #2, #13
Author's notes: I was looking at these bunnies and this story sort of just tumbled out with the words.
The Last Train Ride
His eyelids fluttered closed. His nostrils flared. His mouth turned down. His lower lip quivered. His hand tightened its grasp on his handkerchief. His handkerchief was raised up just inches from his face. “I'm… p-pardon me… I-ehhh…” His sore nose wrinkled. His jaw dropped. His breathing went ragged. His body was thrown forward. “Ehhhhhptchhhhh! Ehhh-Chuhhhh!” The fire in the fireplace flickered and Remus flushed red, ashamed at the display. “Pardon me, Headmaster.”
The flames came back with full force and Albus Dumbledore's face smiled back at him. “Not at all, Remus.”
This interview had barely begun and already Remus thought this could have gone better. Then again, calling it an interview was being too kind. To be accurate, Dumbledore was strong-arming Remus and Remus was being as reluctant as was humanly possible. Stopping to sniffle every few minutes helped.
Summer colds were always the worst. At least in the winter he could snuggle up with a cup of hot tea and a thick blanket when he was sniffling and shivering. But in the summer all he could do was sit in misery and blow his nose when it got too runny. The fact that his monthly transformation had occurred right in the middle of the height of the cold certainly didn't help things any.
“As I was saying, all safety precautions will be taken. And with the wolfsbane potion, you will be harmless.”
Remus' heart sank right down into his gut. “The ministry won't supply it to me for free if I'm employed.” And the potion was too expensive to purchase on a mere professor's salary.
“You are in luck on that count. Our accomplished potions master has agreed to brew the wolfsbane potion for you every month. I believe you remember Severus Snape?”
Remus swallowed hard. This was supposed to convince him to accept the position? This was far from what Remus would consider luck. Snape would make his life miserable every moment of every day. Years ago it might have been different. Snape's existing loathing for him had only increased since their breakup just after the war. Dumbledore wasn't to know that, however.
“Professor Snape is confident he can brew the potion to perfection.”
Remus nodded. He was certain Snape could manage it, through he was also sure Snape would not prefer to. Avoiding the issue altogether, Remus chose that time to pick up his hanky and give a few soft snuffles into it. His nose refused to behave for the duration of a single conversation.
“You were one of the best fighters in the Order, Remus, and always received top marks in Defense Against the Dark Arts. I know the students will benefit from your instruction.”
In all honesty, Remus had already begun to work out lesson plans in his head. The practical lessons he had planned for the seventh years would be both relevant and useful. With the first years, he would concentrate on theory and impress upon them the seriousness of the subject. The third and fourth years would surely need to learn about what dreadful dark beasties were out there… though, perhaps, he would leave werewolves to the very end. Just in case. Remus smiled, then thought better of it. His teaching at Hogwarts was an awful idea and he knew it.
“Sir, ahhh, I really wish I could, but…” His breath caught and he quickly buried his nose in the handkerchief. “Oh doe.” He tried to hold a sneeze back, but was a dreadful failure. “ehhhh-IH-Chushh! ihhKShhhhh!” Expecting the typical feeling of relief that instantly followed a few good sneezes, Remus lifted his head, only to be propelled forward again. “ihhh-Ketchoo!” Surprised and utterly embarrassed, Remus stood up. “Excuse be- ehh-EHhhhh-”
Dumbledore nodded with understanding, though Remus barely saw.
Remus got up from his chair in front of the fire and staggered away as best he could with his nose running and tickling and compelling him to sneeze. As soon as he was out of view of the fire, Remus' shoulders sagged and face went slack. “ehhhTchuhh! Eh-Ketchhhh! Heh-heptshhhhhhhhh! Ehhhpshhhh! Hah-Ehshooo!” They very nearly resembled his allergy sneezes- fast and uncontrollable- but far stronger and wetter this time around. He leaned against the wall and let himself sneeze as much as he needed. “ehhhChuhhh! Ihh-ehhh-Chehhh! Ehptshhhh! Er-ehhChuhh-K'tchoo!”
Remus caught his breath and blew his nose, driving back the lingering tickle and clearing his nose just a bit more. He waited a few moments to be sure he would not sneeze again before returning to the fireside. “Oi, Headmaster, I do apologize.”
Dumbledore shook his head. “There is no need. I have imposed upon you.” His voice turned soft, gentle. “If you don't mind my saying so, you don't sound well at all.”
He did not feel well at all, either. Remus rubbed at his nose. The damned thing was tickling again already. “It's just another cold. I will be fine, I assure you.”
“Good,” said Dumbledore, encouragingly. “I cannot have my new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor ill and tired out before the semester even begins.”
Remus sighed inwardly. “Sir… about that…”
Dumbledore cut him off. “Perhaps you have not heard. Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban.”
A violent shiver passed through Remus, and he leaned forward in his chair, instinctively seeking out the fire's warmth. “I had heard.” Remus wondered if there were anyone left in Britain who had not heard.
“Then you must have worked out that he will be after Harry Potter. Don't forget that he's at Hogwarts now.”
Remus nodded. He had done the maths.
“Of everyone still alive, you know Sirius best, Remus. There is no one I would rather have here at Hogwarts.”
Remus felt sicker than sick. He had known Sirius intimately, biblically in fact. Before Snape, before anyone else, there had been Sirius. He had trusted Sirius above everyone else, which was why the betrayal had been especially bitter. How Sirius could have turned traitor without showing any signs to Remus was still one of the biggest mysteries Remus knew, but the 'how' no longer mattered. What mattered was that the someone who was responsible for his friends' deaths was a man he had shared his bed with. Though Dumbledore couldn't have known that much, either. At least… he didn't think so.
Remus held up a finger to signal he needed a moment. He refolded his handkerchief and blew his nose into it. Then he turned back to the fire. “I accept the position.”
He wasn't doing this for himself. He sure as Hell wasn't doing it because of Sirius. He wasn't even doing it because of Dumbledore. He was doing it for Harry. He owed the boy that much.
Dumbledore sounded cheerful. “I am utterly delighted to hear that, Remus. I am sure you will be a wonderful addition to the staff. However, I have just one more favor to ask of you. If you feel up to it, that is.”
* * *
Had he felt better, Remus would have apparated straight to Kings Cross. Instead, he had stuffed his raggedy clothes, beat-up books, and half a dozen chocolate bars into his suit case and had taken the Knight Bus to the station. It was pouring rain outside, and he managed to become thoroughly soaked by the time he made it inside. He walked to the barrier leading to Platform 9¾ with squishy steps and leaving a trail of drips behind him.
It was early yet, and Remus arrived at the same time the Hogwarts Express did. The brilliant red steam engine found its place on the tracks and stopped on a knut. “Remus Lupin?”
Remus turned his head and saw a tall, bald, black man in Auror robes striding over to him. “Yes,” he said, feeling a bit self conscious. He wondered what Dumbledore had said to make him identifiable. 'Look for the shabby, sickly man standing alone on the platform' most likely.
“Kingsley Shacklebolt,” the man said, sticking his hand out. The man's grip was bone-breakingly firm. The flashy, gold hoop in his ear caught Remus' attention longer than it should have, and Remus looked away, ashamed. The man's eyes were dark and penetrating. Remus shivered. The only times Aurors and werewolves were together, the werewolves usually didn't come out on top. “I'm leading the hunt for Sirius Black,” he explained.
Remus nodded automatically. His nose was running, but Remus only rubbed his knuckles under his nose. He really needed to dig his hanky out and blow his nose, but could not possibly do so now. The quick rub did the job well enough.
“You don't remember me, do you?”
Caught unawares, Remus stared at the man.
“Shouldn't be surprised. I was a lowly little third year when you were a seventh. Played against James in one Quidditch match, though.”
Remus stared hard at the man, but his memory was not sufficiently jogged. “It's nice to meet you again, then,” he said. “I suppose you'll be here to check the train?”
Kingsley was not alone. It looked like the Ministry was pulling out all the stops. More than a handful of Aurors were there, under Shaklebolt's command. Together with Remus, they boarded the train and most sent a patronus ahead to explore the train cars as an advanced warning system.
First, Remus stowed his case on the rack in the very last car. After that, he made his way slowly through the entire train, checking each and every compartment. Spells were put in place- protective and alerting charms both. By the time they were done, the train was nearly as protected as Gringotts. Nonetheless, it was Remus' job to travel with the train. He would be able to send word if they were attacked or if Black was sighted along the way. He would also be able to supervise the Dementors. Dumbledore didn't trust them, and Remus couldn't blame him any.
When he got to the front of the train, he was certain Sirius Black was not hiding in the train. There wasn't so much as a strand of black hair- or fur- to be found. The search had been a bit exhausting for him on top of everything else. He stood in the front with the driver, looking apologetic as he blew his nose. “Pardon me,” Remus said, finishing and wiping his nose with his handkerchief. “I'm just getting over a head cold.” He cleared his throat. “The train looks clean.”
“I should say so.” He didn't sound especially thrilled, not that Remus could blame him either.
“We'll be stopping along the way so the Dementors can do their own inspection, I'm afraid.”
He looked even less thrilled at this news, though he gave a professional nod.
Remus headed back down through the train. The Aurors all disapparated around him, except for Shacklebolt, who met him in the last car. Like most Aurors, Shacklebolt had incredible timing.
“hshhChushhhh! Keh-Shihhhh!” Remus looked up over the folds of his handkerchief as he heard someone's throat clearing. He resisted the almost subconscious urge to do likewise. He settled for wiping his nose dry, folding the hanky in fourths, and stuffing the cloth into his pocket.
“We're all set here. But are you sure you are up to this?” Shacklebolt asked him, slightly skeptical.
Despite his runny nose and unfightable fatigue, Remus felt prepared. “Oh yes,” he answered. He hoped he sounded confident. “Ta.”
Shacklebolt smiled sympathetically. “You have some time before the families and children start showing up. I'll stay around the platform until the train leaves. However, I don't believe anyone will fault you for taking a quick nap.”
Remus nodded. He had been hoping for that. Once he'd been left alone, he sat down, crossed his arms over his chest, tilted his head against the window, and closed his eyes. This was it. Good or bad, there was no turning back now. He was reminded of his first trip to Hogwarts- the worries, the secrets, the fear. Not much had changed. With his apprehensions and regrets pushed aside for the moment at least, Remus settled in for the train ride and a bit of a rest.