“No.” He is proud of how firm the refusal sounds.
“I think it would be a great idea,” Harry says, and gives him a broad smile that looks a little bit too much like a grin for his tastes.
“Not everyone wants to work for the government, you know,” he says.
“Well, ironically, considering the fact that they are the ones who passed the anti-werewolf laws in the first place, they seem to be the only ones you can actually legally work for right now.”
Remus sighs, and reaches for the tea pot, a less than subtle attempt at distraction. “Another cup?”
Harry smiles gratefully, holding his cup out for him to fill. He takes a sip of his tea and waits until Remus is doing the same. Then he comes back to the topic at hand.
“I think you would be perfect for the position. And you actually like Kingsley.”
Remus frowns. “I like everyone.”
Harry has the audacity to laugh. “Now that is simply not true.”
Remus grimaces. He is starting to think that he liked Harry better when he was still carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He certainly was a lot less cheeky.
Hermione’s owl lands on his kitchen table two days later. The crème-colored muggle-style envelope she drops into the butter dish reveals a job advertisement (the one he has read only about a trillion times), as well as a note with the Ministry’s letterhead and the date and time of an appointment scheduled for the coming week.
Remus checks his calendar and curses when he realizes that he cannot even claim the full moon as an excuse. He flips the note, and is not surprised to find Hermione’s tidy handwriting on the back:
I am looking forward to being colleagues! Ron says hello! Much love, H!
He doesn’t remember Hermione using so many exclamation marks when she was still in school. The end of the war seems to have had a strange effect on people's personal habits. Apparently almost-but-not-quite-dying does that to a person. Remus wonders if he's unaffected because he's gone through the experience a couple of times too often. The owl hoots at him and gingerly makes her way across the table to pick at his baked goods. A scone seems to be adequate payment for arranging a job interview – even if it’s a job that Remus doesn’t actually want – so he leaves her to it and resignedly takes a scone for himself.
The Ministry still makes his hair stand on end. The awareness of being underground has always made him feel trapped, and he tells himself that this is all there is to it – just the wary instincts of the ageing wolf. The truth is, however, that he feels paralyzed by the horror of how normal everything seems: employees and visitors buzzing around, the lifts steadily climbing and dropping, even a new fountain is busy spilling water over golden statues cheerfully. One might think that nothing happened at all, standing here, in the atrium of the Ministry of Magic.
He does not look at anyone when he makes his way to level 1, and is thankful that he doesn’t run into any acquaintances, at least. The waiting area in the Minister’s wing is empty except for a couple of other people, two witches in elegant robes with elaborate hairdos talking quietly, and he feels distinctly underdressed. He quickly hands his appointment form to the clerk on duty, a bored looking man nursing a cup of tea and a biscuit that leaves trails of crumbs all over the parchment rolls on his desk. He doesn’t look like he cares.
“Go on through,” he says, not unkindly, waving vaguely toward the door behind him, and returns his attention to his tea before Remus can thank him.
The Junior Assistant is a young, gangly man that Remus doesn’t recognize. He seems to be around Harry’s age, but he only looks very vaguely familiar, even though Remus usually prides himself in remembering all his students. He has the aristocratic nose of a pureblood, but Remus thinks he would have heard if any Malfoys were on the payroll of the Ministry.
“I have an appointment with the Minister,” he says, once again handing over his form. The boy wears the same grave and pompous expression that Percy used to carry when he was working under Scrimgeour, and Remus wonders if the glare is part of the job description. The assistant takes the parchment from Remus with an imperial gesture, and his eyes widen slightly as he reads the note. He doesn’t say anything, instead consults a list on his desk, then another list he compares to the first.
Finally, he looks up.
“Mister Lupin,” he says. “At this point, we need to ask you to proceed to level 4.”
Remus feels a wave of nausea rising from deep in his guts. “That's not what I’m here for,” he says, and at least his voice is steady. “I have an appointment with the Minister.”
“Nevertheless,” the young man says, pushing his glasses up his nose with a pointed index finger. “You need to go to level 4 first to check in, and then you can come back here to meet with the Minister.”
“May I ask why?” Remus asks, and the nausea increases just as the skin in the back of his head starts getting tight and prickly. A migraine is setting in.
“It seems that you missed your last appointments with the registry,” the young man says, and Remus can hear the reproach in his voice, as if he is chiding a student. He takes a step to the side so that he can prop himself up against one of the big leather chairs in front of the desk, and takes a deep breath.
“Yes,” he says, conversationally. “You may not have heard, but there was a war. The ministry was taken over.”
“Nevertheless,” the boy repeats, clearly enamored with the word. “The regulations …”
“Never mind,” Remus cuts him off, holding up the hand that isn’t clenched around the back of the chair. “Never mind. I’ll just leave.” As soon as I can get my feet to cooperate, he thinks, but before he can get to work on that, the door behind the assistant’s desk flies open.
“Remus!” Kingsley Shacklebolt bursts into the room in that particular way that makes him seem even taller than he is. “It’s good to see you. I was starting to think you were running late.” He pauses to look down at his assistant who does not appear too happy at the interruption, and nervously shifts in his chair. “Is there a problem?”
“Mister Lupin’s file shows two missed appointments with the Werewolf Registry, Minister, Sir,” the boy says quickly, “and according to current legislation …”
“Ah yes,” Kingsley reveals all his teeth as he smiles. “Thank you for taking care of that, Mister Macmillan. We wouldn’t want to let a war hero wait because of a small formality, now, would we?”
If Remus’ head wasn’t hurting so much, he would laugh at the expression on the assistant’s face. As it is, he cannot help but lean into the hand that Kingsley puts on his arm in a friendly gesture.
“Shall we?” the Minister says cheerfully, and steers him into his office, guiding him into one of the comfortable looking armchairs in front of the massive oak desk.
“Tea?” the Minister asks, and levitates a steaming mug before him, without waiting for an answer.
For lack of better things to do, Remus reaches for it and lifts it to his nose. Even breathing in the steam, he can already feel his headache recede. Curiously, he takes a swallow. It tastes like simple Earl Gray, but the tension in his neck decreases to basically nothing. He wonders what Kingsley drugged him with, and finds that he doesn’t particularly care.
“I’m awfully sorry about this,” Kingsley says. He is sitting in a chair on Remus’ side of the desk, long legs stretched out comfortably in front of him, hands wrapped around a mug of his own. Somehow, he still manages to look ministerial.
Remus shrugs and looks down into his tea. On the list of things people have said to him, this encounter ranks, in all honesty, very low, but saying that seems too dramatic.
Kingsley sighs and drags a hand down his face. All of a sudden, he looks tired. “The boy is a Macmillan, I believe you taught a second cousin of his at Hogwarts. His parents sent him to Beauxbatons, and I thought it might be a good idea to give the position to someone who was not in the country for the last few years. Thought that would give him an, uhm, more impartial perspective, so to speak. I’m not so certain now.”
Remus isn’t sure what Kingsley expects him to say, so he keeps drinking his tea and says nothing. Kingsley sighs again, and shifts in his seat. If Remus didn’t know him better, he would think the Minister was fidgeting.
“In any case, thank you for coming, Remus,” Kingsley finally says. “You don’t know how much I appreciate it.”
“Not at all,” Remus says, “thank you for meeting with me. I’m sure you are incredibly busy these days. Although, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here.”
Kingsley frowns. “To assume the position of Senior Undersecretary.”
“Yes, but – why?” Remus finds himself saying exasperatedly, and a bit helplessly. “Everyone seems to think that this is a brilliant idea, but I have no qualification for this position. If the law keeping me from doing anything but freelance work wasn’t still in place,” and he is not above giving Kingsley a hard look, “I would not have agreed to this meeting at all. As it is, I simply cannot afford to turn down an offer for work.”
“Remus,” Kingsley sighs, and Remus has to fight the urge to cringe at the disappointment he hears in the Minister’s voice. Kingsley is almost as good at emotional blackmail as Hermione is, Remus has to give him that. “You know we are working on revising werewolf law, but it takes time if we want to do it properly, and people are reluctant to accept any sort of change these days. In an ironic twist of fate, all those ridiculous state-of-emergency clauses that the Thicknesse government passed allow me to overrule any legislation regarding labor law, and that means I can well damn hire you if I want. We have to start somewhere, don’t we?”
“So you are hiring me to state an example,” Remus says dryly.
“I’m hiring you because I need your help,” Kingsley says, his voice just a little bit louder. “There are not enough former Order members to fill all the relevant positions in the Ministry, and that is not even considering the fact that half of them are either still recovering, or simply not old enough. Even the ones who decided not to go back to Hogwarts still have to finish their training. Hermione’s trainee position in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is an absolute exception.”
“I’m sure there are wizards not involved with the Order who would be thrilled to work for you,” Remus points out.
“No one I trust enough. Look,” the Minister of Magic scoots forward in his chair and wrings his hands.
“We desperately need to work on a legislation reform, and we still have dozens of former Death Eaters collecting dust in Azkaban and no idea what to do with them. But we also need to mend bridges with the rest of Europe, not to forget the British Muggle Government, and I’m the only one who can do all this representational rubbish. By Merlin, I am supposed to meet for tea with the Queen of England in two days, and I need someone to cover my back and work on the things that are actually important. If you want to change things, and help me to not lose my mind within the next month, this is where you can do both at once.”
In the following silence, Remus can faintly hear the Junior Assistant shouting at someone in the next room.
“I can’t work on the full moon,” he finally says, weakly.
Kingsley actually growls. “I’ll personally deliver the wolfsbane on the night of the full if I have to,” he says.
Remus exhales and covers his eyes with his hands.
"Congratulations," Kingsley says, and there is a smile in his voice. "It seems you found a new job."
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he confesses, curled up in a corner of Tonks’ sofa. “Shacklebolt must be mad if he thinks I’m going to be any good at this.”
“I’m sure you’ll do great,” Tonks says, a bit distractedly. She is cataloguing the pile of Muggle sweets he brought her, so that he wouldn’t feel so guilty about whining to her. She picks up a Kinder Surprise and shakes it, curiously. “You taught at Hogwarts, didn’t you? After taking care of two dozen hormonally challenged teenagers, politics have to seem easy.”
She breaks the chocolate egg in two and solemnly hands one half to Remus before devouring the other half in two bites. “Seriously,” she says around a mouth full of chocolate when she notices that he’s not eating. “You’ve been in politics for years. You did Order work in two wars. You went on missions for Dumbledore. You negotiated with the packs. You slept with the enemy.”
Remus looks up from his chocolate, faintly alarmed, but Tonks does not seem ready to elaborate, focusing instead on connecting the small plastic pieces she extracts from the yellow container that was inside the chocolate egg. It looks like it could be some kind of mammal.
“Don’t look at me like that,” she chides without looking up. “I heard you and Severus the week after Sirius died. You were grieving, I’m not judging. Just saying.” She holds up the plastic animal in her palm and frowns. Remus is fairly certain that she put the head on wrong, but he doesn’t feel charitable enough to point that out. Tonks pokes the figure with her wand and sets it down on the table where it starts hopping around in circles until it runs headfirst into a Snickers bar.
“Speaking of which,” she says, picking the figure up to fix its head. It seems to have marginally more balance now. “I have a date this weekend.”
Remus watches her hair turn dark purple and wonders if she’s embarrassed. “I’m happy for you,” he says, honestly enough. “Who is it?”
“This girl who works at the muggle bookshop on my street,” she says, finally looking up. Her eyes are glowing in all shades of the rainbow. “She thinks I’m this mad hairdresser, because I keep forgetting which color my hair was last time I went in. I don’t know how to tell her that I actually hunt evil wizards for a living.”
“At least you can tell Molly to stop trying to set you up with all the bachelors in her acquaintance,” Remus comments, and holds his hand out to rescue the plastic animal just before it tumbles over the edge of the table. He takes a closer look: It turns out to be a dog, and isn't that just exactly the kind of souvenir he really does not need.
“So what about you?” Tonks asks, and unwraps another chocolate bar. “When are you going to tell Molly to stop trying to set you up?”
Her voice is casual, as if they haven’t had this conversation a dozen times already, and Remus sighs.
“Dora,” he says. “You have to realize that I haven’t had the best track record when it comes to relationships. In fact, literally everyone I have ever slept with is dead. I’d rather not go through that experience again.”
Tonks actually rolls her eyes. “Everyone you slept with is dead because there was a war, you idiot, not because your penis is cursed. It’s not like people dropped dead as soon as you poked them with your wand, is it?”
“Dora!” he protests, but Tonks just shrugs, annoyingly refusing to be intimidated.
“You know I don’t like it when you call me that. But seriously – the war is over. I think the chances that your next bed partner might actually survive the winter are very good."
Hermione hasn't been working at the Beast Division for more than six months, but her office on level 4 of the Ministry is already cluttered with books. Two house elves are busy levitating heavy tomes and stacks of parchment around the room, sorting them into the giant bookshelves lined up along the back wall of the room. One of them is wearing a set of baby blue Mini-Wizard's-First-Robes,™ the other what looks suspiciously like the Hawaiian grass skirts on the postcard Kingsley Shacklebolt once sent him from a business trip between the wars. Huh. Remus pauses on the doorstep. He had forgotten that Kingsley used to send him muggle post, sometimes; at least, whenever he had a fixed address.
The elves barely glance at him when he steps into the room, but from somewhere a chair moves up to the desk, followed by a tea tray that softly lands right in the only free spot on the table.
"Professor," Hermione beams, when she spots him, and gestures toward the chair. He has long given up on trying to get her to call him anything else, especially after he realized at long last that using his former title is a form of respect and endearment for her.
"Thank you so much for making time in your first week at the Ministry!" There she's going with the exclamation marks again. In fact, she is actually clapping her hands. It would make her seem like a first-year student if she didn't look so grown-up and professional in her dark robes and her make-up, with her hair pulled back. "I'm so excited about the work we are going to get done!" She barely waits for him to lift the tea cup to his lips before she pushes several heavy folders at him.
"The department assigned three major projects to me," she explains, and the way she says it makes Remus think that what really happened is that she knelt on someone until they agreed to let her work on whatever she wanted. She is dedicated like that.
"This here is the first draft of a CBA for the house elves' labor union," she says, stabbing one of the folders with her wand. That was to be expected, Remus thinks, but he notices from the corner of his eye that the elf in the grass skirt seems to be smiling quietly to himself.
"These are the notes on a proposal for an agreement with the centaurs to turn part of the Forbidden Forest into a wildlife preserve," she continues, and Remus raises his brows at that, because he hadn't been aware that she'd added the environmentalist cause to her list of burning issues. Nevertheless, the centaurs will probably appreciate the effort, and it certainly does not hurt to have them on their good side. He is still moderately distracted by thinking about Firenze and thus is taken at surprise when Hermione points toward the last folder. "And finally, there are the plans for the immediate abolishment of the Werewolf Registry."
Now she has his full attention. "Hermione," he says, wincing, "that isn't …"
"Hush," she says, and did she really just shush him? "I know that you don't like feeling indebted to others, but this is not just about you. When the Minister told me about the unfortunate misunderstanding during your interview – and really, who would have believed that Ernie is related to anyone this moronic? – I went to inspect the registry to see for myself. It's barbaric. There was a girl there, who was 12 years old! And she was terrified, and they made her …" She breaks off abruptly, swallows, starts over, more firmly this time. "It's embarrassing enough that this has continued at all since the end of the war. The registry needs to be shut down. Immediately. It's about time that werewolves were moved from the beast to the beings division, and I'm going to make it happen."
She takes a deep breath, and the house elves take advantage of the short break to applaud enthusiastically. She blushes, but seems pleased with the reaction. Remus has to laugh despite himself.
"This all sounds wonderful, Hermione," he says, and can't help but feel a bit ashamed at the way she lights up at his praise. "You are doing great work. Now, do you have information for me that I should be reviewing before we move onto the realization?"
"Hermione wants to shut down the registry," he says, later that night, over a small glass of firewhisky that Kingsley has pressured him into. He feels warm and relaxed. The armchairs in the minister's office are really obnoxiously comfortable – certainly more comfortable than any furniture he has in the tiny old cottage he calls his own.
"I know," Kingsley smiles, and takes a sip of his own whisky. "She was very adamant about pushing this through as quickly as possible. And she can be very convincing when she wants to be. Not that I needed a lot of convincing." He takes a second glance at Remus, eyes narrowed. "Why are you unhappy about this?"
"I simply …" Remus shrugs, takes another long gulp of his drink, to give himself time to think about his answer. It doesn't really help. "Aren't there more important things right now?"
Kingsley actually laughs at that, the booming laugh Remus hasn't heard often enough in the last few years. "Don't pretend like you are really all that concerned about the house elves' union."
Remus pulls a face, feeling caught out, even though he knows Kingsley wasn't trying to be mean. He is fully aware that it's an important cause, and that they cannot continue to treat house elves the way they have. But he has to admit to himself that like most wizards who went to Hogwarts, he grew up taking the kitchen elves for granted, despite the fact that his family never owned an elf themselves. It's not a surprise that it took someone like Hermione to even question the status quo.
Kingsley's laughter has petered off in a quiet chuckle, and his face softens when he sees Remus' expression. "I know you find it difficult to imagine that change is possible," he says seriously, "and don't think I blame you either. I've lived among muggles long enough to know how they look at people with a certain skin color, and quite frankly, we like to think of muggles as prejudiced and narrow-minded, but sometimes I think the wizarding community is even worse. At least no one is getting branded by force in muggle Britain these days anymore." He raises his glass in a wry mock-salute.
"But the war is over, Remus," he says. "And if this position gives me any power and influence at all, I’m going to make sure that things are going to change. For the better, I hope. So - you are allowed to live a little, you know?"
Remus chuckles at the irony. "That's almost exactly what Tonks said to me," he says, more to himself.
Kingsley raises a brow. "Did she now?"
"Well," Remus says. "She was talking about my love life, but yes." Kingsley gives him a strange look, and Remus wants to slap himself inwardly for bringing it up, but it's too late now to deflect without looking suspicious. "She has a new girlfriend," he says as lightly as he can manage, "and suggested that I should start looking myself." He shrugs, self-consciously. "I think she can't bear the thought that her friends might not be as happy as she is."
Kingsley still has that odd expression on his face, but he keeps quiet. It's unnerving.
"What?" Remus says, defensively. "I know that I'm not … I told her that most wizards are still not comfortable with dating someone who turns into …"
"No, no, it's not that," Kingsley interrupts quickly, and he almost looks flustered. "Just – I take it that despite what the rumor mill says, this means there is no chance of a Lupin-Tonks romance happening any time soon?"
Remus laughs. "Most certainly not," he shakes his head. "I know that Molly has an entire romance novel about us all figured out in her head, but I also know that you are fully aware where my preferences lie, so don't act so surprised."
Kingsley smirks, as if he knows something Remus doesn't. "Please. You are at least flexible. I know you slept with Lily in 5th year."
Remus stares. He feels the blood drain from his face, and his heart gets a head start - until he realizes, with an oddly bittersweet sense of liberation, that no one is there to care anymore about this secret he's kept for decades. Except Harry, of course, and he will do everything he can to make sure he never needs to have that conversation.
"How did you find out?" he asks, now more curious than appalled. "We never told anyone about it."
Kingsley shrugs and levitates the whisky bottle closer to pour himself another glass. "It wasn't common knowledge," he says. "I was just paying close attention."
Remus isn't sure what to make of that, so he offers his glass to Kingsley for a top-up. "Well, we were both angry at James and Sirius, so it made sense to us at the time." He is surprised to notice that the memory only hurts a little, a familiar longing pang deep inside of him. "And it was before Lily went out with James. She was one of my best friends, so it's far from being a bad memory, but it also told me what I needed to know about my preferences." He sighs and toys with his glass. For a moment, they are both silent.
"I'm sorry for bringing up the old times," Kingsley says, and he sounds honest about it.
Remus shrugs. "It's not like I was going to forget," he says mildly, and downs his glass.
Being the British wizarding community's Senior Undersecretary is more – no, it's not more work than he expected, he knew that it was going to be a time-consuming job, and he's far too grateful to have something to do to complain even to himself about the long hours. Still, he is glad for his unique professional background: working for the Order, teaching at Hogwarts, volunteering at an Indian Demiguise sanctuary, and working the cash register at several muggle supermarkets has given him the patience and strength to deal with any number of people who are suffering from a case of chronic low-grade amnesia, are hormonally unstable, or just naturally vicious, an ability that saves him and his sanity almost daily now. It is still emotionally draining, because deep down, Remus Lupin hates diplomacy – he is just good at it because he's always had to be – and because every day is a reminder of how much they have lost, how many things are wrong with their legislation that have nothing to do with the wreckage of Voldemort's legacy, and how long a way they still have to go.
But it's also more rewarding than he ever dared to hope. Right after the Minister passes the Wizarding Labor Relations Act, the House Elf Union's CBA is signed by all concerned parties, and Hermione and Remus happily accept the gratitude of Hermione's elf apprentices in the form of fresh scones, clotted cream, and home-made jam.
Once a week, Remus meets Arthur Weasley in the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects to discuss the office's recent findings. Even if there is a noticeable decrease in new counterfeit production now that the war is over, it still feels a bit like digging for land mines – there are far too many lost and forgotten dangerous objects hidden all over the country. When they get stuck on a strange piece of magic whose function simply eludes both of them, they go to lunch at a muggle pub two streets down from the Ministry, where Remus shares his chips with Arthur and makes an effort to discuss whatever football game is on the telly.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he has a work lunch with Tonks, who reports to him about the Auror Office – reports that include just as much gossip about Harry and Ron's recent exploits and debacles from their auror training as they include invaluable information about inner-departmental politics. They usually go to the wizarding pubs in the area around Diagon Alley, but on one noticeable occasion, they meet at a muggle café with Tonks' girlfriend, who is pretty and friendly and reminds him a little bit of Alice Longbottom, not that he would ever tell Tonks about that.
He feels honored by Tonks' gesture of trust. "You are my best friend," she says, almost offended, when he mentions it, but he thinks it's probably just as much because she considers him "muggleproof." Still, it's an odd thought, that apparently for only the second time in his life, he has managed to make friends who value his opinion on the important things in life, like significant others and muggle culture.
Or social engagement, for that matter: Harry himself stops by his office one day during his third month at work, makes him feel guilty for not visiting enough, and then ropes him into a discussion about a non-profit awareness-raising initiative he has been thinking about. He leaves with an extracted promise for dinner later in the week, and a stack of notes, and Remus stays behind with a warm, tight feeling in his chest.
Hermione monopolizes a lot of his time, and even if on the bad days, she can give him the worst headaches, he doesn't mind so much. She's organized and efficient and passionate, and sometimes Remus thinks that between her and Kingsley, the Ministry is undergoing the most significant changes since Artemesia Lufkin became the first female Minster of Magic back in the 18th century.
His interactions with Pippin Macmillan continue to be stilted and awkward, but as he continues to observe the clearly fumbling and trying-too-hard teenager, he doesn't quite remember anymore why he let his words get to him so much that first day. "I'd rather not fire him," Kingsley had said hesitantly after a week of watching them avoid each other, "because he actually perfected the filing system and invented a shortcut spell that helps you find any file you need within seconds. And he is very effective at keeping out all the wealthy witches who ask for appointments under flimsy pretenses, but really are just hoping to set me up with their daughters." He had paused there. "But if you feel it's necessary, I will."
Remus had waved him off. "We are good," he had said. "I think at this point he mostly feels embarrassed about what happened and doesn't know what to say. He reminds me so much of Percy," he had added, like an afterthought, but it had been that comment that made Kingsley nod like he knew exactly what he meant, and they left it at that.
In fact, when he came back to the office two days after the first full moon on the job, still aching and tired, despite the wolfsbane (the brand that Slug & Jiggers imports for him from Iceland is adequate, but not quite up to Severus' standards), Pippin kept lurking around the door to his office, asking hesitantly if he could get him anything, until Remus put him out of his misery and let him conjure up some tea.
On the downside, there are the trials. On court days, Remus tends to wake up thinking that if he had realized – no, if he had actually stopped for one moment to remember the commonly known fact that the Senior Undersecretary presides with the Minister and the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement over the Wizengamot, he would never have considered taking the position.
By the time he brushes his teeth, he is usually awake and honest enough with himself to admit that Shacklebolt would have worn him down eventually anyway. He has never been good at saying no to people.
But holding court over young men and women, some of whom used to be his students, makes him so sick to his stomach that he has stopped eating breakfast completely on the days the Wizengamot is convening. Sharing glances with Minerva, who looks more worn-down and tired in this environment than she ever does at Hogwarts, is only a small comfort for the despair that overcomes him as soon as he enters the court room.
Today, it's Theodore Nott. He is still as gangly and skinny as he was at Hogwarts, and still looks as cool and withdrawn, but Remus can see how his hands are shaking where his fingers are gripping the barrier of the stand tightly, and how his red-rimmed eyes are watering slightly. Unsurprisingly, no-one speaks up to give a witness statement in his favor, because everyone who would have is dead, or on trial themselves. Of course, two years in Azkaban and a subsequent six-month work program in Greece is a mild sentence, Remus knows that, and there is a petty part of him thinking that maybe, farm work in Southern Europe at least will be good for the spoilt children of rich pureblood families. But then he remembers Sirius, the way he was when he came back from Azkaban, how long it took him to relearn how to feel, to touch, to love, and he feels sick all over again.
"They are still children!" Remus says angrily, when the door to the Minister's office has finally closed behind him and Kingsley, what feels like an eternity later.
"They were Death Eaters," Kingsley replies, and while he is calm, there is a dangerous undertone to his voice that Remus has never heard directed at himself. It is not very pleasant. "They are the same age as Harry and Ron and Hermione and half of the wizards fighting on our side in the war."
"Who never should have had to make those choices either!"
"Are you seriously blaming me for that as well?" Kingsley ask bitterly. "You know as well as I do that Dumbledore was far more ruthless than he let on, and that he was not going to let anything get in the way of his plans." He clenches his fists, and the liquor bottles on the beautiful antique bar cart in the corner are starting to rattle. "What would you have me do? Let them go free?"
"Not lock them up for the best part of their lives," Remus hisses. "We should be thinking about rehabilitation, not punishment, if we don't want to lose half of this generation to Azkaban-induced insanity."
The bottle of red currant rum is starting to wobble dangerously. Kingsley points his wand and mutters a spell before it can roll onto the floor and break, and it settles back down reluctantly. In the following abrupt silence, the Minister of Magic slumps into his chair and puts his hands over his face.
"I hate this," he says. "Do you really think I enjoy locking up people? And I know just as you do that our legal system is in need of a radical reform. But these children are responsible for so many deaths, and they do need to realize that what they did was wrong, before we can let them loose on society again. Right now, all I can do is make sure that the punishment fits the crime, and that we give them the means to start over once they get out."
Just like that, Remus' anger dissolves, leaving only a numb sadness behind. "I'm sorry," he says helplessly. "That was uncalled for. You don't need me to question your decisions."
Kingsley looks up at him with dark eyes and shakes his head. "No," he says, with a sense of urgency. "That's exactly what I need you for. I need you to push me and question me and fight me every step of the way, to make sure I don't lose sight of what we are fighting for." His chuckle sounds suspiciously like a sob, but Remus is not going to call him out on that.
"Well," Kingsley finally says. "Maybe don't fight me right after what was easily the most horrible day of my week, but you get my point."
He smiles faintly, and their eyes meet for a moment, until Remus forces himself to turn away. "A drink?" he suggests, for his sake or Kingsley's, he isn't sure, but when Kingsley utters a heartfelt "Hell, yes," he figures it doesn't matter.
"A wonderful morning to my favorite werewolf!"
Remus had completely forgotten what an obnoxiously cheerful morning person Charlie Weasley can be. He merely grunts in response and lifts his coffee mug in the direction of his fireplace in greeting. He honestly appreciates Charlie flooing in, because they don't talk often enough as it is, but his head is killing him, and George's famous hangover cure always takes a while to fully kick in.
Charlie doesn't seem to be bothered by his hardly eloquent response. "Long day at work yesterday, huh?" he grins, and Remus can't help but smile back, albeit a bit weakly.
"I'll be more functional after I finish my coffee," he promises, then asks, because it's an ingrained habit at this point: "Not that I'm not thrilled to see your face, but is something wrong?"
"Nothing wrong," Charlie's head in the flames shakes no. "I just heard from mum that you are Wizarding Britains's new Undersecretary, and I thought I should see how your new job is treating you."
"Well," Remus says dryly. "Yesterday I yelled at the Minster of Magic, and then we got utterly sloshed together."
Charlie laughs. "Now there's an image," he says appreciatively. "Seriously, though, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Remus says, and realizes that he means it – even more so when he feels the hangover potion finally taking effect. He needs to tell George that he's a genius more often. "How is Rumania?"
Charlie shrugs. "Still love my work, still have no desire to come home," he says. "But speaking of, there is something I wanted to talk to you about."
Remus raises his brows in a silent question and nurses his coffee.
"We are kind of short on staff at the reserve right now – we don't have enough funding, we had to let two employees go recently, and with the war, things have become increasingly unstable. And I heard that you've been sending Death Eater offspring to rehabilitation programs in Southern Europe, so if you wanted to send us a couple of the less wimpy ones – we could use some extra hands here, and a degree in dragon keeping has to be worth something these days, right?"
For a moment, Remus can't respond, because he's worried that he'll start crying. Maybe Tonks and Kingsley are onto something, with their talk of change and fresh starts.
"Let me talk to the Minister next Monday," he says finally. "But I think it's a wonderful idea." He finishes off his coffee and leans forward a little.
"And now tell me about that new romance of yours your mother has been telling me about."
Six months after Remus begins his career in politics, the Minster leaves England for the European Summit for the Transformation of the Wizarding World in Stockholm, and Remus finds himself at the head of the British wizarding government for a week. The first day, he almost has a panic attack, but then he thinks about how much Sirius would appreciate this kind of irony, and the image of him howling with laughter makes things a little better.
There is, unsurprisingly, the occasional article in the tabloids questioning Shacklebolt's decision to leave the fate of the country in the hands of a middle-aged werewolf with muggle ancestors, which Pippin tries to hide from him without success, but Remus thinks it is much more surprising how little people seem to care overall.
It is late summer, so things at the office are quiet, and he uses the time to take Hermione on a trip to the Forbidden Forest, to talk to the centaurs about the planned wildlife preserve. Afterward, they stop at Hogwarts for dinner, but in front of the gates, he hesitates, thinking that he might not be able to bear the onslaught of memories. He shares a look with Hermione and knows that she feels the same.
Then a tiny first-year runs into him, drops all his books, and blushes furiously while apologizing profoundly. The spell is broken, and when they are done helping the boy scourify his school materials – the state of his robes indicates that his parents probably cannot afford buying new books so early in the school year – they smile at each other wistfully and head toward the great hall to meet Minerva.
He also finally takes the time to schedule a meeting with Percy at the Department of Magical Transportation, to discuss the extended Knight Bus system that Percy mentioned last time they saw each other at a Weasley birthday dinner. On a whim, he takes Pippin with him and feels like he did something right when the two hit it off immediately. He figures they both can use another friend.
By the time Thursday comes around, however, he is more than impatient for Shacklebolt to get back. All the smiling and shaking hands he has been doing in Kingsley's absence is starting to wear him down, and the waxing moon makes him feel tense and irritated. Kingsley had flood him in his office at some point on Tuesday, Pippin had reported, and had missed him by mere minutes. Remus found it a bit disconcerting to realize how much that bothered him. He didn't really know where to reach Kingsley, so he couldn't floo him back; and he considered sending an owl instead, but making a little bird cross the Atlantic just because he felt a little melancholic seemed cruel, and so he gave up on the idea.
But when he returns from his usual meeting with Tonks, and Pippin points at the closed door to the Minister's office with a meaningful glance, he has to bite down on the unexpected surge of relief to make sure that it does not show too obviously on his face.
He enters the Minister's office after announcing himself with a sharp knock, and finds that Kingsley is slumped in one of the armchairs, feet propped up very unministerially on his desk, a tumbler of what looks like firewhisky in one hand.
The Daily Prophet had shown a picture of Kingsley giving a speech at the summit, looking intimidating and awe-inspiring, and a photograph of him shaking hands with the German Wizarding Chancellor and her wife, all three of them smiling pleasantly at the camera. Here, in his office, the minister simply looks tired to the bones, and there is a blue-ish tinge to the skin under his eyes, as if he hasn't slept properly in a week.
"You don't know how good it is to be back," he says when he spots Remus, and then lets his head fall against the backrest of the chair.
Remus smiles. "You didn't like Oslo?"
Kingsley shrugs. "Well. We passed a new International Anti-Aggression Treaty, which even Russia agreed to sign. The goblins of the Swiss National Wizarding Treasury have – very grudgingly – promised to conduct stricter background checks on their customers. And Germany is apparently about to open a new academy, the "Schwarzwald-Universität für Magie und Hexerei," with national stipends for minorities like werewolf and goblin students. So I guess all in all, it was a successful trip."
"But?" Remus asks mildly, and Kingsley groans. "The whisky they served at the convention center was awful, and I swear, the mattress on my bed at the inn was made from Norwegian firewood or something, even after I put a softening spell on it. My neck is killing me."
Remus closes the door and walks over to stand behind Kingsley's chair. He only has to touch his shoulders slightly with his fingertips, and he already can feel the tension in his muscles radiating back at him. Remus thinks it is a miracle that his head hasn't fallen off, as tightly wound as he is. Without hesitation, Remus digs his fingers into the curves between neck and shoulders and pauses when Kingsley makes a noise, pained and surprised. But he does not utter any further protest, so Remus starts massaging his neck in earnest, and slowly, he feels the knots in his back loosening a little.
"What kind of spell are you using?" Kingsley asks finally. He sounds slightly dazed.
Remus laughs. "It's not magic," he says. "Just some healing touch yoga, combined with conventional deep tissue massage. Basic alternative muggle medicine."
Kingsley moans and becomes more pliant under his hands, and Remus thinks about how much he has missed doing this for another person.
"Where did you learn to do this?" Kingsley asks, and Remus moves his hands up to massage his scalp, his movements more gentle now.
"When you spend a night every month either trying to eat yourself, or running through a forest for eight hours straight, methods for basic muscle relaxation are surprisingly useful," Remus says wryly.
"Somehow I cannot see this method working very well when you are doing it to yourself," Kingsley says.
"It doesn't," Remus admits. "Sirius usually did that for me, but we'd practice on each other." He feels himself blush slightly, but really, it's hard to be embarrassed when Kingsley is so obviously appreciative of his skills.
He falls quiet and focuses on rubbing the tension from the man's wide forehead, slides his fingers along his eyebrows firmly, then begins to rub tiny circles into his temples. Kingsley sighs quietly, relaxed and satisfied, and only when Remus runs his fingers along the backside of his ears and back down to his neck, he tenses abruptly and gasps.
"What is it?" Remus asks, concerned, stopping his movements, but not removing his hands. Kingsley doesn't answer, but he tilts his head back to look at Remus. His eyes are wide-blown and dark, and Remus feels overwhelmed by the intensity of his gaze.
"Remus," Kingsley says, voice hoarse, and this is not what he expected – or is it? In this moment, it feels as if he has been waiting for months – but either way, there is not much Remus can do in the face of these eyes, in response to this voice, except flick a locking spell at the door, walk around the chair so that they are face to face, and sink down to his knees.
When he rubs his face against the fabric of Kingsley's robe, the man shivers and sighs, and puts a careful hand on the back of Remus's neck. Remus arches his spine into the touch and finally feels himself coming undone.
"So what is going on with you?" Tonks asks after watching him stab at his food for a while, a light lunch made by Andromeda specifically for the needs of the post-transformation werewolf.
"You mean, aside from the fact that my bones had to take on the shape of a human being again, a mere five hours ago?" Remus asks dryly.
Tonks shakes her head, and finishes off her plate with much more enthusiasm than he has shown toward his food. "I would accept that excuse without question if you hadn't had the wolfsbane last night," she says. "I've seen you without it, and honestly, I still cannot believe that you survived that as long as you did. But I know that you had the potion, and I know it works, so my guess is that you were just sleeping in front of the fireplace all night like a lazy dog. Something is going on, and you need to tell me."
Remus frowns and looks down at his food. Tonks is right, of course. He has never in his life been so glad for the curse as yesterday, when it gave him the excuse to stay away from work; and since everyone knows, he didn't even have to floo to call in sick.
He is feeling wrung-out and exhausted, and he knows that despite the wolfsbane, the transformations are going to take a greater toll, the older he gets. Still, transforming under the influence of the potion is not as horrifying an experience: it's always somewhat confusing, because he's not really a wolf when he is like that, but he's not quite Remus Lupin either; but it's usually a sleepy kind of confusion, and so, overall, those full moon nights spent alone in his cottage are mostly uneventful, sometimes even boring.
Last night, however, there was a sadness to the confusion, an unfamiliar loneliness, and even if he couldn't make sense of it as a wolf, he knew all too well what it meant when he woke up this morning, in his own skin.
He realizes that Tonks is still looking at him, and he sighs, dropping the spoon into his soup. "I think I may need to resign from my position," he finally says.
"Why, in Merlin's name, would you do that?" she asks, sounding so bewildered that he almost feels flattered. "People love you!"
He snorts, and she shakes her head at him, furiously. "I'm not joking," she says. "Don't you read the newspapers? And I don't mean the tabloids that haven't caught onto the fact yet that being scared of werewolves is so 1981. People can see that the government is changing, that good things are happening, and most of them are smart enough to see that you had at least something to do with it."
"It's just –" he tries to protest, but she is not done.
"No, really, I'm wondering: Why would you think you need to retire?"
"Because I gave the Minister of Magic a blowjob," he snaps, and feels grim satisfaction when that finally manages to shut her up.
Tonks' jaw drops, and she stares at him, wide-eyed, for a long, uncomfortable moment. Then she begins to laugh.
"What – I'm serious!" he complains, annoyed and frustrated, and she finally calms down, still wiping tears of laughter from the corner of her eye.
"But that's – that's wonderful!" she exclaims, beaming. "You and Kingsley – I knew you liked him!" She claps her hands, and generally looks way too much like Hermione when she's set her mind to something. Eventually however, she realizes that he is not exactly sharing her glee, and her hair turns into a dark blue as her face shifts into an expression of concern. "So … what's the problem, then?" she asks. "Was it – was it not good?"
Remus laughs despite himself, because nothing could be further away from the truth. "Of course it was good," he says. "It's Kingsley Shacklebolt, of course he has to have the most magnificent cock in the British Commonwealth. But he is also the Minister of Magic," he hisses. "You think people love me? Wait until they find out that I corrupted the head of the British wizarding government."
Tonks pulls a face at him as if she thinks he is particularly stupid. "Don't be silly," she says. "Kingsley used to have a reputation. I don't know the details, of course, but I highly doubt that there was much corrupting going on, either way. And you are both single, and consenting adults, so I don't see what the problem is."
"It's just – it's highly unprofessional, and it's going to make working together incredibly awkward …"
"Why would it be awkward?" Tonks asks, and now the concern is back in her voice. "How did you – I mean – you don't think you'll do it again?" She sounds like the thought is breaking her heart.
Remus sighs and puts his face in his hands. "I don't know," he admits. "I just – we didn't talk, I simply left. Really, resigning will be so much easier for everyone involved than going back to work tomorrow and having to acknowledge what happened."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Remus Lupin," Tonks says, "but you are a moron. Go to work tomorrow, talk to Kingsley."
"What if he doesn't want to talk to me?" he asks, and there it is, the dreaded question he hasn't dared to ask himself.
Tonks shakes her head. "He wants to talk to you, I can tell you that much. If you don't want this, I guess that's your choice – although who in his right mind would give up a second chance with the most magnificent cock in the Commonwealth, I don't know – but at least put the poor man out of his misery. It's not nice to string people along when they are pining for you."
"What?" Remus asks, flabbergasted. "Kingsley is not pining for me. He was just … tired, I guess. Maybe drunk. He's never shown interest in me before."
"Please," Tonks says sternly. "I know your past romantic history has left you emotionally stunted, but don't pretend that it has made you blind. Go to work tomorrow, or I can't promise that I won't call on Harry for backup."
"The Minister wants to see you," is the first thing Macmillan says to him when he slinks into the office the next morning. Remus gives him a weak smile of acknowledgement and thinks that even Lily would probably laugh at him, if she could see him like this. He hopes that at least, she and James are getting some entertainment out of this if they are watching him right now, wherever they are. Oh well. In the worst case, he can always go back to feeding Demiguises in India, he supposes. He liked India – it's where he learned yoga long before it became cool in the western world – and the Demiguises are adorable when they are actually visible.
He knocks on Kingsley's door, but doesn't wait for his answer before he opens it – no reason to prolong the inevitable now.
"Remus," Kingsley says friendly, and gestures at Remus' usual chair. "Tea?" A steaming cup already floats towards him, and Remus fetches it out of the air as he's sitting down, swallowing a quick mouthful to calm his nerves. Too late he realizes that he is drinking Kingsley's special brew – it's as powerful as it was the last time he had it, and almost against his will, he can feel some of the tension seeping out of him, just like that.
"Someday you will need to tell me what's in there," he says, absent-mindedly, and Kingsley chuckles.
"Someday," he agrees. "Can't put all my cards on the table this early in the game, now, can I?"
Remus frowns, not sure what to make of that, and Kingsley must see something in his face, because he sighs deeply, rubbing a heavy hand across his forehead.
"Look, I'm sorry, Remus," he says eventually, and Remus feels his heart sinking. This sounds too much like the beginning of every speech he's gotten whenever he got fired from a job, and even though he sometimes misses the Demiguises, and his students at Hogwarts, he thinks he might miss this job even more.
"I know my behavior was inexcusable," Kingsley continues. "I shouldn't have taken advantage of you like that. I knew that the full moon was only a night away, and that it made you vulnerable. I fully understand if you never want to mention this again, but …"
"Wait, what?" Remus says, because his brain is slowly starting to process Kingsley's words. "You think you were taking advantage of me?"
"What else?" Kingsley says, shifting in his chair, and Remus realizes that Kingsley is actually nervous. "I'm your employer. I was completely out of line."
"But I was the one who …" Remus grimaces, not quite ready to go there yet.
"Remus," Kingsley says slowly, and now he sounds almost as confused as Remus feels. "You cannot possibly think that I was not encouraging you. I mean, you know that I've always found you attractive."
"You have?" Remus distinctly feels like he is missing something important.
Kingsley stares at him, incredulously. "I came onto you back in 1984," he says carefully. "I sent you postcards. From Hawaii."
When Remus doesn't say anything, he continues: "I knew it was stupid at the time, and you were still grieving because you'd lost your lover, and your friends, so I'm not blaming you for turning me down …"
"I thought you were just trying to be nice," Remus admits. As more and more pieces are falling into place, he feels embarrassed for his own emotional myopia. Tonks is never going to let him live that down.
Kingsley actually laughs, even if it doesn't sound completely happy. "I'll have to remind myself to be less subtle with you from now on," he says.
Remus sighs, and tries not to feel horrible at the way Kingsley's face falls at the sound. "You did not take advantage of me," he assures him, because that requires immediate clarification. "I know that there are all these myths about what werewolves feel like in the days leading up to the full, but honestly, despite the occasional migraines and the itching, it does not actually have an effect on my personality. But we are working together," he points out, "which is already a good enough reason to not even consider this, and I know it is ironic, considering my initial reluctance, but I actually like this job. Besides …"
He hesitates and then decides that full honesty is in order. "I should tell you that I don't have a particularly good record when it comes to romantic partners. In fact, literally everyone I have had sex with …"
"… is dead?" Kingsley asks dryly, and laughs again when he sees Remus' face. "You think you are the only one?" he asks, and his voice is tinged with a sadness that Remus hasn't heard from him before. "There were two wars, and too many people died, including everyone you slept with, and everyone I was ever with. It's not a personal curse, Remus, it just means that our generation had the shittiest luck."
Remus is at a loss of what to say, but he cannot look away from Kingsley's face when he still remembers far too vividly what he looked like when he climaxed, chanting out Remus' name like an incantation.
"What does that mean?" he finally asks, and Kingsley shrugs.
"I don't know," he says. "I can tell you what I want it to mean. I want to stop being so goddamn careful and scared all the time, because we got so used to having everything good ripped from our hands that we cannot see happy anymore when it hits us in the face. I want to do again what we did two nights ago, I want to watch you swallow my cock like you are made for it – and yes, I did put a silencing charm on the room –" he says, when he sees Remus' eyes flick toward the door in panic.
"And I want to do the same to you. If you let me, I want to take you to dinner after work tonight, and if one of those horrid reporters asks me about my romantic life, I want to tell them that it's none of their business."
Remus really thinks he should feel more appalled, and frightened, at the potential future that Kingsley lays out for him, with all the unexpected twists and turns that neither of them can oversee. Agreeing to any part of this proposal would be reckless, and possibly career suicide, and it might very well end in disaster and tears. But the magical tea is doing its work, making him feel mellow and easy, and he thinks that being so awfully careful never really did him any good. He makes his decision.
"Maybe you should reinforce the silencing charms," he says casually, standing up, and smiles at the way Kingsley's eyes widen at his words. "And probably add a Colloportus while you're at it. Oh, and you are buying tonight," he adds, even as Kingsley is getting up hastily to meet him halfway, cupping his face in his big hands, and tilting it up for a kiss that starts gentle, but carries the promise of heat. "Because you still make a lot more money than I do."
Harry and Hermione are both somewhat perplexed by the gift baskets he owls both of them, one year to the day he started his job at the ministry, but they are appreciative just the same – their trainee salaries aren't going to make them rich, and with Harry and Ginny's first baby on the way, the guy will need his savings.
Remus thinks that somewhere along the way, he failed his responsibilities as a step-godfather for not talking to Harry about contraception. Kingsley almost falls off his chair laughing when Remus confesses, and Remus tells him indignantly that he has no one to blame but himself if he gets eaten the next time Remus turns into a raving beast. Kingsley seems disappointingly unimpressed.
It's not until a year later that a reporter from Witch Weekly gets a snapshot of them holding hands. By that time, Hermione is already steadily making her way up the ranks, supported by her adoring Auror boyfriend Ron; so when Remus opens the magazine that George Weasley's owl dropped on their breakfast table, and discovers the picture on the magically bookmarked page (complete with the ridiculous headline 'Remus Lupin: How is he really serving the Minister?'), he only thinks that Hermione would probably make a decent Undersecretary, if the backlash becomes too much.