Remus caught a carriage from Hogsmeade up to the castle. It was a quiet ride, he was the only person in the carriage, no driver, and the thestrals pulling it were non-vocal as ever. Legs across the seat, leaning against the door, he took a deep breath. Those thestrals were bound to get a lot more attention than they were used to this year, and he didn't really want to think about that.
Coming through the front doors of the castle, trunk floating along behind him, felt strange—it was the same as it as always been, when he'd taught before, back when he was a student, but also different, the stones maybe not in the same order or turned a different way around since being put back together. Something had changed in a way he could feel but couldn't quite place. Maybe it was something about the magic woven through the building.
Madam Hooch came out of the Great Hall, a mug of coffee cuddled to her chest with one hand, the morning paper in the other. She saluted him with her mug. “Good morning, Remus.”
“Morning, Rolanda,” Remus replied. “Did you just get here?”
“Been here since yesterday.” She sighed and tucked the paper under her arm. “I took a much needed holiday, went home just long enough to do laundry, then came right here. How's your summer been?”
“Busy.” Remus let his trunk settle on the masonry next to him. “Which is probably for the best.”
“Oh, definitely,” Madam Hooch agreed. “Keep your mind off things.”
“Yeah.” Remus sighed. “Well, I'd best get my things to my room—unless it's moved.”
“Ought to be right where you left it,” Madam Hooch smirked. “See you this afternoon then.”
Remus allowed himself a bit of a chuckle before he waved his wand at his trunk for it to resume following him and made his way toward his office. Along the way, down a side hall, he saw a pair of upsettingly young looking ghosts. Remus passed by quickly for fear of recognizing them.
The office was indeed right where he'd left it, up the stairs from his classroom and empty but for the desk and a couple chairs. The bedroom past the office was just as bare—bed and dresser and nightstand. Remus let his trunk drop with a thunk. With a few flicks of his wand he opened all the drawers and sorted his things from his trunk into them. Then he flopped on the bed and stared at the ceiling for a minute. This was going to be a very long year.
Remus decided he really didn't want to sit down for lunch so he grabbed himself a sandwich from the Great Hall and went for a walk. He didn't think he liked the school without the students there—it was too quiet. There were only two people in the hall when he got his sandwich, the librarian and a young witch he didn't recognize bent over a book open on the table between them. He passed Professor Sprout as he went out to the grounds. The bridge had been rebuilt, the breezeway repaired, all the stonework and roofing on the castle set right. Up on the hill across the bridge, though, the quidditch pitch was conspicuously absent. He sat on the bridge to eat, legs dangling. He pulled a tomato out of his sandwich, dropped it down to the water below, and watched a couple water fowl squabble over it.
Once he finished his lunch, he brushed the crumbs off his hands and trousers, checked his watch, and walked back to the castle.
Remus settled into a chair at the table in the staff room and waited for the rest of the faculty to arrive. McGonagall was already seated at the head of the table, consulting notes she had spread out in front of her. Remus nodded to Flitwick and Madam Hooch as they each came in. He steadfastly ignored Filch, who extended him the same curtesy. Hagrid gave him a clap on the shoulder that nearly knocked him out of his chair.
The last person to show up was Professor Binns, who drifted in through the wall almost twenty minutes after the meeting was supposed to start.
“How kind of you to join us, Cuthbert,” McGonagall said with exaggerated patience.
Binns blinked at her and said, “I was reading.”
“Of course you were.” McGonagall's nostrils flared and she neatened her notes. “Now that we're all here, let's get started, shall we? This year is going to be a bit odd. We're a smaller school this year than we're used to being—between not bringing in any new first years and what students are taking a year off to recuperate from everything that's happened or who are tragically no longer with us, the student body will be about half what it has been the past decade or so. Because of that, combined with the fact that we're a bit understaffed, some electives are not being offered until further notice and for this year, and possibly the next, some classes won't be divided by house. You'll see that reflected in your class schedules, which I'll be giving each of you after this meeting.”
She took a breath. “On the subject of our staffing situation, we have a few new faculty. This is Elizabeth Lee,” McGonagall gestured to the young witch Remus had seen in the Great Hall at lunch. “She'll be teaching Muggle Studies. Elizabeth, do you have anything to share?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Just, glad to be able to say I'm the first muggle-born Muggle Studies teacher at this school. I'd dare say it's about time,” she said, her accent sounding a little off. “Oh! And Irma and I have greatly expanded and updated the Muggle Studies section in the library. Hope that's helpful for everyone.”
“Thank you, Elizabeth,” McGonagall said. “Angelica Stebbins is taking over my former post teaching transfiguration.”
Remus sat up straighter in his chair and looked at the blond witch down the table from him as she gave a little wave. He hadn't recognized his former classmate—or, more accurately, he hadn't paid enough attention to notice her.
“I'll try my best to fill your shoes,” Angelica said brightly. “Tall order that it is.”
“No need to flatter,” McGonagall chided with a bit of a smirk. “Aleksandr Ramsey is our new potions master and head of Slytherin House.”
“Wish me luck,” Ramsey said wryly.
“Good luck,” Remus said.
McGonagall turned her gaze on him. “And, of course, Remus Lupin returning to his Defense Against the Dark Arts post now that the position is no longer cursed. He's also my replacement as head of Gryffindor House.”
Remus almost choked. “I'm what?”
“You're head of house,” McGonagall said plainly.
“That's news to me,” Remus said, voice going to the high end of his speaking range.
“I was sure I'd told you, Remus,” McGonagall said, clearly taken aback.
“Must've slipped your mind.” Remus looked around. “I cannot possibly be the only Gryffindor on staff.”
“I mean, I was in Gryffindor,” Madam Hooch said, “but I can't be head of house. I have to referee, it would be a conflict of interest.”
“Poppy,” Remus began, “weren't you—?”
“I'm not a teacher,” Madam Pomfrey said. “I'm not eligible.”
Remus sighed and settled back in his chair. “Well, I guess I'm head of house.”
“It's good to have you back, Remus,” Madam Hooch snickered. Across from her, Elizabeth hid her face and her giggles in her hands. Professor Sprout bit her lip. And then the entire rest of the table started laughing, even Professor McGonagall.
“Remus, Poppy, Aleksandr, I need a word with the three of you,” McGonagall said as the meeting dispersed. The three of them hung back. McGonagall folded her hands. “Aleksandr, I trust you remember my mentioning that you're going to have a standing chore this year.”
“I do.” Ramsey folded his arms. “I assume I'm about to find out what that is.”
“Making wolfsbane potion,” Remus concluded.
McGonagall nodded. Ramsey's eyebrow ticked up and he glanced at Remus, then at Madam Pomfrey, then at McGonagall. “Wolfsbane potion?”
“I'm sure you're more than capable,” McGonagall said, eyeing Ramsey.
“I am.” Ramsey nodded. “I just—what's this about? Is there a student who's…?”
Madam Pomfrey nodded soberly. “There is.”
“And a faculty member,” Remus added.
“Oh...kay.” Ramsey rubbed his hands together and glanced at Remus. “Is it you?”
“Right. Who's the kid?” Ramsey asked. “Or do I not get to know that?”
“Draco Malfoy,” Madam Pomfrey said quietly.
“Malfoy? Damn.” Ramsey let out a breath. “Hang on, what day of the month is it? Moon wise. Do I need to—?”
“I don't have to start taking until next week and I already have a supply for this coming moon.” Remus ran a hand through his hair. “The full moon isn't until after the start of term but I'm sure Draco already has his supply as well.”
“Okay.” Ramsey nodded. “So next month. On which note,” he added enthusiastically, “would you object to a wee bit of experimentation? I think I've figured out how to make that shit not taste like shit—it's the sort of thing I do in my spare time—but I don't know any werewolves so I don't know what impact it may have on efficacy.”
“Not a chance,” Remus said sharply. “Not unless I have someone who can safely babysit me, which means an animagus bigger than a tabby. No offense, Minirva.”
“None taken.” McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey both looked like they were trying not to smile.
“Fair enough,” Ramsey agreed. “Fair enough.”