"I haven't seen her in a year," Remus remarked to his best friend, who was driving. "How did she do on her finals?"
Luk laughed. He was a tall, well-built young man three years Remus' junior. His light blond hair—almost a white blond—nearly reached his shoulders.
"You know Ari," Luk said. "The little Fireball loves to keep people in suspense. But from the tone of her last letter, I think she did quite well."
"I'm sure she did well," Remus said, smiling. He had never met someone more eager, quicker, than Aurellia—except, perhaps, for her cousin Luk. "So, we are picking her up, popping over to your parents’ house for supper, and then having a little fun on the town, right?"
Luk nodded, throwing Lupin a quick glance before turning his attention back to the road. "That’s the plan, alright. There's a small festival near Canary Wharf; we all used to go to every year when we were younger. I know my parents wanted to take us after dinner, and you are welcome to join us, of course." The blond high elf gave Lupin another sideways glance, wondering how the werewolf would react to the invitation. Sometimes Lupin was enthusiastic, and sometimes not. It depended a great deal on the mood he was in, and his current state of health. And Justice Deveroux…well, Jeorges tended to have a negative effect on both.
"As long as your father doesn't start in about the great joys of working for a living," Remus muttered, his expression dark, “I’ll come along. But if I have to endure any more of his threadbare lectures about self-motivation, or his long-winded, worn-out stories about how difficult life was for his generation, or his nasty little underhanded barbs about…”
Luk laughed, an easy-going, carefree sound. "Come on, Remus, you need to lighten up a little. And besides, Mum and I both extracted promises from Dad that all talk will be civilized, non-combative, and casual for the evening."
"The whole evening? The justice will explode from the effort. And we will all get very tired of talking about movies and the weather before the evening is…"
"Now, Remus, you have to promise to be civil, too. I know you and Dad don’t get on well, but tonight he is making a special effort for Ari’s sake, so—"
Remus snorted. "Luk, you are my best friend, and I know you have everyone’s best interests at heart. But you are expecting no less than a miracle. On different occasions, your father has seen fit to imply that I am a thief, a drug addict, and a bum, among other things."
Luk sighed. "Remus, we’ve already been over this. The incident with the watch was an accident! Father apologized when it turned up later, under the bed where he’d lost it."
"Oh yes, I remember that lame excuse for an apology! 'I'm sorry for accusing you of theft, Remus, but you must understand your background doesn't speak well for you,' blah, blah, ad nauseum. I was underwhelmed."
"Dad doesn’t mean to be cruel, Remus. He’s just cynical, that’s all. He thinks you’ll take advantage, like some of my other friends have. I suppose it’s partly his personality, and partly his career that makes him that way. And partly the result of my own lapses in judgment. But he felt bad about accusing you, later. I know he did. I could tell.”
“You could have fooled me.”
“Well, Dad has to keep his pride intact. He can’t just admit it when he's wrong without offering his explanations for why he was right to be wrong. Can’t you just accept the intent of the apology, without criticizing the words? Besides, I think the blame goes both ways. I know of at least one instance where you accused Jeorges…”
Remus glowered and turned his face toward the landscape rushing past his window. “I know what you’re going to say. All right, I’ll admit that I made a rather low remark myself, but at least I apologized—I mean, really apologized—for it. I was angry at the time, and I didn’t even realize I had said it until…until it just came out. And no, I don’t honestly think old Deveroux enjoys using his position as an excuse to punish people who don’t meet his standards, or that he really wants to be the one to throw the switch on the gas chamber or the chair…”
“Oh, come on, Remus, you stopped just short of calling him a Nazi!”
“I did not! I said he was an iron-fisted dictator who…well, I suppose it was almost as bad. It’s just…well, he brings out the wolf in me from time to time.”
Luk shifted uncomfortably in his seat, clenched the steering wheel a little tighter, kept his eyes determinedly fixed on the pavement rushing toward the car. “I’m sorry, Remus,” he said quietly. “Forget I mentioned it.”
An awkward silence fell between the two friends for several moments while the Vauxhall Corsa ate up the miles between them and the airport.
Presently the cloud passed, and Luk rebounded. “Look, Dad has his good points, and he does have a heart—even if he doesn't wear it on his sleeve. He adopted my cousin and I, after all."
"I'm sure that was more Marie's idea than his. I don't know what she sees in him."
"My father is a very intelligent man, and well-respected in the community. And he loves Mum, and us. You just don’t understand him. You complain that he won’t give you a chance, but you won’t give him a chance either."
"Jeorges is a self-absorbed, heavy-handed, tight-fisted workaholic. He’s the sort who makes life miserable for…"
"Fine! If you want me to keep my lips sealed, I’ll do it. But don’t expect me to like it. As long as he doesn't start lecturing me, I’ll try not to provoke him!"
“You’ll try? Is that the best you can do? For Aurellia’s sake and mine?”
“All right. I promise. No inflammatory remarks. But don’t complain if I don’t have anything to say.”
"I won’t complain one way or the other. You know I can tolerate you two bickering, but Ari will get upset. She’s a lot more sensitive, and she’s a lot closer to Dad than I am or ever will be. They have more in common, and since she was younger when they adopted us, my parents have always been more protective of her. If you two start fighting again, it will not only ruin her homecoming—it will break her heart. Besides, you have to remember, Dad doesn't understand like I do. You know we can’t tell him the specifics of why you have problems with your health, and why you have trouble staying employed."
"Getting employed," Remus amended bitterly. "I hate to say this, but maybe Jeorges is right."
"Oh, not this again!"
"Yes, this again. Your father thinks I take advantage of your kindness, because if you have one glaring fault, it is that you can be too generous. And in a way, I do take advantage, and I have no way..."
Luk shook his head in exasperation. "Remus, listen to me! You are not taking advantage of me. You helped get me my job..."
"And you've helped me navigate my way in the Wizarding world. Without your help, I would have stuck out like a Muggle in a wand shop. But thanks to your help, no one will ever know I’m not a normal wizard besides a handful of tutors, Albus Dumbledore, my immediate superior in the Ministry, and the Minister of Magic himself. So don’t talk like you owe me anything. We’re friends. We help each other whenever and however we can, and we don’t keep a list of favors owed. Now we are going to pick up Aurellia, drive to my parents’ house and eat ourselves sick, and then we are going out and having fun. End of discussion.”
“And how do you figure that you determine when discussions end?” Remus wanted to know.
“I’m driving,” the elf said with a grin. “Say, maybe they'll have karaoke again at McCauley's Place…”
“McCauley's Place? Is that where we’re going tonight?” Remus laughed. "Oh no, not karaoke again! Why didn’t you tell me that before I accepted the invitation?"
"Oh, definitely karaoke again! Encore! Encore! Encore!" Luk retorted, laughing and chanting like a teenager at a rock concert.
"You’re barking mad! You, my friend, couldn't sing in key to save your life! Please, spare the hearing of the innocent bystanders, and don't do karaoke. And please, please, for the love of Merlin, don’t do that that country music rot again!”
Grinning wickedly, Luk started to sing horribly off-key…even for him. “Oh I’ve got friends in low, low plaaaaces…”
“So do I, but you don’t hear me howling about it.”
“That’s not howling; that’s singing.”
“Trust me, I can tell the difference. That’s howling.”
“Don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heaaaart...I just don't think it'd understaaand..."
Remus gave a theatrical groan and plugged his ears, but by the end of the verse, both of them were laughing.
"Is Ari alright with all of these plans for tonight? She might be a bit fatigued from her trip," Remus said after a few moments. "Traveling all that way, and jet lag…"
Luk laughed again. "What, in only a year’s time you’ve managed to forget what Ari is like? My fireball of a cousin probably doesn’t even knows the meaning of the words 'jet lag' or 'fatigued.' She already has a shopping schedule planned for next weekend so we can fix up and furnish the Shack."
"Well, if she’s up to it, then so am I," Remus said with a grin. "And I'm glad to hear about the shopping trip. The place could use a bit more than a refrigerator, two mattresses, a floor lamp and an old worn-out, moth-eaten sofa that tries to swallow you whenever you sit on it…”
“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place quite like home,” Luk quipped with a grin. “Pity we couldn’t get in a few more magical…”
“Yes, but in a Muggle neighborhood…”
“I know, I know. Too much magic in the wrong place plays havoc with the powerlines, and we have to keep a low profile. Ari may be used to hiding it by now, but for me it has always been bloody awkward. Magic’s too much a part of my life. It’s my essence…”
“So, it’s going to be all Muggle shopping malls next weekend. I hope you two won’t mind if I sit out most of the fun on the benches. I don’t think my feet have the stamina for all-day shopping sprees. On the other hand...I could consider this a job-hunting opportunity. I’ve tried everywhere else.”
“Don’t even joke about it,” the elf warned, shaking his head sadly. “You know how strict the Ministry is getting these days, especially about Muggles. They’d never allow it. And the Silver Circle…”
“Is almost as desperate for a contract these days as I am. I know, I know. I hate being broke. I only hope…" and here he stopped and flushed.
"If you’re worrying about money for tonight, don’t," Luk said. "McCauley's doesn’t have a cover charge, and besides, I’m treating. Drink whatever you want, and as much as you want, and don’t worry about paying me back."
"But I do," Remus replied sadly. "You do this far too often, and I have no way of repaying you."
"I already said don't worry about it," Luk insisted, waving away Remus' protests. "Don't start on that again. By the way, since we were talking about, er, the great joys of working, any luck on your latest applications?"
Remus snorted. "What do you think?"
Luk's expression darkened. "I'm sorry, Remus." Then he brightened. "But you know, there is something you might want to consider trying. I think Hogwarts will be looking for a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher pretty soon."
"Again? That makes, what, five Defense teachers in the last seven years? Maybe there is something to the rumors about that job being jinxed. Oh, I've told you about all my misadventures as a student at Hogwarts, haven't I?”
“No, not really,” Luk answered in an inquiring tone. “You only said that you were something of a scapegrace who ran with two other complete scapegraces, and that you created an enchanted map to aid you in making mischief and mayhem.”
“You mean, I haven’t told you about the mongoose, or the midnight kitchen raids, or the sabotaged potion?”
“You told me about the Shrieking Shack and the Whomping Willow, and about how angry Dumbledore would be if he knew about half the things you and your friends pulled back then…”
“Ah, well then, you must remind me the next time we take a long road trip, and I'll tell you a few stories. I know more about Hogwarts than that musty old caretaker Filch, if he's even still there. I was the brains behind the Marauder's Map, you know. By the way, how do you know they're looking for another glutton-for-punishment, excuse me, I mean Defense teacher?" Remus asked in amusement. Luk was often privy to information that otherwise wasn't public knowledge because of his position with the Ministry.
"Well, I guess the chap they have in there now, Gilderoy Lockhart…"
"Lockhart? The Lockhart? You mean the famous author?"
"Yeah, that's him. He’s using his new position as a big publicity stunt to sell more of his books. His latest? Gilderoy Lockhart: Dark Wizard Catcher, Slayer of Dragons, Hunter of Vampires, Killer of Trolls, Explorer of Dark Forests, Defender of the Helpless…and now, Teacher of the Arcane Arts of Self-Defense.”
Remus rolled his eyes. “If only his ego could be turned into useful energy, Muggles would have enough power to light London for a millenium or two.”
“And he’d write a book about it and call it: Why Everyone Loves My Million-Galleon Mug.”
Remus guffawed and then added, “Wait a minute, he already did. But he titled it Magical Me.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve actually read it!”
“No, but it kept me warm one night when I ran out of firewood.”
Both wizards chuckled, and then Remus prompted, “You were telling me about Hogwarts?”
“Well, as a teacher he’s been, to put it mildly, a complete failure. Doesn't know one end of a wand from the other, if half the stories I’ve heard in the office are true. Dumbledore doesn't think he'll last the year."
"So how did you find out about this?" Remus asked.
"Because the Headmaster and Board of Governors asked me about accepting the post for the next term," Luk replied, then he shook his head. "But could you imagine me in a classroom all day, week in and week out, just teaching? I'd go absolutely bangers!"
Remus shrugged. "Oh, I don't know, I've heard teaching can be quite adventuresome. Besides, you are good with children. And Aurellia practically worships you."
"Ari is different," Luk replied firmly. "She always has been. She's like the little sister I never had. But teaching isn't the gig for me. My...experiences at the orphanage have left me very little desire to work closely with numerous children."
Remus perked up a bit, curious. Luk seldom talked about his younger days, before he and Ari were adopted. And such talk usually came after much prodding and coaxing. Would Luk finally tell more about what had happened at the orphanage? And how he escaped from Voldemort's Death Eaters the night they fled from their village?
Remus was to be disappointed, for Luk abruptly changed the subject.
"You should apply, Remus," Luk said, casting a sideways glance at the older wizard.
"What? Are you bangers? They won't even accept my application as a janitor for the Centaur Relations Department. What makes you think that they will allow me to teach children?"
"But you are good with children!" Luk said. "I remember when we went to Portald Hospital for Women and Children during Christmas, distributing presents to the little ones last year, and how you entertained those young ones with your collection of fairy tales and fables. They were absolutely enthralled -- and so were the staff and parents listening in, I might add. You are a wonderful teacher! You taught me some of my best tricks!"
"Ahh, yes, but they did not know that I turn into a man-eating wolf once a month. And besides, you are also a quick student. Teaching you was an entirely different matter," Remus said with a small smile. "No, Luk, I don't see the Board doing anything with my application besides filing it in the circular bin."
"Give it a try; you might be surprised!" Luk urged. "The Restricted Potions Department finally approved that new Wolfsbane formula, and it's supposed to be 100% effective when taken according to directions. It could open new doors, new job opportunities, maybe change everything for Lycanthropes! Haven't you heard?"
Remus rolled his eyes. "Yes, I've heard, alright, but it's expensive and time-consuming to make, and none of the major potions manufacturers are willing to risk losing money on an experimental product that only a very small number of wizards worldwide are ever going to buy. And it's not exactly something you can buy ready-made at the family-owned shops like The Apothecary in Diagon Alley, for the same reason. Oh you might be able to get the ingredients, perhaps, but even so, I don't have the tools or the skill to make it properly. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to brew Wolfsbane, even if you have a proper cauldron? And do you know how dangerous it is to drink a potion that hasn't been prepared properly? If there's one thing I remember from my Potions classes at Hogwarts, it's the one thing old Professor Trank always stressed. Never, ever play games with a cauldron, and never use any potion that you aren't sure is safe."
"Maybe I can do it," Luk offered. "I'm not an expert, but I know a fair bit about potions. Or, you know," and here Luk snapped his long fingers, "there's a teacher at the school who knows a lot about potions! He's a Master Adept, and you know they only grant that title to maybe one in a hundred graduating wizards. Let me think, what was his name? Snape! That's it, Severus Snape."
"Severus Snape? He's a teacher there?" Lupin asked in amazement, as Luk nodded.
"Hmm... Then apparently the vicious rumors I've heard are true. Dumbledore will hire just about anyone," he said with a frown. "If Snape's teaching at Hogwarts, then maybe I should consider owling Dumbledore an inquiry about working there. It's about as ridiculous a notion!"
"You know the Potions master at Hogwarts?" Luk inquired, curiosity written all over his features.
"Oh, you could say that," the werewolf replied. "Remember the stories of my student years at Hogwarts which I said I'd tell you about later? Well, he's involved in almost every one of them. We were in the same year, you see, and we got along about as well as..." and here Lupin laughed to himself at some private joke, "about as well as a cobra and a mongoose," he finished. "I can see myself asking Snape to make Wolfsbane for me the day the Ministry gets its act together and balances the budget."
Luk cast another sideways glance at the older wizard as he turned into the entrance of the airport's parking lot. "You don't have fond memories of this Snape fellow, then?"
"Oh, I could tell you dozens of stories and barely scratch the surface," Remus replied with a sigh. "The creation of the Mauraders' Map, the Shrieking Shack incident, the hexed broom Quidditch finale fiasco, the commencement brawl, the wedding reception disaster... Ah, those were the days. I miss them, Luk. I miss the Marauders. They were the best friends I ever had—present company excepted—and it is at times like this that I realize just how much I miss them. In fact, I think I even miss Malfoy, Snape, Crabbe, and Goyle a little, if only for the fact that we always seemed to get the better of them...heh. Oh, we all graduated the same year from Hogwarts: Snape, Sirius Black, James Potter, Peter Pettigrew, Lily Evans and I. But out of the six of us, Snape and I are the only ones still alive and free. James and Lily were killed by Voldemort, and Sirius went to Azkaban for killing Pettigrew and some poor innocent Muggles, after betraying James and Lily."
"Oh yes, I remember you telling me a few stories about those days, now that you mention it," Luk said with a nod. "Funny, I never made the connection. I guess now I can see why you're reluctant to try for the potential job opening at Hogwarts. Too many bitter memories, huh?" He stopped the car for a few moments to grab a parking ticket from an automated meter. "And as for James Potter...it is such a shame that he did not live to see his son grow up. His son was the one who destroyed Voldemort, right?"
Remus nodded. "That's right. So they tell me. Although no one really knows for sure what exactly happened that night, save that Harry Potter lived, and his parents didn't, and You Know Who...well, he disappeared.”
The werewolf sighed and continued, "Anyway, Hogwarts is out of the question, if Severus is there. He's not one to let go of an old grudge, and I very much doubt that the two of us would last a year in the same castle without trying to strangle each other sooner or later. He was always nosing around, trying to get us into trouble, and he usually ended up landing himself in trouble instead. It was his own fault what happened that night at the Shrieking Shack, but he always blamed James, Sirius and I for it."
"But that was years ago!" Luk persisted. "Surely he has gotten over some childhood quarrels?"
Remus gave Luk a dark look. "You don't know Severus. No one can hold a grudge like he can. I'm sure he has not only remembered, but meditated and stewed over every single slight and injustice our little band committed, whether real or imagined."
"That's a pitiful way to live," Luk clucked disdainfully. "Got to feel sorry for someone like that."
"Well, you have that luxury," Remus said with a frown. "You didn't have to grow up with him."
"True enough," Luk replied amiably. "But what if you're wrong? What if he has changed? I mean, you haven't seen him in what, ten, fifteen years?"
"If he has changed at all," Lupin reflected, "then I highly doubt it has been for the better. By the way, any luck with the spellbooks? On the sleeping rooms?" Remus asked hopefully. He had recently learned about Luk being a high elf, an elf with a limited supply of old druidish books. They had both found out that werewolves, before Grindelwald, often went to the elves for refuge, because while elves couldn't cure the werewolf's curse, they could create rooms with powerful enchantments that allowed werewolves to sleep through their transformations. For the past several months, since Remus and Luk had bought a large, rambling three-bedroom house, the werewolf went into the basement of the residence once a month when he underwent his transformations. Luk had magically sealed the doors and windows so that Remus could not escape while in wolf form, and had soundproofed the home so as not to attract the attention of the neighbors. But the transformations were very painful and exhausting, and Remus loved the thought of being able to just sleep through the awful process.
Luk shook his head. "Not yet, but I'm still trying,” he said encouragingly. “Don't worry. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Luk smoothly pulled into a parking space a fair distance from the airport entrance. The airport was packed that day with people either leaving, seeing others off, or, like them, waiting for friends and loved ones to return home.
Luk and Remus headed towards the London City Airport. Remus had to practically run to keep up with the taller, more athletic elf.
"Luk..." Remus panted. "Would you mind...too terribly...slowing the pace from...Boston Marathon...to something...we who are...less than superhuman…can match?"
Luk slowed, then stopped, and he looked back at Remus with amusement, which quickly melted into concern. In his excitement at Aurellia’s homecoming, the elf had momentarily forgotten that his friend had undergone one of his arduous transformations the previous night. Remus rarely complained about his condition, but it was obvious that he was struggling. Earlier, they had debated whether or not they should postpone the celebration of Ari's return to tomorrow night, but Remus had insisted that he would be fine. Now, Luk was having reservations, and he wondered if Remus was as well.
"Sorry, mate," Luk said. "Are you sure you’re going to be all right?"
"I'll be fine, as long as you don't insist on setting a pace for Olympic track runners," Remus replied, still catching his breath.
Luk hardly considered his normal walking speed a benchmark for ‘Olympic track runners’, but he resisted the urge to shake his head as he resumed his walk toward the entrance at a much slower pace. The two friends continued on in silence until they reached the front doors, Remus unsuccessfully trying to ignore the ever-increasing complaints from achy leg joints and sore calf muscles, and Luk silently wishing that he could pick up the pace so that he could meet his cousin as soon as she stepped off the plane.
"So, where to from here?" Remus asked the taller elf once they were inside.
Luk studied the monitors, which listed departure and arrival times.
"Hmmm...she's flying in from Berlin, and is expected here at 12:43...ahh, there she is!”
“We're heading that way," Luk said, tapping one of the monitors as he pointed left with the other hand.
Forgetting Remus’ limitations once again, Luk took off like a Bludger down the corridor, leaving his friend far behind trying stoically, but unsuccessfully, to keep up.
"Luuuuk!” Remus called with a note of well-worn patience, “You are doing the Boston Marathon thing again!"
Luk doubled back and reluctantly matched the werewolf’s slower pace. "Sorry, old man," he teased. "I’m excited. I haven't seen Ari in a year!" He was grinning from ear to ear.
The older wizard pointedly ignored the "old man" jibe. While Remus was only three years older than Luk, a casual passerby would have thought him a good deal older, despite the fact that they were dressed similarly. Both wore blue jeans. Luk wore the 'Akron U' T-shirt Aurellia had sent him, and Remus wore a faded green, plain T-shirt.
Remus' sandy brown hair was liberally flecked with gray, and his young face was prematurely lined and careworn. Luk, on the other hand, looked younger than his years. His handsome good looks always caught the attention of more than one young lady wherever he went, and the younger wizard could never resist a little casual flirting.
"Afternoon, ladies!" Luk called out to a small group of blushing, giggling teenagers. A couple of them squealed in delight, and most waved back.
"You never fail to add to your growing list of fan club members," Remus said as he rolled his eyes and tried unsuccessfully to hide a grin. "I can't take you anywhere!"
"No, but this is not necessarily a bad thing," Luk replied with a boyish grin as he tipped an imaginary hat and bowed comically to two older women, who giggled like the schoolgirls they had just passed.
"If you don't watch out, you'll make Ari jealous," said Remus, who couldn't help but chuckle at his friend's antics at this point.
"Not a chance," Luk retorted. “She’ll treat it as a competition, like always!” He stopped before one of the gates and watched the passengers who were disembarking. Remus gratefully snatched the opportunity to sit down in one of the chairs.
Luk frowned. "I don’t get it. She should be right here."
“Don’t worry. She’ll be here,” Remus said tiredly.
They only had to wait a few more seconds before a young woman with short, curly blond hair and an impish grin matching that of her cousin bounded towards them. She also was wearing jeans and an Akron University T-shirt, like Luk’s.
"Fireball!" Luk called enthusiastically, his arms outstretched. "How's the hotshot solicitor?"
"Doing great!" Aurellia replied, as she ran into her cousin's arms and nearly disappeared in his embrace. She returned his hug with equal energy.
"Oooof!" Luk cried, in mock pain. "Ari! You are going to squeeze the air out of my lungs!"
Aurellia giggled mischievously and hugged him all the harder before breaking away.
“So how was your flight?” Luk asked. “I remember your first letter. You said you were writing from the plane on your way out, and you told me how much you hated it and why.”
"I did. I do. Flying’s not for el…er…empaths. But other than that, the trip was pretty uneventful," Ari said. "There was a small delay at the Akron Airport, but other than that, everything was right on schedule. But enough about me! It's great to see you! How are Mom and Dad?”
"I see you've picked up a bit of the Midwest Yankee accent," Luk teased. "And the folks are fine. Mum has been planning your homecoming dinner for a week now! But where are my manners? Look who's joined us!" Luk waved an enthusiastic hand toward the still-seated Lupin, who grinned and waved at Aurellia.
"Big brother!" the young lady exclaimed in delight, although Remus did not miss the flicker of concern that spread across her face.
"Hey there," Remus greeted with a smile. "How's the prettiest lawyer in London?"
Aurellia's concerned look faded a bit, and she giggled girlishly. "Well, I see some things haven't changed," she said as she turned back to Luk. "He's as full of flattery as ever."
Remus laughed good-naturedly as the young woman approached him. “I speak only the truth,” he said seriously, and his eyes twinkled impishly. “Ask anyone in London.”
Aurellia grinned. "So, how are you, Big Brother? I hope you have been taking care of yourself?" She embraced Remus warmly, although not with the same exhuberance as she had Luk.
"I'm doing well enough for now, and besides, Luk makes sure I don’t get into too much trouble," Remus replied with an amused laugh.
“Are you sure you haven’t got that backwards?” Aurellia queried with a teasing grin. “Knowing my cousin and his bravado, he needs someone sensible to make sure he doesn’t get into trouble.”
Luk put on a mock-injured look. “Ari, I am mortally offended! I’ll have you know that trouble and I are thoroughly unacquainted, and that I’m famous for my humility and sensibility.”
“He’s gone ‘round the bend pining for you since you’ve left,” Remus quipped with a laugh. Aurellia and Luk joined in with amusement, and the laughter of the three blended naturally.
"So, how much luggage do you have, Ari?" Luk asked.
"Not much. I already sent most of it home, including my books," Aurellia replied.
"Oh, so that explains the mysterious boxes appearing on my doorstep today," Luk teased. He knew the boxes were his cousin’s belongings. He sighed dramatically. "And here I thought they were homemade cookies and fudge! Imagine my surprise when I opened one and found ‘Concepts and Applications of Modern American Trade Regulations and Import Taxes’."
Aurellia stared at her cousin with a puzzled expression. “I don’t own any such book…? Oh no, don’t tell me I accidently got someone else’s when I was packing!”
Luk burst out laughing. “You should see your face!” he teased. “Calm down, Ari, I only made that one up, because I didn’t really look inside. Pity there wasn’t anything edible in any of them, though…”
Ari laughed. "Oh it would have been a pity, if they’d been made by me! You know my cooking motto, the three C's: canned, convenience and carry-out!"
“You still haven’t learned to cook?” Lupin queried. “I could remedy that, now that you’re back for good…”
Aurellia shook her head vigorously. “Don’t know how; couldn’t care less; don’t want to know how. I’ll get by without it.”
Lupin shook his head but reserved comment.
"Speaking of cooking, anyone else hungry?" Luk inquired.
"I am," Aurellia announced. "Let's pick up my luggage from the baggage check and go to Yeager's for a quick nip. I only have two bags."
"Sounds good to me," Remus said as he slowly stood up. "I'm a little hungry myself. But would either of you mind terribly if I make a quick side-trip first?" and here he indicated the gents room.
"Go ahead; we'll wait for you," Luk said, and Remus headed to the restroom door.
When he came back out a few moments later, he overheard Luk and Aurellia talking about him. They didn't see him come out, and he decided not to announce his presence.
“But he looks positively awful!" Aurellia said, a tinge of fear in her voice. "He needs to see a doctor! I’ve only been gone a year, but he looks as if he's aged about ten since I last saw him! He's going grey!"
"Aurellia, you have to remember what he goes through every month. And last night was a full moon…"
“But he’s never looked this bad before! Something else is wrong; what is it?”
“I can’t say, not now. Maybe later, when…” Luk suddenly saw Remus out of the corner of his eye. He flushed a bit, and quickly changed gears. "All set, Remus?" Luk asked, keeping his tone even.
Seeing his own reflection in the mirror almost daily, Remus hadn’t noticed any major changes in his appearance, other than the proliferation of the aforementioned grey hairs and the appearance of a new wrinkle or two. Well, he did seem to tire more easily than he used to, but…
Denial would not make the problem go away. Nor would stalling. Sooner or later he’d have to break the news to Aurellia. And this he dreaded more than an imminent full moon. Luk, he had observed, could bear almost any hardship and not be weighed down. But Ari…Aurellia was more sensitive. She would be crushed. And Remus hated the thought of bringing heartache into her life.
As he approached his friends, forced a smile, and nodded, Remus wondered what he ought to say to them about his health, at least for now. As the three headed towards the baggage check to retrieve Aurellia’s luggage, he decided not to say anything at all, since he hadn’t really intended to eavesdrop on their conversation.
"So, Hot-shot Solicitor," Luk prompted, "don't keep us in suspense. How did you do on your finals?"
Aurellia’s face nearly split in two with the size of her grin, and she handed Luk a piece of folded paper that she produced from her front jeans pocket. Luk unfolded it, read the contents, and let out a whoop that seemed to fill the terminal.
“This is bloody brilliant, Ari! You’re a genius!”
"Lucky number 7, in a class of 423!" Ari crowed with equal enthusiasm. Luk and his cousin high-fived each other, while Remus grinned and shook his head. "Look out London, here comes Aurellia Deveroux!” Ari announced. “Ready to tackle injustice everywhere! Bring on the Bar exam!"
"You were seventh, out of more than 400? That’s great!" Remus said proudly. “I knew you’d do well!” He clasped Ari briefly on the shoulder, his grin matching those of his two friends. "You're wasting your talent being a public defender, you know."
"Thanks for the compliment, Big Brother, but it's what I've always wanted to do. It’s my dream, and I’m going to pursue it. And now…here comes my luggage!" Ari said, and she took off like a bottle rocket across the room for her black leather suitcases.
Luk grinned after his cousin in amusement, and said in an aside to Lupin, "Hasn’t changed a bit, has she, except for becoming even more self-confident. Look, there she goes again…"
Remus wearily sank down onto one of the airport benches. "I wish I had half that much energy. It seems like years since the last time I could sprint several city blocks without pausing to catch my breath. Watching her makes me realize…”
Luk shifted uncomfortably and said, “Remus, I think we should wait a few days before…”
The werewolf shook his head vigorously. “We should tell her. Tonight. She needs to know.”
Luk sighed. “Not tonight,” he decided. “She won’t take it well. You know she won’t. Let’s not spoil her triumph. Let’s wait a bit…”
“Yes,” Remus agreed quickly, glad for an excuse to postpone the odious task of levelling with Aurellia. “You’re right. Tonight we should celebrate her successes, and not burden her with tomorrow’s troubles. But we will have to tell her soon, before she starts asking again. Before she finds out the truth for herself. I’d rather she heard it from me…from us.”
Luk looked away from his friend, and again a cloud passed between them. “That…that is not going to be easy.”
Remus swallowed. “I know. Believe me, I know. I live with this burden every day of my life. I’ve come to accept it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to share.”
“Hey, I’m your friend, Remus. I’ll be here for you, come what will,” Luk said gently. “I’ll let you be the one to tell Aurellia, whenever and however you decide, because you’ve already told me that you want it that way. But I want to be there when you tell her. I’m in this with you all the way to the bitter end.”
Remus gave a sad smile. “I know. And I appreciate your support more than you know. Let’s get Aurellia moved in tomorrow…and then I’ll tell her. We’ll tell her.”
Luk nodded sadly and then hitched a half-hearted smile onto his face as his cousin returned, laden with luggage and ignorant of the decision that had just been made.
"Ready to go?" Aurellia greeted when she reached them.
"Yes, and you are allowed to use the rollers, superwoman," Luk teased as he reached for the larger suitcase, and Aurellia dodged out of range.
“Thanks, but I can handle it,” Ari said quickly while Luk gave her a look of surprise.
“Are you sure?” he inquired. “It looks awfully heavy.”
“I’ve got it,” Aurellia insisted in a tone of impatience and finality.
Luk shot a helpless glance at Remus as the latter stood up. "Er…perhaps I could help with the smaller suitcase?" the werewolf suggested politely.
Aurellia’s voice lost all of its sharpness and instead contained a note of concern as she replied, "Nah, that's alright. I managed both bags by myself at the other airports. I’m used to it. And frankly, you look like you're the one suffering from a touch of jet lag. Are you sure you’re all right, Big Brother?"
"Both bags by yourself?" Luk queried in feigned disbelief, attempting to head off Aurellia’s line of questioning. "Riiiight. I’m sure you didn't ask some good-looking muscleman to give you a hand. And you tease me about being a flirt, Remus? You ought to see how Ari operates!"
“How I ‘operate’?” Aurellia repeated with feigned indignation. “You’re a fine one to talk! And I’ll have you know that I did manage my luggage all by myself!”
“But you won’t deny showing off for the good-looking musclemen…” Luk teased.
“I suppose that’s something I can’t honestly deny,” Aurellia admitted with a grin, “except that they weren’t really all that good-looking.”
“Hooooo!” Luk exclaimed with a chuckle. “However did you manage to get that ego onto the plane?”
“It’s collapsible,” Aurellia retorted without missing a beat. “And I’m not saying that all the guys weren’t good-looking…”
"Give up, Luk, you’re not going to win this one," Remus observed with an amused grin.
“Not at this rate,” Luk agreed. “Looks like I’d better get used to losing these verbal duels.”
They all laughed merrily as they headed towards Yeager's for a quick—and light—lunch.