Summary: While Remus waits, he might as well keep his hands busy.
Fandom: Harry Potter
Note: Original story is Agony Aunt by st_aurafina
Manfred, the Leisure editor, leaned around the corner during Remus’s lunch break the very first day. “Lupin, old man,” he called. Remus glanced up from the pile of letters spread out on the desk. “Come, now,” Manfred said. “What are you doing? We can only fit the usual three in the column. If that batch is rubbish, you can chuck them and write both sides of the correspondence yourself. You needn’t read them all.”
“I know,” Remus said. Guiltily, he sat up straighter in his chair. “I’m just familiarizing myself with the range. They vary quite a lot.” He looked at the messy pile of letters. These were only the ones from today; there was a whole sack of others on the office floor. Each one asked for something. Somehow, he couldn’t bear to throw them out unread.
“Well, do as you like,” said Manfred. His eyes crinkled. “I just want you to know that we certainly don’t expect you in here working like a house elf for hours on end.”
“Yes,” said Remus. He understood. He wasn’t on staff and he was meant to remember that, but he knew that he wasn’t hurting anyone by taking his time with the work. They were paying him by the week, not by the hour, and no one else was using this desk, not anymore.
Lynette Windropp, the witch who had originated the Aunt Agatha advice column, had gone missing. Unfortunately, this sort of thing was by no means out of the ordinary -- someone in the Order, no doubt, had put her on a list with the others, and her story made the third page in the Daily Prophet . Remus suspected that its second page placement in the Crystal Standard was not prompted by any special concern for a loyal employee but rather simple one-upmanship. Nevertheless, her unexplained disappearance created a bit of a problem for the paper. The fact that there was no Aunt Agatha had never stopped dozens of readers a week from owling for her commonsense counsel. Now, there was no Lynette Windropp either.
Gaius Mulrovy, an ex-Ravenclaw prefect who worked on the Standard as junior editor and fact checker for the Ministry Doings and Finance pages and who was sufficiently intimate with Remus to know that he was hard up for work (if not intimate enough to know the reason why), had told him about the vacancy when they ran into each other by chance in Regent’s Park, and encouraged him to apply. A carefully-written sample answer -- Dear Accio Love, . . . -- had impressed Manfred enough to land Remus the job.
Calling it part-time was actually being overgenerous; it was a few hours of work a week at most. All Remus had to do was submit three pleas for advice and three matching responses for printing in each Saturday edition. No one seemed to care if the letters themselves were genuine or manufactured, as long as his answers fit the house style. “They should be fresh,” Manfred had stressed. “Aunt Agatha is quite spunky. But they should be appropriate.”
Remus could probably have worked out of his flat in Heringey if the coming and going of owls wouldn’t have attracted the wrong sort of attention from his Turnpike Lane neighbors. In fact, it was just as well; he didn’t mind at all having to come in to write the column. The Crystal Standard was a small paper with Diagon Alley offices on the fifth floor of a building over Miss Tsvetina’s Salon and School of Styling Spells. It made Remus feel professional, at first, to sit behind Lynette Windropp’s desk with a pile of mail and a sharpened quill and a cup of black coffee he was pretending to drink. It was an escape. At home, Remus sometimes tried to think of ideas for Aunt Agatha’s answers, but it was easier to find inspiration here. He found his own wretched cold-water bedsit insufferable, but going out was becoming so as well.
Sirius had the nicest flat, the natural place to meet in the evenings after Peter and James were let out of their Ministry jobs and Lily and Sirius were through with Auror training. They would drink beer and play records, and if they were alone and Sirius felt like it, he and Remus would fuck. It was tidy and secret and companionable, and Remus resented the fact that the arrangement was so easy. He was waiting for something to pull the rug out from under his feet.
All Remus ever did was wait. The waiting itself was unbearable.
Sirius was in the middle of having the place painted, a long, interminable ordeal. “I want to come and stay with you,” he suddenly announced.
“Absolutely not,” Remus countered.
“Please, Mooney,” Sirius said, gesturing at the drop-clothes that covered everything in the living room. He mimed a faint on the sheet-covered sofa, black limbs spread like a spider. He’d begun to dress all in black recently, and done something punk to his hair. Remus wondered if it was pretension, or if it was really a legitimate Auror requirement, something to do with undercover like Sirius claimed. “Have a heart,” Sirius said, sitting up straight and spreading his palms to the opposing walls. “Long exposure to the fumes is giving me a headache.”
“Look, you haven’t seen my place -- it’s really terrible."
“I know!" Sirius half-shouted. "You haven't even let --”
“Also, miniscule,” Remus continued calmly. “Why don’t you ask James?”
“Don’t be stupid.” said Sirius. “Would you want to live with the happy couple? Besides, I stayed with James’s family for almost two years before Uncle Alphard came through. I can’t ask him again.”
“You know, you’re not selling this very well, Sirius.”
“No, it’s not that! I’m a good house guest! Better than you would be, anyway.”
“No, I’m serious,” said Sirius. “You act like such a goddamn martyr, Mooney, but you’re every bit as set in your ways as anyone. I expect you leave books on the tables and teacups in the sink without giving it a second thought.”
“Well, why shouldn’t I?” Remus said, irritated. “It’s my flat, isn’t it? I’m the one paying rent.”
Sirius ran his fingers through his spivvy-looking hair. “All I mean is that I’m used working around someone else’s bits and pieces.” He sighed. “I’ve had practice, you see.”
There were cartoons taped to Lynette Windropp’s office door. Some of the inky figures didn’t move -- Remus noticed these right away and suspected them of having come from Muggle magazines. Some of them were from the Prophet. She read the competition.
More importantly, there was the filing system. On his second day in the office, Remus had discovered a series of long cardboard shoe boxes crammed with letters in order by date, going back three years. In one of the boxes, laid across the top of the letters, was a handwritten list cataloguing their subjects, organized by a very good alphabetizing spell. Everything, except for the bag of mail that had come for Aunt Agatha since Windropp’s disappearance, was perfectly in order.
Then he discovered the smaller cigar box behind it on the shelf. Inside it were six letters without their envelopes, each in a different hand.
Dear Aunt Agatha,
I think a Half-Blood is in love with me, and I need a way to break it off with her that will spare her feelings, if possible.
She’s a terrific girl, but being realistic, I know it can’t work. My parents don’t approve, and I see the way the wind is blowing – I don’t want to do anything that will hurt my employment chances down the line.
Is it worse to tell her that we can’t be together because of her parentage, or to lie and tell her I simply don’t share her feelings?
Usually the Honest Sort
After Remus read all of the letters, he carefully folded them up and put them back in the cigar box. Then he took six of the unopened letters, brought them over to Lynette Windropp’s desk, and got to work.
“Is it about the rent, Mooney?” Sirius asked. “Have you lost a job again?”
“I have a perfectly good job. It isn’t about the rent,” said Remus, although of course it was, among other things. Sirius knew it, although he knew Remus well enough, it seemed, to avoid the trap of offering to help with money. It was about a hundred things, about James, and about being a Dark creature, and about what Sirius’s younger brother would think, and about what Sirius would do if the only Black who still talked to him stopped. It was about not wanting to wait up at night listening for the sound of the engine of the motorbike until he got old. Sirius squatted on the bare floor, twisting the edge of a drop-cloth between forefinger and thumb, looking as if he was thinking of nothing at all. His boots creaked. “It’s about me not wanting you to live with me,” Remus finished. “That’s that.”
The walls looked just as they had the week before, the old, smudged yellow paint marred by one striking roller-streak of the neutral “Moonlight Mist” color Sirius intended. Sirius had met the painters in a bar, apparantly. It was no wonder they were unreliable, Remus thought.
“Oh,” said Sirius. “All right then.”
Remus’s deadline was Thursdays, but he tried not to be in the offices with any sort of regularity. Sometimes he came in on Mondays, sometimes Wednesdays. He was careful to establish no pattern. When, eventually, he had to stay away for the inconvenient moon, his absence wouldn’t disrupt a schedule. Remus was slowly working his way through the letters, making steady progress now. Most were dull, and he added them to the list and filed them in the most recent shoe box. Some were racy. Those were added too. Each week, he choose three that fell between these two categories and submitted them to Manfred with Aunt Agatha’s helpful responses.
The letters he was really looking for couldn’t be published, or even answered, but putting them aside in the cigar box was something.
Dear Aunt Agatha,
My cousin has never listened to me, or to anyone else who has her best interests at heart. She is caught up in an organization that does some very nasty things and isn’t at all in keeping with the politics of her parents. I think you may know what I mean.
Her father wants to speak to her about this issue directly, but he is older and a bit out-of-touch; I’m afraid he doesn’t know as much about these people as I do. A simple talk won’t help, and my cousin or her new friends could easily do something to hurt him. How can I stop my uncle from needlessly putting himself in danger in this way?
A Concerned Niece
There was nothing he could do. Even if he brought the letters to Dumbledore, there was nothing they could do without names. Organizing papers was not the same as helping.
“What was the real Aunt Agatha -- Ms. Windropp -- like?” Remus asked Gaius Mulrovy at the coffee pot. “Was she very old?”
“Not at all, actually. Around forty, I would guess.” Gaius said. “I dunno, Lupin. She wrote a weekly gardening column under her own name, and sometimes contributed rather nasty theatre reviews to Manfred’s ‘Sit A Spell’ section, I think. I never talked to her much.”
“Do you know anything about her parents? Were they wizards?”
Gaius pressed his lips together. “I’ve no idea about that.” Remus watched him turn and disappear into his tiny office, robe billowing. Remus seemed to remember Gaius mentioning, long ago, that his mother had been the first witch in her family. You couldn’t ask the same sorts of questions that you used to, Remus reflected.
He wanted to shout after Gaius, to explain to him that he was not a racist, that he was, in fact, a werewolf, but he looked at all the open doors in the hallway and didn’t.
Remus was not set in his ways. He stopped dropping by Sirius’s flat. He only went over to James’s when he knew Sirius was at work, now. “What’s wrong with you?” Peter asked. “I thought you were good friends. Did you row?”
James smiled indulgently and looked away. Remus wanted to hit him. “I don’t want to see him, is all.”
At Order meetings, he and Sirius ignored each other. Remus would disappear into the kitchen with Minerva to boil tea. The new letters at work were getting worse, and it was difficult to feel that the Order was making any progress, but Remus felt as if he were doing his part to keep everything neat and smoothly running, at least. He wasn’t putting anyone in danger; on the contrary, he was making a list, making tea.
Lynette Windropp’s office was as neat as a pin. The bag of old letters was gone, and the number of catalogued shoeboxes had grown to seven. There were twenty-four letters in the cigar box. All there was to do was to read today’s mail and choose something fresh and appropriate for the column Saturday next.
Dear Aunt Agatha,
I want to live with my boyfriend, but he’s being a complete moron about it and refuses. I know he’s too proud to give up his own flat, so I’ve been hinting that I want to move in, but he’s not having any of it. He says it’s because I’m lazy and won’t do my share of the washing up. It’s true that I used to be irresponsible when I was younger but he knows I’ve gotten better. I think he just doesn’t want someone else there to witness how much of his time he actually spends loafing about at home in his y-fronts.
I don’t want to beg. What can I do?
Sick of Waiting
The signature was jerky, as if the author of the letter had been about to sign something else and thought better of it at the last minute. Remus looked at it critically.
He folded the parchment, put it in the pocket of his robe, and stood up to go find Sirius. Just because you’re going to be an Auror doesn’t mean that you’re immune to danger, Remus would tell him. These are dark days. Can’t you see the way the wind is blowing. Or you’re very sweet, but you’re wrong. Or from now on, can’t we tell each other exactly what we mean? Maybe Remus would just kiss him where his stupid hair touched his neck, where he tasted like hairspray and stale tobacco.
Sirius was waiting outside Miss Tsvetina’s, his overcoat collar pulled up against the wind. “Did you follow me?” Remus said.
“Do you want to see my flat now?” Remus asked. He had a number of ideas, none of them fit to print.