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Shifts, Chapter 12: Substitutes, Part 2 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Shifts, Chapter 12: Substitutes, Part 2
Just going through the OotP timeline, I think I'll skip the interlude in early November, as nothing much goes on throughout October and November, and I need to start passing time here. (FWIW, Dora is at 12GP in this section at precisely the same time as the first meeting of the DA in the Room of Requirement.)

Table of Contents and Summary So Far

Dora came by after dinner to fill them in on the previous night's adventure and ended up staying until nearly midnight, giving a full performance (morphing characters included) of the visit to the Levinsons, and then relating a wild story about an arrest she and her team had made during the day. "The usual run of barmy old bat," she said. "She claimed she was a Death Eater and--get this--Voldemort's lover, out to avenge his death."

"She seems to be a bit out of the loop."

"Apparently, he wasn't too fussed about getting her back."

"Is there a tattoo?" Remus asked.

"Drawn on her forehead. In purple ink."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "A real danger to society, that one," he said.

"Well, she had killed all of her pet fish, and she was working up to eating a spider when we found her." Dora shrugged. "I sent her to spell damage ward. Maybe Mum can do something with her."

After she left, Remus went back to bed and slept soundly until six-thirty. He woke up feeling stronger, and filled with the mild euphoria that followed his monthly recovery.

He was starting to get used to the Smeltings grounds, even appreciating the too-neat footbridge and the ersatz gold dome, but the office building he inhabited was simply never going to enthrall him. He sighed as he got onto the lift and took it to the third floor; once you got past the oddness of all the motors and electricity, there was really nothing at all to recommend this place.

From the end of the corridor, where the office door was open, he heard Alan loudly mutter, "Bugger," and then there was a flurry of soft tapping as he wrote one impassioned argument or another to his correspondents. He had to be hitting the keys hard enough to make his fingertips swell. Remus shook his head and smiled. He had a feeling he'd miss Alan when this assignment was over.

When he got into the office, he saw a large wooden basket filled with fruit and brightly colored paper on his desk. It looked incongruously cheerful in the drab building, and he wondered for a moment if Dora had left it--the bright pink paper would appeal to her--but that didn't make any sense, as she'd been over at Grimmauld Place until quite late, and had no occasion to be leaving him gifts.

"Good morning, Alan," he said.

Alan grunted something over his shoulder that might have involved the word "morning," then said, somewhat more clearly, "Miriam had Joe bring that thing in yesterday."

"Joe Levinson?"

"He was feeling a bit chipper, so he came in to take your classes while you were out. Felt wretched again by the end of the day, but he was hoping a bit of rest would get him up and around again. He--oh, please."


"Whole business about the fate of the Federation going on, and they're worried about who's in love with... oh, never mind. Anyway, Miriam wanted to thank Dora, but no one could find an address for you. Bit odd."

"Yes," Remus said quickly. "I'll look into that. I can't imagine why it's not available." He briefly considered doing a Persuasion Charm to reinforce the idea that it was all a mistake, but Alan was already shrugging it off. Administrative oddities at Smeltings could cover any number of sins.

"At any rate, she sent the basket with Joe and told him it was to be a get well sort of affair for you as well as a thank you for Dora and her sister. Who Joe found right entertaining, I should tell you. He was full of Andromeda stories."

"I'm glad it helped. I'm sorry I couldn't be with them when they visited."

Alan was back at his computer. "Well, Saturdays at my place are a regular thing for us all. Anna told me to remind you that you don't need an invitation, as I always forget to give you one."

Remus nodded, uncomfortable. He didn't want to have to make excuses every week, but with an open invitation, he'd have to create some reason not to go.

Or, on the other hand, you could just go. Why not spend an afternoon playing cards with other teachers? Is that a crime?

But that was simple enough--he and Dora were wrapped in enough lies to make the Ministry look upfront and earnest. And this was a short-term business. It wasn't the best way to approach a friendship.

He taught his third and fourth form classes that morning, enjoying the sunlight as long as he could before he was forced to turn on the electric lights (in fact, he had turned them on first thing, but his third form class had made faces and begged for the sunlight instead, and he had been happy to oblige them). A boy in his fourth form class who had recently joined the history club--Landon Fitz--walked back to his office with him, going on in an animated way about the Viking explorations of North America. This was not, of course, the topic of his class, but Remus didn't mind. Landon had been doing mediocre, disinterested work until Stephen Wells had hooked him into the club and gotten him to find something that liked. Landon had become quite passionate about Vikings, and Remus rather enjoyed letting his students do the lecturing from time to time. It certainly wasn't a subject he'd studied particularly intensely himself.

"So the Vikings really were the ones who crossed the Atlantic first," he said as they came out of the lift. "Not Columbus."

"Hmm," Remus said. "But they didn't really start the massive exploration--"

"They were ahead of their time!"

"I suppose you could see it that way--"

"They were! Everyone thinks they were just brutes with great horns on their helmets, but--Mr. Levinson?"

Remus looked up.

Joe was standing by the office door, leaning on his cane and smiling faintly. "I left my medicine in the desk yesterday. Miriam was going to come, but I thought I'd come and see if you were in. Hullo, Mr. Fitz. Vikings, eh?"

Landon nodded. "I've joined the history club. We're still looking for a name."

"Well, history doesn't lack for names," Joe said. "I'm sure it's just a matter of time until you find one."

"You seem to be feeling better," Remus said.

"And you. I'd wondered if we could talk."

Remus looked at Landon. "Do you have anything after classes this afternoon?"


"Could you come back then? We can talk about the Vikings all you like."

"All right." Landon gave him an agreeable smile, then tapped his Smeltings stick on the floor and gave Joe a quick bow. "Hope you're around more, Mr. Levinson." He turned and went quickly down the corridor.

"Good boys," Joe mused as Remus unlocked the door. "I've missed them."

Remus let him in. "How are you feeling?"

"After your wife and your sister-in-law left, I was feeling wonderful. Miriam and I took out the old records and danced for a bit. It was a good night." He smiled and sat down in the extra chair. "And I was fine most of the day. I probably shouldn't have tried to have dinner with the boxers. I was already tired after fifth form, but they practically kidnapped me. It was too much stress." He shrugged. "A bit of rest at home helped, but I suppose I'm just not going to be able to come back. I know I shouldn't think about it--it's your job now--but I do miss it. How are you?"

"Oh, I'm perfectly fine."

"Just a twenty-four hour thing, then?"


"I'm glad to hear it. It wouldn't be good for the boys to lose another teacher. They've really got to like you, you know."

"I like them, too."

Joe looked out the window for awhile. "When you said you had them in a dialogue--that you had them talking and so on--I thought you were one of these New Age sorts. I was sure they'd tell me how they felt about everything, and not really know what what it was they were talking about."

"How could they have any sort of feelings about something they don't know about?"

"A good point." Joe turned back. "My point is, I underestimated you somewhat. I wanted to think that maybe they really needed me back. I'm sorry."

"It's all right. I've left jobs before. The last time, I was horribly jealous of my replacement. He had my fourth forms far above where I would have put them, and they did fine. Very disconcerting." Of course he had also been mad as a hatter and working under the direction of pure evil, not to mention trying to kill one of the students... but he had been, for all of that, a good Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Remus had kicked himself for not thinking of actually teaching his fourth years how to cope with the Unforgiveables.

"I suppose we all want to believe that we're irreplaceable, don't we?" Joe laughed humorlessly.

Remus smiled, but he was puzzled. "What did you need to talk about, Joe?"

Joe pursed his lips and furrowed his brow, obviously meaning to say something rather serious. "Stephen Wells tells me that you basically have the boys themselves running their history club. That you're happy to help them find subjects to study, but you're not even their faculty advisor."

"Well, I thought--"

"You haven't taken any extracurriculars. Even Alan has his medieval swordfighting business, and he doesn't really like children, if you ask me."

"Well, he likes swords."

"Polkiss said that you haven't been to any school sporting events--"

"I don't really know--"

"--and they all said that you're rarely here after hours at all. In short, Raymond, the general consensus is that you seem to be a very good substitute teacher."

Remus sat back in his desk chair, not sure what to say to that.

"Don't get me wrong," Joe said. "I like you and I think you're a fine educator. But you don't seem to be involved. You're not committed, and the boys pick up on that. They like you, but they're not going to trust you completely as long as they think you're just passing through here." He took a deep breath. "Well, that was awkward."

"A bit."

"I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think you were a damned good teacher. I wouldn't want them giving you their trust if you weren't. I like you, but it's them I'm responsible to. Leaving the job doesn't change that, as I would assume you know."


"They're away from their parents. You're the one who's with them every day, and they need you. They'll never say it--not in so many words. They'll just say that you don't really care about the school and so on. But what they mean is that they believe you don't care about them."

"I understand."

"I know you do. And I know you'd like to have a life outside Smeltings, and anyone with eyes can see that you'd like to get home to your wife as quickly as possible. But she seems like she likes the boys all right. You could invite her to come to various sporting events. The football matches are actually quite a lot of fun, and our boxers are excellent, if you like that sort of thing." He sighed. "The point is, go to them. Get involved. Stop substituting for me, because you're not going to get a telephone call some morning saying that I've recovered and thanking you for your time. Am I being clear?"

"Yes. And thank you. I hadn't realized I was doing that."

"I imagine you're the sort who keeps himself to himself anyway. And it's not easy to just jump in. But you need to."

"I will."

"Then that's that." He extended his hand. "Still on speaking terms?"

Remus shook the hand. "Of course."

Joe stood slowly leaning heavily on his cane. He closed his eyes and swayed a bit when he was upright, but held his hand up to keep Remus from helping him. "I hate this," he said. "Do you know what I'd give to actually feel well for a week?"

"I imagine quite a lot."

"You imagine right." He opened his eyes and smiled. "Well, I'm glad we talked. And you tell that cute sister-in-law of yours that she's welcome to come by any time. A wonder worker, that one, I'll tell you."

Remus stood and walked him to the office door, half expecting that he'd need to catch him at some point, but he got to the corridor without incident, and Remus just watched as he made his way to the lift.

When he was gone, Remus went back to his desk and stared at the pile of essays that his classes had turned in yesterday. He'd meant to just mark them and then go back to Grimmauld Place.

Back to real life.

Except, for the boys, this was real life, and Remus was turning his back on it, waiting for the end of the assignment, when the real authority would come back, at which point he would abandon them, as he'd more-or-less abandoned Harry when Sirius returned.

Of course they hadn't given him their trust.

Outside the window, he saw Joe making his way laboriously across the car park. Students hailed him and he raised his hand in a cheerful return.

I feel a bit...: okay okay

10 comments or Leave a comment
sonetka From: sonetka Date: October 17th, 2004 11:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Nice! It's nice to see that Andromeda made Joe feel better, at least for a bit (I'm still anxiously waiting to find out how they get him into St. Mungo's - *that* should be a scene!)

And why do I get the feeling that the woman Tonks apprehended at the beginning was a rogue Mary Sue? Delicious how little regard all the canons have for her :)...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 18th, 2004 09:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Me, Sue-hunting? Nah... :p

I'm trying to figure out the St. Mungo's business myself. It can't happen too far from the end of the year, as I'd like Remus to keep his job and all.
dipsas From: dipsas Date: October 18th, 2004 02:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Sniffle... It's only too true that to teach, and to be more than a substitute, you have to commit fully, not just do a decent job in the classroom. I'm intrigued to see how you let the Smeltings assignment grow more complex with each installment.

And generally, I adore this story not only for itself, but for the way you throw new light on canon by setting up parallels, like here at the end.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 18th, 2004 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I was thinking about his interaction with Harry. Except for the boggart and the final exam, we only hear about his class in passing; it's the out-of-class business that really makes up the heart of the story.
vytresna From: vytresna Date: October 18th, 2004 09:21 am (UTC) (Link)
"Whole business about the fate of the Federation going on, and they're worried about who's in love with... oh, never mind."

That's my theoretical center, all right. Also exactly why there's not many hangers-on to ELLADORA - they're too busy deciding whether they like Luna or Ginny better, and consequently which one ends up with Harry (the other one ends up with Neville, which I take offense to).

Excellent sneaky plug for genfic, too. Could someone put it in an av?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 18th, 2004 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Could someone put it in an av?

I'm sure the answer is yes, but what's the question?
castaliae From: castaliae Date: October 18th, 2004 03:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
You are completly spot on about the involvement of a boarding school teacher. The most important relationships we made with teachers when I was at boarding school were usually formed outside the regular class, be it just through talking or clubs or sports.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 18th, 2004 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, glad to hear from a one-time boarding school student (one of the few groups of teenage students that I have no experience with at all... well, minimal; I did once have a housemate who went to a boarding school, but we didn't talk to each other). It just seems to make sense.
sixth_light From: sixth_light Date: October 18th, 2004 08:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
"You haven't taken any extracurriculars. Even Alan has his medieval swordfighting business, and he doesn't really like children, if you ask me."

"Well, he likes swords."

*Snickers* I can totally understand that attitude. Only the love of debating dragged me to coaching sessions with the brats I got this year, at times.

It's nice to see Remus making mistakes as a teacher. The general view is that Remus is the best teacher ever, but this is a more balanced look at him - good at teaching, but half-crippled by introversion. (Is that a word?)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 18th, 2004 09:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm very aware of the idea that Remus fans think he's flawless, and that the alternative theory is that he's somehow dark or whatever. I wanted to show his flaw, and how it would play out. And as an introvert myself, I can't even imagine trying to be a full-time teacher!
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