Square oneLyrics by Tom Petty
Had to find some higher ground
Had some fear to get around
you can’t say what you don’t know
later on won’t work no more
Last time through I hid my tracks
Saw what I could not get back
Yeah my way was hard to find
Can’t sell yourself a piece of mind
Square one my slate is clear
Rest your head on my dear
It took a world of trouble
It took a world of tears
It took a long time
To get back here
Tried so hard to stand alone
Struggled to see past my nose
Always had more dogs than bones
I could never wear those clothes
It’s a dark victory
You won and you also lost
Told us you were satisfied
But it never came across
Square one my slate is clear
Rest your head on my dear
It took a world of trouble
It took a world of tears
It took a long time
To get back here
If the past few years have taught me anything, it’s that teaching is only slightly less dangerous than being an MLE. The position of teacher of Defence Against The Dark Arts is said to have been a cursed one, and history shows this to be true.
Ron and I look at each other as we pick up our quills. We’re sitting in the Great Hall and even the gravity of what we’re about to do hasn’t diminished his appetite one bit. Twin grey owls from the Ministry stand before us regally, legs extended, yet not wavering in their graceful balance.
"Ronald, you’re about to be photographed, stop chewing for one minute," Hermione sighs in exasperation as one of the grey owls finally loses his ingrained formality and leans in to pluck a piece of egg from Ron’s face. I can only imagine what Susan must think about me sitting here in my Halloween costume, Peter Pan, to sign my papers. I think by now she knows how much I love Halloween and being dressed like this kind of flies in the face of the officials who, years back, took away me and Ron’s livelihood, making us prove that we had lived. Yeah, I lived, you can’t kill Peter Pan,
I think smugly.
"I can see the headline now. Decorated MLE resigns with egg-on-his-face. Details on page twenty.
" Susan’s hands are in the air as if writing this statement on a marquee. She’s likely right. Ron and I received the highest honour an MLE officer can get when we were recalled to come back to active duty. It was felt that the threat of violence against the school was now sufficiently contained after the massive roundup of former Death Eaters after the fall of Wormtail, Lucius Malfoy, and most of the subsequent wannabe bad guys who followed them. In short, the school no longer needed security guards. But they did need teachers.
Ron and I had talked with Hermione and Susan for days about what we should do. After agonizing over our decision, and my having drank a lot one evening with Oliver, Wayne, Dean-who’s visiting from Paris- and Ron, I decided to accept Headmistress McGonagall’s offer to become Head of Hufflepuff House. And now we sit poised to sign on the dotted line, having been interviewed about our lives and times as MLE’s. We relived having been killed, only to wake up again, the capture of Peter Pettigrew, and our personal lives throughout the years. None of it was for the first time. Both Ron and I had been besieged by our students to tell and re-tell the tales of our days during the war.
I think the hardest part was having to talk about Ernie. When he died at age twenty two, he looked scarcely older than the seventh year students here at Hogwarts and it was then that I realized that he would never look older to me, nor would Alex. Every time I would look in an old yearbook down in the library, the guys I knew until what seemed like mere weeks ago, stare out at me, yet when I look in the mirror I can see the subtle changes of time on my face.
It’s true, my body aches more than a young man’s should but I have lived a lot more than some, and I’ve died. The cursed position of Defence Against the Dark Arts was no match for me. I don’t think that whatever haunted the position in the past has anything to throw at me that I haven’t already experienced. In fact, since I’ve taken up the job, I haven’t had one single accident. I think the curse and I have cancelled each other out. Well, that and the fact that Professor Flitwick has performed more charms on me than on those poor pillows that are used for practising levitation. Well, if I can charm them to keep their feathers in, I can charm you to keep your inards in, should one of those over-eager students curse you too hard in drills,
he had told me. Bless him, it worked.
Just as Ron and I sign our former lives away, camera flashes go off and we are inundated with questions as lights dance in our eyes. Peeves cackles and enjoys the media attention, informing me that now that I am no longer technically an MLE, the curse of the Defence Against the Dark Arts Profession can kick in fully. When the media tries to get a shot of him zooming around, he blows a raspberry and disappears. I know I look slightly unsettled by the stupid words as Ron claps me on the back and tells me that our next mission will be to get rid of that old Peeves once and for all. Something that poor old Mr Filch had never accomplished.
Mr Filch, the old caretaker passed away two years ago, just after Mrs Norris, who was twenty six years old in cat lives, had gone to the litter box in the sky, or so we’d thought. Susan and I often wake to the sound of cats fighting outside our windows to find the old yellow- eyed feline staring in as if to keep me in particular, in line.
We have since found out that Mrs Norris had in fact, been a cook alongside the house-elves over sixty years ago and that she had been an Animagus.. Mr Filch, the then young caretaker and Squibb-wizard-wannabe, had accidentally done something during one of her transformations and she’d never been able to become a human again. It was said that she’d hated her job in the kitchens and that she’d always loved Filch for having set her free and now, every so often, we see the two of them, strolling in the moonlight, transparent, she in a long white dress and he still in his mangy old top hat and suit looking happier than he ever has. The school has never been cleaner as Filch, like old Professor Binns, never gave up his job, and in death, he is more magical than he ever was in life, able to actually still perform his job somehow.
The media leaves the school and as it’s a day off for Halloween, Professor Flitwick kicks into enthusiastic gear with Hagrid to get the Great Hall ready for the Muggle-themed Halloween ball this evening.
"How does it feel to be a civilian?" Susan asks me, looping her arm in mine. I have a lump in my throat at the moment and I just can’t answer. The Great Hall empties, Ron having left with Hermione’s arm around his shoulder, looking a bit lost. I don’t think either of us really knew how we’d feel once the ink dried on those documents. The pin from the medal of Distinguished Service that I’ve just been given by none other than Hopkins, who has regained his position as Head of the Hit Wizard Office.
A rush of emotion washes over me as I remember the day I left Susan standing on Platform Nine and Three Quarters so she could finish her seventh year and I could go join the War Measures Training, leaving school early and never really finishing. Sure, we got our honourarium certificate from Hogwarts but it never did sit well with my parents. They always hoped I’d finish, even through correspondence and here I stand, a full Hogwarts Professor and Head of Hufflepuff House. And feeling sixteen years old at the moment. And not in a good way.
"I’m not sure how to feel," I tell Susan honestly. She knows me so well. She could see this coming from a mile away. She points to the back of the Great Hall where the crowd thins even more. There stands my parents, my grandparents and my sister, Chrystian, who is now nine years old and is excitedly asking my parents when she can come to study here. Kaylee runs into my arms at the same time as my little sister collides with me and I spin them both around.
I look at my wife, grateful for her intuition and her love. My father claps me on the back and I notice the streaks of grey in his hair for the first time as my mother points them out.
"Maybe now you can stop worrying about when he’ll have to go back to the street duties and get some real sleep, Grant," she tells my dad.
I always knew he worried about me, well ever since that time we finally got a chance to talk when I woke up in hospital after Wormtail had cursed Ron and I. I’ve heard a lot of people say that if they had to do something all over again, they wouldn’t change a thing. I can’t say the same thing because that was a hard road back to recovery, but I wouldn’t change the gift my death gave me. When I woke up, I found out that my dad was proud of me, and that my parents didn’t regret what I’d done for a living. Yes, I killed people. But it was war and it had to end somewhere. It was my job, and I’ve only realized lately, that I am not the job.
Ron had told me years ago that he’d seen Snape, in the final raids that were necessary to kill off Lucius Malfoy nearing the end of the war. At first, he’d wanted to hex the old Bat to kingdom-come but had found out that somehow, Snape had managed to score himself the protection of the German Ministerium. I don’t know what Snape’s role in the downfall of Lucius Malfoy was, but for some reason, with all I’ve seen about the delicate intricacies of wartime, I would have liked to have talked to him. I don’t forgive and forget at all, but there is a selfish reason for my wanting to know more.
Outside of the Matron, McGonagall, and the students who were petrified, Snape was the only one who knew of the possible sterility that could be a side-effect of the basilisk stare. I know I’m nuts, and that Snape would think it was a good thing that Collin and especially me, wouldn’t be able to procreate, but he’d mentioned possible potions, and after that we’d never heard a thing. I’ll never know why our Headmaster trusted him so much after what he’d done. But again, the Dark Arts is an odd mistress. Sometimes when I’m doing research for my classes, I’ll stumble on something here and there that Snape had underlined in books before he’d fled, the murderer and cold blooded killer he’d become.
Knowledge is a powerful thing and only now as an adult, do I understand why we have a restricted section in our library. The Dark Arts is intoxicating and powerful, the mere books full of it, pulling at the edges of your own decency.
Several times, late at night, Susan has found me poring over huge volumes, consumed with past grievances that these books seem to awaken. When I’ve returned to study them more, I have noticed that old Madame Pince has ‘sent them out to be rebound or restored’
but somehow they never make it back to me...er, to the school. When I return to our quarters to complain to Susan about this, she seems to avoid the subject. I know I could never be as caught up in the Dark Arts as Snape was but there have been times when I think I’ve sounded overly-enthusiastic about something I’ve learned. I wonder what Snape’s life has brought him and if Dumbledore is in fact on the next great adventure, what he thinks of Snape’s actions in light of what transpired at the end of the war?
A person doesn’t get much more bullied than having been attacked by a basilisk. It is a life altering event if one even survives it. I admit that the Dark Arts appealed to me a little more than I had thought it would and I had begun to scare even myself with my obsession. I remembered how angry I’d been at Oliver for using the basilisk potion during a battle in the war and realized that at the time, he’d felt oppressed and obligated to protect. It was then that I realized that as head of a house now, I was going to do something about bullying within our school and do my best to teach real Defence to these kids so they never have to feel they way we did.
"Will you give me straight O’s because I’m your sister, Justin?" Chrystian giggles, jarring me from my memories, as I set her back down on her feet. I tell her that I certainly will, but I know that the reality is that I will push her and my own children harder than the rest out of the sheer and realistic fear that somewhere, someone lurks, just waiting to rise and challenge the authority that now stands.
Before I learned how to temper my manic desire to make these children into dangerous offensive weapons, I had been told that I was acting like old Mad Eye or worse yet, Snape. I know I pushed the Hufflepuffs harder than any other house because their innocence and the way that I could actually sit at my desk and pick out a Susan, an Ernie, a Wayne, a Megan and a Hannah and to my astonishment and irritation, even a me, filled me with dread. How could they just sit there, wide-eyed, like we had been, believing that the adults had all the answers, that they would do something?
I learned that I could pick out the Deans, Dracos, Olivers, Lavenders, Rons, Harrys, Ginnys and Hermione’s too. Times change but when it comes right down it, children really don’t, until they have to grow up. And I will see to it that the Hannahs and Ernies of this bunch will do just that. They can love me or hate me, but by the time they leave these gates, they can either shake my hand or be able to blast me to the moon with what I will teach them.
I have yet to get permission to have someone like Hope, who was promoted last year to some administrative Ministry-Hogwarts liason, come in as a guest speaker to talk about the benefits of learning Occlumency or other forms of mind control. It is a very specialized and advanced form of magic, just the same as becoming an Animagus but I don’t see why the exceptional students should be held back from this training. As the saying goes, the student shall surpass the master, and I’ve never considered myself a master so that would be just fine with me. Actually, Hope is coming in for an inspection of some sort today. Ron’s been grumbling about it for hours. "Why on Halloween? She’ll ruin the feast!
" I know nothing will ruin a meal for Ron if he could eat through signing our resignation papers
"Congratulations, son," My father’s voice brings me out of my reverie as he embraces me and I realize just how much I’ve missed them for the past two months. Dad has to duck as a large owl lands squarely on my shoulder just as he lets go of me. In a spectacular show of bad timing, Thaddeus, the God of Lost Causes, whose postcard still rests on my bureau has sent a message, namely he has ordered Snickety to bring him to me right away.
My parents are still not used to moving pictures, least of all ones that are delivered by owl and when Thaddeus starts talking about sterility, I clear my throat loudly to drown out his stupid advice. For all these years until just recently, I have carried his portrait in miniature around in my pocket. Thaddeus has researched all possible means of reversal of my inability to father a child, while flitting from portrait to portrait of his around the world. I’ve done everything he said, including sitting under a toad enclosed in a large winged dinosaur shell that was pieced back together after a hatching for me. It was thought that since a basilisk was able to be born by similar methods, so to might I be able to father a child after performing the odd ritual. And there was worse stuff. Much worse.
Susan smiles at me knowingly and asks my parents and Chrystian if they would like a tour of the castle since the last time they were here, all they saw was the inside of the hospital wing and me, stiff as a board and unable to show them around all those years ago. I’m prepared to finally tell dear Thaddeus that I have finally accepted my fate, something that my dear wife has accepted many years ago but has supported me in ever since.
"Oh, I’d love a tour, dear but first we want to see our other grandbabies," my mother gushes. Susan and I now have another daughter named Dianna Marie and a nine month old son that we have named Ernie Alexander. Yeah, we know that he’ll hate us when he goes to have to learn how to write out his name in full with the hyphenated last name, but once he learns where his names come from, we know he’ll be proud.
"Liam wanted to babysit his cousins," Susan winks. "So the little ones are with Lavender, Oliver and Olivia. They must have their hands full." She turns to me, winking again. "Join us after you take care of that...er...business that you need to attend to, dear."
"Oh... business, yes. I’ll be up soon," I promise.
I turn to Thaddeus’ portrait on the post card, which is now dog-earred from having been washed accidentally by the school house- elves, who forgot to check pockets on laundry day. Susan and I had always done our own washing but when the elves offered, and with three children and full time jobs, we took them up on it and insisted on wages. We finally settled on giving them Honeydukes sweets since they would not accept a wage. Hermione still doesn’t like the idea of house-elves and in truth it’s always made me a bit uncomfortable but some things change fast and some things change slowly. Spew now includes over three hundred members, Susan and I included, but mostly because Ron pleaded with us to join to get Hermione off his back. And now, because of the sweets, they have dental care.
"I have the answer," Thaddeus announces proudly, his smile cracking and disappearing into a crease of the paper which muffles his voice. "Dis time, I -ave id."
"If I had a Galleon for every time you said that, or better yet some..you know, little swimmers, I’d be rich or a father by now," I hiss. "Look, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me Thad, but I think it’s time to just face facts. I have a beautiful family. I’m happy. I’m finished trying all the rituals and potions and chants that you’ve come up with during these last years."
"Who are you talking to?" Ron asks, sounding oddly tired, stepping from a broom closet as Hermione wipes her chin. He’s dressed as Martin the Mad Muggle now so he must have changed into his costume in the broom closet. It’s pretty obvious Hermione found a way to console him about giving up his MLE status. Hermione is dressed as Einstein and I’m sorely tempted to tease Ron about being in the broom closet with a woman dressed as a man but I know Hermione and she’d curse me for sure. Hermione excuses herself, her cheeks flushed.
"No one," I reply, hastily stuffing the postcard into my pocket. Ron scrutinises my face and I wonder just how mental I really was in the past because he won’t take my answer.
"Thaddeus?" he asks point blank?
"What!?" I automatically take on a defensive stance.
"Look, mate, like it or not, women talk and since Susan and Hermione are friends, Hermione knows things..." my friend admits, much to my horror. "Actually spent weeks in the library looking into your er...situation, she did."
I stand there in stunned silence, my mouth agape, cringing that Hermione knows what I’ve been up to all these years. I mean, I knew that she was aware of the possible sterility for males. She was there when we were all told the possible outcome of our petrification and she knew that for me, the side effect had been realized. What I did not know, was that my lovely bride had been telling people of my efforts to reverse my condition.
I take the postcard from my pocket as Thaddeus hasn’t stopped mumbling despite being stifled in there. I hold up his likeness. Ron gets an earful of just one- twentieth of the embarrassing things I’ve done over the last years.
"So you see my dear boy, the naked dance of fertility atop a tower that has been specifically designed to see the Heavens above at precisely midnight on all Hallows Eve, whist chanting to the big and little dipper of humanity will break the curse forever more," Thaddeus tells me confidently. As confident as he always is when he has me standing on my head reading the scrolls of Babylon, which for the record aren’t even in any one language I’ve ever heard of...
"I’m about to stuff the postcard back into my pocket and I silently vow to never carry it around again. I have to stay grounded from now on. My condition is permanent. I have three beautiful adopted children that I love with my whole heart but I know in my heart that it isn’t the issue of having a child that shares my genes, it’s always been about getting something back that was taken from me. I don’t need to try anymore. Genes don’t make a family, love does, and I haven’t been robbed, I’ve been blessed.
"You have to give it one more shot
", Ron snorts. A year ago this would have annoyed me but now it’s just funny. "Although Ernie couldn’t be any more like you, scary really.
It’s true, I seem to have passed on my clumsiness and penchant for trouble making to my children somehow, much to Susan’s chagrin. Only my son could try to eat a bee and end up with jowls the size of grapefruit at only nine months old. Yep, that’s my boy!
"Justin," the muffled voice of Thaddeus entreats from my pocket of my Peter Pan costume. "You must first cleanse and purify in the lake."That does it
, It’s October, the lake is freezing and the giant squid is still mad at me for feeding it the vegetarian chilli that my class wouldn’t eat from when I substitute taught Muggle Studies. How was I to know that Kaylee, who was with me because there was no one to mind her during that class, added more cayenne pepper because she didn’t know I’d already done it? Yep, that’s my daughter!
Come to think of it, Hagrid wouldn’t speak to me for a week after the thing vomited on him while he was fishing. Nope, no more potions, no more rituals, no more swimming in the lake until I find something to appease that squid.
"Aw come on Justin, you know you’ll regret it later if you don’t try. I know you better than you do right now. You’re trying to be a grown up. There’s a reason you’re wearing those clothes. Peter Pan, right? I even know that story. Of course it was a spell that kept him young and not just not just defiance, but he ended up with regrets in real life," Ron tells me. "Oh, and by the way, he didn’t stand like that." Ron points at me, and I realize in horror that I’m standing with my hands on my hips like a movie version of Peter Pan.
I’ve done my best to bridge the gap between Muggle-borns and Purebloods when I substitute for the Muggle Studies class in between teaching Defence Against The Dark Arts, but even I didn’t know that Peter Pan actually existed and that the kids in the story were cursed to remain boys. The magic that surrounds us will never cease to amaze me, to touch me, to teach me.
"Here, I’ll go with you, protect you from the giant squid," Ron grins. He runs toward the lake, stripping off his clothes as he goes and I see freckles only Hermione should see. My friends, we who have lived through the last war, Dean, Oliver, Wayne, Lavender, Megan, Luna and so many others, had to grow up over night. Ernie, Hannah, and Alex never got the chance and my best friend, my Susan, the love of my life, grew up alone for a time. Ron and I, were given a second chance. I smile and run toward the lake. I’d say I can’t believe that I’m about to do this, but I’d be lying. The green feathered cap flies off into the wind, the tunic onto the ground. I’ll never grow up, not me!