The End of the Beginning

By Marina

Epilogue

Venice, April 8, 1993

"Giles?"

"Remus! Good Lord. It's been--"

"Twelve years. Here, let's get out of the way."

The two men shuffled sideways to remove themselves from the stream of tourists making their chattering way into St. Mark's. Finding a sheltered spot under some scaffolding, they lowered their umbrellas and shook hands.

"It's good to see you," Giles said. "You look... well."

Remus smiled. "You were going to say 'old,' weren't you?"

"Not at all," Giles said virtuously. It was mostly true. Remus did look older than he should've, even taking twelve years' wear and tear into account, but he also looked relaxed and self-assured, which was a great improvement over Giles' last memory of him. "I was going to say, 'do you have time for a cup of coffee?'"

"I believe I can fit it into my schedule." Remus peered out into the rain. "If we walk very fast, we can probably make it to that café with the green awning before we're completely drowned."

They tilted their umbrellas into the wind and ran for it, splashing through puddles and startling a flock of pigeons into shrieking flight. It was too early in the day for the cafes to be crowded, even in Piazza San Marco, and they were able to claim a table and order their coffees without too much fuss.

"So," said Remus, "what are you doing in Venice?"

"Having a holiday. I was in Verona on business, and have a few days free before I have to move on. And you?"

Remus' grin instantly wiped out the effects of the grey hair and the shabby clothes. "Clearing out a Grindylow infestation in the Grand Canal."

Giles barely avoided sputtering his espresso all over the tablecloth. "You're joking."

"I'm perfectly serious. It seems some merpeople brought them in to protest the pollution. They've been overturning gondolas and trying to drown the Muggles. The Doge was very anxious to have them removed before tourist season really got started."

"Venice doesn't have a Doge, Remus."

"Wizarding Venice does."

Giles picked up his cup and stared at it thoughtfully. "Maybe I should exchange this for a grappa. Tell me you're joking."

Remus sipped his latte and looked smug.

Giles sighed. "Never mind, I'll just pretend to be blasé about it. Is that what you're doing for a living, then? Clearing out magical infestations?"

"Among other things." Remus shrugged. "I'm sort of a... freelance troubleshooter, I suppose. Dumbledore refers people to me when he can."

"Dumbledore's still around, then?" Giles was glad. He had delayed asking, remembering how old the Headmaster had been. He and Remus already had far too many dead acquaintances between them. "How is he?"

"Same as ever. Still Headmaster at Hogwarts. Harry's there now, you know. In his second year."

"Yes, of course he would be." Giles smiled, remembering the green-eyed toddler flinging mashed carrots at his father. He hoped those atrocious relatives he remembered from the Potters' funeral turned out to be nicer than they looked. "How has he been?"

Remus' relaxed manner slipped a little. "I haven't been in touch with him, I'm afraid. The Dursleys want nothing to do with wizards, and I've been traveling so much... You know how it is."

"Of course," Giles said, though he thought it a little odd that Remus had gone all these years without seeing James' son.

"Dumbledore says he's a brilliant Quidditch player," Remus continued, "and a decent student. Not quite living up to his academic potential, perhaps."

"Twelve-year-old boys who are brilliant at a sport," Giles said, "seldom live up to their academic potential."

Remus smiled. "You're probably right. Though James did, but that was one of his more annoying qualities."

"Too perfect?"

"And much too aware of it." Remus broke a biscotti in two and dipped one piece into his latte. "That's not a problem in Harry's case. Or so I'm told."

"It sounds," Giles said, "as if you want to see him. Could you visit him at Hogwarts, if the Dursleys are such an obstacle?"

Remus shifted slightly in his chair. "I'm not sure I'm ready to go back to Hogwarts. I've actually had a standing offer to teach there, the last couple of years, but I haven't taken it. Too many... associations." He smiled wryly. "Besides, Dumbledore wants me to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts, and everybody knows that job is jinxed."

"Jinxed?"

"That's the rumor. Though personally, I think Dumbledore's doing it on purpose. Hiring increasingly hopeless candidates every year until I take the job out of sheer disgust."

"I think you'd make an excellent teacher," Giles told him.

Remus stared into his cup. "I want to do it," he said. "Just... not yet."

"I understand." Giles nodded. "So where have you been troubleshooting besides Venice?"

It was not the most elegant change of subject, but Remus seemed grateful for it, and they spent a few pleasant minutes exchanging travel stories. Remus had lived an adventurous life, if not a lucrative one, and had worked everywhere from Tasmania to Iceland. Giles started to believe his excuse about being too busy traveling to keep in touch with Harry Potter.

"What about you?" Remus asked after a while. "Now that I think of it, even when you were teaching us all those years ago, none of us ever knew what you did in your Muggle life."

"I'm a historian," Giles said. "I work for a private institution, doing research."

"In places like Bucharest and Verona? Nice work if you can get it."

"Oslo and Kavieng are just as interesting as Bucharest and Verona."

"Yes, but there were things trying to kill me in Oslo and Kavieng."

"I suppose that would be a professional drawback," Giles allowed.

"It's a nuisance," Remus said, but he sounded mildly amused by it all. "What were you researching in Verona? Anything magical and interesting?"

"Sort of." Giles hesitated. "I've been tracking a... a lost artifact." There, that was not precisely a lie, assuming one could refer to an unknown adolescent girl as an artifact. But he had neither the license nor the desire to explain the convoluted history of Watchers and Slayers to Remus Lupin, especially since the explanation would have to end with the admission that they'd lost one of the potential Slayers.

Remus, predictably, instantly looked curious. "Did you find it?"

"No," Giles said regretfully, "it was a false trail. But I have a few more leads to follow. I think the artifact might be in Lapland. Or Southern California. But I'm fairly certain it's Lapland."

"Looks as if you'll be keeping busy, then." Remus raised his cup. "Here's hoping you find what you're looking for."

Giles lifted his own cup and clinked it lightly against Remus'. "Here's hoping we both do."

Outside, the rain had slowed to a drizzle and the pigeons were coming back.

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