Notes: There is some use of Welsh; I did not provide translations because it is explained within context. All Welsh mythology is genuine in source, and only slightly twisted to suit my plot purposes. I was at some times rather free with JK Rowling's explantion of the pre-Harry world.
Disclaimer: The lovely and talented JK Rowling so far surpasses me that I hesitate to post; but one cannot help but imagine.
1978 : Christmas Holiday
Professor Turbute sighed. ‘I don’t want to keep you behind,’ he said. ‘Though I should. You have not displayed any of the skill level you ought to have, with four years of Potions at your back.’
Remus Lupin gazed down silently at his knobby knees. Turbute rubbed his fingers over his beard, and sighed, again. ‘How are your marks in the rest of the classes?’
Grey eyes glanced up at him. There was a brief hesitation, and then Lupin said flatly, ‘Not very well, sir.’
He leaned across the desk, clasping his hands before him. ‘Is there something going on that you need to talk to someone about? Something interfering with your studies? What I’m asking, Lupin, is for an excuse. If you have one, now is the time to give it.’
‘None at all,’ chimed in a ghost from the far corner. Turbute picked up a paperweight and launched it at the ghost– a new resident of Hogwarts who had long overstayed his welcome, as far as the Potions Master was concerned– Peeves the Poltergeist. So far only the Bloody Baron had managed to restrain Peeves’s antics; the poltergeist paid no attention at all to the professors, even Dumbledore. The cackling ghost hopped into the air above their heads, singing, ‘Loony, loopy Lupin! Sadly, there’s no room in Hogwart’s school for you!’
‘Get out!’ Turbute belllowed. Peeves blew a loud raspberry, and shot out through the chimney above the hearth.
Lupin was frowning, from offense or embarrassment. Turbute looked at him a long time before speaking again.
‘Fine,’ he murmured. ‘No excuses. Snape is still tutoring you?’
‘Then I suppose you can’t ask for better help.’ He settled back in his chair. ‘I won’t ask that you be held back. What I will ask is that you consider something very carefully. I am not unsympathetic to your unique problem, and the difficulty it will probably cause you once you leave Hogwarts. But let me put it this way. Flunking out of your fifth year will not help you.’
‘I could be top student and that would help me even less,’ Lupin replied. ‘Sir.’
‘Watch your tone.’ Turbute splayed his fingers over his large belly. ‘No. I suppose it wouldn’t. But you’d probably respect yourself, not mention me, more if you were top student.’
Lupin’s frown deepened. Then he looked up, finally, his forehead wrinkled and unhappy. ‘Sir,’ was all he said.
‘I consider myself a fair man,’ Turbute told him. ‘Don’t push me into something that would be a fair response to your sass.’
‘I’ve spent my life being careful of offending people,’ he muttered. ‘Maybe it’s people who should be careful of offending *me.*’
‘Detention,’ Turbute replied promptly. ‘You’re lucky I didn’t believe that, or I’d take points as well.’
‘What does it matter?’ Lupin stood without permission. ‘It’s not as if it’s going to make any difference at all.’
‘Ten points.’ Heat suffused his face, but he ignored it, glaring at his stubborn student. ‘If you leave this office before I say you can, it’s fifty.’
Lupin’s eyebrows came together. ‘Fine,’ he snapped, and grabbed his book bag. Turbute didn’t make it around the desk in time to stop him, and Lupin made a point of slamming the door as he left. He was halfway down the corridor by the time Turbute had it open again.
‘One hundred points,’ he bellowed after the boy. ‘And I’ll hold you back til you’re thirty!’
Peeves appeared before him, his cheeks bulging. Turbute only stared, still caught up in his fury. Then Peeves clapped his hands to the side of his face, and a gush of water squirted out from between his fat lips and hit Turbute squarely in the face. ‘Damn it!’ Turbute roared. Peeves only giggled and flew away.
Phineas Charatte was sitting in the Slytherin common room. Remus shut the door behind him, and leaned back against it.
‘Where you been?’ Phineas asked. They were sometimes friends; but now Phineas was the watcher and Remus the watched. Remus shrugged and made himself walk slowly, naturally to the fire and the waiting pitcher of apple cider warming there. He poured himself a mugfull with a hand that he willed not to shake.
Phineas held out a plate of Christmas candies, and Remus took the new chair, with the butter-soft leather, and took a biscuit. ‘Library?’ Phineas guessed.
Remus bought himself a moment by pretending to swallow. At last he said, ‘I’m failing Potions.’
Phineas looked surprised. ‘You? You’re always studying.’
‘I’m always behind.’ He crumbled the edges of the biscuit into his drink, watching the crumbs soak into the cider and slide beneath the surface. ‘I’m always just enough behind.’
‘But you’re really smart.’ Phineas stirred uneasily. ‘Everyone knows. I mean, you’re no Snape, but marks aren’t everything. You’re really good with people.’
‘Am I?’ He dropped the biscuit into his lap. He hadn’t been good with Turbute, or he’d have known better than to risk one hundred points and detention. And being kicked out of class.
‘Sure.’ A long silence developed; Phineas finally stood. ‘Look,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry about it. Tomorrow’s New Year. Sleep it off. Maybe you can ask Dumbledore?’
He bade the other boy goodnight, but did not go to his own room. He regretted now, keenly, how the interview with the Potions Master had gone. Apologies would probably salve Turbute’s notorious pride, and he would just as probably serve a great deal of detention.
He’d have to check in with Phineas for breakfast. Living by someone else’s schedule was starting to be a drain on Remus, but he knew the alternative was worse. School would start again soon. Whether he was dropped back in Potions or no, he thought it could only get better. The awkwardness with Sirius would go away; Sirius would fall in love with some new girl and it would all be forgotten. And Phineas wasn’t all bad; he had let Remus slip away with a letter to his mother, warning her.
Which hadn’t been half as bad as lying to Dumbledore had been. But Remus was discovering quite a lot about himself, lately. He was beginning to learn just how much he could take when there was no alternative.
1978 : Spring
Lestrange and Eddington took the seats on either side of him, and the fat lookalikes Crabbe and Goyle took the two opposite. Severus laid his toast on his plate, and looked round him with a little alarm.
‘Time to prove yourself, Snape,’ Lestrange whispered. The thin-faced boy reached across him to grab an orange.
‘That’s right.’ Eddington grinned at him. ‘Lord You-Know-Who has contacted me again. Can you guess what he said?’
‘I haven’t a clue,’ Severus said.
Crabbe scowled at him– though perhaps not. Severus had never seen him smile.
‘My Lord wants us to start narrowing the ranks.’ Eddington lowered his voice melodramatically. ‘He only wants the best and the brightest. Now we got to talking, the four of us here, and your name came up.’
His heart sped up just a little. He didn’t say anything, though.
Eddington nodded. ‘That’s right. And we just weren’t sure. Do you have the right stuff?’ He gave an elaborate shrug. ‘I thought you did. Lestrange over there didn’t.’
Severus glanced to the side.
‘So then I thought...’ Eddington put his arm around Severus’s shoulders. ‘Let him prove it.’ The older boy leaned in even closer, and whispered in his ear, ‘Lord Voldemort wants to meet us. But only the ones he can trust. If you work this right, I’ll see you get to be one of us.’
He concentrated on the rim of his plate, on a waterspot marring the perfect gold finish. ‘Who else is “one of you?”’
Lestrange answered. ‘Us four. Nott. And Malfoy.’
‘Tell me what to do,’ he said. They had played him, he was sure, betting on his dislike for Lucius Darling– but it had worked.
Here was his chance to finally get around Malfoy. To finally be a Slytherin again. And all he needed to do was make some cheap show of bravery.
Lestrange took his fork and speared a chop. ‘Have you heard the rumour?’ He dropped it onto the plate in front of him and began to cut it into bite-size slices. ‘That there’s a werewolf in the Forest?’
It felt like the bottom dropped out of his stomach. Over the sudden yawning pit in his gut and the roaring in his ears, he heard himself say, ‘I’ve never heard that.’
‘You can hear it howl on the full moon.’ Eddington gave a false shiver of fear and laughed. ‘It’s got to be some poor sod from Hogsmeade or something.’
He focussed on his hand, reaching for his glass of milk. ‘So what does this have to do with me?’
Crabbe showed him a row of yellowed teeth, and Severus belatedly realised it was a grin. Lestrange spoke around a mouthful of pork. ‘You have to get close enough to it to steal us a piece of it.’
‘Are you insane?’ He stared around at them. ‘I’ll be killed!’
‘Not if you go just before moon-rise or sun-rise,’ Eddington corrected. ‘You had the same classes we did. Take something silver with you to be sure, and cut off a piece of its tail or something. But here’s the thing. Phineas is super keen to be in the know. And not just him. Lucy Keene, too. Francis Bilcock. So you have competition. It’s the only fair way to do it-- whichever one of you succeeds first will be the one we choose.’ He clapped Severus hard on the back. ‘Oh, and Snape. Don’t try to fool us by bringing rabbit fur or something. I won’t look kindly on that.’
It hadn’t been hard to get Remus to suggest they spend the night together. Since the night Severus had gone with him to face Dumbledore, Remus had been especially familiar. It made his tongue burn to trick Remus like that, just when it was good, really good.
But he didn’t have any illusions about what would happen if he didn’t follow through, now. Not only would he lose his chance to finally get a measure of control over his position in Slytherin, but he could become a target the way some of the other un-chosen had. If or when Lord Voldemort ever started to come after school children, Severus did not intend to be on the list.
Remus always slept fitfully the night before the full moon, but Severus had never been so aware of that as now. It was in the cold early hours of the morning when he finally dared to leave the bed, and sit at Remus’s desk.
For a moment he felt panic rising. But then he moved a book, and saw the small, nearly empty parchment packet. He wondered if Remus had hidden it, or if it had only been a coincidence. He willed his heartbeat to return to normal, and reached down and pulled his book bag closer to the desk. Out came the bottle he had stolen from the Potions lab on his study hour. He used his finger to measure, cursing himself for not remembering the tools, and mixed the bitter-smelling wolfsbane with mistletoe. While Keene and Bilcock crashed about in the Forest, he would go to the Shack.
He did not sleep that night, but waited and watched until dawn. When Remus rose, he swiftly narrowed his eyes to slits; but Remus only glanced at him and went to the desk. He relaxed only a little when Remus barely looked at the packet before shaking out half the herbs into his waterglass and warming water. He held his breath as Remus drank the tonic; but if the other boy noticed anything different, it was not evident. Remus came back to bed, and Severus lay staring up at the ceiling.
Remus would take the rest before supper. And by nightfall, he... the werewolf... would be that much easier to get close to. Severus thought of the little scalpel he had in his backpack, and closed his eyes. It wouldn’t hurt that much. It might not even bleed.
It wasn’t really Remus, anyway. And he didn’t think Remus would ever know. He’d have his meeting with Voldemort, and Remus would never know the difference.
‘Water,’ James said. ‘As promised.’ He held out the glass.
Remus took it and drank deeply. ‘Thank you,’ he replied at last. ‘I needed that. Is it dusk yet?’
‘Nearly.’ James sat beside him on the carpet. ‘You feeling up to this?’
‘Do I have a choice?’ Remus toyed with the glass. ‘I’m all right. I’m just tired.’ His skin was nearly grey, and there were deep shadows surrounding his eyes. He seemed on the edge of sleep, and had been caught napping in two of his classes. James wasn’t sure what to make of it-- Remus was on probation in Potions, and it had only been the intervention of his classmates that kept Turbute from noticing.
A yawn punctuated his thoughts. James smiled, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. He rose to answer it.
Sirius stood there. ‘Need to talk,’ he said.
James took himself off without a word, and only a nod to Remus. The Slytherin moved to the bed, and Sirius followed, shutting the door behind him and standing beside the frame.
‘I’m very tired,’ Remus announced. ‘I don’t want to fight, Sirius, I’m too tired.’
He shuffled his feet. ‘Well, I don’t want to fight either.’
‘I’m not at my best now,’ Remus added, but his protest was muffled with a face-splitting yawn. ‘I’m afraid I’ll say something wrong, make it worse...’ He threw himself back on his pillows, rolling over to bury his face in them. In the silence that followed, Sirius realised that he had fallen into a doze. His breathing was deep and even, but when he worriedly felt Remus’s bony wrist for a pulse, it was thready and erratic.
‘I just want you to give it a try,’ Sirius told the sleeping boy. ‘Give me a try. It won’t be just like everyone else. We’re different. Aren’t we? It won’t be like you think it will.’
There was no answer. A glance at his watch told him that Remus had some time to spare. He sighed, and plucked Remus’s robes from a chair to drape them over him. But though he paced the room, stuffed his hands as deep into his pockets as they would go, his impatience was eating at him. He watched Remus closely, wondering if he would have to wake him, and shook his head angrily.
He didn’t actually mean to snoop. He had intended to merely straighten the mess on the floor, in some vague desire to show that he had good qualities, since Remus didn’t seem to think he had. He shuffled the books into a pile, put the scraps of parchment into a trash bin and paper-weighted the ones that looked important. He read a few of them, but found only notes from class and a half-finished letter to an Uncle Parry, riddled with cross-outs and blotchy sketches of teacups. None of it was informative. He tucked the chair in its place beneath the desk, nudged Remus’s shoes under the bed, and picked up a week’s worth of discarded clothes from the floor to replace in the bureau. It was fighting to fold them that made him read the name stitched into the inside collar of a slate-grey jumper he didn’t remember seeing Remus wear.
He was sitting on the floor with the jumper in his lap when movement from the bed startled him.
‘Time is it?’ Remus asked, groggily rubbing his face.
Sirius glanced automatically at his watch, and gasped. ‘You need to go,’ he said, jumping to his feet. ‘Come on, let’s hurry.’
They made it to the Willow in time, though Remus was pale and wheezing. Sirius pushed him into the Shack and drew the heavy silver door shut behind him, locking it with hands that shook. He realised he was still holding the grey jumper.
The noises had stopped. Severus drew a deep breath, and held out his silver knife. He placed his hand against the latch, and pressed. The door swung open on noiseless hinges.
And the smell of wolf hit him.
In all the time he had known, he had never once imagined what it was like. But there it was. A wolf, much larger than he would have thought, had he ever thought, flat on its side on the dusty floorboards. At first he almost believed it was dead; but then its sides heaved and it whined.
The sound threw him into action. He had no way of judging what was normal without the mistletoe, and he didn’t know how long the wolf would be down. He left the shelter of the door and knelt beside the animal.
He wondered that he wasn’t scared.
The wolf watched him with glazed eyes, and on an impulse he would later regret, Severus waved the silver scalpel before its nose. It flinched away from him and whined again.
‘I won’t hurt you,’ he whispered, and grasped the tail. He bit his lower lip, and slashed down quickly at the tip.
He jumped to his feet, shoving the blade and the finger-length of tail he’d cut off behind his back. James Potter sprinted into the Shack, waving his arms. ‘Get away!’ Potter grabbed him by the shoulder and all but pulled Severus off his feet. ‘Run!’
He tried to say, ‘It’s all right,’ but some instinct stopped him. He went where Potter pushed him, and threw the knife away into the darkness, clutching the bit of tail in his palm tightly. Potter slammed the heavy door behind him.
‘Snape,’ he started. ‘I’m sorry– Sirius didn’t think–‘
And suddenly he couldn’t think. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Potter looked him over– looked for blood, for bites–
‘Jamie,’ said Black. Severus turned to look at him. He would never know what he might have said; he felt dazed. Surprisingly, Potter took over. He shouted, ‘You idiot! Do you know what you nearly did!’
Black’s mouth hung open.
A low growl came from the other side of the door.
‘We’re going,’ Potter said shortly, and took Severus by the arm. ‘Are you all right?’
‘I’m so sorry,’ Potter repeated. For just a moment, he sounded exactly like Remus. Severus clenched his fist around the furry tail, and then he turned with a confidence he didn’t feel and left the tunnel.
Lily opened the door, then quickly stepped outside and shut it behind her. ‘You nearly broke the door down,’ she snapped. Then James gripped her arm, and she saw how white he was. ‘What’s wrong?’
He touched her hair. ‘I can explain on the way. Something awful happened. I need you to stay with Remus.’ He took the invisibility cloak from over his shoulder, and wrapped it around her.
‘Remus?’ He pulled her along by the arm, and Lily had no choice but to follow, her bare feet on the cold stone causing her to shiver. She clutched her nightgown about her and trotted to keep up. ‘Jamie? What’s wrong?’
As he hurried her down the steps, James told her everything in a soft voice. ‘It was Sirius,’ he said. ‘He and Remus had a fight. I guess. I don’t know, none of it makes any sense. But we were all supposed to meet at the East door, so we could transform and be with Remus, and Sirius was late. Pete and I waited for almost an hour. And then when he finally came I knew something was dodgy– he looked guilty, Lils. And you know how he is like that, he told this elaborate story and then out of no-where he starts in about Severus Snape and how he deserves whatever he gets. He told Snape that Remus is a werewolf and that he goes to the Shack on the full moon.’
Now it was Lily who clutched James’s arm, understanding in a flash what had happened. ‘Is he–‘
James returned her grasp in a reassuring squeeze. ‘He’s all right. Madam Pomfrey didn’t even hold him in the infirmary.’
‘Have you gone to the Headmaster?’ she demanded.
‘He’s got Sirius and Snape in his office, getting the story out of them. I snuck up to you.’
She only nodded, and widened her steps to hurry them along.
James hesitated at the storeroom. ‘I should be with you,’ he said. ‘Except so far, no-one knows about our being animagi... There’s going to be enough trouble tonight, and it is illegal–‘ He turned a little pale. ‘We’re in so much trouble,’ he added more weakly.
Lily tossed her hair back. ‘Only if Snape saw. But he didn’t, did he?’ James shook his head in sudden relief. ‘Then it’s still a secret. And no-one knows I’m involved at all, so I can be with Remus while you take care of Sirius.’
He kissed her swiftly. ‘I’m sorry. But thanks.’
‘Go,’ she replied, and headed out across the grounds toward the Willow.
She took the precaution of transfiguring herself into an owl, but as soon as she flapped through the door, she realised how unnecessary it was. It was deathly quiet in the Shack. The wolf was sick. She slid cautiously back into her human form, ready to run, but the wolf did not even lift its head at her human scent. She crossed the dusty floor and knelt beside it, and laid her hand on its chest.
Its heartbeat was slow, slower than she thought it ought to be. Lily gathered blankets off the bed and wrapped one around herself, and the rest around the wolf.
She knew that it would not be waking up for a long time.
Lily woke suddenly, shivering. At first, confused, she could not remember where she was. Then, as memory returned and she remembered the Shack, she sat up quickly and looked around the room.
There. Beneath the bookshelf. What had woken her was the sound of the wolf becoming Remus again. One glance was enough; Lily quickly shut her eyes and made herself think of something else.
At last it was over. She slid down from the bed, and brought her pillow with her. Remus had shredded the blankets during the transformation, and he looked pale and thin and cold. And dazed. He was awake, she thought, but only barely; she held his head while she wrapped the tattered blankets around him more securely, and he didn’t make any sounds. ‘Can you see me?’ she whispered, laying him back against the pillow.
His eyelashes fluttered. She wiped sweat from his brow. ‘Hullo,’ he said.
‘Are you all right? Lupin?’ She took his hand and felt for the pulse in his wrist. Still sluggish! She wished she had thought to keep better track of what was normal for Remus, the only other time she’d stayed the full moon with him. ‘Can you move?’
His eyes had already shut. She watched anxiously, but it seemed he was only asleep. She sat by him for a long time. When sunlight began to leak through cracks in the ceiling, however, she began to worry. If he didn’t show up at the infirmary, would anyone come looking for him? Pomfrey or Dumbledore or McGonagall– someone was sure to come, and Lily didn’t know whether to hide or face it boldly.
By her best estimation, she gave Remus an hour to sleep. He was showing no signs of waking, but she didn’t want to push their luck. She gripped his shoulders tightly and shook him, just a little, then more when he didn’t respond. Finally, she slapped him lightly across the cheek. ‘Lupin!’
His bleary eyes opened. He gazed up at her, and she realised he didn’t know her. ‘Get up,’ she commanded. ‘Get on, then, laddie, come on.’ She rose to a crouch and used her body weight to haul him up by the arms. At some point during the struggle to get to her feet with him dead as a lump against her, he seemed to regain enough consciousness to help. But he was moving with a strange lack of co-ordination, and she remembered well enough that he hadn’t been this dazed the last time. She took his head between her hands and turned his face into the light, so she could see his eyes.
His pupils were dilated so much they were almost black. Lily exhaled, and let his head fall against her shoulder.
‘All right,’ she said after a moment, mostly to herself. ‘Something’s wrong. Something’s not right. We need to get you to the infirmary. Madam Pomfrey will know what to do.’ She spotted the small locked trunk and remembered he kept clothes there; she rescued his shirt and trous and dressed him, blushing at his nakedness. ‘I wouldn’t do this for just any bloke,’ she muttered to him, tugging on his socks. She stuffed his tie in the pocket of his shirt, and put his shoes on her own frozen feet, knowing he’d never notice. At last, she heaved him up against her again, and tried again to rise; but he was too heavy. ‘Come on, Lupin, I need you to work with me. Come on.’
Sometimes he seemed to wake and hear her; then a minute later, his head would sink and she knew he was gone. It was beginning to alarm her, but Lily didn’t let herself dwell on it. She concentrated on putting one foot ahead of the other, and when she couldn’t count on him for help, she dragged him along until her shoulders burned and her fingers and wrists creaked from gripping him under the shoulders. The tunnel seemed far longer than ever before, and she let out a gasp of relief when at last they neared the end. She threw open the door and smacked a fist against the wooden knot on the trunk that stopped the dangerous limbs from waving, and turned to pick up her burden from where she’d leaned him against the wall.
A hand came down on her shoulder. She whirled to see Professor Dumbledore, in his night cap and gown like her. ‘Let me help, young lady,’ he murmured. Silently, Lily stepped aside. For an old man, he was much stronger than she expected; he gathered Remus up, and without a word Lily took the other side, holding the boy’s arm over her shoulders and supporting him. Together, she and the Headmaster walked the long path away from the Willow and back to the school.
James was waiting for them at the door of the infirmary. He cast her a searching, worried look; she smiled at him wearily, and he came and took Remus from her. ‘We’ll talk,’ he promised, and Lily dropped into a chair as he and Dumbledore lifted Lupin onto a bed. Madam Pomfrey sent a nurse to her side.
‘Tea, please,’ Lily whispered to the woman. She stayed where she was, rather than joining James at the bed, and so it was that she saw Sirius Black and Severus Snape, sitting in the far corner. Neither had noticed her yet, they were so engrossed in the spectacle being made of Lupin. Lily narrowed her eyes, and barely knew it when her tea came. Only when the warmth of the first few sips began to spread through her chest and work on her chilled fingers did she look away. She concentrated instead on the low-voiced conversation going on between Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey.
‘It could well be the wolfsbane,’ Madam Pomfrey was saying. If either of the adults knew Lily could hear, they gave no indication. ‘He’s been worse and worse. You’ve seen it. No-one knows what long-term use can do to a boy his age. As far as we know, he’s first case. I just don’t have a precedent.’
Dumbledore stroked his beard slowly. His eyes were on the boy in the bed. ‘From your best judgement, then, what should be our course of action?’
The pretty young woman was silent for a long time. At last she shrugged. ‘Pour tea down his throat,’ she said. ‘Wash him out thoroughly. And I suggest that as of now, you forbid him to take any more of that herb. This could be an early warning sign, or it could be the last one we’ll get. He may yet have a few years if he doesn’t poison himself to death.’
Dumbledore nodded, and sighed softly. ‘I will owl his mother. She ought to know.’
‘Fat lot of good that’ll do,’ Pomfrey snapped. ‘Oh, don’t look at me that way. That cow of a woman won’t shed a tear for the boy. Go, write your letter. Let me attend to my patient.’
James was with him when he finally woke, swimming up out of a strange lassitude. He felt vaguely that he had been sleeping a long time– wondered if it had been a dream of James sitting there all through the day– couldn’t remember. He coughed to clear his throat, and reached for the mug of tea James poured him.
‘How do you feel?’ the older boy asked him.
‘Mm.’ He pushed himself up on one elbow, and drained the tea. He held it out for more, and James obliged him, emptying the pot. ‘What are you here for?’ he asked, before finishing the second cup.
‘What do you remember?’
He had to rub his eyes to focus them. Why did James look so sober? ‘As much as ever,’ he replied slowly. ‘Why? What happened?’
James sighed, and stood to refill the teapot from the sink. ‘Sirius... he did something,’ he said, with his back to Remus. ‘It’s... it’s bad. It’s really bad, Moony.’
He sat up. ‘You had better tell me all of it,’ he started. He was interrupted.
‘Moony,’ said Severus. ‘That’s cute.’ Remus twisted to see him; the dark Slytherin boy crossed his arms tightly against his chest. ‘Dumbledore wants to see you,’ he added. ‘Soon as you can manage.’ His mouth twisted.
‘We’ll come,’ James replied quietly. ‘Thank you, Snape.’
‘Save it,’ Severus snapped. He cast a strange look at Remus– he was too dumbfounded to read it– and he turned on his heel and disappeared through the door. James touched his knee to recall him, and Remus said, ‘He knows, doesn’t he? How does he know, James?’
‘That’s what I was going to tell you.’ James took off his glasses and fiddled with the nose-pieces. ‘As I understand it, Snape was looking for you last night. Sirius– he told him you were in the Shack. And how to get past the Willow.’
Remus felt as if he’d been dealt a heavy blow. He gripped James’s arm urgently. ‘Did I– James?’
Hurriedly James denied it. ‘No. No, he was fine. It was right at moon rise and I think he’d only just seen you.’
‘Seen me?’ He pressed a hand to his chest. ‘He saw me tran-transform?’ That had been the expression on Sev’s face then. Horror.
Lips pressed together in sympathy, James nodded. ‘If you’d told him... Look, Reemy. I’m sorry. I’m more sorry than I can say. But Dumbledore– he’s said that Sirius might be expelled. He–‘
‘He ought to be!’ The hurt blossomed into warming fury. ‘How could he do this? What was he thinking?’
The Gryffindor Seeker worried at his lower lip. ‘I don’t think he meant for anyone to be hurt.’
‘Then he’s just stupid!’ He threw back the covers and slid off the bed, only to find his legs weren’t quite working. ‘None of you ever treat it like– like it’s dangerous! I could have killed Severus. He’s my friend!’ He clutched the metal frame and fought for balance. ‘How could he do that to me? What if I’d bit him? What if I’d turned him into a monster like me?’ To his disgust, tears leaked down his cheeks and his nose began to run. He wiped his face fiercely and collapsed onto one knee. A sharp pain lanced up the bone, and he bit his lip so deeply that it began to bleed. He shoved James away when the older boy tried to help him up, and reached blindly for his shoes. James took them away, and knelt beside him.
‘I’m sorry,’ James said. He took Remus’s bare foot and slid the shoe onto it, lacing it up. ‘But don’t hate him,’ the older boy plea. ‘He just wasn’t thinking. He can’t be expelled, Remus. It’s his seventh year. If he gets expelled now, it’ll mean the rest of his career. He couldn’t practise magic anywhere, and Dumbledore doesn’t need two Hagrids.’
‘What d’you think would have happened to me if I’d bit someone!’ His voice cracked from a crackly shout to a raw-throated whisper. He grabbed his second shoe from James and shoved his foot into it. ‘D’you know what they did to the werewolf that bit *me*? He turned human again while the Aurors were killing him. The last thing he said was “I’m sorry.”’ James looked away, his eyes unreadable behind his glasses. ‘They’d kill me too,’ he said. ‘And I would want them to.’ He wiped his nose on his sleeve and stood unsteadily.
‘Please calm down.’ James fiddled with his glasses, watching him pale and uneasy. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Dumbledore wanted to see me.’ He stumbled to the loo, and slammed the door shut behind him. For a moment he only leant against it, and shoved against the panic. Black threatened from the edges of his vision, and his head swam until he thought he might faint. He slid to the tile and rested his head on his knees.
Severus was all right. It was bad, it was very bad, but he hadn’t hurt his friend.
When he came out of the water closet, James had straightened his uniform and found his tie somewhere. ‘I’ll walk with you,’ he said.
Madam Pomfrey appeared from out of her small office in the back. ‘As will I.’ She stopped, and picked up a comb. ‘Come here, both of you. This is no time to put forth your worst face.’ She took Remus by the chin, and locked eyes with him. There was kindness there. But then she nodded and briskly began to straighten his hair. ‘The Minister of Magical Creatures and Disaster Relief is here.’
Remus pulled back. ‘Why?’
She tapped his cheek gently with the comb. ‘Best hurry.’ She snared James with a look, and brushed him just as quickly. ‘All right, lads. Come on.’
Dumbledore greeted them at the door, making no mention of Remus’s hospital gown and striped pyjamas. ‘Mr Potter,’ he said, ‘please take the seat beside Mr Black. Mr Lupin, beside Mr Snape, if you will.’
Severus looked up at him, and then away as Remus slid into the chair beside him. Remus stared down at his feet.
‘Are these all the young men?’ Large brown shoes appeared under his gaze, and he looked up. A bland-looking man with a receding hairline stood looking right back at him. ‘Anwir Jones.’
It had been so long since he’d heard his real name that at first he did not react. The man consulted his notes again, and said, ‘Admitted to St Mungo’s Critical Ward in 1971, treated and released into a long-term care programme. Re-named Remus Lupin.’
The others were staring, now. Remus wondered if he were supposed to stand. He had to clear his throat before he could respond. ‘Sir.’
The man didn’t look away from him, but he spoke to Dumbledore. ‘How long has it been at the school?’
Snape stiffened beside him, but Remus felt numb.
‘Five years,’ Dumbledore’s fuzzy voice answered from behind. ‘I assure you, Kerson, this is the first such incident.’
‘No, you were right to owl me.’ Kerson rubbed his slender moustaches. ‘The parents?’
‘Were sent a message.’
‘It’s only been a day,’ Madam Pomfrey interceded. ‘They might have been on holiday.’
Remus followed the knot of his shoelace and drowned out the adults by counting silently. The argument, if it was that, went on above his head; the other boys were as silent as he. When a hand suddenly slid into his and gripped his fingers, he jumped and brought his head up quickly.
It was Severus. And he smiled at Remus. Remus found himself weak with relief.
‘What about the boy who started this mess?’
Remus came out of his stupor and glanced up. Kerson was standing before Sirius now, and Sirius was red-faced and quiet. ‘Well?’ the Minister prodded. ‘Did you know it was a werewolf?’
Unthinking, Remus squeezed Sev’s fingers. Don’t say anything stupid, he willed Sirius. Don’t lie to him. He’ll know.
It seemed that Sirius was finally thinking. He put on his most innocent face. ‘Yes, sir. We found out a few years ago.’
‘And you thought it would be a lark to send that one in after it?’ The balding man pointed to Snape.
‘Don’t like him, sir,’ Sirius replied promptly and flatly. ‘Didn’t have my head on, I guess.’
There was a long minute of silence. Then Kerson sighed. ‘You ought to have better control over these boys, Headmaster,’ the Minister said, and turned to gather up a quill from Dumbledore’s desk. ‘At the very least, they ought to have learnt by now that a werewolf is no-one’s revenge toy.’
Dumbledore murmured something that sounded polite enough.
The man scribbled a quick note at the bottom of a small roll of parchment, then turned and pointed the quill at Remus. ‘As for you. I remember your case. As per the Resolution of 1654, Section 3, Paragraph 6, this will go on your record at the Ministry. I have the duty to inform you that a second “incident” will result in your arrest and incarceration. All right? The Ministry take a dim view of dangerous creatures, fifteen or otherwise.’
He nodded. It was all he could manage.
The Minister rolled up his parchment and held it out to Dumbledore. ‘If you’d take the trouble of mailing it for me. I’m afraid my owl is off on other business.’ He picked up a bowler hat from the desk, and set it on his scalp. ‘As am I. Ludo Bagman claims a witch with flying monkeys tried to grab him off his broom from his yard. Just my luck.’ He nodded briskly to the Headmaster and bowed to Madam Pomfrey, and left the office in three long-legged strides.
Dumbledore laid his hand on Remus’s shoulder. ‘All of you will please stay in your seats. After I walk Minister Kerson to the door, we will have a long conversation.’ His husky voice made the words sound far from comforting. ‘You’ll excuse me.’ He held the door for Madam Pomfrey, and shut it behind them.
‘”Don’t like him,”’ Severus echoed. ‘”Didn’t have my head on, I guess.”’ He sneered. ‘It’s a good thing you Gryffindors always stick together, if that’s the best you can do.’
‘Was smart enough not to tell him how good it felt,’ Sirius hissed, rising from his chair. But he never stood– he saw Remus’s bleak expression, and settled back with his chin sullenly against his chest.
‘This is awful,’ James muttered.
‘Mr Black, if you will stay in my office. You and I will talk privately about proper punishments.’ Dumbledore stood. ‘You as well, Mr Lupin. Mr Potter, Mr Snape, allow me to walk you to the door.’
No-one spoke. It had passed beyond words. Sirius glanced at him out of the corner of his eyes, but Remus did not return the look. Snape was acting awfully chummy for someone who claimed to have been scared half to death. He had seen them, hand-holding like any couple in the flush of infatuation. It made him sick to his stomach. How could he have watched Remus for so long and missed that? How could he never have thought there might have been a Slytherin? Slytherin. For all his protestations, he had forgotten that fundamental fact. Remus had never been one of them.
Dumbledore returned, and sat heavily behind his desk. For an interminable, unbearable stretch of time, he gazed somewhere beyond the boys, as if lost in unhappy thoughts. Sirius could guess what he was thinking.
At last the old man spoke. ‘Something I have yet to hear,’ he murmured, ‘is a sentiment of regret, Mr Black.’
His eyes snapped to the wrinkled and weathered face that now looked directly at him. ‘What?’
Dumbledore crossed his hands flat on the surface of the desk and leaned over them. ‘Did I speak unclearly?’
He winced. ‘No, sir. I was just–‘ He stopped himself and collected his thoughts. ‘I am sorry, Professor.’
Dumbledore’s eyes had never looked so hard. ‘It is in your best interest to convince me, Sirius.’
His tongue seemed to stick to the roof of his mouth. He clenched and released the muscles in his jaw, and made himself stare at the floor. At last, he said honestly, ‘I wasn’t thinking about what might happen. I didn’t think that Snape could die.’
‘And–‘ Damnit. He wasn’t sorry. ‘I was angry,’ he tried to explain. He twisted in his chair to look at Remus. ‘I was angry at you. And you hurt me. I wanted to hurt you back.’
Red suffused Remus’s cheeks. His pale eyes moved uneasily, unable to settle. He did not face Sirius.
‘You are a lucky young man,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Luckier, perhaps, than you deserve. You could easily have gone to Azkaban. And no amount of anger would sustain you there. I advise you to think deeply on that.’ He stood. ‘You will write a formal apology to Severus Snape. And to Remus Lupin. Who would have been lucky if he only joined you in Azkaban, innocent of this as he is. And you will return next year in punishment of your crime.’ He held up a hand to prevent Sirius’s protest. ‘You attend this school at this moment purely on the good faith of your friends. I dearly hope, Mr Black, that you will not disappoint them as you have me.’ He took off his tall velvet cap, and laid it on the desk. ‘Go. Report to Mr Filch tomorrow for detention.’
Sirius stood. It was both worse than it could have been, he supposed, and better. He wasn’t expelled. He’d had detention before and didn’t care.
Remus wouldn’t meet his gaze. It seemed he had finally done something he couldn’t take back or make better.
He left the Headmaster’s office, and headed back to his dorm with measured and even steps.
Severus tried to ignore the insistent knocking, but it was impossible. As much as he didn’t want to face Remus, he thought that soon he would have to. ‘Go away,’ he whispered, staring at the wall. ‘Please, just go away.’
It seemed somehow as if Remus had heard him. The knocking abruptly stopped. Severus didn’t feel any better– if anything, he felt worse. And for perhaps the first time, he followed an impulse and leapt to his feet. He flew to the door, fully intending to race to Remus’s room and confront him.
But he didn’t have to. Remus had stopped knocking, only to sit on the cold stone floor with his face in his hands.
Severus cleared his throat. ‘Hey,’ he said.
Something that sounded horribly like a sob escaped Remus’s hands. ‘I’m sorry,’ Remus replied, his voice ragged and hoarse. ‘Please forgive me. I never meant...’ He turned a pale, tear-streaked face up to his friend. ‘I would never, ever hurt you.’
Severus clenched numb fingers. ‘I know,’ he said, and couldn’t find any other words. He crouched, and put awkward arms around the boy’s chilled shoulders. They had never embraced before-- Severus had never embraced anyone in his life-- but Remus threw himself into it, wrapping trembling arms around his chest and crying into his neck. Severus swallowed hard, and tucked Remus’s head under his chin. He rocked slowly back and forth on his knees, drawing Remus with him, doing his best to soothe.
‘You’re my best friend,’ Remus whispered hoarsely. ‘I never wanted you to be hurt.’
He drew in a breath that made his lungs ache. ‘I’m your best friend? Not Malfoy? Or Black?’
‘Of course you are.’
He closed his eyes. He was ashamed. But it was far too late to tell the truth.
At last Remus moved, taking his arms from Severus and falling back against the wall limply. He rubbed his reddened eyes, and attempted a smile. ‘It’s over, though. It wasn’t as horrible as it could have been.’ He searched the other boy’s face. ‘Are we all right, Sev?’
He hesitated. ‘I think it would be best if you left Hogwarts.’
The boy’s face went slack with surprise. ‘What?’
He leaned back on his heels. ‘I think you should leave Hogwarts. I think if you don’t...’ He lifted one shoulder uneasily. I’m not the only one who was supposed to be there last night, he thought, and could never say. It most certainly had not been as horrible as it could have been. ‘I think they’ll make trouble for you. Worse trouble.’
Remus’s eyes were almost colourless in the dim light. They searched his face, looking and not finding any help. ‘I don’t understand,’ Remus whispered.
He rubbed his hands to bring back feeling to them. ‘Don’t you? Remus– it’s not safe. Not for you, and not for any of us, if you stay. What Ed– Black did, sending me to find you, anyone else could do. The next student might not be so lucky.’
Remus was chalk white now, except for the deep shadows around his restless eyes. ‘It was safe for five years,’ he managed.
‘People know!’ He stood, suddenly agitated. He couldn’t look at Remus anymore, and he turned away. ‘People have known forever that there was a werewolf in the Forest. They know the Willow is there to guard something. You remember how they used to test it! It won’t be long before someone else puts together the monster and the tree and finds you!’ He took a deep breath and held it. ‘What will happen when you can’t take the wolfsbane anymore? There won’t be anything but a door between you and the rest of the school.’
‘That’s not true,’ Remus protested. But from the sound of his voice, even he didn’t believe that. Severus snuck a glance; the boy was ashen, but he wasn’t crying. He was looking blindly at the wall, and Severus, so familiar with every expression, knew that his point had struck home. The pale hands twisted around each other fitfully.
‘I have to go,’ Severus told him, and opened his door. ‘I...’
Remus looked up at him, grey eyes swimming in the pallid face.
He went into his room without finishing, and locked the door and leaned against it, shaking.
Black wasn’t the only one who could punish his friends.
James walked toe-to-heel along the roof tiles, and stopped when he saw the two boys sitting side by side on the edge of the Astronomy Tower. The bright light from the full moon silvered their blond heads and sharpened the contrast with their dark clothes so that they looked almost like statues. Wordlessly, James took Remus’s free side, slipping his feet over the gutter and gazing out at the stars.
‘I’m leaving,’ Remus said suddenly, breaking the silence.
James turned to stare at him. ‘What? Why?’ He touched the boy’s knee. ‘I mean-- When?’
‘As soon as Professor Asper can be replaced.’ Remus rubbed his nose. ‘I’ll live with him. I can study independently and still earn OWLs.’
‘That doesn’t answer why,’ James retorted. ‘I don’t believe this. It was just Sirius being stupid...’
Remus glanced to his right, to Lucius Malfoy. Malfoy said nothing; his face was shadowed and unreadable in the light of the waning moon. ‘It doesn’t matter why,’ Remus said finally. ‘I don’t want to be here any more. And probably next year Turbute really will hold me back, and I don’t feel like working any harder the second time round than I did this time.’ He looked down at his feet, swinging them slowly in the air. ‘It’s not just about Sirius. It’s everything.’
‘You don’t really want to leave! You can’t convince me that you do.’
At last Malfoy spoke. ‘The world is changing, Potter. Let him go. Let him run away from it.’ He heaved himself to his feet. ‘It’s all a game, Remus. You can’t take yourself out of play; all you can do is win or lose.’ For a moment, the two Slytherins looked at each other, and James felt suddenly shut out of a deeply private moment. Uncomfortable, he turned back to the bulging moon hovering over them, and locked Malfoy’s mysterious words away for later contemplation.
Malfoy’s parting shot was unexpectedly soft, and it warmed James to the boy. ‘I’ll write,’ was all he said, and then he was gone, leaving them alone on the roof of the Tower.
‘He was the one, wasn’t he,’ James ventured, breaking the silence. ‘Sirius thought it was Snape, but it wasn’t, was it.’
Remus rubbed his nose again. ‘Yeah.’
‘Do you love him?’
Remus laughed a watery laugh. ‘I don’t know. Maybe.’
‘I meant Sirius,’ James said.
‘So did I.’
Asper took Remus’s bag, and held it up to the driver, who secured it to the top of the carriage. ‘Sure you have everything?’ the teacher asked.
Remus ran a gloved hand over the brown scarf he wore, and then over the lapels of his jacket. He already missed the security of his uni.
He had to consciously stop himself from looking behind him, to the school, to the steps where James, Lily, and Peter stood. He had said good-bye once. He did not want to say it again.
Lucius hadn’t come. Neither had Severus or Sirius. He supposed he deserved that.
‘I’m ready,’ he replied, and Asper unfolded the stepladder. He gripped the door handle tightly, and climbed up into the carriage. He kept his face carefully turned away from the window. Asper came in after him, dressed much like him and looking strange without his monkish green robes and cowl. He closed the door, and, after glancing at Remus, pulled shut the curtains across the window.
Then Asper leaned toward him, and rang the little bell in the top corner. ‘Drive,’ he called, and the carriage jerked into motion.
Remus closed his eyes as they left Hogwarts’ grounds.
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