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Hog Warts

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James Potter. Smiling.

Unsurprisingly, Lily wasn't with him, though neither were his friends. Which, when you thought about it later, seemed odd. You'd been curious about Peter, and beneath all the resentment, you wanted Black to admire you.

No broomstick, either, no Quidditch Cup; just James, tossing an ordinary pebble from hand to hand, at ease. His Muggle clothes and mussed hair looked so carelessly erotic, so different from your stilted, awkward form.

For months you touched yourself to that image before you finally realized: you weren't there beside him. You didn't want to have him. Just to be him.

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His mother is sobbing, kneeling on the floor with her hands in fists. His father is shouting: surely there must be something that can be done! Don't they understand that Remus is only a child!

It's all a bit hazy to the boy lying on the blankets, stiff with pain from the gash in his side. He cannot understand why his parents are so upset. Death raced behind him, bared its fangs, took a bite out of him, and yet he lives. He looked into those murderous jaws and escaped them.

How could anything ever be so terrible as that?

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"Are you planning to ignore me for the rest of the term?"

His best friend's eyes begged Remus to relent, making him feel newly torn. He owed Severus so much. Without him, James and Peter might never have mastered the spells that let them become animagi. Now Severus -- the brightest potions student of their year -- was working on a serum to help Remus keep his mind when he transformed, even around humans.

Besides, Black was a pureblood Slytherin snob. The prank was his own fault for following Severus. It wasn't as if Sirius Black would ever have befriended a werewolf.

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If he disregarded the physical, he supposed he might have been a little in love with Lily. She had been so strong, witty and sometimes argumentative...full of life.

And if she hadn't been married and he hadn't been gay, he might have developed a crush of sorts on Molly. She could be melodramatic, but she had passion and a lot of energy.

There was a time when he'd have called Tonks the most vivacious of all. But she'd been slipping away even before her unexpected declaration to him. Whatever she had lost, she would not find it in him.

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There's a wizard from Nottingham who would have been feasting with his grandchildren, had he not died at the hands of Death-Eaters more than twenty years ago.

There's a witch who collected unicorn figurines, all broken now. She'd have gotten another from her sweetheart, her would-have-been-husband -- spun glass enchanted to gallop free.

There are two, acquaintances of Moody's, minor Ministry officials, both rather odd. Of course, Moody doesn't know Snape ever met them. They'd have gotten drunk together and passed out in front of the fire.

Every year during the holidays, Snape remembers all of them...the ones he killed.

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The taste was so bitter that he feared he would throw up. Gulping the liquid, Remus swallowed and managed a nod for the man who stood over him with a detached expression.

"Thank you." He wished he dared to ask for a glass of water.

"Well." The man looked embarrassed, as if he wished to conclude the transaction as quickly as possible. "I suggest that you go home and rest."

Rising from his chair, Remus handed over the agreed-upon sum. He felt sullied as he crept away from the Knockturn Alley apothecary, yet that night, he would keep his mind.

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When he opens the Valentine, Remus knows that Severus has not meant to be cruel but adoring in the awkward manner of a lovestruck loner. He also suspects that Severus did not intend for Remus to identify him as the sender, for Severus does not know of Remus' preternaturally strong sense of smell.

Nor could Severus have guessed at the pain Remus would feel from the image on the card, a magically created photo of himself waving under a romantic moon, with "Dreaming Of You" printed across the bottom. Remus hopes that the quiet boy never witnesses the true nightmare.

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knowing what to expect doesn't make it any easier half-crazed already laughing like a madman nothing funny no happy memories to take away they all remind him of james lily dead everything good in the world frozen never see them again at least voldemort gone but peter alive and dumbledore doesn't know oh harry old fool headmaster can't protect him at least moony's not the traitor how could dumbledore not have known that no nothing happy left at all dementors all ice as they surround him hate hate hate peter and it burns, burns, burns enough to keep him alive

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"She's Protestant, isn't she," his mother sobbed, and his father threatened him with the strap even though he was twenty-two years old. When he finally managed to explain that his beloved was neither Catholic nor Protestant but a follower of the Old Ways, his mum called her a trollop and his dad said that no Finnegan was going to marry the daughter of a tinker.

He worried about his father's accusations that she had bewitched him. Yet she had not needed a spell to summon him that first night at the tavern. This was love, the ancient mystery they shared.

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The Veil billows softly. Snape listens to the voices behind it, trying to isolate the one for whom he has come.

"If you can hear me, Black...I killed Pettigrew. I kept your godson alive during the war. Your lover and I have shared your home for more than twenty years. Since you fell, I have lived the life you intended for yourself."

Pausing, Snape looks at the fluttering curtain. "It has been a good life," he adds. "So I am here to thank you -- to show that I repay my debts."

There is a whistling murmur, but no reply.

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1991: Reapply for Defense Against the Dark Arts post. With Malfoy's son arriving in the fall, this would be the perfect year to replace that stuttering fool.

1992: Keep a close eye on Quirrell until he reveals his true loyalties.

1993: Find the Chamber of Secrets before that idiot Lockhart does.

1994: Catch Black faster than Lupin can hide him. Turn them both over to the Dementors.

1995: Ignore the Mark. Avoid Karkaroff. Figure out why Moody is acting so oddly even for Moody.

1996: Make a sincere effort to teach the little brat Occlumency before he gets someone killed.

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It's so cold in winter, even as a dog, that there are moments when Sirius thinks he'd have been warmer in Azkaban despite the Dementors chilling everything they touched. There was a time he had believed he could wear love like a cloak around him, but misery has weakened him as much as hunger. How can he help Harry when he can't approach him? How can he reach Remus when Remus believes he killed their best friends?

Only freedom keeps him from despair. When the first snow falls, whirling and dancing in the wind, he races it, barking with joy.

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"You want me to put that where?"

The look Severus gave his lover suggested that he had gone mad. "On the mantel, over the fireplace," repeated Remus, cocking his head. "What's wrong? You don't want other people to see it?"

"I don't want to see it!" The vehemence in Severus' voice made Remus blink. "It may evoke pleasant memories for you, but it's humiliating for me. I refuse to be forced to look at that in my own parlor."

"All right," Remus conceded after a moment. "I'll put Sirius' photo somewhere more private."

"I'd prefer in the fireplace," Snape muttered.

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"You liar, Snivellus!" the painting shouted. "Moony would never!"

"I've lived in your house for three years, Black," Snape gloated. "Lupin says he's happier than he's ever been. He still loves to have that scar on his lip nibbled. He makes those moaning noises if..."

"Shut up! I don't believe you!"

Sixteen-year-old Sirius, immortalized in this unfinished formal portrait, sounded just like Severus remembered. "Why do you think you're in a basement closet?" he demanded. "Remus put you here because I asked nicely."

"You must have hexed him!"

The boy looked so forlorn that Snape almost felt sorry for him.

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After class, Potter approaches, looking nervous.

"It's about Sirius. And Lupin. Were they...?" An awkward clasping gesture. "They were, weren't they."

So the brat's finally figured out his godfather was a poof. Snape doesn't pretend not to understand. "Why ask me? Obviously you've already guessed."

"I was wondering whether you were, um, jealous." Snape stares. "I know you hated Sirius. And Lupin seems so miserable now, it scares me, and I thought..."

"Stay out of my business, Potter," hisses Snape. It isn't possible that the boy has read such thoughts, safe in the Pensieve.

But is it possible he's right?

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Twelve years in Azkaban, remembering...

Eleven, at Hogwarts, being saved, not Slytherin. Between tracks ten and nine hid the platform to freedom.

Eight legs, racing the wind, ahead of the others beneath the full moon. Seven players on the opposing team but James was faster than all of them. Sixth year; he'd thought Remus might not forgive him. Snape wouldn't.

Remus did, though. Five fingers. Oh. Right there. Yes.

Four Marauders, then three, but he's going to kill the third. Then two. A couple. Like Moony and Padfoot, once.

Now he dares imagine a single hope: The Boy Who Lived.

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"Why do you always carry chocolate with you? You can't be anticipating a Dementor attack inside Hogwarts," Harry observed.

"Chocolate makes me feel better after the full moon," replied Lupin.

When he was in school, he had overheard a group of girls discussing how they craved chocolate just before their monthly cycles. He wondered whether there was something in cocoa that compensated for deficiency of blood -- something that might help with his own lunar calendar.

Indeed, he found, chocolate took the edge off his appetite. Yet even with Wolfsbane, it was not for chocolate that the moon made Lupin hunger.

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The razor feels cold as it moves across his scalp, nicking occasionally in spots Remus cannot see. He welcomes the pain, just as he welcomes the cold. Anything is better than feeling nothing, disappearing in these dull rooms in his washed-out clothing with his graying hair.

Stunned silence greets him when he steps into the kitchen. Then, too quickly, encouragement: Bill tells him it's an interesting look, Tonks says it makes a statement.

The statement his bald head makes might be that he's mad. Sirius would have hated it. Yet cutting it all off must be better than fading away.

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"We should have told him," Lupin said softly when Harry's head disappeared from the fire.

"Told him what? That we were idiots when we were his age?" Sirius smiled halfheartedly. "He'll get over it. I'm not even sure what he's so upset about; I'm more concerned that Snivellus has..."

"Calling him that doesn't help matters," chided Lupin. "I'll speak to him about the Occlumency lessons."

"That git," Sirius snarled. "Running away because he's ashamed, as always. I just hope it isn't too late."

"And I hope we weren't too late telling Harry what idiots we were then...even his father."

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Because her father was not from their world and Harry had grown up with the Dursleys, he and Tonks shared a taste for Muggle music that none of the others understood, not even Hermione. For his eighteenth birthday, Tonks took Harry to a concert at Call the Office -- the ugly indy rock club where neither her hair nor his scar stood out in the slightest.

Away from the others, where they could roll their eyes at insular wizarding society, the difference in their ages and positions didn't seem important. Neither did their histories. They spent the night being ordinary.

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"I have never heard of this ritual," gasps Severus, wriggling.

"That's what you said about birthday spankings, too." Water trickles down Severus' side, pooling on the floor. "Now look what you've done."

"It's your fault..." A groan interrupts the complaint as Remus licks excess fluid from his chest. "And there is no Yule Garden Protection Charm -- you just wanted to put snow on my nipples."

"There isn't?" asks Remus innocently. "There should be. Despite the cold, I can still make this grow..."

With his tongue he lifts flakes away, warming the points beneath, until Severus melts like the spring thaw.

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When Lupin wakes he finds that he has shredded his pillow, biting and clawing as if there had been a full moon. The feathers have burst from the case. They stick to his face and neck, damp with sweat, tickling like the ends of lanky hair falling onto his skin.

He races to the bathroom to wash them off, yet the feeling lingers, as if the man from his dream had come to his bed and touched him very differently. But that never happened. Snape is a murderer. There is no waking from this nightmare; it can only be endured.

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The first time Remus uses the Time-Turner, Dumbledore falls instead of Sirius.

The second time, Tonks dies too.

The third time, Lucius Malfoy kills Harry as soon as he finds the prophecy.

The fourth time, Neville and Hermione plummet from the backs of thestrals.

The last time, Sirius never enters the Ministry of Magic. Snape prevents him, and passes through the veil in his stead.

Snape, once a Death-Eater. A man who despised Sirius Black.

A man who changed.

Then Remus knows that although some things are meant to be changed, others must not.

Grieving, he says a silent farewell.

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"Bubbling lights?" repeated Professor Snape in his most scornful tone.

"They're a Muggle Christmas tradition; surely you must have seen them sometime? Heat makes the liquid change color from red to green, so they're very festive for the holidays, and I had thought perhaps there might be a potion that would do the same thing without needing an electric current, if you could tell me which ingredients could effect such a change..."

Looking into his face, Granger fell uncharacteristically silent. It was a foolish idea, yet he had to admire her courage in asking him.

"Very well, I'll help you."

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The line for the boys' bathroom is twenty-deep. James simply cannot wait, shoving through the first doorway he sees, tugging his robes open before he's gotten the door closed. Miraculously, he's landed in a bathroom he didn't know existed. He wets the floor lunging toward a stall.

Then, as he sags in relief, he sees Snape standing over a toilet. Wanking.

"Snivellus..." James gapes, at the same moment Snape whirls, jerking his robes shut. "In public?"

"The Room of Requirement isn't exactly public," Snape retorts. "And you would have pissed on the floor of the transfiguration classroom!"

So...their secret.

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When he asked Malfoy why they called themselves "Death Eaters," he received a smirking promise that he would learn at his initiation. Snape thought that the Dark Lord might make him swallow the Draught of Living Death as a test of his loyalty.

He was prepared for the agony of the Dark Mark, but nothing could have readied him for what came next: the screaming Muggle, the Unforgivable Curse, then they all pulled the initiate toward the banquet. Blood had reddened Bellatrix's lips; Lucius was chewing with refinement on a human finger.

Snape knew he had no choice; he ate.

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As a Prefect, Remus discouraged cheating. Yet he knew that his absence on the night of the Astronomy O.W.L., when students would plot the features of the full moon, would be noticed by his classmates.

So they schemed. He made Polyjuice Potion, then took James' History of Magic examination for him. In return, James rushed through his own practical Astronomy test, raced to the dormitory, cast a hasty charm and returned to the tower with his face covered in pustules that rendered him unrecognizable. Pleading illness for tardiness, he took Lupin's exam.

Dumbledore must have known. Yet he said nothing.

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"You still have not explained why you went beneath the Willow," Dumbledore stated calmly.

"Black led me there! He wanted Lupin to kill me! The two of them conspired..."

"And you followed him? Even though, as you said, Black has repeatedly tormented you?"

"He said it was a Gryffindor secret." From his bed in the hospital wing, Snape looked away from the headmaster. "Is it against school rules to wonder why one boy disappears every month? It isn't fair that Lupin gets to sneak off!"

"Ah, I see." Dumbledore nodded. "So you took it upon yourself to sneak after him."

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"I'm not certain that it was appropriate to give Malfoy detention for warning a teacher about Potter and his friends being out after dark," Snape said coolly to McGonagall.

"What do you think he was doing out there, Severus? Research for the safety of Hogwarts?" she demanded. "I seem to remember another Slytherin boy who went sneaking out to investigate the behavior of a group of Gryffindors, and almost got killed for his trouble..."

"Sometimes one must stick his neck out for the safety of everyone." Snape's voice filled with loathing. "Because sometimes one's fellow students pose the greatest risks."

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The fierce storm came up suddenly, leaving no way to get across the grounds, no hope for Remus to escape, though thick clouds obscured the full moon.

In desperation, Dumbledore locked the boy in the one room of the castle he thought might hold a werewolf; put a spell on the door, hung paintings to act as sentries. A silencing charm prevented outsiders from hearing what occurred within.

The door held. But Dumbledore never discovered the source of the blood that stained the room's walls in the morning. He knew only that it was not Lupin's, nor was it human.

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Beneath the willow, through the passage, up the stairs and there he is -- alive, safe, like you've dreamed a million times. Not whole, perhaps; scarred and emaciated, with blood from streaming from his nose and a greenish bruise on his cheek. You can't bear to look at the broken teeth in that mouth you used to let yourself imagine kissing. But his eyes no longer gleam with the madness that mocked you from every poster of his laughing face. When you speak, you are finally certain of him, breaking free from the past as you release him from your doubts.

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While the woman shrieks at the clerk, her husband glowers, his enormous belly bumping the counter. Meanwhile their son, carrying more boxes than he can juggle, sneaks chocolates from a dish of samples.

"Dudley must have another television for his video games!" the woman exclaims.

"But Petunia, it's so very expensive..." The man very nearly stamps his foot. "And I suppose we'll have to give something to your nephew."

"Why should Harry Potter get any presents!" the fat boy demands.

"Hush, dear. He'll have fifty pence, that's all."

From his safe spot behind an over-decorated Christmas tree, Snape's eyes widen.

~~~

Neither of them is happy about resuming Occlumency lessons, but Dumbledore insisted. Now, occasionally, they talk.

"I saw your aunt and uncle. Shopping. And your cousin -- the one who tried to make you stand in the toilet."

Potter glances at him with loathing. "You recognized my Aunt Petunia? And you shop in Muggle stores?" he sneers.

"Muggles produce very fine tea." Snape takes a sip of his. "It is difficult to accept that woman as your mother's sister. What an unpleasant relation."

"Don't talk about my..." Potter starts to say, then catches himself. After a moment he adds, "Yes."

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"Well obviously Dumbledore would be Gandalf," said Hermione loftily. "And Harry would be Aragorn, and Ron would probably be Faramir, because he's just not nimble enough to be Legolas."

Ginny started to defend her brother, until Lupin winked. "I take it you'd be Eowyn, then?" he asked Hermione.

"Of course I'd want to wield a sword and..." Hermione stopped suddenly. "But I wouldn't necessarily marry...that is, I could..."

"Would you rather be Arwen?" Lupin suggested straight-faced.

"Oh! Why is it that the women always end up paired off?" Glaring, she went back to reading.

"I'd be Arwen," Ginny admitted quietly.

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"One."

It was not the answer Harry had been expecting when he had steeled himself and asked how many Severus had killed for the Dark Lord before he turned spy. He'd braced himself for dozens.

"Just one? Do you... regret it?"

"It was why I switched sides."

Harry's eyes widened. He had thought his mother's death sentence triggered Snape's defection. "You were close to this person?"

"I hardly knew the man. Nobody on either side was sorry when he died."

"Then why...?"

"It was my potion. An invisible killer. Despicable." Shaking his head, Severus muttered, "Dragon pox, at his age."

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"You know," taunted Harry, "lots of people thought we were supposed to end up together."

Snape wrinkled his nose. "I thought the Prophet had you in love with the Weasley girl and the Quibbler paired you with Nymphadora Tonks!"

"I thought I was supposed to end up with Tonks," objected Lupin, lifting his head from Snape's shoulder.

"Don't be daft; everyone suspected you were gay," Draco snorted. "And somehow they knew about me too. But, Harry, you and Snape? Even the Prophet said you hated each other!"

"They said I hated you too," Harry reminded him with a suggestive grin.

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At the Star Trek convention they're anonymous. Harry's out-of-date clothes and glasses earn him giggles on the streets of London, but inside the dealer's room, nobody notices. Nor do they react much when Hermione gasps and pulls out her wand to stop a case of action figures from collapsing. Some think it's a stunt, some think she's just a loony fan girl, and a few believe in wizards and witches without any real evidence anyway.

And if the fake pointed ears are a little silly, Harry doesn't mind. These people don't fear an evil lord. They believe in the future.

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Snape's eyes snap open suddenly, catching Lupin before he can pretend to be reading. "What are you doing?"

Remus feels his cheeks grow hot, but there is no point in lying to a Legilimens. "I was watching you sleep." A frown deepens the weary lines on Severus' face.

"Were you hoping to catch me snoring?"

"I was hoping to catch you smiling. You do it so rarely, Severus; I thought you might be happy in dreams."

Now it is Snape who flushes. "When has my happiness ever mattered to you?"

"Tonight." And though Severus looks doubtful, his eyes reflect hope.

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Not until they were both living in his mother's house, carelessly sharing a pensieve, did Sirius learn the truth.

That his lover had stolen a lock of James Potter's hair and brewed Polyjuice Potion, hoping that becoming a different person might spare him his monthly transformation.

That Sirius (not yet a dog, and unable to smell the difference) had pursued "James" as always, furtive and hungry.

That the wolf had nearly come unleashed. Never forgave Sirius, never trusted him again, let him putrefy in Azkeban.

That Remus had believed Sirius might have killed out of jealousy, because he understood it.

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Tell them. Before they figure it out themselves.

But whether he confessed or they guessed, his friends were unlikely to forgive him. His condition wasn't even a slur that Sirius would hurl at Snape, despite the bestiary of dark creatures from which Sirius chose his insults. It was too awful.

And when they did guess, as they were certain to do -- the cleverest wizards of their year -- what would happen then? Would Remus Lupin become the new object of their scorn, or would he be driven from Hogwarts?

No. Instead of speaking, he would find a better way to hide.

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The sleeves of his dress robes feel painfully tight. Older students sneak away in pairs from the festivities into the rosebushes; Snape has given himself the task of protecting the plants, even if he has to blast them apart to do so.

Yet however far he wanders, he cannot escape from Karkaroff, who trails him, panicking about the Dark Mark. It's hard to say which distresses the Durmstrang coward more: the probability of Voldemort's return or the likelihood of being found out.

"Flee," Snape suggests curtly, and blasts another bush. His cloak is too warm, and his arm is burning.

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Snape looked as if Hagrid had handed him a blast-ended skrewt rather than a sweet, fluffy rabbit with floppy ears.

"I appreciate that your sentiments are... benevolent," the potions master scowled. "But I cannot accept this."

"Please, Professor," coaxed Hagrid. "He needs a home, and yeh need someone ter keep yeh company when yer up late working on yer projects."

"Don't be ridiculous," Snape's eyes had narrowed. "I have no need for a pet, nor do I have time to care for this creature..."

But Hagrid smiled, watching Snape's hand steal across the soft fur. "I'll help yer," he promised.

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When Dumbledore insisted that they resume Occlumency lessons, neither Snape nor Harry hid his displeasure. Still, because the headmaster wished it, they obeyed.

"Honestly, Potter," Snape sighed after a particularly trying evening, "is there anything in your mind but humiliations suffered at the hands of your cousin and embarrassing moments from class? I suppose I should be grateful that you've nothing more damaging to hide from your enemies than your childhood shame, but it's rather pitiful."

For a moment it appeared that Harry was too angry to speak; then he said, "At least I don't hide mine in a pensieve."

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There would be no reprieve. The Unbreakable Vow might have released him -- he had only to violate it -- but the headmaster would not. Snape was committed to this path.

Dumbledore expected to die; whatever happened, he would be spared suffering through the end. The withering of his hand would be far less painful than Snape's fate over the course of the coming months.

Hemlock alone would not be enough, for Voldemort had magical antidotes that could keep Snape alive indefinitely. He added arsenic, mercury, cobra venom before bottling the potion.

He would be certain of having a means of escape.

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It was fitting as well as fortunate for Peter Pettigrew that he died as a rat. If Remus had been given another opportunity, he would not have used a simple Avada Kedavra; it would have been slow and agonizing, an hour at least for each year that he'd suffered over James, over Lily, over Sirius...

But Crookshanks found Wormtail first, severing the rat's neck from his body with a single bite. By the time Remus got there, nothing was left but half-chewed bones and a pool of blood that, like sauce, the cat licked from the remains of the fur.

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It must be Snape who's charmed the mirror, for no one else who knows about you would do such a thing. When you look, you see your eyes filling with blood, your face elongating, your mouth opening in a vicious roar. You're horrified by the size of the teeth, and wonder whether Severus tried to record his memories accurately or deliberately exaggerated the worst. But even if he did distort what he saw, you know that you are loathsome, a dark creature. Claws scratch at your face, then turn on the mirror, and as it falls, you see yourself plainly.

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James used to muss his hair deliberately, because he thought it looked cool to look like he'd just got off his broomstick, as Lily had once accused. And Remus thinks Harry leaves his hair deliberately messy as well. When Harry's forehead is covered, sometimes people don't gasp to see The Boy Who Lived.

It's a delusion, of course. Just as it's fantasy on Remus' own part, as he carefully grooms his moustache, to think facial hair will distract from his far more interesting scars. But it's worth it, for the few seconds when it might make him like everyone else.

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Potter, obviously, is the one who died in the Great War.

Black -- who never grew up -- became the wreck, dead on the tracks before his time.

Lupin will soon be the other boy who killed himself, a suicide pact with his "best friend." Of course they were lovers.

Pettigrew is the one nobody talks about. He may resent the man who made him famous, yet he loves the fame.

And I'm the one who wasn't there. They built and destroyed Neverland without me. I came later, to try to repair their mistakes.

Perhaps I'm the one who did grow up.

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Remus indulges Sibyll by letting her read his cards.

She sees the Grim beneath the full Moon, though Remus knows better. That image represents himself and Padfoot, howling joyfully.

But the Lovers, with Cupid aiming over them, look conventional, uncomfortable, no happier than the couple chained to The Devil...how does he fit into this picture?

Where Trelawney sees certainties, he finds only questions. Is the Heirophant Dumbledore or the Minister of Magic? Why does The Hermit remind him of Severus?

When Trelawney turns over Death, he wants to weep. But his significator card is Temperance. His mission is peace.

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What Fenrir deserved was to die in a pool of his own blood, ripped apart by the teeth of every child whose life he had torn. He had destroyed families, shattered communities, cultivated fear and prejudice that made them all suffer; he should have endured a similar fate.

The single bolt of green fire from the end of a wand was too kind, too fast. Yet it seemed right to Lupin that the dark creature should fall to a curse, flung to the ground where he would rot. Revenge would turn none of them back. Greyback's end would be sufficient.

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"You should just tell him."

Harry jumped as a bottle of crushed beetles crashed to the floor. "Keep out of my business, Potter," Snape warned.

"I'd love to, sir, but since I have to keep trying to break into your thoughts, and you can't seem to find a way to put your fantasies in the Pensieve..." Another jar smashed beside him, spraying thick slime over his legs. "If you want him so much that you can't even help letting me know, you might want to say something before someone else does."

"Is that a threat, Potter?"

"Maybe it's a promise."

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Dumbledore inclined his head toward McGonagall. "Minerva," he asked in a chiding tone, "what did you put in the Slytherin punchbowl?"

"Nothing," she replied innocently. "I might, perhaps, have suggested to Longbottom that he spike the punch with something to suppress the nastier tendencies of the more aggressive Slytherins..."

Eyes twinkling, the headmaster shook his head again. "You asked Neville to make Mollioserum? Well, that explains it."

Not only was Draco Malfoy teaching first-year Hufflepuffs to make paper cranes, not only was Pansy Parkinson swapping lipsticks with the Patils, but there was Snape, half-dressed, dancing on the table with Lupin.

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Kingsley Shacklebolt promised himself that he would never have a ménage a trois with Arabella and Nymphadora again, no matter how lonely they all became stuck in Grimmauld Place. The sex was fine, but his partners became irritated (though they pretended to understand) when the name he chose to cry out during climax was "Bill."

Kingsley couldn't explain that this was primarily because he could actually pronounce "Bill" and have an orgasm at the same time, whereas "Nymphadora" was utterly beyond his ability. He could only apologize, and privately thank his stars that "Severus" was too sibilant even to attempt.

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When she fucked Remus as Sirius, she wondered if he truly thought of himself as gay.

When she fucked Remus as Snape, she wondered instead if he was a masochist.

When she fucked Remus as Sirius, she thought he finally must have consented to be with her because she was Black's cousin.

When she fucked Remus as Snape, she thought he only must have needed to forget Greyback.

When she fucked Remus as Sirius, she still believed they had a chance at understanding, even loving one another.

When she fucked Remus as Snape, she hated him, because they never did.

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In dreams he relives the fall over and over.

Sometimes it's just as it happened, and he sees Sirius drop away. Time stretches like caramel, pulled thin and distorted, making the moment last until he wakes screaming.

Sometimes he's the one who's falling, seeing through Sirius' eyes, like a stone to the bottom of a lake that shrouds the sky in darkness.

Sometimes he sees the chamber from above -- himself, Sirius, all the others, as the fall might have been watched by some uncaring spirit.

And sometimes, at the very last moment, he hears Sirius' laughter, and flies free.

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Some of the witches are sitting in a drumming circle. Others are swaying in a ring in the grove, eyes closed, hands clasped, invoking a goddess of whom Hermione has never heard. She admires the hand-carved runes, but the purpose of Tarot cards with images from Muggle comic books escapes her.

"Aromatherapy?" one young woman asks her, holding out small jars of oils, while another displays paintings of elves with wings and a third designs necklaces of moonstone and amethyst. It's the strangest Beltane celebration that Hermione has ever attended, but American schools of witchcraft and wizardry are obviously different.

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He doesn't want to want to be summoned, yet before the owl arrives, he has grown tense with anticipation. What if this is the year when Malfoy stops asking?

But it isn't. Severus apparates to the dim room where his onetime mentor waits.

"I can only spare a minute."

"You say that every time."

"I know." From Lucius, this is nearly an apology. "I couldn't let the holiday go by without seeing you."

He hands Severus a package, rare potions ingredients, as always. Severus gives him a bottle of scent in exchange: "So you'll remember me."

Then Lucius kisses him.

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Molly Weasley always offers him tea when she's in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place, but Snape believes it would be inappropriate to bring her a pouch of leaves tied with a ribbon.

Bright tins of biscuits have been stacked in a pyramid; Snape won't ruin the display just to get one for McGonagall.

If Hagrid really wanted a new scarf, he'd probably gather the wool from one of his creatures and twist it together himself with his clumsy hands.

And the chocolates are festively wrapped, but of course Snape won't be buying any. Who would he give them to -- Lupin?

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Beside the boxes, a long flat envelope bearing his name. Familiar handwriting: Remus is surprised that Moody has troubled himself with Christmas cards, when he has so much work to do.

Inside the envelope, a photo. Himself, Sirius, James...Pettigrew. Same holiday, years before, the original Order. Everyone smiling.

"I appreciate it, Alastor, but I couldn't possibly." A glance from the eye that sees so much, yet misses how Remus always flinches from such an old pain, such a small pain compared to what Moody has lived through. "I'd rather you kept it."

The Auror utters a spell. Wormtail vanishes.

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"This is not going to happen, Lupin, unless you use protection."

"Oh, Severus, there's really very little risk of contamination..."

"No. I am not going to risk a painful, degenerative disorder that might very well lead to my death just to have sex with you."

"You know perfectly well that unless one of us draws blood, there's really no likelihood that I could pass on my condition."

"Enough. The subject is not open for discussion. Either you use protection or there will be no intercourse tonight -- you'll have to use your hand."

"But Severus...I didn't bring my bite guard."

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After he leaves the Dark Lord, Snape sets out to destroy every reminder of his shameful history.

The expunging brew is noxious. It liquefies the glass on his father's photo. Eats through the fabric of Malfoy's elegant handkerchief. Melts the metal of the Golden Snitch stolen from Potter.

In go his journals, a written apology from Black for trying to kill him, an invitation embossed with a skull from the Lestranges...a silver button belonging to his first victim, a brooch from his second.

But his wand and its crimes will not dissolve. The cauldron explodes, leaving the evidence behind.

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"Are you angry, or jealous?"

Snape whirled to look at Black. "Neither," he said in a revolted tone. "If you want to commit unnatural acts with a werewolf, it is hardly my concern."

Remus was helping the younger Weasleys hang bright berries among the garlands that decorated Grimmauld Place. Despite his tattered clothing and fraying Gryffindor tie, he was grinning broadly.

"Don't think I don't see you watching him," Sirius taunted in a low voice. "You're blushing, Snivellus. You are jealous."

The noise that Severus made was not a laugh. "Someone has to make certain that he's taken his Wolfsbane."

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Greyback had no wish to kill children, only to turn them. Thus he was careful to find his prey in company, where he would feast upon the larger adult while the terrified child tried to flee. Only after the werewolf had fed, with his jaws dripping blood and fur stinking of human flesh, did he turn his full attention on his intended victim.

Even the bravest children screamed as the teeth broke their skin. It was why Greyback liked them young: they cried out not only in terror, but in dawning recognition of the hunger.

Lupin remembered only too well.

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At the meeting, a package waits on his seat. No card -- but only one person would have noticed how he savored the jam made from fruit from her family's garden.

She's overjoyed when Ron and Ginny receive new dress robes, when antique finger-traps arrive at the twins' shop, when Charlie gets heat-resistant gloves and Bill a hat that makes him temporarily invisible. For Arthur it's a hand-held Muggle game.

Surprising Molly herself proves difficult: kitchen helpers and safety alarms are really for the family. Yet she leaves more jam, with a note this time: "It's enough that you enjoy it."

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One of the few advantages to being a werewolf at Hogwarts is that Remus always has someplace he can go to cry. When he fails an herbology exam because the plants must be harvested at the full moon, or when the Dark Arts teacher attempts to expose him to his classmates, he can creep underground to privacy unheard of in the dormitories.

Today, however, someone is here before him. Whether Sirius has come to be alone with his regrets or to find Remus and apologize, Remus doesn't care. He would rather face Moaning Myrtle than his best friend right now.

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"I hear that you suggested Longbottom subdue a Boggart by having it appear as myself in his grandmother's clothes," hissed Snape.

Knowing the confrontation to have been inevitable, Remus smiled halfheartedly. "Oh, Severus, it was meant to be humorous, and it was effective. The students mastered the banishment spell."

"Hilarious. Something Black might have done." The potions master's voice had turned silky, dangerous. "When you are unable to teach, and I must cover that lesson with the other Houses...I wonder whether anyone's greatest fear will be a werewolf, to be mockingly dismissed by an image of meek Professor Lupin."

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You got the happily-ever-after you never expected. You got the girl with whom you filled your dreams those nights in the wilderness. You got the family, children, siblings.

It should be enough. You were ready to die. It shouldn't matter that he never cared; he gave his life for you, not just in death, but years before. In return you could give only a child's second name.

It shouldn't matter. Yet you turn away from your wife as, again, you blame him for having lost your mother's love. The prophecy you can forgive. But now you must always envy her.

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He shouldn't have kissed Lupin at the party. But they'd both been drunk, and even Lupin didn't blame him.

Then he shouldn't have let Lupin kiss him in the library when they both were sober. But, after all, it was only a kiss.

He certainly should not have gone to Lupin's room, where kissing led to hands in inappropriate places and very messy clothes. But afterward they both pretended it was just kissing.

And he really shouldn't have let Lupin kiss him on his bed, where things proceeded quite inevitably. But it wasn't as if he could stop the wolf.

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"Feeling better, Severus?"

"Not entirely. Why am I in your bed?"

"I suppose it's because you talk in your sleep."

"I do not."

"Don't worry, you didn't divulge any Death-Eater secrets."

"I have no secrets not already known to the Headmaster."

"That must be why he put me in charge of your convalescence."

"Lupin..."

"Yes? Oh. I suppose you want to know what you said. Mostly my name, and 'please'..."

"You took advantage of me during my infirmity?"

"Not 'took advantage'! You were begging."

"And you capitulated? You said I was asleep!"

"Hah! So you do talk in your sleep!"

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When Draco was sitting with Snape
On the Hogwarts Express, he did gape
At the big purple hickey
And chocolate so sticky
On the potions master's neck and cape.

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It is a grave risk removing Malfoy from Azkaban. If the Dark Lord learns of Snape's involvement, he will kill them both. If the guards catch them, they will likely be executed to avoid another debacle like Black's escape.

Snape cannot even be certain that his old friend will remain his ally after such treason to their master. He is silent during the trip across the North Sea, unaided by magic to avoid detection.

When Lucius speaks, it is only to utter a single sentence. "He hoped Dumbledore would kill my son."

Then Snape knows that the risk was worthwhile.

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The black dog's fur was matted and full of fleas. "You should bathe your pet," said Snape, handing over the Wolfsbane.

"You know he's been working for Dumbledore," Lupin chided. "I was hoping that you might know of a strong soap."

Snape did know a potion, but didn't trust the werewolf with the ingredients. Thus did his hair get thorougly drenched by the animal in Lupin's bathtub.

"Were your old friends happy to hear you bark?" he scoffed.

To Snape's disgust, he suddenly found himself scrubbing a man.

"Were the Death-Eaters happy to welcome you back, Snivellus?" retorted Sirius Black.

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At sixteen, Lily thought herself unready to be a mother. It took only a few hours' research in the library to discover which herbs would bring on her courses. Severus made the potion.

She bled for three days. When finally it ended, he took her for a walk in the shaded quiet of the trees. She did not tell him why she screamed, for he could not see, nor earn her forgiveness.

By the time he understood why she married and had a child so young, he too could bear witness. His guilt led not to life but Death Eaters.

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Severus still thinks about what might have happened had he failed.

He had asked, naughtily, what Harry wanted for his birthday. The half-joking shrug had offered the choice of smirking at the reply:

"I want you to tell me you love me."

Yet Severus had seen doubt in Harry's eyes. That mistrust was more unpleasant than swallowing his dignity and uttering the banal endearment.

Now he imagines the consequences had pride prevented him from speaking. Would Harry have left him, craving the certainty of that phrase?

The words still come reluctantly, but Severus says them. They are, after all, true.

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For James, those little golden snitch cufflinks. Made of tin, not of gold, but James won't care.

For Peter, that photo of the four of them in Hogsmeade, framed. Peter's in between James and Sirius, looking like he's won a wizard chess tournament.

For Snape, a book of counter-hexes. No card -- the gift will have to be apology enough.

For Sirius, some of those naughty chocolates you have to know to ask for in Honeydukes. And maybe a collar, just as a joke.

But for his parents...he won't go home for Christmas. The full moon falls on the 25th.

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Few moons are left to race through the Forbidden Forest; soon the friends will sit their NEWTs and leave Hogwarts. But tonight is different. While they play beneath the trees, darkness creeps upon the face of the pale sphere until only a faint crescent remains, then a sliver.

Finally the moon is a shrunken red orb. And suddenly there is a boy among them, naked and happy on the chilly ground. "I'd forgotten!" Remus exclaims.

"Better study your astronomy, Moony," mocks Sirius. For nearly an hour beneath the umbral shadow, he is free to howl in laughter at the moon.

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Sirius left in a rush to save Harry. Steeled himself with anger as he had done in Azkaban. Didn't take time to retrieve happy memories left in the pensieve.

Remus found them, after.

No one understood why his mourning seemed so subdued. They expected tears, rage. Perhaps the wolf uncontrolled at the full moon. Instead Remus seemed at peace.

None of them knew what he had seen that night: Love, an unbreakable gossamer strand, stretching back decades, embracing friends, godson, soulmate. Love that outlasted betrayal and dementors' icy clutches.

Love keener than vengeance, stronger than evil ...more undying than death.

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Potter was lying; his green eyes evaded Snape's. "You do know why I am giving up my evenings to this tedious job?" the professor demanded. It required no Legilimency to read hatred in the flushed cheeks of the arrogant Gryffindor, so certain of his importance, so like his father.

"I would have thought that after over two months of lessons you might have made some progress," taunted Snape. So like James Potter, he thought again as the fuming boy glared at him and almost touched a memory -- nearly the same loathed face -- Snivelly --

Next time he would use the Pensieve.

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"...coward," gasped the boy for whom Snape was going to die. The one he had tried to teach, in classes and his office and with shortcuts never meant to be shown -- and finally tonight telling James Potter's vile brat that he would be defeated until he learned to keep his mouth shut and his mind closed.

But mouth and mind were open still. Potter believed him to be weak...he who had killed the only person left whom he had loved, to preserve this boy. Coward: the word hurt more than Crucio, yet he could not strike back in kind.

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"I'm sorry," the note said. Snape threw it into the fireplace. If Black thought he could apologize for public humiliation with a two-word unsigned note, then he was beneath contempt.

"I'm so sorry," said the note beside his infirmary bed. Snape tossed it into a bedpan and made the ink run. He wondered whether Potter had made Black write it. Lupin slept on, oblivious.

"I'm very sorry, Severus." The owl had flown off before Snape could have it followed, yet clearly Black had not changed even in this. Certain of his facts, Snape went to divulge that coward Lupin's secret.

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Lupin has not been to his childhood home since his parents abandoned it. They did not dare raise a werewolf in a town with the houses so close together -- impossible to protect their dangerous secret. The family moved to the country, where animal sounds and occasional screams were more easily disguised or explained.

Now the autumn air summons Lupin's memories. He pauses in the lane only when he sees a couple disguised as Muggles peering in the window. Then he realizes the house has been stripped of its magic. He is not the only wizard to have lost his home.

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"Let me see."

There is no reason he cannot. The war is over; Snape has no more secrets to hide from The Chosen One. It is no longer necessary for him to remain the best Occlumens in Britain.

But recollections fill Snape's mind that he does not dare show to Harry. His initiation as a Death Eater; the Headmaster's last thoughts before Snape blasted him off the balcony; what Harry's mother promised when she begged Snape to find a way to keep her son safe from Voldemort.

"Being teased at school can't be your worst memory. Show me. Please."

"No."

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"FILTHY HALF-BREEDS, BLOOD TRAITORS, CHILDREN OF DIRT!" Mrs. Black screamed, and on and on. Not two words could be spoken at the Order meeting before she started again. When anyone tried to silence her, it only worsened matters; she cursed at Lupin, and saved the worst of her insults for Black himself.

Finally Dumbledore asked me to make an attempt. "I am Severus Snape," I began.

"Snape? Well, you're hardly a Black or a Malfoy." Yet she calmed immediately. "Why would a pureblood speak to these scum?"

"I assure you, Mrs. Black, it gives me no pleasure." Then she smiled.

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"Help us become animagi so we can help the Order," the twins begged Remus and Sirius, and despite their fear of Molly's wrath, they agreed. It was something of a shock when Fred became an owl and George a sparrow, for they had assumed that they would share this, as all other things.

But George was destined for spying, scavenging in tiny spaces for news, while Fred became the Order's most trusted messenger. And if George sometimes arrived with a beakful of jewelry, or if Fred delivered dung-bombs to Hogwarts, no one complained; after Sirius died, they were too valuable.

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Snape tries every spell he knows, using all his power. The twisted metal will not budge for him any more than it would for the others.

"You've done your best, Severus," the headmaster laments. "We shall look for another solution..."

"Ask Potter." Snape's mouth twists, but his jaw is set.

Soon the boy appears, ridiculous in his nightclothes. "Professor Snape suggested that we let you try," says Dumbledore serenely.

Potter shoots Snape a look, then concentrates. The metal dissolves and reshapes itself as he bends the world to his will.

In defeating Voldemort, will they create something even more dangerous?

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Snape had always known how it would end. He would die to pay for what he had done. He had never questioned whether or not that was fair, for it was unfair that Evans had been struck down defending her child, perhaps even unfair that Black had spent twelve years in Azkaban although that brute was not deserving of pity.

The boy was not yet a murderer but hardly an innocent, having welcomed the Dark Mark. Yes, Snape was more culpable than Draco; for that, his life was forfeit. But was it fair that he would have to kill again?

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When Lupin receives the first message asking him to teach at Hogwarts, he ignores it. Painful memories. But Dumbledore is persistent, and soon owls surround Lupin's house, hooting quietly in the trees.

On the night of the full moon when he lies dozing, drugged by a potion concocted by an obscure professor, the smallest owl flies down the chimney. It is perched on a lamp when Lupin wakes, watching over him dolefully.

Two days later, Lupin sends Dumbledore a note: yes, he'll teach Defense Against the Dark Arts. The little bird returns with a wrapped chocolate bar in its beak.

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Sirius barked, though they had discussed the importance of keeping quiet. Everything sounded sharper, like James' hooves clopping on the floor -- surely James was making more of a racket than Sirius, who was sniffing a squeaking Peter, astonished that he could perceive the scent of fear.

"Are you three..." Remus froze in the doorway before shutting the door quickly behind him. He smelled scared too, until Sirius pressed his snout into the clammy palm and licked it. The boy cautiously stroked him, and Sirius realized they had done it: they'd become Animagi. He let out one more joyful yawp.

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James played savior, which won him Lily. Neither he nor Severus ever learned the truth.

They never discovered that Lily had known what Remus was. And that she knew a Slytherin was following the Gryffindors that night in the tunnel. She knew where it would lead, but she wanted Remus. The attack, she thought, would bind them.

As for Sirius, he wanted James. Helping Lily turn outcast with Remus seemed a small price. Sirius didn't even think about Snape, thought he'd run.

Wrong.

Sirius took the fall, lost everything; for now she returned James' love, and her image remained lily-white.

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The memory played for the Legilimens. "Could you tell us what sort of clothes your grandmother usually wears?" Dimwitted Longbottom described them to a gleeful Lupin, who promised, "Professor Boggart Snape will be forced into that vulture-topped hat, and that green dress, with that big red handbag."

Moments later, Snape saw himself: the hook of his nose exaggerated, stumbling over the hem of a lace-trimmed olive dress, carrying a massive crimson bag. His students jeered, and the werewolf laughed as well. Lupin -- who'd always stayed silent when Black humiliated him -- now revealed his hidden scorn.

Snape vowed to reveal him.

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Peter Pettigrew knew how easily he could have been Severus Snape.

Watching James torment the Slytherin, Peter had understood how much he owed to the Sorting Hat. It had made him a companion of James and Sirius, part of their circle, though Peter was a bigger coward than Snape. He had no idea what the Hat saw in him.

Dumbledore claimed it was a person's choices that determined his character, but Peter knew better. He could have been the scapegoat. Snape could have been the Gryffindor. And when Voldemort came after the Potters, wouldn't Snape have done the same thing?

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"I don't care what you think," Neville declared. "The auction says they're the Queen's knickers..."

"They're probably not really hers, Neville," Harry sighed. "They just happen to have a crown and her initial embroidered on them."

Behind them, Snape coughed. "If Neville wants to waste his Galleons..."

"Not Galleons. I'll need Muggle money." Neville shot a hopeful look at Hermione. "You know how to bid for me, don't you?"

"I suppose I could," Hermione nodded. "Computers aren't terribly difficult to use. But, Neville, why in Merlin's name do you want the Queen's knickers?"

Neville blushed. "They're for Trevor," he confessed.

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Let us imagine that we could trade lives:
My House his House, myself among his band,
And me a Gryffindor. Treachery thrives
Within cowards; how well I understand.
Sorted to green, would Pettigrew have been
Among the more conniving of his year,
Not pampered, but forced to be Slytherin,
Growing to face and overcome his fear?
He might still have been ridiculed, like me,
Taunted with wicked pranks and nasty names,
While I wore borrowed popularity
And feigned his fondness for Lily and James.
But when Voldemort came to seal their fate,
I would have kept silent even in hate.