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You Never Know

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You Never Know

 

Severus had never seen so much food. It covered the whole of one of the seats in the compartment, and overflowed onto the floor.

“What possessed you to buy all that?” he asked, staring up at Sirius. “You can’t have been hungry at home; I know your mother fed you.” He tried not to remember how thin the soup had been in his last week at home. He knew things had been tight since his father’d died, but he thought the mill had been giving his mam a pension.

“They’re for all of us,” Sirius said, casually tossing two pasties onto Severus’ lap. “You look like you could use a few.” Severus thought about being angry, but he was too hungry. And he knew that Sirius liked to help. He grinned his thanks and bit deeply into the pork one. Across from him, Sirius was practically inhaling a bag of Every Flavour Beans.

“I don’t know how you can eat them like that,” came Peter’s voice from the door. “Aren’t you worried that you’ll get something disgusting?”

“He eats them so fast he can’t taste them anyway,” Severus said, happily starting a third pasty. He thought about owling some to his mam. She’d be angry with him, but she’d eat. She was pragmatic enough to eat when there was food.

Sirius, seeing him eyeing the pasty, nodded. “We’ll put together a package, as soon as we get settled in. You know the elves will be happy to see us.” He grinned. “They’re probably wrapping up a box already.”

Severus smiled, but looked away, out the window. He’d been so upset in his first year, worried about his mam, worried that she’d have a hard time if he wasn’t there to help about the house… He’d expected his dorm mates to think he was a baby, but Sirius had been understanding. They’d been sending care packages back to his mam ever since. She’d sent him a Howler about it but he knew she was eating the food. It made him happy to know that, even though he’d been sorted into the wrong House, he could still help her.

The compartment door flung open, slamming against the stopper.

“James!” Sirius sprang up and pulled him into the compartment. “We’ve been suffering in here, with all this lovely food and candy. You’re just the man we’ve been looking for. Surely you can help us dispose of this shameful excess.”

James laughed and collapsed onto the floor. He reached out and blindly grabbed a Chocolate Frog. He shoved the chocolate in his mouth and eyed the card. “Mhph. Cliodna. Have her. Want her, Peter?”

Peter waved the card off, and leaned forward. “No, I’ve got her too. Listen, while Sirius here was buying the whole snack trolley and Severus was busy learning how to be the Man, I saw Lupin slipping into the back compartment. He’s sure to be doing something disgusting in there. Shall we go see?”

Sirius’ eyes lit up. “Well, I think it’s certainly something that Prefect Snape here should be made aware of. There might be some misbehaviour. I would hate to think of a Hogwarts student being allowed to get away with breaking the rules.”

Severus rolled his eyes. He knew very well that Sirius was the biggest rule breaker in the school. “I think we should leave him alone, actually.” He wished the other boys would just leave off harassing Lupin. He tried, every time the other boy’s name came up, to steer the conversation to another subject. However, there was something about Lupin that he himself found fascinating, so he often didn’t try as hard as he thought he should. “We could plan something for the first day of classes, instead.”

“No,” James said, his voice thick with his third chocolate frog, “I think that Peter and Sirius are right. You never know what that slimy little Slytherin’s up to. And, as a prefect, I’d think that you should be most interested.” He stared up at Severus, then winked. “Let’s go.”

Severus sighed. “Actually, as a prefect, I should be making the three of you leave him alone.”

Sirius grinned and pulled Severus up. “Tell you what. After we go see what he’s up to, we’ll come back here and plan. We won’t be but a minute with him.”

It took at least ten minutes to make their way to the last compartment in the train. Sirius had to stop and chat up every girl he saw, and James kept looking around for Evans. Severus had seen her leave the prefects compartment and go no further than one or two cars down the train, so he knew James’ search was futile. As usual. Peter was the only one really pushing to get there and Severus wondered, again, what the boy had against Lupin. Severus shook himself, mentally. Peter was one of his friends, someone he trusted and liked. Lupin was just some scrawny kid in Slytherin. The Slytherin’s all stuck together, anyway.

As they approached the compartment, Peter fell back and smiled up at James. His face shining, he gestured the taller boy in front. Sirius grinned and threw an arm around Severus’ shoulders, waiting while James mouthed a silent countdown from five to one. On ‘one’, he threw open the door.

Inside, Lupin was crouched over his trunk, his wand out and his some of his things piled on the floor next the trunk.

“What—“ he snapped, then, seeing who it was, he spun to face them. His wand was in his hand, and he stood up slowly, his eyes never leaving Sirius’. “Get out. I’m using this compartment.”

“We think it’s big enough for all of us,” said James. He stepped in and sat down on the seat nearest Lupin’s pile of stuff.

“And,” continued Sirius, “it’s not as if you own the compartment, is it? You can’t tell us to get out.” He’d stepped to the side of the door, so that Lupin was facing the four of them spread out too widely for him to get all of them at once with his wand. As Lupin’s eyes passed over his face, Severus looked down.

“What’re you doing in here?” James’ voice sounded friendly, but Severus could hear the malice in it. He knew that Lupin could as well.

“Nothing that’s any of your business,” Lupin snapped. He looked over towards James, who’d begun to shove the pile around with his foot. “Get out of that!”

“Why? It’s just disgusting Lupin stuff.” James kicked the pile over then began to laugh. The pile of clothes had been hiding a large stuffed wolf. James’ foot had kicked it over, and the light from the windows glinted off its eyes at Severus.

“You keep a stuffed animal? You great baby!” Sirius was delighted. He reached out to pick it up, but Lupin, who’d gone white when James started laughing, lunged for him. James whipped out his wand and Petrified him before he’d gone more than two steps.

“Oh, this is too too precious,” crooned Sirius, “do you need your little wolfy to sleep with? Does the wolfy protect you?” He picked up the doll and lunged it at Peter, who laughed and batted at it. Severus watched as Lupin’s face tightened.

“Stop it,” he said. “Just stop. He’s not doing anything I need to be here for, and there’s still planning to do. You said that we’d just come and look…” He reached for the doll. “James, release him. It’s enough.”

The other three reluctantly stopped, and James released Lupin. After they’d left the compartment, Severus handed the wolf to Lupin.

“Here.” He couldn’t look at the other boy. “I’m sorry.”

“Right. You’re sorry. If you were really sorry—“ Lupin’s voice shook and Severus glanced up helplessly. “If you were really sorry, you’d make them stop.” He looked at the doll, then back at Severus. Severus found himself stunned by the pain in his light brown eyes. “You’re a prefect now, right? Then do something about it.”

“I—“ Severus stopped. What could he do? If he really tried to stop them, they wouldn’t be his friends any more. He didn’t want that… Shaking his head, he turned and started to walk away. As he left the compartment, he glanced over his shoulder. Lupin was looking at the wolf in his hands with the most intense expression of despair and loathing Severus had ever seen.

~*~

Severus found himself swept up into the school year. Patrolling and meetings with other prefects took up more of his time than he’d expected. At least his mam had been pleased that he’d been chosen as prefect, although she was still grumbling about his sorting. He had decided, after her first Howler, that he’d never tell her that he had asked to be put in Gryffindor. She’d told him bedtime stories about Hogwarts and Slytherin until he’d complained that he was too big for stories at bedtime. He hadn’t expected to make friends with James and Sirius on the train to Hogwarts. However, when he did, and he saw them go to Gryffindor, he’d begged the hat to send him with them.

He never really regretted it. Sometimes he wondered, when he was most upset by his friends’ pranks on Lupin, if they’d have treated him like that if he were in another House, but he always stopped and told himself that his friends were, above all else, honourable. Lupin could fight back; he always managed to get back at them somehow for their pranks.

In November, just after the Halloween Feast, the Charms class was broken up into pairs. Professor Flitwick told the group, after they’d been divided up, that they were to work on levitation charms. They would have to develop a new charm, one which could either levitate something by itself, or which could be combined with another, already developed charm, to modify how it levitated things.

Severus stared down at his book, not wanting to look at his partner. Professor Flitwick, for some reason that Severus couldn’t even imagine, had broken the class into cross-House pairs, and had cheerfully ignored all groans and complaints from the group.

“I can meet you in the library on Tuesdays after lunch.” Lupin was staring at him, his quill poised over a parchment with his schedule on it. “Or,” he went on, “I can meet on Fridays, but not until an hour before dinner. I guess we should meet after dinner, then.”

Severus nodded. “I… yeah. Tuesdays are good. I don’t know about Fridays. I’ll have to look.” He couldn’t look at Sirius and James; he knew if he looked, all he’d see was their fury at being paired with Rosier and Avery. Poor Peter had got Wilkes; the taller boy was already glaring at Peter.

Severus glanced over at Lupin. His face was calm. He’d been the only person in the room who hadn’t seemed angry at being paired with someone from the other House. Over his shoulder, Severus could see Evans fuming at being paired with Bella Black. “Tuesdays will be fine. I’ll see you then.”

In the common room that evening, all Peter could talk about was the Charms project. Finally, Sirius threw his quill down and barked, “Shut up about it. We’re all as fucked as you. Severus has Loony and you don’t see him complaining, do you?”

“That’s ‘cause Severus got lucky. Loony Lupin’s at least going to do his own work,” Peter snarled back.

“Severus just knows that whinging about it won’t change the fact that we’re all stuck with the prats,” said James, from the depths of the squashy armchair he’d sunk into.

Severus stood up. “Actually, Severus knows that it’s time for him to go patrol,” he said, amused. “You know we’ll all be working on the projects here together anyway. What difference does it make that we’re paired with those idiots?” He stuffed his books into his bag. “I’ll see you later. I’ve got to meet Barnaby down at the library. Take this up to the dorm with you?” At Peter’s nod, Severus left the common room.

Barnaby, the fifth year Ravenclaw prefect, waved to Severus from the Library door.

“Hey,” he called, “I was about to start. You’re late.”

Severus shook his head. “My friends were whinging about Professor Flitwick’s new class project. I didn’t realise how late it had become.”

Barnaby looked puzzled. “What’s wrong with the project? We’re to develop new levitation charms, right?” The two boys began walking through the halls, checking idly behind statues and trying the occasional door to make sure it was locked.

“Right. Except that we’re paired up with the other House.” He peeked behind a suit of armour. “So, I’ve got Loo—Lupin and James has Avery and Sirius has Rosier…”

Barnaby laughed. “I get it. Yeah, we’re paired up with the Hufflepuffs, but it’s not that bad. I’d hate to be paired up with Wilkes.”

They started talking about the upcoming Ravenclaw-Slytherin Quidditch game and started up the stairs to the next floor.

The next Tuesday, Severus went to the library after lunch. He brought all the books that looked useful on levitation, and stacked them up on the table. Half an hour later, Lupin came rushing into the library. Madam Pince reached out to stop him, then pulled back abruptly. Lupin seemed to see her movement, though, and he slowed down.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said in a low tone. “I had to get my stuff from my dorm.” He pulled out his parchment and quills. “Oh, you got the levitation books. I thought we would start with charm creation first, then figure out the levitation part later.”

Severus eyed him. “You may start wherever you wish. I,” he paused, “will be starting with finding out what all the levitation charms are.”

Lupin’s mouth shut with a snap. After a long moment, he said, “This is supposed to be a joint project. Or have you forgot that?”

Severus looked up at him, his mouth open to say that he’d forgot nothing, but the expression in Lupin’s eyes stopped him. His face was full of … something, Severus couldn’t quite put his finger on what, but it made Severus’ chest tighten. Just as Severus saw it, though, the expression was wiped from the other boy’s face.

“What?” Lupin asked, his face a neutral mask.

“I—how about you start looking at charm design and I’ll make a list of current levitation charms and then after an hour we’ll trade off?”

Lupin nodded, looking surprised. He slanted a quick smile at Severus, and turned to his own stack of books.

They agreed to meet again on Friday evening. Severus could see Sirius at a table across the room. He and Rosier didn’t seem to have reached any sort of agreement and Severus shook his head. Trust Sirius to make this difficult. Severus wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier if Sirius hadn’t been paired with someone as pure-blooded as Rosier.

“Huh.” Lupin had come in late again and Severus had been so busy watching Sirius and Rosier, he hadn’t seen Lupin sit down. “You watch him a lot. Don’t worry about him. Rosier won’t kill him.”

“What? I’m not watching—“ Severus stopped. He had been watching Sirius, but… “I’m not worried about him. He can take Rosier.” He didn’t want to tell Lupin that he was worried that Sirius’ temper would get the better of him.

“Did you bring the list?” Lupin had set his note taking equipment up and was smiling at him. Severus drew in a slow breath. His heart was pounding and he felt flushed.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve got it,” he pulled his eyes away from Lupin’s smiling mouth and rummaged around in his notes, “right here. I made you a copy of the list of current charms and some charm creation stuff I found.” He handed them over, watching Lupin reach for them.

As the other boy read down the list, Severus looked at him. He didn’t think he’d ever really looked this closely at Lupin before. He’d always been the boy that Sirius hated and James thought was disgusting. He knew that James didn’t like Lupin because the Slytherin knew a lot about the Dark Arts, but Severus also knew stuff about the Dark Arts and he didn’t understand why James was so set against them.

Lupin’s hair, always floppy and long, brushed against his collar. Severus stared at the corner of Lupin’s jaw, watching the shadow there shift as he swallowed. Something was different, Severus mused. Lupin seemed … thinner today. Severus’ brows drew together. He was thinner. How had he lost weight in the past three days? With the amount of food the elves served, it was difficult not to gain weight.

He opened his mouth to ask if there was something wrong, when there was a shout across the room. Sirius had finally stopped trying to be reasonable and was bellowing at Rosier. Severus could see his face getting red and his hands curling into fists. Madam Pince was in front of their table almost before he saw her leave her desk.

Lupin looked up at the noise. He started to grin, but then shot a look at Severus and dropped his head again. Severus just groaned and said, “I’m surprised it took this long.” Lupin laughed, a startled chuff of sound, then bit his lip.

As Sirius and Rosier passed their table, being berated out of the library by a still furious Madam Pince, Severus saw Rosier shoot Lupin a look of superior amusement. He paused and leaned over their table.

“You’d better bring me the books I need, Moony, or I’ll have to invoke Malfoy on you,” he whispered, not quite low enough for Severus not to hear. His curiosity about the other boy increased. Malfoy had been a seventh year in their first year; he had been Head Boy that year and the Slytherins had made sure that everyone knew that the Head Boy from that year came from their House. He couldn’t be visiting the school, so what had Rosier meant by ‘invoke Malfoy’?

When he turned back to Lupin, the boy was crouched over his parchment, making notes quickly. He’d bent over so that Severus couldn’t see his face.

~*~

That Saturday, Severus woke up late. He stretched and struggled out of the covers that had performed their nightly attack on his pillows. After battling his way past the bottom edge of his sheet, somehow turned around and up near the head of the bed, he sat up.

“And the dead rise!” Sirius was sitting on the edge of Severus’ bed and grinning down at him. Severus scowled at him.

“Prat.” He slid out of bed and started to dress. “Did I miss breakfast?”

Sirius handed him a stack of toast. “Here. You’ll have to figure out your own morning tea, though.” He fell back across Severus’ bed. “I’ve been doing some studying on the Animagus thing. I think I found the next part we need.” He sat up and started toward the door. “I’ll get the others. We should do some work on it this weekend. I’ve got to meet that arse Rosier on Monday, so I can’t do anything about it then.”

At lunch, Severus sat so that he could look at the Slytherin table. Lupin was there, but there were seats left empty on either side of him. Severus could see the rest of the Slytherins in their year sitting together, chatting. As he watched, Lupin did eat something, or at least he put something on his plate. He appeared to be reading a book, and not thinking about food.

“Severus, didn’t you hear me?” Peter prodded his side. “I wanted to know if you were up to a little after hours action.”

Severus jumped a little, then turned to his friends. “When, tonight? I thought we were going to work on the … uh, the transfiguration project tonight.”

James nodded, his mouth full of food. “Yeah, Sirius thought it would be good to do it in one of the empty classrooms on the fourth floor. You don’t patrol tonight, do you?”

“No. Do you guys remember Malfoy?” Severus turned at Sirius’ sharply drawn in breath. “What?”

Sirius’ face was tight and Severus knew he’d said something again that triggered the pure-blood issue with Sirius. Sometimes he wished his friend would just get over it. Families were all filled with people that you didn’t like. The only person Severus liked in his family was his mam. He ignored everyone else. He’d heard from James, though, that Sirius’ mam was a horror, so he held his tongue.

“Malfoy? Why do you want to know about that arse?” Sirius was glaring across at the Slytherin table, where his younger brother was laughing with one of his classmates.

“I overheard his name the other day, and I couldn’t think of who he was. He was the Head Boy our first year, right?” Severus was uncomfortable telling his friends what he’d overheard in the library. It almost felt like betraying a confidence.

“Yes,” grated Sirius. “He was. He’s from a pure-blood family, one that’s all Dark as anything. I’ll bet he’s already thick as thieves with that Voldemort.” Peter squeaked at the name and Sirius shot him a disgusted look. “Where’d you hear his name?”

Severus blinked and said, “Uh, the Potions class, I think.”

“Oi, Evans,” called James. He’d reddened and was trying to sit up as straight as possible. “Want to go to the Quidditch game tomorrow with me?”

She shot him a flat-eyed look. “I’d sooner go with … with a hippogriff.” Turning her back on him, she picked up her bag and began walking toward the door. As she passed the Slytherin table, Lupin was just standing up. He smiled at her and James growled.

“That Slytherin scum. He’s talking to my girl.”

Severus raised an eyebrow at him. “She’s hardly your girl. Or do you mean you’re secretly a hippogriff?”

Peter and Sirius laughed and the boys got up to go back to their common room.

~*~

The next Tuesday was disastrous. Sirius was hexed badly in their Defence Against the Dark Arts class by Bella Black and had to go to the hospital wing. Severus heard, at the end of Defence, that Lupin was ill, so their study session was off. James and Peter were busy after lunch; they both had signed up for Care of Magical Creatures so they had to go to class.

Severus thought that he might as well visit Sirius in the hospital wing, and maybe he’d get to see how ill Lupin was. Maybe that was why he’d lost weight. He edged into the room, looking for Madam Pomfrey. She was at the far end of the room, near a bed with the curtains pulled around it. Sirius was lying in a bed nearer the door, and Severus sat down in the chair next to his bed.

“Hey, Sirius,” he whispered. Sirius opened his eyes and grinned weakly at Severus. He was quite pale and was sweating.

“Hey. How was the rest of class?” Severus relaxed back into his chair. If Sirius was asking about class, then he was all right. “What was it that hit me?”

Severus shrugged. “I’ve no idea. It was red, whatever it was.” He saw movement at the other end of the room and looked up. Madam Pomfrey was coming towards them. She looked cross.

“You can’t stay here,” she said sharply. “He needs to rest and he’s not the only one here.” She smiled down at Severus. “I know you want to visit with your friend, but he needs to be sleeping and don’t think I don’t know that you’re just here to plan mischief.”

Severus smiled back at her. “Can’t I stay for a little bit? I don’t have any classes right now, and I promise I’ll leave just as soon as he falls asleep. I’ll keep an eye on him for you.” He tried to look earnest.

She sighed, then nodded. “Just for half an hour, now.” After straightening Sirius’ sheets, she went back to her office.

“How’s your mum,” asked Sirius. He’d curled up on his side and was rubbing his chest. “She’s learning. She didn’t send a Howler for the last box we put together for her. I think the elves are having fun with it, though.” He paused, his breath rasping a little. “I think I saw them putting in about a pound of chocolate cake.”

Severus smiled. Sirius never failed to ask about his mam. James sometimes would forget that any of them had parents until he needed something. Severus knew that if he had parents who treated him as well as James’ treated him, he’d be grateful every day of his life. He couldn’t figure out how James could treat them so casually.

He knew that Sirius sometimes thought the same thing. They’d spent almost all of their third year frustrated with their parents. Severus’ da had just died and his mam was snappish all the time. She’d been so easily upset that Severus had wanted to stay home, to take care of her. She’d been livid at the idea and had dragged him to King’s Cross over his protests that he could help at home and maybe she wouldn’t have to go to work in the factory that had killed his da.

That had been the only time she’d ever sent back one of their boxes from Hogwarts.

Sirius had been angry at his parents because of something they’d said to him about his friends. Severus still didn’t know all of what they’d said, but he knew it had been about him because of the way they’d treated him on the platform at King’s Cross.

He reached out and touched Sirius forehead. “You’re really hot. Are you okay?” He looked over the bottles Madam Pomfrey had left on the table. One of the bottles held an antipyretic and he relaxed a little. Madam Pomfrey always knew what she was doing, but he was worried about his friend.

“Yeah. I’m just sore. And I can’t breathe very well. Oh,” Sirius said, “Loopy Lupin is here. You can’t study for that stupid charms thing.”

Severus pulled his bag out from under his chair. “No, I can’t. Is he back there?” He nodded towards the curtained-off bed.

Sirius glanced behind himself. “I guess. I didn’t check. Madam Pomfrey was there a while ago. What’s that?”

Severus had pulled out their Animagus notes. “I found out what the problem is with the transfiguration project. We’re using the wrong anchor. We need to use something different for each of us. I think,” he shuffled through his notes, “we need to use one of the things listed in the book, but we can’t all use the same thing. The book James ordered last time had a chapter about it and I read it. We need to—“ This time he definitely heard something move from the other end of the room. He stared at the curtains around the other bed. Hadn’t they just moved? His eyes narrowed. “I’ll write it out and give it to you later.”

Sirius nodded. His eyes were shadowed and Severus could see that he was fighting to stay awake. Severus shoved his stuff back into his bag and stood up. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll bring you some chocolate cake in the morning.” Sirius wiggled his fingers and yawned.

As Severus turned to leave, he saw the curtains moving again.

~*~

Lupin was in the library before Severus that Friday. Sirius was still in the hospital wing, and Severus had stopped off for a minute to bring him the Charms and Herbology work he had to do. As Severus walked through the stacks to where Lupin was sitting, he saw Rosier leaning over the other boy. Without thinking, he moved quietly to where he could overhear them.

“You’ve been getting off recently, since you’ve been coming here to study with your precious Gryffindor. Don’t think that we haven’t noticed. You’ll have to make it up later.” He leaned on the table and reached over to pet Lupin’s hair. Severus stiffened, then bit his lips when he saw that Rosier wasn’t petting Lupin’s hair—he’d fisted his hand in it and was tipping Lupin’s head to the side. Rosier bent until his mouth was just over Lupin’s now exposed ear and whispered something too softly for Severus to hear. Lupin jerked a little, then stilled.

Rosier glanced over his shoulder and let go of Lupin’s hair, shoving his head away. “Just remember, Moony, we’ll be waiting for you.” He stood and straightened his robes, then strode away towards a table filled with other Slytherins.

Severus shifted from foot to foot. Something was very strange here. The Slytherins all stuck together, he knew that. Sirius had told him that at the very beginning of school, and it had always seemed true. Every time they pranked one of the Slytherins, the Slytherins had ganged up on them. Severus tried to remember if Lupin was different, but he couldn’t.

“Friend of yours?” Severus asked, as he dropped down into the seat next to Lupin.

Lupin jumped, and stared at him wildly. Severus’ mouth opened in shock; he’d never seen the other boy anything but calm. After a short moment, his face darkened. Lupin had lost even more weight, and there were narrow red scars across his cheek that hadn’t been there before.

“What’s wrong with you?” Severus asked.

Lupin’s eyes flashed angrily. “Nothing’s wrong with me. I’m just trying to get a decent mark on the Charms project that I thought we were supposed to be working on together and you’re late.” He shoved his notes over to Severus then stood up. “I’m going to see if I can find something we haven’t looked at already.”

Severus watched him storm off and shook his head in confusion. What was going on?

 

Sirius was allowed back into the dorm that night, and the four boys had a party. Peter snuck down to the kitchens in James’ Invisibility Cloak, Severus got out all their Animagus notes and James set the silencing spells.

Once the initial hilarity wore off, Sirius sat forward. “I think we should do the preparation over the Christmas hols. Peter, you’re going home, right?” At Peter’s nod, he grinned. “You’ll be able to get loads done then. I’m stuck going to James’ and there’ll be all sorts of interruptions.”

Severus stifled a jolt of envy. He’d like to go to the Potters, but his mam wanted him to stay at Hogwarts. When he’d asked why he couldn’t go—the Potters had invited him—she’d said something about wanting him to keep some of his wits about him. He still hadn’t figured out what she had against the Potters, but he figured as long as she didn’t try to make him not be friends with James and Sirius and Peter while they were at school, things would be okay.

Sirius turned to him. “You’ll be staying here, right?” At Severus’ nod, Sirius reached out and patted his shoulder. “You can be our eyes and ears here. I think Loony is staying over the hols as well, so you’ll be able to keep track of him.”

“Have you noticed that he’s got new scars?” Severus blurted out before he could think to stop his mouth.

James leaned forward. “Who? Loony?” He reached for a tart and took a big bite.

“Yeah. He was in the library before me today and there were scars on his face.” Severus tried to ignore the disgusted snort from Peter. “New ones.”

Sirius was looking at him, with a suspicious expression on his face. “How do you know they’re new?” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the headboard.

“Because they weren’t there last Friday and because they were red.” Severus wished he’d never even asked about this. “I just wondered because he gets sick all the time and he was in the hospital wing when Sirius was last time and …” he trailed off.

A huge smile lit Sirius’ face. “I know. You’re right. He does get sick an awful lot. How about this. The next time he’s sick I’ll go back to the hospital wing and sneak over to where he is. We’ll see if we can find out what he’s got. Maybe it’s contagious!”

Peter piped up. “He’s always watching you, Severus.” He fidgeted with his blankets. “I’ve seen him, in Potions and in Charms. It’s like he’s hunting you or something.”

Severus crossed his legs. “Really? That’s weird.” He wanted to ask more, to find out how much Lupin watched him, and what he looked like when he did… but he didn’t want to think about why he cared, so he shoved the questions from his mind.

“What’s really important,” James interrupted, “is that we all study up and practice over the hols. I think we should try it for the first time when we get back. Then we’ll have the rest of the year to sneak around.” He fell backward on his bed, then rolled over to grin at his friends. “I bet I’ll be something really sneaky.”

Severus laughed. “You? You’ll be a mooncalf and you’ll be stuck following after Evans all the time.”

~*~

Watching his friends get onto the Hogwarts Express to leave was awful, but at least it meant that Severus could go into Hogsmeade. He hadn’t bought them presents yet, and he wanted to get it done as early as possible. There wasn’t much money for frivolous things in his mam’s budget, but he had enough, he hoped, to get them each something they’d like.

He jingled the coins in his pocket as he walked to the village, thinking of the work he had to do for the Animagus project. He could barely even remember why they’d started it. It had probably been Sirius who’d wanted to try to be Animagi first. He’d seen Professor McGonagall and couldn’t talk about anything else for almost the first two months of school. Finally, they’d looked up the spells necessary in the library and had been amazed at how complex the process was. Sirius had quit talking about it for a while, but by the beginning of the next school year he’d managed to rope them all into doing it together.

Scrivenshaft’s was quiet; most people seemed to have gone to the Three Broomsticks after seeing the train off. Severus knew that Peter had broken his last quill and thought that he could buy some decent ones and put an Impervious charm on them. He shook his head over the display of quills and picked out two sturdy light brown pheasant feather quills and one brilliantly blue quill that must have come from some tropical bird. Why would anyone want a peacock feather quill, he wondered. Or one made of dyed ostrich feathers with flowers glued on?

The quills took less money than he’d thought, and he was glad of it when he found, in Dervish and Banges, an antique miniature Quidditch pitch with charmed players for James. Sirius would be happy with sweets, so Severus picked up a bag of assorted boiled Muggle sweets. Sirius was always amused by sweets that did nothing but have flavour; he seemed to think it funny that Muggles were stuck with only one flavour per candy.

Pleased with his purchases, he stopped into the Three Broomsticks to have a butterbeer before beginning the trek back to the castle. It had snowed for the whole week before the Christmas hols, and he wasn’t looking forward to the ice and snow that was sure to greet him on the path.

He’d been right at first; the pub was more than crowded. There weren’t too many students staying at Hogwarts over the hols, but there were enough to fill the pub. Severus could see Madam Rosmerta grinning behind the bar. He moved between the tables, trying not to knock into anyone with his bags. As he walked, the tried to find an empty table, or at least a seat at one with people he could tolerate. One of the reasons he hated it when James and Sirius were both gone was that it seemed he lacked their easy familiarity and personality. He couldn’t pretend to be interested in the trivial things that most of the other students were enthused about. It meant that often, when he was alone, it was made clear to him that the only reason people were friends with him was because he was friends with James and Sirius. Most of the time it didn’t matter to him—most of the time he was with his friends and never noticed the lack. It was only at times like these that he realised how thin the surface tension of his acceptability actually was.

He’d been harassed, mainly by Slytherins, about his parentage, but he had always known more hexes than most of the kids in his class, so he’d never felt really threatened. James and Sirius and Peter had been outraged, however, and had pulled off some spectacular pranks after the last time it had happened. Slytherin students had pretty much left him alone after Sirius had figured out how to get into their common room and had made all their showers spray a depilatory rather than water.

Finally he saw a table with only one person sitting at it. He moved towards it, not looking closely at the occupant, and waved his free hand at Madam Rosmerta for a butterbeer. It wasn’t until he actually got to the table that he realised its occupant was Lupin. He stopped moving for a moment, then pushed forward.

“May I sit here?” Severus put his hand on the back of the empty chair.

“If you want,” Lupin said, not looking up. He was writing something, his quill moving swiftly across the creamy parchment. Severus tilted his head to try to see who Lupin was writing to, but the other boy’s arm curved around and hid everything.

“Here you are, love,” said Madam Rosmerta as she dropped the bottle of butterbeer on the table. “Will you want anything else?” She turned to look at Lupin and tapped him on the shoulder. He shook his head without looking up and she shrugged at Severus. “I’ll be back by later to check up on you two again.”

Lupin’s head snapped up as she left. “What?” When he saw Severus, his eyes widened. Severus saw, with sudden clarity, that his eyes were exactly the colour of the amber he had chosen as his Animagus anchor. The inconstant light from the fire and the candles shimmered in Lupin’s eyes, making the amber glint gold. For one moment, it almost looked as if they were reflecting light, like a cat’s eyes.

“What are you doing here?” Lupin asked, his body curved protectively over the parchment.

Severus glowered at him. “I asked if I could sit here. What’s your problem?” He reached a shaking hand to his butterbeer and took a long pull on it. Why did he even care what colour the prat’s eyes were?

Lupin stared at him for a long moment, then he shuddered in a deep breath and relaxed. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I must not have really heard you.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Really? You responded, both to me and to Madam Rosmerta.” He took another swig. “That must be some letter you’re writing.”

Lupin flushed and rolled the parchment up. “Just writing to my mum. Nothing important.”

“Ah.” Severus finished his drink and began gathering up his bags again. He didn’t really want to go back out into the snow just yet, but it was clear that Lupin didn’t want him to sit here and there was no other table available. “Thanks for the seat,” he said and stood up.

“No, wait,” Lupin said. He reached out a hand and grabbed Severus’ wrist. “Really, I was so distracted I didn’t realise you were here. You don’t have to go. I’ll go, if you want the table.” He released Severus, then started to shove his things into a large bag at his feet.

Severus sat back down, his head cocked to one side. “You don’t have to go either. It’s awful out; better to stay here where it’s warm.” Over Lupin’s shoulder, he could see Madam Rosmerta’s eyes on them. He waved for another butterbeer, and then pointed at Lupin and held up two fingers. She nodded and turned to get the bottles. “You’re not going home for the hols?”

Lupin finished putting his things away, then leaned back in his chair. “You’re sure?” At Severus flat look, he grinned a bit. “No, I’m staying at Hogwarts. My mum’s…things are easier if I’m here for now.” Severus gritted his teeth at the sudden rush of sympathy. “You’re staying too? We could work on the Charms thing, if you like.”

The butterbeers arrived, but the two boys were too deep in a discussion of the various declensions of nouns to do more than smile at Madam Rosmerta.

~*~

Severus was revising for the History of Magic OWL and realised that he’d turned in the one library book he needed. Grumbling because he’d spread all his things out in the common room and he didn’t want to have to move everything, he trotted down the stairs, automatically skipping the third step on the first stairway. Once in the library, he lost himself in the stacks, idly moving down one shelf after another, adding several books to his armload.

He came across Lupin in the Potions section, reading a large book about Healing Salves. Severus’ eyebrow raised. Was the Slytherin thinking of becoming a Healer? It seemed early to be making that kind of a choice; there were two years of school yet. None of the Gryffindors had chosen a field. Then Lupin shifted and Severus sucked in his breath. There was a raw, oozing scrape trailing from the side of Lupin’s neck down past the neck of his robes. It started out narrow but was almost a hands width wide by the time it reached his robes.

At Severus’ gasp, Lupin looked up sharply. His eyes were wide and slightly unfocussed. When he saw who was looking at him, he tensed, then winced.

“What happened?” Severus’ voice was hoarse. Whatever had done this to Lupin was clearly very dangerous.

Lupin stared at him, his face working. Severus moved forwards, his hands up to check on the scrape. Lupin lunged backwards, whimpering when his back hit the bookcase behind him.

“Leave me alone,” he whispered. “Just… I don’t want to see you.”

Severus’ head whipped around. “What?” After a frozen moment, he turned, snatched his bag and pile of books up from where he’d dropped them and stalked off.

He spent that evening in the common room, jotting down a list of any creatures he could think of or find in James’ copy of Monster Book of Monsters that could make a scrape like that.

~*~

The next time he saw Lupin the scrape was gone. They were in the Great Hall for lunch and Severus sat at the large table Professor Dumbledore had drawn up to seat everyone who was staying over the hols. He kept feeling like there was something he was missing, something obvious, about Lupin. As Severus piled food on his plate, he saw Lupin come into the Hall. He was thinner again; that was easy to see, even across the room. The fact that the other boy had lost enough weight to show across a room was disturbing. Hadn’t anyone else noticed? What was wrong with Lupin’s Housemates, that they hadn’t seen something so obvious?

Lupin sat down several seats down from Severus and desultorily put a few spoonfuls of the shepherd’s pie on his plate. He ate a few bites, then stopped eating. His shoulders were slumped over and it looked to Severus like he was shaking. Just then, Professor Sprout came into the Hall, chatting animatedly with Madam Pince. The two women reached the table and started to sit down in between Lupin and Severus. Suddenly Professor Sprout sucked in a sharp breath and turned away, pushing the librarian ahead of her; the two women found seats at the far end, away from them.

Severus saw Lupin’s face clench, his eyes closed. He couldn’t think what was wrong at all—there was no reason for two of the nicer teachers in the school to act so oddly.

Severus scowled down at his plate. Nothing about this made sense. Where was Lupin coming up with something that could wound him and why wasn’t he going to Madam Pomfrey? Sirius was in the hospital wing practically three or four times a month and she always patched him up perfectly. She never even complained about it. Much. James joked that Sirius should just have his own bed in the hospital wing.

~*~

Severus saw Lupin in the library again a few days later. This time, the Slytherin was at a table, studying with some Ravenclaws who’d stayed over the Christmas hols to study for their OWLs. They were all laughing and Severus was surprised by the sudden stab of envy he felt. Even Loony Lupin had friends. They were studying Transfiguration, the same class he was there to study for. He looked down at his notes and sighed.

Without realising it, he let his eyes drift back to Lupin. Lupin had a new bruise. Severus could see it reaching up the back of his neck from his right shoulder. It was fading, already a dull yellow-green, but Severus could just see that it was part of a larger bruise… he felt his eyes narrow. Making sure that no one was watching, he sketched on his notes the outline of Lupin’s neck and the bruise. Then, teeth gritted against what he already knew, he held his hand out, curving his fingers around an imaginary neck.

Lupin had been choked.

Severus was shaking, shuddering with rage. He could feel his hands, clenched so tightly into fists his knuckles hurt, but all he could see was bruising, on her neck, on her shoulders, on her face. His breaths came in short harsh gulps.

“Hey,” he heard, “Snape? Are you okay?”

He jerked his head up, lips locked into a snarl. His mother’s face, jaw line darkened with bruising, looked at him sadly. Severus blinked fiercely, then looked again.

Lupin’s amber eyes widened in alarm at his expression. Severus stared into them, then his eyes drifted down to the bruise he knew would be on the front of Lupin’s neck. There were matching fingertip bruises on either side of Lupin’s adams apple.

With a sound like a strangled shriek, Severus tumbled his supplies into his bag and ran out of the library.

~*~

Christmas morning was bright, and Severus grinned down at the pile at the foot of his bed. He wished he could be opening the gifts with his friends around, but he had learned pragmatism at his mother’s knee and knew it was a gift that he had any gifts at all.

An hour later, he trotted into the Great Hall, hoping he hadn’t missed all of breakfast. He knew he could always stop into the kitchens but he wanted to see—he’d really rather not bother the House Elves yet today. He was planning on asking them for a hamper for his mam; there was no need to bother them twice in a day.

He slid into the seat he’d taken before, the one that faced the Slytherin side of the table. Lupin wasn’t at the table yet, so Severus served himself some rashers of bacon and spread marmalade thickly on a piece of toast.

Lupin never made it to breakfast. Severus refused to admit to being worried, it wasn’t as if the other boy wasn’t a member of the sneaky Slytherin Snake House. Slytherins always landed, figuratively at least, on their feet. Shaking his head at the mental image of a snake with feet (would a snake with feet ever want to roller-skate?), he stood and started off to the common room to gather up the note he’d written for his mam. He’d sent her Christmas present before the holiday itself, but he wanted to send a letter in the hamper.

Last year, Sirius had stayed behind over the hols, and the two of them had written increasingly silly things in the holiday note. Severus tried not to be disappointed that he couldn’t do that this year.

To his surprise, there was an owl waiting for him in the common room. It was the dark brown one that the Potters had got James for his birthday that year. “Arlath!” Severus ruffled the owl’s feathers happily and rummaged in his pockets to see if he had a treat. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “I don’t have anything for you. I’m going to the kitchens in a little while, though. You could come along, if you like.” Glad that the other Gryffindors who were staying over hols couldn’t see him talking to an owl as if it were a human, he untied the parchment from Arlath’s leg.

It was from Sirius and James. Sirius had written a silly note addressed to ‘Severus’ Ever Patient Mum’, full of bad jokes and even worse puns. His two friends had also sent along a letter telling Severus all about the progress they’d made on the Animagus Project. Severus was amazed and pleased that Sirius had remembered the notes they’d written the previous year, and he knew his mam would be amused at the jokes.

Dinner that evening was light-hearted and fun. Severus was seated directly across from Lupin and they shared several crackers. The light from the candles and the fairy lights in the massive Christmas tree reflected in Lupin’s amber eyes making them flicker and sparkle. For several moments, when the two boys were waiting to pull the last cracker, Severus felt as if they were the only two people in the room. Lupin’s smile was brilliant, and Severus flushed, looking away at Professor Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes.

After dinner was finished, the other students left for their common rooms. Severus decided to stay in the Great Hall when he saw Lupin had moved to sit near the tree. As he sat down, Lupin shifted to look directly at him.

“What do you want?” Lupin’s voice was low. He was sitting with his knees drawn up, his chin resting on them and his arms wrapped tightly around his shins.

Severus stared at him. What he wanted? He had no idea what he wanted. Finally, aware that he’d been silent too long, he stumbled into speech. “Just to study.” He could have hexed his own lips closed after that. What did he think he was saying? “I mean, I guess, it’s Christmas. I know that James and Sirius are …” he trailed off.

“You’re saying that you want a truce?” Lupin’s position hadn’t changed, but something about him seemed different to Severus. The other boy had withdrawn, without moving at all.

“No,” Severus mumbled, “I want—friends, can’t we be friends?”

Lupin’s head lifted. “What’d your mates think?” He was still withdrawn; his eyes were a flat bronze colour.

“I—dunno,” Severus sighed. “I don’t know why this all—“ He scrambled to his feet. “Merry Christmas.” He turned and walked away, wondering why he even cared what that stupid boy looked like with candlelight on him.

~*~

After the holidays were over, Severus was swept up into the chaos of classes and patrolling again. He didn’t think about Lupin for the first week of classes; then it was the second Tuesday and he realised that they hadn’t met for the Charms project yet. He looked over at the Slytherin table at dinner and didn’t see Lupin, but decided to try the library anyway.

The table they’d been sharing in the library was empty, so Severus turned to go study in his common room. On his way past the third floor, he heard an odd shout from a corridor he knew only held empty classrooms. Sighing at the thought that being a prefect wasn’t quite what he’d thought it would be, he turned and walked down the corridor. The sounds were muffled, but he thought they sounded louder from the fourth door on the right.

Carefully, he cast an eavesdropping charm and leaned in close to the door. The sounds sorted themselves out into three boy’s voices, all talking quietly. He listened harder, trying to figure out who was speaking. He’d been pleased when Professor McGonagall had praised him at a prefects meeting for being conscientious and hard-working as a prefect. She had no idea that he was ensuring that he knew what the people he caught were doing by eavesdropping first. Moving down the corridor slightly, he pulled a book from his bag. The blank endpapers would work for the spell he wanted to use.

The voices were no clearer as he worked, but he ignored the sounds and hunched over the book. With a deep breath for concentration, he drew a circle on the blank page with his wand, then tapped the centre and whispered a short incantation. The circle in the book fell away, revealing a shimmery flat surface. It rippled, suddenly, then changed to show the room Severus was listening to.

It was bright, Severus noted, and he glanced up to note that the people inside must have some sort of hiding spell up to block the light from showing under the door. He tipped the book from side to side, shifting the image in it until he found the room’s inhabitants.

Three of the Slytherin boys in his year were in the room. He looked closer. Wilkes, Avery and Rosier were sitting on a sofa they must have conjured or transfigured; Severus knew there wasn’t any furniture that comfortable in any classroom, especially the empty ones. They had their legs up, propped up on a low table, one that was oddly coloured…

Severus sucked in his breath. That wasn’t a table, and the red liquid dripping slowly to the floor wasn’t wine.

All four of the Slytherin boys were in that room. Severus felt his gorge rise, and realised that he was shaking so hard the book in his hands had slipped to the floor. He didn’t know what to do, how to deal with this. This wasn’t like the stuff he’d found so far, couples snogging in private or, once, some second years trying to brew a potion in a bathroom. This was serious.

Throwing the book back into his bag, he stumbled to his feet and ran down the hall, hoping that his Head of House was still awake.

The next morning, Severus sat at the breakfast table staring across at the Slytherin table. He’d dragged Professor McGonagall to the classroom where he’d seen the Slytherins. They had found an empty room with tracks in the dust on the floor, but nothing else. The professor had been confused, but her initial crisp requests that he admit that he was hiding something his dorm mates had done changed when she’d seen how shaken he was. After they’d searched the room thoroughly, she sent him to bed, telling him that she’d ask Professor Slughorn if he knew of any of his students being out after curfew.

To his surprise, Lupin showed up to eat breakfast, as if nothing had happened the night before. He sat down in his usual seat, and started eating. Severus stared at him, his own food forgotten. Sirius leaned over his shoulder.

“I thought you said he’d been whipped,” he whispered.

Severus turned his head toward Sirius, but couldn’t take his eyes off Lupin’s unbloodied form. “He was,” he whispered back, voice harsh and tight. “He was bleeding all over…” He looked at Sirius, distressed. “It was running down his arms and dripping onto the floor.”

Sirius’ expression changed. Suddenly he reached an arm around Severus and patted his shoulder. “It’s okay, Severus. If you saw blood, there was blood.” He grimaced. “It’s not as if we don’t know what blood looks like.” Severus shuddered under Sirius arm. They didn’t mention this part of their families to each other much, and, after the night at the beginning of their second year when they’d both been in the showers washing up before bed, and they’d seen similar marks on each other, they’d never spoken of it to either James or Peter.

James twisted around and looked across the room. “I thought you—“

“I did,” Severus snarled. “No, I don’t know why he’s here. He should have been in hospital, he needed several different healing salv—“ His eyes widened and he stared blankly at James, who raised his eyebrows.

“I take it healing salves mean something?” He’d turned to look at Sirius, who’d been distracted by breakfast.

“Umph?” Sirius swallowed his over-large bite of eggs manfully, and shook his head. “No idea, mate.”

“He was in the library, over Christmas hols—“ Severus began.

“Fancy that. Loony Lupin in the library,” sneered Peter. “Sounds like a baby rhyme.”

Severus glared at him. “He was in the library and I saw him reading a book on healing salves. I thought it was early to pick a career; we haven’t even had our OWLs yet.”

Sirius nodded. “He must have been looking up how to make them.”

Severus leaned back, thinking. “If he was looking then… oh! And he had a whacking great scrape that time, too. I wonder…” His eyes met Sirius, and he could see what the other boy was thinking. If he was looking up healing salves, it was because he needed them.

Peter sucked in a breath. “I wonder where he’s making them.” He shifted around and rummaged in his bag, pulling out a sheaf of parchments. “We should see if it’s a place to add to the,” his voice dropped, “the Map.”

Severus sighed. He hadn’t worked on that project for a while. They needed an ink that would reflect the whereabouts of everyone in the castle. Sirius was researching the spells for animating the parchment. He’d had the brilliant idea of setting it up so that an incorrect password would make the parchment speak in their voices. Severus wasn’t sure that Sirius could find a spell for that, but he was beginning to think that the ink could be made to do it.

“Remind me again why we’re doing all this extra work?” James picked up his bag and the others hurried to catch up.

“Because it’ll be brilliant to know where everyone is! Imagine it.” Sirius held his hands out in front of himself, as if he were holding a giant piece of parchment. “We could keep tabs on Filch, or on Sluggy.”

“Or on Lupin,” added Peter.

Severus stopped walking. “I’ll catch up. I’ve got to talk to Lupin.”

The three boys stopped and turned to look at him. Sirius cocked his head to the side. “Why?”

“Because,” Severus said, a little anxiously, “we’ve missed three study sessions now and that Charms project is due soon. I want to make sure he’s going to be there on Friday.”

Sirius’ eyes flashed, but he turned back and herded the other boys towards the door. Severus turned and moved to the Slytherin table.

“Lupin,” he said. “I want to talk to you.”

“Well,” came Rosier’s drawling voice, “if it isn’t Sirius’ lap dog. Here to practice arcane canine rituals?”

Lupin flushed, and stood. “Yes, Snape? What is it?” He picked up his bag and started walking toward the door, forcing Severus to hurry to catch up.

“I want to know,” something caught Severus’ eye and he paused, then pulled in a deep breath, “if you’ll be in the library on Friday. We’ve missed several sessions already and I don’t want to fail the project.” He dropped a little behind Lupin and double checked. There was a raw wound on the back of Lupin’s neck. He must have missed it with the salve.

Lupin shrugged. “Do you think we really need to meet any more? I know you’re studying with your friends,” his voice hitched for a moment, “ and so I don’t really see the need to meet.”

“Well, I do.” Severus didn’t want to think about why he wanted to continue meeting with Lupin. He wanted to know more about what the other boy was doing, that’s all. What he was doing and what was going on in the Slytherin dorm. He shook his head then pushed his hair back behind his ears. “I’ll see you there on Friday, or I’ll come to the Slytherin dorms and get you.”

Lupin stepped backwards. “Fine,” he muttered, looking sullen. “Friday after dinner.” As he turned to walk away, Severus reached out and grabbed his sleeve.

“What happened to your neck?” He hadn’t meant to ask, but at the last minute he’d needed to.

Lupin stiffened, his eyes flat and hard. “I burned myself in the shower.” He was gone before Severus could even make sense of his response.

~*~

That Friday, Severus waited for Lupin at their regular table in the library. He hadn’t seen the other boy at dinner, but since they’d agreed to meet, and he needed to study for Astronomy anyway, he pulled several books off the shelves and stayed in the library.

He heard a noise by the door and glanced up. Lupin stood in the doorway, staring down at the floor. His bag lay at his feet, shredded, and his books were scattered everywhere. Behind him, Severus could just see James and Peter fading back into the hall.

Slowly, Lupin crouched down and began picking up his things. Severus watched for a few seconds then with a mental shout of frustration at his friends, he put his own things away and went to help the other boy. He was the only one helping, he noted, surprised that Madam Pince, who normally would have swept everything up with her wand and berated the person who’d dropped their things, hadn’t stepped forward.

Lupin jumped, startled, when Severus started stacking his parchments for him. Several of them had been badly damaged by ink and Severus began looking for the broken ink bottle. He found it under the shreds of the bag itself and carefully swept the shards together.

“You don’t have to do this,” Lupin muttered. He stacked the books and looked, his face stormy, at the ruined pages of notes at Severus knee.

“Yes,” Severus responded, “I do.” At that, Lupin looked up at him, something shifting in his eyes, making them lighter. “I’m a prefect, it’s part of my job to help other students.”

Lupin’s eyes turned dark bronze and his brows knotted. “I see.” He grabbed at the torn bag, but Severus held onto it. “Give me my stuff; you’ve helped enough. Now go run along to your friends and tell them that they managed to ruin yet another day for me. I’m sure you’ll all find it very amusing.”

Severus could see that Lupin’s hands were shaking, and he looked closely at the other boy’s face. He’d lost weight again, weight Severus thought he’d gained back over the hols. His eyes were shadowed, and he looked drawn, as if he’d had a horrible shock.

Reparo,” Severus whispered, and the bag in his hands re-sewed itself. He waved his wand over the broken ink bottle as well, and began putting everything back into the bag.

“Here,” snapped Lupin, grabbing at his hands, “stop that.”

“I’m taking you to the hospital wing,” Severus stated, his voice flat. “You’re clearly ill.” He stood up, threw both his own and Lupin’s bags over his shoulder, then dragged Lupin up as well. “Let’s go.”

Lupin struggled for a moment, then followed along quietly. Severus opened his mouth several times, but nothing he was thinking could possibly be asked or said. Finally, they reached Madam Pomfrey’s door. To Severus’ surprise, Lupin brightened a little, seeing her.

She smiled warmly at him and said, “Mr Lupin. I was just coming to see where you were. You’re almost late, you know.” She turned to Severus. “Thank you for bringing him here and for carrying his bag. It’s hard for him, sometimes; all those books get so heavy.”

She took the bag from him and gently urged Lupin into the room. Severus could see the bright lights from the candles in the room shimmer around the dark silhouette of Lupin’s slumping form.

~*~

“He’s sick again?” Peter sounded incredulous. “Do you think he has something we should know about? Maybe it’s something fatal.” He sounded surprisingly pleased at the thought.

Sirius leaned back. He was sitting on Severus’ bed and had draped himself across enough of it that Severus was reduced to one corner of the bed. With a thoughtful grunt, Sirius grabbed a pillow and threw it across Severus’ lap. Then he turned over and sprawled across the pillow himself.

James looked up from the floor between Severus and Peter’s beds. He had the parchment they were making the Map out of in front of him and was carefully sketching in lines from drawings they’d done of the fifth floor hallway. “Well, I say he’s sick too often for it to be something small. What makes a person sick that much?”

Peter reached out and snagged a small piece of torn parchment from the floor. He turned it over in his hands, looking idly at the marks scratched onto one side of it. “He could have a weak heart.” His uncle had died the year before of an undiagnosed heart problem, and the four boys had stayed up late on many nights to talk to Peter when he was upset about it.

Severus nodded. “He could. He keeps losing weight, though.” He tried to shift around on the bed. “Oi, Sirius. You weigh a tonne; must you lie across me like that? There’s enough room on the bed for both of us.”

Sirius grinned at him lazily. “But you’re such a comfortable pillow.” He chuckled at Severus’ glare. “I’ve told you all before. I’ll sneak into the hospital wing and see if I can figure it out. I mean, there’ve got to be potions bottles or something on the table by his bed—“

“There won’t be any get well cards, that’s for sure. No one likes Loony that much,” Peter interrupted.

Sirius nodded agreement. “I’ll write down the names of any potions I don’t know and we can start looking them up.”

James moaned. “I should have known this just meant more work.”

The next night, the four boys waited in the common room until everyone else had gone to bed. Once the last late-studying seventh year had gone upstairs, James quietly pulled his invisibility cloak out of his bag.

“Here,” he said, handing it to Sirius, who swirled it over his shoulders and admired his invisible feet. He took the quill and parchment Peter handed him and waved jauntily to his friends. “I’ll be back late. Don’t wait up!”

Severus watched him pull the hood up over his head and shove the portrait door open, his feelings jumbled. He did want to know what was wrong with Lupin, but something about this was wrong. Why couldn’t they just let the other boy alone?

Not half an hour later, the portrait was pulled open and then slammed shut. The slam woke Peter, who’d fallen asleep and slid sideways to lean against the arm of the sofa he had been revising on. Severus and James stared at the empty space in front of the door.

“Well,” came Sirius’ voice from the air, “he’s certainly up to something.” He sounded disgusted, and Severus had an awful thought. What if Lupin found out that they were prying into his business?

“Sirius,” said James, “pull the hood down. It’s weird talking to air.”

Sirius yanked the hood off, then unclasped the whole cloak and threw it onto the arm of the closest chair. “I can’t believe this is going on right under our noses!”

“What?” Severus stiffened. “What is going on?”

“He’s not even there! I checked all around the bed; his stuff’s there, all right. He’s got a bed table stocked with potions,” he saw Severus cock his head, “all pain relievers, nothing really special, Severus. I know you get excited about potions, but can’t you concentrate on the important thing, here?” Sirius fell into the chair he’d thrown the invisibility cloak onto, making it slip across his legs. Severus blinked at the odd sight of Sirius with feet but no legs.

“What do you mean, he’s not there,” demanded James, leaning forward. “I checked today with Madam Pomfrey and she said he’d be there until tomorrow, at least.”

“What was there?” interjected Severus. “I mean, you said ‘his stuff’. What did you mean by that?”

“His things, you know.” Sirius ran a hand through his hair. “His bag, his shoes, even, under the bed.”

“Maybe he just went to the loo,” muttered Peter, from the corner of the sofa arm. He yawned, nearly cracking his jaw. “How long did you wait?”

Sirius looked disgruntled. “I checked the loo. What do you take me for, a beginner?”

Severus sat back. “Well, it does look like it’s something we should be investigating. Let’s see if he shows up for breakfast tomorrow.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m exhausted. Let’s go to bed.”

~*~

“Excellent,” Professor Flitwick cried, as Alice Harfax and her Slytherin partner demonstrated their levitation charm. They’d taken a goose feather and applied an enhancement charm to the downy portion. Then, using the combined effect of the floatational abilities of the down and a standard levitation charm, they produced something that one could work into fibre to make extra-light bags or clothes.

Alice and her partner both looked pleased, although Severus could see that the Slytherin looked slightly smug as well. His attention was drawn to the front again when the professor called his and Lupin’s names.

He drew a deep breath and stood up. Across the room, Sirius grinned at him. Lupin’s face was pale, making the scars across his cheeks and nose stand out in bright relief. There were more scars than Severus had realised.

He and Lupin had worked out a plan, a schedule. He would speak first, explaining that they’d chosen to modify the Mobilicorpus charm, then Lupin discussing the modifications themselves, then the two of them casting the charm on themselves. Finally, they were going to explain the ways in which this charm could be modified; that different wand movements caused different types of levitation.

Everything went well, and Severus stood forwards to cast the spell the first time in public.

Levicorpus,” he said, waving his wand so that he lifted off the ground and stood half a metre off the stone floor. He could see James’ face, and Peter’s—they looked amused, but when he looked at Sirius he could see something else. For a moment the other boy looked … possessive. Severus looked away, confused.

~*~

The next weekend was a Hogsmeade weekend. The four boys spent all of Saturday morning going through the shops, spending money at Zonko’s and Honeyduke’s. By the afternoon, they were back in their dorm. Severus felt anxiety and nausea working its way through his middle, making his stomach feel as if it had lead inside. Silently they dropped off their purchases, gathered up the supplies they needed for the Animagus transformation, and went to the abandoned classroom they’d chosen, weeks before, for this very purpose.

Severus knew they’d done everything right. They’d all practiced the spells, each of them taking turns helping Peter. Peter, who had always been least interested in the project, was surprisingly tenacious about learning the process. He’d struggled to master the spells, but once he’d learned it, he was quickest at reproducing each step.

Severus was the last one in the room, and he quietly locked the door behind them. Turning to face his friends, he looked at their faces. James looked suppressed, Peter anxious and Sirius was glowing.

“Come on,” Sirius stage whispered, “we’re going to find out our secret animals! We’ll be able to sneak around the school without anyone knowing who we are. This is fun! Who’s going first?”

Severus opened his mouth to volunteer, but Peter jumped in before him.

“I want to.” His voice was nervous but firm. Something about the way he looked terrified, yet wanted to take the chance, broke the anxious mood and everyone laughed a little.

Peter sat down in the centre of the room. Grinning, Sirius began his part of the spell.

Several hours later, the light coming into the room had moved from one wall to the other. It had taken on a golden cast and the whole space glowed with it. Severus had ended up going last, and found the brilliant colour of the light inspiring. Holding in his head the image of the anchor he’d chosen, the amber that was just the colour of Lupin’s eyes, he closed his own eyes and spoke the last words of the final spell.

The sunlight on his eyelids melted into the amber, making it glow from within. Suddenly, the amber expanded, and Severus felt a shock, as if he’d walked through a curtain of cold water, or into a ring of standing stones. He opened his eyes and immediately scrunched them shut again.

It was bright! The light that had been so beautiful before was almost painful now. Slowly he opened them again, to see his friends all staring at him, their expressions a mix of amusement and awe.

“Well,” said Sirius, his voice cracking with what Severus confusedly identified as pride, “we certainly can’t let you out in the hallways.” He stepped closer to Severus and reached out a hand slowly. They’d all learned to move carefully at first; Peter had bitten James’ hand just after he’d transformed for the first time.

Severus looked down at his hands.

He saw heavy, golden-furred paws, leading to muscular legs and … He stood, feeling the new way his body moved now. Whatever he was, it was big, and four legged. He started trying to walk to the mirror they’d set up in the corner of the room and staggered. Four legs were much harder to manage than two; that was clear.

Above him, Peter laughed and dragged the mirror closer. Slowly, wondering if he really wanted to know what he was, Severus turned to face his new shape. He saw a confused blur of light coloured fur with a heavy, dark shadow around his shoulders. Blinking to clear his vision, he stepped closer to the mirror.

“My Lord Prince,” intoned Sirius, behind him. “We are all your faithful subjects.”

He was a lion.

~*~

In the Defence Against the Dark Arts class on Monday, Severus spent the time wondering what he and his friends would do now that they could transform. They hadn’t had much time to do anything more than practice the actual change. His wandering attention was brought back to class by a burst of laughter.

They were studying Dark creatures and Sirius was pretending to be a werewolf. He staggered around the room, moaning and howling and leaning on people. James and Peter were chuckling, but for some reason the Slytherins were laughing much harder. Severus looked over and gasped. Lupin had gone dead white and was backing up down the aisle away from Sirius.

The end of class bell rang, and Lupin whirled and ran out of the room.

 

~*~

After that, there was little time for anything but revising for OWLs. Even patrolling took a back seat to the urgency of study, and Severus found himself buried under books and parchment more than anyone else in his year. The only student not in Ravenclaw who was as focused as he was on revising was Lupin. It seemed that the other boy spent every spare moment in the library; several times Severus saw him there until the library closed.

James and Peter would stay in the library for a few hours, finish their revising for the day and leave. Sirius wasn’t as worried about the tests as Severus was, but Severus knew that the Black money would be there for his friend even if he only passed a few OWLs and took no NEWTs at all. What Severus couldn’t understand was why Sirius was spending so much time in the library with him.

Sirius would revise for a while, then pull out the Map and begin to draw in more of the missing parts of the castle. When Severus told him to work on that in private, Sirius grinned and admitted that he’d already cast the first of the Notice-Me-Not spells on the parchment itself. Severus subsided, but remained edgy until a passing Hufflepuff came and, leaning over Sirius shoulder, commented that she hadn’t known he could draw such pretty unicorns.

She left in a huff when Severus couldn’t stop laughing. Sirius complained that Severus chased off all the birds, but he didn’t get up and follow her.

Valentine’s Day fell on a Hogsmeade weekend, and Severus, Peter and Sirius spent the week beforehand trying to convince James not to ask Evans on a date. He had been working on elaborate paper cutting spells and intricate fairy dust incantations, and insisted that this would be the year Lily Evans went out with him on Valentine’s Day.

“It will be,” he declaimed loudly, standing on his bed, fist raised defiantly to the sky, “the first of many such happy occasions. We will all look back fondly on the joy that will radiate from this day forward; we will bask in the light and rejoice in the blessings that will flow, like manna, from the splendour of this day.” He fell over backwards under a barrage of pillows.

Severus made sure to have a seat in the common room before James came downstairs to ask Evans out. He glanced at Sirius, sitting next to him, his hand covering his mouth and his eyes dancing with humour. Severus looked away. He knew if he caught Sirius’ eye again, he’d burst into laughter.

James came down the stairs and moved confidently through the crowd to where Evans was sitting with her friends. Severus couldn’t hear what he was saying, but Evans’ response could be heard by everyone.

“You disgusting beast. If you think I’d ever go anywhere with someone who asked me that, you’re even stupider than I thought.” She tore up the valentine he’d made for her, threw the shreds at his head, and stormed off up the stairs to the girl’s dorms.

Severus collapsed, snickering, and Sirius leaned over. “I told him not to tell her that she was ‘lovely enough to eat with beans on toast’, and then ask her if she’d strip and lie down on a toast coloured duvet.”

Severus roared with laughter and Sirius grinned at him. James, hearing the noise, stalked over and glared at them.

“If you two prats are finished crowing over the demise of all my deepest hopes, we’d better go. It’s time for lunch.”

Severus chuckled all the way through his meal, which was, to James’ dismay, beans on toast.

~*~

That Sunday, the day after Valentine’s Day, the four boys were sitting at a table in The Three Broomsticks, working on the Map or revising. Severus glanced over at the door just as Lupin came in, shaking slush off his cloak and rubbing his arms. He’d brought a bag of books and looked around the room slowly. His eyes passed over Severus’ and Severus shivered.

Severus turned back to his table, and his eyes caught on Sirius’. His friend looked angry.

“What?” Severus was confused. Just a few minutes before, Sirius had been cracking jokes. He’d been so unpredictable recently. Sirius didn’t respond, but just shook his head and transferred his glare to his Transfiguration notes.

“Remus,” called a light voice, and Severus’ head snapped up again. James’ did also, and his expression darkened.

“Sirius,” said James in a tight, low voice, “that Slytherin scum is talking to my girl again.” Sirius turned to look. His face contracted into a hard knot of anger, darker even than James’.

“Right. We’ll just have to do something about that arse, won’t we?” He stood and aimed his wand at the chair Lupin was sitting in. With a choppy wave of his hand, he muttered a quick hex, then sat down. Across the room, there was a loud crash, followed by shouts of dismay. The four of them sat and watched as Lupin was helped up. Then, when it became apparent that he’d been hurt in the fall, Evans picked up his things and the two left the pub.

“Thanks, mate,” mumbled James. “Now he’s got her all to himself, all the way to the castle.”

Sirius shrugged. “Sorry. I just wanted him out of here. He was going to make the whole place stink.” He shoved his quill away. “Anyway, she’ll be back. She left her bag.”

Half an hour later, he was proved right. Evans came back into the pub, glaring over in their direction. She sat down at her table and said loudly to her friends, “Remus was so hurt he’s having to stay in the hospital wing overnight. I hope whoever broke that chair is sorry.”

The four boys exchanged looks. This meant that they could try again to see what was wrong with Lupin.

This time, all four went. There wasn’t enough room under the cloak unless Peter transformed, but he fit neatly into Sirius’ pocket. They left the common room earlier than before, and carefully shuffled down to the hospital wing. Once there, they checked and saw that several beds were occupied. Apparently, there had been an accident in Potions, and five third years were in hospital to have their skins turned back to opaque.

After a glance at one of them, James turned a little green. Severus stared, transfixed. He’d no idea that muscles looked like that when they were exposed.

Sirius nudged him and whispered, directly into his ear, “Pay attention. Look at the bed in the back. It’s where Lupin was last time. Maybe he’ll be there again.”

“We’ll have to wait,” replied James, “it’s too early now. Madam Pomfrey’ll be able to tell we’re here.”

They moved back out into the corridor and around a corner, then settled down to wait. They’d done this before, and Severus found himself remembering how worried he’d been on the day he’d come to King’s Cross for the first train ride. He’d been so sure he’d never have any friends; the boys at home were always mean to him and he had been convinced that everyone would treat him the way those stupid Muggle boys had. Feeling a burst of joy that his earliest predictions had proved untrue, he shivered.

Severus scooted a little closer to Sirius and looked over his shoulder at the book the other boy was reading. Sirius glanced up and obligingly held the book open a little wider.

and then the witch ran her hands through her long, shimmering hair, pulling some of it forward to cover her full breasts.” Severus read, eyes widening. He skipped down a few paragraphs. “Her lips parted and he could feel her warm, moist breath flutter over his engorged…

“Sirius,” he whispered, shocked. “Where did you get that book?”

Sirius grinned at him. “My dad tries to hide these in his study, but I’ve kipped several. Want one?” He waggled his eyebrows. “Peter likes them.” Severus glanced down at the book again and saw that Peter, still transformed into a rat, was standing on Sirius’ lap and reading avidly. Severus shook his head and turned to James.

“Hey,” James muttered, “don’t look at me. I tried one already. Boring. I prefer the ones with pictures, anyway.”

Severus groaned and dropped his head onto his drawn-up knees.

They’d waited over an hour when they saw Madam Pomfrey usher Lupin through the door.

“Come on,” they heard her say, “we’ve left it a little late this time. We’ll have to hurry.” The two of them left the hospital wing and rushed down the hall.

Sirius whispered, “Wait here, you three,” and, pulling the cloak to himself, took off after them at a dead run. Severus and James eyed each other, startled. Moving as quietly as they could, they moved down the hall to the nearest empty room.

Leaning back against the door, Severus demanded, “What is he thinking?” James, who’d moved across the room to look out the windows, shrugged. Peter, who’d been dropped in Sirius’ flight, sat on the floor and rubbed his head.

“Dunno. He’s just Sirius, you know.” He leaned closer to the window. “Wait. What’s that?” Severus came to look, but all he saw was shifting shadows as the full moon emerged from behind a large cloud bank. James shrugged again. “I thought I saw someone walking, but I guess not.”

They waited, James and Severus staring out the window, and Peter reading the book Sirius had left behind, until there was a soft scratching at the door. Peter opened it slowly and let an invisible Sirius in. He pulled the cloak off once the door was closed and swore.

“I lost them.” He bent over and pulled in great gulps of air. “I was as quiet as I could be, but I think Lupin heard me. He kept turning around. They moved too fast for me to keep up and still be silent.”

After a moment’s thought, they all bundled up under the cloak and made their careful way back to the dorm.

 

~*~

Even revision for exams couldn’t stop prefect’s meetings. Severus found himself at the next meeting stuck at the back of the prefect’s room, balancing parchment on his knee and trying to remember the twelve uses for dragon’s blood. The sixth year Hufflepuff prefect had been droning on about needing more patrols in the lower corridors for twenty minutes. Severus, bored, had decided that he could revise and make it look like he was taking notes on her diatribe.

The prefects next to him weren’t listening either; he could hear them whispering together. Suddenly, he caught the name Lupin in their conversation and froze. Glancing over, he saw that it was the Slytherin prefects making the noise. Carefully, trying to make sure he wasn’t seen, he whispered the incantation for an eavesdropping spell. Their voices came clearly to his ears.

“—don’t understand why we can’t just make him do the work for us. It’s not as if he has anything else to do.”

“Because he’s Wilkes’ tomorrow. He said that Lupin lost too much time the last time he wasn’t in the dorm.” Avery shifted in his chair, and pulled his quill out. “You know that Malfoy gave the Invoking Rights to Wilkes. He’s called them in. Lupin’s been spending so much time in the library that he’s slacking off in the dorm.”

The other Slytherin prefect, a girl named Parkinson, tossed her hair. “Well, I don’t see why I should have to do my work when there’s a perfectly good—“

The Head Girl had clapped her hands to bring everyone’s attention back to the front of the room. “Now that everything has been discussed,” Severus overheard Parkinson say something about not allowing discussions to turn into whines, and felt an unexpected burst of agreement, “and all patrolling schedules have been finalised, please go back to your duties. I expect to see a high level of patrolling, especially in the common trouble areas. Thank you.”

The two Slytherins swept out of the room so quickly it seemed to Severus that they hadn’t even waited for the Head Girl’s speech to be finished.

~*~

The OWLs themselves were almost a let down. Severus was sure he’d passed the first few well, there was only the Defence Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration OWLs left to take and they were done for the year.

The Defence OWL was the first one on the last Thursday before classes were over. The Great Hall was filled with sun, the light streaming down onto the bent heads of the class as the sound of scratching quills filled the room. Severus glanced up and saw that James was sitting back and re-reading what he’d written. His hair stood straight up in back, and Severus smirked to himself. James always played it cool, but the more stress he felt, the more he ran his fingers through his hair.

He bent his head back to the parchment, writing furiously. Another glance told him that he’d written more than his immediate neighbours, but he wasn’t sure he’d written enough about kappas. Sirius, who was sitting four seats behind James, extended a leg and tapped his toe on the floor. Severus looked over at him, and received a grinning thumbs-up. He shook his head and went back to writing.

Finally, the test was over and Severus stood, twisting and groaning. He’d been bent so far over the desk it was a wonder his nose didn’t have ink on it. He picked up his question sheet and waited for his friends. They came over and the four of them started moving toward the door.

“Did you like question ten?” asked Sirius, as they made their way through the crowd to the front doors of the castle.

“Wait.” Severus checked his sheet. “’Give five signs that identify the werewolf.’ I think I did all right.”

“I got the snout shape, the pupils of the eyes, and the tufted tail,” said Peter, anxiously, “but I couldn’t think what else…”

Severus, turning to remind Peter of the two signs he’d missed, saw Lupin, walking near them. He’d gone pale and was fidgeting with the strap of his bag. He met Severus’ eyes and his face twisted, Severus was reminded, suddenly, of the expression he’d seen on Lupin’s face at the very beginning of the school year when he’d been looking at the stuffed animal.

“Well,” said Sirius, “I thought that paper was a piece of cake. I’ll be surprised if I don’t get an Outstanding on it.” He grabbed James’ sleeve. “I’ve an idea. How about you, me and Wormtail here see if we can get the House Elves to give us some food and we’ll have lunch by the lake. Severus, you can go to make sure our seats don’t get taken.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “You really need three of you to carry the food? You know the elves’ll give it to you in a hamper. Why don’t you and James go and Peter and I can find someplace to sit.” Peter, who’d been looking longingly out the front doors, grinned.

Outside, they found a spot under a shady birch tree and spread out. Severus took his Transfiguration book out to revise, but tossed it aside after a few moments to lean back against the tree trunk. Beside him, Peter flopped to the ground, rolling over to stare up at the sky.

“I can’t wait until OWLs are over,” said Peter. “You and James are so smart, and Sirius is rich, but I’m going to have to do really well if I want to get any kind of a job after school.” His hands were clenched in the grass and Severus could see his chin wobble for a moment.

“We’ll help you get through it,” Severus said, softly. “The Fearsome Foursome stick together, right?” Peter tilted his head upside down to look at Severus. His grin was a little watery, but definitely there.

Severus leaned over and tugged the book back into his lap. “Here,” he said, “we can revise for Transfiguration until James and Sirius get back.” Then, with a grin, he continued, “But it’s not like you really need help in Transfiguration, Wormtail.”

Peter laughed and sat up. He started talking about what he was planning on doing over the summer, when Severus heard something. There were several large bushes near the birch tree and one of them had just grunted. He gestured to Peter, who looked over at the bush with wide eyes. He’d stumbled to silence and Severus turned to glare at him.

“So,” Severus said in a friendly voice that wasn’t at all matched by the intensity in his eyes, “you’re going to Bath with your mum?” He waved his hands in a ‘keep going’ sort of movement and Peter sat up stiffly.

“Yeah,” he said, his voice a little high, “we’re going to Bath. My mum and me. I’ve an aunt there and she’s said she’s going to take us to see the real waters…”

Severus stood up, letting Peter’s chatter wash over him, and began to walk silently towards the still grunting bush. The grunts were beginning to solidify into actual words, and he strained to hear them.

“You thought you would be allowed to spend time outside, like a regular person?” Another grunt, and then, “You know that Malfoy said you’d have to pay for every infraction of the rules,” grunt, “and right now I think you need to pay up front.”

Severus peered carefully around the bush and saw Lupin, kneeling on the ground, arms pinned behind him by Regulus Black. Lupin’s wand was at his knees, and Bellatrix Black and Wilkes were kneeling in front of Lupin. Severus could see that Lupin’s shirt had been pulled up. There were already bruises beginning to form on his ribs. Severus gasped in a breath. Then he froze as Wilkes turned around.

Severus lifted his wand quickly, but not quickly enough.

Expelliarmus,” yelled Wilkes and Severus’ wand flew from his hand to land almost on his own bag under the tree. Severus turned and dove after it. Just before he could grab it, he heard a voice, he couldn’t tell whose, yell, “Levicorpus,” and he was pulled up off the ground and spun upside down.

The quick spinning made his gorge rise and he struggled against nausea for one horrible minute. Then, with a sudden resurgence of the feeling, he realised that his robes had fallen down around his head, leaving his legs exposed. Snarling, he shoved his hands up and tucked his robes between his legs.

It was too late, he could tell. A crowd had started to gather, and many of the onlookers faces were amused.

Finite Incantatem!” James’ voice bellowed across the grass, and Severus fell, only just managing to tuck his head enough to not hit his head. He lay, stunned, on the grass and saw Sirius charge over to him, dropping food as he came.

“Severus!” Sirius was white. “What happened?”

“Lupin,” Severus croaked, “where’s Lupin?” At first he’d been horrified—Lupin was clearly being abused—but the only person who could have used that spell to turn him upside down like that was Lupin. They’d figured out the wand movement for turning a person upside down, but had decided to not present it to the class. All of the wand movements were in their report to Professor Flitwick, but Severus knew a Professor wouldn’t have done this. Lupin was the only one who could have. It was Lupin.

At his words, Sirius’ expression changed from worry to blazing fury. His nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed. “Lupin, was it?” Severus stared at him. He’d never heard his friend sound so bleak and furious, not even when Regulus had refused to speak to him at his sorting.

He tried to speak, but his chest ached horribly. Sirius heard him wheeze, and his expression shifted back to worry.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we’ll get you to Madam Pomfrey right away.”

Severus shook his head, and struggled to sit up. Peter, who’d run over, helped him up.

“I saw it,” he whispered, “I did. It must have been Lupin. He went running away from behind that bush just before you guys came up!”

Severus sucked in a breath. His lungs were beginning to feel a little better. “I can’t miss my OWL. I’m fine, really.”

James hunkered down next to them. “I couldn’t catch up to them. It was Wilkes, Black,” he shot an apologetic look at Sirius, “both of them—sorry, Sirius—and Lupin.” He eyed Severus, who was beginning to feel like the prize Kneazel at a Pet Show. “How are you? You didn’t hit your head, did you? Do you want to go to the hospital wing?”

“He doesn’t want to,” snapped Sirius, “but he should go.”

“I’ll go after the next OWL,” Severus said, pleased that he sounded a bit more firm. “Honestly, I will. But I can’t miss it, and it’s Transfiguration. Professor McGonagall would kill me if she heard that any of us didn’t get Outstanding on it.”

James’ eyes met Sirius’. “All right,” James said slowly, “you’ll go first thing after. Now, let’s get some of that food.” He turned away and glared at the few other students who were still watching. Then he began picking up the food that Sirius had dropped.

~*~

“So,” Severus began, “what are you going to do over summer hols?” Sirius was sitting in the window while Severus packed his trunk. Severus had been packing for half an hour now, and Sirius hadn’t said a word. Severus was getting a bit desperate; Sirius was never silent.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I know Mam’ll have me helping with the garden. She likes to grow her own herbs back there…” He fell silent and stared at his hands. “Sirius, what’s wrong?”

Sirius turned, the light from the setting sun behind him shining on his hair and setting the tips aflame. Severus could barely see his face. “Nothing,” Sirius muttered. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just tired.” He slid off the window sill and stared around the room. “I’m going downstairs.”

Severus watched him leave, his mouth open. What was going on? Sirius had forced him to go to the hospital wing immediately after the Transfiguration OWL. He’d only left after Madam Pomfrey chased him out. Severus had to stay overnight, and when he got out this morning, Sirius had been ignoring him. Beginning to get angry, Severus threw the last of his things into his trunk, slammed it shut and locked it with his wand. He’d have to get his mam to unlock it at the other end.

Suddenly, there was a storm of footsteps and Peter, James and Sirius burst into the room, laughing. James threw himself onto his bed and crowed, “No more studying for at least a month. I’ll get my mum to lock my books up and I won’t have to look at them. Oh, I can’t wait.” Peter sat on the edge of his bed, and Sirius lounged next to him.

The four boys began to discuss their summer plans. Severus noticed that James and Peter weren’t ignoring him, and his anger grew. Whatever it was bothering Sirius, if he couldn’t be bothered to tell him, Severus wasn’t going to be bothered by it. He didn’t care about anything that prat was upset about, anyway.

He tried to be interested in the conversation, but finally gave up. Excusing himself, he picked up his toilet articles and started off to the loo. Peter yawned and called after him to wait.

Severus waited, scowling down at his feet.

“Are you still hurting?” Peter was peering up into his face anxiously. “I’ll take you to Madam Pomfrey, if you need it.”

Severus shook his head sharply, and tried to smile. It must have been successful, because Peter grinned at him and pattered down the corridor.

On the train the next day, Severus sat in the corner of the compartment, staring out the window. Sirius was still ignoring him and since he and James were planning the different ways they could annoy Sirius’ mam, James was ignoring Severus as well. For almost an hour, Sirius and James hadn’t even been in the compartment. Sirius had said something about wanting to check for birds and tugged on James’ arm. James had looked confused for a minute, then, after a glance at Severus, he’d looked startled and practically dragged Sirius out of the compartment. Peter hadn’t even noticed; he’d been busy trying to find a place to hide the books he’d got Sirius to give him in his trunk.

Severus couldn’t help but contrast this train ride with the one at the beginning of the school year. Even with the usual harassment of Lupin, it had been a fun trip; he’d been with his friends. Now, it felt as if it would be more comfortable if he were alone.

He stood up. “I’ve got to patrol the corridor,” he said, abruptly, interrupting Sirius long-winded description of a prank he wanted James’ help with. Everyone looked at him, Peter and James grinning and Sirius blank-faced. “Excuse me,” he said, leaving the compartment.

Out in the corridor, he slumped against the wall for a moment, then began a patrol down the corridor.

The compartment at the end of the train looked empty, so he slid the door open and stepped inside, turning to shut the door. Suddenly he heard a shocked gasp and he spun. Lupin was in the compartment, curled up in a corner. Severus snarled, all his anger at being hexed by Lupin blending with his anger at Sirius for being such a prat. He pulled his wand and pointed it at Lupin’s face. Lupin leaned forward and pulled the window shade up. The light fell on his face; it looked as if he’d been beaten.

“Come to finish the job?” Lupin’s voice was harsh and he stared up at Severus. “It would be good to collect the full set.”

Severus fell back against the door, his rage battling with confusion. For a moment, the confusion won and his wand arm dropped. Lupin chose that moment to lunge forward, moving faster than Severus thought a person could. He slammed against Severus, using his body to press Severus back against the door and holding Severus’ wand arm down with his hand. Severus could feel Lupin’s fingers pressing into the back of his hand; it almost felt like claws cutting into his skin.

“Get off me,” Severus yelled, the sound muffled under Lupin’s other hand, which had clamped over his mouth. He twisted from side to side, trying to find a way to push the other boy off him.

“I will not,” Lupin whispered in his ear, voice dripping scorn. “You Gryffindors all think you’re so special; you think you can get away with anything. You’re golden, aren’t you?” He shoved harder, blocking every shift and move Severus made. Severus hadn’t realised that Lupin was so strong; he looked fragile. “Well, I’m tired of being the punching bag. It’s time I reminded everyone that even a kicked dog will fight back eventually. I’m not going to be here forever, and it’s time I started making plans for the rest of my life.” The hand on Severus’ face clenched; Severus could feel Lupin’s fingers digging into his cheeks, cutting the insides of his cheeks on his teeth. “You’d better watch your back, Gryffindor, because I’ll be ready for you.”

With that, he shifted against Severus and somehow managed to get the compartment door to slide open. With one last movement, he shoved Severus out of the compartment and slammed the door closed again. Severus sat on the floor of the corridor, staring up at the door, stunned. After a long moment, he felt fury building up again. How dare that scum act as if he’d ever done anything to him? It wasn’t his fault that the Slytherin had pissed off his Housemates. If that was how he acted toward them it was no wonder they beat him when they could.

Severus scrambled up from the floor and stalked back towards his own compartment.

~*~

Summer started out slowly. His mam let him lie in for the first weekend, then gave him a complex set of instructions on how she wanted the back garden set up. He sulked around the first week, and got yelled at for wasting precious time staring around for owls from his friends. By the second week he’d settled down and had weeded all of the un-dangerous gardens. He was just about to start on the shed with the Night-Blooming Carnivorous Lilies when his mam stepped out the back door.

“Severus,” she called, holding out a letter. “This came for you. It’s lunch time. Come in and eat while you read.” She smiled at him as he galloped up to her. She hadn’t asked him any questions about school after the first day, when he’d been irritable and snappish. He’d said something about being tired from OWLs revision after she sat staring silently at him. She’d shot him several searching looks since then, especially when she noticed that he’d not gotten any owls from his friends, but she’d been quiet about it.

He smiled at her as he got to the top step and reached for the letter. She turned away and called, “Don’t stand there idling. You’ve work to do after you eat.” He could hear the warmth under her sharp words. Following her into the dim house, he pulled the letter open.

It was from James. He’d spent the first week of hols flying and practicing his Quidditch dives. He and his parents would be going to London to see the Weird Sisters. He hadn’t had a chance to work on the Map yet. Did Severus think he’d be able to visit at all this summer? His parents were yelling at him that it was time for dinner, so he had to go.

Severus turned the parchment over, looking for more. James hadn’t mentioned Sirius or Peter at all. He knew that Peter was probably still stuck at home; his mam was over-protective and often didn’t let Peter go anywhere but shopping with her all summer. Sirius usually spent some of the summer at James’, but James hadn’t said anything about it at all.

The rest of his lunch tasted like ashes.

~*~

He spent the next two weeks working for his mam and hiding. He’d sent a note to James; James’ owl had waited for a response, but he hadn’t had much to say. It wasn’t like he was going anywhere, so what could he say that James would care about?

He spent one entire day hiding in his room, refusing to get out of bed. His mam, who normally would have been angry at him for wasting time, actually left him several sandwiches and a pitcher of chilled pumpkin juice in the middle of the day. He finally stumbled down the stairs in the evening, bringing his empty dishes. She filled the empty spaces at dinner with chatter about the witch down the street who’d insisted on trying to raise a venomous tentacula in her back garden and how the vegetables at the local market weren’t as good as they used to be.

By the fourth week of summer, he’d almost forgot anything but the daily work in the garden and the quiet routines of home. Thus, it was startling to receive another owl, this one with a much longer letter. His mam was inside this time, so he opened the letter in the middle of the back garden, hands covered in dirt.

 

Dear Severus, it began
How’re you? How’s your mum? There’s loads of news over here. We’ve got a new houseguest—you’ll never guess who. I’ll let him tell you all about it. But I want to know, will your mum let you come and visit? I know she doesn’t usually, but this is special, and anyway, what if it was only for a weekend? She could spare you for a weekend, right?

Let me know by return owl,
James

 

Wrapped up inside that letter was another one, shorter, but sweeter to Severus.

Severus,
I’ve run away from home and I’m at James’. Come visit me?
Sirius

 

“Mam! Mam, I’ve just got an owl,” Severus yelled, running into the house. “Mam?” He checked the back workroom, then the sitting room in front and came to a halt in the empty kitchen. He turned slowly in place, then groaned and threw himself back into a chair. She was out somewhere.

He’d gone back to tending the foxglove, wearing gloves himself against it’s small, but sharp little teeth, when his mam stuck her head out the back door.

“Coming in for lunch?”

He bounced up and ran to her. Standing at the base of the back steps, he grinned up at her. “Mam! I’ve had an owl. Can I go? I mean, James invited me, and he said it’s only for a weekend and really, I’ve weeded the whole garden and …” He pulled himself to silence, knowing she’d say no, and trying to stop hoping so hard that she’d say

“Yes.”

He gaped at her. To his shock, she burst into laughter, and he could suddenly see the girl she had been, before age and tiresome Muggles had worn her down. “What?”

“You left the notes on the table, you prat. Did you think I wouldn’t read them?” She was still smiling, her dark eyes shining at him.

“Oh.” He felt entirely stupid. “Wait. You said yes? I can go?” The stupid feeling was washed away completely by a rush of joy so sudden he staggered. “I can go?” he repeated.

She sobered, looking at him with a sad face. “You may go visit your friends. I’m sorry I’ve kept you all this time, if you’ve wanted so badly to go.” She stepped back into the house. “Wash your hands and we’ll talk over lunch. Oh, and bring that poor bird in with you!”

Over lunch they discussed the things he’d need to bring with him. He sent off James’ owl with a response, feeling excited and nervous. This would be the first time he’d ever gone to stay over at a friends’ house. What if he did something wrong? What if he didn’t help enough with the chores? Would James’ parents send him home early if he didn’t help enough?

He stood at the side of his bed, staring down at the small pile of clothes and things he wanted to bring with him. James’ owl had returned with a long, and slightly incomprehensible, note about what they were going to do this weekend. There was something about flying, and also something about going down to the local Muggle village. Severus didn’t have a broom, so he rather thought he’d be staying on the ground for that, but he did think that he’d know more about getting along in a Muggle anything than his two friends. It made him feel a little better to know that there might be something where he wasn’t the poorest or the slowest one.

With a slight smile, he bundled up his things and stuffed them into his largest bag. Halfway to the door, he stopped and turned around. He slowly moved back to the bed and picked up a tattered stuffed owl he’d named Howard. His fingers clenched and he shoved Howard to the bottom of his bag. Finally, he left the room, feeling as if he’d be different when he came back; travelled, somehow, or more worldly.

Downstairs, he was greeted by his mam, smiling uncertainly at him. She was holding a bag of Floo powder and a piece of parchment. He blinked at her.

“Why’re you all dressed up?” She was wearing her best robes, and the pretty green colour swirled around her as she turned to pick up a small bag of her own.

“Your friend’s parents invited me to dinner tonight.” She looked nervous. “I thought, since you say they’re so nice to James…”

She was worried that he’d not want her to go, he realised. “That’ll be good,” he said firmly. “You haven’t really had a chance to meet James and Sirius yet and I want,” he broke off for a minute, thinking of the silly things Sirius had said in his notes over Christmas hols, “I want you to meet Sirius, at least.”

She gazed at him steadily, then nodded. They moved toward the Floo together, Severus both glad she was there, and worried that he’d make a mistake in front of her and have to be sent home with her at the end of the evening.

Several hours later, his bag tossed unceremoniously on a bed in James’ large room, he sat at the dinner table and watched the adults from under his lashes. Seeing his mam here, sitting calmly next to the much older Mr and Mrs Potter, made him realise with aching sorrow that he and his mam were poor. Her best robes were clearly old, and the colour that had seemed so bright in their dim sitting room was dull and worn in the Potter’s bright dining room.

James, to his right, hadn’t yet stopped talking about the things he intended them to do while Severus was there. Several times, he’d said things like, “getting everything in” and “while we have you”. Severus, after listening to the first ten or so plans, thought that James might be a bit overexcited and gave up trying to follow him.

Sirius, however, seated across from Severus, was quieter. He wasn’t ignoring Severus any more, he’d said several things to him, and had given him a thoroughly startling hug when Severus came through the Floo, but he wasn’t as effervescent as he usually was when given a chance to show off. He’d been watching Severus; he could feel Sirius’ grey eyes on him, but when he looked up, the other boy would look away.

As several minutes had passed and everyone was clearly finished, Severus stood up and began collecting plates. He’d managed to get the three boys’ plates, although James had given him a confused look, and was about to start collecting the adults’ plates, when Mr Potter glanced at him.

“What’re you doing that for, young man?” His voice was gruff, but Severus didn’t hear any malice in it.

“Clearing up, sir,” he responded. He looked at his mam, trying to see if she thought he’d done something wrong, but her face was perfectly blank. He stood, tense with conflicting urges, until Mrs Potter smiled up at him.

“Oh, my dear, you don’t need to do that. You’re a guest here. Please, sit down and enjoy yourself.” She turned to the other two boys. “Would you three like pudding?” At their enthusiastic nods, she smiled back up at Severus. “You look like you could use some pudding. You must be shooting up fast, to be so slender. Here,” she waved at the table, “set those down here, and I’ll just call in Pasky.”

Severus, not sure who or what Pasky might be, set his stack of dishes down and started back to his seat. As he turned, he caught his mam’s eye. She smiled at him and he relaxed. He couldn’t have made that big a mistake if she wasn’t angry at him.

Pasky turned out to be a house elf. She trotted in, after Mrs Potter called, then snapped her fingers at the dishes. With brisk movements, she waved her hands at the table and everything on it straightened up. Severus jumped as his napkin, which had fallen unnoticed to the floor, slithered up his leg and back into his lap. James grinned at his startled look.

“Not how your elf does it at home?” he asked. Severus looked at him, flatly.

“No,” he said, as calmly as he could. Across the table, Sirius shook his head. Severus thought he saw Sirius mouth the words “great prat” and felt better.

~*~

Later that evening, after pudding, and after spending an hour or so outdoors under a large tree near James’ house, Severus’ mam called him inside. His friends came with him and wandered upstairs.

“I’ll be going,” she said. He was surprised to see her relaxed and smiling.

“Don’t forget, Eileen,” called Mrs Potter, “about next week. I expect to see you with lists for that plan we discussed.”

She waved back, and turned to Severus. Reaching out, she tugged at the collar of his robes, straightening them. “There, now you’re all neat. Don’t forget, you’re to come back on Monday afternoon.”

He stared at her. “Mam?” This smiling, happy woman wasn’t the mother he’d known all his life.

She smiled up at him and he was relieved to see that her eyes were as brisk as usual. “I’ve just been discussing the herb garden with the Potters. You’ll be glad to know there will be plenty of work for you once you get home.”

He groaned, but couldn’t help hoping that more work for him meant more sales for his mam. It would be brilliant if she could stop working in the Muggle mill. She’d begun growing the herbs and magical plants after his da died, but it had been slow going, getting a clientèle. If she was going to sell to the Potters, that could only be good. He tried to remember if James had ever said anything about his parents being brewers or needing anything for potions.

After his mam stepped through the Floo, Severus raced upstairs. He turned the corner to the bedroom and found that Pasky had set his things out on the bed.

Sirius was standing at it, Howard in his hands. He looked up at Severus’ entry, his eyes growing wide. Severus blanched, then tried to sneer to cover his shame. He should have known that bringing Howard would just leave himself open for humiliation. He turned to leave the room, determined to go downstairs and hide in one of the many empty rooms James had casually shown him, when Sirius called after him.

“Wait?” Severus couldn’t detect any maliciousness in his voice, and he didn’t want Sirius to go back to not talking to him, so he turned, slowly. Sirius had moved; he was now kneeling at the bed he’d been given, rummaging underneath. Severus stepped forward a little, trying to see what Sirius was reaching for.

He pulled out a large, black, stuffed dog. It was missing an eye, half its tail and was clearly someone well loved. Sirius sat back on his heels and held it out.

“This is Fidelius.” He waggled the dog slightly from side to side. “He came with me.” Severus felt himself calming. Sirius’ face twisted and he tucked Fidelius back under the bed. “So, see, I saw …” he looked down at the owl in his hands.

“Howard,” whispered Severus.

Sirius nodded at Howard. “So, when I saw Howard, I just…” he trailed off again.

Severus sat down next to him and took Howard. Leaning back against the bed, he asked, looking at Howard, “Ran away? What happened?”

~*~

 

The weekend raced by. Severus was surprised to find that he hadn’t needed to stay on the ground and watch as James and Sirius played Quidditch; James’ parents had several extra brooms and enough random Quidditch gear to outfit a whole team. Severus found himself wondering, again, why James wasn’t more grateful for his parents. Sirius seemed to agree with him; the one time the three boys didn’t agree on something was when James said something about running away being an adventure and Sirius stormed off.

Saturday evening, they slept outside, in a small field a quarter mile away from James’ house. The three boys stretched out in squashy sleeping bags Mr Potter had conjured, tired after a day of hiking and falling in the local creek.

“Look,” James said sleepily, “I can see Draco.” He pointed up at the sky, almost directly up. Severus squinted and could just make out the stars in the dragon’s tail, curving around.

Sirius, his voice sounding a little tight, said, “There’s Regulus.” Severus tried to see where he was pointing, but couldn’t. The light from the full moon near the horizon washed out most of where he thought Regulus was supposed to be.

“I can’t see it,” he said, “the moon’s too bright.” He rolled over and curled up in the sleeping bag. Beside him, he could see that James had fallen asleep, his head still tipped over looking for where Sirius had said Regulus was.

Severus turned to see if Sirius had fallen asleep as well. Sirius was staring at him, his eyes glittering in the moonlight.

“I’m sorry,” Sirius whispered. His head was propped up on his hands, and he looked more serious than Severus had ever seen him.

“For what?” Severus was confused. Sirius hadn’t done anything to him today. He’d pushed James into the creek several times, but he hadn’t tried anything on Severus.

Sirius stared at him, face a little stunned. “Er. For before. You know. At school. I don’t know why I was so angry at you.”

Severus sucked in his breath. He’d almost forgot about it, in the new joys and potential pitfalls of this weekend. “Why?” he asked, voice low.

Sirius flinched as if he’d yelled. “I—don’t know. I … just, I’m sorry, all right? I won’t get angry at you again.” He looked away, then back. “Not unless you steal my Bertie Botts.”

“Hey,” laughed Severus, feeling as if he’d missed something, “that was Peter. You know I don’t like those.”

Sirius heaved a sigh. “Poor Peter. Trapped in his mum’s house, with his aunt Perilla visiting. He needed those books, didn’t he?”

Severus rolled his eyes. “You and your dirty books. You just thought it would be easier to get your father to believe that he lost them if you came home and they weren’t in your trunk.”

Sirius grinned. “True. All too true. But, about the books, did you get a chance to read them?”

“No!” Severus was shocked. The one glimpse he’d got of them hadn’t done anything but make him want to correct their grammar.

“You know,” Sirius persisted, “there was one I didn’t show to Peter. He wouldn’t have liked it at all. In fact,” he mused, “I’m surprised my dad even had one like it.”

Severus knew that Sirius would continue hinting until he asked, so he gave in. “Why? What was special about it?”

Sirius lowered his voice until it was almost too soft for Severus to hear. “It was about two blokes, instead of a bloke and a bird.”

Severus felt his stomach clench, all of a sudden, and for some unknown reason, he thought of Lupin’s eyes. “W—what?” He struggled to keep his breathing normal. “Can blokes even … do that?”

“Oh, yeah.” Sirius’ voice was thoughtful. “It’s similar.”

Severus tried to picture it and failed. “Similar how?” If this was another of Sirius’ jokes, he’d never trust him again.

Sirius smirked. “Well, all right. Not exactly the same. But, similar. They can use their hands and their mouths the same…”

“But, what about…” Severus couldn’t even quite make himself say the word.

“Shagging? Easy. There’s another opening, you know.”

Severus couldn’t credit how knowing Sirius sounded. “How do you know all this?” he asked, his voice sceptical.

“I read the book, didn’t I?”

“And it had that in there?” His voice cracked, and he winced.

“’Course it did. Had other stuff, too. Do you want to read it?”

“No!” Severus glared across the small camp-site. “No, I don’t.” He pretended not to see Sirius’ smirk.

~*~

The three boys spent Sunday in the nearest Muggle village, which Severus was surprised to see wasn’t as small as he’d expected. It wasn’t anything like a city, but there were enough tourists and day travellers that they didn’t stick out as sorely as he’d thought they would.

He had to stop Sirius several times from saying something like, “Hey, look at that!” and pointing at something mundane, like car parks and radio towers. Finally, he pulled his friends aside and whispered, “Sirius. Why are you acting like this? Isn’t your house in the middle of London?” James turned to look down the alley they were standing in. “Surely you’ve seen more than this…”

Sirius stared at his feet. “My home is in the Cotswolds, where James lives. I don’t know anything about London.”

Severus looked at him, confused. “What—“

“Look, my parents never went anywhere in Muggle London, okay?” Sirius snapped. “I’ve never seen London. Just Diagon and a little of Knockturn when my father would take me there.”

Severus leaned back a little. “Oh,” he said. “Well, how would the two of you like to visit a bakery and a teashop?”

James perked up. “I want to try Muggle biscuits.”

Severus, shaking his head and leading the way to the teashop he’d seen across the street, said, “They’re the same thing, you prat.”

~*~

The next afternoon, Severus stood in front of the fireplace and said goodbye to his friends. He’d tried to thank Mr and Mrs Potter, but they’d both waved him off and said something about always being welcome. He’d nodded, but hadn’t really thought they meant it. Did they really expect him to believe that they’d take him in if he just showed up unannounced?

“I’ll see if I can get my parents to convince your mum to let you come over for longer next time,” James said enthusiastically as Severus pulled his bag back up to his shoulder. “I mean, it worked once, right?”

Behind him, Sirius smiled at Severus. It was the slow smile that Severus had seen Sirius use on Hufflepuff girls and he couldn’t understand why the other boy was aiming it at him. He also couldn’t figure out why his stomach tightened and he had to look away.

“Bye,” he said, feeling overwhelmed. “I’ll owl.” He stepped into the Floo before he realised that was an entirely idiotic thing to say. He couldn’t owl; he didn’t have one.

Once home, he found that his mam had pulled together a lovely tea. She’d made ginger biscuits, something she hadn’t done for him since he was small, and had gone to the Muggle market to get his favourite bread for sandwiches.

After finishing three ham sandwiches, he sat back in his chair. “What do you want, mam?” he asked. She must be feeding him up for something. They didn’t have the money for this kind of food on a regular basis.

She smiled at her plate. “Can’t get anything by you, can I?”

He smirked. “I figured there was something…”

She leaned forward and shifted the plates to the side. Then, pulling out several pieces of parchment, she unrolled them and used empty tea cups to hold the corners down.

“The Potters own several apothecaries. They said that they’ve been having difficulties obtaining fresh supplies of tentacula, aconite, knotgrass and fluxweed. Over the weekend, I visited their apothecaries and found that they’ve outdated supplies of poppy flowers and several other things we could grow here.” She pushed aside that list and picked up what Severus could see was a sketch of their back garden. “I thought, while you’re here, you could help me arrange the garden so we can grow more of what they need.” She poked the sketch with her wand and two planting beds switched places. “This is a big contract, Severus, and if it works I can stop working for Muggles entirely.”

He nodded. He’d wanted her to stop having to pretend that she was a simple Muggle, but this looked like a lot of work.

She eyed him. “You’ll be allowed to use your wand for it; I cleared it with the Improper Use of Magic people.”

Maybe this would be easier than he thought. He pulled the sketch closer and began looking it over.

~*~

That evening, as he dumped his bag out on his bed to put his things away, he saw a book he hadn’t brought with him in the pile. Curiously, he pulled it out, then dropped it like a hot coal when he saw the cover.

It was the book Sirius had told him about, the one with blokes with blokes.

He could hear his mam’s footsteps on the stairs, and he hurriedly shoved the book under his thin pillow. Tumbling his dirty clothes into the basket, and tucking Howard back under his blanket took a quick minute, and he turned to face his mam as she came into the room. She was carrying a pile of cleaned clothes, and moved across his room to drop them on his bed.

“You look flushed,” she said, “was it harder than you expected, getting the new planting beds into place?” She put a cool hand on his forehead.

“Er, no. I’m fine,” he blurted, hoping she hadn’t seen the bulge under his pillow. With a sharp look at him, she left the room, shaking her head. He just overheard her muttering something about boys being deliberately confusing.

After climbing into bed, he pulled the book out. He intended to wrap it up and send it back to Sirius, but it fell open and he caught a glimpse of text.

His hands slid down his partner’s thighs, bringing his face closer to the nest of dark curls cradling the firm, pink…

He gasped and slammed the book shut. After a long moment, filled with more curiosity than he’d ever felt before, he reached out and opened the book back up.

An hour later, the book had fallen aside and he’d curled up around himself, one hand working frantically and the other made into a fist and stuffed into his mouth to try to smother the sounds he couldn’t stop himself from making.

~*~

The rest of the summer was a haze of working in the garden, receiving and sending daily owls to and from James and Sirius, watching his mam plan for the preservation and sales of the plants he was working so hard on and staying up late every night … reading.

He’d thought of Sirius, early on; Sirius handling the book became Sirius handling him the way Altaire in the book handled his lover, Tarant. He’d shuddered to climax several times to that image; one memorable night it had taken three successive goes at it before he was sufficiently … relaxed … to sleep.

Two days before going to Platform 9 ¾, he’d settled down for his nightly reading when his mind substituted Lupin’s face, suddenly, for Sirius’. He exploded so quickly at the image that he nearly fell off the bed. Lying back, legs dangling over the edge of the bed, he couldn’t decide if he was more horrified at the strength of his orgasm, or at the person who’d triggered it. It couldn’t be Lupin’s face that had made it feel that good. The orgasm had come so quickly that he’d almost not felt it, somehow. His body was still bubbling with the arousal and need he’d felt before he started; it almost felt as if he was still waiting for his first one of the night. He decided to try it again and see if he could repeat the experience.

With a silent moan, he reached for himself and allowed Lupin’s face to fill the places that Sirius’ face had inhabited before. It worked well; the book’s main character Altaire was described as a dark blond with light brown eyes and tan skin. That description melded very easily with Lupin’s looks, leaving him free to see himself as Tarant, who had dark hair and pale skin.

The next day, he couldn’t wait for evening before trying again. Around mid-day, when his mam was sure to be busy inside, he hid inside the shed. Sitting in the storage area in back, with the earthy smell of loam filling his nostrils, he stroked down inside the Muggle trousers he wore to garden and filled his hands with himself. Picturing Lupin’s face, flickering images from the times they studied together, the time he’d watched the shadows in the curve of Lupin’s jaw, the funny way his amber eyes lit with humour or fury… It was the image of Lupin’s face tight with anger in the train compartment that mixed the sharp scent of his seed with the gentler scents of the garden around him.

~*~

Severus stood on the platform at King’s Cross, looking eagerly around for his friends. He and his mam had got here early; she needed to be back at home for the first of the deliveries, so she’d brought him, given him more than usual for his pocket money, kissed him and hurried off.

He felt grown up, being on the platform all by himself. He’d already put his trunk in a compartment, checked in at the prefect’s compartment and was now waiting to see if he could spot Sirius before he was spotted himself.

The crowd surged around him, made of laughing children, nervous first years, parents visiting with each other—all combining into a cheerful cacophony of sound. Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of Lupin through the swirling mass. Without thinking, he moved closer, looking at the other boy curiously.

He was taller than his mam. She was small, and she looked… Severus sucked in a breath. She looked as his mam had just six months ago. Careworn, poor and nearly desperate. Blinking fiercely, he looked more closely at Lupin himself and saw that his robes, certainly the correct black for school robes, were fraying at the edges slightly. Severus’ eyes, knowing the most likely places for patches from hard experience, caught on seam lines and small areas of coarser fabric.

Lupin was as poor as he was. Severus couldn’t understand why that made him feel so sorrowful, but it felt as if his heart were clenching.

Suddenly, Lupin spun around, head cocked to the side. He stared directly at Severus, his amber eyes first curious, then challenging. With a calming gesture towards his mam, Lupin turned all the way around, standing erect.

Severus’ eyes caught on a flash of silver on the front of Lupin’s robes. Lupin was a prefect this year.