Chapter 1: Down the Tunnel
The Whomping Willow froze mid swing as Severus poked the knot at its base with a long stick. His hands trembled with something a lot like excitement and he clutched his wand tightly, whispering "Lumos," softly while soil shook loose from around the tree's roots with every one of his footfalls. The roots overhead changed from the faintly wriggling ones of the Whomping Willow to more ordinary tree roots, and he suspected he was underneath the Forbidden Forest. He stopped for a moment to slump against the side of the tunnel, startled to realize he didn't know how long he had been walking. It had been just after sunset when he had descended the steps into the tunnel, but he couldn't say what time it was then, except that it was a long time after sunset. He sprang away from the wall and swallowed. His wand could only illuminate the blackness of the tunnel so far, and the light dazzled his eyes, deepening the darkness around him.
He shifted the strap of the camera he had lifted from Avery's trunk higher up onto his shoulder, but it kept slipping back down. Wiping his clammy palms, he shook himself. There wasn't anything creepy about the tunnel when he knew what was waiting at the end. It hadn't hard to figure it out, he congratulated himself, with Lupin falling ill every single full moon. Black's ploy to get him into the tunnel and probably eaten was equally obvious, but he was prepared, and at least he knew where to find the monster now. His heart pounded, but he reassured himself that he wasn't going to get close to the werewolf. He was just going to snap a few pictures and run.
As he fiddled with the knobs on the camera, readying it to use, he didn't notice the harsh panting behind him until a hand slapped down on his shoulder and grabbed it. He dropped the camera and it hit him in the chest as he spun around. "Potter!" he snarled.
"You don't," Potter heaved, "you don't want to see what's at the end of the tunnel."
He jerked his shoulder out of Potter's grasp and raised his wand, the shining tip throwing both their faces into bleached out peaks and sharp shadows. "Don't touch me," he hissed. "I know what he is and you can't keep me from exposing him!"
Potter's eyebrows flew into his hair and his lips pulled back into a grimace. "No, you don't know what he is, because not even you're enough of an idiot to be down here if you did." He grabbed for Severus' hand, but he slashed his wand as he batted it away, and when Potter touched his cheek, his fingers came away slick with blood. Suddenly Potter stopped and stared down the tunnel, eyes wide. "Come on," he seized Severus' wrist and dragged him closer. Severus yanked his arm back, but Potter was fitter and stronger, and he couldn't get away.
Potter slung his arm around Severus' waist and lifted him up. Severus stopped struggling when he looked up. The wolf crouched against the wall of the tunnel, ready to spring. Swearing under his breath, Potter did his best to run, still carrying Severus around the waist.
The wolf lunged towards them and Severus's foot landed squarely on its jaw. It barely seemed to notice except to growl deep in the back of its throat as it twisted its head. The jaws closed on Severus' knee and he could feel the bones shattering. The sounds they made as they crunched together almost made him sick before every muscle in his body seized up. His pupils dilated and when he bit down on his shrinking lips, his newly sharp canines sliced right through. When Potter let go of him, he fell to the dirt floor, convulsing and shrieking, until the shrieks became howls. The matted black furred wolf that had once been Severus stood on three legs and snarled at his fellow wolf, springing to him, limping heavily.
James Potter reflected distantly that the transformation always seemed much longer than it was. When his sense came back to him, he did the only thing he could do. He ran.
James was halfway back up the tunnel before the adrenalin wore off and the exhaustion set in. He stumbled the rest of the way out of the tunnel and pounded on the knot at the base of the Whomping Willow before he clambered out. His legs shook under him, but he managed to slither out of reach of the Whomping Willow's branches before he collapsed into the grass.
Before he even realized he had closed his eyes, a foot poked into James' side to wake him. "You going to get up?" Sirius asked, standing over him.
Groggily, James shielded his eyes from the full moon, still large and low in the east of the sky. He checked his watch. Fifteen minutes wasn't a long enough for a nap. "No," he groaned. "No, if I get up, I'm going to kill you," but he scrambled to his feet anyway. Dew soaked through James' robe and he shivered. It was an unseasonably cold March.
Sirius glanced around uneasily. "I thought you were going after Snape."
Peter glanced from one of them to the other, looking lost. "What's going on?"
"Nothing, Peter," Sirius began wearily, still listing a bit, but James stopped him.
"Sirius told Snape how to get down the tunnel."
Sirius flinched and closed his eyes as if they hurt. "Yeah, but you said you were going after him, right?"
"I did," James snapped, "but I was too late."
James thought Sirius was going to be sick, but he didn't know if it was because of Snape or the massive bump on the back of his head. "Is he... I mean, I didn't want him to die!"
"Well, that's good, because he didn't," James crossed his arms sulkily.
Sirius did his best to look relieved and not fall over at the same time. "But you just said-"
"He got bitten," he retorted, "So yeah, too late."
Things didn't seem to be connecting in Sirius' head. Everything just kept sliding around. "Oh."
Suddenly James wished Remus were there and human to say what he was about to say instead of him, so that he and Sirius could glare at him together and pretend that it was Moony spoiling their good time. "We have to go to Dumbledore."
Sirius nodded, and then decided that moving his head was a bad idea. His whole head throbbed as he staggered after James as he marched back to the castle.
"Prongs," Peter stared nervously, "Do we really have to? I mean, there's nothing we can do now anyway."
James turned around lazily, but when he spoke, his tone was cold. "And Pomfrey's going to find Snape tomorrow and he's going to tell her exactly who told him how to get past the Whomping Willow. We might not get expelled if Dumbledore hears it from us first."
As he stepped through the doorway into the castle, Peter's eyes widened, and he squeaked out, "Yeah, well, I have nothing to do with any of this, so I'm just going back to the tower."
"Thanks for the moral support Wormtail," James muttered, before Peter started away.
"I really wish everyone would stop talking!" Sirius hissed, wrinkling his forehead.
James cocked his head and peered at his friend's face, "One of your pupils is bigger than the other."
Sighing heavily, James wished he had brought his cloak. He rattled off the names of Wizarding sweets at the gargoyle while Sirius leaned his forehead against the cool stone wall next to it. "Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, Sugar Quills, Bertie Botts, oh, come on, open already!" He glanced up and down the corridor, frustrated. "Pumpkin Pasty, Ice Mice, Tooth-floss-" but the Gargoyle had already jumped aside to reveal the stairway. Grasping Sirius' arm, he sped up the staircase and knocked on the door to Dumbledore's office. When it didn't open, he pushed it open and stepped in, dragging Sirius with him. "Psst, Fawkes," he hissed at the slumbering, cooing phoenix, glowing faintly in the darkness. The bird opened one eye to glower at him. "Fetch Dumbledore for me," it closed its eye and tucked its head under its wing, "Please?" The phoenix huffed and fluffed its feathers before vanishing in a ball of fire.
Finally, it was too much for Sirius. His head spun and he heaved his mostly digested dinner up onto the office floor. "Ick," James exclaimed, jumping back.
"I think that might be my last meal too," Sirius joked feebly.
One of the book cases swung outward and the headmaster strode into the room with Fawkes riding on his shoulder. The lights blazed to life with a flick of his wand, and Sirius turned grey. "I think I'm going to be sick again," he breathed, and James hastily conjured him a plastic bowl as he stared at Dumbledore's canary yellow dressing gown and fuzzy turquoise slippers with tiny lights charmed to flash pictures of the giant squid, swimming around the lake. "Mr. Potter, Mr. Black, you wished to see me?" James clasped his hands behind his back and nodded. "I must say it's refreshing that the two of you came to me for once instead of waiting for me to call you," he shot the two of them a piercing look, and Sirius gulped and then gagged.
"Well," James began, shifting uncomfortably. "Sirius and Snape got into a fight." The words came out in a rush and he didn't pause until they were out of his mouth, but then he couldn't make himself say anything else.
"I suppose that this is the reason for Mr. Black's current condition, though I doubt either of you are here to tattle." his eyes twinkled over his half moon glasses.
James shook his head, eyes down. "Sirius told him how to get past the Whomping Willow." The twinkle vanished from Dumbledore's eyes. James backed up a step fearfully, unhappily realizing that he was one of the few people to completely shock the redoubtable headmaster.
"How did you know about that?" he asked sharply.
"We dug it out of Remus," his voice cracked, "a year ago."
Deadly voiced, Dumbledore demanded "How long have you known what Mr. Lupin is?"
Sirius backed up until he tripped over a chair and fell into it. The bowl followed him determinedly. "Since third year," James whispered. "We figured it out. Remus didn't tell us."
"Do you have anything to say about this, Mr. Black?" he probed.
Sirius responded by bending over and spewing everything remaining in his stomach into the bowl. "No," he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "James is doing fine."
"I suppose that I'll have to prepare Madam Pomfrey to find a corpse in the shack." His lips didn't have any blood in them as he pressed them together and James stuttered. "Your friend, Mr. Lupin will probably be Kissed."
Sirius trembled, eyes wide, and James found himself seeing how it would have all played out, with Snape dead, Remus a soulless husk, Dumbledore forced to resign, Sirius, Peter and himself probably arrested and thrown in Azkaban. Minutes passed before he could find his voice again and the silence stretched terrifyingly on. "No, he's not dead," he stammered at last. "Just bitten."
Dumbledore's head snapped up and relief flashed across his features before he steadied himself. "How do you know this?"
Sirius flushed and swallowed the vomit rising in his throat. "As soon as I told him, I mean, I didn't mean to," he paused and gave up, spilling it into the bowl. "I ran after him, and grabbed him, and dragged him back, and he hexed me into the wall. James found me and woke me up." He pillowed his head against his arms, laying them on the headmaster's desk.
James glanced at him, worried. "So, Sirius told me what he said, and I ran after Snape and caught up with him in the tunnel, and I had to carry him out because he wouldn't come with me, and Remus bit him. They were fighting when I ran."
With all his might, James wished that Dumbledore would blink. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't expel both of you for endangering the lives of two students?"
James glanced at Sirius, who opened one eye to glance back. "Er," James said.
"Uh," Sirius added.
Finally, James clasped his hands. "You'd have to let everyone know that Remus is a werewolf if you did, and he'd get kicked out, and you'd have to quit?"
The headmaster smiled coldly, and for a moment, James thought he was going to have to borrow Sirius' bowl. "Perhaps you should both contemplate how lucky you are that the punishment you deserve would be more harmful to innocent students than to you," he suggested unrelentingly. Both boys flushed, grateful for the dismissal, but when Sirius looked up, Dumbledore called him back. "Go to the hospital wing, Mr. Black; one of your pupils is larger than the other."
As Sirius stumbled away, James hesitated at the door. "You know I didn't have anything to do with this right?" he babbled, "I mean Sirius barely had anything to do with it, he just sort of blurted it out..." He trailed off, really hoping that was amusement in the back of Dumbledore's eyes.
"I suppose pressuring your housemate into telling you the way into a dilapidated building and using it as a hideout isn't an expellable offence, which is why it is Mr. Black who will spend the next two years in detention every evening." James nodded uncertainly, a tendril of panic creeping into his stomach at the knowledge that Dumbledore wasn't omniscient after all, but he clamped down on it, thankful that the headmaster didn't know about the animagus transformations. "You will not however receive any public thanks for saving your fellow student's life."
"I won't be getting any kind of thanks," James muttered. "It's Snape," but there was Evans, too.
Dumbledore shot him a sidelong look. "I'm well aware you didn't do it for the thanks, or even for young Mr. Snape. Your friend Mr. Lupin will be grateful that you prevented him from killing someone,and once he comes back to himself, Mr. Black will be grateful you prevented him from becomming a murderer." James' face heated.
There was a jagged piece of plastic and a role of film poking into his back, but that wasn't what woke him. "Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no..." When he opened his eyes, Lupin was leaning over him, chanting his denial over and over again. Severus pushed himself up with his arms, sitting. Pain shot up his leg and the blood ran out of his face as he sank back to the floor a few inches away from the broken camera parts. He was naked, he realized, and distantly he knew that his clothes must be in shreds in the tunnel.
"No," he asserted fiercely, "no." Every nerve in his body ached dully, except the ones in his leg, where the pain wasn't dull at all.
"Oh God, I bit..." Lupin gasped, "Oh God!"
"Shut up," he snarled. He shook all over and the salt from his sweat ran into his scratches and gashes, stinging. Small wounds, he noticed, covered Lupin too. Blood from a cut on his forehead ran into his eyes and dripped onto Severus. He wiped it away disgustedly.
"How," Lupin, begged, his voice quavering, "did you get down here?"
Severus waved him away, hiding his gentiles with his other hand. Obligingly, Lupin pulled the tattered bedspread off of the bed and draped it over him. Poking his finger into one of the quilt's many holes, Severus glared at Lupin out of narrowed eyes. He was already dressed, his uniform rumpled. "Your friend Black told me," he hissed, pulling the bedspread tightly around himself.
"Liar," Lupin said calmly, "you would never have listened to him."
Severus colored, but his sallow skin only managed a dull yellow-pink. "I listened after he tried to keep me from going."
The sunrise trickled through the grime covered windows, staining the inside of the room orange and red. "He couldn't have tried very hard," Lupin muttered resentfully, slumping down onto the mattress.
"He wasn't moving when I left him," he'd also had a steady pulse, but Severus didn't mention that, "nasty fall."
Lupin stared down at him, horrified, his mouth working furiously, but no words coming out. "Oh God," he moaned again.
Severus ignored him. "What is this place?"
Lupin glared murderously, waving his hand around the room mock-grandly, "The Shrieking Shack."
"There aren't any actual ghosts here, are there?" he questioned sardonically, narrowing his eyes.
The door creaked open quietly, but both boys started before Severus froze from the pain in his leg. Madam Pomfrey bustled through the doorway, her wand in one hand and a bundle of cloth and a bag full of potions and cotton balls in the other. Severus let loose a sigh of relief until she threw the quilt off of him and he cringed and covered his lap. The blood from his leg had soaked through the fabric and oozed onto the floor. "Let's get that cleaned out, she said briskly, uncorking a bottle of potion and pouring most of it onto the wound where it fizzed a lurid purple.
"AAARGGGG," he groaned, ripping his leg out of her reach and then yelping. "You could have just dabbed it on," he grumbled, seeking to take the bottle away from her, but only succeeding in tipping the rest of it onto the bite wound.
"Werewolf saliva is full of all sorts of pathogens," she informed him, "there's no point in taking chances." When she uncorked another bottle of wound cleaning potion, however, she did just dab it onto the scratches covering him. The breath hissed into him around his teeth and Severus could feel Lupin watching them serenely, as he fussed and wriggled under the mediwitch's care. he gritted his teeth. Before she set to work on Lupin's cuts, she threw the bundle of cloth at him. he shook it out gingerly to discover that it was one of his school robes, a green and silver Slytherin tie, trousers, and a greying white button up shirt. "I sent a house elf to fetch some of your clothes when the headmaster told me what had happened. Can you dress yourself?"
Severus vowed that he would make himself able before he'd let her stuff his limbs into his clothes, but she had already turned to Lupin and was swabing his wounds with the wound cleaning potion. Lupin endured her ministrations with absolute stoicism while Severus pulled the shirt over his arms and buttoned it up. Cautiously, Severus lifted his injured right leg high enough to slip the trouser leg over it. Lupin sat cross-legged on the bed as Madam Pomfrey helped Seveus stand so that he could pull up his pants and trousers and helped him hobble over to the bed. As soon as he sat down, she shoved the robe over his head where it caught on his nose and in his mouth. He snatched the tie away from her when she looped it around his neck. "I can do that," he snapped, tying it in place under his collar. She gave it to him without comment and an unidentifiable expression. "There aren't any shoes," he pointed out sullenly.
"You're not going to be walking on that leg anyway," she reminded him sweetly, patting his leg just above the injury. As the pain shot through him, he hissed profanities and fell back onto the mattress. Madam Pomfrey ignored him pointedly and Severus did his best not to think of anything at all as she swept her wand over him and pronounced "Mobilicorpus."
As Severus bobbed ungainly in the air, it didn't take him very long at all to decide that particular spell should never be used on living, conscious people. "Come along, Mr. Lupin," Madam Pomfrey said gently, putting a hand on his back and rubbing it in circles, guiding him down into the tunnel.
"Stop," Severus demanded as they passed the shreaded pile of his clothing. "My wand's in there." Green-faced, Lupin bent over and searched through the mangled bits of fabric until he found a short, slender ebony wand and pulled it out of the cloth. With a bit of trepidation, he pressed it into Severus' hand, but Severus turned his head away without saying anything.
Severus poked one of the squirming roots of the Whomping Willow as he passed under it and Lupin sprang forward to prod the knot at the base of the tree. The root flinched away from him before it froze and Madam Pomfrey levitated him out of the tunnel. "You're alright to go back to class, if you're not too tired, Mr. Lupin," she told the boy, "but I advise that you wait before you visit your friend Mr. Black. I had to give him several cincussion repairing potions, and he's still sleeping them off." She shook her head in Severus' direction, "He hit that wall quite hard." The air rushed out of Lupin's lungs as he nodded, and Severus sniffed distainfully.
As Madam Pomfrey levitated him out into the early morning sunlight, Severus swallowed convulsively, wondering panically if anyone was watching him drifting over the field from one of the castle windows.
Chapter 2: Irrefutable Evidence
A dull pain blossomed in James' chest and he groaned as he woke up. Evans walked down the hall without looking back at him as he propped himself up on his forearm. "You stepped on me!" he exclaimed indignantly. She ignored him as she kept walking, not even glancing back at him. "Hey!"
He heaved himself to his feet and stumbled through the portrait hole, which Evans had graciously left open for him. a cluster of first year girls whispered as he passed by on his way up the staircase to the fifth year boys dormitory. "Where were you?" Remus stood just inside the doorway, buttoning the last few buttons of his shirt and throwing his robes over his shoulders.
"The Fat Lady wasn't there, so I had to sleep in the hall." James' legs and back ached. Every muscle in his body seemed to remember the night before better than he did. "You could've woken me up when you came in."
"Do you know who was in the Shrieking Shack this morning with a chunk taken out of his knee?" he growled, dismissing his friend's words with a shaking hand.
James nodded reluctantly. "Yeah, I was there when it happened." Suddenly, he was aware of how much more sleep he needed, and nearly dragged the covers over his head and pretended it wasn't morning yet. "Sirius sent me after him." he didn't mention that he had been holding Snape when Remus bit him. "Moony..."
"I saw you," he hissed, "and smelled you, oh God."
"What happens now?" he interrupted sharply.
"Sirius isn't expelled," he smiled tentatively, "and Dumbledore wants to keep this quiet, that's good, right?"
"Oh God," Remus dropped onto the bed next to him, "oh God!"
"It's going to be alright, Moony," James rubbed his back in circles.
"I bit someone!" he shouted, "That's not going to be alright, no matter what!"
"He's alive right?" James consoled, "It's not like you killed the little slimeball." Remus shot up from the bed and fled the dormitory.
Severus drank the Blood-Replenishing Potion with a grimace and handed the flask back to Madam Pomfrey. What color he had flooded back into his skin. "That's the last. I think," she told him, "but I want you to stay here over the weekend for observation."
He swallowed a groan. "If I'm not bleeding, I'm fine, and I want to go to class."
"Unfortunately, that's not possible, Mr. Snape, I don't want that leg to start bleeding again. Those are cursed wounds, I don't want to let you go while they're still open and susceptible to infection," she pulled his sheet up around him and tucked it under his skin. "I've had one of your prefects bring down some of your pajamas." She bustled past him to examine the patient in the next bed, a slumbering lump of tangled sheets to which Severus shot nasty looks as he settled down sulkily.
Madam Pomfrey tapped the figure's shoulder gently, and it stirred, waking just enough to mumble, "no more potions," and pull the sheets tighter around itself.
Brandishing a vial of greyish orange liquid, the mediwitch pulled the sheets away, bringing a cry from their former inhabitant. "Mr. Black," I'm afraid I can't let you go back to sleep until you have taken your potion."
He snatched it out of her hand and downed it all in one gulp, "Happy?" She took the vial back and nodded. As she sat back down at her desk, Black looked around and then stared stunned for a moment at the boy next to him.
Severus' hand scrambled across the side table to find his wand, but it wasn't there. Black mirrored his motions frantically, neither taking his eyes off the other. "Did I actually send you to the hospital wing, Black?"
"Don't look so smug," Black retorted. "You're here too," and then, he looked momentarily sick, but he covered it. Assured that his neighbor was as unarmed as he was, he rolled back over and mimicked sleep. Something inside Severus envied his nonchalance.
About an hour later, Madam Pomfrey snatched Black's sheets away again and pulled him up to examine him and cast diagnostic spells over him. "You're alright to go to your classes this afternoon, Mr. Black, if you take it easy for the next few days." She pressed his wand into his hand. "I thought it would be prudent to confiscate this from you before I left you in a bed next to Mr. Snape." he nodded quickly, perfunctorily, to hurry her along, and darted out of the room before she could tell him any more. Severus noted that his pockets were untucked and there was a long grass stain on the back of his shirt.
Left alone, Severus found himself almost upset that Black got to leave, because even bickering with the disgusting specimen of humanity that had put him in this position was better than the crushing boredom of being stuck in the hospital wing with nothing to do and not even a book to keep him company. When the knock on the door came, tentative as it was, he nearly tumbled off the bed. When he moved, he realized something. He couldn't feel his right leg, there was no pain, but there was also no sensation of the gauze bandages. As Madam Pomfrey opened the hospital wing door, Severus yanked up the sheet, panicked, to make sure his leg was still attached. He caught a glimpse of Lily's red hair, and dropped the sheet hastily.
"Severus!" she cried when she caught sight of him. As she ran over to him, bits of lettice and mayonnaise splattered the floor from the tuna salad sandwich being crushed in her left hand.
"Miss Evans!" the mediwitch scolded, aghast, "what did I tell you about over-stimulating my patient?"
"She's not over-stimulating me," Severus assured her, wringing his hands, again struck by the way he couldn't feel the leg he had just seen swathed in bandages, jutting from his hip.
"No one will tell me what happened to you," she begged. "All Slughorn would say when I asked was that you were hurt sneaking off campus, and you were lucky you weren't already expelled!"
"Well I'm not expelled," he grumbled.
"Aren't you going to tell me what happened?" she pressed, "Did you know Potter wasn't in the Tower last night? I stepped on him this morning going down to breakfast."
Lily cut him off. "And Black wasn't even in classes this morning, and Remus-"
Severus' head shot up, "Is he Remus now?"
Lily huffed, "Honestly, he's a prefect with me. He's not nearly as odious as his friends, are, I don't know why he spends time with them."
He did his best not to growl, or snarl, or do anything else to remind him of what he had become. His mouth worked as he forced himself to keep quiet and not spit that he knew what Lupin was, and he had been right all along, hadn't he. "So?"
"Remus came down to breakfast all cut up."
"Not cut up," Severus corrected darkly, "bitten up."
"You're still on about that?" she said exasperatedly. "He's not a werewolf, Severus, he's not." He buried his head in his pillow and held back a scream.
"What time is it?" he asked, trying to distract her.
"Lunch," she told him, gesturing with the sandwich. His stomach took that as a cue to rumble, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since the night before.
"Do I get anything to eat?" he asked the mediwitch irritably while Lily took a bite of her sandwich.
"If you're hungry, I could make you some cream of wheat," she told him briskly, "Though milk and sugar I'm afraid are out."
"I'm not ill," came his indignant reply, "I'm injured. I can eat real food."
She favored him with an amused sidelong look. "I'm under the headmaster's orders to treat you as a prisoner, Mr. Snape, so your diet for the next few day is at my discretion.
Severus flinched. He very badly wanted to tell her that prisoners had some rights to humane treatment including decent food, but he couldn't quite work up the nerve. "So are you going to tell me what you did?" Lily prodded, plucking the edge of the sheet from the bed and starting to pull it down.
His mouth opened, but the words wouldn't form. If he spoke, he would have to acknowledge what had happened. It would be real then, inescapable, permanent. It fell into the deep recesses of his mind where he didn't have to see it. "No," he hissed, ripping the sheet out of her hands.
Lily relinquished it, wide-eyed. "Sev..." she wheedled, a persuading smile eclipsing her face. A rush of heat poured into his face, and he wished for a moment that she would sit with him like this on a bed somewhere other than the hospital wing. He flushed. "Did you go chasing after Black and Potter?" she demanded, her smile disappearing. Severus ground his teeth together. "Oh, you did, didn't you? Did they do this to you? They should be expelled!"
Severus heartily agreed. "No," he snapped, "Leave it, Lily!"
"Yeah, well, you're going to tell me," she informed him through clenched teeth, "You always do." Severus folded his arms sulkily and pulled the sheet over his head in reply. "Fine," she burst out, "but you will tell me." he pulled down the sheet, hiding a triumphant smile.
Taking a steadying bite out of her sandwich, Lily smiled breathtakingly at Madam Pomfrey. "Am I allowed to bring him his schoolwork and some books to keep him busy?" she asked.
"Of course," the mediwitch replied with a matching smile. Lily beamed.
Severus heaved a sigh of relief, taking her allowing him to do schoolwork as a signal that he would not be expelled come Monday. "I'll come back after classes, do you want me to bring you anything specific?"
He shook his head, "Potions and Defense."
Rolling her eyes, Lily snorted. "I could've guessed that."
"Are you leaving now?" he did his best to keep his voice neutral.
She shifted uncomfortably on the starched white fitted sheet. "Do you want me to?"
"No," he whispered. He never wanted her to leave.
Bending low over him, she whispered in his ear, "Just for that I'll sneak some food up with me." She grinned at him conspiratorially with a furtive look in the direction of Madam Pomfrey.
Sirius crept down from his hiding place in the empty dormitory, grabbing his own wrists to keep his hands from shaking. Every head in the Great Hall turned his way curiously and his heart hammered against his ribs. For one horrifying instant, he read fury and amusement in their expressions and wondered how everyone knew, but then he realized. He was late, lunch was half-over. James, Peter, and Remus sat near the head of the table, and as he walked between the tables, talking stopped. His shoulders slumped. His eyes caught Evans' for a second, and he could feel her watching him consideringly. There wasn't any space for him to sit between Remus and James, and when he stood behind them, Remus glared at him balefully. Even more palpable in that moment than the shame and disgrace he felt was the feeling of knowing he was in disgrace.
James didn't smile at him either, and Peter dithered a bit before he moved over to let Sirius sit next to James. Shuddering visibly, he sank down between them, glancing from side to side. "So what d'you think about Ravenclaw's new Beater?" Peter asked shrilly, "I mean, he's a little guy, but he trounced the Hufflepuff Chasers."
Sirius' lip curled, "A five-year-old could trounce the Hufflepuff Chasers."
James didn't smile, but he punched Sirius' arm instead. "Our Beaters can handle him," James said confidently. Peter smiled, openly thankful.
Weak with relief, Sirius might have slid off the bench if he hadn't dug his elbows into the table. He seized an empty plate and loaded it up with corned beef sandwiches and creamed spinach, his stomach suddenly aware that he hadn't eaten since dinner the night before, and he'd vomited most of that up anyway. He took the rubber stopper out of the bottom of a salt shaker and poured a lump of salt into the center of the creamed spinach and mixed it thoroughly. He tried gamely to ignore the forced way normalcy persisted during the meal, with Peter chattering, and James cracking jokes, and Remus resisting, silent and shooting him dirty looks from around James.
Just as he finished his third sandwich, a lone owl glided serenely across the Great Hall to drop a familiar heavy parchment envelope into his creamed spinach. Sirius sank low on the bench, rounding his shoulders around the letter as he tore the top off the envelope and shook the letter out.
When he saw the tall, narrow, loopy letters, he swallowed hard.
Your detentions will begin on the upcoming Monday and continue every school day evening until graduation. You will meet me in my office immediately after dinner. Madam Pomfrey assured me that it would be unlikely that you would remember our conversation last night in any meaningful way, so, once more, I'd like to impress upon you the gravity of your actions. The only reason I have not already expelled you is that in doing so, I would have to reveal Mr. Lupin and Mr. Snape's status, and they would have to leave the school as well. Mr. Lupin would have had to pay serious legal penalties despite the fact that his only crime was seeking an education and befriending you. However, you are on notice. Should you break another school rule, I will expel you.
I cannot tell you how profoundly your actions have made me question your sanity and my own for my lenient treatment of you and your companions for your perennial rule-breaking. Consider very carefully precisely what your inability to keep your mouth shut could have done to both Mr. Lupin and Mr. Snape. You could have easy had the deaths of two students on your conscience, including that of someone you claim to consider a good friend. I hope this has more impact on you than the possibility that you will be punished, because thus far, that has had very little effect on your actions at all.
Sirius let his head sink into his hands, crushing the letter between. He was wrong. The shame was more palpable than anyone else's disappointment.
Lily pounded the water-slick stone, driving grit deep into her skin. "Avery, get out here now!" she shouted at the door she knew was there, but it wasn't the fifth year prefect who opened the dungeon wall.
Evan Rosier glowered at her, pressing against the door frame with both hands. "What're you doing here, Mudblood?" he hissed softly.
The muscles in her jaw jumped as she peered around him into the gloomy common room. "Severus's in the hospital wing, I told him I'd bring his books. Get Avery for me." Rosier sneered at her and started to close the door, but Lily blocked it. "I'm a prefect," she said pointing at her badge and speaking very slowly, "I can take points."
"Yeah, a whole five points," he mocked, moving to close her out again, but Lily blocked him again and leaned into the common room.
"Yeah," she told him, jabbing her wand into his Slytherin tie, "a whole five points, from you," she raised her voice and bellowed into the common room, "and from every single one of you who doesn't run downstairs right now to fetch Avery for me!" She smiled coldly and counted the students. "That's one hundred and fifteen points."
All twenty two students scattered for the staircase at the same time, wedging themselves between the walls in their haste while Rosier seethed. Finally, a third year boy that Lily didn't know wriggled through and shot down the steps first. "Can't figure out how to use a table and chairs, Mudblood?" Rosier asked, pointing at the shrunken parcels of food tucked into her bag.
"Five points from Slytherin," she snapped, feeling the familiar fury that this toerag and his friends were the people Severus chose to spend time with.
Avery marched through the common room and pushed Rosier out of the way, the third year boy following behind him, arms full of Severus' books. He gestured with his thumb, and the boy tipped the books onto the floor in the corridor at Lily's feet. "Leave," he ordered. Lily scowled as she crouched down to gather the books and drop them into her bag. "And Mudblood, tell Snape I want my camera back," he let the wall grind shut.
"Do I get a last meal?" Severus spat, when Madam Pomfrey finished emptying his bedpan. She cast a scouring charm on it and sat it in a cabinet amongst its fellows. He flushed, mortified, furious that she wouldn't even let him get out of bed to use the toilet.
"Don't be rediculous, Mr. Snape, if he were going to expel you, he would have done it already." As the headmaster strode into the hospital wing, Severus sat up in the bed and Madam Pomfrey pushed him back down.
Dumbledore pushed one of the hard, wooden hospital next to Severus' bed and folded himself onto it. "She's right, I'm not going to expel you, though your actions certainly warrant it."
Severus clutched the sheet and glared defiantly. "I've done nothing-"
Dumbledore raised his eyebrows and peered over his half moon glasses. "Haven't you? You have been telling your fellow students for months that you were certain that Mr. Lupin was a werewolf."
"And he was, wasn't he," Severus snapped back. "I was right, and everyone should know."
The headmaster sighed heavily. "Yes, you were right, Mr. Snape, the point was, you knew what you would face in that tunnel, and you went down there anyway, risking your life and the life of Mr. Lupin simply to prove you were right and to punish school rivals. Had you succeeded in photographing Mr. Lupin and distributing the results among your classmates, a perfectly innocent student would have had to leave."
"And he should have!" Severus shouted, his nails biting through the fabric. "He's a werewolf, he's a danger to everyone here! I did it because of that!"
"Don't try it, you're not even telling yourself that excuse," The smile that spread across the headmaster's face was far from pleasant, "and students are only in danger if they do blatantly stupid things like invade a werewolf's place of confinement during the full moon," Severus felt his face heating. "Besides, that works both ways. You're also a werewolf now, I'm sure you don't want to leave any more than Mr. Lupin does."
"No," Severus said definitely, "I'm not."
Dumbledore shook his head sadly and pointed to Severus' bandaged leg. "That, and Mr. Potter's witnessing your transformation, would say otherwise. You are a werewolf, and if you feel so strongly that Mr. Lupin should leave because of his curse, you should leave yourself."
His mouth opened and then closed again before he figured out what to say. "If I deserve to be expelled so much, why haven't you?"
"That would reveal Mr. Lupin's condition and he would be forced to leave."
A sudden idea pushed itself into Severus' throat, choking him before it came out. "You'd have to resign, wouldn't you," he muttered, "if everyone found out you'd let a werewolf into Hogwarts, and Lupin could be arrested."
Dumbledore inclined his head. "He could be kissed, or sent to the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures and beheaded." Severus flinched and Dumbledore conjured a clip board with a form attached to it and a quill. "You will have to fill this out to register with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Fortunately, they have yet to check the Werewolf registry against the student lists. There's a copy of the Werewolf Code of conduct there too." Severus nodded and took the quill unable to find his voice. "Your parents will have to be notified about your condition." He forced down the tears prickling at the corners of his eyes and nodded again.
Chapter 3: Crutches and Cameras
The headmaster took the clipboard and form with him when he left, and stopped to say something to Madam Pomfrey before the door closed behind him. She glanced at Severus disapprovingly as she strode past to a first year Hufflepuff who kept staring at him interestedly, waiting for her daily diabetes potion. When the first year choked the greyish yellow liquid down, the mediwitch shooed her out and leaned over Severus' bed. "You're released, Mr. Snape, and you'd better hurry if you want to eat breakfast before you go to class."
He swung his legs off of the bed as he felt the unsettling tingle of a hastily cast freshening charm. Madam Pomfrey gazed at him unrepentantly when his head snapped up. Unable to stand being in the hospital wing for one more minute, he pushed himself to his feet. A second later, he toppled back onto the bed. "My knee won't bend," he yelped.
He stared at it stunned. It jutted out from his hips, bent too sharply to stand on, but not sharply enough to let him sit with his foot flat on the floor. "Yes," the mediwitch said briskly, "There's no joint there anymore. "The bite shattered the bones, and when you became human again, they fused into one." He gaped, the horror too thick in his mind for him to say anything. His mouth worked, but nothing except air came out. She stepped behind him, and he craned his head to follow her. With one arm, she lifted something out of sight behind the bunched up curtain. When she came back into view, she propped a pair of forearm crutches against his bed. "You'll use those, Mr. Snape," she informed him, standing back.
Using his arms, Severus heaved himself back onto his foot, this time prepared to balance one footed as he tentatively reached for the crutches. The wooden cuffs slid along the fabric of his sleeves until they came to rest around his upper arms. He gripped the handles tightly as he used the crutches to lever himself up the rest of the way. "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" he said hoarsely, the whites of his eyes a hollow ring around his irises.
"I thought you'd have noticed yourself," she mused, watching him. "You have, after all, been here all weekend.
Yes, he wanted to shout, but he'd been too busy being terrified that he would be expelled, too busy ignoring his body for fear that it would give him some signal that he was a werewolf, to notice anything. His head ached and it slumped on his neck before he stretched his toes out as far as they would go, but they still rested a few inches above the floor. "Can you fix it?" he asked, his voice hollow and disbelieving.
Madam Pomfrey shook her head. "I'm sorry."
Swallowing hard, he forced himself to take his first ungainly step. The wood snicked within the rubber tip and then hissed down to the bottom of the rubber.
With a flick of her wand, the crutches shortened to fit him. "Now Mr. Snape, I expect to see you next month after dinner for the full moon."
Severus bowed his head and nodded miserably, the logo for Asclepius enchanted anti-blistering rubber grips pressing into the palms of his hands. Keeping his eyes focused on the door, he did his best to sweep away.
Remus walked stiffly, his legs moving as quickly as they could without breaking into a run to keep ahead of his friends. "Oi, Remus," James called, "what's your hurry?"
His head twisted around, but he didn't slow down. "I just want to get to the Great Hall before someone else eats all the bacon," he forced a smile.
James lowered his eyebrows to a point between his eyes. "No, really," he said dubiously, "walk with us."
Shuffling back to his three friends, Remus' shoulders slumped, just slightly, but Sirius saw, and flinched. "So," Peter rushed out, "Any plans for tonight?"
"We don't even know if we'll have essays to write tonight yet," Remus said peevishly, but that had never stopped them before. Peter ignored him and turned to James, but James didn't answer. Out of habit, Peter turned to Sirius, but he wasn't next to James. Hanging behind them hesitantly, Sirius didn't meet Peters eyes as he didn't say anything either. "Zonkos has those new Dungbombs in, we could..." his voice faltered as Remus shot him a nasty look. "Or we could finally get Rosier back for that time he hexed you in the charms corridor. Or Wilkes," he murmured thoughtfully, "She's always good for a laugh." Well she was, Peter defended to himself, She screamed at the slightest provocation.
The Great Hall fell silent as the four of them walked through the doors together, James and Remus in front, with Peter and then Sirius close behind. Even the professors kept silent until the boys claimed their place at the Gryffindor table. As soon as they sat down, everyone started babbling.
"Bacon, Moony?" James asked nonchalantly, holding the serving plate to the boy next to him. Remus used his fork to scoop a few rashers of bacon onto his plate, glancing from side to side. For the moment at least, he and not Sirius sat next to James at the center of the four. The bacon found its way into his windpipe at his shock and James pounded his back to force the bacon back up into his mouth. "What's wrong?"
Remus wanted to ask what wasn't wrong. Everything was wrong. He had bitten somebody, Sirius had told Snape how to get into his hiding place, he was choking on a piece of bacon, his head pounded, Peter wouldn't shut up, he wasn't speaking to Sirius, and he had bitten somebody! "Nothing," he said.
His fork dropped to his plate when he finished first, and he slipped off the bench without a word. Remus made it halfway down the hall before Sirius caught up with him and pulled him into a gap in the wall. "Remus," he whispered.
"I don't want to talk to you," Remus muttered back, ducking his head and trying to wriggle past him.
Sirius blocked his escape, "Moony, I'm sorry!"
"I don't want to hear it!" he shouted, but with his eyes on the open hallway beyond the wall niche, his voice dropped until Sirius had to strain to hear him. "You almost made me a murderer! Sirius-"
"I know!" Sirius hissed, eyes as wide as he could make them.
"I woke up with his blood in my mouth!" He didn't want to think about the way Snape had woken up denying everything and implying that he might have killed Sirius. he had wanted to die.
"I know!" Sirius screamed quietly, "it just popped out..." he shivered.
"How can something like that just pop out?" he demanded, pale.
"He could have died," he howled, the words husky with the effort of keeping them quiet, "and then I would've!" Sirius would have made him into a monster, and then he'd be put down like one.
"Remus!" The boy in front of him shook so hard he was almost vibrating, and when Sirius looked him in the face, he couldn't breathe. With his teeth bared and eyes narrowed, ge didn't look much like a human at all.
"You used me!" How could he explain what it felt like being used like a bomb or a gun, or a particularly horrible dark curse? How could he make Sirius comprehend what that was like? There weren't any words for it! "All my life..."
A gaggle of students clustered in the hallway in front of the old friends, peering in to see them and craning their ears for their quarrelling. The wand was in Remus' hand before he realized it. "Go away," he growled low in his throat, "before I hex every single one of you with ulcers on your eyes, and tongues, and feet that'll ooze pus and..." Gentle, soft spoken Remus brandished his wand and bared his teeth, back ramrod straight as his gaze passed over each of them in turn. They scattered. Even Avery fled. His nails bit into his palms around the wood and he felt as if his shoulders would snap into pieces with the tension, but he ducked back into the niche as soon as the last student disappeared down the corridor.
The color ran out of Sirius' face. "Remus, I know, really I'm-"
"No you don't," he snapped, but it turned into a sob. "If you had, you wouldn't..."
An arm wrapped around his shoulder, pulling him in. "I'm sorry, I'm sor-"
"Let me go!" he snarled, and Sirius did.
Severus never got to go to breakfast because he had to trek down to the dungeon to fetch his Arithmancy book and everything else he usually kept in his school bag. He slunk into his seat beside Lily only a few minutes late, yanking his arms free of the crutches and leaning them against the desk. Glancing up at him to welcome him back, Lily's eyes veered to the crutches and grew huge in her face. She gazed under the table at his right leg, too shallowly bent next to his left, "what happened?" she mouthed. He ducked his head and pretended she hadn't asked as he rifled through his school bag to find his ink bottle. Professor Vector pretended not to notice his late arrival, or the way whispering broke out in a hissing wave as the students noticed as one his new disability. His sallow skin heated to a sickly pinkish yellow, and he threw his head back to hide his mortification. As soon as Professor Vector turned her back to the class to write a formula on the board, Lily poked him in the arm. "What happened to your leg?" she hissed, "What's wrong with it?"
Severus scribbled the formula onto his parchment and tried to concentrate on the problem the class was supposed to be working through, but Lily snatched his quill out of his hand. "I'll tell you after class," he snapped back, but he was only delaying the inevitable.
While the other students filed out of the classroom, Lily prodded him between his shoulder blades. "So?" she insisted, hefting his leg onto the bench to get a better look at it.
"I broke it," he growled. It was true as far as that went.
"Don't lie, Madam Pomfrey could take care of that in a second."
"Alright, I shattered it," he clarified, sullenly, thinking fast. "She had to fuse the shards together to keep them from tearing anything."
"If she fixed it, why're you using those?" she challenged, pointing to the crutches.
He gestured eloquently to his leg. "She fused them into one solid bone. I can't bend it."
"Oh, so your leg is, oh." she clasped her hand around his knee to feel the unnatural rounded curve of his frozen knee. "Can she fix it?" He shook his head, glowering at the offending new made bone. Grasping his hands in hers and rubbing her thumbs over the backs of them, Lily grimaced, unhappily. "I'm sorry."
Severus felt his hands warm in hers, but he brushed her off anyway. "It's fine," he said gruffly, "It's not like there's anything you can do about it."
"I'm still sorry," she said with a little smile, putting her hand on his cloth covered knee. With a shiver, Severus felt the warmth from it sink into the bone and burn tantalizingly. He hunched in on himself, pulling his leg away from her.
"Mr. Snape, Miss Evens," Professor Vector cut through their whispered words, "I have to ask you to leave so that I can go to lunch."
Severus flushed, his stomach rumbling, and stood, but once he was on his feet, didn't know what to do next. his knee wouldn't bend to take a step. Furious with himself, he grabbed for his clutches. "Let's leave," he muttered to his friend.
Tactfully, Lily didn't say anything and slowed down to keep pace with his faltering steps. Humiliation gnawed at his belly and he threw his crutches further forward to vault ahead nearly as quickly as he had been able to run before. When he looked back, Lily had stopped walking. "You're going to fall over if you keep doing that," she told him tartly.
Clutching the rubber grips, he hobbled back over to her, sulking. "I don't want you to slow down for me."
She raised her eyebrows at the way his school bag swung as he tried to walk as fast as she did, almost overbalancing him with each step, "but I want to walk with you."
Before they even passed through the Great Hall doors, as soon as the nearby diners could see them, hushed words ripped through the students, passing from mouth to mouth like hexes from a wand. Trudging to the Slytherin table, Severus left her side, hiding behind his hair, hanging in clotted clumps of dirt and grease around his face.
As Lily passed the Gryffindor boys from her year, she spared them a glance. Remus moaned softly to see the Slytherin boy and his new disability, and Black, his face a sickly greyish green, kept his eyes on his food as if he never wanted to take another bite. Potter patted his prefect friend's back awkwardly as Pettegrew chattered. Her hands balled into fists, her conviction that those four had done this somehow overwhelming everything else, and when she sank into her seat, she found she couldn't eat anything.
The owl glided effortlessly down to the Slytherin table, coming to rest between a bowl of oranges and a platter covered in crumbs from chips. Severus twisted the last of his with his fork until it fell apart in an oily paste on his plate. the owl's huge orange eyes turned to him and the bird, oblivious to the sunlight that should have banished it to the Owlery, sauntered over to him, pushing a foreboding heavy parchment envelope with its beak.
Plucking it from te table, Severus tore the envelope open and shook the letter out onto the table. Evan Rosier made a grab to read the letter, but Severus slapped his hand away.
Your punishment for trespassing upon forbidden areas (among other crimes, both more and less severe) will begin tonight and continue on the evenings of every week day that you attend class, excepting those which precede the full moon, until the end of your seventh year. You will meet my in my office directly after dinner. The password is Tunnock's Teacake.
The letter crumpled in his hand, but he set it back on the table and smoothed it out to read it again. He didn't make it halfway through the second time before he stopped to stare at it, the letters blurring together.
Sirius tapped his foot irritably as he rattled off the names of wizarding candies, staring at the gargoyle for any hint of movement. When he finished running through every candy sold at Honeydukes, he started again in case he forgot one. The snick-click sound of crutches cut through his frustrated half screams and he pivoted on his heel, wand in hand. "Oh, you can't be serious," he yelped.
"About what, Black? Tunnock's Teacake." the gargoyle leapt aside froglike, revealing the staircase behind. Snape swung his crutches forward and shot to the staircase to reach it before Sirius could.
"Why'd he tell you the password?" Sirius exclaimed.
"I have detention," Snape fleered, not looking at the troublemaker.
"So do I!" he shot back, taking the steps two at a time to catch up with the other boy.
Each time Severus pulled himself onto a new step, he gritted his teeth against the plunging sensation in his stomach that rose as he almost fell backward. The gorge rose up in his throat to match it, along with a grim suspicion. "You have detention?"
"Every night until I leave this place," he clipped, clenching his fists as he marched.
Severus let out a breath when his feet wobbled onto the landing. his arms throbbed, and the spells in the rubber grips had worn off, because he had blisters springing up on his palms. One of them burst as he curled his hand into a fist to knock on the door.
Sirius pushed him out of the way and hammered harder on the door. Already off balance, Snape tumbled to the floor and jerked his wand out of his sleeve. The wand pointed between Sirius' eyes and he froze, not knowing if he should curse someone lying on the floor.
The door slid open. "Mr. Black, Mr. Snape," the headmaster glanced the student standing at the edge of the landing and then down at the one slumped against the carpet. "I surmise you have both already realized that the two of you will be serving your detentions together." Both boys tossed their heads up and down. "Come inside then. Mr. Black, help Mr. Snape."
Black grabbed Severus' arm and wrenched him to his feet. "Don't touch me," he breathed, clutching the crutches to his sides.
Severus sneered the password at the Slytherin common room door and stumbled inside long after the rest of his housemates had gone to bed. His crutches slipped on the smooth winding stairwell down to the fifth year boys' dormitory, sending him careening down three steps before he caught himself against the wall. Swallowing against the humiliation, he sank to the ground and slid down the stairs on his hands, dragging the crutches behind him. A door below him creaked open and a thin faced first year boy poked his head out. "Could you stop making so much noise?" he muttered, and as Severus slid down to the next step lower, he realized the dull thunking sound the crutches made each time they hit a new step reverberated through the stairwell.
Severus scowled at the boy, "No."
"Yeah, well, I'll tell Avery," the boy threatened.
His lip curled, "You wouldn't have the courage." The boy resigned himself to glowering at him as he passed. There were still four flights left to his dormitory. When he finally came to it, the door handle clicked open and he pushed his way inside, dragging his way to the bed closest to the wall.
A hand reached out from under the blankets on Avery's bed to catch his bad leg. "Snape," Avery rasped sleepily, still buried in the covers.
"What do you want?" he asked softly so that he didn't wake his housemates.
Avery threw his blankets away from himself and swung his legs off of his bed. "So when do I get my camera back?"
"You're not going to," Snape prized Avery's fingers off his leg. "It's broken."
"What?" the prefect snarled. "I thought you'd have known better than to damage my property, Snape!"
"Take it up with Black and Lupin," Severus shot back. "They broke it."
Suddenly Avery's camera didn't matter. "Did you get the proof you needed then? Is he really-"
"No!" Severus squawked, fear breaking through the malaise hanging over him, abruptly aware that if anyone believed his theory about Lupin, they might guess about him. "I just caught them sneaking into Hogsmeade," he lied.
Avery huffed disappointed, "It wasn't like we didn't know they were doing it somehow." He sneered at Severus. "You'll pay me back for that camera one way or another."
"Later," he snarled resigning himself to writing Avery's essays for another few months, "Right now I'm taking a shower." He pushed his way through the door at the other end of the dormitory as Avery threw himself back onto the bed. As he waited for the water to heat up, he spotted Avery's shampoo left on one of the ledges and he poured a palmful into his hand.
Chapter 4: One of Them
"Wingardium Leviosa, Wingardium Leviosa, Wingardium Leviosa, Wingardium Leviosa," a flick of Lily's wand sent each one of the Gryffindor fifth year boys into the air and then slammed them back onto their beds as she cast the spell on each and ended it in quick succession, "Lumos."
"What..." Remus muttered sleepily.
"Evans, what're you doing?" Potter whined, eyes clenched tight.
Pettegrew picked up his watch from the table next to his bed and checked it in the glare from Lily's wand tip. "It's two o'clock in the morning!"
Black curled tighter into a ball beneath his blankets. "Go away, would you?"
"Accio bedclothes," she hissed into the darkness beyond her wand. The spell, uncertain of what constituted bedclothes, tugged at the pajamas of the boys as it ripped their blankets off of them and their sheets out from under them. A flash of skin caught her eye as Black gripped his blanket close to his chest, wrapping his legs around it, holding it down around himself, crossing his legs. At least he was the only one who slept in the nude. Potter, tangled in his sheets, tumbled to the floor, the spell dragging him to her along with his bedclothes. Remus' pajamas gaped forward, and dark pinkish brown scars from puncture wounds stood out against the pale skin of his stomach. Lily remembered Severus' theory about her fellow prefect, but put it from her mind.
"Evans, what's going on?" Black gasped, pressing himself back against his headboard.
"I saw the way you looked at Severus yesterday," she whispered.
"What..." Pettegrew yelped.
"I want to know what you did to him!" she shouted, clenching her wand tightly in front of her.
"N-nothing!" denied Pettegrew, but Black grabbed for his wand, the blanket finally pulling free from his hands.
"Accio," Black mumbled, pointing to it and hunching over to cover his lap. He pulled it down as soon as it flew back to him and threw it around his shoulders, glowering at her.
"What did you do to him?"
"We didn't do anything to him!" Potter yelled back at her, "It's not our fault he did something stupid. If anything, we saved his greasy arse," but Remus had started sobbing softly, clutching his pillow.
"His knee was shattered! Madam Pomfrey had to fuse the bones together! He's never going to walk again!" Her voice rose and rose until it bounced shrilly off the rounded walls. Remus' whole body shook and Black shuffled over to his bed, shrouded in his heavy bedspread. When he tried to put his arm around his friend's shoulders though, Remus recoiled. Undeterred, Black wrapped his arm around Remus' shoulders and pulled him close.
Potter squinted at her balefully. "I know, I was there, go away." Her wand whipped through the air to point at him. "But I didn't do anything," he assured her quickly, "I swear."
She glared at him, her bright red eyebrows lowering into a straight line against her washed out forehead. "You will tell me what happened," she told him, "now."
"No." Potter said definitively.
"We can't," Peter insisted apologetically, "We're not allowed."
"It's not like Snape would want us to tell you either," Potter shot back sensibly.
"What would you know?" she retorted, eyes narrowed into green slits, crisscrossed by lashes like thin metal bars.
As Remus' sobs subsided, Black looked up at her shielding his eyes. "You mind turning around?" he growled, rubbing his friend's back.
Lily gritted her teeth together and spun around as Black scrambled into the clothes he'd worn the day before. When she twisted back around, she held her wand high, casting the light all around the room. "You will tell me right now what you did to Severus, or I'll go to Dumbledore right now."
"In the middle of the night?" Potter asked weakly.
"What'd you tell him?" Black questioned hoarsely, "He already knows what happened, and he's not going to tell you."
"Poples Turgum," she cried, jabbing her wand at each of them in turn, "Poples Turgum, Poples Turgum, Poples Turgum!" As the boys let out startled cries and yelps their knees spinning around to the back of their legs, she whirled around and yanked open the door. "Nox," she snarled, plunging the dormitory into darkness.
Before the door slammed shut, Black hobbled back to his bed, grabbing for the bedposts as he passed, pausing in front of Potter's bed, "And you like her?"
Severus twisted around in his chair to glower at Black, Potter, Lupin, and Pettegrew, but they were too busy staring at Lily's back to notice him. She ignored them pointedly, stirring their potion. "Could you add the daisy roots?" Severus grabbed them. "Not in a clump!"
"I know," he grunted, sprinkling them into the cauldron, "I'm not an idiot."
She stirred them in and the potion fizzed and turned scarlet. "Now the salamander tails."
Severus rolled his eyes, "I want to try something else." He dropped three primrose anthers into the potion and jiggled the cauldron lightly as they dissolved, the pollen floating on the red liquid for a moment, staining it orange.
"Why do you always have to try something different?" she snapped, exasperated.
"Now, I cut them off with a copper bladed knife like the caterpillars, so the minute amounts of metal won't interfere-"
"If it explodes, I'll make sure everyone knows it's your fault," she teased, as he let the salamander tails fall into the potion. "Next time, I get to add something."
"What?" he queried warily, taking the ladle away from her and stirring counter-clockwise.
She relinquished it grudgingly. "We're making a memory strengthening draft, for memories over twenty years old to make them pensieve quality, right?" he nodded, but she didn't stop talking. "So I want to add just the leaves of the rosemary instead of the whole sprigs, and stir it for forty five seconds less because there's less wood."
"We'd have to add some extra to make up for the missing wood, but I guess it could work... Well, alright, then," he said sulkily.
She wrinkled her nose at him, "How big of you."
"So why is Potter looking at you that way?" he queried as nonchalantly as he could, but the scorn crept in anyway.
Lily glanced back at her housemates before turning to Severus with a devious grin. "I hadn't noticed." She took one last look at the potion before helping Severus tip it into a bottle and taking it to the front of the class.
Holding it up to the light, Professor Slughorn beamed at her. "Excellent, Miss Evans, you truly are a remarkable potions maker. You have such a flair for invention." Severus burned, the pink stretching over his face and down his neck. When he brought a potion up to his head of house, the best he ever got was an absentminded admonition not to experiment out of class. Lily didn't bother to correct the professor. It didn't do any good.
"Now I want three rolls of parchment on the use of amphibian verses reptilian ingredients in burn treating potions," Slughorn called over the commotion of his students rushing to finish their potions and bring them to him. Severus ignored him and shuffled out behind Lily.
Waiting for him at the door, Evan Rosier waved to him, "Oi Severus!"
Severus limped to him as Lily's mouth narrowed into a thin little line. A delighted smile tried to spread across his sallow features, and the muscles in his legs tightened as if he were about to dance. She was jealous, she was jealous of who he talked to. Lily was jealous. "Evan."
Black stumbled into Dumbledore's office almost a half an hour later than Severus, dark circles under his eyes, flecks of mashed potatoes and gravy in his tousled hair. "Sorry, sorry," he charmed, "fell asleep at the table."
"Yes, I heard about Miss Evans' nighttime excursion, it's very fortunate Madam Pomfrey was able to put your kneecaps right," Dumbledore smiled, eyes twinkling.
Severus looked up from his place at one of the lumpy chairs in front of Dumbledore's desk, a clipboard in hand, a cold smirk turning up the corners of his lips. "Did she get the better of you Black?"
Black glared and clenched his fists to keep from clenching his wand. "If your precious Evans hadn't ambushed us-"
"One girl ambushed, 'us' was it, more than one of you?" his smirk widened.
"Boys," Dumbledore broke in quietly. "Now, Mr. Black, if you would join Mr. Snape, you'll be filing supplies funding requests from the professors," A stack of request forms floated over to him and he caught them. The first form on the stack was one from Professor McGonagall asking for a new book case, as hers was now a fanged frisbee. Sirius grinned, remembering breaking into her office and the look on her face the next morning.
"Couldn't she just turn it back?" Sirius asked, holding up the request form.
The Headmaster leaned over his shoulder to look at it, chuckling. "She would have, but our new caretaker confiscated it. He can be a bit... overzealous."
That was putting it mildly, Sirius thought. Filch was a bitter, student hating, bottom feeder. "Oh."
Severus watched them out of the corner of his eyes, his face turned to the scholarship forms he was supposed to be copying and stuffing into envelopes to send to the school governors for approval. Black threw himself into the chair next to him, and then shot back to his feet with a startled grunt. "I brought you a clipboard," he said coolly, looking at the metal clip glinting innocently up from the padded chair.
Black grinned painfully, "Thank you."
With the headmaster's eyes on them as he sat at his desk, quill in hand, neither boy spoke. Severus' quill scratched out the names of each of the governors over and over again. He set them in neat piles on Dumbledore's desk and pulled out a bundle of blank forms to copy the information onto them twelve times. The letters blurred in front of his eyes and the quill shaft slowly turned to mush in his hands. When he looked up, Dumbledore was gazing at him over his half moon glasses, smiling benignly. Severus scowled back, furious at the man who was forcing him to do something he could have done with a spell in ten minutes.
Sirius' feet tapped, muffled against the carpet. His eyes darted for his watch every few seconds. The minute hand barely seemed to move as he dipped his quill into the inkwell and the second hand ticked dully along. "Flitwick needs new pillows?" he said at last, just to say something.
"His fourth year students practiced banishing charms with those pillows last month," the headmaster didn't look up. "One of them accidentally disintegrated the whole set."
Severus did his best to ignore both of them, wishing Black's watch were on his wrist instead. The quill didn't scratch anymore, but squeaked faintly as he kept his eyes on the forms.
The name at the top of the next form caught his eye and he snatched it off the top of the stack. "What is this?" he snapped, dangling it in front of Black's face.
Sirius recoiled, jerking it out of his fingers. "A scholarship application," he hissed through clenched teeth.
Grabbing it back, Severus glowered at the tally of Black's marks and achievements. "You're a Black!" he sneered, "What are you doing begging for scholarship money?"
"I need it!" Sirius snarled, face pale in the warm glow of the headmaster's office.
Severus laughed scornfully. "Don't be ridiculous, Black, mocking the people who really need this money?"
"Mr. Snape," Dumbledore warned.
"You're really pathetic," Severus' lips curled, "You really are just like the rest of them, with your money, and your family name, looking down on the rest of us like we're nothing-"
"I'm pathetic?" Sirius roared, "You're the one tagging after Rosier and Avery and the rest, like they're gods or something because of their pure blood. You let them lord it over you and everyone else-"
"Mr. Black." Dumbledore didn't have to raise his voice. Sirius stumbled back into his chair, only then realizing he had stood up in the first place. He fell to his hands and knees to gather up the clipboard and parchment that had gone flying when he shot to his feet. The ink from his inkwell was sinking into the carpet, and his knee went into it. The ink soaked into his trouser leg, forming a clammy, black blotch against the grey. Gazing at him dispassionately, Dumbledore waved his wand and the stains on the carpet and Sirius' trousers vanished.
Severus let his quill dig into the parchment, and the ink bleed into the crevasses, writing the name "Sirius Black" twelve times, curling his lip each time, mashing the quill into the letters. As he stuffed the last form into an envelope, his jaw aching from the way he ground his teeth together, Dumbledore stood up. "That's enough for tonight," he told them, plucking the quill from Severus' limp fingers. "You can finish the rest tomorrow."
Once the gargoyle leapt closed behind them, Severus whipped around on the rubber bottom of one of his crutches to face Black, "Do you think it's funny that some people can't afford to go to school and learn how to not blow things up?"
Sirius flushed to the roots of his hair. "No."
"Really," Severus hissed contemptuously, "Then why would you apply for scholarship?"
Shifting his weight back, Sirius readied himself for a fight. "I told you I need it!" he shouted, "I ran away!" He pulled down the sleeve of his too short robe, daring the other boy to challenge him. Sirius remembered what it had felt like to sign the school bill, the jolt of vindictive triumph and freedom, but his great uncle's money only paid for one year, and he had to scrounge to buy his books. Severus swung back on his crutches, startled, and Sirius took the other boy's silence as victory. "So all that following Avery and the rest of them around, you're hoping they'll give you something I threw away!"
"Well I never had great faith in your intelligence, Black," Severus snapped back, lip curling back to show his twisted yellow teeth. The wand pointed right between Severus' eyes. He leaned on his good leg and yanked his wand out of his robe and aimed it at Black.
Sirius blinked, staring down the wand impassively. "They're not going to let you have it anyway," he sneered. "You're never going to be one of them."
Severus held his head up higher just before he walked away. "Don't you mean one of you?"
Sirius collapsed onto his bed, shaken and silent. Giving him a cursory wave, James went back to playing Exploding Snap with Peter. "You're going to set fire to the bed," Remus told them groggily. Sirius turned over onto his stomach to avoid talking to anyone, but his hair tangled in his fingers. A smashed bit of potato came off his hair when he tore his fingers loose, and he grimaced.
As he passed Remus's bed on the way to the showers, he stopped and grabbed the canopy poles, leaning in. "So."
Remus stiffened, "I don't want to talk to you."
"I didn't think he'd be stupid enough to go down there," he begged softly, doing his best to keep a whine out of his voice. "I just wanted to scare him, and you know, taunt him, let him know he was right, but that he'd never be able to prove it."
Remus' hands balled into fists and he shot forward on the duvet. "He had a camera!" which only went to show that Snape was clearly an idiot.
"Yeah, I know!" Sirius rasped, pushing himself back from the bed.
Scrambling to his feet, Remus bolted to him. "You almost exposed me!" he yelled, pulling one of his fists back as if he were about to strike.
Sirius pulled a hand up to shield his face. "I'm sorry!" he shouted back, "I didn't mean to and I'm never going to do it again, is that enough for you?"
"No," Remus let his fist drop.
"Well there isn't anything else I can do, now is there?" he whispered harshly, taking a step back.
Remus dropped back down onto his bed, head hanging low. "Go away, Sirius."
The windowless interior of the Slytherin common room always had at least a pale sullen fire and a few scattered candles bobbing lazily near the ceilings lit to replace the sunlight. Severus crouched over a chair in front of the fire pouring over his Arithmancy equations, ignoring the sound of the stone wall entrance to the common room moving aside. He scribbled his work on a spare piece of parchment, the ink splattering as he glared. "Oi Snape!"
Severus steadied his wobbling ink bottle and turned around in his chair. "What do you want?"
"I'm calling in your debt," Avery smiled kindly.
"I thought you'd save it for something meaningful," like the essays the professors always assigned right before exams.
"Oh I have something meaningful alright, I want you to make Polyjuice Potion." He folded himself elegantly into the chair beside Severus, propping his elbow on the arm rest and resting his chin on his fist with a badly hidden smirk.
Severus sprang from the chair as if he had just found out it was made of needles, clutching his crutches to his chest. "What!" he squawked.
Avery kept smiling as if he had said something perfectly reasonable. "Polyjuice Potion."
"Why?" he demanded, planting his crutches in the rug and wondering if he could pretend he couldn't make it.
The Slytherin prefect's eyes darted around the room before he reached up to snatch Severus' tie and pull him close. "It doesn't matter why I want it, Snape, You owe me."
"It's illegal," he reminded him coldly, ignoring the way his crutches dangled from his arms, "I could go to Dumbledore right now and put this memory in a pensieve. You'd be expelled, at least."
Avery flinched. "Don't be stupid, Snape, the rest of the house would tear you apart if you got rid of me."
"They don't like you," Severus snapped, "They're afraid of you. They wouldn't lift a finger to avenge you." Severus wouldn't.
"No, but they like what I could do for them," Avery gloated
"They like what your father and his master could do for them," Severus breathed almost soundlessly.
The prefect twisted the tie, cutting off Severus' air and making him thrash. "Either way, Snape."
"You didn't answer my question," Severus gurgled.
Avery loosened his grip on Severus' tie and watched furiously as he tipped backwards onto the floor. "You're really..." He paused a moment as Severus dragged air into his lungs and coughed, red faced, before kneeling close to Severus' ear. "Wilkes is getting herself marked next month, and Rosier and I have a meeting."
"Oh," Severus said weakly, shoving himself up on his elbows.
"So I want you to brew the potion and feed it to three first years so that no one knows we're gone." He pushed Severus back down against the rug "You have until May first."
Severus lifted himself back up so that Avery's nose brushed his forehead, "I can't-"
Avery cut him off, "Can't brew it? You know I know better than that, Snape."
"I can't get the ingredients!" he snarled, lurching up and grabbing his crutches, "Bicorn horn, boomslang skin, none of that's in the student cupboard."
Avery smirked. "I will supply everything you need. I'll even supply the first years."
"If I do this," he muttered, "will you put in a good word for me with the Dark Lord?"
"Yeah, sure," he promised, pressing his hand to Severus' chest and forcing him back down to the floor. "He needs a good brewer anyway, even if you are..." he left it unsaid, but Severus heard it anyway. Filthy half-blood.
Chapter 5: Myrtle's Request
"Mr. Snape," the headmaster began, stopping him at his office door. "I intercepted this for you from the Ministry today." He held a thick parchment envelope out to Severus, who snatched it out of his fingers without a word. He broke the Ministry seal quickly, not even looking at it, and shook out the stiff formal parchment covered in the curly legible script of the self-writing Ministry quills.
To The Minor Werewolf Severus Snape:
Your parents have refused to shelter you and take upon themselves the responsibility of ensuring you are not a danger to Wizarding Society, as is their right under article 26 B of the Werewolf Code of Conduct, and as such, you are emancipated from their care and responsible for your own compliance with the Werewolf Code of Conduct.
Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, Beast Division
Ministry of Magic
He swallowed hard and clenched his teeth to gain control over himself. It wasn't like he hadn't realized this was coming. He clenched his fist around the letter, stuffed the crumpled parchment into his pocket and turned back toward the office door, slipping a blank scholarship application form into his book bag. Dumbledore didn't try to stop him, or say anything, but instead sat behind his desk and watched benignly as Severus let the door slam closed.
The familiar snick-clop sounds of his against the stairs echoed off the curved stone walls. Something prickled at the corner of his eyes, but he ignored it in favor of concentrating on not falling down the spiral staircase and breaking his neck. The gargoyle jumped aside testily, but only after he pounded on it with the foot of his crutch. He hopped out of the way of the gargoyle as it snuck back into place, but it closed on his robe anyway.
He yanked at the fabric, leaning back against the wall to brace himself, but the gargoyle wouldn't budge. Black's hand darted into Severus' pocket and pulled out the lump of crumpled parchment. "What's this, then?" he asked, smoothing it out against the wall.
Jerking his wand out of his sleeve, Severus leaned on one crutch and the wall. The wand pointed straight between Black's eyes as black shot him sly glances. "Give it back, Black," he hissed.
"Not till I'm done," Black waved at him impatiently, slipping his wand out of his sleeve and catching it one handed. His hand stiffened and his fingers turned white on top of the wrinkled parchment. He held it out to Severus, face green.
His hand reached out to drag it back out of Black's grasp, wand still held high. "Happy now?"
"No," Black, said, flushed, pushing down his sheepish expression.
"I don't even know where I'm going to stay this summer," his words reverberated though the empty hallway.
"Yeah, well your family couldn't have been that great to start with," Black fired back heatedly.
Severus swept his wand downwards "Confringo!" he snarled at Black's feet, but Black just hopped aside, and the floor stones only rattled in their sockets.
"I'm sorry!" Black thundered, "I didn't mean to get you bitten anyway!"
"No," Severus sneered, "you wanted to get me killed instead."
"No," Black's lip quivered before he stopped it, "but it's looking pretty good right now!"
"And you'd be in Azkaban," Severus spat, "At least my death would mean something."
"Look, I just wanted to scare you alright?" Black shouted, "I didn't think you'd really be stupid enough to go down there!"
Severus sprang away from the wall, wobbling on his crutches, "Then why did you tell me?"
"I just wanted you to, you know, let you know you were right, Remus is a werewolf, and you couldn't do anything about it, because you couldn't prove it and no one would believe you..." Black swallowed hard to stop himself from babbling.
"I almost died because you wanted to taunt me?" he raged, "I got turned into a, a," he couldn't even say it, "because you wanted to show me up?"
"No, because you were thick enough to try to photograph a werewolf," Black's lip curled. "I knew you were an idiot, Sniv, but really, that just-"
Severus cast a silent finger-removing jinx on him, and the fingers of both hands fell to the floor. staring at the oozing stumps, Black held his wand in his mouth and summoned the fingers one by one and reattached them with a mangled countercharm. They hung limply from his hands like the fingers of a medical glove filled with water and then fitted over his fist. Wand in his mouth again, Black's forehead wrinkled as he concentrated on the countercurse. "I'm an idiot?" Severus howled, "I'm an idiot? Your brain is mush, you have no idea what intelligence is, much less how little of it you have, but you think you're smart and that makes you dangerous to everyone around you, especially your miserable friends, and it would be best for everyone if you really were in Azkaban right now instead of bothering me!" He swung his crutches out in front of himself to stalk off, but his body wouldn't swing with him. Glowering back poisonously at the corner of cloth still tethering him to the gargoyle opening, he froze.
"Peppermint humbug," Sirius smirked, sticking out his tongue.
The gargoyle sauntered reluctantly out of the opening just long enough for Severus to yank his robe free, shooting him temperamental looks as it moved back into place. Severus ignored both of them as he sulked away.
Madam Pince swooped down upon them and glowered at Lily, perched on the edge of the table through her tiny glasses. "Chairs are for sitting, Miss Evans," she cried, "Tables are for books and parchment." Face pink, Lily jumped down and slumped into the chair across from Severus.
"So are you coming to stay at my house for the Easter hols?" she asked.
He didn't look up from his Ancient Runes essay. "No."
She tugged a chunk of his hair, lightly, "Why not?"
"I want to stay here," he muttered, clutching his quill.
"Why?" she demanded, flabbergasted, leaning over him and absently reading what he'd written thus far. "I mean, you'd be stuck here all alone for three weeks, and Mum and Dad said it would be alright."
He curled his shoulders inward, glancing up at her. "I wanted to work on a potions project," he half-lied.
"So? We can get anything you'd need in Diagon Ally and brew it at home." She crooked her lips, "And I then I could help you."
"No!" he yelped, picturing the neat little box of potions ingredients Avery had secreted into his trunk. "I want to brew it alone."
Her smile disappeared. "Why are you really staying?" she demanded, narrowing her eyes into little slits of green. "I'd never tell anyone, so even if the potion weren't allowed..."
She'd tell about Death Eaters sneaking out though. Suddenly he wanted to tell her everything, and then they could go to Dumbledore together and he could show Dumbledore the box with the Boomslang skin. Avery and the rest would get expelled, and he'd never have to deal with any of them again. "I just want to spend some time alone," he snapped sullenly.
The heel of her hand hit him squarely in the middle of his forehead. "You're alone all the time."
"Lily," he whispered.
"I want to know what's going on!" she hissed, wanting to scream. "Is that too much to ask?"
"Yes," he retorted, dropping his quill. Her eyes widened in shock, as if he had hit her and she shot to her feet, knocking over the chair.
"If you change your mind," she muttered grudgingly, "tell me." Her skirt whirled around her as she flounced off to Gryffindor tower. But he couldn't change his mind. He could already see the full moon in the middle of the holidays rising high in front of him.
The note landed next to Remus' glass of milk and the school owl that carried it didn't even glance at him as he glided out the Great Hall window. He picked it up gingerly, to find that it was a postcard with a glass bowl full of butterscotch hard candies on the front. flipping it over, he read his name on the lines for the address, and then scrunched onto the other half of the back, in Dumbledore's loopy script, he read,
I would like to speak to you during your free period this afternoon. No, you aren't in any trouble.
Remus gulped, and then drank some milk to hide it. Stuffing the letter deep into his bag between his books, he bolted the rest of his breakfast.
The time until his free period vanished before he could calm his nerves. He trudged down the corridor to the gargoyle, and before he could bother naming sweets, it jumped aside to reveal the headmaster standing on the bottom step. "Ah, Mr. Lupin, come on up."
"You said you wanted to see me?" he licked his lips nervously as he followed Dumbledore up the stairs.
When the gargoyle hopped closed behind them, the headmaster answered, "I received a letter from the Ministry this week on behalf of a student, and I obtained a copy before I gave it to him."
Remus took the spell copied letter, scanning it. "Oh God," he moaned softly, "He's getting kicked out?"
The headmaster held open the door to his office and ushered his student inside. "He handed me his scholarship application form yesterday. The Hogwarts governors will approve it if I have to Confund them, so he won't have to leave school, but he does not have a place to stay during the summers."
Remus' eyes went out of focus as he put everything together. "Oh."
"I trust you'll be able to break the news to your parents delicately?"
"Yeah," he whispered, "yeah, of course."
Dumbledore folded himself into the chair behind his desk. "I want you to know, I don't hold you in any way responsible for Mr. Snape's condition."
Sweat from Remus' hands sank into the letter. He couldn't make his eyes meet the headmaster's. "I bit him."
"It was Sirius Black who sent him down the tunnel, Mr. Lupin, not you." Dumbledore peered at him over his half-moon spectacles.
"If I weren't here he never..." he choked out.
The headmaster arched one snowy eyebrow. "And yet you're still here."
"Do you want me to leave?" he asked anxiously, his legs turning to jelly beneath him.
"No, you misunderstand me. Please, sit down." At his words, Remus darted over to one of the chairs in front of the headmaster's desk and collapsed into it. "Remus," the headmaster used his first name, and Remus sat up higher in the chair, startled. "You're very brave for going to school here."
"No," he mumbled, "I'm a coward." he had to force himself to keep looking at the headmaster, "I know I should leave, but I just can't make myself go, and Hogwarts..."
Dumbledore shook his head. "Do you know that every so often someone dies in a child's accidental magic?"
"Well I guess that makes sense, I mean-" but Dumbledore waved his hand to quiet him.
"And that nearly all of those accidents happen in families with Muggleborn children?" He smiled benignly, one hand snaking over the desk to clasp Remus'. "Would you say that those children shouldn't have been born?"
"No!" He sobbed, "That's not what I mean at all!"
"But if they weren't there, the people who died would not have."
Remus hung his head, "But I didn't have to go here, it's not the same."
"Then should no one come here? Any magical adolescent is a danger, not just an adolescent werewolf."
"But I'm more dangerous," he whispered.
Dumbledore's mouth worked underneath his beard, "If you weren't here, you would be somewhere else, and no matter where you were, you could not be any more diligent than you are here to keep others from being harmed when you're transformed."
Remus' face crumpled as he thought about the last few full moons and the way he and his friends had been sneaking out of the Shrieking Shack in the middle of the night. "But, but..." but he couldn't say anything else that wouldn't get him and his friends expelled. Oh God, he was a coward, no matter what Dumbledore said.
"You're the first werewolf student, but you won't be the last, I promise you." Dumbledore sent him a piercing look, "If you weren't a student, you would be left like the rest of the werewolves bitten in childhood. Your magic would be untrained, and you'd be dangerous during the rest of the month."
"You are not responsible for this, Remus," the headmaster said comfortingly, but Remus just shivered. "This conversation I suppose is quite overdue, isn't it?"
Blushing, Remus bit his lip and folded his hands in his lap, "I guess so, I mean, not really."
Dumbledore smiled sadly. "This is not your fault," he reiterated, "It's certainly less your fault than it is Mr. Snape's own." But Dumbledore didn't know the whole story, Remus kept reminding himself.
Balancing his battered pewter cauldron on top of a closed toilet lid, Severus filled it with water from the tap and cast a charm that sent bluebell colored flames cascading from the tip of his wand to coalesce under the cauldron. As the water heated, he let the lacewing flies drop into it and bob back to the surface. The door to the partition gave a faint rattle as he slumped against it, his crutches splayed out to either side, absently watching the lacewing flies stew.
His lungs felt like they had been filled with ice water and he bared his teeth in a grimace. "Bloody hell!" he shouted stumbling away from the door and the transparent hand sticking out of his chest.
Myrtle glided into the partition with him, hands in fists on her hips. "What are you doing in here again?" she shrieked? "Come to throw more toxic goo through my head and flush me out to the lake?"
"I didn't know you were even in that toilet," he hissed back, hoping he'd have another excuse to throw another failed potions experiment into her porcelain dwelling after he finished the Polyjuice potion. It would serve her right.
"You should have checked!" she thundered, floating up to him so that her nose almost went through his.
"Fine, I'll check next time!" and flush her down anyway.
"I'll tell the Grey Lady you were here, and she'll go to Dumbledore," Myrtle threatened her Ravenclaw tie flapping translucently in a nonexistent wind, "You're not supposed to be in the Girls Toilets, are you."
He glanced anxiously at the stewing lacewing flies, ready to tip them into the toilet if she made him. "Go on then," he bluffed, "tell."
"Or," she smiled cruelly, lip quivering, "I could throw a tantrum in here and get everything wet." She eyed the box with the ingredients Avery had given him, "All your precious ingredients."
"What do you want?" he asked, resigned.
"I want you to leave NOW!" she yelled. Every faucet in the room started to spew water.
No one came into Myrtle's toilet for a reason "What if I brought you something to make it up to you, would you let me stay then?" he did his best not to snarl.
She bit her lip thoughtfully. "I want books," she said at last, her voice wobbling.
"Alright, I'll get you books," he assured her.
She folded her arms across her chest smugly, "And you'll read them to me."
"And I'll read them to you," he promised, stirring the lacewing flies. "What kind of books?"
She grabbed his hand so that hers slid right through it, but he followed, snatching for his crutches as she led him into another stall and pointed to a cracked and wrinkled book with a red headed girl in a vaguely old fashioned dress on the front. "I want books like that."
He stared at it appalled. "You want me to bring you romance novels?"
She smiled, showing every one of her pale, limpid teeth. "You will right?"
He hung his head in despair and nodded, opening the flimsy paperback to the back and carefully tearing the water stained order form out. Myrtle whooped and somersaulted in midair.
The late afternoon sun pounded into the hospital wing, almost horizontally when Severus swung his way through the door, a bundle of clothes tucked into a bag over one shoulder. Madam Pomfrey eyed him calmly before motioning him to put the clothes down on her desk. "I'll bring these down for you tomorrow morning, she said to him.
"Thank you," he said weakly as she led him out of the castle and down to the Whomping Willow. She picked up a convenient stick while Severus hung back, and prodded the knob at the base of the tree. The Whomping Willow froze just as it was lifting one of its massive limbs to slam down on the mediwitch. Scrambling into the tunnel under the tree's roots, Severus glanced back at her, trying to hide his worry. The mediwitch smiled back at him in what he supposed was a reassuring way, but it didn't help.
As she walked away, he made his way down the tunnel alone. His hands trembled around the knot of his tie, making it hard for him to loosen it and slip it over his head. The buttons slipped away from his fingers as his shirt followed the tie. Stumbling on the broken and misplaced chunks of earth on the floor of the tunnel, he didn't let himself think. He checked his wristwatch in the gloom with a gulp. He still had an hour until moonrise.
The Shrieking Shack itself was filled with the sort of grey evening light that made everything harder to see than darkness. The battered wardrobe door squeaked open sullenly to reveal four splintering hangers. Taking the best of them out, Severus draped his clothes over it forcefully and shoved it back inside. He sat back on the bed, face pale, hands clutching each other until his knuckles turned white. Hogsmeade stood squat and foreboding against the horizon, barely visible through the layer of grime on the window. His throat clenched closed for a second, as he realized all the stories about the vicious ghosts had come from the sounds Lupin had made, and how after each full moon, he had come back covered in cuts and bruises, and long, jagged scrapes from his own teeth and claws. He dragged the shredded blanket under him around himself, shivering hard, closing his eyes.
When the moonrise came, it took him by surprise.
A few days later, a pair of owls fluttered down next to Severus' plate. One had a small box with the marks of an apothecary in Connecticut and he cut the packing tape with his fork. Inside were vials of water with rubber caps set in foil, and sticking up from the caps were bunches of fluxweed, that according to the enclosed receipt, had been picked under the most recent full moon. He swallowed hard.
The other owl bit his thumb drawing blood and bruising the skin around the wound. "Ow!" he snarled, batting the bird away. he glanced at the tag that said "Hogsmeade Train Station Muggle Acceptable Post Office Owl Forwarding Service" and then underneath it to the pink and white logo of a romance publisher. He quickly shoved the books into his bag.
Chapter 6: Such Faith
"Let's get this compartment," James said, stepping forward to push the sliding door open. Remus and Peter shuffled in behind him, with Sirius bringing up the rear, as far from Remus as he could get without looking like he was trying to keep his distance.
The door slid closed in front of him and he let out a furious squawk as he pushed it open, "What was that for?"
"Sorry Padfoot," James' lips quirked, "accident." But it was Remus who had shut the door.
As soon as Sirius slunk through the door, Remus flicked his wand and cast the spells to shut and lock the door, keep sound from getting out of the room, and keep everyone outside from noticing the compartment with the speed that came from long practice. Before he heaved his trunk into the overhead bin, Sirius popped open the lid and pulled out his satchel. He unzipped the front pocket and grabbed a bundle of rough sketches. He tossed them from hand to hand before spreading them across the compartment floor. The rooms of Hogwarts castle showed on the scraps of parchment, with little numbers next to each of the walls giving their length and squiggly lines next to the staircases to show which way they moved. Red lines detailed the secret passages and great red blotches that soaked all the way through indicated the entrances to passages that led outside of the castle. "So where should we go this month?" he asked eagerly, sinking down to the floor cross-legged next to his sketches.
James used his wand to point to the entrance to a passageway. The staircases wiggled feebly, trying to swing along their clumsily drawn designated paths. "I want to find out where this one goes."
James sat stunned. "What? Remus!"
"No," he repeated, "I'm not going anywhere."
"What do you mean you're not coming?" Sirius goggled, "You always come, that's why we do these!"
"I'm not going into the castle while I'm transformed!" he insisted, crossing his arms.
"It's not like we're going to get caught," James whined back, leaning against the bottom of the benches, lifting his wand away from the parchment and letting the ink rest. "If that's what you're worried about, come on, Remus!"
"What if someone else was sneaking around?" Remus cried, almost hysterical, "What if I bit someone else?"
"Look, Remus, no one sneaks around at one oclock in the morning," James said patiently.
"We do!" Remus snapped.
"Besides," said Peter, ignoring him, "You were in the Shack when you bit Snape anyway, so it's not like staying there's any better."
James sent a glare Peter's way, while Remus sent one at Sirius. "Come on, Moony," James pleaded, standing up to loom over his friend.
Sirius shoved his hands into his pockets, and one hand broke right through into his trousers. "Leave him alone, alright?"
"Shut up, Sirius!" Remus yelled, "I don't need your help."
Gathering the sketches together, Sirius stuffed them back into his bag and clutched it to his chest. "We can't go exploring that night anyway," he muttered morosely, "Snivellus's going to be in the Shack anyway."
"Yeah so?" said Peter, "that's great, one more reason to get out of the Shack."
"He'd tell Dumbledore, you idiot!" Sirius snarled.
Remus sighed with relief, "Yeah."
"It's Snape," James retorted, "it's not like Dumbledore's going to believe him anyway."
Sirius laughed. "You don't get it, I'm this close to getting expelled."
"So can't we go exploring the night before?" Sirius asked, piling every last bit of charm he had.
Remus' lips turned up against his will, but he kept himself from smiling back. "Yeah, alright."
Beaming, Sirius shook the sketches back out of his bag and scattered them in front of him. He dropped down to sit at Remus' feet. "So?"
Remus swatted Sirius playfully in the back of the head hard enough to sting. "So we find where that tunnel comes out," he prompted.
"Tunnel? It's on the third floor," James chortled.
Peter bent low over the parchment. "I wanted to go into Hogsmeade and raid Honeydukes."
"Awww, we can do that any time!" Sirius groaned.
"I'll go down with you today if you want," James said conspiratorily, "I need to buy more stink pellets anyway.
Remus rolled his eyes and laughed at them Sirius' shoulders sank with relief. Even if he still wished Sirius would be thrown off the train and ground under the wheels, Moony was willing to pretend everything was back to normal, and Sirius clung to that.
Alice Bones stared down at the Potions textbook on her knees with a fierce scowl. "Where does it say why you have to stir jobberknoll feathers counter-clockwise but clockwise for the tongues?" she growled in frustration.
Lily lay back against the bench, her feet higher than her head against the compartment wall, every bump and jostle of the train vibrating through them. "And you can't stir the eyes at all, or they blow up. That's why you have to add them last," she recited. "It's in the notes for memory potions."
"Thanks," Alice flipped to the right page and combed through the paragraphs. "I wish O.W.L.s were next year."
"You're actually willing to go through another year of this?" Mary demanded, eyes closed, using her books as a pillow, pretending to be asleep.
"No," Alice muttered, underlining the part about jobberknolls in red ink so hard the paper tore, and bending over the page corner. "I's just I need to get at least an E if I'm going to get into Slughorn's N.E.W.T.s class, and I'm horrible at potions. I can't believe they want this for the Aurors."
"If you aren't good at potions, how're you going to know whether the suspicious potions in a Death Eater's back room are illegal poisons or just virility draughts?" Mary asked flippantly, sitting up and pushing her books into her bag. Sometimes when she smiled that way, Mary Macdonald looked like her cousin if Lucius Malfoy had four fillings and a crown that didn't match the rest of his teeth. Regal and indulgent, she always left her waves and waves of blond hair loose so that she looked like a damsel from a Victorian illustration of King Arthur's court, right down to the consumptive part.
"I can bring them all in to be tested by the experts," Alice retorted, head high. "That's why the Ministry pays them, right? Slughorn said cauldron composition was always on the written part, and I swear I think Edgar ripped that page out to carry a spider into Amelia's room and put it on her pillow."
"He's still doing things like that?" Mary winced, trying vainly not to snicker. "I mean, he's almost twenty. He's moved out."
Alice shook her head, her mushroom cap nose scrunching up. "No, a few years ago, I didn't even remember until I saw the missing pages." She held up her book open to the ragged scraps of paper sewn into the bindings so that they could see.
Lily dug out her own book, bending awkwardly to keep from getting up, and passed it to her friend, open to the right page. Alice scribbled the information down onto the inside cover of her own book, splattering ink all over the compartment. "Look, if you want some help, Sev and I are going to be meeting in the library this week, we can go over it with you then," Lily offered, swiping ink off her face. There was a great big blotch of it in the middle of her Gryffindor tie.
Alice snapped Lily's book shut. "I'm not getting help from him," she spat, "not in a million years.
Lily huffed. "Why not? He's great at potions, you want to pass right?"
"He's a Death Eater." She pushed herself back into the padded backing of the bench, her voice cold.
"He's not!" Her feet hit the floor with a bang.
"Well if he isn't one now, he's going to be!" Alice handed the book back to Lily, shoving it way from herself.
"He's friends with me!" she snapped, "I'm Muggleborn in case you forgot."
"Yeah, so he makes an exception for you."
"He's a half-blood, he grew up down the road from me. He doesn't hate Muggles, and he certainly doesn't want to kill anyone!"
Alice's round, pink face twisted horribly. "I'm not getting help in potions from someone I might end up having to arrest when I'm an Auror!"
"Yeah, well your list of possible tutors must be really short then, because you might have to arrest any one someday."
"Just look at who he hangs round with!" Alice shrieked, "Avery, Rosier, Wilkes, Lily, you're deluding yourself if you think he's some nice innocent boy."
"I heard he's spending Hogsmeade weekends with Malfoy, learning the Dark Arts," Mary supplied helpfully.
"Honestly!" Lily stared at the ceiling, exasperated. "He's a half-blood. Lucius Malfoy wouldn't go anywhere near him, my God Mary, you know that! Better than anyone! Besides, he spends Hogsmeade weekends with me until you chase him off."
"Yeah, and the way he follows around after we do is just creepy," Mary began "Sirius says-"
"I don't want to hear about what Black says," Lily preempted her, "But he's the perfect example, you know, with the things he's pulled."
"Sirius hasn't done anything-"
"Oh yes he has!" she shouted, "why do you think Sev's on crutches?"
"That can't have been Sirius, he never would cripple anyone," Mary's eyes narrowed defensively.
"Not even Snivellus Snape?" Lily demanded darkly, "Look, he practically admitted it to me, why do you think he's in detention every evening till he leaves?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Alice broke in, "He would have been expelled."
Mary slipped in before Lily could respond, "Whatever Sirius did, I'm sure Snape deserved it."
"You just don't like Sev because Black doesn't!"
"Yeah, well Sirius is-"
"And you just like Black because it drives your mum mad that you like a Black, and you just want to drive her mad to distract her from the fact that you've been shoving your fingers down your throat and sicking up everything you eat!"
"It's not my mum who springs surprise weighing charms on me every time I come home!"
"If your dad springs them every time, they aren't surprises, are they?" Lily retorted aggressively.
"What does this have to do with Snape being a git?" Mary demanded, pacing the length of the compartment.
"Maybe you should pay attention to yourself every so often," Lily hollered at her, leaping to her feet, "instead of trailing around after Black like a little baby!"
"Shouldn't you do that yourself?" Mary shot back, swinging her bag onto her shoulder and stalking down the train car.
"Where are you going?" Lilly called after her, hanging from the compartment door frame.
"To the toilets, because at least you're not going to follow me there!" Mary spat back, her low voice barely audible over the sound of the moving train.
"Don't be so sure of that!" roared Lily.
"Do you have the potion?" Avery asked abruptly, as soon as the door to the fifth year boys' dormitory closed.
Severus opened his trunk and lifted out a bottle full of muddy grey brown liquid. "Put the hairs in after you have separated out the doses," he reminded him.
"The rest of us aren't imbeciles, Snape," Avery laughed mockingly as he reached for the bottle.
But Severus quickly dropped it back onto his robes and nudged his trunk lid shut with his crutch when the door handle jiggled. The door creaked open to reveal Wilkes. She kicked it closed behind her. "Well?"
Avery draped his arm around her waist and swept her up close to him. "Decima, love, the potion's ready," he told her, kissing her.
Severus sneered at them, leaning over on his crutches to pull the Polyjuice Potion back out of his trunk. "I want that bottle back when this is finished."
"Don't worry about your precious possessions, Snape," Wilkes drawled, "they'll be fine." His blood boiled.
Sirius trudged down to the headmaster's office Monday evening after dinner, dragging his feet in the plush maroon carpet lining the hallways. The gargoyle hopped to the side as soon as he gave the password and he inched his way up the rotating staircase, the gargoyle leaping closed behind him before he reached the top. He swallowed and straightened his back before he grabbed the door knocker and gave the door a good smack. It opened almost immediately. "You are late, Mr. Black."
"Yeah, I know," he told Dumbledore, "I almost forgot to come."
"Surely the holidays weren't that long?" his eyes twinkled, "Never the less, it seems your companion for the evening has forgotten as well. I was wondering if you would be good enough to fetch him for me." His distaste must have been plain on his face, because the headmaster chuckled. "I thought not." He motioned for Sirius to sit down, "Try not to wreck my office too badly in my absence."
Sirius hadn't moved from the chair in front of the headmaster's desk and so hadn't caused any damage at all when Dumbledore strode back in, Snape trailing dourly in his wake. "Remus wanted me to tell you you're staying with him this summer," he said without preamble.
"Delightful," Snape's lip curled. "I hope he has a big back yard."
Sirius drew his eyebrows together. "He has a cellar with a padlock," he said slowly, "perfect for your monthly... erm, retreats, full of chew toys and rawhide."
"Careful Black," Snape whispered silkily, "that sounded dangerously anti werewolf. Perhaps I should tell your friend Lupin-"
"Would you just shut up already?" Sirius rumbled.
Snape smirked triumphantly. He dropped his own scholarship application onto the desk before slumping into th chair next to Sirius, his crutches clattering to the floor while Dumbledore opened one of his drawers and slipped out a list. "If you could copy that form out twelve times as you did for the others and get them ready to send to the governors?" the headmaster said, handing Sirius the list. "Professor McGonagall's copy quill is malfunctioning, writing rude words every time she sets it on parchment, very creatively, I might add," Sirius flushed. "So I would like you to write out the admittance letters for each of the incoming first years and address the envelopes. Mr. Snape, when you are done, I would like you to copy a supply list for each student."
Snape grabbed a stack of scholarship applications and jabbed his quill into the inkwell. "How clever of you to sabotage the competition, Black, I never would have thought to dispose of and shame the quill that way just to get more copying to do."
"Yeah well, if we hadn't jinxed the quill, Dumbledore would just have something else for us to waste our time doing!" Sirius fired back, hand on his wand.
"Would you like to continue this conversation after you're expelled, boys?" the headmaster asked mildly, and both boys twisted around in their chairs and bent back over their work.
Snape kept shooting him glares around his shoulder, scratching his name on the forms, over and over again. "You know, I kind of thought you were already here on scholarship," Sirius remarked snidely.
"No," Snape's eyes bored into his forehead. "Not all members of the so called lower classes need help paying for our educations!"
"Did I hit a nerve?" Sirius questioned cheerfully. Snape ripped his wand out of his front pocket and pointed it between Sirius' eyes. "Oh, that's yes then."
The headmaster held out his hands impatiently. "Wands please."
Snape's hand wavered and then fell to the desk.
"So have you been avoiding me?" Lily asked, smiling wryly.
"No," he denied sourly, flicking the cover of his Potions book closed. His breakfast sat in disarray beside him from the number of times a bite had made it halfway to his mouth and then fallen off his fork from inattention.
The Slytherins still seated at their house table glowered at her, but she kept her head up and ignored them completely. She bent down and picked up Severus's bag off the floor, draping the strap over her head. "Come on, I've been waiting the whole holiday to hear about what potion you were working with while I was away."
Feeling the glares of his housemates turn towards him, Severus's face heated up. Avery looked mad enough to run him through while he sat there. He snatched at his bag. "I can carry them myself," he yelped.
"I just want to help you," she reproached, as he planted his crutches and sprang to his feet.
"Give it back, Lily!"
"When we get to class," she told him firmly, "you have no idea what it's like to watch you walk with this," she poked his bag for emphasis, "almost falling over every other second." She turned her heel and walked off, knowing he would follow. Humiliation curling in his stomach, he glanced back to the derision on the faces of his housemates. "So?"
"It didn't work," he snapped, "I brewed brown goo, happy?"
Snape struggled to tear his arm away, but James held on, dragging him back down the tunnel, his rival's attempts to evade him only making him more resentful and more determined to rescue him. It became a competition. His breath came in great heaves, but he pulled Snape close and looped an arm around him, lifting him off the ground. He could hear the wolf's wet panting as he tried to run back to the willow, but the broken stones tripped him up. Snape gave out a sharp gasp as the wolf came into view, going so still James thought he had fainted.
His muscles burned, but when the wolf sprang, James launched them down the tunnel with a great burst of speed. There was no way he was going to make it, Snape dangling from his arm. The tunnel seemed to stretch on forever, the darkness swallowing its length even as time slowed to a deadening crawl. He felt as if he were lifting weights with his thighs instead of knees and feet.
Snape started thrashing again and James clutched him around his waist, his arm numb. Suddenly Snape doubled in weight, yanking them both back towards the Shack, his yowl going on forever, not quite covering the crunching grinding sound of the wolf's jaws made as they broke through his skin and flesh and tore into his knee, smashing it into splinters. Every muscle in Snape's body convulsed, blood gushing from the bite into the wolf's maw. Time slowed down even further as Snape fell from his grasp, his leg ripping out of the wolf's mouth, his whole body writhing and oozing, the bones and flesh pouring into their new shape as if his whole body were an invisible mold. When his hand turned into a paw, his wand fell to the ground, plunging the tunnel into blackness.
James's feet were part of the tunnel floor. He couldn't pick them up and use them to run away. His heart beat so fiercely against his ribs he thought they would break. He would be next, he knew it. The wolves were going to tear him apart and eat him. He couldn't see anything but their eyes.
Blood from Snape's wound, wolf blood and human, slipped under his shoe, and suddenly James could lift it. He leapt away, racing down the tunnel to the sound of the wolves snarls.
He woke up screaming, the sweat pouring off him into the bed sheets.
The bed curtains slid back. "You alright?" James nodded weakly.
"Just a dream," he gasped, unable to meet Sirius' eyes. But it wasn't just a dream. It had happened. And it kept happening, and he was so glad Sirius had stayed in a different room from him during the holiday.
Remus and Peter filed in behind Sirius, blinking glazed eyed in the garish light of Sirius' wand. "You sure mate? I mean..."
"Go back to sleep," he panted, face pale, trying to keep himself from bolting from the bed, throwing his invisibility cloak over his shoulders and walking somewhere, anywhere, preferably somewhere with a long corridor so he could run.
He met Remus' eyes from around Sirius, and James could see it. Remus knew what he kept seeing. He couldn't look his friend in the face.
Chapter 7: Disillusionment Charms
Decima Wilkes and Avery clinked their flasks together after dropping their hairs into them. The potions inside turned a foul greyish pink and green tinted orange, and the first years who took them grimaced with disgust as they lifted them to their lips. Rosier plucked his own hair and let it sink into the Polyjuice potion with much less ceremony. It frothed and hissed, threatening to spill over as he passed it to his on reluctant first year. The boy pinched his nose and gagged as he forced himself to swallow a mouthful.
Snatching the flasks away, Severus watched fascinated as the drinkers' skin started to bubble and stretch over their swelling frames. His stomach roiled, but he couldn't look away from what he had made. He had to yank his eyes away from the three of them and stare at only one, or he was going to be sick and erase all the good work he had done making the potions. The boy's puffy face metamorphosed into Wilkes' square jaw and smooth cheeks, his eyebrows thinning to a sharp, plucked line. He shot upwards like a vine, his hips widening and waist narrowing as he grew, breasts swelling onto his chest. The boy's new face twisted with distaste as he straightened out, his robe more than half a foot off the floor, buttons popping off his chest and stomach.
"Could we, er, could we borrow some clothes?" Severus' head turned to the disconcerting sight of Evan Rosier in trousers that stopped just below his knees, his chest white and bloodless where the too small shirt gapped and stretched at the buttons.
Wilkes dashed out the dormitory door and up the staircase, her fancy heels clicking on the stone as Rosier and Avery opened their trunks. Avery's trunk had a strange contraption that pulled out, hinged boxes full of pressed shirts, trousers, and robes. He tossed one of each onto the bed. The boys stripped down, easing out of underpants that left red rings around their waists and thighs. When the pair had knotted their ties in place, Severus caught himself glancing back and fourth between them and the pair they copied. The last boy jiggled Wilkes' breasts on his chest experimentally, poking the bare flesh exposed by his undersized shirt. His hands dropped nervously when he saw the real Avery glowering at him poisonously and the other boys eying him oddly.
Severus hobbled ungainly over to the table beside Avery's bed, trying to use his forearm to press the crutch into the floor instead of his hand. As he clunked the flasks down onto the table, a knock on the dormitory door startled the motly, mirrored group. "Is it safe?" Wilkes asked softly through the wood.
Avery pulled the door open and she strode past him, a bundle of cloth in her arms. She tossed it onto Snape's bed and jars and tubes of concealer, lipstick, and other arcane things knocked loose along with her hairbrush. "You better keep your yes closed while you change," she told her double menacingly, and he nodded, his new long hair flapping vigorously around his shoulders. "Out," she ordered her housemates, "You can stay, love," she said, throwing her arm around Avery.
The boy turned grey and stared at her and then at him, horrified.
"No," Avery said, uncomfortable, "That's alright."
As he followed his housemates out, Severus caught a glimpse of Wilkes' much nicer black silk robes underneath her school robes, flipping around her stilettos as she sashayed over to the blushing, cringing boy wearing her body. The first year doubles stuck anxiously to Severus' sides, trying to keep him between them and the real Avery and Rosier. From inside they could hear faint girlish grunts and gasps of pain. "Hold still."
At last, Wilkes yanked the door open and they could see a very sullen copy of her, all made up with every hair just like hers sitting on Severus's bed. Severus scrutinized the other first years and the real Avery and Rosier. "Stop using your left hand," he snapped at the fake Avery, a rush of satisfaction rolling over him at the way the boy dropped his hand to his side, trying not to fiddle with his borrowed robes. This wasn't the real Avery. He could do anything to this shadow and the real thing would never call him on it. The real Avery smirked coldly at him as if he knew what his year mate was really feeling, his eyes lidded.
"Don't let them talk to anyone," Wilkes ordered Severus glancing back at her double darkly. "Just keep them in the common room. You," she jabbed her finger at the doubles, "if anyone tries to talk to you, tell them you're trying to study."
Rosier smiled casually at his double, "You can add 'piss off' if you want."
"I agreed to brew the potion," Severus hissed, "Not to shepherd around a gaggle of first years all evening!"
Avery turned to him with a cruel smile. "Are you backing out?"
"I did what you wanted me to," he snarled.
"And now I want you to do something else," Avery fleered. "You still owe me, Snape."
Severus bowed his head. "You will tell the Dark Lord about me?"
Avery tipped his nose up and stared down at Snape and then at the first years behind him. "I'll tell him all about how helpful you are," he promised, an ugly sweet smile on his face. Severus had the sudden urge to punch to slam his fist into that miserable, condescending aristocrat's nose and watch the blood spew out as he pommeled him into the wall.
"Make sure they're up here by the time they change back," Wilkes said imperiously.
"I am not entirely without a modicum of intelligence," Severus seethed.
Wilkes snorted, but before Severus could retaliate, Avery broke in, "We'll be back at two this morning, make sure the three of them are seen throughout the night." The fake Rosier raised his hand hesitantly while the fake Wilkes hung his head, mortified. "Yes?"
"Can we, er, can we..."
"Well?" Avery's eyes narrowed, his voice becoming a growl deep in the base of his throat.
The boy flinched back. "Can we, er, spend some time as ourselves so that, er, no one thinks we snuck off too?"
Rosier tipped the fake Wilkes' head up, his lip twitching up, not even bothering to disguise his amusement. "So you're going to keep the makeup on?"
"I'll file a report saying you were hexing each other in the corridors," Avery said mock kindly. "Right in the middle of the time we're gone."
"So you're going to give us detention for helping you?" the fake Rosier burst out.
"Sounds like a good plan to me," Avery smiled. He incanted disillusionment charms over himself and his companions, wand bobbing swiftly back and forth in his glassy faintly outlined hand. He shoved it back into his pocket where it disappeared. That hand came down onto Severus' shoulder, making his leg buckle. He leaned heavily on his crutches, panicked that the rubber feet were about to slip out from under him. Staring up into the shadows where Avery's eyes had been, he gritted his teeth fiercely. "You did well Snape," Avery whispered in his ear, "You'll get your reward, don't worry."
"Yeah, good boy," Wilkes hooted. The disguised first years behind him shifted back and forth on their feet, twittering nervously. A sick feeling of humiliation washed over him, and Avery must have felt him trembling, because he patted his head.
Walking away, Avery turned his head back. "Oh, and you might not want to tell Mulciber where we're going," he chuckled. "He has his own problems to worry about." Severus shivered.
As soon as they were out of earshot, he whirled around on the first years, the rubber feet on his crutches squealing against the stone. "You," he snapped, pointing at the fake Rosier, "what's your name?"
He tipped his head up defiantly, "Kareem."
"You heard what they said Kareem?"
"Yeah, I heard," he scowled.
"You're in charge, you do it," he cast his own disillusionment charm and stalked sulkily up the stairs and out of the common room after his housemates.
They slipped out to a statue of a witch with a hump on her back. One of the transparent forms pulled out its wand and tapped the hump. "Dissendium," The figure muttered, and Severus had to strain to hear. The hump slid aside revealing a deep black tunnel, but the Slytherins didn't hesitate before climbing down into it.
Severus crept forward after the hump closed and pulled out his wand, gazing at the way he could see the handle as a wispy grey outline through his hand, and with a jolt, realized his crutches were as visible as ever. Feeling stupid, he cast a quick disillusionment charm onto them and touched his wand to the witch's hump. "Dissendium," he mumbled.
The sound of the hump grinding against the rest of the statue seemed monstrously loud in the quiet, much louder than it had been when the other three had opened it. He sank himself slowly and awkwardly into the tunnel and levitated his crutches after him. They floated beside his head as he crawled clumsily so his quarry wouldn't hear the snick clop of the crutches echoing in the tunnel. The invisible trio chattered and chortled, their voices huge in the cavernous space, but Severus couldn't stay close enough to hear what they were saying and the words bounced deceptively off the walls. At last, Severus hear the sound of a paving stone being pushed out of the way, and a small square of slightly less black blackness appeared in the tunnel ceiling. In the darkness, he couldn't see his housemates, but he could hear them climb the stairs out of the tunnel. He caught his crutches out of the air beside him and followed them into a cellar as the door out closed behind them. When he realized the door opened into Honeydukes, he barely suppressed a snort as he slipped out behind them into the early darkness, sticking to the grass beside the cobblestones to cover the sound of his crutches.
They cast faint shadows in the old fashioned street lamps, and the light poured onto Lucius Malfoy. When the three saw him, they ended their disillusionment charms and he waved them over, tossing them each a mask. "Welcome," he said cryptically, apparating them away, one by one. Just before he apparated Rosier away, Malfoy glanced up past the street and smiled right at him.
Kareem passed Snape, dozing fitfully in a chair near the stairs, the easy smile Rosier always wore plastered across his face. He took the stairs two by two after Mulciber, passing his disguised friends as they trooped back into the common room from drinking their fifth dose of Polyjuice potion. "I need to talk to you," he muttered urgently,"
"Evan, what..." Mulciber exclaimed as Kareem guided him through the door into the dormitory.
"Just give me ten minutes," he said, dropping down onto a bed next to Wilkes' makeup and hairbrush. Discretely, he pushed his dorm-mate's robe over the makeup He fidgeted and every few seconds, he flicked his eyes over to a watch on the bedside table.
"Why are you sitting on Snape's bed?" Mulciber demanded, "what's going on? Evan-"
"Ten minutes, please," he begged. Slowly, the time slipped forward, and the same sensations of his bones melting and his flesh twisting welled up and Mulciber stared at him horrified.
"You sneaky little creep," Mulciber roared, pulling his wand out of his pocket.
Rosier's robes bagged around him. "Avery, Rosier, and Wilkes went out tonight to a Death Eater meeting," he informed him coldly, "They had Snape brew Polyjiuce potion for us to take so they wouldn't be missed."
"A Death Eater meeting?" Mulciber demanded, eyes bulging, irate.
"With the Dark Lord himself," he smirked. "Avery told us not to tell you, said it was none of your business."
Mulciber paled, eyes too wide. "Why wasn't I called?"
Kareem's smirk widened sinisterly, but the fifth year didn't notice. "Maybe they didn't think you were though enough," his lip curled.
"Get out!" Mulciber bellowed.
Kareem gulped down another dose of Polyjuice potion and scrambled out.
"Watch this," Sirius announced as Snape shoved the last bit of egg on his plate into his mouth. James and Peter turned in the direction of Sirius's wand, but Remus ignored him pointedly. He jabbed his wand in the air and a thin line of light zoomed through the room at Snape's crutches, leaning against the Slytherin table. They vanished when the disillusionment charm hit them. Sirius waited impatiently as Snape pushed his plate away at last and twisted around on the bench to get up.
James shifted uncomfortably beside him, pulling out his wand. "Not funny, mate, finite incantatem."
The crutches winked back into existence, and Snape grabbed for them. Sirius glared at his best friend and shot another disillusionment charm at the crutches and levitated them away. He snickered as Snape tumbled off the bench, reaching for them. "What are you talking about Prongs, of course it's funny."
"Padfoot," James said warningly.
Wilkes and Avery stopped cuddling across the table from Snape, to watch their housemate grope frantically for his crutches. The whole table stopped eating to watch, their faces stretching with mirth, no one helping him. "Even the Slytherins think so."
"Which is a pretty good sign it isn't!" Remus spat. James glanced at him and flicked his wand at Snape's crutches, canceling the charm again. Snape grabbed them and clutched them to his chest, slithering to his feet.
"You..." Sirius said, his voice strangled, "Have you lost all of your sense of humor?"
James' lips turned up into his usual grin. "Maybe."
He stood up and jumped over the bench while Remus sent Sirius a bewildered afraid glower and stabbed his fork into a sausage.
Shoving his wand back into his pocket, James passed by Snape on his way to the door. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"For what, Potter?" he snarled murderously, "It's nothing you haven't done before."
"Alright then," James said irritably, walking down the hall.
Snape swept his wand through the air and the melting curse hit James in the back with a crack.
Severus hunched over his Herbology essay, combing the book for the right citation. Slumbering a few beds over, an idiotic smile on his face, Avery buried himself in his blankets, snuffling softly. Severus didn't understand how he could sleep without kicking them away. The warm Sunday afternoon made even the Slytherin dungeons swelter, the drips of water trickling down the walls transforming into a suffocating fog. he fanned himself with a spare piece of parchment folded over on itself, just to get the air moving a little.
The stillness of the air meant that the whoosh of the door flapping open jolted Avery awake even before it banged into the wall. "None of my business, was it?" Mulciber shouted when the door slammed shut.
"What are you talking about?" Avery asked, launching himself out of bed.
"That bloody meeting you went to last night!" he yelled, "why wasn't I called?"
"I couldn't possibly claim to know what's in the mind of the Dark Lord," Avery drawled, "Perhaps you should ask your father."
Severus looked up from the book on his knees to watch the spectacle impassively.
"You slimy little-"
Avery looked him up and down. "Little? That's a bit rich coming from you."
Mulciber pulled his wand out of his pocket and pointed it at Avery's foul face. "I'm warning you, Avery..."
"What'll you do then?" Avery laughed in his face, "nothing? God you really are weak."
"Imperio." Avery's eyes glazed over. "Come over here and kneel at my feet."
"Mulciber, you idiot," Snape blurted, "You're at Hogwarts, under Dumbledore's nose!"
"What, a feeble old man? Kiss my feet." Avery bowed his head until his forehead almost touched the carpet and planted his lips against the scuffed loafers on his dorm-mate's feet. "Say you're sorry."
"I'm sorry," Avery responded, voice flat.
"Stop!" Severus cried. "My God."
"Do you want to take his place then?" Mulciber asked, laughing gleefully.
"No!" He couldn't tear his eyes away from Avery, glassy-eyed and kneeling on the floor so eerily passive it made Severus think he was going to be sick.
"Do you want me to stop?" Mulciber asked the boy at his feet. Avery gazed back uncomprehending. "Tell me."
"I feel good," he answered dully, "I don't want it to stop."
Severus shuddered, his sallow skin losing what little color it usually held. "Please."
Mulciber pulled the wand up, away from Avery, ending the spell. Sucking in a harsh breath, Avery leapt to his feet, face flooding with mortification and revulsion. "You..." but the rest of what he wanted to say was lost in an anguished grunt.
"Still think I'm weak?" Mulciber demanded.
"You won't get away with this," Avery snarled, "I'll tell my father."
"And tell him what?" Mulciber reveled, "that you couldn't even fight off the Imperius curse?"
"If I cast it on you right now, you wouldn't do any better," he growled nails digging into his palms.
"Then do it," Mulciber snapped, "You're the weak one, you don't have the spine."
"No," he shot back, his voice rising into a scream, "I'm smart enough not to do anything that stupid, smarter than you're ever going to be, you brainless scum-sucking piece of garbage!"
"Then why were you the one on your knees?"
Avery thrust his wand at Mulciber's chest. "Get out."
Bowing jeeringly, Mulciber closed the door behind himself.
Severus bent back over his essay, dipping his quill in his ink bottle. "Snape, you sodding bastard."
"What did I do?" he yelped.
Avery's eyes narrowed, his wand trained on his housemate. "What do you mean what did you do?" he whispered dangerously, "You told that worm about the meeting!"
"I did not!" Severus denied, his book tumbling off his lap.
"You filthy liar," he growled, looming over the other Slytherin, wand tip in the hollow of Severus' throat, "You little rat."
"Maybe one of the first years told him," Severus bawled, "I didn't."
Avery raised his wand away from Severus' throat, visibly trying to compose himself. "Make no mistake, Snape, you will pay for this, but if I can't trust you not to tell Mulciber, I can't trust you not to run crying to the Headmaster either, can I?" He patted Severus' cheek cruelly and then slapped him.
Wasn't strong enough for the Death Eaters, was he? he hoped Avery shriveled up and rotted away knowing he had knelt at his feet then. The corridors were empty that May Sunday, everyone chased outside by the heat or into the library by the proximity of end of the year exams. He paced the length of the hallway furiously, his feet hammering on the stones.
"Wheeeeee"! He ducked, covering his head as Peeves zoomed over him and doubled back. "What's this?" the poltergeist asked cheerfully, "An ickle firsty snake?"
"Do you want me to get the Bloody Baron?"
"Oooh, the itty bitty snakey is scared of Peevesy weevesy? Need to go hide behind the Baron?" Peeves bounced from wall to wall like a rubber ball in an earthquake.
"Specterum Repello!" but Peeves dodged the spell and just bobbed up instead of shooting down the hall.
"The ickle baby first year has bite, should I give you a teething toy?" the poltergeist cooed.
"I'm a fifth year, you idiot!"
"Oooh, a fifth year who can't even stand up to Peevesy?" the poltergeist crowed, "maybe you should go back to first year."
He jabbed his wand at Peeves' lurid bow tie, but the poltergeist just zoomed right through his middle and down the hall, giggling and whooping. He staggered back against the wall and leaned against the stones, clutching his stomach, the icy deadened feeling refusing to leave with the poltergeist.
The dust motes settled on the floor and muffled Macdonald's footfalls. She ignored him as she walked past, straining under the weight of her books, hair flying around her sweaty face. Suddenly he wanted her to acknowledge him, this pathetic, Gryffindor girl half-blood weakling. He raised his wand and tossed it from hand to hand. "Macdonald, nice to see you."
Her head jerked up and she glared. "Wish I could say the same."
He stepped out of the shadows, twirling his wand, throwing it and letting it pinwheel in the air before catching it behind his back. "Really, Macdonald, you wound me, I just want to make you happy."
She let her bag drop and it slammed into the stones, sending the dust spinning into the air. Her wand found her hand and she ripped it out of her pocket and aimed it straight at him. "Go away, Mulciber."
He grinned up at her, showing all of his teeth. "But I don't want to. I was here first."
"Then crawl back into your corner and let me go." She grabbed her bag and tried to push past him.
He stepped to the side and she fell over onto the ground in an indignant heap. "As you wish."
Grinding her teeth together, she hauled herself to her feet and swung her bag up onto her shoulders. "Thank you!"
As she turned around and walked down the corridor, he pointed his wand at her back and flicked it. The spell hit her squarely. The squawk that floated down the hall felt so good.
Maggots hit the floor, pouring out of her mouth, nose, and eyes. Mary gagged, racing down the corridor, her feet skidding in the dead maggots. She cried harder and flies burst out of her mouth to buzz ahead of her. Her whole body shook as the spell took hold and her vision blurred. As she stumbled down the hall, her legs seized up and she could feel her skin rotting away.
Chapter 8: Maggots and Malice
For this chapter, I have lifted dialogue directly from Chapter 33 (The Prince's Tale) of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the US edition.
James had to be carried to the hospital wing in a bucket, but when Madam Pomfrey pointed her wand at him, he flowed back into his ordinary shape and onto the bed almost instantly. Filch's mouth twisted as he watched, peering inside his bucket to make sure there was no more James left in it to muck up his floors when he tried to mop them. "I can't move," he informed them, annoyed.
"You shouldn't even be trying," the mediwitch bustled over as Filch stalked out, "You were liquid after all, Mr. Potter.
"And I don't think I can feel the bed either."
"I haven't connected everything back together, be patient." She flicked her wand over him again and he could feel again.
"Ow," he sniffed.
"You should stay the night, Mr. Potter."
James rolled his eyes. "I'll be fine in a few hours, just," he smiled, "put everything back together, right?" Snorting, she walked off tend to a third year with his arm growing out of his head. He dropped into a peevish nap, hopping that by the time he woke up again, she would have hooked up his muscles and he could leave.
"Madam Pomfrey, please," Lily burst into the room and James blinked awake, muzzy with sleep, the light telling him it wasn't morning anymore. "Mary..."
The girl hanging off Lily's shoulder stank, maggots rolling out of her eyes and the rotted away gaps between her ribs. "Ick," he blurted, trying to scramble up, but his body still wouldn't move.
"Ahhhhh," the corpse's breath hissed out of her moldy pitted lungs in a fetid haze. James would have been sick if his stomach had been working at all.
Madam Pomfrey skirted the maggots and dead flies, examining the girl. She swooshed her wand over the girl, banishing the maggots and flies and stopping the decomposition. Slowly, she eased the girl away from Lily's shoulder, her arm leaving a trail of foul smelling goo on Lily's robe. "Stop hovering Miss Evans!" the mediwitch cried, "out!"
Lily darted out the door. "Bye Mary," she called, and when she flipped around, her hair was stuck together.
Madam Pomfrey poked different parts of Mary's body in turn, muttering under her breath. The black and green skin faded back to a healthy pink and her hair straightened out of its dull tangles. "I can't see," she said hoarsely, panicking.
"Yes, maggots have been eating away at your eyes," the mediwitch told her unflinchingly.
"Oh my God," she moaned out of cracked lips.
"There is enough left of them that I should be able to grow your eyes back in a few hours, now lie back." Madam Pomfrey pushed her down and poured a potion onto her closed eyelids. "Open your eyes or it won't work."
Mary blinked and the potion sank deep into her almost empty eye sockets. "Oh ow," tears mingled with the potion on her cheeks. "It burns."
"It's supposed to, dear," the mediwitch patted her shoulder sympathetically. "Do you know who did this to you?"
"Mulciber," she spat, "He was trying to kill me, I know he was!"
"Don't be silly girl," the mediwitch ordered, pushing her back down again. "Students have been playing hideously dangerous pranks on each other," One moment James swore she sent him a dark look, but it disappeared so fast he couldn't be sure, "since the founding of this school, and I highly doubt any of our students actually intend to murder each other."
"Prank!" Mary raged, "he turned me into a rotting corpse and laughed, he laughed!" she swallowed furiously, "while I tried to find someone before I died for real!"
Madam Pomfrey put her hands on her hips and puffed her chest out, but the display was lost on her eyeless patient. "I won't deny that it was a particularly vicious prank."
"If Lily hadn't found me, I'd be dead!"
"Never fear, I'm sure his head of house will impress upon the seriousness of his actions."
"I want him expelled."
"Settle down!" the mediwitch insisted, "You need to keep still or the potion will spill out."
Mary slumped down against the sheets and Madam Pomfrey rubbed her shoulder gently before striding back to her cabinet to continue inventoring her potions.
"I don't understand why you helped Snape this morning," Mary whispered, forcing back a fresh wave of tears. "They're really horrible, all of them are."
"Hmmmm," he said, closing his eyes and trying to go back to sleep. His arm had fallen asleep and he still couldn't move it.
"I mean look at what he did to you anyway," she continued reasonably, "right after you helped him, too."
"Hmmmm," he repeated, not really listening.
"You should have just let Sirius play his trick." Resentment tinged her words and he wondered if her throat was quite right.
James refused to open his eyes. "Why do you keep chasing after him?" he snarled "It's not like he ever notices you."
"Yeah, I know," she said bitterly.
He almost couldn't make himself say any more, grateful that she had at least refrained from pointing out the way he kept trailing after Evans in a desperate attempt to get her to go on a date with him. "And it's not like Sirius ever stays with a girl for long anyway."
"Exactly," she muttered miserably, leaving him bewildered, his eyes snapping open to peer at her sightless face. "He'll make his way to me eventually, and I'll figure out a way to keep him."
If he could have moved, he would have shaken his head. "Really," he said at last, sarcastically. "I'd love to see that." He closed his eyes again so that he didn't have to bother with her for a while, faking soft snores.
When he dared to stop snoring, opening his eyes, unable to go back to sleep, he could see the faint green tinges of rot on her cheeks, the rest of her skin a faded cadaverous grey. "Awake again?" she snapped.
She lifted up her hand, feeling the bones creaking together. "Madam Pomfrey!"
"Rotting again," he added unnecessarily.
The mediwitch hurried over to her charge. "Oh dear."
"Make it stop!" She started sobbing raggedly, and a maggot fell out of her half filled eye socket instead of a tear.
Sweeping her wand over the distraught girl, Madam Pomfrey intoned diagnostic spell after diagnostic spell, her nostrils flaring more and more with worry after each spell. At last, she cast strong anti-Dark Arts spell to end the enchantment still in place on Mary and then a string of complex healing charms, cleaning away the rot and killing the maggots. She pointed her wand at the girl's middle, casting still more charms to repair her organs and mend the holes in her lungs and throat.
"It's not going to come back again, is it?" she begged?
"Not unless that spell is somehow actually Light Magic," Madam Pomfrey told her, shooting a diagnostic spell over her. Abruptly, the mediwitch's eyes doubled in size. "Is there something you want to tell me about your home life, Miss Macdonald?" she blurted.
"No," she replied, bemused.
"Did your parents even feed you over the holiday?" the mediwitch cried, casting the spell again, just to be sure.
"They feed me plenty," Mary growled back, drawing the blankets around herself despite the heat.
"You're underweight!" she cried, "I bet I could count every rib through your blouse if that robe weren't in the way."
"I am not!" she shouted, "I'm just fine!"
Madam Pomfrey summoned a house elf who appeared with a crack and a bowl of oatmeal. She lifted the bowl out of his hands and plunked it on the table next to Mary's bed. "I want you to eat every bit of that."
"Are you going to stand there and watch me eat?" she yowled, incredulous.
"Do I have to?" the mediwitch asked, a different suspicion mounting in her voice.
Mary looked into the oatmeal, streaks of honey floating in a whole melted stick of butter on top. "I think I'm going to be sick."
When Severus and Lily emerged out into the castle courtyard, the sun burst blindingly into their faces, the soft spring gloom shut away behind the door. "No, no, I don't want to talk to you, Sev."
"Why not?" he demanded, winding his way through the rose bushes after her.
"Because if I talk to you now, I'm going to scream," she snapped, not turning around. "Your friends put my friend in the hospital wing."
Severus pole vaulted over a low planter wall in front of her. "And here I thought we were supposed to be friends? Best friends?"
"We are Sev, but I don't like some of the people you're hanging round with! I'm sorry, but I detest Avery and Mulciber! Mulciber!" She stepped to the side and rested against a pillar, gazing into his pale faced glower. "What do you see in him Sev, he's creepy! D'you know what he tried to do to Mary Macdonald the other day?"
Severus shook his head, "That was nothing. It was a laugh, that's all-"
She recoiled, the blood fleeing her face in ire. "It was Dark Magic, and if you think that's funny-"
"What about the stuff Potter and his mates get up to?" he spat, his face taking all of the color hers lost.
Her head jerked, "What's Potter got to do with anything?"
"They sneak out at night. They're always doing something, They're..."
Lily's fingers pressed into the crumbly stone of the pillar behind her. "You know, I'm surprised you haven't trotted out your pet theory about Remus," she said, her voice chill. "Why are you so obsessed with them anyway? Why do you care what they're doing at night?
He backed up, gazing at her intently. "I'm just trying to show you they're not as wonderful as everyone seems to think they are."
Lily flushed, her voice catching, "They don't use Dark Magic, though." Her voice dropped, and he had to struggle to hear her, "And you're being really ungrateful. I saw him help you this morning. You didn't have to hex him after that; you could wait until he actually does something to you."
"He and his friends certainly do enough!" he shouted.
"And I heard how you got your leg broken," she continued, ignoring him, "You went sneaking down that tunnel by the Whomping Willow, and James Potter saved you from whatever's down there-" A terrible suspicion blossomed in her eyes.
Severus' whole face twisted in on itself and he sputtered, "Saved? Saved? You think he was playing the hero? He was saving his neck and his friends' too! You're not going to- I won't let you-"
"Let me? Let me?" Her eyes narrowed into slits until he could barely see the green between her lashes.
Severus backed up too fast, his crutches catching on the planter wall until he stepped them backwards onto the top of it. "I didn't mean- I just don't want to see you made a fool of- He fancies you, James Potter fancies you!" He hopped down reluctantly, shifting his good foot, "And he's not... everyone thinks... big quidditch hero-"
Lily's eyebrows raised so far along her forehead that they disappeared under her bangs, "I know James Potter's an arrogant toerag, I don't need you to tell me that. But Mulciber's and Avery's idea of humor is just evil. Evil, Sev. I don't understand how you can be friends with them."
But Severus had stopped listening to her, only the part about Potter's lack of merit, his stride gaining a new bounce as he strolled beside her. He smiled openly, but didn't answer back.
When the silence stretched on, Lily shifted uncomfortably, "You haven't mentioned your theory about Remus since you were hurt."
Severus' whole body tensed and he stopped moving. "Maybe it's because I found out I was wrong." It hurt to say, but he wasn't quite lying, was he?
She pursed her lips, the suspicion returning. "So what was down there?"
His eyes went wide, black pits in the middle of glittering white. "I can't tell you."
"Why not?" she shot back, crossing her arms.
"If I tell anyone, I get expelled." Well, Dumbledore wouldn't have any more reason to let him stay.
She gazed at him sharply, her thoughts turning dark.
Remus slumped in the library chair, his Divination homework in front of him, a diagram of a crystal ball, a set of Cartesian axes superimposed on top. He glared at the enchanted image, the mists inside shifting, different symbols popping in and out, labels and possible meanings beside them in fluid gold script. He poked at them with the tip of his quill and they scrambled around, dodging it.
Lily tapped the table lightly, just to get his attention. "Can I sit here?"
"yeah," he said, "sure."
She pulled out the chair and perched on the edge, her feet crossed at the ankles. "I was wondering..." She stopped and chewed her lip.
She fidgeted. "I just wanted to ask..."
He stared at her, blinking when her eyes wouldn't meet his. "Yes?"
"Areyouawerewolf?" she blurted at last.
His quill snapped in his hand, and for a minute, he was too shocked to say anything. "Did you just ask me if I were a werewolf?"
She blushed, "Yeah, that."
He swallowed, his mouth too dry for him to find any moisture. "Why on earth would you ask something like that?"
"It's just," She glanced down embarrassed, "well, you're heard Severus' theory right?"
"Don't tell me you actually believe him," he whispered nervously, "I mean, it's just-"
"I know!" she groaned, exasperated, "It's just that he went on and on about it, and all of a sudden he stopped, and he won't tell me what he saw down that tunnel."
He frowned, looking down at the table, ignoring the waving fog in the book illustration. "I can't tell you what's down there either."
"Yeah," but you know what it is?" He stared across at her, his face guilty.
"No!" he lied, "I mean why would I?"
Her eyes narrowed and she turned her head toward him to peer in his face harder. "Your lying to me."
"I'm not!" he denied, eyes rolling with fright.
"Stop it," she ordered, "Or I'm going to think Sev is right, and you really are a werewolf and that Dumbledore is extorting him to keep silent." Remus locked sick. "Oh God, I'm right, aren't I?" she whispered. "You are!"
"Lily, I'm not!" he yelped, shooting up from the chair.
She stared up at him steely eyed and furious. "Don't lie to me!" she hissed, feeling Madam Pince's eyes on her. "Tell me what's going on, or I'll follow you next time I find you leaving the tower at night and find out myself!"
His hands waved through the air as he tried to shut her up at least for a moment. "Fine, alright?" he said, crouching down next to her so that no one else can hear, "I'm a werewolf, happy?"
A thin film of salt water formed over her eyes, not enough to bead up and fall, but enough to throw the light back at him. "But I have no idea if your telling me the truth."
He shrugged bonelessly. "Well, there's not much I can do to convince you either way, is there?"
That Thursday, Severus glanced around the dormitory and once he was confidant that he was alone, carried the folding stool into the showers draped over one arm. He hugged his crutch clumsily to his side, listing with the weight. It dropped to the tile shower floor with a crash, the echoes bouncing off the walls and floor in a continuous roar and Severus sank down to his good knee, his bad leg jutting out to the side, to right it, propping its legs up and dragging it to just under where the spray would fall.
Heaving himself up onto his good leg, he sank down onto the stool and lowered his crutches carefully to the floor. His fingers found the hem of his robe and yanked it over his head tossing it out the shower door. His shirt and trousers followed, his pale skin dark in the shadows. Unsteady on his stool, he leaned over and twisted the shower knob. The icy water hit him and his breath hissed out of his mouth in a sharp jet. It slowly heated around him, the warmth sinking into his skin and bones, and he stat there, open eyed, dazed with the comfort.
At last, he shook himself free of his languor and pilfered Avery's shampoo out of the wall niche in front of him, squeezing out a palmful and rubbing it into his hair.
The light snapped on. Severus blinked horrified, bubbles dripping from his hair, twisting around on the stool to face the doorway. The bite scars on his knee stood out in stark relief under the flickering light from the chandelier. Avery gasped as Severus guiltily shoved the shampoo back into its niche, the water still pouring down around him, the soap disappearing down the drain.
Belatedly, Severus clamped his arms down around his bad knee to shield it from view. "You little liar," Avery crowed. "You didn't just see the Gryffindors sneak into Hogsmeade. You... Lupin really is... oh wonderful."
"Your mad," Severus sputtered, thinking fast, "These aren't bite marks you idiot, the Whomping Willow-"
"Trees don't make marks like that, Severus," he purred, deliberately using his housemate's name, striding across the water slicked floor and jerking the shower knob off, the water spray catching his sleeve and soaking through. His shoes clicked against the tiles as he loomed over his soaking, naked housemate.
Severus cringed back, shivering as the air evaporated and sucked the heat away with it. "You can't be... I'm not..."
Avery grinned infectiously, wringing out his sleeve and tapping the bite marks lazily, "Stop lying to me, Severus," he drew the name out as if it were three distinct, cold words. "It's not nice."
Throwing Avery's hand off his scars, Severus recoiled so far that he toppled off the stool. His arms and legs hit the tiles in a sprawl as the prefect stared down derisively. "You can't tell," he pleaded, voice hoarse.
"What would you give me to keep quiet?" Avery asked thoughtfully, tilting his head to shoot his housemate a calculating glance.
"Anything," Severus vowed.
"I'm sure you'd try," he sneered, "but you don't actually have anything I want, you see."
"I can brew you any potion you want-"
"But I don't want any more potions," Avery gloated, "It's going to be summer soon."
The blood drained out of Severus' face, leaving it grey and lifeless. "But there are two whole years after that, you don't have to find something right now, you could save it-"
"After this summer, I won't have to worry about school anymore," Avery snapped, "or potions. By then the Dark Lord will have won."
"Please," he whispered hollowly.
"And to think I recommended you to him just last week," Avery drawled, sitting down on Severus' stool and propping his feet up on the tiles, the tip of one foot slipping under Severus' colorless back. The toenail dug into his lumpy spine, nudging him away. "It's not like it means anything anymore. He might have taken a half-blood, you're good, I'll give you that, but not a werewolf."
"Please don't tell him," Severus sobbed, curling in on himself.
"Wait," Avery murmured, a sudden thought striking him. "You already were a werewolf when you asked me to tell the Dark Lord about you." Severus nodded behind his arms, clenching his eyes shut. "You arrogant little bastard!"
Severus would have dearly loved to ask the prefect if he really thought he was the right person to talk about arrogance. "So what?" he demanded, uncurling only slightly.
"You little vermin," Avery laughed again. "You dare think the Dark Lord would have you? You aren't even human."
"Go away," Severus snarled behind his hands.
"You could still join Fenrir Greyback's pack," Avery told him feigning sympathy. "That's the only way animals get to serve the Dark Lord."
"Do you never stop?" Severus whimpered.
As he glided out of the showers, Avery pulled a towel out of a chest of drawers, balled it up, and threw it at him.
Chapter 9: Whispers Around the School
Severus lurched forward to grab his crutches, and when his hands clasped them, he hugged them tightly to his chest. They slipped on the wet floor as he tried to lever himself up until they finally caught in a grout line. Leaning unsteadily on one, he tied the towel around his waist and gathered up the stool. He glanced down to make sure the towel covered his bite marks, then stopped. It didn't matter. His breath caught in his throat and for a moment, he couldn't breathe through the panic.
The dormitory lights blazed on when Severus stepped through the door. Avery wasn't inside, and Severus sank down onto his bed in a cold sweat. The water from his towel and hair soaked into the bedspread. What kind of idiot was he, he wondered, to forget his nightshirt? All those mornings where he woke up first to drag his trousers over his knee before anyone else saw his leg, all the times he made sure everyone was out of the dormitory before he took a shower, and he forgot his nightshirt? Well it wasn't like it mattered anyway.
Slowly, the other boys made their way into the dormitory. He pulled the blankets over his head, muffling their laughter. Suddenly, Avery yanked the covers down. "I said isn't that right, Severus."
"Get your face out of mine, Avery," Severus snarled, making to grab the blankets back, but Avery wasn't finished. With the tip of his wand, he pushed the hem of Severus' nightshirt up just past his knees. "Stop!" Severus snatched at the wand.
With a deafening crack, the wand let loose a gush of acid green sparks. "You idiot!" Avery spat, pulling the wand out of his grasp.
Mulciber and Rosier crept close around the bed, staring at the livid purple and red bite marks. Rosier's face twisted, horrified, but he kept his eyes on Severus' face, and Severus felt a rush of reluctant fondness for him. "Merlin, Avery, he really..." Mulciber smiled openly, as Severus pushed down the hem of his nightshirt.
His hand groped under his pillow for his wand. "Sectumsempra." The spell sliced through the skin of Avery's cheek, and into the hard flesh of his gums. Avery spat a mouthful of blood onto the floor. It was the last thing Severus saw before he jerked the covers back up and rolled over.
At the doorway to the Great Hall, Remus could feel every eye in the room turn to him, not to Sirius and James, but to him. His friends pressed tight around him and his whole body shook as James gently pushed him between the shoulder blades every time he stopped moving. "Yeah, he's a werewolf," Remus' head jerked around on his neck.
"Bit Snape, I heard, 's why his leg's like that..."
"Why does Dumbledore let them stay at the school, obviously cracked..."
"Dangerous monsters, should all be put down..."
James pushed him forward faster until they came to their usual place at the Gryffindor table. Remus' eyes swept the room, seeing all of the fingers pointed his way. Lily picked up her plate from where she had been sitting with her friends and swung her legs over the bench next to Remus. "Mind if I sit here?" she mumbled while Remus stuttered.
"Did you tell?" he whispered urgently, suddenly ready to push her off the bench if she said yes.
"No!" she cried, "I wouldn't, I swear Remus!"
James twisted around on the bench, eyes on her. "You knew?" he demanded.
"You didn't think you were the only ones smart enough to figure it out, did you?" she retorted.
Actually that's what James had been thinking. "You cow," he spat, "I can't believe you."
"I said I didn't!" she shouted, and all of a sudden, the whole Great Hall fell silent.
A flash of something like betrayal passed over James' face, but Remus thought that couldn't be right. They had no reason to expect loyalty from Evans. "Who else would have?" James snapped, "It's not like Snape would; he wouldn't want anyone to realize what he was."
"Oh good, thank you for confirming it for me," she shot back, shoving a forkful of eggs into her mouth and choking gracelessly. "Look, I'm not here to talk to you, you git, I'm here to show my support for Remus!"
But before James could respond, Snape swung across the Great Hall threshold, and shuffled his way to a seat at the end of the Slytherin table. Sirius shot to his feet and leapt over the bench, marching over to the other boy, arms and back stiff as boards. Reaching out to catch his friend's sleeve, James missed.
Lily pushed herself away from the table and sprinted after him, her skirt flapping against the back of her legs, but before she could get to him, he had already swung, and his fist caught Snape squarely on the mouth. His lip burst, and he brought his hand up to catch the blood, his other hand tearing his wand out of his back pocket. "Protego," he said softly, and the shield wall manifested itself between the two of them as he pulled his wand up again and cast a silent levicorpus on his classmate.
Sirius shot into the air by his ankle, struggling and swinging at the shield charm barrier, still close enough to hit Snape in the face again if it wasn't there. At last, Lily caught his arm, and James, right behind her, caught the other one. Remus huddled close behind them, watching anxiously, and Snape's eyes flicked up for just a moment to sneer at him. Sirius' knuckles had deep red marks on them that would be bruises in a few hours and scratches running across them. "Sirius, calm down," James hissed in his ear.
But Sirius ignored him. "You sodding bastard!" he shouted. "Was it worth it?" He reached for his wand in his robe, but it had fallen to the floor. James bent down to pick it up, but hesitated instead of handing it over.
"I didn't tell anyone," Snape whispered dangerously. "If you really think I care enough about you and Lupin to tell the whole school what I am just to get at you-"
The clicking of McGonagall's shoes against the stone floor interrupted him. "What precisely is going on here?" she asked sharply, "Let him down, Mr. Snape."
Sirius fell to the ground in a crumpled heap as Snape ended the spell and James hastily helped him to his feet and handed him back his wand. "He told about Remus!"
"I did not!" Snape straightened up on the bench, head thrown back to look up at her defiantly. "That... that... that cretin just came over here and assaulted me for no reason; I want him expelled. He's obviously a dangerous madman!"
"Yeah, well, you're a slimy little bastard, and you're lying!" Sirius yelled back.
"Mr. Black, that is enough!" her lips were so thin he could barely see them, and he cowered back against James' shoulder. "Come with me, both of you." Snape, who had just turned back to serve himself breakfast, grabbed his crutches sulkily.
She marched them out the door, and as they walked, the headmaster slipped away from the head table to follow. "So if you didn't tell, who do you think did, you lying-"
"Some of us don't have house-mates too thick to not figure it out for three whole years!"
"Hey!" said Lily. She and James exchanged glances and then looked away, abashed.
Snape flushed and he opened his mouth twice, turning to her and closing it each time. Professor McGonagall set a ground eating pace and he found himself gasping to keep up, his arms shaking in the crutch loops. "You son of a- what did you let them find out? Going for plausible deniability?"
"I didn't want them to know you self-obsessed moron!" His breath came out of his mouth in short shallow puffs. "Avery saw the bite in the shower," he said at last, reluctantly. Everyone else had to run to keep up with McGonagall, and with every wide, over-extended swing, he worried he was about to topple over in the hallway.
"Merlin, you-" words failed him and Severus wondered if that was a common occurrence. "And you didn't bother to stop him, is that it?"
"Every word you two say just makes it worse," Professor McGonagall reminded them, her shoes still keeping a steady staccato beat. Severus watched the classrooms rush past, and he wondered why she was walking so quickly if she was taking them the long way to Dumbledore's office.
"Not all of us have house-mates eager to keep our secrets!" Severus howled, ignoring her. "You think I could stop him?"
"So you're smarter than a bunch of eleven-year-olds and you betray each other at the drop of a hat." Black spat. "You must be so proud of yourselves."
"God, just stop it, both of you," Lily yelled.
"Go away Evans," Black snarled, barely turning his head.
"I'm not here for you, Black," she snapped back and Snape smiled at him fiercely.
Severus shot his crutch out sideways too trip him, but he sidestepped it easily, not even slowing down. "It doesn't matter anymore anyway," the Slytherin directed his words to Professor McGonagall. "We're going to be expelled no matter what happens.
"Don't be ridiculous," Lily puffed, but Black had started to shake beside him. "It's not like you did anything half the people here haven't done, and it's not like he," she jerked her elbow in Black's direction, "didn't deserve to be strung up by his ankles.
"I'm sure you'd love to see me strung up by something else, Evans," Black breathed hard.
"Be silent, all of you!" Professor McGonagall's head whipped around, eyes narrowed so far her whole face scrunched together. The whole of them fell back, startled and cowed. "And you two, get back to breakfast."
Potter turned to slink back to the Great Hall, but Lily stood her ground. "I want to talk to the headmaster." Before he turned back around to follow again, Severus could see the back of Potter's neck turn pink, and then dark red.
"Alright then," Professor McGonagall acknowledged sternly, "but the headmaster will punish them as he sees fit."
"I am not going to let him expel Sev for defending himself!"
Professor McGonagall stared at her, taken aback and a rush of satisfaction rolled over Severus. Lily was defending him, she saw him in the right, Lily did. As they rounded the corner to see Professor Dumbledore standing beside the gargoyle statue, his hand on its head, she pressed her lips together before speaking. "That's for the headmaster to decide."
The satisfaction spilled away in an instant. Even knowing Black would be kicked out along side him couldn't get rid of the sense of despair welling into his stomach. His whole body felt hot and his skin too small as cold sweat burst free of it on the back of his neck. There was nothing for him out there, beyond Hogwarts' walls. The horrible unfairness of it all threatened to choke him. None of this would have happened if Black hadn't... He almost sank to the floor right there in the middle of the corridor from the overwhelming dread. His vision greyed and he swayed on his crutches, the blood rushing around in his ears and sloshing around the rest of him.
"Come," the headmaster ordered, and the gargoyle jumped aside for him.
Just before Potter mounted the stairwell, he looked back at Professor McGonagall as she strode back down the corridor. "Aren't you coming?" he asked startled.
"I have a class to teach," she informed him coldly without turning around. Severus rather pitied them.
"And I believe you two have classes to attend," the headmaster said, turning his head to Potter and Lily, raising one eyebrow.
Lily quailed. "But I can't go, she mumbled, her voice gaining strength again. "You have to know what happened!"
"I was sitting at the head table," he told her, glancing at Black and Severus harshly. "I witnessed everything."
"Can you blame me?" Black spat, "That little bastard told everyone about Remus!"
"You're very fond of that particular epithet, aren't you," Severus said quietly, "something you learned from your family?"
All of a sudden, Severus found himself pushed up against the stairwell wall, an elbow pressing into his throat.
"Mr. Black." Professor Dumbledore didn't have to say anything else. Black stepped back as if Severus had burned him, before he even had a chance to retrieve his wand.
"I told you," he gasped, sliding down the wall. "Avery told the school about your precious friend."
"And then only because he was telling the school about Sev," Lily interjected, stepping over to hand her friend the crutches.
He stood up, leaning against the wall until he had both crutches splayed to the sides, balancing on the thin step. "Either way," he whispered, "the whole school knows." Professor Dumbledore nodded grimly, backing up until he stood on the landing. His office door slid open without a sound and he motioned the four through. "I will start packing my things, then," he croaked.
"Not today, Mr. Snape," the headmaster murmured, taking his place behind the desk.
The breath wheezed out of his lungs like the air out of a punctured balloon, and Black fell so hard into the chair in front of the desk they could hear the springs and wood groaning under him. "But I thought-"
Severus had hoped never to see Professor Dumbledore that angry again. His face was completely white, not the pasty white of fear, when all the color drained away, but a sharp, clear white. Every wrinkle stood in sharp relief, the shadows hard edged and very cold. "You thought what, Mr. Black? That I would expel you and that would be the end of it?" He leaned over the desk, over Black and Severus, glasses low on his nose. "If that were all I wanted, I would have done it already. I would have done it as soon as I knew what you had done to Mr. Snape and Mr. Lupin. If I hadn't wanted the school to find out why, I could have used any number of pretexts. You and Mr. Snape have certainly given me enough!"
Severus' hands couldn't grip the chair arm, his fingers too weak and rubbery to move. "So you aren't going to expel us?"
"No." But his voice hadn't lost any of the edge, or any of the coldness, and Severus shivered where he sat. "However, I want you both to think about what I have done for both of you in letting you stay here and exactly what I will exact from you in payment for your crimes." Lily's hand slipped off the back of his chair and onto his shoulder. Her knuckles brushed his cheek, bloodless and without warmth. For one second, he couldn't make himself not look up at her, her eyes wide, mouth open. "You are banned from the next Hogsmeade weekend, Mr. Black. Now, if you three would leave, I believe classes are just about to start. Not you, Mr. Snape; I want you to stay."
He turned his gaze on them, a small, warm smile that lit up his eyes behind his glasses reserved for Lily and Potter, but she didn't return the regard. "I'm staying here," she challenged, "as long as Sev is." Potter grabbed her arm and tugged it, like he were trying to pull her back up a cliff, and for once, Severus just wished she'd comply with Potter and go.
"Don't worry, Miss Evans." She didn't look like she could stop, but she planted her feet in the floor and folded her arms. Potter's hand, still clutching her wrist, found itself pressed tight to her chest, pinioned, but he didn't look at all happy to have it there. "Your friend is safe. He doesn't need you to defend him now."
Around the back of the chair, Severus stared at her, willing her to go, trying to put everything into his eyes and his face, so that she would know to go, until, finally, she let Potter pull her out the door. it closed behind them, and Severus was too far away to hear the click, but he imagined he could feel all the air rushing out of the room after her.
"I suppose you're wondering why I led you and Mr. Black to believe that I was looking for any excuse to expel you both," Professor Dumbledore said, locking eyes with him.
"Not really," Severus mumbled truthfully, he thought he'd already figured that part out.
"It was useful while it lasted, but I suppose its time has passed. It kept the both of you remarkably well behaved for a while," the Slytherin felt a small trickle of satisfaction at having gotten it right, at having rightly figured out just how manipulative the man in front of him really was, but the headmaster wasn't quite finished. "I hope Mr. Black realized that you are under my protection as much as he is." That satisfaction vanished along with the ground underneath him.
"Why didn't you expel us?" Severus' mouth formed the last word as if his tongue were in the wrong place and his teeth and lips were too big for it. There was, in that small instance, an "us" between himself and Black. It refused to make sense.
"What do you think would happen if I expelled Mr. Black?" Professor Dumbledore asked calmly, "Where do you think he would go?"
"You think he would go to the Dark Lord." Severus doubted that.
Professor Dumbledore's eyes flickered at the title, and Severus swallowed hard as he watched the man nod.
"My, don't you have little faith in humanity," Severus sniped.
The headmaster raised an eyebrow. "As a powerful, charismatic scion of the Black family, he would have a lot to offer Voldemort in exchange for schooling and a place. He might even gain his family back."
Severus sneered for an instant, but he barely had time to notice as shock pulled the expression off his face. The headmaster was wrong about something. "And me?" he asked at last, voice sullen.
Professor Dumbledore hesitated, and Severus flinched back, dreading what was coming next. "I know about your ambitions, Mr. Snape."
"And?" Severus insisted, his voice rising. "Am I only here because you can't lose Black? Is that it? Is the only reason I'm still here now that everyone knows about about Lupin and me, now that there's no way you're not going to have to resign is that if you threw me out and kept Black everyone would know just how biased and calculating you really are?"
"No." The word sliced through the room and the shrill leftover echoes of Severus' tirade. Severus opened his mouth, but Professor Dumbledore reached out to lay a hand on his shoulder. Recoiling, Severus swept the hand away. "I will not resign, Mr. Snape, never think it. You don't have to be afraid a new headmaster will sweep in and drive you away."
The way a tiny tendril of relief curled in his stomach made Severus want to be sick on Dumbledore's desk, or at least run out of the room, never to have to look the headmaster in the face again. "You didn't answer me!" he yelled, leaping to his good foot and bracing his hands on the desk to lean over it, and over the headmaster.
Professor Dumbledore smiled sadly, covering the top of one of his student's bloodless hands with his own. "So long as you are here, I have the chance to work on you. You haven't done anything unforgivable yet."
"I haven't done anything yet!" he hissed, "I haven't even joined him yet."
The headmaster's head jerked on his neck as he blinked up at his student. "Wouldn't you be somewhat young for that?"
"Are you blind?" Severus gasped.
Straightening in his desk chair, Professor Dumbledore watched his student's face. "What do you mean?"
Severus pulled his hands away from the desk as if it were suddenly made of needles and stumbled back, falling heavily into his chair. "Nothing. It doesn't matter anyway."
The headmaster shot him a piercing look, and Severus shifted uneasily. "I don't want to lose you to Fenrir Greyback, Mr. Snape."
His mouth dropped open, twisting as his jaw fell. "What? I... Would never... That animal!"
"Would you have lived on the streets instead?" he tilted his head, smiling genially, "if I expelled you?"
"Yes." The last letter hissed out of his mouth as he drew his lips back over his teeth.
Professor Dumbledore's smile turned sad. "I don't want to leave a student without hope, Mr. Snape, unless I absolutely must."
"It's good to know you don't enjoy-" he said heatedly, but the headmaster raised his hand and he snapped his mouth closed.
"What your house-mates did is regrettable." Severus nodded, cheeks white. "If you need to talk-" Severus snorted. "About anything, anything at all, I'm here. I know that everything is really hard for you right now-"
Every muscle Severus had tensed and jumped, and the words were out of his mouth before he made the decision to speak them. "I want protection."
"I don't understand what you-"
"I can give you names." Severus' hands clenched and unclenched. "But I want protection, because if I don't have it, I won't survive to give them to you."
Chapter 10: Obligations to Power
“Names of Voldemort’s followers?”
Severus just looked at the headmaster, and refused to flinch at the name. “And the ones who have actually committed crimes.”
“Really,” Dumbledore put his elbows on the desk and peered at Severus through his half moon glasses gravely. “Do you know which crimes those are?”
Leaning back in his chair and turning his face to the ceiling so that he didn’t have to look the professor in the eye, Severus swallowed. “Amycus Carrow kidnapped the Perks children last summer, and Alecto Carrow was the one who dismembered them and sent them back. She kept a bit of hair from both to show us. The Lestrange brothers and Bellatrix killed the head of the Aurors, Gregory Cook. Mulciber said Rabastan told him they tortured him to insanity before killing him. The Dark Lord wasn’t happy with them because they were supposed to put him under the Imperius Curse instead, but he spat in Bellatrix Lestrange’s face. Their uncle’s also a Death Eater. I don’t know what he’s done. Mulciber, father and son, Nott, and Travers murdered the O’Tools together, and Mulciber the younger also put Avery under the Imperius Curse right there in the Slytherin dormitory.”
“What!” Professor Dumbledore blinked, “Some of them are students! Why doesn’t any of this activate the Trace? They did this in my school, under my nose?”
Severus breathed a small sigh of relief that he didn’t have to explain that none of the people he mentioned were children, or why the Dark Lord would want underage followers. “There’s a spell, dissimulo iuvenalis, turns off the Trace for an hour at a time.”
The headmaster gazed down at them. “How do you know all this?”
“They talk, alright?” His waxy skin flushed until two thin circles of red bobbed on the tops of his cheeks. “In the dormitories and the common room, they want all of us to know what their doing, and that they’re good enough. They want us to be jealous.” With one raised eyebrow, Dumbledore sent his stomach turning over and over again, and he cringed back against the chair. “Avery said he would introduce me to the Dark Lord before he found out I was a werewolf. He and Rosier an Wilkes snuck out on the first. That’s why Mulciber put Avery under the Imperius Curse. Avery didn’t tell him. I made them Polyjuice Potion so that they wouldn’t be missed.”
“I wonder what they did with their temporary freedom,” Professor Dumbledore remarked.
Severus hung his head.
The headmaster nodded. “Continue.”
His throat closed, and he closed his eyes and concentrated on forcing air past the barrier. “Igor Karkaroff and Antonin Dolohov killed the Millers and Caroline Fisher, and they torture a lot of Muggle families and then Obliviate them for fun. I don’t know any names. Rosier and his father killed the Shaws with Malfoy. That Muggleborn girl who had just become an Auror, the one with the Muggle younger brother who lived with her.”
The headmaster looked bleak. “Zaynab and Hameed Khan.”
“Mr. Avery took his son, and Avery took Wilkes to show off. She’s the one who cast the Cruciatus Curse on the boy, She cast Prior Incanto on her wand to show us.”
“Who killed them?”
“Avery the elder killed the girl, and Avery the younger killed the boy. He was very proud of it. Had the Killing Curse on his wand to show all of us. It was his first kill; he got marked right before.”
“Marked?” The headmaster wrinkled his forehead. “What do you mean?”
Twisting nervously, Severus rubbed his bare left wrist. “The Dark Lord puts a mark on the Death Eaters here, like the one they put in the sky when they kill.”
“Do you have anything else?” Professor Dumbledore asked, jaw jumping like his didn’t want to.
“Not much,” he whispered, his body leaving wet sweaty places on the chair underneath him.
Severus took a deep breath. “Wilkes and Carrow, the girl, Alecto, were talking about Malfoy’s marriage to Narcissa Black, and Wilkes said that Bellatrix and Narcissa were planning to get rid of the Macdonalds the night before the wedding as a present to Malfoy.”
“Really. That would be June Thirtieth?”
Severus nodded, shamefaced. “Carrow said that with a sister like Andromeda, the Black sisters should be cleaning up their own mess first.”
Drumming his fingers together, Professor Dumbledore kept his eyes unblinkingly on his student. “Is that everything?”
“Is it enough?” Severus begged, his voice rising with anxiety. “I mean, I don’t have anything else, I need this protection-”
Again, the headmaster held his hand up to silence him. “And you will have it.” Severus sagged in his chair, his breath leaving his body. “If you testify to this in court, I can promise, you will be protected.”
“Testify?” Severus shouted, “What about before that? If they find out I told you, I will never make it to court!”
Professor Dumbledore grabbed Severus’ bare left wrist and gripped it tightly. “No one will know, Severus; I will make sure of it, and by the time they must know, you will be safe. You have my word, as safe as I an make you.”
Severus flinched at the use of his first name, but he just bowed his head. “If they’re in school next year-”
“They will be in Azkaban.”
“I thought you believed in second chances,” he said softly, words dripping with sarcasm.
“Only for those who would take them, Severus.”
Severus nodded and, sucking in his cheeks, he planted his crutches into the floor and limped away.
As soon as they were past the gargoyle, Lily ripped her wrist away from James. “Get off Potter, you!” she shouted at Sirius’ slinking back. “You sent Sev after a werewolf? You... you... He could have died!” Her wand was in her hand before he could even turn his head. “Incendio! Capillus extractum!”
Every last hair on his head popped out of their follicles and floated to the ground as his shoes and socks caught fire. As he danced around trying to put the flames out, his feet landed on the hairs and the reek of burning hair filled the hallway. Sirius screamed.
“Aguamenti!” James yelled. and water shot out of his wand and splashed onto his friend’s feet, extinguishing the flames. “Bloody hell Evans!”
“And you!” She cried, “You’re still friends with him? Sev could have died, Remus could have died! They would have executed him, you-”
Sirius collapsed, slowly, carefully, pulled his charred shoes and socks off, peeling skin away where it had melted to the fabric. “Ow, oh my God, oh, bloody hell,” he sobbed, mucus dribbling out of his nose.
“Can you walk to the hospital wing?” James asked, tilting his head to examine the leaking feet.
His mouth worked for several moments, and he stared at his friend’s face as if it should be obvious. “NO!”
“Evans, you cow!” As she raised her wand again, James tackled her and tried to pry it out of her fingers.
“Let me go!” She bucked to throw him off, yanking her arms. Her elbow collided with his stomach, and his hands opened as his body expelled the contents of his lungs.
“What am I supposed to do?” Everything except his eyes twisted in disgust and desperation as he pulled off his robes and cast cooling charms on them before wrapping them around his friend’s feet. “I can’t leave him with you while I fetch Madam Pomfrey.”
Sirius pointed his wand straight at the middle of her chest, sweat breaking out over his bare scalp. “Densaugeo.” Lily leapt out of the way and the spell bounced harmlessly against the wall. “Furnunculus!” he roared in frustration, and James tried to jump between them, but the hex soared past them and into Lily’s face.
As her skin erupted in boils, pus oozing out the tops, She screamed in rage. “You son of a-”
“Don’t worry,” he hissed around his clenched teeth, “You can leave me with her; if she comes anywhere near me I’ll-”
“Sirius!” James snatched at their wands, “Evans, go, get out of here, go.”
But she couldn’t go. Her feet took root in the stone floor. “If you’re going to get Madam Pomfrey, get her.” With one last hateful look, James scampered down the corridor, his heels slapping the air with every frantic step. When she turned back around, he ha his wand pointed at her again, his arm stiff in front of him. “Well fine then, if you don’t want my help,” she smirked at the wand, “But Sev’s coming back out any minute now.” Sirius spat at her feet and she whirled around down the hall.
When Snape emerged from he headmaster’s office, Sirius crouched against the wall, head down and still, and Snape swept past, not even bothering to notice him.
It didn’t take long for her to catch up with James Potter, waiting for one of the staircases to swing back his way. “Why’re you following?” he asked darkly, glowering.
“I’m not following you; we’re going in the same direction.” She pointed to her boil-covered face. “I wouldn’t follow you anywhere, you foul... you slimy...” but she stopped and winced as her face throbbed again and one of the boils burst.
“Yeah, well, look at what you pal around with.”
“I don’t get it,” she retorted back bitterly, “Why does everyone think you and Black are so wonderful?”
“Aww, come on Evans,” he snapped, “when have I ever done anything to you?”
“Why am I special? Because I’m pretty? Because you like me?” her face scrunched up under the boils and James flinched back, her whole body vibrating with barely suppressed hate.
“Well... no,” he stammered. He wanted to tell her he liked her because she was special and not the other way around, but he kept seeing what he’d look like on the first floor after falling all that way.
She rounded on him, hair flying. “Then why don’t you go after me the way you go after Sev?”
“What,” he stuttered, mouth hanging open stupidly, “you want me to go after you?”
“No!” She grabbed her wand in her pocket and clasped the handle tight. “I don’t want you to go after anyone.”
“What’s got you all bothered today anyway, Evans?” he said hotly, “You’ve known Snape was hurt for months.” Lily glanced back towards the headmaster’s office and James followed the direction of her gaze. “I thought you’d be glad Sirius got yelled at.”
“I’ve just never seen him that way before!” she burst out, pushing herself backwards off the railing, and when she stumbled and fell, she gazed up at him from the floor almost bewildered.
His irritation and bad temper spilled away and he glanced back down the hallway as well, shivering. “I have,” he told her, voice hollow.
“Really?” she snapped, curling in on her self, “When?”
He peered down at her, and she could see the whole hallway reflected in his glasses, her form warped inside. “When Sirius and I... It’s not really your business, is it?”
“When you and Black told him what you did to Sev,” she said, voice small.
“Yeah,” he challenged.
She swiped a line of pus off her cheek and rubbed it onto the sleeve of her room. “What did you do to him?” she snarled, “exactly I mean?”
“Why don’t you ask him?” he shot back.
Her throat closed itself off with a cold, lost, helpless sort of anger, and she pushed her hands flat against the floor so that she didn’t dig her palms open. “I’m asking you, Potter.”
He chuckled mirthlessly. “Why? Won’t he tell you?”
Her whole body sank in on itself and clenched tight, eyes opening and closing in short spasms of misery. “I’m... He’s getting further and further away from me every day, and I want him back!” She hugged her knees, wobbling a little, and stared back at him defiantly, wet eyes to wide to make a propper scowl. “And I want you to stop picking on him.”
“I would have,” he said earnestly, watching her almost afraid, sinking down beside her ans settling an arm around her shoulders, “In a heartbeat, if you had just asked.”
She threw his arm away. “I shouldn’t have to.”
As he watched her lever herself up to her feet and stare at the empty landing, waiting for the steps, a flash of something that felt an awful lot like pity stabbed through him. No, that wasn’t... Pity was... This was Evans! His eyes fell to the floor. “Sirius told your friend where to find Remus during full moons.” Evans’ head whipped around and she clung to the rail. Her mouth opened, and he kept going, talking as fast as he could, desperate to keep her from screaming, or hexing him. “He didn’t mean it, he... Snape knew what Remus is, why he went... He didn’t think Snape would go down there; he was just taunting him!”
Her arms folded across her chest. “You’re always just taunting him.”
“Yeah, I know.” James pulled his lips into his mouth guiltily. “But he’s always going after us. It’s not like he doesn’t give as good as he gets. I mean, that night, he slammed Sirius into the wall, almost cracked his head open, I had to...” He closed his eyes and opened them again as the tunnel took the place of his eyelids, blood and slime slicking the ground, the werewolf’s harsh pants echoing around him, Snape’s changing screams, but it didn’t disappear when he opened them.
“You had to what?” Evans’ voice dropped low, wand in her hand.
His whole body craned back to look at her as she stood over him. “I ran after him.” Tears sprang to his eyes, but he blinked them back as fast as they came, his eyes stretched in his face. “I saw it happen.”
His voice was so soft she had to lean in to hear it, and she went rigid. “I know,” she said, almost soundlessly, “I heard.”
Swallowing audibly, James clenched his fists against the floor. “Remus would have died if Snape had; Sirius would never hurt Remus.”
The skin on her face snapped taut. “So he wouldn’t hurt Remus,” she lashed out, “You don’t even try to tell me he wouldn’t hurt Sev.”
“He wouldn’t kill him!”
“No,” she whispered, sobbing, “but you’ll do everything else.
James hung his head. “He comes after us too! It’s not like he’s some helpless little... Every time he catches one of us alone...” He let it hang.
“Yeah,” she said, voice strong, but shaking, “Doesn’t mean you have to.” She closed her eyes, sending creases around the boils, and grimaced. “Sev’s wrong! So are you. You can stop it.”
Behind her, the staircase scraped back into place, and James’ eyes darted to it. “I already kind of have,” he mumbled, glancing her uncertainly.
With an odd, nervous, unhappy sort of smile, Lily bent over him and dangled her hand for him to grab. When his fingers slid into hers, she grabbed tight and pulled him up.
Remus pushed through the crowds of people heading to the Great Hall for lunch, his breakfast still roiling around inside of his stomach. He could hear them whispering, whispering about him, ans his whole body itched and his skin wriggled over his muscles and bone until he wanted to strip it off, bite and all and leave it somewhere hidden. He... Snape was right. He shouldn’t be there. He didn’t fit. Nails bit into the skin on his arms, and he pulled at them, trying to get a purchase and pull everything that didn’t fit away. The library doors demarcated a sudden shift between the rolling, heaving throng of scrambling students outside and near emptiness within. Ducking inside, he let his feet carry him between the rows and rows of books, far into the quiet, solitary back of the library. His knees shuddered once before giving way and he collapsed against the dark creatures section. If he had been smaller, he would have folded himself onto the shelf like a sort of underfed live exhibit. He imagined people passing by, looking for other books as he gathered dust, not noticing him, ignoring him, and he craved it. He closed his eyes, his expression melting into despair, and he knew he was hiding, but he couldn’t make himself stop.
The light in front of his eyelids suddenly no longer reached him, and his eyes snapped open, bones going cold. For a moment as his eyes adjusted, all he could see was a looming man shaped blackness, but as his pupils contracted, Sirius’ face resolved itself beneath a waxy, bald head. Remus stared at the ceiling.
“You alright?” Sirius asked, bending down next to him.
“I don’t want to talk to you.” Remus could almost feel the way he knew Sirius had to be rolling his eyes at him, but he steadfastly kept his eyes on the ceiling, hands wrapped around each other and his wand, in his lap.
Instead, Sirius picked at his sleeve. “I am sorry, you know.”
Remus dearly wanted to ask just how sorry that was, but Sirius would stay to answer. “Go away.”
Sirius lifted a book off the shelf behind Remus, his face bobbing into his field of vision, and his eyes shot to the floor and Sirius’ bag shaped hospital wing slippers, holding the orange burn paste tight to his feet. “Come back with me,” he wheedled, “At least get something to eat. You can watch everyone laugh at me; that should distract them all for a bit.”
Remus pressed his lips tightly together to stop them from trembling. “It’s your fault they’re all staring at me.”
Sucking the lower parts of his cheeks into his mouth and under his teeth, Sirius could barely lift his head for the shame. “Yeah.”
“You heard what they’re saying, right?” Remus couldn’t look away any longer. His face turned to Sirius, his expression jumping every moment.
Sirius flinched. “Yeah.”
“They’re calling me a monster.”
Sirius braced the palms of his hands on Remus’ shoulders. “You aren’t.”
Nails biting into his wrists again, Remus clenched his jaw. “I’m a werewolf.”
“Yeah,” Sirius collapsed onto the library carpet, sending dust spinning into the air. “But you aren’t a monster.”
“I bit Snape.”
Sirius pulled his friend’s hands off his wrists, easing the nails free. "It wasn’t not your fault,” he hissed, “It was...” For one second, he almost said “Snape’s” or maybe “Snivellus’”. Remus’ expression snapped closed at his hesitation, and the words fell heavily from him as he opened his mouth and didn’t know what was about to come out. “It was mine.”
His fingers curled around Sirius’, and clung to them. “The Ministry- everybody says-”
“They’re wrong.” Sirius’ voice lowered until it just rumbled. “Remus Lupin is not a monster.”
“I did the biting!”
“The wolf bit Snape.” Sirius growled, “The wolf isn’t you; he’s just something that forced his way inside you and kicks you out on the full moons. You, Remus Lupin, are what you are the rest of the month, and you would never bite anyone! You’re the one who shuts yourself away in that awful shack, Moony...”
Remus’ face crumpled. “And I’ve been leaving it with you! Do you know how... I could have bit someone any time!”
Only the last few months, Sirius wanted to say. It wasn’t like they’d even managed the animagus transformation before that. “I guess I’m a bit of a monster too, then,” Sirius said ruefully, “I talked you into it.”
Remus launched himself into his friend’s arms, tears spilling over his nose and cheeks, and Sirius stared at him in horror, patting his back awkwardly. “It’s just, someone could have died, and I kept going with you...”
Friends of Sirius weren’t supposed to cry, not in front of people, not in front of Sirius at least. Rubbing slow circles down Remus’ back, he sat there, pinned and frozen. “There there,” He mumbled, gaze darting up and down the strip of library between the shelves unconsciously. “We’re not going to be doing that again.”
“Yeah, I know.” Remus pulled back and tucked his hands against his chest, and Sirius tried not to gasp with relief. “We can’t anymore; Snape’d turn us in.”
“We wouldn’t anyway,” Sirius swore, holding his friend’s shoulders so that he had to meet his eye.
“Thanks.” He smiled weakly, pulling himself to his feet. “God, we were really stupid.”
“Yeah, I know, It’s just we always spent the full moons before exploring without you, and once we worked out the animagus transformation, we kind of wanted to... You know, keep at it.”
“Sorry to inconvenience you, Padfoot.” Remus said wryly, rubbing away the water.
Sirius’ heart jumped into his throat at the name, legs going liquid with relief. “Don’t be stupid, Moony.”
Remus turned away. “I’m going to miss the three of you this month.”
“No!” Sirius shot to his feet. “We... I wouldn’t leave you there.”
Remus stared. “Snape’s going to be there. Snape’s going to be there.”
“We’ll find a way, alright?” Sirius insisted, “So are you going to get something to eat?”
Remus smiled again and poked his friend’s bald head. “I get to watch everyone laugh at you, right?”
The night before the full moon, Sirius swept back the curtains of Remus’ four poster, rattling the brass rings against their pole as loud as he could. From the dormitory threshold, James winced and motioned him to be quiet. “Padfoot, what’re you on about?” Remus slurred.
“Remember we were going out tonight?” Sirius bounced on the balls off his feet, his indefatigable enthusiasm filling the space between the curtains as he leaned in. “You coming Moony?”
Remus’ face split into a grin.
Chapter 11: Puppies in a Basket
Severus picked through the rock shards and fractured slabs, contorting as he swung between them. "Do hurry Mr. Snape,” Madam Pomfrey called back to him, her hand around Lupin’s slender shoulders. “I would like the two of you to be settled before the moon actually rises.”He scowled at her.
Glancing back, Lupin worried the inside of his cheek with his teeth. “Need some help?”
"No!” he snarled, but his crutch slid forward and caught under a protruding root. His hands flew forward and his crutches clattered to the sides, and he landed hard on his elbow, forearm, and cheek, the grit and the arm band of his crutch digging in.
“Oh dear,” Madam Pomfrey rushed back to him, elongating the first word deep in her throat.
“Are you alright?” Lupin asked from down the tunnel. Severus muttered unintelligible syllables under his breath.
In one move, the mediwitch grabbed him around the waist and pulled him to his feet, wiping the dirt and pebbles off his face. “Just a skinned elbow,” she reassured him, tapping the scrape with her wand, sealing it.
His crutches, still hanging from his arms, found their place on the ground and he propped himself up. “Let me go.”
Lupin sprinted back to him. “Do you want us to levitate you?”
Severus stared at him in horror, remembering his first humiliating time back up the tunnel, Lupin hanging behind, his leg seeping blood. “You will not!”
Eyes darting around anxiously, “We’ve got to hurry!”
“The moon’s not going to rise for another half an hour!” he planted his crutches cautiously and swung forward.
“Ooh,” Lupin glanced back up the tunnel, butting himself under Severus’ arm, the crutch knocking into his legs. “Come on!”
“Put me down!” Severus tried to pull his arm away, but Lupin pinned it to his side. Pulling his crutch off his arm and holding it one-handed, Madam Pomfrey draped his arm around her shoulders and walked sideways down the tunnel in front of them.
“I made it down this tunnel last month,” he pointed out furiously, hands balling up at his impotence.
“There’s nothing wrong with allowing someone to give you a bit of help, Mr. Snape.” As he hung from their arms, he struggled half-heartedly.
“Yes, well, there's something wrong with forcing someone to accept help, isn't there?” but Madam Pomfrey and Lupin didn’t listen, and when they reached the Shack, he sank onto his crutches with relief, outrage glinting under his eyelids.
“Now Mr. Lupin,” Madam Pomfrey began, standing at the doorway, “Whatever system you’ve developed these past few months, I want you to teach it to Mr. Snape.” Lupin swallowed, and she glanced at Severus, perched on the edge of the ruined mattress, almost sympathetically. “He had a hard full moon last month.”
Severus face turned dark with fury.
As soon as Madam Pomfrey shut the castle door, Peter bounded into the common room and he and his friends slipped out into the hallway. With a flourish, James threw the cloak around all of them. “Er, Peter, transform,” Sirius ordered, “People can see our knees.”
“There isn’t anyone around to see them," James growled as Peter crawled his way up James’ arm and onto his shoulder. The cloak fell down further, over their ankles and shoes, obscuring them entirely, and the three crept out of the castle, eyes worriedly on the sky and the moon. As his friends waited just out of reach of the tree, Peter scuttled out from under the cloak and through the flailing branches to the knot at the base and let his friends through. They dove into the darkness of the tunnel, and James finally shrugged off the cloak.
“Sodding hell,” Sirius muttered, “blech, I can’t believe we’re going to have to deal with Sniv-”
“No.” James dropped the coat and stowed into a corner of the tunnel right underneath the entrance before facing his friend, back straight, hands in fists. “You’re going to have to deal with him.”
“What the bloody- James!”
“It’s your fault he’s down there,” his friend snapped back, “so it’s your job to take care of him.”
“My job!” Sirius yowled.
“Yeah, well, you owe him,” James got a very sour look on his face, and Sirius hoped that it was at the prospect of owing Snape anything, and not at him. “It’s your duty, really.”
Sirius bristled. Really, it was Snape’s own stupid fault for going down when he knew what- With a snarl, he transformed into Padfoot and turned his back, slinking down the tunnel so that he didn’t have to talk to either of them. Absently, James stroked Peter’s fur as he nestled himself into his other hand before recalling that the rat was usually a person and stopping, embarrassed.
The tunnel snaked its way under the forest, widening as it neared the Shack, and as the path sloped upwards, Sirius’ hair stood on end. In the thin gloom of the tunnel, the faint scrabbling coming from inside the Shack could have been anything and his heart pounded against his ribs as he pushed himself forward, between James and the end of the tunnel. When at last the tunnel was wide enough, James heaved a sigh of relief and transformed. Sirius’ paws clicked on the stairs and he cocked his ears, peaking up through the Shack door.
Snape's crutches lay safely tucked away under the bed at eye level. Their owner had his good leg tucked up against his chest, hunching over on the bed. His bad leg stuck out from his curled form, unbending and unyielding, the bite scars rolling over the skin and muscles and bone of his knee, standing out stark and purple amidst the pale hairy skin around it. A barely audible whimper escaped from Sirius’ throat and Snape's head jerked up and his eyes scanned the room. Sirius quickly dived back down the tunnel, head resting on the steps until the moon rose, even as Snape's chin sunk back to his knee.
When at last the moon rose out in the distance, Snape's contorted form went rigid and he toppled off the bed, unable to catch himself with his hands rapidly remaking themselves into paws. His claws clicked against the floor as his muscles twisted and snapped as everything he did to make it hurt less made it hurt more. Yips and whines choked their way out of his growing snout, jaws clanking together when they didn't re-form at the same rate. A thin band of moonlight cut around the jagged edge of one broken windowpane, and in the darkness, Remus, already on his hands and knees, stayed carefully controlled and still as long as he could, the transformation washing over him. From his hiding place on the stairs, Sirius stared from one to the other, holding in anxious puppy whines.
Finally, Snape righted himself, bad leg pulled firmly to his stomach, huffing softly through his nose.
Something hard poked into the flesh around Sirius's spine, and his head twisted around to glower at James and the antler in his back, but James had lifted his head before he could. The two werewolves circled each other, growling low in their throats. Shimmying his way up the stairs, Sirius padded into the Shack. The dust billowed up as he burst through the door, overflowing with false bravado.
Behind him, James clip-clopped into the Shack, Peter scurrying between his hooves, but Sirius ignored them as the werewolves surged forward to them together, their rivalry forgotten for the moment. They sniffed under his tail and at his ears, snuffling and chuffling, and blowing his fur in all directions. Remus quickly let him be when he crouched down, but Snape kept sniffing and exploring until Sirius whined faintly, gritting his teeth, unwilling to provoke the larger, stronger wolf.
Snape stopped, cocked his head, and sank down until his belly touched the floor, a whimper rising from his throat. Sirius stared at him, eyes narrowing over his mussel, but Snape sprang to his feet and bowed low with a sharp inviting yip. Sirius stared harder, unable to believe what he was seeing. Leaping back and fourth, Snape grinned a puppyish grin, baying and prancing across the floor, kicking up dust and splinters with his unfinished, overlong limps and giant paws. He darted backwards, glancing back to entice the strange dog to chase, and at last, Sirius gave up. He bounded after the werewolf.
When they closed with each other, they rolled each other over and over. Snape snapped at his ears and tail, but his teeth never closed. Sirius pinned him, and Snape's tongue slipped out to lick the dog's mussel until Sirius sprang away and Snape gave chase.
Each time they caught up to each other, they tussled, fur and paws flying, until at last Sirius collapsed with exhaustion on the floor. Snape nosed his ribs and yipped once, but when Sirius just glanced up with one eye, Snape sauntered off towards his fellow werewolf and his two strange companions, but when he play-bowed and pranced close enough, Remus growled and snapped at his paw. Chagrined, tail between his legs, Snape retreated back to Sirius.
Sirius’ stomach roiled with despair, and he gazed pleadingly at James and Peter, but both turned away, content to leave him to his fate. Remus paced restlessly between James’ hooves, head lashing from side to side. As the night wore on, he stalked down the tunnel and back to the surface, unable to rest, even for a moment.
Snape meanwhile threw himself around the Shack in a fit of puppyish exuberance, until he too collapsed next to Sirius, who shuddered convulsively. He rested his head on Sirius’ back, and when he fell asleep, his drool matted into Sirius’ dust and dirt-caked fur.
Sirius lay there, unable to move without disturbing his old enemy, watching his friends together until at last, weary and miserable, he slipped into a fitful sleep.
As the moon rose higher in the sky and began to dip again into the west, Sirius woke in the darkness and shifted, his paws kicking against Snape’s filthy, oily black fur, but Snape didn’t even twitch. Peter stood watch over all of them, his beady eyes gleaming amongst the shadows, the lumpy forms of stag and wolves oblivious.
By the time the sun peaked above the horizon, Sirius’ eyes were red with blood and he couldn’t hold back the whines of exhaustion escaping his throat. He stretched out, hoping to slide out from under Snape’s body, but suddenly, Snape’s whole body tensed up. For one moment, Sirius contemplated fleeing down the tunnel and up into his common room before Snape could open his eyes and see him there, but Remus’ pants, and Snape’s sleep-muffled howls that slowly, slowly transformed into human cries held him transfixed. Snape’s eyes stayed closed, breathing strange and uneven with slumber, but his body clenched and unclenched, flailing and convulsing on the floor. In an instant, Sirius turned back into a human, and reached out to steady him and keep his head from cracking against the bedposts, and Snape’s eyes snapped open, fully human.
Sleep fog vanished entirely from them before Sirius could leave, or even jerk his hands away from Snape’s shoulders. “What bloody hell are you doing here?” The shivers wracking Snape’s body ruined his hiss. “Get your hands off me!”
Sirius knelt frozen, Snape’s head in his lap until Snape summoned the energy and semblance of mind to recoil from him, yanking his knee up to his chest, curling in on himself, defensively. Sirius, fully clothed retrieved Snape’s uniform from the bed and threw it at him, looking away.
Snape's wand tumbled out of the pocket and clattered to the floor. Snape uncurled one hand from around his legs and lunged for it, but Sirius’ foot caught it automatically, his own wand in his hand.
"Give me my wand now,” Snape snarled, “and I won't hex you into oblivion when I get it back!”
“Think a lot of yourself, don’t you?” Sirius taunted. He couldn’t make himself look Snape in the face, so he stared determinedly at the floor.
“What the bloody buggering hell are you doing here anyway?” he cried.
Sirius’ head whipped up. Snape never swore. Snape claimed only people with small vocabularies swore, the supercilious bastard. But Snape wasn’t looking at him. His eyes were on James, still in his Animagus form, and Remus. James knelt down and Remus draped his arms around his shoulders. When he stood up again, Remus came with him, leaning against him, gasping, eyes closed. James transformed to catch him as he tottered over to the bed, hanging on his friend’s shoulders. Snape’s eyes locked into Sirius’ calculatingly, and then, suddenly, Sirius could see Snape’s memories from the night before surface as open mouthed humiliation stole over his face until he appeared almost sick with it. "Yeah, well, you're the one who curled up with me,” Sirius said spitefully. “What’s the matter, Snivelly, that desperate for a friend?
Snape’s flush deepened. “I wonder how the headmaster would react if he knew his pet Gryffindors had become illegal Animagi to sneak away from school to play chase with a werewolf.”
Sirius laughed, but his eyes narrowed. “The only werewolf playing chase so far is you.”
Snape’s face twisted with mortification and he dug his hands into the bundle of cloth in his lap, obviously trying to summon the will to uncurl long enough to clothe himself. Sirius averted his eyes again. “Fine. Your friend’s back to his usual self. You’re done. You can leave now.”
“Ta ever so,” Sirius spat, pocketing Snape’s wand, “for your permission.” With that, he threw himself down the tunnel and out of sight.
James gripped Remus’ vest-clad shoulders bracingly. “Are you alright?”
Pushing him back gently, Remus smiled weakly. “Go on, I’m fine. Pomfrey’ll be here soon anyway.”
The two of them met up with Sirius where he waited just beyond the tunnel entrance. Peter’s pudgy cheeks wobbled and gazed around at his friends anxiously. Cold spilled into Sirius’ belly as the reality of it hit him. Snape knew. Snape had them all if he wanted them, could get them all thrown out. He shuddered, shuffling numbly up the tunnel. The compulsion hit him; he had to say something... Something to lighten the mood and distract them. “My duty, huh?” Sirius smiled slyly as they emerged out into the sunlight, “What, like a knighthood?”
“What?” James asked before he remembered. “Oh. More like a prison sentence.”
“Yeah, you wish.” He just wished he could get the sight of gawky, puppyish werewolf snape, yipping and begging for attention out of his head.
Lupin waited patiently for Severus to throw his clothes on, trying to shield himself from view as he did. When the other werewolf picked up the crutches and righted them, Severus held out his hand for them impatiently, but Lupin held them back. Feeling wrong-footed, he dropped his hand. “So you know about my friends’ Animagus forms.” He began, voice sharp.
“Yes,” his eyelids lowered smugly. “You won’t talk me out of telling the headmaster either. I have been waiting for something like this for years.”
Lupin drew his wand out of his pocket held it in front of him, lowering the tip until it pointed at Severus’ ribs. “You think so?” His tone was calm, unworried, and very, very cold. Severus grabbed for his wand, but it wasn’t there. Gritting his teeth and closing his eyes, he realized it was inside Black’s pocket. “Where do you think you’ll stay this summer if you get my best friends thrown out of Hogwarts after they helped you?”
"Help me?” His voice rose between the two words until he was almost screaming the latter. How many times was he supposed to say it before any of them listened? “They’re... They’re the reason I’m... They have no interest in...” None of the words tumbling out of his mouth agreed to resolve themselves into coherent sentences. His arms and legs gave way and he fell heavily onto the bed, gripping his crutches until his knuckles turned white. And then he heard what else Lupin had said. “You would turn me out?” he yelped.
“To protect my friends?” Lupin set his jaw and folded his arms. “In a heartbeat.”
“Would already have punished me for hiding them, maybe even thrown me out. He can’t make my parents take in another werewolf, It’s their house.” Lupin stood over him. “So you can spend full moons chewing yourself apart and the summer on the streets, or you can keep quiet. It’s really your choice.
“I’m surprised at you,” Severus said weakly.
Lupin opened his mouth, but then closed it again, eyes fluttering and flinching. In the end, he just glared, a strange pinched look crossing his face. And the two just sat together until Madam Pomfrey arrived. In the early morning rosy gloom and the fidgeting silence, though, black’s voice kept echoing around in his head asking him if he really was that desperate.
Chapter 12: Fearful
The corridor outside the hospital wing stood quiet in the mid-morning light when Severus darted out as soon as Madam Pomfrey turned her back. Bleary-eyed and sullen, he hobbled down the corridor, down a flight of stairs and down a long winding ramp to the Potions classroom and sank into a seat somewhere in the back. When Slughorn didn't comment, he filched one of the spare student cauldrons from the cupboard and poked his wand underneath to light a fire.
"Sev?" Severus jumped, landing hard on his crutches, jamming his wrist. Lily held a vial of hippogriff saliva from the student cupboard, and she was trying very hard to smile. "Come up front with me."
He glowered. "You're half done already."
"Yeah, that's the point." She snatched up his cauldron and snuffed the fire underneath, keeping her eyes on his face. "Look, it's not like Slughorn'll complain; you're supposed to be taking the day off anyway."
They passed Black, Potter, and Pettegrew, absent Lupin and, exhausted, Severus would have stopped to watch Black stirring his potion listlessly and Pettegrew nodding off behind his book if it weren't for Lily's hand on his arm.
Near the front of the classroom, she gallantly pulled out a chair for him and he settled into it sulkily. "You don't have to do things like that," he snapped, "I'm not an invalid."
Lily snorted. "You look awful, Sev; I can't believe Madam Pomfrey let you out." Severus stared down at the table, pulling Lily's Potions book close. "Oh," Lily glanced at him sharply. "She didn't. You escaped, didn't you."
"Yes," he hissed.
She rubbed both sides of the bridge of her nose with her fingers and muttered, "Should have figured you would."
Severus relaxed a little, his arms still shaking against his chest and picked up the crocodile scales. Squinting beneath gunk filled eyelashes, he picked up four small scales and dropped the first one in.
Lily heard the tiny splash and stared into the cauldron as the scale dissolved. "Not yet, I hadn't stirred in the-" But the potion had started to seethe and turn a pale greyish orange. "Aww," she groaned as she watched it bubble over the side, hardening as it spilled.
"Oh!" Severus jumped, pulling ingredients and quills off the table while Lily extinguished the fire under the cauldron. Within moments, the bubbling stopped, and the potion hardened on the table and the cauldron into heavy ropes of rock-like orange mess.
"Great, Sev," Lily whispered.
"Shut-" when he looked up, Slughorn was standing in front of their table.
He shook his head. "Dear dear..." With a flick of his wand, the solid potion vanished. "Lily, Severus, I can always count on you to create the most inventive mistakes."
Lily smiled. "I'm glad we came through for you!" Severus scowled at the table.
"It's always the brightest ones," he assured her, "I suppose you two can't be brilliant all of the time."
"How kind," Severus snapped, as the professor scratched something on his parchment that didn't look like a zero.
Lily flicked the back of his head. "Go back up to the hospital wing."
Severus flinched. "No."
"You're exhausted!" she insisted so that only he could hear, "you're making stupid mistakes; you don't even have to be in class anyway!" He glared at his hands, hanging under the table, balled into fists. "Fine go to class then. See if I care if you transfigure yourself into a bookcase or something because you're tired."
"You have Transfiguration," he snapped back, "I have Charms." Every nerve felt raw, as if instead of spending the night before as a wolf, he'd spent it having every centimeter of skin being scraped off his body. His eyes had lost their protective layer of moisture and felt like they were rolling around in cups made out of sand paper instead of his skull. Every word she said kept pressing those nerves and shaking him until he wanted to crawl away from her and hide for a few hours, but that was what she was suggesting. It would be weak.
"Yeah, so you'll charm whatever your supposed to be charming into trying to kill you."
Ignoring him, she waved to Slughorn with one hand, and pointed to the door with the other. As soon as she caught his eye, he nodded, and she shoved her pile of ingredients back into their places in her bag. When she left, she had Severus' bag over her shoulder too, and he swore inside his own head, propping himself up on his crutches to follow.
"Fine," he said sulkily as soon as he caught up with her, "You got me out of class. Happy now?"
"No." She handed him his bag and leaned against the wall. "Sev, you need to go rest."
He pulled the bag to his chest, using his elbows to hold the crutches steady. "No, I don't!"
She leapt away from the wall and rounded on him, hands in fists on her hips. "What am I supposed to do with you?" she whined, "You look awful. Why can't you take that as an excuse to skip class like anyone else would?"
Severus didn't know, but her face was centimeters away from his. Their noses almost touched. His pupils dilated, and his lips parted. His breathing all of a sudden came ragged.
"Oh my God, you're not breathing right," Lily exclaimed, cheeks flushed.
Severus' head jerked on his neck, shaking him out of his daze. "I'm fine."
He moved his head up to glare at her. Their lips brushed together. Lily shot backwards. "Oh!"
Severus wobbled backwards from where he stood hanging from his crutches, and pulled himself fully upright on them. "Oh God, I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"
"Oh," she looked at the floor so that she didn't have to look at him. "Well, alright then."
Lily gathered up her courage. "Because I liked it if you did."
Severus forced down the dopey smile trying it's best to spread across his face. "Really? I mean-" why wasn't his brain working right? He sounded like an idiot. "I'm glad."
Even as Lily snickered, she tried gamely to stop herself. "I'm glad too."
The question burst out before he could stop it. "So what happens now?"
She stared at him, tongue-tied, twisting her hands into her school robe, and he felt that stupid, horrible flash of satisfaction that at least she was as disarmed as he was lance through him. "Does this mean we're together now?"
He flushed. "I really really like you."
With one hand, she tipped his head up while the other hung limply. After a moment, she pulled it up to meet her other one behind his head. Her lips quirked. "I guess I wouldn't mind having you for a boyfriend." She started to kiss his cheek, but thought better of it, and kissed his mouth. He swayed, shaking as she did. "Oh my God," she whispered, "you need to go to bed."
"I still don't like it when you tell me what to do," he said, suddenly swinging back to frustrated.
"Yes, well I don't like it when you fall over," she shot back, "go to bed, Sev, you're allowed to. You're supposed to."
Which was of course, why he didn't want to, but he knew better than to say that.
Severus glared sulkily and squeezed his school bag tighter to his chest. "Alright."
She smiled sunnily, with the good grace to hide her triumph, and hugged him around the shoulders. Holding his crutches in one hand and resting his weight on his good foot, he looped his bag over his shoulders with a very small smile.
Lily stared after him, wondering how exactly their relationship was going to change, except for kissing, at all.
The common room and dormitory were empty in the middle of the day when Severus descended into them, and he sank obediently onto his bed, but he couldn't sleep. He didn't really need to sleep, just lay there with his eyes closed, mind spinning. Sighing, he pressed his fingertips to his lips, trying to bring up the sensation of Lily's lips doing the same thing. The cool, sweet darkness spanned away from him and he stretched against the still ordered bed sheets with a smile.
By the time evening had settled over the school, Sirius' pretence that he had slept the night before was wearing thin. He had a smudge of grease on his nose and bits of mashed turnips caught in his eyelashes and his head drooped whenever Professor Dumbledore wasn't looking at him. "I can see you," the headmaster remarked when Sirius finally gave into temptation and closed his eyes.
"Of course you can," he muttered under his breath.
"And I can hear you too."
"Yeah, I know." He kept his head bent over the stack of the Headmaster's correspondence he was sorting through.
"You know, taking advantage of your prefect's once a month absence to sneak out of your dormitory with impunity is the sort of tactic I'm more used to seeing from my Slytherin students."
"My whole family's in Slytherin," he shot back, "I'm used to sneaky underhanded manipulation."
Professor Dumbledore chuckled. "I will keep that in mind."
"Anyway, It's not like Remus doesn't know we were out of our dorm last night anyway," he folded his arms, "so it's not like we're lying to anyone."
The headmaster smiled cheerily. "No, you're not fooling anyone. That's not quite the same thing as not lying."
Sirius flushed. "We aren't lying either."
"Since you are obviously not trying to fool anyone, and I have very little confidence Mr. Lupin would report you if you left the dormitory on any other night, I have to wonder why you choose full moons especially."
Sirius' jaw jumped, and then his face settled. "It's nothing special."
"Then why for the last year have you been out of your beds every full moon?"
The twinkle in the headmaster's eyes meant he thought he had him, Sirius realized. "No reason! It's just this way Remus isn't around to tell us to stop having a good time!"
"How do you know we're not just taking advantage of the good lighting to sneak out into the forest for a midnight picnic?"
"Not afraid of the werewolves, then?"
"I know that's just a legend." Sirius grinned. "If there were a bunch of werewolves that close to Hogwarts, every Auror in the country would be out there to round them up. I know."
"Perhaps you're taking advantage of the fact that none of the other students would be brave enough to follow any of you inside on that one night instead." He peered at Sirius over his candy bowl and his low hanging glasses, and Sirius shrugged.
"Yeah, I guess."
"If that were the truth, you would have told me that in the first place." Professor Dumbledore smiled.
"It's not nice to do this when I'm sleepy," he grumbled, pushing hair out of his face lazily.
The headmaster kept on smiling.
"I don't see why Remus and Snape get to stay in bed all day when you know James, Peter, and I were up all night too."
Professor Dumbledore set the candy bowl down. "Ah, but you have a choice to be safe and secure in your beds. Mr. Lupin and Mr. Snape no longer have that choice." Sirius froze before trying to shake the image of Snape running around the Shrieking Shack, trying to get him to chase. "Now why don't you tell me exactly why you were out of bed these past few months?"
Sometime late in the evening, footsteps clattered, muffled against the carpeted floor. Severus shook the sleep out of his head, pushing slippery clumps of hair out of his face. He glared at Avery. "What're you doing here?"
"It's after dinner." Avery glanced around at the windowless walls. "Idiot."
Severus swallowed his groan as he pulled his robes away from where they stuck to his body and shook out the creases. Hopping awkwardly on one foot, he grabbed his crutches with a scowl. "Really?" he sneered. "'Idiot's' the best you can do?"
"You're not worth the effort of coming up with something better."
"Out of my way."
Avery leaned unmoving against his bedpost, his voice mock-kind. "I'm not in your way, Snape."
Balancing on his good foot and one crutch, he hooked his other crutch under Avery's legs and swept him to the floor at the foot of the bed. His wand slid out of his sleeve and into his hand. "Thank you for moving anyway," he sneered.
Avery pushed himself up off the floor. "You're going to pay for that, Snape."
To his dismay, Severus started to laugh. "Somehow after seeing you kissing Mulciber's feet, I can't find myself intimidated by you at all."
Avery's wand flew into his hand, and with a swipe, Severus went sailing through the air to slam into the wall, dust from the tapestries swirling through the air at the impact. "No matter what," he spoke softly, walking to stand over his housemate. "I am better than you, werewolf. You are less than anyone else in the school, even the Mudbloods. You are less than me."
"It's 'I am' you pathetic..." Severus burst out, from where he lay slumped against the floor. "Can't you even get that right?"
For a moment, Avery stared at him nonplussed, wand slack in his hand. "You're correcting my grammar?"
It was all Severus needed to pull himself up and dig his wand deep under Avery's ribcage. “Sectumsempra."
Avery moaned and collapsed to the floor, blood spurting from his stomach and chest. Severus shot to his foot and crutches holding his wand in front of him like a torch and watching the other boy writhe. A thousand curses flooded his mouth, trying to escape, but then his narrowed eyes widened. His hand shook around his wand, and for a moment, he couldn't move, couldn't even hear Avery's cries. All at once, the stillness was broken. Contemptuously, Severus swept his wand over Avery's body, speaking the counter-curse over and over again until his wounds stopped bleeding and closed.
"Can't even kill me properly?" Avery gasped as Severus drew a vial of dittany oil out of his trunk and tossed it down on his chest.
Severus pulled his hands into his robes to hide their shaking. "There's no point," he spat, closing the dormitory room behind him. On the dark landing outside, he swallowed and balled his hands into fists until the trembling subsided. He had Avery. He had all of them, they just didn't know it yet. Next year, he would be here alone, and they would be in cells in Azkaban.
The blood still pounded in his ears, and surrounded by stone, it echoed around in his head. When he emerged from the stairwell into the soft, eery light of the common room, the noise of seven years worth of students hit him like a wave, blocking out the blood and numbing his disquiet with irritation.
Sirius couldn't seem to unclench his jaw or come up with any sort of believable lie. As the headmaster gazed at him impassively, he stayed rigid and still and silent. He finally opened his mouth, with nothing to come out of it when someone knocked on the office door. Letting loose a relieved puff of air, he turned around in his chair, his mouth closing into a smile. It opened on its own, but Sirius noticed he could only see one of the headmaster's hands.
Snape stood in the doorway, blinking in the light. "Ah, come in, Mr. Snape."
The Slytherin swung himself forward to stand before the headmaster's desk. "My apologies. I didn't mean to be late."
"I didn't realize you had come to enjoy our company that much." Professor Dumbledore raised an eyebrow.
"What do you mean?" he snapped suspiciously.
"If you hadn't fled the hospital wing, Madam Pomfrey would have told you your detention for tonight had been cancelled."
Snape swallowed. "Oh." That would have been good to know. "Just this month, or from now on?"
Professor Dumbledore's eyes twinkled over his half moon glasses. "Of course, I expect you to spend the day after the full moon in the hospital wing." Seeing Snape's face twist, Sirius didn't bother to hide his smirk.
"Oh," Snape muttered, back very straight. "I'll go then. No, wait, I wanted to ask you something."
"Ask away, Mr. Snape."
"Not in front of him," his mouth twisted as he glanced Sirius' way.
"I had hoped that the two of you would come to trust each other-" Sirius squawked furiously, but Snape just shot him a very dark look. The headmaster raised an eyebrow again and waited for the two of them to calm down. "You will need to if you want to survive what is coming."
Sirius and Snape swallowed together. "Still," Snape said, hunching his shoulders and leveling a scornful glance at Sirius, "I'll wait outside until Black's gone."
"No need," Professor Dumbledore replied genially. "His detention was almost over anyway. Mr. Black, you're dismissed."
The breath Sirius didn't even realize he was holding rushed out of his lungs, and he had to force himself not to sprint for the door while the headmaster was distracted.
As soon as the door shut behind the Gryffindor, Severus settled into the chair he had just vacated. “Professor, I...” he trailed off, unable to go back to his dormitory yet, and unsure of what to say. “I wanted to know if you’d told the Ministry about the information I had for them.”
Professor Dumbledore folded his hand on the top of his desk. “Not yet.”
“What!” Severus demanded. “Why?”
“As soon as I do, it becomes public, and your life will be in danger,” he reached across the desk and patted Severus on the shoulder, “and I for one would like you safely hidden away for the summer before I do any such thing.”
“Why can’t you just expel them?” he shot back, clutching the arms of his chair.
“Because students have been accused of terrible crimes before, and been expelled.” He had a faraway look in his eyes, but Severus didn’t trust it for a moment. “And been completely innocent.”
“But these ones aren’t,” he mumbled, starring at his hands.
“Of course not,” the headmaster soothed, “but it sets a bad precedent on a tradition I am trying to change.”
“You will be safe, Mr. Snape, you have my word on that.”
“After all, I wouldn’t want to lose so diligent a student in potions.” The hand slipped off his shoulder and retreated to the headmaster's other hand. “Though I did hear you didn’t make it to Charms.”
“I wasn’t doing anything illicit, if that’s what you’re implying,” he leaned back in his chair staring at the headmaster dubiously.
“No, I suppose you weren’t.” Severus relaxed ever so slightly. “But if you leave the hospital wing like that again after a full moon, I expect you to attend all your classes, and detention in the evening.”
“Or you could just stay in the hospital wing and recover.”
“I will do that.”
When he passed Avery's favorite chair by the fire, he could feel the prefect's eyes on him, wary and resentful. It sent a rush of pleasure pulsing through him.
Author's Note: My excuse skipping last month’s chapter involves a high fever, delirium, and soporific anti-nausea medication, along with assorted other miseries. However, I took the opportunity to build a set of buffer chapters (Yay!) and I’m working on getting the whole thing written so I can just post monthly and not have to worry. Also, I said there would be no shipping in several reviews a couple months ago, but Severus and Lily refused to cooperate.
Chapter 13: Newspapers
When the owls streamed through the Great Hall windows and found perches next to their humans’ plates, and a few of the students untied newspapers from their owls legs, Severus didn’t even notice. He was too busy trying to keep a smile from spreading over his face. The tables and students seamed to be separated from him by a thick, soft fog, and he gazed at his oatmeal with a curiously benevolent expression. He knew things weren’t that good. Nothing ever was. he knew he was stupidly happy with Lily actually going out with him, and later on, he’d decide that just meant he was stupid.
Avery’s narrowed eyes followed him all the way from the dormitory to the table and bored into the top of his head from across the table. Instead off making him sensibly worried, he just felt a rush of vicious pleasure into the pit of his stomach. “What do you want?”
“Nothing you could possibly give me,” he leaned back in his seat, turning his eyes to the ceiling instead, smug smile pasted back in place.
Severus could feel the tension in the room rising palpably as Mulciber, Wilkes, and Rosier turned to watch, but he just felt excited. “Then stop staring at me.”
Avery crossed his ankles on the table, carefully smooth. “Not everything’s about you.”
“I don’t think I’m the one who needs that lesson.” Severus could feel Rosier’s grin and he almost answered it.
“Good.” Avery’s feet clattered to the floor. “At least you realize how pathetic you are.”
“If I’m that pathetic, why are you fighting with me?” Severus sipped his pumpkin juice, eyes half lidded.
Mulciber snorted. “Because he’s just as worthless.” Wilkes’ harsh, high laugh echoed in their ears.
Severus’ head whipped around, and his arm went with it. In one sharp movement, his wand arched down, and blasted Mulciber off the bench.
Alice poked Lily’s arm when she didn’t respond right away. “Lily, look!”
Lily’s spoon fell onto the rim of the bowl, flinging oatmeal onto the table. “Alright, alright!”
Alice shook out the paper and handed it to her, pointing to the headline on the first page. Underneath it sat photographs of Severus and Remus. “Oh no.”
She tried to scan the article as her friend patted her shoulder sympathetically, but she could guess everything in there, and really desperately didn’t want to see it written out in black and white. Every time she jerked her eyes to the text, they slid back to the pictures. “Yeah, I know,” Alice whispered, “but it’s not like we didn’t know it was going to-”
“How did they even get these?” she jabbed her thumb into the pictures that the paper tore.
“Who cares?” Alice yanked tha paper back. “OY REMUS!”
Lily watched her dash off, her heart sinking into her shoes, bewildered, hands falling into her lap, their strings cut. For a moment, inertia kept her fastened to the bench, but then, all of a sudden, before she even realized it, she was on her feet and running. “Hey, Frank,” she shouted up the table at an earnest looking sixth year. “Can I borrow your paper?”
“I gave it to Alice,” he called back, “sorry.”
As she passed by, Lily spotted a copy of the paper sitting on the table between three fourth years, chattering excitedly over it. Her hand darted out and snatched it up.
“Hey! You can’t just-”
“As a prefect, I’m commandeering this paper,” she snapped back, and the girl slumped back to the bench with a sour expression.
Out of the corner of her eye, Lily watched Severus at the Slytherin table, her feet carrying her closer to the Great Hall doors, and therefor closer to him, and she caught herself and forced herself to slow down and march.
Just then, Mulciber flew through the air and landed sprawled on the floor between the tables and Lily ran.
Remus stared at the pictures. “Oh no, oh no, ohnoohnoohno-”
“Calm down,” James ordered soothingly, “Everyone already knows. No one’s going to hate you, you’re not going to be thrown out, it’s alright.”
“Er,” Alice worried a bit of skin on her lower lip with her teeth. “I have to get the paper back to Frank. I’ll... just... go...”
“What if once all the parents start complaining, Dumbledore decides it’s not worth it and kicks me out?”
Alice grabbed the paper, running away on her tip toes.
“Not going to happen!” James insisted, pushing Remus’ bowl back in front of him and tossing raisins and gobs of oatmeal back into it.
“I bit someone,” he took a grudging spoonful.
“You’re not going on about that again,” Sirius broke in.
James spun around on the bench without even blinking. “You shut up.”
“I bit someone,” Remus began again. “They get to be afraid. They’re supposed to be afraid.”
“No they’re not!” Sirius was off the bench and had his arms around his friend before Remus could duck out of the way. Remus froze. “I was stupid. I’m never going to be that stupid again.”
“That’s not going to help now, though, right?” Peter said nervously, “I mean, Snape was pretty stupid too, and now anyone could get under-”
“Not helping.” James said, elbowing him in the top of the head.
Remus squirmed out of Sirius’ arms. “That’s not even the point anyway,” he snapped.
“Well, it’s not like Dumbledore can throw you out now,” Peter exclaimed. “I mean, if he does it now, it’ll be obvious he’s doing it because of the article, and he’ll look even worse.”
James’ elbow slipped off Peter’s hair and slid down his back until his hand took its place and mussed the hair up into wet brown tangles.
The whole Great Hall looked as one towards the Slytherin table as Mulciber went airborn, and James’ hand fell to the table with a thunk and a rattle. Sirius whistled. “I guess Snivily heard then.”
Remus’ expression slammed shut. “Don’t call him that again.”
Mulciber jumped back up to his feet, fuming. “You... You...”
“Have you finally gone completely mad?” Wilkes demanded, pointing her wand at him across the table.
Lily skidded to a halt next to the table, hair swinging wildly. “I guess you heard,” she panted.
“What?” Behind them, Mulciber levered himself onto his feet, aiming his wand at Severus’ back. Head whipping around, he leveled the wand at the other Slytherin.
“What’re you doing here, Mudblood?” Wilkes hissed, eyes flicking between her and Severus.
Eyes narrowed, Lily kissed Severus on the cheek defiantly, and felt the heat rise in his face under her lips. “Five points from Slytherin,” she smirked, pushing Severus’ bag off the bench and taking its place.
After a moment, Severus shifted on the bench, first away from her and then back. He lifted his arm hesitantly, let it fall, an then lifted it again to let it settle around her shoulders.
Using their distraction, Mulciber aimed for both of them. The spell left his wand with a jet of light and a sound like cannon fire, and they sprang apart hard enough to knock into the people next to them on the bench. Smoke curled away from the burn mark the spell left on the table where it landed.
Lily and Severus’ wands both pointed right between his eyes. “Do you really want to fight me?” Severus asked, voice silky, and, hands trembling, and face white with fury, Mulciber pocketed his wand.
She answered by pocketing her own wand. “Five more points from Slytherin.” She wished she could give detentions, God.
“Well?” Avery drawled, “what are you doing here?”
Lily spread the crumpled newspaper on the table and smoothed it out. For a moment, Severus went still, body rigid, face blank. Then, he snatched the paper off the table, the blood pouring out of his face. “What is this?”
“I don’t know,” she murmured. “Alice just showed it to me, I ran right over. I thought... I thought you heard.”
Avery’s lips curled into a small, triumphant smile under heavy lidded eyes. Unobtrusively, Lily slipped her wand back into her hand and pointed it at him under the table.
“Do you know anything about this?” Severus challenged, voice soft, eyes boring into Avery.
“No, Snape.” Avery continued to smile back, unrattled. “I honestly don’t.”
Severus slammed his hands onto the table. “Don’t lie to me!”
“I had nothing to do with this,” Avery’s smirk widened into something like a grin, or a grimace, but not quite either. “I didn’t have to. Did you really think this was going to stay here?” He laughed and shook his head slowly. “All I had to do was tell the school.” Leaning over the table to meet Severus in the middle, he murmured in his ear, “I caused this.”
Severus’ lips parted over his teeth and a snarl rose from his throat.
“Careful, Snape.” He sat back against the bench. “That almost sounded... wolfish.”
“I wrote the Daily Prophet,” Wilkes giggled, eyes alight. “They were so glad for those pict-”
“Conjunctivito!” Severus’s wand lashed through the air. Fury leached what color he had out of his face, and his hands shook with it. But it wasn’t his voice screaming the spell.
Wilkes shrieked, burying her eyes in her hands. Tears poured down her face. “Evans, you cow! You stupid Mudblood b-”
Severus lurched toward her, bad leg jutting uselessly out from the table, wand tip jabbing into her throat. “Don’t you ever call her that again.”
“Come on, Sev,” Lily muttered, keeping her wand trained on the Slytherins. His hands trembled when she handed him his crutches and tucked his wand into his pocket.
A shadow fell over them. “Miss Evans, Mister Snape!” McGonagall’s voice shot through them both.
Severus froze. Lily twisted around, wide-eyed. “Professor!”
“I hope you’re aware that your earlier display was disgraceful.” She folded her arms. “Knocking a student to the ground at breakfast, what had he done to you this morning to warrant that? And then you, Miss Evans. When I saw you running over, I assumed you would take care of the situation, not make things worse! What possessed you to curse that girl?”
“But he- but she-” Severus babbled. “I had- Lily had to!”
McGonagall’s lips pressed together into a thin white line. “The only hexes I saw came from your wands.”
Severus glanced to the side, glaring. “They both deserved it.”
She rounded on him so fiercely, he swung backwards on his crutches. “You have been granted a tremendous amount of licence thus far because of what happened to you recently, but beware, Mr. Snape, you are fast using it up!” When he looked down, Lily’s hands were clenched into fists. “Now get to class before I give you detention. Not you, Miss Evans.”
Severus nodded and hunched his shoulders, but as soon as she wasn’t looking at him anymore, he slipped into a gap in the wall and listened. If McGonagall said one word...
“I just wanted to know if everything was alright, Miss Evans.”
She bit her lip and nodded. “Everything’s just fine, Professor.”
“Are you sure?” McGonagall let her hands fall to the side before putting a hand on Lily’s shoulder. “This isn’t like you, going over to the Slytherin table, provoking confrontation, it worries me.”
Lily backed away. “I’m fine.”
That night at dinner, the headmaster stood up and walked to the podium. Thump, thump, thump, his footsteps hit the dais like hammers on an anvil. Silence swooped over the Great Hall. Every face turned his way. Sirius found his eyeballs being yanked towards him along with everyone else’s. “As many of you now know, Hogwarts currently has among its many students, two werewolves.” His gaze swept the room, and next to him, Sirius felt Remus flinch down and try to make himself very small. “And I am sure many of you, and many of your parents of course, have concerns about your safety as you yourselves continue your educations here.
“Rest assured, I will not be dismissing Mr. Lupin or Mr. Snape.” At the last, his voice grew hard and cold, but Sirius felt a wave of relief wash over him and almost send him pitching off the bench backwards. “Hogwarts has always been a sanctuary for the weird and wonderful of the Wizarding World, and I would be aa poor custodian if I didn’t uphold that tradition. Both these boys are students, as are all of you. They have as much right to remain here as anyone. Whatever distrust any of you may harbour towards them for something they cannot help is meaningless against that.”
Sirius slipped his arm under Remus’ to hold him up, the paralyzing fear dissipating from his friend and leaving him weak. Dumbledore’s expression softened. “None of you, however,” he smiled, “Are in any danger, so long as you abide by the rules and do not deliberately endanger yourselves.” He turned to face the Gryffindors, and Sirius thought that was grossly unfair. “By now, I’m sure you all know where these two fellow students of yours spend their full moons and can be trusted to stay far away from that place.” His eyes narrowed and stopped twinkling. The air around him seemed to chill. “Anyone who chooses to do otherwise, will be expelled. Anyone who chooses to take that risk on behalf of another student will be expelled and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” He turned to stare straight at Sirius, eyes transformed into thin slits behind his glasses, face twisted. “And believe me, the punishment will be severe.”
Slipping his arm out from around Remus, Sirius clasped his hands and gripped his fingers so hard they turned white. He couldn’t hear the end of the speech through the buzzing and the heat in his ears. “I’m sorry, Moony.”
Remus blinked. “Well I guess there’s nothing you can do about it now, is there.”
“No,” he mumbled miserably.
“It’s alright, Padfoot,” he murmured. “Really.”
Sirius slid the headmaster’s office door open. “Sorry I’m late.”
Dumbledore let the sleave of his robe fall and examined his watch. “Be careful, Mr. Black, next time, I might have to give you another detention.”
Snape glowered as the other student flopped down into the chair next to him. “Play nice boys!” The headmaster’s eyes twinkled.
Snape kept his eyes on the pile of parchment in front of him and shoved half of it sideways without looking at the other student. Sirius plucked the first piece of parchment off the top and glanced at it. His eyes leapt back up to Professor Dumbledore. “We get to see what the professors make?” He could see the man striving not to roll his eyes. “Excellent.”
“I hope you know I find it very gratifying that you find your punishment interesting,” Professor Dumbledore smiled. “Though I trust it’s not actually fun?”
“No.” Snape snapped, his quill scraping against the parchment.
Sirius glared at him. “Don’t worry.”
The door burst open so hard Sirius swore he could see sparks leaping off the carpet. “Albus, come quick!” Wisps of hair flying out of her bun, McGonagall stood in the doorway. “Peeves sealed the prefects’ bathroom and turned on all of the taps. There are water and bubbles everywhere. Filius is vanishing it as fast as he can, but it was waist high when I left. Well my waist, it’s up around his neck, but...”
The headmaster glanced at her over his glasses. “Have you tried the Bloody Baron?”
“That’s just the thing, no one can find him, Albus, I’m sorry to bother you.”
“Don’t worry, Minerva, it’s no bother.” He stood and followed her to the door. “Don’t even think about causing any trouble, boys.” Snape pursed his lips as the door shut.
“I almost feel sorry for them all,” Sirius snickered under his breath. “No wonder they’re so miserable if this is what they’re getting paid.”
“Wow, Snape, what’s got your pants in a twist?” he shot back, leaning back in the chair. “You know, I thought since you finally got Evans, you might actually be cheerful.”
“Does breaking idiotic Hufflepuff girls’ hearts make you cheerful? Because you’re remarkably cheerful for someone who just broke up with his girlfriend, Snape spat. “How long did this one last? Three days? Four?”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Merlin, you’re an arse, Snape.”
“You know, if I didn’t know better, Black, I’d say Evans and me getting together made you happier than it makes me,” Snape retorted silkily. “Jealous of Potter's regard for her?”
“That’s why no girl can ever keep you more than a week. They don’t even stand a chance with the great Sirius Black, do they.” Snape’s face went momentarily blank, and his eyes grew huge in his head. Sirius could almost see a thousand little things, little hints, little clues, the way he brushed up against James a little too often, the way he always laughed just a little to loud at his jokes, did everything he could to make him laugh, all suddenly adding themselves together inside Snape’s head. “You’re queer, aren’t you?” Snape opened his mouth wide in a shout of laughter. “You- you’re in love with Potter.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Sirius yelped, smashing himself back against the arm of the chair farthest from Snape.
“Imagine what would happen to you if I told the school,” Snape mused softly. “Imagine if I told Potter.”
The next thing Sirius knew, he was straddling Snape’s chest, slamming him into the floor. The bastard’s lip was split, and blood was running down his jaw, but he was still just smiling. Sirius hit him harder, so fast he started forgetting where his fists ended and Snape’s face and chest began.
Snape’s hands shot up and seized Sirius’ throat. The fists stopped pounding. They just stilled as Sirius tried to free himself. “You idiot, Black, I’ve won! I've finally won, and I want you to know it.”
Pushing hard against the underside of Snape’s elbows, Sirius jerked to his feet, stumbling back. The door swished against the carpet. Snape jumped to his good foot and barrelled his way into the chair next to Sirius.
The headmaster sat down, blinking at them. “No unpleasantness, I trust?”
The two of them scowled back.
Wilkes whirled around as soon as the wand tip poked into her throat. Hand on Wilkes’ shoulder, Lily shoved back, sending her reeling into the dungeon wall, driving her wand steadily into the hollow of her throat. “What are you doing, Evans?”
“I bet you think you dodged the bullet because Dumbledore’s not going to hunt you down and punish you for what you did.” She kept her words calm and her expression open and friendly, but the wand tip never wavered.
Wilkes seized her own wand and tore it out of her pocket. “Have you gone completely ‘round the twist?”
When the spell hit, Wilkes gasped. “You bitch. You think you’re going to get away with this?”
Lily smiled and spat in her face. “I hope you can find the counterjinx before you have to go to sleep.”
“It was true what I said earlier,” Wilkes shrieked, “You’re just a stupid, dirty Mudblood, and you know what? When the Dark Lord takes his rightful place as the ruler of the Wizarding World, you’re not going to last a minute!”
Lily laughed mirthlessly. “You know, Muggles have people like you too, people who think other sorts of people aren’t as good as they are, only they call them racists, or classists, or anti-Semites... You’re not special, Wilkes; you’re no different than they are.” Wilkes’ mouth hung open. Lily pushed it closed with the tip of her wand. “If you ever do anything to hurt Sev again, I’ll be talking to you again.”
As Lily strode down the hallway, back out of the darkness, Wilkes shouted, “You think I’m afraid of you?”
Lily shook her head, but didn’t turn around. “Muggles even have people like You-Kn-” she pursed her lips and steadied herself, “Voldemort. They never last long. Sweet dreams."