"I can manage from here." Sirius grabbed his satchel roughly out of Kreacher's thin fingers and shouldered it, turning away.
His father's voice held a warning note, and Sirius halted, shoulders hunched.
"Your mother and I expect better report of you this term," Orion Black said gravely. "If your comportment does not improve, we will hear of it, and you and I will have words over the summer. Am I understood?"
Sirius gritted his teeth, not turning around. "Yes, Father."
"You may go."
It was with a sigh of relief that Sirius cleared the barrier onto Platform 9 3/4, the tension of the last two weeks draining from his body with every step. His ordeal with his family was over, and in a moment, he would be with his friends again.
Some holiday, he thought, looking around.
His schoolfellows appeared to be of much the same opinion, but their grim faces and worried glances likely had more to do with the recent attacks -- dubbed the "Easter Murders" by the Daily Prophet -- than with trying family situations. The voices that reached Sirius's ears were hushed, speaking in subdued murmurs. All but one, that is.
Sirius turned, face breaking into an unconscious grin, in time to see Lily Evans flying across the platform to throw her arms around Remus Lupin. Remus smiled -- he smiled -- a look genuine happiness that transformed his face. Sirius faltered. He had never seen such a look on Remus's face before.
Then Lily moved away to greet someone else, and that radiant smile fixed on Sirius, if possible growing even wider.
As he moved towards his friend, Sirius caught sight of Remus's family standing around him, and he stopped short of his intended hug, feeling uncharacteristically shy.
"Hey," he said, patting the other boy's arm awkwardly.
"Nat," said Remus, turing towards his family, "Mum, Dad, this is Sirius Black. He's one of my friends from Gryffindor."
"Pleased to meet you, son." Mr Lupin smiled and held out his hand to Sirius, who shook it automatically.
Sirius realised then what it was that had thrown him off balance. For months, he had harboured dark suspicions that these people were hurting Remus, but seeing them all together like this showed him the absurdity of that idea. If he had ever seen Remus with his family before, he would have known immediately that they would never harm him.
Remus's mother gave him a piercing look, and he dropped his eyes guiltily, as if she could read his mind.
"Black, did you say?" she asked.
"Yes. Ma'am," he added, shifting uncomfortably.
Mrs Lupin looked as though she found something amusing. "I do believe we've met before."
He blinked at her, startled. "Er -- have we?" Remus shot his mother a curious glance.
"Oh, you wouldn't remember it," she assured him. "It was at a Ministry Christmas party, and you were about six months old at the time. The only reason I remember is because it was my first time out among wizards." Her smile twisted a bit. "You and Remus tried to make friends then, but your mother -- ah --"
Sirius glanced at Remus and then down at his toes. "I can guess," he said darkly.
"Remus says you're a pure-blood." Remus's sister Natalie had blonde hair that she wore in two plaits down her back, but her brown eyes were as large and solemn as her brother's, and they fixed on him with an intense curiosity.
"Er -- yeah," said Sirius, feeling more uncomfortable by the minute.
"You don't look creepy."
"Natalie!" cried Remus and his mother in one voice.
The girl blushed. "Sorry," she said. "Remus told me some stuff about pure-bloods. He said you were nice, though."
It was Remus's turn to blush at that. "Sorry. My family don't usually try so hard to embarrass me." But he looked as if he was trying not to smile.
"Embarrassing one's children is a parental privilege," Mr Lupin informed them. "Hugs all around, and then we'll leave you alone, Remus."
Remus relented, embracing each of his parents warmly, and his sister for twice as long.
"I'll owl you in a few days," he promised.
"Be careful!" his mother called before the three of them disappeared back through the barrier into the Muggle world.
"Sorry about that," Remus said again. "They can be a bit --"
"They're OK," Sirius assured him. "Loads nicer than mine."
The scrap of a smile that had lingered on Remus's lips as he watched his parents depart vanished, and he looked at Sirius searchingly. "Everything OK with you?"
"Better now that we're going back to school," said Sirius. "I just wish Regs --"
"Sirius! Remus!" called a voice, and they looked up to see Peter waving at them from down the platform, James close behind him.
The four boys circled up, exchanging greetings. Peter kept craning around, trying to spot who was missing. James was strangely quiet. Sirius wondered if he was still being stupid about Remus, but there was a strained look about his normally jocular best friend that didn't quite add up.
"Everything all right?" he asked, trying to make it sound like a casual question.
James flashed him a grin that was only slightly frayed at the edges. "Yeah. Just -- not exactly a relaxing holiday, you know?"
"Tell me about it," said Remus, lowering his voice. "D'you know if anyone we know was hit?"
James shrugged and shook his head, so Sirius answered for him. "James's dad mentioned the name 'Thomas', and I haven't seen Aleric Thomas yet. But I was only sort of looking."
"Lily said Dorcas Meadowes lost her mum," Remus told them, voice dropping further still.
Peter whistled. "Not just Gryffindor, but our year, too! I'm glad we're all OK."
"Yeah," said James. "Me too."
They found themselves an empty compartment on the train, and there was a halfhearted attempt at a game of Exploding Snap, but the sombre mood of their classmates was apparently contagious. Peter fell asleep, clutching his Puffskein on his lap, and James gazed out the train's window, watching the rain fall over the English countryside, while Remus read something called The Rose and the Ring. Sirius decided that if he was going to be bored, he might as well be usefully so, and got out his Transfiguration book, reflecting gloomily that this was still better than being at home.
About an hour into the journey, the compartment door slid open and the Prewetts entered. Remus nodded to them, and Sirius and James greeted them with eager smiles. When no such expression was offered in return, Sirius knew something must be wrong. He set his Transfiguration text aside and sat up.
"What's up?" asked James.
"We've been going up and down the train, trying to find out who else is missing," Fabian said grimly.
"Who else?" asked Peter sleepily. "Why? Who do you know that's missing?"
Gideon's jaw clenched. "Amelia Bones's father was killed."
"That's awful," said Remus, setting down his book. All of them knew how close the Prewetts were to the Hufflepuff girl. "I'm so sorry."
"She owled us a few days ago to say that she and her brothers might not be back at school for a while," said Fabian. "Dunno yet how many others are gone."
"I bet no one from Slytherin," Gideon said darkly.
James scowled. "How many half-blood Slytherins can you name, apart from Snape?"
"Amelia's dad wasn't even a Muggle," Gideon told them. "He was just Muggleborn. Not that it makes any difference to people like that."
"What about you lot?" asked Fabian. "Have you heard any other names?"
They exchanged rumours and the few small facts they had gleaned, and then the older boys departed to continue their head count.
Fabian paused on the threshold of the compartment. "This is only the beginning," he said gravely. "I hope you lads are paying attention in Defence Against the Dark Arts. You're probably going to need it sooner than you think."
The rain grew heavier as darkness fell. By the time the train decanted them onto the platform at Hogsmeade Station, it was coming down so heavily that they were all soaked through in moments. The carriage ride up to the school was as silent as the train journey had been, bar a few muttered complaints about damp underclothes.
Students filed into the Great Hall for supper without any of the usual chatter, glancing furtively up and down their House tables and whispering the names of the absent to their neighbours. Aleric Thomas was indeed among the missing, but he and the Meadowes girl appeared to be the only two from the Gryffindor table.
Dumbledore, who had greeted them at the beginning of the year and again after Christmas with a smiling welcome, looked as grim as any of them had ever seen him as he rose from his high-backed chair at the centre of the staff table.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said gravely, "our world has suffered a terrible tragedy, and many of you are still reeling from the shock of it. Let me begin by assuring you that no student of this school was killed in the attacks last week, but some among our number have lost parents and loved ones, and it may be some time before they are able to join us once more.
"The tragedy we have suffered is a tragedy of ignorance and intolerant thinking. Those responsible for the attacks hope to force us through fear to bow to their ideas of what is right. We must not do this. It is only if we stand united in defence of the truth and of one another that justice will prevail.
"Look around you. Look at the faces at your House tables, and at the tables next to you. You may see friends, siblings, children, someone you cannot stand the sight of, but what I see when I look around this room is the future of the Wizarding world. Its defence and preservation lie in your hands. I therefore urge you to study, educate yourselves, and above all, practise kindness and tolerance towards your fellow students. Your fate may be linked to the fate of anyone in this room in hundreds of unexpected ways.
"Lastly, let me assure you that you are safe within these walls. The staff of this school have my complete confidence, and in addition to the usual measures, several new precautions have been put into place to warn of any possible danger, and to defend this school, if necessary. So please, do not allow worry or fear to prevent you from focusing on your studies, or enjoying the excellent feast that has been prepared for you."
The atmosphere in the Great Hall relaxed slightly as Dumbledore took his seat and the food appeared. Voices returned to more or less normal levels, though the subject matter remained the same.
Sirius glanced at the small knot of scared-looking first year girls with whom Remus was sitting. Though they had all their classes together, Sirius had never really spoken to Dorcas Meadowes. He tried to imagine what it would be like if one of his own roommates had failed to return from the holidays, and the resulting squirm in his belly made it difficult to swallow his mouthful of steak pie.
Up until the attacks, Sirius had enjoyed the novel sensation of caring about people and having real friends for the first time in his life. Now he realised that caring had a price.
When he had first heard about the attacks, he had felt sickened, partly by his parents' smirking response to the news, but mostly because one of the people he now cared about was a half-blood, and possibly in danger. His owl had been hurled out the window as fast as Sirius could scribble, and his fretful mood all that day had led him to make a few uncensored remarks, which in turn had caused him to be sent to bed without supper. That hadn't mattered, though. No sooner had he slammed his bedroom door behind him than Midnight was back with the news that Remus was all right. Sirius had fallen asleep that night with the scrap of parchment still clutched in his hand.
He glanced at his friend over his pumpkin juice. If Remus really was a werewolf -- and Sirius was firmly convinced that he was -- then he was always going to be in danger. Sirius knew how wizards regarded werewolves, and how they were likely to treat Remus if they ever found out. They might even shun Sirius, simply for befriending him. It was an unpleasant thought, but somehow it didn't make him want to pursue a friendship with Remus any less.
What they think doesn't matter, Sirius thought savagely, glaring at the Slytherin table where the loudest chatter was coming from. All they care about is how things look. I'm not going to be like that.
"It's not going to work," said Remus, but he held out the morsel anyway.
Peter only looked more determined. "Constantine loves chocolate biscuits. You'll see."
While this might have been true, it was clear that months of acquaintance had not made the Puffskein any fonder of Remus. It cowered in Peter's lap, trembling and whimpering, and when Peter gave it an encouraging push in Remus's direction, the tiny ball of fluff squeaked in alarm and rolled right off the bed, vanishing from sight.
Sirius snorted as Peter tumbled after his pet, crouching on all fours and peering into the dusty darkness under his bed.
"Told you," Remus muttered, returning to his unpacking. He was in no mood to be shunned by his friend's fluffy pet this evening, after Dumbledore's pleas for tolerance and unity. People think what they think, he thought grumpily. You can't make them be tolerant.
"I'll have the chocolate biscuit if Pete's puff doesn't want it," volunteered Sirius, who was sitting on Potter's bed, where the two of them had made a game of trying to make one of Potter's Quidditch action figures fall off its tiny broomstick by swooping it back and forth between their wands.
Remus eyed the remains of the biscuit doubtfully. "It's -- sort of crumbly."
"Anyway, you can't," said Peter, reappearing from his sojourn beneath the bed with his hair all mussed. "I need it to find Constantine."
He snatched it up, leaving a chocolate smear on the comforter, and proceeded to crush it into sticky crumbs, which he scattered on the floor around his bed.
"You're going to attract mice," Remus observed.
"Why?" said Potter, a little sharply. "Do they like you more than Puffskeins do?"
Remus shut his mouth, but he caught the quelling look Sirius shot at Potter. He wondered if they had sorted out whatever had been going on between them, or whether Potter was still upset. About what, Remus had no better guess than he had before the turbulent holidays.
Peter sat on the floor with his back against Remus's bed, surrounded by biscuit crumbs. "Do you think it's true what Dumbledore said?" he asked. "Is Hogwarts really safe?"
"Worried someone's going to sneak in here and hex your pet?" Sirius teased.
Peter blushed. "No. I just --"
"You're safe here, Pete." The usual humour was absent from Potter's tone. "If Dumbledore says it, then it's true. He's one of the greatest wizards alive. You think your mum could keep you any safer at home?"
"I guess not," Peter said, picking nervously at the carpet.
"They're not out to get you, anyway, mate," Sirius scowled. "What would be the point of that? Your family's almost as pure as mine. It's people like Remus's family who have to worry."
"Thanks," Remus said drily.
Sirius had the grace to blush, at least. "I didn't mean it like that."
Remus gave him a half-smile. "I know. And I'm not worried. Not really. My family's so far under the radar that I doubt most people even know we exist."
"Radar?" his roommates looked confused.
"Muggle expression," Remus explained. "It just means we don't attract a lot of attention to ourselves. Mum and Nat are Muggles, and Dad's had a Muggle job since -- since I was a kid." He turned away quickly to hide the flush that stained his cheeks at the almost-slip.
"Yeah," said Potter quietly, and Remus was almost certain that the other boy's eyes were still on him. "I guess we're all safe."
Remus was putting the finishing touches on the Transfiguration essay he hadn't quite managed to finish over the holidays, when his bed curtains rustled and parted. He was mildly surprised, not to learn that he had a visitor, but that it was Sirius. He had been half-expecting Potter. Between their discussion earlier in the evening and Potter's demeanor over the past month, Remus had begun to form the distinct impression that Potter had something he wanted to say, and was only waiting until he found the right words. But apparently Potter wasn't the only one with something on his mind.
"You awake?" whispered Sirius.
"Yeah." Remus moved over to make room for his friend.
Sirius sat down at the foot of the bed, hugging his knees, and was silent for so long that Remus went back to scratching down a few more words on the parchment that lay unrolled across his Transfiguration text.
"You are worried about them, aren't you?" he said at last.
Remus, who had been distractedly nudging two words farther apart with his wand to add a missed one between them, looked up. "Who?"
"Your family. You said you weren't worried, but I'd think you'd have to be."
"Yeah." He looked down at his quill, twirling it between his fingers, and then back up at the other boy's troubled expression. "What about you?"
"Me?" Sirius looked surprised. "Why would I be worried about my family?"
Remus shrugged and shoved his homework onto the nightstand, reclining against a pillow. "You're worried about something."
Sirius made a face. "I just spent the last two weeks getting called a traitor by everyone from my father to our house-elf."
"Sorry," said Remus with sympathy. "That stinks."
"The thing is," Sirius said slowly, "I keep wondering if it's true. I mean, up until October, I thought just like they did, and now --"
Remus frowned. "I don't think that makes you a traitor. It's not like you chose what family you were born into. You can't really pick a side until you start thinking for yourself."
"Is that what we're doing?" Sirius asked. "Picking sides?"
"It's war, isn't it?" said Remus uncomfortably. "At least, the Prewetts think it will be. You kind of have to choose."
Sirius scowled. "Not sure I fancy actually declaring war on my family. Not when I still have to go home over the summer."
"I didn't mean it like that. I just meant you have to decide where you stand, and not let other people push you around and tell you what to think."
The ghost of a smile passed over Sirius's lips. "I think I can probably manage that much."
"Meanwhile," Remus continued, "you go home for the summer, try not to stick your neck out too much, and before you know it, you're back here."
"That's not as easy as it sounds," Sirius said bitterly. "Seems like even talking to Regs counts as 'sticking my neck out'. D'you know they shut him up in the cellar overnight when he tried to write to me?"
Remus stared. "You're taking the piss." Things like that only ever happened in the works of Dickens, he was sure.
But Sirius was shaking his head. "He told me. Snuck into my room the first night I was back. That's why he didn't try writing to me again. He hates it down there. Scared of the dark. Can't say I blame him." Sirius shivered. "It's pretty horrible. Damp, too. I used to imagine all kinds of things hiding down there, waiting for me."
"They -- shut you down there, too?" Remus sat up, horrified.
Sirius only shrugged. "Not this time. And when they did, I earned it. Usually by opening my mouth."
"God," Remus shuddered. "I can't imagine ...."
Sirius shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah. Yours don't seem the type."
Remus almost snorted at that, and leaned back against the pillows once more. After all, when he was at home, his parents did shut him up in the cellar on a regular basis.
"So if your brother can't write to you, and you can't write to him, how are we going to talk him out of Slytherin and get him thinking for himself?" Remus asked.
"We?" Sirius looked surprised. "If my parents won't let me talk to him, they definitely won't let you."
"Doesn't mean I can't help," said Remus. Changing one mind at a time didn't seem like much of a way to win a war, but what else could they do? "Which House d'you think he should be in?"
Sirius shifted to stretch out on his front next to Remus, chin resting thoughtfully on the backs of his folded hands. "Dunno. Never really thought about it. Obviously, I'd like it if he was in Gryffindor, but --"
"But?" Remus turned on his side and raised himself up on one elbow.
"Well, he's braver than Pete, I guess," Sirius said, "but not by much."
"Is he loyal?" Remus asked.
Sirius snorted. "If you had any idea what pure-bloods think of Hufflepuff -- But yeah, Regs is loyal. At least, he is until he's scared."
"He's only ten," Remus pointed out.
"Yeah, well, I'm eleven," Sirius said tartly. "And your sister's how old? Eight? She didn't look scared to be surrounded by wizards, even after you told her some of us are mad Muggle-killers. And she's a girl."
Remus smiled drowsily at that. "Nat would be in Gryffindor in a second. No question."
"Too thick to be scared, eh?" Sirius teased.
Remus nudged his friend's leg with his toe. "Just like you. Maybe your brother got all the brains in the family. How about Ravenclaw?"
A yawn interrupted Sirius's grin. "Maybe. He doesn't read as much as you do, Professor, but he keeps a diary. That's a Ravenclawish thing to do, isn't it?"
"I'd say so." Remus's eyelids were beginning to grow heavy. "Maybe the Hat'll put him there."
Sirius frowned, eyelashes fluttering closed. "He'll ask for Slytherin. Wouldn't want to disappoint our parents."
"You asked for Slytherin," Remus pointed out, squirming his way lower onto the pillow.
"Yeah," Sirius mumbled. His hair fell over his closed eyes as he turned his head to rest his cheek on his folded hands. "Stupid, really. I like it here."
"Me, too," said Remus, and he was asleep.
Sirius nudged James in the ribs, and he closed his mouth.
"Did she just --?" he whispered to his best friend.
"Shhh!" Sirius hissed, eyes intent on the front of the classroom.
James was sure he was hearing things. Normally-boring Professor Tynedale, who had spent the last week plodding through a special unit on the Imperius Curse -- what it looked like and why it was Unforgivable -- was standing in front of a class of Gryffindor first years and telling them that she was about to use the curse on each of them in turn.
"There is no known means of resisting either the Killing Curse or the Cruciatus Curse," explained the Defence mistress. "The Imperius Curse, however, is another matter. The witch or wizard with a disciplined mind may recognise the curse and throw it off. Since there is no means of teaching this resistance without invoking the curse itself, Headmaster Dumbledore and I have petitioned the Ministry to allow the use of it in a controlled classroom environment for educational purposes. We believe it is important -- even vital -- that you learn this skill."
The rest of the class looked nervous, but James felt a thrill of excitement in his belly. To be allowed to participate in something so forbidden -- James had inherited an enormous respect for Dumbledore from his father, but that didn't mean the man wasn't completely off his rocker. He glanced at Sirius, who flashed a grin at him. This should be fun, it seemed to say.
Unfortunately, Tynedale did her level best to make the exercise as boring as possible. Typical, James thought grumpily as he took out parchment, quill and ink and prepared to write a list of all the neutralising spells and jinxes he could remember from the previous term, while Tynedale wandered around the classroom and attempted the curse on each of them.
James wasn't worried. His parents were endlessly telling him how stubborn he was, and Defence Against the Dark Arts was one of his best subjects. Now that he knew about the Imperius Curse and what it was supposed to feel like, resisting it should be no problem.
Expelliarmus, he wrote, watching the professor out of the corner of his eye. Noodle-Arms Jinx, Jelly-Legs Jinx, Stupefy, Petrificus Totalus, Leg Locker, Mouth Seal .... When he couldn't think of any more, he began the list over again.
He was shocked when Tynedale returned to the front of the classroom and asked them to write their names on their parchments and pass them to the front. He hadn't noticed his mind being invaded. Had she missed him? As he scrawled his name at the top of the parchment, his eyes skimmed what he had written and stopped dead on the words, How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded?
I didn't write that, he thought. He didn't even know what "naive" meant. And yet, it was his handwriting.
When he saw Sirius craning to try and read what he had written, James instinctively turned the parchment over to hide his failure, but when Sirius offered his own, he couldn't refuse. He had remembered two spells James had missed, but had forgotten about the Mouth-Sealing Charm. And near the bottom of the page was written, I have not listened to the voice of my teachers, Nor inclined my ear to my instructors.
James made a face, grabbed his parchment back from Sirius, folded them both in half, and passed them to the front of the class.
As Tynedale sorted through the stack of parchment, James leaned over to Sirius. "Did you feel anything?" he whispered.
Sirius shook his head. "Think anyone managed it?"
"Doubt it," muttered James. He and Sirius were two of the best in their year at Defence Against the Dark Arts, and if they hadn't been able to do it --
"Well done, Mr Lupin," Professor Tynedale beamed, holding up a neatly-written and uninterrupted list of jinxes. "How did you manage it?"
James gaped across Sirius to where Lupin was sitting with Lily Evans, ears turning pink at their teacher's praise.
"Oh," he said. "I -- er -- just -- just did, I guess."
Tynedale raised her eyebrows, but did not press the issue, instead holding up a second parchment, showing where a list of spells had been broken by a squiggled line and a few stray marks. "You can see here where Miss Evans fought the curse for control of her mind."
James scowled at that. He liked to think of himself as a fair-minded sort, but it really didn't seem right that a Muggleborn girl should do so well at something that he, the son of an Auror, had failed utterly at. She must have learned some secret trick from Lupin. Full of secrets, that one, especially if one believed Sirius.
The remainder of the class was spent on Tynedale once more applying the curse to each of them, though this time with some warning. When she pointed her wand at James and spoke the word, "Imperio," he did notice an odd sensation washing over him, and a small voice in the back of his mind, urging him to do things that were not his own idea. He stumbled and fell to his knees when the voice urged him to dance, but whether such clumsiness could be counted as success was debatable.
If he himself had done better, he might have been amused when Sirius shook his head a couple of times, then climbed up onto his seat and began leaping from desk to desk. Peter, with every appearance of deliberate intent, walked about the room on his hands, reciting limericks. When Lupin's turn came, James watched curiously as his roommate closed his eyes, took a few slow, deep breaths, and remained in his seat. Evans did something similar, but her breaths were sharper, and her hands clenched the edge of the desk before her.
When class ended, Tynedale warned them to be on the alert, as she would be casting the curse on students at random throughout the coming week.
"You just know Gid and Fabe are going to ask how that class went," Sirius muttered as they passed a cluster of fifth year Ravenclaws.
"I know," James replied gloomily. "At least I felt it the second time."
"Yeah," said Sirius. "Not that I could do a bloody thing about it. Humiliating, that."
James glanced over his shoulder to where Lupin and Evans were following, their heads bent together in discussion. "What d'you think Lupin's secret is?"
Sirius smirked. "Which one?"
Professor Flitwick had them working on a Sticking Charm that James had already mastered, and his thoughts kept wandering back to Lupin and his easy resistance of the Imperius Curse. That couldn't be a werewolf thing, could it? No, Evans had managed it, too, and she certainly wasn't a werewolf. He didn't think she had ever missed a class.
Come to that, James wasn't completely convinced that Lupin was a werewolf. While he had been able to come up with no better theory to fit the available evidence, the fact remained that James had never met anyone who matched his idea of what a werewolf was less than Remus Lupin.
Like all wizard children, he had been raised on campfire tales of savage beasts, and men made slaves to their animal nature. At least once a year, the Daily Prophet reported the grim details of a deliberate werewolf attack, and while nothing had been proven as yet against Fenrir Greyback, there was little doubt in anyone's mind that he was behind many of them. If Lupin had a savage animal nature, he hid it well.
James shot a covert glance at Lupin, who was meticulously fitting together the last pieces of the shattered teacup he had been given to repair. No, he couldn't be. It simply wasn't possible.
And yet, he had disappeared on a few nights when Sirius insisted the moon had been full. But then, Sirius was mad. Everyone knew that. He was completely convinced that Lupin was the Hogwarts werewolf, and nothing James could say would change his mind. He and Peter had woken up the morning after returning from the Easter holiday to find Sirius sound asleep on Lupin's bed, and the two of them practically snuggling. He had teased Sirius for a mother hen, and Sirius, who often awoke in a foul mood, had snatched up Lupin's wand and hexed James's pants two sizes smaller.
Utterly mad, James thought, shaking his head.
The truth was that he didn't know enough hard facts about werewolves to prove the matter one way or the other, and between waiting around for the full moon to resolve things, the escalation of homework in advance of exams, and the Prewetts being too distracted by other matters for adventuring, James was beginning to get fidgety.
"Educate yourself", is it? he thought, remembering Dumbledore's words. Perhaps it was time he did just that.
James climbed the steps to the Owlery before supper the following weekend, looking over his letter to his parents and wondering if there was anything else he should add. He didn't really have much to say, since he had owled them only two days before, but until those responsible for the Easter Murders were caught, it was comforting to have a steady stream of owls from home, letting him know things were all right there.
When he reached the top of the stairs and entered the hooting, fluttering tower, he discovered that he was not alone. Lupin was standing on tiptoes, leaning out one of the tower's narrow windows. James didn't think he'd made enough noise coming in to be heard over the rustle of the owls, but Lupin turned, looking unsurprised to find him there.
"Hey," said James uncomfortably.
Lupin only motioned for silence, and beckoned him over to the window. He approached warily and peered over Lupin's shoulder.
Dusky evening light still glowed in the hollows of the Hogwarts grounds, and by it James could make out three figures slowly approaching the school.
"Who --?" he began, but then he saw the other two exiting the castle almost directly below their vantage point, loping across the grounds towards the new arrivals, and he knew.
"Amelia Bones and her brothers are back," Lupin said softly.
The two boys watched in silence as the Prewett twins embraced the girl, her exhaustion clear in the slump of her shoulders even at such a distance, and solemnly shook hands with each of the younger boys. James and Lupin remained at the window until the sad little party disappeared back into the school.
With a sigh, Lupin turned away. "That could be one of us, someday." He glanced at the letter crumpled in James's fist. "You writing home again?"
"Yeah." James unclenched his hand and began trying to smooth out the sweat-damp parchment. "You?"
"Almost every day," Lupin admitted. "I don't think anything will happen to them, but --"
"It's always better to know," James finished, understanding completely.
Lupin nodded. He was trying to coax a tawny owl down from its perch, but the owl was having none of it. When Lupin made a sudden grab, the owl hopped out of the way and clacked its beak warningly.
Owls don't like him either, thought James, remember Peter's Puffskein, which had only turned up again a few days before. Sirius had found it cowering in the rubbish bin, dust bunnies and chocolate wrappers clinging to its fur. James grinned at the memory of how forlorn it had looked, wet from its bath.
"Here, let me," he said, offering the tawny owl his arm. It eyed him warily, gave an owlish shrug, and stepped up, talons clinging to James's robes.
"Thanks," said Lupin, handing over his letter so James could tie it to the owl's leg. "I hate using school owls, but Veteran takes forever, and I sent Wol off to Nat yesterday."
"Quaffle's not back yet, either," said James, releasing the tawny owl out the window into the gathering darkness.
Remus lit his wand so that James could better see the available selection of owls. "I'd be worried, too, if my dad was an Auror."
"I'm not worried," James told him, absently stroking the white feathers of a snowy owl. "Not really. But -- those people are out there, and he's got to go looking for them."
"The Prewetts said your dad's one of the best."
Lupin was trying to be comforting, but James made a face as he tied his letter to the owl's leg. "That just makes him more of a target, doesn't it?"
Most people would have offered meaningless reassurances, but Remus Lupin was not most people. "Yeah, I guess it does."
They were silent for a moment as they watched the pale speck of the owl disappear into the night. And then, surprisingly, Lupin said, "My dad used to work for the Ministry."
James stared at him. Lupin almost never volunteered information about himself. "What did he do?"
Lupin shrugged uncomfortably. "Nothing important. But -- he made someone dangerous pretty angry once. That's sort of why we went underground."
"Anyone I'd've heard of?" James asked curiously.
"Probably," said Lupin. "I shouldn't really talk about it, though."
"Are they still after your dad?" Something like that would certainly explain a lot of Lupin's secretive behaviour.
Lupin shook his head. "I don't think so."
"But you still worry."
Lupin's smile was lopsided. "Can't help it. They're all I have."
"I know what you mean." James leaned against a grimy wall. "I don't have any aunts or uncles, and I never knew my grandparents. I had a few friends before school, I guess, but we weren't what you'd call close."
Lupin leaned on the wall next to him. "You've got Sirius now."
"Yeah." James grinned. "Mental, that one."
"Completely," Lupin agreed. "But he's still a pretty good bloke."
"You two seem to get along all right," James observed. "And you've got that Evans bird as well."
"Yeah, Lily's brilliant."
"D'you fancy her?" James asked curiously.
Lupin shook his head. "Nah; nothing like that. But she's the best mate I could ever ask for."
"You seem like a pretty good bloke, too," said James.
"You say that like it surprises you," Lupin observed, raising his eyebrows. "What did you think? That I hex old ladies in my spare time?"
James looked at Lupin for a long moment. Was it possible for him to be both a werewolf and a good bloke? Lupin was nothing like James's ideas of what a werewolf should be. If he was one in spite of that, maybe that meant James's ideas were wrong. Dumbledore had urged tolerance. If Lupin was a werewolf, and Madam Pomfrey was treating him, then Dumbledore must know about it, must have thought it was safe to bring him into the school. And if there was one person in the world besides his parents who James trusted without question, it was Albus Dumbledore.
"I think maybe Dumbledore's right," James said slowly. "And the Prewetts."
"How so?" Lupin looked puzzled.
James bit his lip, waving his hand vaguely. "This thing -- what's going on out there. It's not going to be over anytime soon, and it's probably going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. I think -- I think we're going to need all the friends we can get. I was wondering --"
"You can throw off the Imperius Curse like it's nothing," said James. "Can you teach me how to do that?"
Lupin smiled. "Sure. We can start after supper."