Remus took a slow, deep breath, eyes closed, and tried to empty his mind of everything but the feel of the air moving through his lungs and the power that flowed between himself and Lily. He almost had it.
Scrape. The sound of trainers shuffling grittily against the bare stone of the floor.
Setting his jaw, Remus put the sound from his mind, exhaling. No, that was no good. He relaxed his jaw muscles, shifting his position on the carpet ever so slightly.
A quiet cough, as if its owner were trying to suppress it.
Lily's hands twitched in his and he realised he had tightened his grip. There should be no more pressure than the weight of her palms resting on his own. Focus, Lupin.
Pages fanning, flipping as the holder of the book browsed for a reference. The sound of the book being snapped shut.
"D'you think you could possibly do that a little more quietly, Sev?" Lily asked irritably.
Remus opened his eyes. Lily was glaring over her shoulder to where Snape lounged on the green sofa, books and parchment spread out around him, quill poised elegantly in his fingers.
"Sorry," Snape muttered. "Didn't mean to interrupt."
Bollocks you didn't, Remus thought grumpily.
The three of them were in Lily's refuge, revising for the upcoming exams. He and Lily had paused for a short meditation break to refresh and refocus their minds before moving on from Charms to Transfiguration. It was their second such break that afternoon. The first had coincided with Snape's sudden, inexplicable need to re-sort his notes, which had involved much shuffling of parchment and muttering. And now --
"Maybe we should try this somewhere else," Remus said.
Snape looked up, as if in surprise. "Oh, don't mind me."
"You know you can join us if you want to," Lily told him, and Remus tried very hard not to let his face show exactly how much he disagreed with this statement.
Snape wrinkled his large nose, eyeing their linked hands. "As much as I would adore joining in your little love-fest with Lupin, I have actual studying to do."
"I know you're still annoyed with Black and Potter about the other day in Potions," Lily said tartly, "but if you remember, Remus wasn't part of it."
Snape shrugged. "Doesn't make meditation any less a waste of time. I can already throw off the Imperius Curse, can't I? And it doesn't seem to improve one's skill at Potions or one's House's chances at Quidditch."
Gryffindor had lost to Ravenclaw the previous weekend, putting them in dead last place for the Quidditch cup, a fact which Snape and the rest of the Slytherins had already made much of.
"Fine, then," said Remus. "Don't join us. But at least try to be quiet while we're doing this."
He was beginning to think that he would have better luck meditating in his dormitory, which was not something he ever would have thought possible before. But James had been keen to learn after seeing the benefits of mental discipline, and over the past week, even Sirius and Peter had given it a try. The exercise had not been uniformly successful. While James seemed determined to master the skill, Sirius had proved too fidgety and easily bored, and Peter had fallen asleep sitting up, and would have toppled off Remus's bed if James and Sirius hadn't tightened their grip on his hands in time. After an hour or so, they had given it up as a bad job, but at least none of them ever maliciously tried to throw off Remus's concentration.
"C'mon," said Snape to Lily, standing up suddenly. "Let's see if we can get some dried billywigs out of Slughorn. I want to try that Lighter-Than-Air Potion we read about."
"Why don't you just go ask him yourself?" said Lily with what Remus considered to be an extraordinary degree of patience.
"Told you," scowled Snape. "He doesn't like me."
Lily sighed. "That's not true, Sev. He thinks you're really clever."
"All right, then. He doesn't like me as much as he likes you."
"I'm busy right now, Sev." Lily turned back to Remus. "Tell him they're for me if you have to."
Snape threw down his quill and stormed out of the room, robes practically billowing.
Drama queen, Remus thought irritably as the door slammed shut behind him. "Game for another try?" he asked Lily.
But she sighed and withdrew her hands from his. "I just can't focus today. I'm sorry, Remus."
"Because of Snape?" Remus couldn't keep a tinge of bitterness out of his voice. "You shouldn't let him get to you."
She gave him a hard look. "You could be a little nicer, Remus. He hasn't had an easy life."
Remus raised his eyebrows. "And I have? At least I picked up some manners along the way."
She had the grace to look ashamed. "I just meant he could use a little kindness."
Remus shook his head. "You're too easy on him, Lils. Anyway, I've tried being nice."
Lily gave him a sceptical look.
"Well, polite, anyway," he amended. "He still treats me like I just spit in his mother's face."
Lily sighed. "It's not you, Remus. He just has a hard time trusting people."
It was a good thing he already loved Lily and knew how clever she usually was, Remus reflected, because she could be maddeningly oblivious when it came to Snape. While it was true that Snape didn't treat anyone apart from Lily with anything approaching warmth, Remus was fairly certain that Snape reserved a special level of loathing just for him. At first, he had only been jealous of Remus's growing friendship with Lily, and while Remus privately thought this was a stupid thing to be jealous of, he was used to being hated unfairly, and he had valued that same friendship too much to make a fuss. But now Remus felt that Snape was beginning to consider him a bit of a doormat and an easy target on which to take out his ire at Remus's roommates.
Still, he was resolved not to sink to Snape's level, not only for Lily's sake, but also because he knew his increasing edginess was at least partially due to the approach of exams, and nothing to do with the irritating Slytherin at all. Hyperawareness of his own emotional state and the reasons behind it was a side effect of his condition, and the need for control was always at the forefront of his mind. If he gave in to irrational anger, it was like letting the wolf win, even if only for a moment, and Remus would never allow that to happen, so long as he had any say in the matter.
Instead, he tried resolving their differences in another way. It took him some time to find his moment, and during that time, Snape continued to try his patience at every opportunity, but he found it at last the following Friday after Potions. Sirius, James and Peter had their heads together, discussing the merits of some new prank, and Lily had skipped off to the loo.
Before Severus could depart with his Housemates, Remus laid a hand on his arm, startling a sharp look out of him.
"A word, Severus? In private?"
Snape looked him over warily, then shrugged, and they stepped back into the empty Potions classroom, unnoticed.
Remus took a deep breath. "Severus -- I just wanted to say that Lily's told me some really great things about you. I mean, I know you're ace at Potions, but she says you're really good at Defence Against the Dark Arts as well." What Lily had in fact told him was that Snape's marks in Defence were almost as good as his own, and certainly worthy of Remus's respect.
"I'd be happy to show you a few hexes, Lupin," said Snape, smiling nastily.
"Perhaps later," Remus said quickly, before Snape's fingers could do more than twitch towards his wand pocket. "What I want to say is that I respect your skill as much as I respect your friendship with Lily. I know you care about her and want her to be happy. I do, too. If we keep sniping at one another, it's only going to upset her. Can't we find some way to make this work?"
A sneer twisted Snape's mouth. "Well, it's nice to know I have your respect, Lupin, but really I can't say the same for you. Your performance in Potions would be laughable if it weren't so sad, and while you might be able enough at Defence in the classroom, you haven't got the nerve to cast a proper hex."
Remus set his jaw and made one final effort. "I don't want to fight you, Severus. Can we just -- pretend, for Lily's sake?"
"'I don't want to fight you, Severus'," Snape replied mockingly. "Like I don't already know that! I know you, Lupin. You'd rather hide than fight every time. What kind of Gryffindor is that?"
"I just don't see how fighting you would solve anything," Remus said quietly.
Snape smirked, drawing his wand with slow deliberation, a challenge. "More like you're too scared to try. You know I'm better at Defence than you are, and you're not about to try me -- not without those other Gryffindor tossers at your back."
Remus bit his tongue. He was done responding to Snape's goading. Either Snape was going to hex him or he wasn't. There was nothing Remus could do about that now. But apparently Snape was enjoying taunting him far too much to finish things just yet.
"Where are your friends now, Lupin?" Snape jeered. "I don't know what you see in that lot, anyway. Potter's nothing but a pair of specs and a shit-eating grin. Pettigrew is a joke. And that ponce Black wasn't good enough for Slytherin, so now he's pretending Gryffindor is what he wanted all along. They're all just a bunch of brainless wankers who don't give a toss about anyone but themselves. How many House points have they lost this year, Lupin? Enough that Gryffindor could've won the House cup? Now it'd take a miracle. But they don't care, do they? They wouldn't care about you, either, if you didn't do their homework for them."
Without a word, Remus turned and walked out of the room. Snape's laughter followed him out into the dungeon corridor. Whether that was better or worse than a hex in the back, Remus did not at that moment trust himself to say.
Since Snape refused to see reason, Remus returned to his previous tactic of avoiding him. This wasn't difficult since their paths normally only crossed once a week for Potions and in Lily's refuge. Remus was sorry to give up that quiet sanctuary, but as exams drew nearer, Snape seemed to spend more and more time there, and always contrived to find innocent-seeming ways of distracting Remus from his studies and meditation.
Instead, Remus spent his time revising for exams in the library or the Gryffindor common room or his dormitory. Remus had at first worried that this might mean spending less time with Lily, but in the second week of May, a still shaky-looking Dorcas Meadowes had approached the red-haired girl and asked if she would mind helping her get caught up in time for the exams, and Lily had readily agreed. Since Dorcas was not an initiate of the refuge, the two girls did their revising in the common room and library as well.
She's adopted another broken thing, Remus reflected with mild amusement, observing his friend's gentle treatment of the bereaved girl. How many more of us will she collect before we finish school?
Snape had a habit of hovering around them whenever they studied in the library. He couldn't get away with much there -- Madam Pince had a low tolerance for all forms of disruption in her domain -- but he still made himself annoying enough that Remus could only take so much before packing up his things and heading back to Gryffindor tower, there to join the other harried students in the common room, or go to his own room where he might or might not convince his roommates be quiet for an hour or so.
Not that they didn't study, too, sometimes. Peter was in a panic, convinced that he was going to fail everything, and that his wand would be taken from him and snapped in half. He had had a dream about it that he was sure was prophetic. James went through his notes methodically, making sure he was able to perform each of the spells they had learned in class, and he was still keen to pursue meditation and breathing exercises with Remus. Sirius didn't study much at all, claiming that his innate brilliance would carry him though the exams. On the rare occasions that he did any revising, he could be found taking up more than his fair share of space on Remus's bed with books, quills, parchment, and his own sprawling limbs, claiming that it had a "more studious atmosphere" than his own.
Remus studied in every spare moment he had. For the most part, he wasn't terribly worried, except about Potions, in which he was desperately hoping to scrape a passing mark. What made him nervous was the fact that this was his first real chance to prove himself -- to prove that Dumbledore had made the right decision in allowing a werewolf to come to Hogwarts. Remus thought he would rather room with Snape for the rest of the year than disappoint Dumbledore.
While Remus felt it was best for everyone involved that he avoid Snape, Snape apparently did not agree. Every time their paths crossed in the corridors, he smirked at Remus. As he brushed past, he would mutter some new insult under his breath, or cast a furtive pinching or tearing hex with his concealed wand.
Somehow, he had discovered that Remus's poor performance in Potions was due in part to his strong sense of smell, and the week before the end of classes, Snape had contrived to stumble into him in Potions class and spill some noxious substance down his front. Though Remus had managed to vanish most of it from his robes, the smell was still overpowering enough to land him with a roaring headache, which persisted through the weekend -- his last before exams, since the following weekend would be the full moon.
Severus Snape would have tried the patience of a saint, and Remus found he was quickly coming to the end of his.
As he lay curled on his side, bedcurtains drawn against the light, pillow pressed over his ear to muffle any intrusive noises, he wondered grumpily exactly what Snape was hoping to accomplish. Did he think Remus would lose his temper and do something to Snape in front of Lily, thereby incurring her wrath? Was he hoping Remus would give him an excuse to use a real hex on him? Frankly, Remus didn't care.
Just a few more weeks, he told himself. Then exams will be over and I won't have to see his face again until September.
"You can do this, Pete," Remus said with as much patience as he could muster. "Just think of it all rolled up. That way it's not like you even have to change the shape of it that much."
Peter looked dubious, but pointed his wand at the candle, which once again resolutely refused to become a sheet of parchment. Sirius glanced over from where he was working with James and rolled his eyes.
"I can't," Peter said plaintively.
Remus sighed. "You've got to relax, Pete. If you keep holding your breath and squinting your eyes and tensing up like that, all you're doing is getting in the way of the flow of the magic. You don't have to force it out; just tell it what you want it to do."
He provided a quick demonstration, turning the creamy candle standing on the desk in front of him to creamy parchment with a word, and then back again. Remus was pleased at the ease with which he managed the spell. It was their last Transfiguration lesson before exams, and Professor McGonagall had declared an open class during which they could get a little last-minute help on whichever spells were still giving them trouble.
By this time tomorrow, Remus knew, this spell would be giving him trouble as all his focus fled before the advancing moon. He only hoped that it would be a light one, and that if he slept through most of Sunday, he would be ready to face the first exam on Monday morning.
"Give it one more try, Pete. And this time, remember to relax."
Peter now looked as if he were focusing all his attention of forcing himself to relax. His wand dropped from limp fingers to clatter to the floor, shooting sparks. Remus jumped out of the way, but the laces of his trainers still went a bit curly.
"I'm going to fail everything!" Peter wailed, throwing himself melodramatically into a chair.
"You're not," Remus told him, patting his shoulder reassuringly. "You're going to do fine. Can you at least light it?"
Peter scooped his wand up off the floor and pointed it at the candle again. "Incendio."
The first inch or so of the candle dissolved into molten wax, but the wick ignited and burned steadily.
"See?" Remus smiled. "You can do this. You didn't tense up at all for that one."
"But that one's easy," Peter whined.
"It's easy because you know you can do it," said Remus. "If you'd just treat the others like they're easy, too, maybe you'll find you can do more than you think."
"Guess so." Peter sounded unconvinced.
"What about putting it out by magic?" asked Remus. "That's a bit trickier."
Peter looked at the candle consideringly for a moment, then flicked his wand at it. "Exstingo."
He must had flicked a little too hard. The burning candle toppled towards him, scorching his robes and spilling molten wax all down his front before it went out.
Peter leapt backwards with a cry, almost tripping over the chair, brushing at his robes. Professor McGonagall was there in a heartbeat.
"What happened, Mr Pettigrew?"
"I was just trying to put the candle out, Professor," said Peter, ducking his head.
McGonagall looked unimpressed. "This is not Charms class, Mr Pettigrew. The purpose of the exercise is to change the form of the candle, not to make a waxy mess." Her nostrils flared. "You may be excused to visit the laundry room. You'll want to see about getting as much of that off as possible before it sets in the fabric."
James and Sirius sniggered as Peter fled the classroom, and Lily looked up from where she was working with Dorcas Meadowes on turning a brick into a book and back again.
"Mr Lupin, I trust you are capable of continuing on your own until the end of class?" McGonagall inquired.
When she had returned to the front of the classroom, James and Sirius shuffled over.
"Sorry, mate," said James. "We'll change up tomorrow for Potions. I'll take Pete and you can have Sirius."
"I don't mind working with him," Remus protested. "But tomorrow -- yeah. Thanks."
Peter might be slightly better than he was at Potions, but the two of them working together usually resulted in disaster, especially so close to the full moon. If he worked with Sirius, it was one less opportunity for Remus to make a fool of himself in front of Snape, and he would take it gladly.
Remus spent the remainder of the class Transfiguring the candle into a roll of parchment into a vase and then back into a candle again. Out of curiosity, he carved his initials into the wax to see if it turned back into the same candle, and was delighted to find that the letters showed up in ink on the parchment and incised into the ceramic base of the vase.
By the time class ended, Remus was feeling confident about the Transfiguration exam. He walked back up to Gryffindor tower with Lily, Dorcas, James and Sirius feeling optimistic. James quizzed them all on incantations and their purposes along the way, taking an extraordinary amount of pleasure when Lily got one wrong. Lily, for her part, demonstrated an unusual tolerance for Remus's other friends, perhaps in acknowledgment of Remus's recent efforts concerning Snape.
They were about to turn left to take a shortcut through the south wing of the school when Remus drew up short, listening.
"-- have another go with the Sorting Hat, seeing as you'll be repeating first year," said a nasty voice. "Maybe it'll take pity on you and put you in Hufflepuff where you belong."
The others were staring at Remus quizzically, having heard nothing.
"What --?" said Sirius.
Remus gestured for silence. Moving as quietly as he could, he drew his wand, rounded the corner, and took careful aim at the middle of Severus Snape's back.
The wand flew from Snape's fingers, where it had been pointing menacingly at Peter's face, and Remus had snatched it out of the air before Snape could even turn around.
"Lupin." Snape did not appear at all disconcerted. "Taken to sneaking up on people in corridors, have you? I would have expected better from a Gryffindor." He looked from Remus to James and Sirius, who both also had their wands trained on the Slytherin. "Going to let your friends hex me?"
Lily was quickly recovering from her initial shock. "Remus! What are you doing?"
"I think the question should be, what was he doing?" said Remus. His eyes and his wand stayed fixed on Snape's face.
"I was just having a chat with Pettigrew," Snape said, leaning back against the wall as if there weren't three wands pointed at him. "That's not illegal, is it?"
But Remus had seen the look on Peter's face in the second before he had disarmed Snape, and in that second, something inside him had said, enough. What surprised Remus was that that something wasn't the wolf. The wolf cared nothing for other people. This was a part of him that refused to stand by and allow someone he called "friend" to be mistreated.
"Is that true, Pete?" Remus asked quietly. "Were you just chatting? Did Severus ask you for the time or what you thought the weather might be for the Quidditch final?"
Peter opened his mouth to reply, but no sound came out. He looked scared.
"You shouldn't listen to people like him, Pete," Remus said, still staring at Snape. "He doesn't know you like we do. He just likes to think up the nastiest possible thing to say about anyone, whether it's true or not."
"Remus," said Lily a touch shrilly, "you don't even know what he said."
"Oh, I heard him," Remus told her. "He thinks Pete should be a Hufflepuff. Not that that wouldn't be a hundred times better than being a Slytherin, but I don't think he meant to compliment Pete's loyalty and sense of fair play."
"Hufflepuff!" cried Sirius, outraged.
"Shut up, Sirius," Remus said sharply. "And you and James put your wands away."
James hesitated, then did so, Sirius reluctantly following suit.
"Remus," Lily pleaded, laying a hand on his outstretched wand arm. "You know he doesn't mean to --"
"Yes he does." Remus gently removed Lily's hand from his arm, meeting her eyes for just a moment and wrapping her fingers around Snape's wand. "Lily, I love you, but Snape is a prat, and I'm tired of hearing you make excuses for him."
Snape smirked. "I don't believe for a second that you'd hex an unarmed opponent, Lupin."
"Don't you?" Remus said evenly. "Come here to me, Pete. No one's going to hurt you."
As Peter scurried over to duck behind him, Remus leveled his wand at Snape's chest.
"Lily, I'm sorry to have to do this, but he's never going to stop. Versa."
With a look of intense surprise, Snape began to revolve slowly on the spot. Sirius gave a short bark of laughter, but Remus ignored him.
"I don't like you, Severus," Remus said coldly. "But Lily does, so I've tried to put up with you for her sake. You've taken advantage of that every chance you got. Celerior."
At the command, Snape began to spin faster, a cry of dismay escaping his lips.
"Remus! Stop it!" cried Lily.
But Remus wasn't listening. "Sirius is right;" he said. "You need to be taught a lesson. Don't. Test. My. Patience."
Snape's pale face was almost a blur by this time.
"Mr Lupin!" cried a shocked Scottish voice. "Stop that at once!"
Remus dropped his wand back to his side, and immediately Snape collapsed on the floor, retching and whimpering.
"He's not hurt, Professor," Remus said, meeting McGonagall's fury with fearless eyes.
"Not hurt!" gasped McGonagall. "Of all the --" She shook herself, straightening to her full and considerable height to tower menacingly over him. "Twenty points from Gryffindor, and detention in my office the week after exams."
"Yes, Professor." Remus did not bother feigning a look of contrition.
McGonagall turned from him in disgust. "Miss Evans, will you and Miss Meadowes be so good as to see Mr Snape to the hospital wing?"
When McGonagall had left and the girls had departed, supporting Snape's limp and shaky form between them, Sirius let out a whoop, grabbed James around the middle, and the two of them led a mad waltz up and down the corridor crowing, "Lupin lost points! Lupin lost points!"
"Well, they were mine to lose," Remus told his grinning friends. "And anyway," he added, a slow smile curling his mouth, "it would take a miracle for us to win the House cup this year."