Wasn't sure exactly when you'd be Back, so it's probably gone Cold by now. But I know you like a Cuppa after you've been Home. See you after Supper if you're not already Asleep.
"Don't his parents know he's got exams this week?" asked Peter from across the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.
James shrugged. "Probably. Some people think family's more important than studying, though."
Peter looked dubious. "Going by Remus, you wouldn't think his family'd think anything was more important than studying. Why doesn't he just go home straight after exams instead?"
"Wouldn't think you'd be so keen to get rid of your protector, Pete," said Sirius, suddenly wondering if Remus planned to do just that. He hadn't said anything, but Remus usually didn't.
"I didn't mean it like that," said Peter, looking down at his plate, shamefaced. "I just meant that it seems like really rotten timing."
"That's why we're going to help him," James reminded him.
"Still seems like cheating," Peter grumbled, lowering his voice.
"It's not like we're giving him the answers," said Sirius. "He wouldn't take them, anyway. We're just keeping an eye on him. If it looks like he's having trouble, we'll give him a little nudge. That's all."
They had planned it quietly in the days since Sirius and James had realised that the full moon was due to fall on the Saturday immediately before the exams. Some of their plans involved Peter, who was keen to do just about anything for Remus since the incident with Snape the previous Thursday. Others, such as the mild Strengthening Solution and Sleeping Potion hidden in the cup of tea left on Remus's nightstand, were just between Sirius and James. Remus should awaken well-rested and refreshed in the morning, just in time for their first exam -- which, unfortunately for Remus, was Potions.
Sirius wasn't sure how they were going to get Remus more than a passing mark in his worst subject, but he was prepared to do whatever he could, and to keep his eyes open for any opportunities that might arise during the exam itself, and not only because of the really unfortunate timing of the full moon. The fact was that Sirius was still bursting with pride over Remus's unexpected and inspired hexing of Snape three days before. The slimy Slytherin hadn't even showed up for their final Potions lesson the morning after the incident.
Sirius wondered if it was possible to have two best friends. The word "best" seemed to apply to no more than one person or thing at a time, and Sirius knew that there was no way Remus could ever take that title away from James. The reasons that he liked James were completely different from the reasons that he liked Remus. Remus didn't have the proper appreciation for a finely-crafted prank. His mind simply didn't work in the same wonderfully devious way that Sirius and James's minds did. Still, Sirius was certain that Remus had earned some kind of special status. He would just have to puzzle out what it was after the exams.
The only exam James was nervous about was Defence Against the Dark Arts. Would he be ready if Professor Tynedale sprang the Imperius Curse on them again? He felt as though he had made some progress with the meditation and breathing exercises he had been practising with Remus for the past month, but there was no way he could know for sure without being tested, and after the two week unit they had done on the curse in class, Tynedale had not so much as mentioned it again.
When he sat down at his desk and turned over the examination parchment, he found himself disappointed rather than relieved.
Describe the differences between and limitations of each of the following: Protego, Muro and Repercuto.
Looking over the list of questions, he found none more interesting than the first. He glanced up to where Tynedale sat behind her desk, gazing dreamily out the window. If she was planning to take them by surprise with the curse in the middle of the exam, she gave no sign of it. With a sigh, James dipped the point of his quill into the inkwell and began the examination.
This was one exam that Remus would need no help with. It was now four days past the full moon, and his performance in defensive magic had rarely been anything less than spectacular. The Potions exam on Monday had been a different matter entirely.
Whether the diluted Strengthening Solution James had brewed and Sirius had added to Remus's tea had had any effect was impossible to say. Remus had seemed just as tired and clumsy as he usually was on the mornings following his absences. But perhaps he would have been even worse off without their secret help.
James and Sirius had taken desks to Remus's right and left during the Potions exam, glad that Remus had chosen a seat at the back of the classroom where there would be fewer eyes on them. James had been especially keen to avoid Snape's notice. If the Slytherin suspected them of tampering with Remus's potion, no doubt he would have taken great joy in informing Professor Slughorn of the fact.
The written portion of the examination had gone well enough. Remus had no difficulty with the theory behind Potions, and even in his exhausted state, he had managed longer answers to each of the set questions than James had. The practical exam had been another matter entirely. Professor Slughorn had selected the Shrinking Solution, which they were required to mix from memory, without the aid of textbook or notes.
Remus was familiar with the recipe for the potion. The four of them had gone over it together a dozen times or more in the weeks preceding the exam, and James was sure that, up until the incident with Snape had cooled their friendship, Remus had been over it time and again with Evans as well. The problem for Remus was actually brewing the potion, which included a particularly noxious herb, aptly named stinkweed.
James had watched out of the corner of his eye as Remus turned faintly green and his eyes slipped out of focus, but he was on the wrong side of him to do anything about it. Fortunately, Sirius had been watching, too. When Remus turned away for a moment to steady himself and gulp down a breath of less tainted air, Sirius, with an air of utter carelessness, had allowed the wide sleeve of his robes to sweep across the corners of their two desks, knocking his own stinkweed and Remus's onto the floor. Sirius had quickly retrieved them, substituting his own finely-chopped sample for Remus's, and turned back to his cauldron as if nothing had happened. Remus had narrowed his eyes at Sirius's back, but had no choice but to use the herb he had been given.
Moments later, when it had looked as though Remus was about to forget a key ingredient, James had coughed discreetly and made a show of adding powdered lungwort to his own mixture.
Remus's potion had not come out quite the right colour, James thought critically after taking a surreptitious glance at the results, but at least it was not entirely the wrong colour either. And when Slughorn called time, and came around to hand out white mice for each of them to test their potions on, Remus's mouse had weighed an ounce less after a dose of potion, although it had also turned blue.
James scrawled down his answer to the final question on the Defence Against the Dark Arts examination -- Why has the Ministry of Magic enacted strict regulation on the creation of new hexes? -- and looked over what he had written. No, there was no sign anywhere that Tynedale had tried to sneak the Imperius Curse by him; only his own words more or less legibly scrawled on the parchment.
The practical Defence exam was a little more interesting, but not much. Tynedale had them line up outside the classroom, and called them back in pairs to demonstrate two shield charms, two neutralising spells, and two jinxes. To his disappointment, James found himself paired with Lily Evans. He had been secretly hoping for a chance to show off in front of Matilda Hathersage. Evans surprised him by disarming him easily. She performed every spell perfectly, and with a grim, no-nonsense expression reminiscent of Professor McGonagall, while James grinned his way through his half of the proceedings. He had to overcome a bit of his upbringing first -- "Never hex a girl" had been drilled into him from an early age -- but Evans' Protego and Muro charms were solid, and she deflected his jinxes without difficulty.
"Excellent!" Professor Tynedale pronounced them at last. "Good work Mr Potter, Miss Evans. I did think the two of you would be well-matched. I can only hope you will continue to do as well under future instruction."
"Thank you, Professor," Evans said, putting away her wand.
"Not bad, Evans," James said as they left the classroom. "Wasn't sure you had it in you."
She gave him a smile of false sweetness. "Well, you'll know better next time, won't you, Potter?"
Peter sighed with relief as he left the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom for the last time that year and joined his friends for a bit of fresh air and warm May sunshine before lunch. While he was still nervous about the Astronomy exam that night, and History of Magic in the morning, he couldn't resist the lure of an hour or so spent with friends, not studying. At the edge of the lake, they shrugged out of their robes, spread them on the grass, and flopped down in their shirtsleeves.
"What's up with your eyebrows, Pete?" James asked, furrowing his own.
"Oh." Peter blushed, plucking at the grass. He had hoped it wasn't that noticeable. "I got paired off with Lockhart, and he made them grow down into my eyes so I couldn't see. There was no way to un-grow them, so Tynedale clipped them for me. Does it look really awful?"
"You look like two caterpillars are fighting on your forehead," Sirius laughed. "How'd it go apart from that?"
"Terrible," Peter admitted, self-consciously smoothing his bushy brows. "Lockhart used some kind of bright flash to blind me. I'm still seeing spots. And I got so nervous that I dropped my wand before he disarmed me."
"Ponce," said James easily. "Flashy spells and hair charms are probably all he knows."
"I'm sure the written part went better," Remus said kindly.
Remus was always kind. And patient. Peter hated to disappoint him. "I couldn't even remember what Repercuto does."
"Well then for Merlin's sake, don't try it!" Sirius laughed. "That's the one that's meant to deflect a spell back onto your opponent. Only, if you don't have the proper focus, it can bounce off in any direction. Bloody dangerous, that one."
"I just wish Tynedale had given us another go at resisting the Imperius Curse," grumbled James. "I'm almost sure I could've done it this time."
Peter was only too glad that she hadn't. Even when he had finally noticed Tynedale putting the Imperius Curse on him, he had been helpless to resist. If she had done it as part of the exam, he would have failed it for sure. Remus had reassured him repeatedly that it wasn't likely to come up in the exam, but still Peter had worried.
"How did Lily do?" Remus asked, turning to James.
"Hmmm?" James was gazing out over the lake with a faraway look. Peter suspected he was imagining himself throwing off the Imperius Curse and being instantly awarded full marks by Tynedale. "Oh, she did really well. Disarmed me and everything. Are you two still not speaking?"
Remus looked pained. "It's not that we're not speaking, she's just --"
"Not talking to you?" Sirius suggested, rolling onto his front to look at Remus.
"Yeah, something like that."
"I still can't get over the fact that you told her you loved her in front of all of us and Snape, too," said James, shaking his head.
"Told you." Remus's ears were pink. "She's just a friend."
"Do you love us, too, Remus?" asked Sirius, batting his eyelashes and grinning.
Remus looked down his nose at the dark-haired boy. "There are moments of fondness. I usually just lie down until they pass."
James laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "Don't worry about Evans, mate; she'll get over it."
"Sure she will," Sirius agreed. "She has to see what a prat Snivellus is."
Sirius had coined the nickname in the wake of Remus's hexing of Snape. Every time Peter heard it, he felt a little bit ashamed and a little bit grateful.
"She'll come 'round," Peter said confidently. "How thick would she have to be to like him more than you?"
The Astronomy exam went relatively well, despite the fact that the moon was still at waning gibbous, blotting out most of the nearby stars. Peter was not bad at Astronomy, truth be told. Though he didn't have the natural affinity for it that Sirius did, nor James's easy ability to soak up seemingly any kind of information, he still loved looking at the stars and planets, hearing the stories behind their names, and calculating their movements. There was a kind of beauty to the way it all seemed to work together.
The exam for History of Magic, on the other hand, was a complete disaster, but Peter had always known that it would be. James and Sirius told him not to worry too much, since they thought they had likely failed it, too, but Peter couldn't help remembering how, during revision, they had rattled off dates at one another, and names that all -- to Peter's ears, at least -- sounded the same. How one was meant to remember which names went with which dates was a mystery Peter had not managed to fathom.
But exams were over now, and worrying about them would not improve Peter's marks. He resolved to put them from his mind and do his best to enjoy their newfound freedom. When results came out the following week, well, he would think about what to tell his mother then. Of course, she would tell him that he had done his best and that there was always next year, but she was forever going on about how clever his father had been. She never said such things about Peter.
In the meantime, though, there was the Quidditch final to think about. Since Gryffindor had come out right at the bottom of the ranking, Peter and his Housemates would be supporting Hufflepuff in the match, hoping that they could wrest the Quidditch cup from Slytherin's clutches.
"Would've been nice to see a Gryffindor victory," shouted Peter over the roar of the crowd as Hufflepuff scored their first goal.
"Well, there'll be a new Seeker next year, won't there?" said James, tapping himself on the chest.
Sirius snorted. "With Gryffindor's luck, Weasley will fail his NEWTs and be back on the team for another year."
Remus did not take part in the discussion, nor did he seem to be paying much attention to the match. Instead, he kept glancing over to where Lily Evans was sitting with the Gryffindor girls. An enthusiastic Matilda Hathersage appeared to be explaining the rules of the game to her, and Evans' face wore a serious expression as she tried to follow the action. Peter wasn't sure what Remus saw in Evans, apart from her being a bit pretty, but he felt bad for being the reason for Remus maybe losing a friend.
"Why don't you go talk to her, mate?" he said in an undertone, nudging Remus.
Remus shook his head regretfully. "Maybe later. There's too many people right now."
"Are you sorry you hexed Snivellus?" Peter asked. "He deserved it. And -- thanks."
"You're welcome, Pete." The corner of Remus's mouth twitched briefly in a half-smile. "You shouldn't call him that, though. I wasn't trying to start a war; just let him know that no good will come of him messing with me or you. I'm hoping that will be the end of it."
"You think Sni-Snape will see it like that?" Peter said dubiously.
Remus looked uncomfortable. "Maybe not."
"Well, whatever happens, I'm still glad you did it," Peter told him.
Remus's smile returned and stayed on this time. "Any time, Pete."
Peter took out his camera and set it on his lap, eyes wandering back to the pitch in time to see Slytherin score. He hadn't taken as many pictures as he wanted to this year, and he was hoping to capture a few memories in the week before they all went home.
"Why'd you bring that?" asked Remus.
Peter grinned. "I want a picture of it when Slytherin lose."
Sirius overheard this and snickered. "Try to get a shot of Bagman's head exploding. Isn't this supposed to be his big moment of glory before he goes pro?"
"It's the whole reason he stayed on for seventh year, according to the Prewetts." James laughed. "I just realised. The Wimbourne Wasps wear Hufflepuff colours. Imagine Bagman kitted out in yellow and black!"
They all had a good chuckle at that, which turned into a roar of appreciation when Hufflepuff scored a goal.
"Hey, you should get a picture of the four of us together," James said suddenly. He wasn't looking at Peter, but past him, to where the girls were sitting. "Hathersage! C'mere a minute."
Evans scowled at them as Matilda Hathersage hurried eagerly over to where they sat.
James flashed her a cocky grin. "D'you mind taking a picture of us with Pete's camera?"
"Sure," she preened.
Peter blushed when the girl's fingertips brushed his own as she took the camera. But he couldn't help grinning when James slung an arm around his shoulders and Sirius dragged Remus in close for the photo. He really was lucky to have such brilliant friends.
"Everyone say, 'Slytherins stink'!" Hathersage said, clicking the shutter.
She handed back the camera, but did not return to her seat, instead wedging herself between Peter and James.
"Will you take a picture of me, too?" she asked, smiling at him.
The blush returned to Peter's cheeks. "If you like," he mumbled, raising the camera.
As his finger came down on the shutter button, she flashed him a sly grin, hooked an arm around James's neck and planted a kiss full on his surprised cheek.
"Thank you, Peter," she said, getting up and going back to the other giggling girls.
"You'll only encourage him if you carry on like that, Tildy," Peter heard Evans say.
"Merlin! You should've seen your face, mate!" Sirius snorted, mussing a hand through James's already messy hair. "You looked like you'd been Stupefied."
However he would look in the photo when it came out, James now looked smug as a Kneazle with cream on its whiskers. "She seems like a decent bird."
"Shame about her taste in blokes," said Remus drily, and even James couldn't help laughing.
In the second hour of the match, Slytherin began to score goal after goal. The green stands were going wild, and the atmosphere in the rest of the stadium became more and more tense. Peter was on the edge of his seat. He and James and Sirius clutched at one another, and Remus sat forwards, riveted, as Giles Ogilvie, the Slytherin Seeker, came within a hair's breadth of the Snitch. It was only Hufflepuff Seeker Amos Diggory's quick thinking that averted disaster in time as he barreled headlong into his opponent, almost knocking both of them from their brooms.
Madam Larkin, the referee, awarded a penalty to Slytherin for fouling their Seeker, and the Snitch vanished from sight for the time it took for Slytherin to score twice more, and Hufflepuff once.
"If Slytherin score one more goal, it's as good as over," James groaned. "Unless Hufflepuff manage to knock Ogilvie out of the game completely."
A gasp reverberated through the stands as the June sunlight caught a flash of gold. Both Seekers' heads went up, scenting the wind, looking to see where the crowds' attention was focussed. And then they were off.
If the crowd had not been holding its collective breath at that moment, the commotion might have gone unnoticed.
"What the --?"
"Oh my God!"
"Is that --?"
The cry went up from the Slytherin stands, and the uproar was not focussed on the Quidditch pitch, but rather on the stands themselves -- or under them. Spectators were peering down between the benches at something, some of them even getting down on hands and knees for a better look. A few professors were hurrying over. Someone laughed.
"What's going on?" said Peter, narrowing his eyes as if that would help him see the source of the disturbance.
"No idea, mate," replied James.
All of the Gryffindors were on their feet, staring across the stadium, Quidditch match forgotten, until --
"He's got it! He got the Snitch!" cried a voice from the Hufflepuff section.
Amos Diggory held the fluttering Golden Snitch aloft, a triumphant grin on his face, as Giles Ogilvie stared back and forth in confusion between the stands and the Hufflepuff Seeker. A ragged and belated cheer went up from the throat of every onlooker who had not been supporting Slytherin.
"The Quidditch cup goes to Hufflepuff!" cried the announcer. "Will someone go tell Slytherin they've lost?"
Down on the pitch below them, Ludo Bagman, face red with fury, was hurling abuse up at Ogilvie, who, once he noticed, seemed reluctant to come down. Confusion still reigned in the Slytherin stands, and while the Hufflepuffs were busy celebrating Diggory, the viewers in the blue stands and the red were still trying to ascertain what had happened.
"What's going on?" bellowed a broad-chested Ravenclaw.
A Slytherin leaned against the railing, cupped her hands around her mouth, and shouted, "Malfoy! Shagging his girlfriend under the stands!"
Sirius's mouth dropped open, then he whooped, grabbed a startled Remus by the waist, and waltzed him around the Gryffindor seating area, crowing with delight.
James and Peter collapsed back into their seats, laughing helplessly.
"Lily, hold up a minute." Remus had only just managed to catch up with her in the Gryffindor common room as she headed towards the stairs to the girls' dormitory following the unexpected conclusion of the Quidditch match.
She turned, glancing from him to his friends, and her mouth tightened. "What do you want, Remus?"
"Just a word," he said, eyes moving from Lily to Sirius. "In private, if you don't mind."
"C'mon," Sirius said to James and Peter. "I need to owl my parents to say 'I told you so'."
The three of them disappeared up the stairs to the boys' dormitory. Lily hadn't moved.
"Well?" she said.
"Let's go for a walk."
She said nothing, but followed him when he turned towards the portrait hole in search of someplace quieter than a room full of Gryffindors celebrating the defeat and disgrace of their traditional foes.
"Going to tell me more secrets to fix our friendship?" she asked tartly, once they were alone.
Remus couldn't help smiling a little at that. "No more secrets. I don't have any from you now, anyway."
Her expression softened slightly at that. "So what was it you wanted to say?"
He took a deep breath. "Do you trust me, Lily?"
She looked surprised. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, if I tell you something, will you believe that it's the truth?"
Slowly, she nodded.
"I've never lied to you Lily," he said earnestly. "Not since I told you about -- things. And not about anything else before that."
"I know," she said quietly.
"So I need you to believe me when I tell you that Severus has been an utter prat to me from the start," he told her, "and not just in the way that he's normally a prat to people. He doesn't like you being friends with me. I've kept quiet about it because I didn't want to cause trouble between you and him. I know you've been friends for a long time. But I just couldn't do it anymore. When I saw him threaten Peter --"
Lily sighed. "I understand. Really I do, Remus. I know Sev's not the easiest person in the world to get along with. He was being nasty to Pettigrew the other day, and with it being right before the full moon, I understand --"
Remus shook his head impatiently. "This isn't about that, Lily. This is about him being a bully, and me being someone who's not going to let him treat me or my friends like that anymore. You shouldn't let him treat you like something that belongs to him, either."
"He doesn't --"
"He does, Lily. Everyone knows it." Remus sighed. "Maybe you're right. Maybe what happened -- what I did to him -- wasn't necessary, but I think that it was. I'm sorry it came to that, though, and I don't want it to go any further. If you think apologising to him will do any good, then I will."
Lily's shoulders sagged. "No. You're right. Sev can be really nasty sometimes. I'll talk to him. I'll tell him to leave you alone. And Pettigrew."
"Thanks, Lily," he said, reaching out to take her hand. "I know this hasn't been easy on you. You're a real friend."
She leaned in to hug him fiercely. "Yeah, well, sometimes having friends is worth the trouble they cause."
He gave a brief laugh. "Tell me about it. You might want to tell Snape to leave Sirius and James alone, too. They can be creative when it comes to getting back at people."