James had been prepared for History of Magic to be boring. Mum and Dad had warned him about Binns, and he’d gone in fully prepared to spend the whole time plotting pranks with Sirius.
He had not been prepared for Defense Against the Dark Arts.
He’d been expecting excitement. Danger. Cool spells.
Instead, they got . . . this.
James was pretty sure there was actual dust caught in Professor Sorrell’s beard, and that was about the most interesting thing about him. The man had somehow found a way to make talking about fighting werewolves boring. Werewolves.
And the man had assigned them all seats, so he couldn’t even share his misery with Sirius. Not that there was anything wrong with Remus, but James hadn’t had a chance to talk to him much yet, and Remus kept ignoring his attempts to get his attention. He just kept taking rigidly cramped notes with a white knuckled grip that was going to break his quill if he kept it up.
He sighed dramatically. Remus still refused to look up.
With nothing else to do, that left him with no choice.
He was going to have to take notes.
He stole quick glimpses at Remus’s notes to fill in what he’d missed.
Ways to kill a werewolf:
Sufficient quantities of wolfsbane
Subjecting them to this lecture
He froze on that last one and looked incredulously over at Remus’s paper. A small grin spread across his face.
He devoted the next few minutes to drawing a cartoon of a giant wolf with its eyes glazed over and cobwebs stretching across its claws. A caricature of Professor Sorrell droned obliviously on.
Pleased with his work, he elbowed Remus. The other boy ignored him. James elbowed him harder.
Remus finally turned around. James showed him the parchment, grinning.
Remus gave it a startled blink before giving an answering grin in return.
Unfortunately, Professor Sorrell chose that moment to pace towards them and happened to catch sight of the sketch. “Detentions. Both of you.” It was said in the same monotone as the rest, so it took James a moment to realize what had been said.
It was, he thought, quite unfair. Anyone who was going to be as dull as Binns ought to be as unobservant as him too.
On the bright side, Sirius and the kid he was sitting beside, Peter, managed to get detention too - Peter for falling asleep and Sirius for trying to balance things on Peter’s nose while he snored - so maybe the evening wouldn’t be a complete loss.
Late in May, Sirius returned to the common room from his meeting with Dumbledore looking paler than James had ever seen him. He collapsed into an armchair.
James winced. “It went that bad?”
“Did you get expelled?” Peter asked.
Sirius just shook his head slowly. “Professor Sorrell finally did something interesting.”
Remus’s eyebrows rose. “Really?”
“He tried to kill the headmaster,” Sirius said hollowly.
James choked. “He what?”
“Just burst in shouting about how he was tired of being subtle, and he was getting that wand.” Sirius’s eyes were still wide. “Mental.”
“Is he dead?” Peter asked shakily.
“Are you hurt?” Remus said at the same time.
James waved aside these questions. “What was the duel like?” he demanded.
“Oh, Dumbledore creamed him in about two seconds,” Sirius said, visibly pulling himself together. “He sent to the Ministry right before he dismissed me. He never even got a chance to ask me about what we did to the Great Hall.”
“What we allegedly did,” Remus corrected automatically. “Do you think Sorrell’s some old supporter of Grindelwald’s?”
“Could be,” Sirius admitted. “Or maybe one of those Knights of Walpurgis the papers keep mentioning. Or maybe he was just a nutter.” He shrugged. “A sickle says the whole school’ll know by breakfast tomorrow.”
“You’d announce it over breakfast just to win the bet,” James pointed out. “Speaking of breakfast, do you think we should delay the prank we had planned for it? Given . . . everything?”
They looked at each other.
“It might help ease the tension if we went ahead with it,” Remus said cautiously.
“It’d certainly make me feel better,” Sirius said firmly. “And we all know Dumbledore likes a good joke.”
“This has got to be a joke.”
James stood frozen in the doorway of the Defense classroom.
The now violently pink Defense classroom.
“Can’t be, we didn’t pull it,” Sirius said from beside him.
“Let me in, I can’t see,” Peter said, squeezing past them. His jaw dropped. “Oh.”
“In all fairness,” Remus said faintly as he examined the newly decorated classroom, “we did know that Dumbledore liked a good joke.”
Professor Sweetgum was at least not dull, James would give her that. And she wasn’t much given to handing out detentions.
Instead, she gave out stickers.
Happy little stickers of gamboling kittens to the good students. Sad little stickers of dead and rotting ones to the bad students.
Remus was poking his with a kind of horrified fascination. He had gotten a happy sticker. “I think there’s blood on my kitten’s mouth.”
“Maybe it murdered mine,” Sirius said gloomily. “Anyone found a way to get these unstuck from our robes yet?”
Apparently deciding that this disciplinary action was not sufficient, about halfway through the year she started handing out candy.
“It looks okay,” Peter said suspiciously, poking the treat with his wand.
Remus gave his a cautious sniff. His mouth twisted, and he quickly set it down. “I might be more tempted to eat it if we hadn’t spent the whole term on poisons.”
“Did you just sniff that?” Sirius demanded.
Remus stiffened. “Er. No?”
James pulled out a rumpled piece of parchment and made another tally mark on it.
Remus tried to snatch it from him. “What are you doing?”
“I’m recording another data point.”
“For the chart,” Peter said helpfully.
“Weird things Remus Lupin does,” Sirius filled in. “We thought it might help us figure out where you go every month.”
“My mother’s sick!”
“That’s one theory.”
“It’s not a theory, it’s my life! Now give me that chart!”
James snatched it out of the way. “You could start keeping one on us if it makes you feel better,” he offered.
“I don’t think I could find enough parchment.”
“So we did a little testing on all that candy,” James began, dropping into the seat next to Remus’s in the library.
“Peter’s was arsenic,” Sirius said cheerfully. “I just got a few drops of Draught of Living Death, and James must have really ticked her off, because we still can’t figure out just what all she put in his.”
“It was more poison than chocolate, really,” Peter said mournfully.
“Okay,” Remus said slowly.
“Your’s was wolfsbane,” James said. “With silver shavings. Obviously, this led us to an important realization.”
“Oh?” Strained was probably too light a word for his voice at this point.
“Yes,” Sirius said. “We need revenge. So we thought we’d figure out how to enchant a couple of dungbombs to look like cauldron cakes and leave them in her office.”
“Also, we’ve decided you’re probably a werewolf,” James said casually as he dug a sack of dungbombs out of his satchel. “Which we should definitely talk about at some point.”
“After the dungbomb thing, though,” Peter said. “Anyone who would do something like that to chocolate deserves pain.”
“So Sweetgum’s been sacked,” James said as he slid onto the bench next to Sirius.
Sirius mumbled something through a mouthful of food.
Peter looked kind of startled. “Really? Why?”
James shrugged. “Dunno. I just overheard McGonagall grumbling about how it should have happened sooner.”
“Do you think it might be, I don’t know, because she kept trying to poison the students?” Remus asked dryly.
“Nah,” Sirius said. “I blame the stickers. You know how McGonagall is about cats.”
Professor Van Helsing was, according to rumor, a monster hunter just like his famous ancestor. Judging by the weaponry and magical apparatus mounted all over the Defense classroom walls, James believed it.
Sirius whistled. “I don’t think they’ll be handing out stickers this year.”
Remus just scowled at the silver amulets on the desk.
According to the professor, they’d be spending the year learning about amulets, talismans, cursed objects, and magical weaponry.
Including, unfortunately, some made of silver.
“Once, just once, I want to have a Defense professor that doesn’t try to kill anyone,” Remus grumbled into his pillow.
“To be fair, we don’t know that he’s trying to kill you,” James pointed out from his own bed. “He did say that anyone who wanted to could be excused from the lesson.”
“Right after listing all the magical creatures silver could have adverse affects on. And everyone else thinks handling the weapons will be cool. If I back out, people will ask questions.”
“We’ll figure something out,” James assured him. “If nothing else, we can pick a fight with the Slytherins and all get sent to the hospital wing.”
“I’m always up for hexing Snivellus,” Sirius agreed immediately.
“Or we could try for something a little less likely to get us another detention,” Peter said. “I’ve got three essays to write before this weekend. Three.”
“Choosing the right metal for your weapon is important,” Professor Van Helsing growled, prowling in front of the class as one of their yearmates, Sarah, passed out the knives. “Pixies flinch back from iron. Vampires’ skin turns black at the touch of silver. Silver’s a handy metal; werewolves are burned by the touch.”
Mary McDonald raised her hand anxiously. “Er, professor? What does it mean if the silver turns your skin purple?”
Van Helsing paused. “What?”
Sure enough, Mary’s hand was turning a deep violet. Everyone else who had already received a knife looked down at their’s too.
Sarah shrieked and dropped the bundle of knives. “Mine are polka dotted!”
Van Helsing stalked over to the knives and picked one up. “These have been coated with something,” he snarled. “Everyone who touched one, head to the hospital wing. Everyone else is dismissed while I get to the bottom of this.” His eyes swept the room menacingly. They lingered on the Marauders. “I will find who did this, and they will be punished. Thoroughly.”
James gave him his best wide eyed and innocent look.
As soon as they were safe in the hallway, he burst out cackling.
“What did you do?” Remus hissed.
“New color changing potion my dad’s working on,” James said through chuckles. “It’s meant for hair, but he hasn’t quite gotten all the kinks worked out of it. He sent me some. Thought I might get a kick out of it.”
“But you never touched them,” Peter said.
“Nope,” Sirius said, slinging an arm over his shoulder. “Fortunately, dear Sarah’s got a crush on me, and she’s an excellent actress.”
“And we paid her,” James pointed out.
“And we paid her,” Sirius conceded. “But all she wanted was my Dumbledore chocolate frog card, so that’s alright.”
“You love that card,” Remus protested. “It’s first edition. They’ve barely got fifty in circulation yet.”
Sirius shrugged. “It went to a good cause.”
“What about next time though?” Peter fretted.
“Why, after this scarring event, I don’t think I’ll ever handle a silver knife without wearing gloves again,” James said with mock seriousness.
“It’ll be a whole new fashion,” Sirius predicted.
“Since if the four of us show up to class wearing gloves, everyone else will assume we’re up to something,” Remus said.
Remus had been quiet for a worryingly long time. Peter tentatively poked his shoulder to make sure he was still in there.
“You alright there, mate?” Sirius asked warily.
The day’s lesson had been on werewolves. It had been . . . a little graphic.
“Do you remember how the classroom looked last year?” Remus said in a distant voice.
“Ye-es,” James said drawing the word out. “All pink and frilly. With those little cushions on the teacher’s seat.”
“I think Professor Van Helsing needs some more pink in his life.”
The others caught on immediately.
“Oh, absolutely,” Sirius agreed. “It’ll brighten his whole day.”
“So does anyone actually know why Van Helsing’s leaving?” Remus asked on the train.
“I heard he wanted to get back to hunting,” Peter said.
“I heard Dumbledore fired him,” James said with a shrug.
“Personally,” Sirius said, “I heard that he, quote, wanted to get back to the monsters he was allowed to shoot instead of the ones he was supposed to teach, unquote.”
“Do you think he was talking about us?” James asked thoughtfully.
“Only if he figured out who was responsible with replacing all his weapons with those Muggle nerf things.”
“Do you ever wonder what goes through Dumbledore’s mind when he’s making hiring choices? Because I think about that a lot.” Sirius dropped the massive stack of books he’d need for their first assigned essay of the year on the common room table.
“I’m sure he knows what he’s doing,” Remus said. “Professor Smith does have a lot of experience.”
“Yes,” Sirius said flatly. “Three hundred years of it. Which I would personally find more reassuring if the reason he was a ghost wasn’t because he died in his very first duel with a dark wizard. I’d like to survive my first duel, thanks. I refuse to give my parents the satisfaction of doing otherwise.”
“You’d think Dumbledore would have learned his lesson about hiring ghosts anyway,” James grumbled. “We only need one Binns.”
“He’s a lot more interesting than Binns,” Remus protested.
“Binns didn’t assign an essay on the first day of class,” Peter said darkly.
“And in Binns’ subject you’re not supposed to pick up your wand,” James said. “‘Wands away’ are not words I want to hear in Defense class.”
“He’s traumatized,” Remus said.
“After three hundred years?” Sirius snorted. “Cheer up, Prongs. We’ll just have to practice our defensive skills on our little crop of junior dark wizards.”
James brightened. “True.”
“One year,” Remus said through gritted teeth. “All I ask is one year where the professor doesn’t bring up werewolves. Just one.”
“To be fair, if I’d ever met the ghost of a werewolf that still transfigured on full moons, I’d probably want to talk about it too,” Sirius said.
James threw an inkstand at him.
“Ow! Right. At least it’s better than last year?” Sirius offered.
“And the year before that,” James added.
“And the year before that,” Peter said.
They all paused to consider this.
“He’s the first defense professor not to try to hurt anyone,” James said as the realization dawned. “Wow. I’m almost impressed.”
“The year’s not over yet,” Peter pointed out.
“True,” Sirius said. “Hey, Moony, you’re the wordsmith. If they fire him, does that count as an exorcism?”
“So I heard from Lily that Professor Smith has gone to haunt a nice Muggle building,” James said, dropping down beside Sirius in the train compartment.
The others stared at him.
“What?” he said defensively. “You know how twitchy teaching made him.”
“You got Lily to talk to you?” Peter said incredulously.
“No, really, I’m actually kind of impressed,” Sirius said.
James deflated. “Well . . . I might have overheard her talking to someone else.”
“And so the world settles back into its proper place,” Remus said dryly. He frowned at the violent headline screaming across the Prophet’s front page. “Or closer, anyway.”
Remus stiffened as soon as they entered the Great Hall. James’s eyes automatically flicked to the Slytherin table, but for once, they didn’t seem to be causing much trouble, even if a disproportionate number of them were shooting looks at the teachers.
Behind them, Peter made a little strangled sound.
James slowly turned his head.
“That’s a vampire,” Peter squeaked.
There wasn’t any food on the table before him. Just a goblet.
“Is that blood?” Sirius asked, craning up onto his toes in a futile effort to peek.
“Yes,” Remus said shortly. “Come on, stop staring and sit down.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “Becoming the perfect prefect already, are we?”
“Just because he’s a vampire doesn’t mean he deserves to be stared at,” Remus said stiffly.
“Right,” Sirius said abashedly. He recovered quickly. “You started it.”
Remus twitched a little. “He smells . . . wrong,” he admitted under his breath. “Nothing that smells that dead should be moving around that much.”
“On the plus side, maybe he’ll be more sensitive about werewolves,” James said brightly.
“Judging by the hostilities in class,” Sirius said, “I’m going to assume that you don’t smell great to him either.”
Remus just glared down at the red marks on his wrist where James and Sirius had grabbed him to keep him in his seat.
“At least class will be interesting?” James tried.
“You’re just trying to be positive because Lily likes him,” Sirius said.
James opened his mouth to answer that but found he had to concede the point.
“Snivellus likes him too,” Peter grumbled.
“Yeah, well, that’s because Snivellus is a greasy little bat. Lily likes him because he’s interesting.”
Remus dropped his head into his hands. “I don’t think I got a single note written the whole class period.”
“You had other things on your mind,” Sirius said. “For that matter, so did I. Did you see who was sitting in front of us?”
“Girls, Sirius?” Remus said, a hint of smile finally starting to tease across his face. “Was that really more important than the half-crazed werewolf?”
“I have my priorities,” Sirius said with a sniff. “And besides, I wouldn’t say you were half-crazed. One sixteenth-crazed, maybe.”
“Sirius’s priorities aside, I didn’t take any notes either,” James said. “Peter, I don’t suppose - “
Peter plopped his down on the table.
James let out a long sigh of relief. “You’re a lifesaver. Okay, so obviously we’re going to have to figure out some kind of system to get through this . . . “
The secret passageway, at least, only smelled musty.
“On the plus side, the dung bombs did block out the smell,” Sirius said fairly.
“On the downside, I think that many in an enclosed space has blocked out my ability to smell anything else, ever,” James said, coughing into his hand. “Your thoughts, Remus?”
“Mainly torn between why it took the rest of you so long to cast bubble head charms and the last dying shreds of my pretensions to being an actual prefect.”
Peter patted him consolingly on the shoulder.
Sirius nodded solemnly. “May they rest in peace.”
“On the plus side, mixing some perfume into the water of the water balloons technically worked too.”
“On the downside,” Sirius grumbled, “now I have to go on a date while smelling like flowers. We could have used cologne.”
Peter had still not stopped sneezing.
“Also on the downside, we probably should have stopped to check and see if any of use were allergic.”
Remus dragged Peter and James into the passageway that had rapidly become their haven from the various sensory attacks they’d been lobbing at the Defense classroom. A withdrawn Sirius hesitated before tagging along behind.
“I can’t believe you,” Remus hissed, glaring at them furiously. “That Sirius would come up with it, maybe, but that you would go along with it - “
“This wasn’t us,” James said quickly.
Peter shook his head in agreement. He was still shaking.
Remus turned on Sirius. He shook his head too.
“I messed up once,” he said quietly. “I’m not going to make the same mistake again.”
The tension slowly went out of Remus’s shoulders. “Okay,” he said quietly. He scrubbed a hand over his face and winced at the warm tackiness. “Okay. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed.” Sirius’s mistake had been one made under rather extreme provocation, and the situation here had been far different.
Sirius shrugged painfully. “It was fair.”
“No,” Remus made himself admit. “It really wasn’t.”
Some of the week long tension between the two of them finally started to ease.
“If it wasn’t us, who was it?” Peter asked miserably.
“Our very own crop of junior Death Eaters, of course,” James said with forced lightness. “Snivellus might like Professor Turing, but the rest of them weren’t about to let a non-human teach.”
“They’ll fire him, won’t they?” Peter sounded like he didn’t know whether to hope for this or not.
“They’ll have to,” Sirius said quietly. “I hope they catch who did this,” he said viciously. “That was - “ He shuddered.
Remus shivered too as he flashed back to the professor’s desperate efforts to stay in control. He brushed a stained balloon scrap off his robes with a shaking hand and was very glad that the moon was waning at the moment.
The smell of blood hung heavy on the air.
Professor Albridge was on crutches and swaddled in more bandages than Remus after a full moon.
Or possibly Auror Albridge. James wasn’t really sure which one they were supposed to use.
“Professor Dumbledore asked the Auror Department to send someone to teach. Given these troubling times, he wanted to make sure you had the best.”
“And unfortunately, given these troubled times, you were the best they could do?” someone drawled from the other side of the room.
Professor Albridge smiled mildly. “The first rule of combat: any battle you can walk away from is a successful battle. I walked away.” His smile sharpened. “My five opponents did not.”
The class fell silent.
“Very good,” he said cheerfully. “Now, over the course of the year, we will be discussing the various threats that await outside the walls of Hogwarts, both general and specific. Giants, Death Eaters, werewolves . . . “
James winced on behalf of Remus, who, through some superhuman effort, had managed not to groan.
“Mr. Potter? Mr. Potter!”
Sirius elbowed James sharply. James jumped. “Yes, sir?”
“As glad as I am that you’re enjoying class, perhaps you could tamp down that grin just a little? Some people find smiles that wide when talking about gruesome murders to be a bit disturbing.”
“Oh. Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”
“ . . . If you could stop bouncing in your seat, that would also be appreciated, Mr. Potter. Did someone put a cheering charm on you?”
“No, sir. Sorry, sir.” James tried to apply a suitably mournful expression.
His friends were all waiting for him right after class.
“What was that about?” Sirius demanded.
The blinding grin was back. James pulled out a carefully folded piece of parchment from the pocket of his robes with great ceremony.
“Before the professor arrived, I passed this note to Lily Evans asking her to accompany me to Hogsmeade,” he said with great solemnity.
“And . . . she turned you down more politely than usual?” Remus asked skeptically.
James’s grin grew. “No. She said yes.”
The new Defense professor was nearly as banged up as Albridge had been last year.
“I am Professor Shyler,” she announced. “I will be leaving you in a month when my leave is up. I will then be replaced by another Auror on leave. This process will continue until the year is complete.”
“It’s NEWT year,” Remus whimpered.
“Cheer up, Moony,” Sirius whispered bracingly. “They can’t all talk about werewolves.”
Apparently, they could.
When the third one started the lesson, Remus couldn’t contain a small groan. Sirius’s head fell dramatically forward onto the desk. James’s hand shot up into the air.
“Yes, Mr. Potter?” their latest professor sighed.
“Sir, first year we learned how to kill a werewolf. Second year we learned how to poison a werewolf. Third year we learned about how silver affects werewolves. Fourth year we learned about undead werewolves. Fifth year we learned about relations between vampires and werewolves. Last year we learned about current issues within the werewolf population. This year we’ve gotten two updates on that matter. I think we’re entirely prepared for anything on our NEWTS that has to do with werewolves.”
The professor rubbed his head. “And how do you think you would fare head to head with a werewolf?”
James locked eyes with him and tried to ignore Peter’s muffled snicker. “I can confidently say, sir, that I think I would do just fine.”
“You didn’t work in a deer joke,” Sirius complained as they walked out of the lesson.
“You do it next time, then,” James suggested. “We’re going to have another professor within the month; you can handle it.”
Sirius’s eyes gleamed.
“James, you’re Head Boy,” Remus groaned. “You’ve got to stop saying things like that.”
James waved a hand dismissively. “Nah. I’ll leave that to our illustrious Head Girl. Hey, Evans!”
“And off he goes,” Sirius sighed. “ . . . And, Pete’s gone too. Probably off to see that girl of his. It’s just us now, Moony.” He draped an arm around Remus dramatically before brightening up. “Hey, what do you say we go head to head over a game of chess?”
“I’m going to beat you,” Remus said. “Again. This is getting embarrassing.”
Sirius grinned. “Oh, I can confidently say I think I’ll do just fine.”