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Chapter Text

“Enter.”

You followed the command and closed the heavy door behind you, guiding it shut to quiet the sound.

The domed ceiling made the dungeon corridor feel like the inside of a giant stone flask. Rows upon rows of wooden shelves lined the walls, stacked with glass bottles of specimens whose labels were difficult to discern in the candlelight. A museum-like scent of history and liquid preservation hung in the air, dull and familiar; the office smelled just like the Potions classroom, only more concentrated, more complex.

The man who beckoned you sat behind a round table at the back of the room, busying his quill to a hardcover journal lying open in front of him.

“Be seated.”

You claimed one of the chairs in front of his desk, sliding your bookbag from your shoulder and resting it on the ground by your feet.

He did not look up.

“Do you know why you’re here?” he asked, scratching away at his parchment. He sounded bored.

You adjusted your glasses. “To discuss my career options, sir.”

“Go on.”

“I was interested in working for the Ministry.” You were cautious to keep all doubt from your voice, lest he advance on your insecurity like a shark catching blood in the water. “As a detective for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

“Yes, you and half your year.” He dipped into his inkwell impatiently, keeping his eyes to the page. “Bewitched by the glamour of hunting dark wizards, are we? How inspired.”

“Not exactly, sir.”

“Enlighten me, then.”

“Dark wizards aren’t the only fugitives who need tracking down.” A sliver of excitement returned to your voice. “There are all sorts of criminals out there who don’t believe they can be outsmarted. I would like to make a career of proving them wrong.”

He scoffed. “Bold of you to assume you’d be suited for a government position reserved for the elite. You consider yourself to be among the best, do you?”

“Not yet, Professor. But I’m hoping you can help me get there.”

Snape showed no immediate adverse reaction. After five years of having him as your Head of House, you learned to take this as a sign you’d done something right.

His quill did not leave the pages as he spoke. “The majority of law enforcement positions in the Ministry require five or more N.E.W.T.s to be considered for application. You will need Transfiguration, Potions, Charms, and Defence Against the Dark Arts, at minimum.”

You nodded, silently. Part of you wanted to reach into your bag and take notes, but a larger, more sensible part didn’t want to give him the chance to say something snide and break his string of useful information.

“Professor Flitwick assessed your Charms work as suitable for admission to his N.E.W.T. course, provided your O.W.L. grades reflect accordingly. And, lucky for you,” he added, as if the result pained him to admit, “Professor McGonagall continues to rate your Transfiguration skills at the top of your year.”

You swelled a little in pride, in spite of yourself. Although he was only repeating evaluations from other teachers, this was as close to an actual compliment as you’d ever receive.

I , however, am not so easily impressed.” His sharp tone sliced through your air of sudden confidence. “Other teachers may have lesser standards, but I for one do not accept any O.W.L. grade lower than an Outstanding for my advanced courses. You will need to work harder in my class if you expect to be considered.”

“I will, sir.”

“That being said...” A sneer curled at his mouth’s edge as he continued writing, and you braced yourself for the worst. “For a Ministry hopeful, your Defence Against the Dark Arts grades are remarkably pitiful.”

You felt something heavy tighten into a ball deep within your stomach. The news didn’t come as a surprise to you, of course, as Defence Against the Dark Arts had never been your best subject, but facing the challenge was hard enough without having to discuss them openly with your Head of House.

“I know,” you replied, releasing the breath you’d been holding. “I’m trying to stay consistent with my other coursework, and I’m...with Defence Against the Dark Arts, I have a hard time adjusting to a new teacher every year.”

“The core content of your lessons remains the same, regardless.”

“Yes, but different teachers have different expectations of--”

“You mean to say Professor Quirrell’s expectations of you as a student differ from other teachers’?” he snapped. “Even more egregious than following a syllabus?”

“No, sir, but--”

“Shall we pay Professor Quirrell a visit, then? Perhaps let him know that you find his teaching method to be inadequate to your standards?”

“...no, sir. Of course not.”

“Then consider taking ownership of your failures instead of blaming those around you for your shortcomings.”

You kept your head high as your concerns died in your throat. “Yes, Professor.”

Snape lowered his quill. He folded his hands on the desk, and for the first time that afternoon, took a moment to look at you. He held the same passive, appraising stare, with deep-set black eyes from behind a hooked nose too large not to look down. Though his flowing black robes and dungeon residence earned him comparisons to a bat, you’d always considered him more suited to some great bird of prey--a keen, unrelenting hunter, unafraid to posture the wingspan that always afforded him a wide berth.

Over the years, you’ve learned not shrivel in his wake.

You did not look away, and instead waited for him to break the silence between you.

“I don’t believe I need to emphasize how important your O.W.L. scores are for your sixth and seventh year.”

“No, sir.”

“And I don’t believe it bears repeating,” he continued, firmly, “that failure to qualify for your N.E.W.T. Transfiguration or Potions course will result in a premature end to your Animagus training.”

The ball of stress weighing in your gut instantly gave way to fire.

“No, sir,” you said. “Professor McGonagall does not waste her time with sub-par students.”

“Nor do I,” he replied, with a cold tone of finality. “Is that all?”

“Just one question, Professor.” Pausing for a moment, you broke eye contact to consider the desk in front of you, choosing your words carefully. “How...can I be better? What’s holding me back?”

“That’s two questions. Learning to count would be a good place to start.”

It took all of your willpower not to laugh.

“Your failings across classes have something in common,” he started. “The more stressful your situation, the worse your performance. If you cannot remain calm under pressure, you lack the temperance required to become an Animagus, let alone to pursue a career in magical law enforcement. You require self-control. Learn to hold your nerve.”

He slammed his book shut.

The sudden noise gave you a start, and you immediately felt like an idiot--doubly so when you noticed the glint of satisfaction in his eyes.

You knew the word was coming before it left him.

“Dismissed.”

Chapter Text

If you were asked to sum yourself up in a single word, that word would be ‘tired’.

The final couple years’ curriculum at Hogwarts was dedicated to preparing students for N.E.W.T.s at the end of their seventh year. Your workload for year six was overwhelming, and with graduation on the horizon, you had no reason to doubt year seven would be even worse.

Your stellar academic performance so far was wholly attributed to hard work and sheer force of will--doubly so, as you entered the tail-end of your education. Within the past year, to keep up with the quality of your coursework, you’d evolved into a hyper-focused, largely isolated monstrosity of a workaholic; you never considered yourself antisocial before, but there were only so many times you could turn down your roommates’ invitations to hang out before they stopped asking altogether.

Right now, you kept huddled against the window of your compartment, rain showering the glass as the constant rumble of the train rocked you to sleep. You were practically swaddled within your robes, having changed into your uniform early for the sole purpose of sleeping as much as you could on the way there.

Although you’d fallen asleep alone, by the time you reached Hogsmeade Station, you woke to the anxious chatter of fellow members from Slytherin house, who’d used your colours as territorial claim to the train compartment.

“Oh!” squeaked a small second-year girl sitting across from you. “They’re awake!”

A young man with broad shoulders and fantastic hair looked over at you, concerned. “Did you actually sleep through that whole thing? You weren’t just faking?”

“Didn’t get much sleep last night,” you lied, annoyed at having to explain yourself. You rubbed at your eyes beneath your glasses. “Why?”

When the rest of the compartment exchanged wary glances, you realized at once that something was very wrong.

-

“It is not in the nature of a dementor to understand pleading or excuses. I therefore warn each and every one of you to give them no reason to harm you.”

The enchanted ceiling showed a dark, muddied sky still recovering from the evening storm, as if the weather mirrored the dim atmosphere of the Great Hall. Beneath the light of a thousand flickering candles, the entire school sat in rapt attention during Dumbledore’s announcements, with many of the younger years breaking into nervous discussion at the mention of dementors. In light of recent events, you were told, security at Hogwarts had been escalated, with the infamous wraiths of Azkaban now guarding every entrance to the grounds.

When your housemates filled you in on the dementor-related mishap on the train, you were suddenly very glad to be a heavy sleeper.

Shifting gears, Dumbledore went on to introduce the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor: a rather plain, shabby-looking gentleman who looked as if he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in years. Even more surprising, however, was the retirement of Professor Kettleburn, and the appointment of Hagrid to the position of Care of Magical Creatures.

Not everyone had taken Professor Kettleburn’s class, but everyone knew Hagrid.

After the last of the dessert disappeared and bedtime was finally called, you used the ensuing crowd as cover to approach the end of the staff table where Hagrid sat.

You caught his eye, and offered a handshake. “Congratulations, Professor Hagrid.”

“Don’t think I’ll ever get used ter that!” the large man bellowed, going red in the cheeks as his hands practically swallowed yours. “Appreciate it, though--really lookin’ forward ter it. Got some great lessons planned. Will I be seein’ yeh there, erm...sorry, didn’ catch yer name?”

You reintroduced yourself. “And no, unfortunately--I never got the O.W.L.”

“Ah, well...” He hesitated for a moment, glancing at the green and silver of your robes, before shaking his shaggy head and waving a hand dismissively. “Nonsense--yeh ever wan’ ter sit in on a lesson, yeh jus’ let me know. I’d be glad ter have yeh.”

“Planning extra lessons before receiving your timetable?” came the stern voice of a familiar witch. “Quite optimistic for a seventh-year.”

Hagrid straightened up like he was the one in trouble.

An older woman stepped out from behind him, wearing dark green robes and a strict expression, her grey hair pulled into a tight bun beneath her pointed hat. Although never an unfair teacher, she exuded a presence that always made you feel like she’d caught you in the act of doing something unsavoury--this would make you nervous, which would make her suspicious, which would toss you into an endless feedback loop of looking highly suspect over absolutely nothing.

“Professor McGonagall,” you greeted with false cheer. “Have a good summer?”

“Yes, thank you.” Her intense gaze did not falter. “Did you receive my note before the start of term?”

“I did, ma’am, yes. Your office, Friday evening.”

“Good. Now, enough dawdling--please make your way to the dormitories with the rest of your house.”

You obliged, taking the excuse to break eye contact with her as you retreated from the staff table.

You glanced a goodbye at Hagrid, who mouthed ‘Let me know’ and gave you a thumbs up as you left.

-

[ Image Full View ]

Save for some minor changes, your timetable was the same as that of your previous year. The large amount of free periods once gave you the misconception of free time, back when you were naïve to the ways of the world, but after the near-daily ten-hour study sessions of your sixth year, you knew better than to fall for that illusion again.

Keeping time would be important this year, so you’d bought a watch over the summer--simple and black, with silver embellishments. The watch itself was charmed to zap you with a small electric shock at set times throughout the day. You enchanted it with your school schedule.

It wasn’t unusual for the first few weeks of term to be punctuated with various mishaps that spread around the school like wildfire. Draco Malfoy, the pompous third-year son of a powerful political figure, managed to get himself injured the first day of classes, and rumour had it he was milking it for all it was worth.

You never subscribed to pure-blood elitism or discrimination, nor did the majority of your house--more than half of the entire Hogwarts student body was half-blood or Muggleborn, after all, Slytherin population included. Yet, it was people like Malfoy who reminded you that the loudest, most obnoxious members of any group were the ones responsible for its reputation, and whenever you caught the pathetic thirteen-year-old boy strutting through the halls, retelling the increasingly outlandish tale of how he almost lost his arm to a rabid Hippogriff, you couldn’t help but feel deep embarrassment for your house.

There was little time to dwell, however.

Seventh-year N.E.W.T. courses featured advanced-level magic with smaller, mixed-house classes, meaning much stronger individual attention and higher workloads. Two days into term and the assigned readings were already threatening to consume your entire weekend, and the only reason you wanted Friday to be over was to get a headstart on Monday’s assignments.

Your last class of the week was your first Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson, and somehow, Professor Lupin looked even worse than he did at the start-of-term feast.

Now that you were only a few feet away from him, you learned he was a taller man, his tousled brown hair salted with touches of grey far beyond his years. He wore clothes a half-size too large for his frame; the fabric of his cardigan was pilling at the edges, and his robes had clearly been darned in several places. It was a good thing none of the classroom windows were open, you thought to yourself, as a stiff breeze would’ve been sure to knock him over.

“Good afternoon, class,” he began, his voice much stronger than his posture. “My name is R.J. Lupin, and I have the honour of being your Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher this term. You may call me ‘Professor.’ I assure you I have been called worse things.”

The class gave a small laugh.

“Now, in an attempt to establish myself as your favourite teacher right at the start of term, I will be administering a test for our very first class.” There was a collective sigh, but Lupin was already raising a hand to placate the room. “Not to worry, not to worry--this won’t be graded. It’s just a little something to gauge the level of your study progress. I’ve come to understand that your sixth-year N.E.W.T. lessons were rather...inconsistent.”

“That’s because Lockhart was a quack,” shouted a voice from the back row. Sounds of agreement and jeering filled the classroom.

“All the more reason for this test,” he said. “Your N.E.W.T.s are at the end of this year, and if I am to prepare you for them, I must learn exactly what you don’t know.” He took his wand from his inner pocket and gave it a wave. From a large stack on his desk, folded sheets of parchment distributed themselves around the class. “Again, this is not being marked--answer what you can, leave blank what you cannot. You have thirty minutes. Begin.”

You unfolded the parchment in front of you, dipped your quill into your inkwell, and set to work.

The exam began with simple questions that could be answered in a few words or less, about dark magical creatures, general defensive spell knowledge, and various incantations. As you progressed through the parchment, however, the questions grew more complicated; there were sections in which to illustrate differences between mirrored and non-mirrored wand movements, the most efficient methods of spell-chaining, and questions regarding counterspell theories you only vaguely remembered reading about. As instructed, you began skipping questions you didn’t know the answer to, until you reached the end and realized in a heart-sinking panic that nearly half of your test was blank.

All too quickly, Lupin called time, and with another wave of his wand, gathered the papers back to his desk. As your half-empty parchment slid away, you immediately glanced around the room to gauge overall impressions of the exam; thankfully, at least you weren’t the only one looking bewildered.

“Good, good--thank you, this will be very helpful.” Lupin arranged the completed exams back into a neat pile on his desk. “As I’ll need some time to get up to speed, I will not be assigning any homework this weekend--however, I would like to finish today’s class with a bit of a practical test. Everyone, put away your things and pair up, please, facing one another.”

As everyone packed up and got to their feet, Lupin moved the rows of desks up against the walls, clearing enough room on the floor for two lines of students. By process of elimination, you ended up pairing against a familiar, burly seventh-year with short hair and a strong jawline--the infamously tenacious Quidditch Captain of the Gryffindor team, Oliver Wood.

Wood pursed his lips and gave you a polite smile. You returned it.

“Now, get out your wands,” said Lupin. “I’d like to measure your proficiency with nonverbal spellwork. Should be very straightforward.”

You pulled out your wand from your inner robe pocket: a jet-black length of carved wood, the edges where your fingers rested worn to a dark grey. Nonverbal spells were a well-practiced skill learned at the beginning of your previous year--even if Lockhart didn’t teach them, every spell learned across classes during your sixth year was expected to be performed without speaking.

“Those on my right,” Lupin called out, raising a hand to indicate the row, “will cast a Stunning Spell on their opponent without speaking, on my mark. Those on my left will cast a Shield Charm in return, also without speaking. For those casting Shield Charms, please dissipate the Stun instead of deflecting it--I’d appreciate keeping my classroom intact, if possible.”

The students in your row would be performing first.

You made eye contact with Wood and nodded, making sure he was ready. He nodded back.

“Wands at the ready, very good. Three, two, one.”

With a sharp flick of your wrist, you cast a Stunning Spell in Wood’s direction. A burst of red light shot from the end of your wand. Wood shielded himself against it easily, dissipating your spell into a small wisp of red smoke. All your neighbors shared identical results.

“Excellent,” said Lupin. “Let’s switch, now, wands at the ready. Three, two, one.”

Mirroring the rest of the students in his row, Wood raised his wand at you, and cast the spell.

It wasn’t until the jet of red light sped towards you when you realized you’d forgotten the Shield Charm incantation completely.

Muscle memory alone drew your wand in front of you with the correct motion, but without the proper incantation to go with it, the Stun ricocheted off the end of your wand--and straight into your own face.

You were on your back in an instant, halfway across the classroom floor.

Gasps of shocked laughter accompanied the loud, painful ringing in your ears. Somewhere in the distance, you could hear Wood apologizing like mad.

The ceiling of the classroom spun and blurred into your vision. Your eyes were stinging, and you were trying to will them not to water up, if only to save what little dignity you had left--you weren’t actually crying, you were experiencing that awful, biting, welling reflex of getting hit hard in the face, but you knew there was no difference to the outside eye.

You tasted copper in the back of your throat long before you realized your nose was bleeding.

Suddenly, there were a pair of hands on you--someone was guiding you to your feet, hooking one of your arms around their shoulders to help you walk.

“Class dismissed,” Lupin said abruptly, leading you from the room.

-

The first week of term was typically the busiest for Madam Pomfrey, and today was no exception. By the sound of it, she had her hands full tending to several first-years who, on a dare from a rival house, ignored instructions during Herbology and were now paying a painful, swollen price for it.

You sat in silence in the Hospital Wing lobby, one hand still wrapped tightly around your wand, the other holding your sleeve against your nose to stifle the bleeding. Your face was burning--partly from the pain, partly from the sheer embarrassment of having a teacher waiting there with you in the neighboring seat.

More than anything, you wished Lupin would’ve just left you there to stew in peace, but the man seemed dead-set on doing the exact opposite. He’d helped you to the Hospital Wing, after all--there was no polite way of asking him to leave.

There was also no polite way of holding back the frustration bubbling inside you, either, so after several minutes of idle silence, you stopped trying.

Protego,” you snarled. The injury dulled your syllables, like you had a stuffy nose. “The incantation is Protego. That’s fourth-year stuff, for Merlin’s sake--how am I supposed to pass my N.E.W.T.s if I can’t remember Protego ?”

“You’ve nothing to be ashamed of,” he said, softly. “It’s my fault for doing a practical test without having a proper understanding of everyone’s abilities.”

“I know the spell,” you snapped. “I just--”

“--haven’t used it in a long time, I understand. But this could’ve been avoided if I simply had everyone recite the spells before we began casting them.”

“No, this could’ve been avoided if I just remembered the bloody spell. I was the only one in the class who forgot it, this is on me.”

“An oversight on both our parts, then.”

His tone sounded final, and you bit back the urge to argue. You weren’t sure why he was being so understanding about this whole thing, but you knew you’d be a fool to challenge it.

With one part of your robe sleeve thoroughly soaked with blood, you made a disgusted noise as you folded over a dry part of the fabric and pressed your leaking nose to it. “S’pose I won’t be gracing the cover of the Daily Prophet any time soon.”

Lupin leaned over in his chair and looked at you, reacquainting himself with your injury. “It’s not that bad,” he assured. “When I was your age, I fumbled a fairly standard Conjuring Spell during class. I learned two things that day: that enunciation is vital, even if it’s just in your head--and that birds like to go for the eyes.”

You gave a snort of laughter, then an immediate curse of pain as it reminded you that your nose was broken.

“Sorry,” he said, sounding more amused than sincere.

You shrugged it off. “Did that really happen?”

“Feel free to ask Professor McGonagall yourself. Definitely wasn’t one of my proudest exams.”

“Yeah, well.” You dangled the wand in your other hand in a hopeless sort of motion. “This isn’t one of my proudest days, either.”

“That’s quite the antique you have there,” he said, motioning towards your wand. “Ebony?”

“Oh. Yeah.” You looked it over. Did he just call your wand old ? “My grandfather left it to me. Phoenix feather cores are rather rare--I guess he reckoned I could squeeze another lifetime out of it.”

“How’s that working out for you?”

You shrugged, sliding the wand back into your inner robe pocket. “It’s alright, I guess. A little temperamental. It, uh.” You clicked your tongue and motioned to your face. “Doesn’t like unclear instructions.”

He leaned in for a whisper. “In its defence, I doubt many of us do.”

Remembering not to laugh, you instead smiled into your sleeve.

Without warning, Madam Pomfrey swept into the lobby, her stark-white robes billowing behind her as she towered over your seated form. She moved your arm from your nose, holding your chin and tilting your face from side to side as if she were examining a particularly interesting fruit. “And what have we here?”

“A rebounded Stunning Spell,” said Lupin.

“Broken nose and a black eye, easy fix.” She turned heel and made her way back into the main ward. “Don’t move.”

Now that you were being looked after, Lupin got to his feet and prepared to leave before Madam Pomfrey managed to shoo him away, grabbing his robe from the back of his chair and folding it over his forearm. Your conversation had made you feel so at ease that you’d forgotten to be embarrassed he was still there.

“Oh, that’s right.” He reached into the pocket of his cardigan and pulled out your pair of broken glasses.

(No wonder everything was still blurry.)

Lupin tapped on your glasses with his wand, repairing them at once. Before you could say anything, he’d leaned over and slid them carefully back onto your face, minding your injury; his fingers brushed against your cheeks as your vision became clear, and his face was just close enough for you to learn his eyes were green.

“There we are,” he smiled. “Just like new.”

You mumbled a small ‘thanks’ as he straightened back up to full height.

“Right, then. See you Monday.”

You stared after him while he left, at least until the sudden, unexpected pain of Madam Pomfrey’s spell snapped both you and your nose back to reality.

-

The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 7 was propped open in front of you during dinner that evening.

Though you were only two days into term, N.E.W.T. preparations were fully underway, starting with condensed reviews of nearly every spell, potion, and number chart you encountered throughout your first six years. Though Lupin hadn’t assigned any homework, you wanted to get a head start on reviewing your old Defence Against the Dark Arts notes to prevent any repeat incidents involving embarrassingly basic spells. You also had a one-on-one meeting with McGonagall later that evening.

In spite of having more than dinner on your plate that night, your attention constantly drifted towards the only empty seat at the staff table.

Lupin wasn’t there.

Somewhere between the fifth and tenth glances at the staff table, your book slipped out of your hand, and page 24 received a healthy serving of gravy.

You decided you were being ridiculous.

You would pay his office a visit and dispel the day’s awkwardness before your next lesson, if only to prevent making a complete ass of yourself two Defence Against the Dark Arts classes in a row.

After dinner, you made your way up to the second-floor corridor, mentally rehearsing bullet points of conversation on the way. You were going to apologize for causing a scene in his class earlier that afternoon. You would thank him for his help getting you to the Hospital Wing. You would promise to do better in his class. That was all. Simple and clearcut.

Yes, just to clear the air.

Taking a deep breath, you knocked on his office door.

There was no answer.

“Professor?” you called. Maybe he’d already retired to his living quarters for the night--he certainly didn’t look well earlier in class.

However, as you knocked again, you noticed the doors to his office were locked--not just fastened shut, but magically sealed.

Behind you, a sharp voice spat out your last name.

The call gave you a start.

Be it due to your gross lack of awareness or his unspoken mastery of stealth, Snape had managed to make it all the way down the second-floor hallway without you noticing his approach.

Snape looked down his nose at you, his gaze cold and unblinking. “What are you doing here?”

Your first instinct was to lie, but your second instinct thought better of it. “I...caused a disruption in Professor Lupin’s class earlier today.”

“So I heard.”

You swallowed. Of course he would’ve heard. “Yeah, so...I came to apologize.”

“The most sincere apology,” he started, raising a brow, “would be to simply improve your behaviour in class going forward, would it not?”

“I just wanted to make sure we were on good terms.”

Wrong answer.

“Five points from Slytherin.” The corner of Snape’s nose curled, as if he suddenly smelled something foul. “We do not grovel for forgiveness in this house. You would do well to remember that.”

You bit your tongue. “Yes, sir.”

“Now, unless I’m mistaken, you have a meeting to attend.” He stepped aside without looking at you, making a path for you to pass by. “If you are late, I will know.”

As if on cue, your watch gave you a small bzzt on the wrist, marking your fifteen-minute warning.

You mumbled a final, “Yes, sir,” before passing him on your way back down the corridor.

-

Out of everything you would have to face this year, you thought you were looking forward the completion of your Animagus training.

Like everyone else, you first learned about Animagi in Transfiguration class during your third year. When asked about the process to become one, however, McGonagall was quick to inform you that it was an extremely rare skill not to be studied lightly; being an Animagus trained under Dumbledore himself, McGonagall wouldn’t consider taking in any candidate who proved themselves anything short of outstanding in her field.

This meant achieving top grades in both Transfiguration class and the mounds of prerequisite extracurricular homework she assigned you--term after term, year after year--just to convince her you were worthy of her time.

This meant keeping your head down and not giving Snape, as your head of house, any excuse to deny you permission to pursue the additional line of study.

This meant getting an Outstanding in both your Transfiguration and Potions O.W.L.s to qualify for private lessons with McGonagall throughout your sixth year.

Becoming an Animagus was, above all else, an extremely bizarre goal--a complex, demanding, high-risk process to endure for the acquisition of an esoteric skill with little to no practical use. One’s efforts were much better spent in something more valuable, practical, and marketable--but that was why you wanted to do it.

The journey was for you and you alone, just to prove you could make it.

At least, that’s what you thought.

McGonagall sat silent behind her desk, leaning forward as she kept her hands folded in front of her. She stared at you over the rim of her glasses, studying your pale expression, while your eyes remained fixated on the small crystal phial sitting on the desk between the two of you.

“Are you going to be sick?” she asked.

“I don’t know yet,” you croaked.

“I urge you to do it away from my desk, if you don’t mind.”

You gave a nervous laugh, though your eyes didn’t move from the phial.

“We can revisit this next month if you’re having doubts,” she suggested, a bristle of impatience in her voice.

“No doubts,” you replied. “Just nerves.”

“Tell me what’s on your mind.” Her intensity eased, just a little. “That’s why I’m here.”

“I’ve been studying for this for almost four years,” you said. “It always seemed so far away. ‘I can’t be an Animagus unless I get good marks on this assignment.’ ‘I can’t be an Animagus unless I get perfect O.W.L.s.’ ‘I can’t be an Animagus until I qualify for registration in year seven.’ But now.” You breathed another small laugh. “Now I’ve got the Mandrake leaf sitting right in front of me and I’m terrified.”

“As you should be.”

You tore your eyes from the phial and looked up at her, surprised.

“The successful completion of the final Animagus ritual is one of the most daunting feats in the field of Transfiguration,” she said, quite severely. “The slightest misstep will have disastrous results--permanent disfiguration at best, and at worst...well. Let’s just say St. Mungo’s has a long-term residents ward for a reason. You’d be a fool not to be terrified.”

“Professor--”

“That being said,” she continued, raising a finger to quiet you. “The reason this process is so involved is because it is meant to teach you the virtues of knowledge and patience. You may not find day-to-day use in becoming an Animagus, but having studied the skill successfully these past few years has given you a framework of discipline that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Now,” she motioned to the phial, “tell me why I called you here today.”

“...it’s a full moon, Professor. I have to put the leaf in my mouth tonight, and keep it there until the beginning of the next cycle.”

“Which is?”

“October 6th.”

“What will you do then?”

“Meet with Professor Snape that evening to create the Animagus potion under the light of the full moon.”

“And if the full moon isn’t completely visible on the night of October 6th?”

“Discard the leaf, come to you, and start over again.”

“And if Professor Snape is unavailable to help you the night of October 6th?”

“Discard the leaf, come to you, and start over again.”

“And if the leaf is swallowed or otherwise removed from your mouth at any time between now and the night of October 6th?”

“Discard the leaf, come to you, and start over again.”

“Good.” With a graceful nonchalance, McGonagall picked up the crystal phial containing the Mandrake leaf, and placed it into the palm of your hand. “You’re ready.”

Your heart already feeling lighter, you beamed.

“Thank you, Professor.”

Chapter Text

The most unexpected side-effect of carrying a Mandrake leaf in your mouth was the way it poisoned every swallow with bitterness.

Each sip of drink, every bite of food was tainted with a medicinal acridity that made your nose twitch and sent a shiver down your spine. You quickly made the transition to the plainest foods possible to prevent yourself from developing aversions, and six days into the endeavour, all you wanted to do was remember what non-Mandrake-laced roasted chicken tasted like.

The second most unexpected side-effect was how hard it was not to play around with it. With McGonagall’s approval, you’d used a Sticking Charm to keep the leaf affixed to the roof of your mouth, but you kept finding yourself tonguing idly at the thing, like a mouth wound you just couldn’t leave alone. Though the charm had to be reapplied multiple times throughout the day, it worked well to prevent accidents, especially while eating and sleeping.

With your mouth full of Mandrake and your gut constantly swirling with quarts of bitter saliva, you didn’t speak much for the remainder of September.

Snape and McGonagall, the only professors of yours who knew of your Animagus training, didn’t give you any preferential treatment, but at least extended you the courtesy of not asking you direct questions in-class. McGonagall only called on you when it was your turn to cast spells, which were performed non-verbally, while Snape took the simple approach of pretending you didn’t exist.

Flitwick and Vector were more difficult to handle. On the occasion you were called upon for an explanation, you kept your answers short and to the point, as your every other syllable was softened by a heavy lisp you clearly didn’t have before.

Not speaking in Lupin’s class, however, proved to be the biggest challenge.

You were studying advanced theory that month, starting with a thorough review of all offensive and defensive spells you’d learned since year one. The bizarre focus on wand movements would’ve been tedious under any other professor’s instruction, but Lupin had a way of making the most mundane of subjects fascinating; you were convinced he could’ve read the dictionary aloud and still had his class hanging onto every word.

Yet, Lupin encouraged class discussions more than any other teacher--the more you tried to keep to yourself, the more he’d pick on you for answers. You were sure he thought your reservedness was residual shyness from the Shield Charm incident earlier that month--a thought which only frustrated you even more, as you wanted to contribute--but every class, you were forced to choose between pretending not to know the answer, and speaking with a new speech impediment.

You didn’t want to answer any intrusive questions about it, and you certainly didn’t want to risk the leaf falling out, losing all your progress for the sake of engaging in some class discussions.

Idle thoughts of your next Defence Against the Dark Arts class distracted you during Potions one day, almost enough for you to miscount the rat spleens you added to your cauldron--but as you brought a stoppered vial of Shrinking Solution to the front after class, Snape jolted you from your anxious reverie by calling your last name.

“Wednesday,” he said, once again not bothering to make eye contact as he spoke. “Astronomy Tower. Eight o’clock.”

And just like that, your month was up.

-

Bzzt.

Your enchanted watch gave you a jolt, marking 7:45pm on the night of October 6th.

You were already here.

As the Astronomy Tower was off-limits outside of class time, you hadn’t stepped foot in this place since your finals in fifth year. The tower was just as you remembered it, though, with the familiar wooden floors creaking beneath your feet, and the massive floating gyroscopes rotating silently in the middle of the room. Open stone arches made the tower a bird’s nest, granting a breathtaking 360 degree view of the grounds below and the sky above. The stars were not yet at their brightest, and the pitch-black sky was broken only by the pale glow of the full moon.

You leaned against a railing. The scent of night autumn air was intoxicating--clean and cold and vaguely nostalgic. A stray intrusive thought urged you to jump.

“Clear skies,” said a dull voice behind you. “How fortunate.”

(How was he so damn quiet?)

“Good evening, Professor.”

Snape swept to your side, beneath the open archway with the best view of the moon, and offered up a crystal phial without looking at you. You accepted it. At this point, you didn’t need to exchange words--if you hadn’t memorized these steps by now, you had no right being here.

Holding the phial directly under the moonlight, you finally, finally removed the cursed leaf from your mouth, now dripping with spit, and slid it into the phial, careful not to get anything gross outside the lip of the bottle. You plucked a single one of your hairs from the root, adding it in as well. Snape pulled a second small bottle and a silver teaspoon from the inside of his cloak, measuring out a clear liquid onto the utensil before tipping it into your phial.

Reaching back into his pocket, Snape pulled out a dark, pod-like object and held it up between his fingers. Under the low light, the size and shape of it sort of reminded you of a Licorice Snap.

You offered your phial, but he shifted his arm away from you, as if he were playing keep-away with a child.

You realized he was making eye contact, now. You were not to take his next words lightly.

“The ingredients needed to create this potion are notoriously difficult to obtain,” he said, slowly. “Keep that in mind before doing anything that would warrant asking me for a second chance.”

You blinked.

The incantation. He must’ve meant the incantation.

From tomorrow morning until the next thunderstorm, you would need to recite a very specific spell, every sunrise and sunset. Failure to do so even once would mean having to get a fresh Mandrake leaf and starting the entire process over again.

That was why keeping time was so important this year.

You would charm your watch tonight to give you a five-minute warning before every sunrise and sunset. You would add bone conduction to the enchantment, if you had to, which would rattle you to your core any time the alarm went off. You would have to be incapacitated or dead to miss the alerts, and either fate would be through no deliberate doing of your own.

“I understand, sir.”

Still staring at you, unblinking, Snape took the crystal phial from you and plunked the moth chrysalis inside, before slipping the concoction into an inner pocket of his robes.

He turned his heel and strode away. “You are not to leave school grounds until the ritual is complete.”

“Yes, sir,” you called at his back. “Thank you for your help.”

“Don’t disappoint me,” came his reply, as he descended the steps of the Astronomy Tower.

-

On Monday afternoon, Lupin limped into the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom with a cane in his hand and colour in his cheeks, seeming much lighter and brighter than the exhausted wreck of a man who’d instructed you the previous Wednesday, if not somehow more disheveled.

“Good afternoon, class!” he said, cheerfully.

‘Good afternoon,’ chimed the room.

“We missed you on Friday, Professor,” said a girl in the front row. “Are you quite alright?”

“Ah, yes--thank you for your concern, Miss Perrot.” He rested his cane against the side of his desk, and began unpacking his briefcase. “I should’ve told you all sooner so it didn’t come as such a surprise. I deal with a...chronic illness, though I’m sure you couldn’t tell just by looking at me.” (A sympathetic laugh from the room.) “On the occasion I am too unwell to teach, Professor Snape has kindly agreed to substitute. Now,” he added lightly, facing the class, “how did he do?”

Silence swallowed the room like a Lethifold.

When he wasn’t asking deliberately absurd questions on material you hadn’t yet covered, Snape had used every opportunity to make rude comments about Lupin and his curriculum. Sure, it was a well-known rumour among the older students that Snape had been gunning for Lupin’s job for years. Sure, Snape was probably still raw about the whole Boggart-in-a-dress incident that happened in one of Lupin’s third-year classes earlier last month. As seventh-years, you were all well-accustomed to Snape’s baiting tactics whenever he was in a foul mood, knowing the best way of dealing with them was to keep your head down and your mouth shut.

But no one wanted to break the news to Lupin, especially not when he seemed to be feeling so much better.

“We’re just happy to have you back, Professor,” you finally said, breaking the silence, to the emphatic agreement of the rest of the class.

It was the first time you’d spoken in his class in over a month.

He met your eyes, and all you could see was the pale green, green, green of his own.

“Well, then,” he smiled at you. “It’s good to be back.”

You were just being honest, but the way he beamed at you made your heart leap into your throat.

You looked down at a particularly fascinating scratch mark on your desk, trying to will away the steam you swore was pouring out of your ears.

“Now,” he continued. “It’s been a little over a month since the start of term. I have a fair idea of how we should advance.

“The standard Defence Against the Dark Arts curriculum for your first several years entails a balanced mixture of spells and dark creatures. Your sixth and seventh years, however, have a much stronger focus on practical defensive magic. Professor Lockhart was on the right track, I think, starting a Duelling Club--though, my idea involves a bit less showboating.”

Lupin walked around to the front of his desk, leaning back against it to face his class.

“When it comes to this level of study, there is a level of understanding I must help you achieve. Yes, to pass your N.E.W.T.s, of course--but for real life application, as well. You’re far more likely to face another witch or wizard in combat than a Hinkypunk, after all. As with all things within this classroom, I pray you’ll never need this knowledge outside of it, but if you do...I want you to be prepared.”

A boy sitting near you raised his hand. “What is it we’re preparing for, exactly?”

Lupin shrugged, his shoulders shifting with the ominous weight of a history he would not share. “Whatever wicked this way comes.”

-

The purpose of your earlier spellwork review became clear as you spent the next few weeks practicing the identification of an opponent’s spell based on how they moved their wand. Of course, the readings only worked with spells that required more complex movements than point-and-cast, but once you knew what to look for, it was a surprisingly useful ability.

“Spellcasting is, in part, a visual skill,” Lupin had said, pacing through the classroom of duelling pairs, “universal across all spoken languages. When you cast a spell, you are writing your intentions in mid-air, plain as day. We each have our own little differences, our own styles--almost like a signature. With enough practice, you can learn to read an opponent’s moves as easily as their handwriting.”

Professor Lupin was a phenomenal teacher.

Though topics grew more complicated, he would do his best to ensure everyone’s understanding before moving on to something new. His exams and essay gradings were tough, but fair--whenever you received a paper back, you could expect the margins to be filled with his neat handwriting, containing helpful notes and further readings to help you going forward. During practical exercises, he would give careful attention to every student he passed by, providing praise and advice alike, adjusting the wrists and hands of those whose stances were a little off--and over time, you found yourself getting your stances wrong on purpose, just to have an excuse.

Defence Against the Dark Arts quickly went from your worst subject to your most anticipated class.

“Today,” he began one day, “we will be learning about one of the most satisfying techniques in the art of duelling: spell chains.

“Now, without getting too much into the details of wand movement theory and multi-spell compatability, spell chaining is exactly what it says on the tin--chaining spells together, one after the other, for faster casting and maximum effect. Before today, when you performed spells, each spell was exclusive from one another, yes? You’d practice a charm, reset your wand, and practice the charm again.” He exaggerated waves of his own wand as an example. “This gave you the habit of resetting your wand to center between every single spell. Wastes quite a bit of time, if you’re battling it out. If spell one ends here,” and he pointed his wand off-center, “spell two can be started instantly, right at this point. Spell chaining. Understand?”

The class gave murmurs of general agreement.

“Good. Who can tell me about Hobblemane’s Fourth Law?”

You and a few of your classmates raised your hands. He called on you, and you tried to ignore the way his eyes seemed to brighten as he did so.

“Hobblemane’s Fourth Law of Magical Energy,” you said, “states that a deflection of a spell, followed by a chained cast of that same spell, will use residual magic from the deflected spell to increase the chained spell’s strength.”

“Excellent! This is a very important concept to remember, mind you--I would be surprised if it wasn’t a question on your N.E.W.T.s. If I cast a Stunning Spell, and you deflect it with a Shield Charm chained into a counter Stunning Spell, that chained Stunning Spell will be much more powerful than you rebounding my spell back at me, or performing a Stunning Spell all on its own. Let’s give it a go, shall we?” he asked, and he motioned for you to come up to the front of the class.

The way your stomach churned made you feel full of Mandrake spit, again.

For some reason, you glanced around the room before you walked up, as if searching for someone else to volunteer as tribute. Your classmates were already muttering amongst themselves. You tried not to think about what they were saying about you.

Lupin offered a small smile. “The theory’s more complicated than the execution, I promise you.”

His hand rested against the small of your back to guide you, and your heart lodged itself somewhere in your windpipe, again.

All too quickly, he positioned himself several feet across from you.

“Very straightforward,” he assured, pulling his wand from his robes. “I will cast a spell. You will shield yourself and chain cast the same spell back at me, without repositioning your wand to center. Simple enough?”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Good. Wand at the ready, then.”

You drew your wand from your robe pockets--jet-black, a little worn--and raised it, swallowing hard. He wasn’t giving you much time to be nervous, but you figured that was his point.

“One spell into the other,” he repeated, his own wand raised in return. “Just like a signature.”

You nodded.

A beat of silence.

Lupin’s movements were brisk and immediate, but a month’s worth of practice had you recognizing the shape of his spell moments before blue light erupted from the end of his wand.

You focused to make sure muscle memory didn’t bring your wand back to center--you made a slashing movement for the Shield Charm, flowing straight into the wispy movements for the chained Knockback Jinx. Another blue light, much more intense than the first, shot from your wand almost instantly.

Lupin shielded himself, and the spell dissipated with a deafening crack.

The duel had taken less than a second.

The sheer speed of the exchange, in combination with the enhanced power of the chained spell, drew amazement and applause from the rest of the class.

“Brilliant!” Lupin cheered. “Fantastic work, ten points to Slytherin.”

You broke into the biggest smile you’d felt on yourself in months.

You could still feel the ghost of his hand pressed against your lower back, and you had a feeling it might be there for a while.

-

Halloween brought with it the first Hogsmeade visit of the year.

As per Snape’s instructions, you weren’t allowed to leave the castle grounds until the next electrical storm. You were almost frustrated about not being able to make the day trip until you realized that, since the potion was made, Snape and McGonagall were also having to coordinate one of them being at the castle at all times, entirely for your supervision. Frustration gave way to overwhelming gratitude. Once this was over, you definitely needed to show them how grateful you were.

You had too much work to do to go to Hogsmeade, anyway.

In lieu of an in-class exam, Professor Vector wanted a historical number chart plotted for the entire year of 1872. Professor McGonagall wanted a roll of parchment on the Principle of Artificianimate Quasi-Dominance by Friday. Professor Snape expected his entire class to brew the Volubilis Potion from memory tomorrow morning, which was already difficult without him adding multitudes of instructions that weren’t even in the textbook he assigned. And you were behind on your Protean Charm practice for Professor Flitwick--you still hadn’t managed to get your second match to catch fire when the first one was lit, though you thought you saw it at least smoking a little last time you tried.

Your steady improvement in Defence Against the Dark Arts made it easier to see the gaps in your knowledge: things you should’ve known from earlier years, but never fully grasped. You added your previous years’ notes and books to the pile of things you needed to study, only to realize you didn’t have any proper material from year six--just a stack of discredited autobiographies from an old fraud.

Maybe Professor Lupin had some textbooks you could borrow.

As you made the familiar trek down the second-floor corridor, you spotted a third-year Gryffindor leaving Lupin’s office. The boy had unkempt dark hair and round glasses, and as his bright emerald eyes flickered up at you in passing, you couldn’t help but feel a little starstruck, like you did whenever you passed him in the halls.

If the rumors were anything to go by, Potter had been through the goddamned ringer since he arrived. You found it a wonder he kept coming back to Hogwarts, as you would’ve packed up ages ago if you’d seen half the things he saw at this school; two years in, and stories of what he’d done here were already legend. The famous jinx on the Defence Against the Dark Arts professorship was in effect long before he arrived, but he’d still killed Professor Quirrell-slash-You-Know-Who in his first year, and sent Professor Lockhart to St. Mungo’s long-term care in his second.

...you really, really hoped Harry Potter liked Professor Lupin.

Lupin was at his office entrance when you arrived, seeing Potter off. He didn’t seem to notice you at first, and you failed to ignore how charming he looked just standing there, half-slouching against the doorway with his hands in his pockets. He wasn’t wearing his robes, just a loose cardigan over a dress shirt and tie, with wear and tear in all the wrong places; he wore his dishevelment on his threadbare sleeves, and he made it work, somehow, wholly comfortable in his own skin.

His pale green eyes fell on you, and you remembered his hand on your back, again.

“Oh, hello,” he beamed. “Surprised to see another student not at Hogsmeade.”

“It loses its novelty after the first few years,” you lied, smiling back.

“Really? I’d think Honeydukes alone is worth the trip. What I wouldn’t do for a square of Pink Coconut Ice...I’ve been clean out for a while, now.”

“Why aren’t you at Hogsmeade, Professor?”

He suddenly looked rather tired. “I’ve got my own fair share of work to do, here.”

“Oh!” You pointed over your shoulder, into the distance behind you. “If you’re busy, I can come back later--”

“Not at all, I could use the distraction. I’ve just put on some tea, actually.” He jerked his head towards his office. “Come, keep me company.”

Your heart fluttered as you followed his lead.

Professor Lupin’s office smelled like freshly laundered linen and old parchment. A large, gilded window kept the room well-lit. Dark bookshelves lined the walls, overstacked with old, battered tomes of all shapes and sizes. A massive water tank took up a whole corner of the office, its small, tentacled occupant swimming in agitated circles behind glass. You had a sudden flashback to the first time you tried to visit; if Lupin kept live dark creatures in his office, you figured having a magical seal on his door made sense.

“Please, have a seat,” he offered.

You parked yourself in the squishy armchair in front of his desk, as he rounded his office to the still-steaming kettle nearby. An empty goblet sat on his desk, surrounded by rolls of half-marked student papers, and you couldn’t help but notice that the goblet was identical to the ones lining the shelves of the Potions classroom. Professor Snape was already substituting for Lupin’s classes--was he helping him manage his illness, as well?

Before that train of thought could develop much further, Lupin leaned right over your shoulder, setting a chipped mug in front of you. For the briefest of moments, you caught his scent: clean and cold and vaguely nostalgic.

He smelled like an autumn night.

(A stray thought urged you to jump.)

Sometime within the past couple of months, you’d come to terms with the fact that you may have fancied your professor. It was harmless, in the grand scheme of things--it wasn’t as if you were ever going to tell him, nor were you absurd enough to think it could ever be reciprocated. As it stood, it was something that made you eager to come to class, something that made you work just a little bit harder--and with the amount of studying you needed to do as-is, you would take every bit of motivation you could get.

You definitely had this under control. Definitely.

Sipping your tea, you watched him take the seat behind his desk. Cursive words faded onto the surface of his own mug as the ceramic warmed up in his grasp.

Your such a teas!

“Interesting cup,” you smirked.

“Oh, this old thing?” Lupin turned it towards himself, reading what it said. “Yes, it tells a different tea pun each time you use it. A friend gave it to me, years ago--I daresay the enchantment’s wearing off, though, that grammar is atrocious. How are your studies?”

Fantastic,” you said, a touch more resolute than the situation warranted.

He raised an eyebrow. “Unusual word to describe your seventh year.”

“If I say it enough, maybe it’ll come true.”

“Given, it’s not the strangest coping mechanism I’ve seen so far.”

“Are you making fun of me, Professor?”

“I would never.”

You smiled at one another from behind your mugs.

Lupin set his back on the desk. “Well, if you’re here to inquire about your grades, you’ve nothing to worry about. Your in-class performance left a bit to be desired at first, but you’ve shown significant improvement this month. It’s wonderful to see you coming out of your shell.”

You bristled. There was no shell, you just had to carry a disgusting leaf in your mouth for four weeks and couldn’t talk properly, but you couldn’t very well tell him that now. If he interpreted this as improvement in his class, however, that was to your advantage--improvement stood out more than consistency, after all.

“Thank you, Professor. That’s good to know, but that isn’t why I’m here.”

“What can I do for you, then?”

“I’m reviewing my old Defence Against the Dark Arts notes, and I realized I don’t have any…” You chose your words carefully. “...credible materials for year six. I was wondering what textbook you assigned your sixth years, and if you had a spare copy I could borrow for a while?”

“I do, actually,” he said, brightening up. “I assigned Arsenius Jigger across classes. Sixth year would be Defence Against the Dark Arts: An Introductory Guide for Practical Use--and I’m sure I have an extra copy lying around here somewhere...”

He rifled through his desk drawers, and the hasty ruffle of parchment filled the room. Muttering to himself, he ducked to continue his search through the drawers, lowering further and further until you could barely see the top of his head behind his desk. He shoved a drawer closed with too much force; rolls of parchment went tumbling across the desktop, and on reflex, you stretched your hands out to keep them from falling off the edges. They were all labelled ‘N.E.W.T. Progress Guide,’ in Lupin’s careful handwriting, each a different version marked with roman numerals.

“‘Progress Guides’?” you read, aloud.

Lupin popped up from behind his desk, a book in hand. “Oh, yes. I’ve got my work cut out for me, as you can see.”

“There are fourteen versions here,” you said, reading the numbers as you tried to stack the rolls back onto each other. “Are you running fourteen different N.E.W.T. classes, Professor?”

“Gracious, no--just three, in total. But with Lockhart’s curriculum...well, everyone I teach is almost a year behind.” He gave a tired laugh, and a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Catching up seventh-year students with sixth-year concepts isn’t too complicated, as sixth and seventh year N.E.W.T. curriculums tie into each other. But catching up sixth-years with fifth-year content in addition to what they should be studying for the N.E.W.T.s is...rather challenging.”

All too empathetic with his dilemma, you nodded. “With all due respect to Professor Dumbledore, I’m surprised someone like Lockhart got hired in the first place. The teachers I’ve had for Defence Against the Dark Arts have all been pretty abysmal so far, but he was really...something else.”

“Dumbledore did his best with what he had, I’m sure. This post is an extremely difficult position to fill--it is jinxed, after all.”

“At least he got it right this time,” you said, unable to stop yourself.

“That’s...very kind of you to say.”

You continued busying yourself with the small tower of rolled parchment. You could hear the warm smile in his voice, coating his words like a happy secret, but you couldn’t bring yourself to actually look at him, not after such flagrant flattery--you were here for a little self-indulgence, sure, but now you were just being careless.

“You can borrow this one, by the way,” he offered. “It’s my personal copy, you may find the notes helpful.”

Your eyes flitted over to the textbook he was handing you. The book was bound in dark hardcover, its edges worn and its title glittering silver. Accepting it, you chanced a glance up at him, only to meet his eyes as he considered you--really considered you--his mouth rounding some word he hadn’t yet voiced.

“This might be unconventional,” he started, sounding wistful, “but I think I may have a solution that would work out for the both of us.”

“...sir?”

“How would you like to be my teaching assistant for the sixth years?”

Me?”

“Why not?” he offered, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “You’ve shown the most improvement in your class over the past two months. And you’ve demonstrated an earnest, self-motivated drive for learning, just by coming here today and asking me for this book.”

You gave a small, uncomfortable laugh. “But that hardly makes me qualified to teach.”

“Not teaching,” he corrected, pointing a finger in the air. “Teaching assistant. Going over assignments, grading papers, gathering resources for my classes. You would be studying the same curriculum as my sixth-years in real-time, which is--if I’m not mistaken--where you need the extra study. And you would be helping me just as much,” he sighed, motioning to the rolls upon rolls of his multiple curriculum revisions. “I could do with another pair of eyes on this. Only if you had the time, of course.”

You did not have the time. You did not have the time.

You definitely did not have the time.

“I’d be honoured,” you accepted, stupidly.

“Excellent! I’ll need to clear it with Dumbledore and Professor Snape, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.”

Your heart sank as quickly as it had lifted. “Professor Snape?”

“I can tell you’re worried,” he smiled. “I’ll need to speak with him, yes--he is your head of house, after all. But let me take care of that. I’m only glad to have some help.”

Lupin offered a handshake over his desk, and you took it.

In three hours’ time, you would find yourself at the Halloween feast down in the Great Hall, surrounded by dancing ghosts, delicious food, and far too many sweets to not stuff your pockets for later. In five hours’ time, you would find yourself ushered back to the Great Hall from your dormitory, quarantined to a sea of squishy purple sleeping bags, as news of a break-in that evening instigated a school-wide manhunt for Sirius Black.

But in that moment, his hand was in your hand and his smile was in your eyes.

He is an autumn night, and you jump.

Chapter Text

Amato Animo Animato Animagus.

You were normally still in bed at sunrise, before being jarred awake by the bone-conducting vibrations of your enchanted watch, the Animagus spell becoming a quiet ritual in an otherwise sleeping dorm room. Sunset’s observances were performed in a variety of places, depending on where you were at the time—sometimes whispered behind library bookshelves or in bathroom stalls, or enunciated loud and joyously in whatever isolated corner of the grounds you found yourself studying in.

You were proud of how far you’d come, and each repetition of the spell made you feel more and more alive.

You would repeat the incantation twice per day, pointing the tip of your ebony wand towards at your heart. Sometimes, when you cast it, you could feel the surreal echo of another heartbeat syncing itself with your own, like the ghost of a second consciousness growing inside of you.

As you waited for the lightning storm, you wondered which beast laid dormant within you.

You knew from your studies that one’s Animagus form was assigned, not chosen, based on how facets of your personality intersected with the nature of your own magical energy.

Still, you worried.

Millions of species lived on this planet, most of which you’d likely never even heard of. Statistically speaking, what were the chances your new form would be something awkward, like a cockroach, or a garden slug? Or something even more dangerously impractical, like an elephant, or an ant, or literally anything that lived underwater?

Years upon years of study just to turn into a sea bass.

You might have enough time to be disappointed before dying of embarrassment.

All your worries notwithstanding, you continued your scheduled spellcasting without fail, with your wand to your chest and your heart pounding to the rhythm of another. You resolved to trust yourself and whatever new image was forthcoming—which, you knew, were one and the same. The form you were to become was not the emergence of something other, but an emergence of the self.

And for better or for worse, you would be worthy of it.

-

In the early morning hours of the second of November, you were woken by a Head Slytherin in their pyjamas, a lit wand in their hand.

“Professor Snape wants to see you,” they said, keeping their voice low to not disturb your roommates. “Says it’s an emergency.”

As you tried to clear away your sleepy stupor, it took a few moments for you to understand the sympathetic sense of panic weighing in the other student’s eyes: an emergency call at this time of night usually meant a serious injury or death in the family.

Thunder clapped outside your window, striking you with sudden clarity.

You knew better.

-

You were led to Snape’s office at once. You’d hastily thrown on your school robes before heading out—you didn’t feel like facing the upcoming task, or Snape, wearing nothing but your nightclothes.

Snape was at the center of his stone-flask office when the two of you arrived, keeping his shoulders square and his hands folded behind his back. His black night-robes looked only marginally more comfortable than his day ones.

“That will be all,” he said to the other student. They nodded and left, making their way back to the dormitories.

As soon as you were alone, Snape turned his heel and approached a wall of his office, taking out his wand and making a small, complicated movement you didn’t recognize. A small stone brick dislodged itself from the wall, allowing him to remove your crystal phial from behind it. Hidden from sunlight and left to cure for several weeks, the once random slurry of ingredients had transformed into a homogeneous, deep-red liquid.

“Follow me,” he ordered.

You obliged.

Sounds of the incoming storm followed you down the hallways. For how real this was becoming, you still felt as if you were navigating a dream, wandering through dungeon corridors at the tail of someone carrying a vial of spit mixed with a dead insect and an old leaf.

Though you had no wand pointed at yourself, your heart was already beating fast enough for two.

The large, empty hall he led you to was as frigid as the rest of the dungeons: not a classroom, but one of the many spare chambers kept cleared for various use. The torches lining the stone walls were already lit, revealing the silhouette of a rather tired-looking McGonagall, standing nearby in her night-robes.

“Professor,” you beamed. “You’re here.”

“Of course,” she said, as if it were obvious. “I’ve spent the last four years preparing you for this—it would be a shame to miss the debut.”

“Procedure mandates a minimum of two witnesses for the first transformation,” Snape drawled. “Nothing more than a requirement for your registration with the Ministry.”

McGonagall clicked her tongue. “Come now, Severus, I think you can afford to be a little more excited.”

Snape remained expressionless.

Somehow, having McGonagall present dulled the anxious edge of the situation. Though you would never admit it, if something went wrong and you had to choose between the two of them for help, you would choose McGonagall without hesitation. You wouldn’t be able to handle impatient ridicule for any missteps tonight, not while you were already teetering on the precipice of a faltering confidence.

“The potion appears adequate,” Snape said, examining the phial closely beneath the torchlight. “I take it you’ve performed the incantation?”

“Twice a day,” you nodded. “Sunup and sundown.”

“Never missing an instance?”

“No, sir.”

“On your life?”

“...yes, sir.”

“Hm,” he sneered, sounding unconvinced. “We shall see.”

He handed the potion to you. You looked at it as if it were a live grenade.

Reaching into your robes, you pointed your wand to your heart and recited the spell, one last time.

Amato Animo Animato Animagus.”

Years of study, of patience, of vigor, all leading up to this moment.

You uncorked the phial and braced for the worst.

As the blood-red concoction hit your tongue, you found Snape’s words inside your head, words you carried with you these past two years like a mantra.

Hold your nerve.

The potion ran thin and tasted stale, imbued with the faint flavour of Mandrake leaf drowned in standing water.

The reaction was immediate.

The second heartbeat rematerialized beneath your chest, pulsing distinct and out of time with your own, growing faster and more powerful with every beat. The wand and phial fell from your hands; you dropped to your knees and pressed both hands over your heart, convinced it was going to burst from your chest if you didn’t try holding it in.

It should’ve hurt, you thought, but it didn’t. None of it did.

Pins and needles tingled at your fingertips, surging up your arms and spreading through your body like waves of static. An immense pressure was suddenly bearing down on you from all sides, as if a magical gravity was pushing against you, into you, forcefully reshaping you into a mold that was not your own. Too many strange sensations happened all at once, in an instant—your glasses sinking into your face, your robes seeming to melt against the surface of your skin—it was horrific, otherworldly.

But then it wasn’t.

Your out-of-sync heartbeats harmonized until you felt only one remain.

You opened your eyes. You were lower to the ground than before, much lower, but whatever body you occupied now felt just as natural to you as your first.

A secondary consciousness swiftly joined your normal thoughts, snapping at you in quick, sharp compulsions.

Inside. Indoors. Danger. Get out. Out, out. Now.

The sudden urge to escape was overwhelming, enough to move your body on its own accord; torn between the instinct to run and the rationality to stay, you stumbled over your own feet and fell over.

I’m safer here,’ you told yourself. ‘It’s okay. I’m safe.’

Up, then. Up.

That, you couldn’t ignore.

Before you could stop yourself, you lifted yourself up, up, up. You were lighter than you could possibly imagine. Lighter than air. Almost hollow.

Stand high. Stand high and look.

You landed in an archway of the chamber, your feet-turned-talons scraping around a corner edge of stone. Being high up felt more comfortable than being on the ground, and it set your panic at ease.

It might as well have been daytime for how clearly you could see into every corner of the dimly lit room. Not only could you see better in the dark, but you could somehow see more than you used to, as if your peripheral vision had been widened by several degrees. The sheer scale of your new optic scope was so much to take in all at once, you found yourself moving your head every few seconds just to properly process all the details.

From below, McGonagall conjured a small puddle of liquid silver on the floor.

Shiny. Get it.

You let yourself come down from the ceiling to investigate. The mystery substance was highly reflective, allowing you to see yourself clearly as you approached it.

You tried to make a noise of surprise, but a garbled croak escaped you instead.

You were bigger than you thought you were—at least two feet long, if not longer. A slightly curved beak took place where your nose and mouth had been. You were completely covered in sleek, oil-black feathers, with the ones around your neck fluffed out in all the wrong places. Uncanny markings lined your eyes where your glasses had been, and there was a thin band of grey around one of your scrawny black ankles, the closest thing to a wrist you had now from where you wore your watch.

The longer you stared in the makeshift mirror, the more relieved you felt. You were a bird—and a common one, at that. Not embarrassing or impractical in the least.

A whole new world of possibilities sent your mind racing. An inconspicuous Animagus form would actually prove useful for a position at the Ministry of Magic, instead of just something impressive to pad your application. With a skill like this, you didn’t need to settle for the mere goal of ‘detective.’ You could be a Hit Wizard.

You could be a goddamn Auror.

-

Being sure to give you enough space, your professors watched as you carefully examined your own reflection.

“A crow?” Snape asked.

“Too big to be a crow,” McGonagall said, shaking her head. “A raven, I believe.”

“How ominous.” He lowered his voice. “When shall we let them know that turning into the animal is the easy part?”

“Give it a few more minutes.”

Chapter Text

The weather remained stormy throughout the first week of November.

After Halloween night’s break-in, the atmosphere at Hogwarts grew tense with rumors. Sirius Black had somehow managed to get into the castle and attack the Fat Lady—Gryffindor’s common room portrait—when she refused to grant him entry to the dormitories.

As a result of the incident, dementor activity increased tenfold.

Though the dementors weren’t supposed to cross into the grounds, they disrupted Saturday’s Quidditch match mid-game, making Gryffindor’s seeker pass out on his broom a hundred feet in the air. If Malfoy hadn’t still been milking his injury and gotten Slytherin’s match rescheduled, the victim that day could have just as easily been a Quidditch player from your house.

How could such an accident have been allowed to happen?

The incident made you even warier of the dementors’ occupation; you never felt safe from them, especially not when you could still catch them out the corner of your eye, drifting aimlessly like enchanted smears of ink across the distant landscape. Even from afar, they filled you with unease. You were finding it more and more difficult to concentrate.

On the night of your first Animagus transformation with Snape and McGonagall, returning to your human form took an hour of careful focus. Not being able to use your wand to revert back made the task exponentially more difficult; though you were warned of this beforehand, it didn’t make the inability to change at will any less terrifying. You needed practice, practice you couldn’t do on your own, as you had to wait for your Ministry of Magic registration to go through before transforming without supervision.

In the meantime, you trained with McGonagall as often as her schedule would allow.

The exhausting drills of transforming from one form to the other and back again took place in her office. Once you got the hang of it, she started transforming alongside you, leading you on excursions on lunch break or between classes. As a raven, you would follow her around the school grounds, through small spaces and crevices you would have never noticed otherwise, mapping out shortcuts around the castle. Sometimes, you even got the chance to terrorize Mrs. Norris. McGonagall would pretend not to notice.

McGonagall’s Animagus was that of a sleek grey tabby cat. Her movements were graceful, postured, and sure, which was a stark contrast to your novice, unwieldy handling of your own feathered mass. You were still getting used to maneuvering properly—sometimes, you would clip a pillar mid-flight, or misjudge your landing and fall off a given surface. On one occasion, you flew straight into a library window and shattered it into a thousand pieces; when you heard Filch’s curses of frustration approaching from a distance, you and McGonagall exchanged glances, and ran.

Above all, you found the hardest thing to reign under control was the powerful animal instinct nagging at you from inside your head. If the voice wasn’t trying to get you to fly higher or draw your attention to random shiny objects, it was alerting you to McGonagall’s presence.

Fake cat. Fake cat. Fake cat.

I know,’ you kept telling yourself. ‘Shut up, already, I know.

The most memorable outing occurred the following week.

To familiarize you with navigating natural terrain outside the castle, McGonagall took you just outside of Hogwarts grounds, where you found a dementor floating directly in your path. It was the closest to one you had ever been—the massive black wraith hovered in place, wearing cloaked, tattered robes whose edges faded into billows of ever-moving smoke. Whenever a human passed it, you noticed, it would give a slight turn of its hooded head, like a dog checking a scent in the air.

You and McGonagall walked directly in front of it.

The dementor did not notice either of you.

You couldn’t get your mind off the revelation throughout the remainder of your classes. Strangely enough, being in your Animagus form was the one instance you had ever felt safe around a dementor. You did not ask McGonagall about it, lest she suspect you of wanting to sneak away from the grounds on a regular basis&mdash. Somehow, the discovery felt like forbidden knowledge you weren’t supposed to have.

Dementors could not tell the difference between Animagi and normal animals.

You were still thinking about it when Defence Against the Dark Arts ended. By the time you handed in your spell theory essay, you were the last person in the classroom.

“Just the Slytherin I wanted to see,” Lupin spoke up, taking the parchment from you. “You seem a bit distracted, today. Everything alright?”

You'd let idle thoughts cut into your attention in-class. That was a problem. “Sorry, Professor. Lots of studying this week. I feel like the moment I stop, everything I’ve learned will come pouring straight out of my ears.”

“The joys of seventh year. Might I recommend earmuffs?”

You smirked, and he smiled up at you warmly.

“Well, now I feel terrible asking this of you,” he started, “but would you be able to meet me after classes this evening? I was quite ill last weekend and could do with some help catching up.”

The request took you by surprise—his proposition to have you as an assistant had only come a little over a week ago. “You’ve already spoken to Professor Snape?”

“Oh, yes. Seemed thrilled with the idea, actually. Did he not tell you?”

“It...must’ve slipped his mind.” You knew full well that was a lie.

To say you were astounded was an understatement. Though you picked up on Lupin’s sarcasm—it was impossible to imagine Snape being ‘thrilled’ about anything—the fact remained that Snape had given Lupin his approval to take you on as his teaching assistant. No summoning you for a meeting in his office? No passive-aggressive remarks during Potions? No pushback at all? You couldn’t imagine what Lupin may have said or done or promised to get Snape to agree so readily. The thought alone was oddly terrifying.

“I know you’re busy,” Lupin winked. “Think you can pencil me in?”

The wink he shot you was like an arrow to the heart.

How could you say no?

-

Being a teacher’s assistant was dreadful work.

As November trudged on, you were visiting Professor Lupin’s office after school two to three times a week. Half of your time was spent helping him organize sixth-year curriculums, while the other half was spent grading assignments to his unreasonably thorough specifications. Terrible as it may have been, you couldn’t help but think that if Lupin's standards for helping his students were just a little lower, assisting him wouldn’t have proven to be so tedious; you hadn't realized there was so much work behind the skilled instruction he made seem so effortless.

Still, you had accepted the position for completely selfish reasons, and those reasons were proving worthwhile.

You enjoyed receiving the random owl at lunchtime asking if you could help him after classes. Grading through twenty essays on the same topic was just another form of rote repetition for your own studies. Marking sixth-year answers wrong, but also having to detail why they were wrong, did much to help cover the gaps in your knowledge from your academically void year with Lockhart. The trouble was worth seeing what pun would appear on Lupin’s tea mug that day, and the stolen glimpses of him at his desk, focused, nibbling at the end of his quill as he read across parchments.

The bits of colour you had during your week made the rest of it feel that much more desaturated.

Today, you were studying outside, a large table all to yourself due to the colder weather keeping everyone indoors. You were running through multitudes of steps and ingredients for Potions, your many notes spread across the wide stone tabletop. Before your N.E.W.T. classes, you had always thought Potions was an exact science with no room for variation or interpretation, but Snape had done well to prove you wrong. Skipping a single one of his classes would have proven disastrous to your studies, as the majority of the material he provided had absolutely no mention in the assigned textbook; it was frustrating, but following Snape’s generous liberties to the book’s instructions yielded flawless results, results he would be expecting you to replicate from memory.

You looked over the Shrinking Solution recipe for the thousandth time, seeing but not reading any of the words.

You’d rather be flying.

Being an Animagus was invigorating in ways nothing else was. Everywhere you looked, the world around you was recontextualized with new possibilities. What would it feel like to fly over there? Could you reach that point without getting tired? How long would it take to touch that tree in the distance and come back? Five minutes? Ten?

McGonagall had warned you of this, of how addicting your Animagus form could be at first. She told you it was important to regulate your thoughts, to have strict control over your random urges to transform and escape. You had the rest of your life to fly, after all. You just had to stay grounded for another couple of weeks.

Another couple of weeks...

Breathing in a lungful of crisp autumn air, you tried once again to focus on your Potions studies. You realized Snape’s in-class instructions for the Shrinking Solution was almost completely different from the textbook’s—quite literally, all they had in common were the damned ingredients.

Already overwhelmed, you glanced up from your notes.

You spotted Lupin across the field.

He was clearly in a hurry, carrying stacks of parchment and fast-walking down the corridor, when a first-year stopped him to ask something. A split-second of exasperation flashed across his face before melting away, all at once—then, he was talking, his explanation to the young student full of kind smiles and enthusiastic hand gestures. Even when he was stressed, he was happy to be helping.

You found his unbridled enthusiasm enchanting.

To your surprise, you sensed someone approaching you from behind; the sense itself was a weaker, more diluted version of the same instincts you had when you transformed.

“Afternoon, Professor Snape,” you greeted without looking.

You felt a swell of pride at how you managed to give him pause. All it took was years of study and the ability to turn into an animal to keep him from sneaking up on you.

“Afternoon,” he said, flatly. “How is the assistant’s position faring?”

“Very well, I think. Unless you’ve received news of the contrary.”

He acknowledged your attempt at humour with a sarcastic little hum. “You may be wondering why I approved the request.”

“I’ve learned not to question your judgement, sir.”

“Though wise of you, in this instance it would be useful for you to know my reasoning.”

You were both watching Lupin from across the field, now. At this point, Lupin had taken a seat on a nearby bench with the first-year, placing his papers aside completely to review something in their textbook.

“I trust you are familiar with the recent incident involving Sirius Black.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Suspicions and security alike have been heightened across the board,” Snape continued. “As Professor Lupin’s aide, I will need you to keep an eye on him. Report to me of anything...suspect you may find. Understand?”

You kept your reaction neutral, though your mind began racing at once.

So Snape approved Lupin’s request just so you could spy on him? This seemed to be coming out of nowhere. Yet, if Snape was resorting to asking you for help, it meant he had suspicions that weren’t being taken seriously by other members of the faculty. That included the other teachers. That included Dumbledore. Though you had no idea what led Snape to believe Lupin had anything to do with Sirius Black, Snape would not have brought his concerns to you lightly.

He also would not have trusted you, lightly.

You had several questions. Now was not the time to ask them.

“Understood, sir,” you said simply. “I’ll keep you informed.”

-

To your mild frustration, being mysteriously enlisted to keep secret tabs on Professor Lupin only served to make the man more attractive. Snape would not have levied his wariness without good reason. You always had the sense there was more to him than he let on—now you were sure of it.

But what on earth could he have been hiding?

Several days had passed since your conversation with Snape, and all you saw of Lupin thus far was one severely overworked teacher trying to manage way too many students at once. Were all the teaching positions at Hogwarts this strenuous? McGonagall’s iron temperament and Snape’s perpetual state of irked impatience suddenly made a lot more sense—it was a wonder any of your professors had free time, at all.

You were grading papers at the small side-table and extra chair Lupin had brought into his office for you. Your stack of assignments was running as thin as your tea was empty; it was getting late, and you were on your last paper. Quill in hand, you read the next answer on the exam before you.

You snickered, louder than you intended.

The sound of your laughter put a reactionary smile on Lupin’s face. “What is it?”

“‘Why are they called The Unforgivable Curses?’” you read aloud from the parchment. “‘The Unforgivable Curses are named as such because they are curses that are unforgivable.’”

“Well. It’s not wrong.”

“It’s not right, either,” you said, marking the paper. You flipped through the textbook beside you to cite the exact page where the proper answer could be found. “You’d think being thrown into Azkaban would be a more memorable punishment.”

“Things like the Unforgivable Curses and Azkaban are abstract concepts to those who have no knowledge or experience with them. They're little more than scary stories, to most.”

“I never thought of it that way,” you admitted. “I suppose most people have never seen an Unforgivable used, before. I know I haven’t.”

Lupin made a thoughtful noise. “Pray you never have to.”

You glanced at him. This was the second time you’ve heard him make a vague reference to some terrible experience, voice laden with an unexpected severity that carried an unspoken weight. He had some personal experience with the Unforgivable Curses, that much you could gather. The morbid curiosity of the revelation had you treading lightly.

You tried to keep your tone curious. “Don’t you think it’s something we should see?”

“How do you mean?” he asked, still scratching at his parchment.

“You’re the most practical Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher I’ve ever had, Professor. Wouldn't you agree that we should see every spell and its effects, so we would know how to recognize them in a duel?”

“You’re suggesting I ask for a volunteer?”

There was a gentle edge to his voice that wasn’t there before.

“Well, not a student,” you said. “Maybe a Doxy, or something.”

“No living creature deserves to suffer an Unforgivable Curse. Not even a Doxy.” He sounded final. “Ethical considerations aside, there’s a certain level of intent required to cast such spells—an amount of darkness within you needed to make it work. To speak plainly, I don’t believe myself capable.”

You raised an eyebrow. “How do we defend against them, then?”

“You run.”

The sudden ice in his tone made your blood run cold. You wanted to ask him of his experiences. You wanted to ask him what he’d seen. With a few well-placed questions, you had stolen a glance into a depth of him—the same depth he kept well-hidden, the same depth that drew Snape's suspicions.

Lupin suddenly looked rather tired, as if he knew he’d revealed too much, and you realized too late that you had given him the wrong impression. You had no interest in the Dark Arts, yet your house colours betrayed you; if your questions had come from anyone else, it was curiosity, but because they came from you, it was a warning sign.

“It’s getting rather late,” he said, rising from his desk. “I need to return some creatures to the lake before it gets dark. We can finish up next time.”

“Would you like me to come with?”

“No need. It’s a simple errand, I can manage on my own.”

Lupin had his back turned to you as he gathered several large glass jars from his bookshelf, a large cloth draped over each to shield their inhabitants from direct light. You had encroached on a sensitive topic, and now he was trying to put distance between the two of you to dispel the awkwardness.

You didn’t like how that felt.

“I’m sorry, Professor, it was ignorant of me to suggest—” The apology tasted too much like self-pity, so you stopped yourself and rethought your words. “Like you said, Unforgivable Curses are just scary stories for people who have no experience with them. But I’m sure they’re nightmares, for those who do. I should have kept that in mind before speaking of them so lightly.”

You noticed he stopped shuffling through his shelves.

Getting up from your desk to approach him, you made sure your hands were outstretched by the time he turned to face you.

“Let me help, Professor.”

He stared at you for a moment before handing you a jar.

-

The walk down to the Black Lake was cool and quiet; the temperature continued to dip as the sun lowered, the slight breeze now biting against your exposed face and hands. You carried two large glass jars apiece, with each jar containing a different-coloured Hinkypunk from third-year lessons from the previous weeks. Hinkypunks were somewhat dangerous pests that were easy enough to dispose of, and though you didn’t question his decision, you were surprised Lupin was going through all the effort of returning them where he found them. Somehow, you imagined he was also the kind of man who escorted wandering spiders from his home without harming them.

One at a time, you released the creatures with no issue. Though they were normally aggressive little tricksters, the Hinkypunks didn’t seem too keen on attacking you once they were set free, instead taking their miniature lanterns and disappearing with a puff of smoke and a squelching shriek.

On the way back to the castle, through the thin layer of fog floating above the Black Lake, you spotted a large cluster of what appeared to be slimy balloons floating in the water.

“What are those?” you asked.

Lupin peered over to where you were looking. “Plimpies, I reckon.”

You approached the waterside to get a closer look. You were familiar with Plimpy eyes as a potion ingredient, but you had never seen the whole animal before. “What happened to them?”

“Merpeople handiwork, from the looks of it. They consider them a bit of a pest, so they tie their legs in knots and let them float away. As you can see, Plimpies inflate when they get stressed—they gather along the shoreline, eventually, and are left to the mercy of nearby predators.”

You thought getting the opportunity to see the Plimpy close would make them look less like balloons, but it had the exact opposite effect. They looked like regular fish hit with Inflating Charms and frog legs cobbled to their undersides—only, their long, skinny legs were tied up in complicated nautical knots that shouldn’t have been possible with organic appendages. There were about twenty of them, give or take. The longer you stared, the creepier the scene became.

Rolling up your sleeves, you squatted by the shoreline and grabbed the one nearest to you. You pulled out your wand from your inner robe pocket. “Deimplicitus.

The Plimpy’s tangled legs untied. You tossed it back into the lake. It bobbed around for a bit before deflating with a very rude noise and disappearing beneath the water.

You grabbed another Plimpy and started over again.

Lupin called at you from a distance, a small laugh in his voice. “What are you doing?”

“You go on ahead,” you called back, throwing the second freed Plimpy into the lake. “I’ll catch up.”

“It’s nearly dark. If you’re caught outside the castle without a teacher at this hour, you’ll get detention.”

“It’s alright, just go back without me. I won’t be long.”

Unable to leave you alone in good conscience, Lupin watched as you repeated your process, over and over again, with several more of the magical fish floating helplessly at the shoreline. You would grab a Plimpy, perform a Detangling Charm on it, and hoist it back into the water, where it blew a giant raspberry before sinking below the surface. You were ankle-deep in the lake. The bottom of your robes were getting soaked.

Burying his hands in his pockets, Lupin walked over to you. “You really should just let nature take its course, you know.”

“I doubt I’ll disrupt the magical ecosystem by doing it just this once.”

“But why bother?”

“Because I saw them. So I can’t just leave them.”

To your surprise, Lupin pulled up the knees of his trousers, and he knelt down to help.

The two of you continued the task in silence, the quiet broken only by the occasional, hilarious sound of a Plimpy deflating. The sun had already dipped below the horizon by the time you cleared out the cluster. The last fish in sight bobbed in the crook of a large log nearby. You leaned further into the shore, reaching out to get it.

The log moved.

In an instant, the large, wood-like creature rounded on you and snapped at your outstretched arm, sinking its teeth into your wrist. You shouted in surprise—the shock of it sent you reeling backwards, and you landed on your bottom as the creature waded off into the fog.

“Are you alright?” Lupin asked, already at your side.

“I’m fine,” you hissed, quickly getting back on your feet. “Just a Dugbog, I think.”

“Probably here for the Plimpies. We appear to have interrupted dinnertime.”

“How rude of us.”

“Not to worry, Dugbog bites aren’t venomous,” he said, already reaching for your arm. “They tend to get a little nasty if not looked after properly, though.”

Lupin held your wrist in his hands, rotating your forearm to examine the wound. To both of your surprises, there didn’t seem to be any blood or broken skin.

That’s when you noticed what saved you.

You cursed. “The bloody thing made off with my watch!”

“Quite quickly, too. Perhaps it was on a time crunch.”

The snort of laughter you gave was most unbecoming.

From the corner of your eye, you saw a familiar giant of a man approach the two of you from afar.

You turned to him and smiled. “Evening, Professor Hagrid.”

He called you by name. “And Professor Lupin! Blimey, it’s after sundown. What are yeh doin’ out ‘ere so late?”

“My assistant and I were returning some creatures to their natural habitat,” Lupin explained. “What brings you to the lake tonight, Hagrid?”

Hagrid raised the net he was carrying. “Harvestin’ Plimpies.”

You paled, but Hagrid misinterpreted your look of shock completely.

“Now, don’t you look at me like that,” he said defensively. “They make a fine soup.”

Lupin leaned towards you so only you could hear. “Told you we should’ve let nature take its course.”

You couldn’t help but burst into laughter, which was met with Lupin trying—and failing—to hold back the cheekiest grin you’d ever seen on the man. Unconsciously, perhaps, he hadn’t yet let go of your hand, and in a rush of fleeting courage, you let yourself curl your fingers around his own for a moment.

Just a moment.