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nobody said it was easy

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When Harry and the class filed into their very first Defense against the Dark Arts class that year, they had a big surprise. "Professor Lupin!" Harry couldn't help but call out. "You're back!"

Professor Lupin smiled at Harry, Ron and Hermione. "I am," he said. "Class, your seats, if you wouldn't mind." He waited until the entire class was seated, and a healthy buzz of gossip was floating around, before standing up. "Many of you are wondering what I'm doing back at Hogwarts, and I have an answer ready for you. However! before I give it to you, I'd like you to be listening."

A nervous giggle went through the room, and finally everyone was silent.

"Thank you." He put his briefcase down, and leaned against his desk, surveying the class for a minute. "Despite the Ministry's objections, and despite the prediction of owls from parents, Professor Dumbledore has asked me to be your Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher this year, again. He has his reasons. I have accepted, because despite what those of you may think about me, I quite enjoy teaching."

Harry glanced at Hermione, who shrugged.

"All those questions you'd have for me, then, I'm going to ask you to contain for the time being, while we sort out a few scheduling troubles. Today, you'll have a normal lesson, but this will be the only day! Because I am not going to be living at the school - again, for various reasons," and Harry couldn't help but smile a little at that, even if it was painful; he knew where Professor Lupin was living. "Defense Against the Dark Arts, will typically be one day a week, and a longer lesson than usual."

"But, Professor," Hermione started, hand up.

Professor Lupin nodded at her, but didn't allow her to ask her question. He continued, "I will attempt to be as punctual as possible, but there are certain other duties I must perform that mean I will be absent from time to time. Your Defence day will be posted enough in advance, don't worry." He looked around. "The final thing I should tell you is that, due to the Ministry's urging, there is an alternative to taking this course with me - you may learn everything for the exams from your textbook, in a guided study hall, rather than take your lessons with myself.

"Now, does anyone have any questions about the class schedule or alternative study option?"

Hermione flushed a little, but kept her hand down. So did the rest of the class, though there were several people looking at each other, and few of those looks were happy. "You must have many questions," Professor Lupin said lightly, "about why I'm here, especially. I'm going to give you a chance to ask them - but not today. That will be your first homework assignment: make a list of questions you wish to ask about what I've said today. Points will be given for the most insightful questions, so don't worry about coming up with a long list - quality over quantity. I told you I had an answer ready as to why I'm here, but I do not intend to give it today."

Harry did put his hand up then, when it seemed like no one else was willing to. "If the next lesson isn't set, how will we know when to hand this in?"

Professor Lupin nodded. "That's a very good question. I'm going to give you the rest of the class to work on that, as well as another assignment, so I suggest you think about it as much as possible today. Remember, one question may get you full marks, so this might appear easy, but it isn't."

Hermione put her hand up. "Another assignment?"

Professor Lupin nodded at her. He went to the board, and wrote why people could or would trust me/why people should or would not trust me. Then he turned around. "A list, please, which answers these questions." A murmur went up. "I will not be collecting this; merely checking off that you have done it."

The class dutifully copied the questions down, and then Professor Lupin sat behind the desk, pulling some ratty parchment out of his briefcase. "Those of you intending to opt for the Ministry-approved study course, I ask only that you please attend at least one of my lessons, to understand the choices presented. This is not a typical lesson, I assure you." Several people who'd started to get a glazed look, Ron being one of them, tried to look as if they'd been paying attention all along. "Now, to the assignments, if you please, and those who have more information at their disposal," and he glanced at Ron and Neville, sitting together, "use it to your advantage. I will not be offended by whatever you write down, so be honest, and think."

He proceeded to start flipping through the parchments very rapidly, occasionally pulling a quill out to mark something or other off. Harry glanced around; no one had moved except Hermione, who was writing away. After looking at the Professor, he whispered as quietly as possible, "what are you doing?"

"What does it look like?" she answered back. Professor Lupin glanced up, looked at the two of them, but didn't tell them to be quiet; Hermione added, "you'd best do them, too. They're quite easy, and he's giving us class time to get them finished."

Ron leaned over, and murmured, "why's he not telling us off for talking?"

Harry shrugged. "Maybe he doesn't mind. Anyway," and he pitched his voice even lower - Ron leaned over even more in his chair to hear properly, "maybe he's doing Order things."

"Bit odd, that," Ron answered in a low voice. Around them, a very quiet murmur had started up - when Professor Lupin hadn't told Harry off for whispering, other people had started up. It was quiet enough to be ignored, but loud enough to mask their talking. "Him taking off from the Order, I mean."

Without looking up from her rapidly-filling parchment, Hermione whispered, "he hasn't. Weren't you listening? He's only going to be here once a week."

Harry nodded. "What else could he be doing?"

"Oh." Ron frowned. "This is going to be tough." He stared at his desk, parchment out but blank. "We already know what he's doing, so how can we ask him anything?"

Harry shrugged, but had the same problem. At the end of the class, he only had one question written down, and he didn't know if he could hand it in. His parchment said, 'how can you act as if nothing happened?'

"All right," Professor Lupin said, as the class ended. "For next day, if you wouldn't mind, research a case from the last time the Dark Lord surfaced. A specific Death Eater or follower, including their crimes." People looked at each other, alarmed. "Basic background will suffice," he said, "as you will be presenting your findings to the class next day." Professor Lupin added, "And anyone who wants to hand in their questions for me now, please bring them up."

Several people stood, Hermione included, to hand theirs in. Harry stared at his pathetic one line, then wrote his name on it recklessly. He didn't want to know anything else; surely the Professor would go easy on him, the first assignment. As he filed past the desk to plop his parchment on top, Professor Lupin's eyes strayed to his parchment. They widened for a moment, and Harry felt incredibly nervous - which was well-founded when, a second later, the Professor told him, "stay behind a moment, if you would, Harry."

Ron told him, "we'll wait for you at dinner," as he went past, and then Harry was left alone with Professor Lupin. Harry wasn't sure why he'd been asked to stay behind, except that he was about to be told off for his assignment. Maybe it wasn't long enough or - much more likely, he privately admitted - it was too impertinent, and he was going to be told off for that.

"Don't worry," Professor Lupin told him as he closed the classroom door, "you're not in trouble. Quite the opposite; I'm going to give you full marks for this." He came back, and sat down on one of the desks, before sighing. All trace of the pleasant professor was gone, and he simply looked tired. "My intent with these was to read the most insightful ones next class, and attempt to answer them. I anticipated many questions as to why Dumbledore would allow a werewolf back into the school; which I had plans to counter with the new precautions we were taking, including the fact that I'm not staying at the school."

Harry shook his head. "I don't think many people would have asked that."

Professor Lupin shrugged, one shoulder up, and looked away. "They should; it would be an important thing to find out. To find out the motive behind - regardless, this is next week's lesson, and has nothing to do with you." He paused a moment. "As I have no intention of answering this particular question in front of the class..."

He gestured for Harry to sit down, which Harry did awkwardly. "When I was first bitten, I thought my life was over. For two years, I was poked and prodded, taken to Healers and doctors, as my parents tried to find a cure. But there isn't one, and that was the end of my life. Even as a child, I recognised it." He scrubbed a hand over his face. "It wasn't true, of course. Life kept going, and I came to Hogwarts."

While he paused, again, Harry wondered if he should say anything, but thought better of it. Remus refused to look at him while he spoke, but in the tilt of his head Harry could clearly see he was in pain. "Several times in my life I've felt the bottom fall out of my world, Harry, the first time the day of that bite. Each time I thought it was for real - but it wasn't. Because it happened last June."

After a moment, he straightened up. "But I have to act like nothing's happened because otherwise I wouldn't be able to function. And there are constantly things to get done." He clasped his hands in his lap, and added, "I hope that suffices, because I don't know what else to say. You're dismissed."

Harry left, murmuring an, "I'm sorry," on the way out.

~

In the Gryffindor common room later that night, Harry had thrust aside his Transfiguration, his Charms, and his Potions in favour of staring at a piece of parchment with the line why people could or would trust me at the top of the left hand half, and why people should or would not trust me on the right. He didn't hesitate in writing because half the wizard world thinks I'm mad under 'wouldn't', and snorted, frowning.

"What are you at, mate?" Ron asked him, peering over his shoulder. He saw the parchment, and nodded. "Ah, yeah. All I've got is I'm a prefect so far. You can at least put down you faced You-Know," and at Harry's look, he gulped and said low, "Voldemort. you faced, well, him, more than once."

Harry wrote that down, under 'could trust me'. He sighed. "This is a lot harder than it seems."

Ron nodded heavily. "And we can't even copy off Hermione this time." He made as if to tick points off his fingers. " 'I've read every book in the library, I'm very clever, and I can do any spell I put my mind to.' She's got no trouble."

Harry gave up for the minute, sliding the piece away. He needed to think about things more before he could come up with anything. "Wonder who'll drop the class?" he asked. "Can't say that I'd mind if we didn't have to have classes with--"

Ron finished, "Malfoy and those bastards?" Harry nodded. "I want to know how Lupin's going to handle teaching seven years of Defense Against the Dark Arts in one day."

"He isn't," and Hermione plopped down beside them, out of breath. "I asked McGonagall, and she told me there was a substitute teacher for the lower years. Someone the Ministry approves of, and who'll focus on O.W.L. level teaching. Professor Lupin is only responsible for us and the seventh years."

"Well, that means that nearly everyone Harry taught last year will be in Lupin's class." Ron opened a Chocolate Frog. "Ginny's going to be mad she can't join us."

Hermione was already pulling books out to do her homework. "Perhaps she'll be allowed. It seems like such a waste when she knows tons more than will be needed for her O.W.L." She lowered her voice. "McGonagall let slip that the Ministry revised their O.W.L.s, too, made the defensive one easier."

Harry shook his head, momentarily disgusted enough that he forgot all about the piles of homework he had to finish and quite likely wouldn't. "Of course they did," he spat out.

"Let's, let's not talk about that right now," Hermione started. "We can't change that--"

She and Ron started arguing about the uselessness of the Ministry, with both of them taking for and against: first Ron defended it because of his father, then Hermione did when Ron called Fudge an imbecile, then Ron again when Hermione started in on other beings' rights. Harry mentally stuffed his fingers in his ears, and pulled out parchment to work.

~

"Well then." Professor Lupin was waiting for them at nine o'clock next Wednesday, sitting cheerily behind his desk.

The notice that their Defense Against the Dark Arts class was going to be the next day had set several people into a panic about finishing the three assignments he'd set. Harry, already having handed in his question, and planning to talk about what happened with Bartemius Crouch, Junior, had been left staring at his list of trustworthy traits.

He was still staring at them as Professor Lupin came around to check off they'd completed it. He leaned over and saw Hermione's arm partially blocking a nearly-full piece of parchment. However when he passed Harry's desk, he checked something off without comment, despite the fact Harry only had three pitiful things written down.

Harry looked around. It was odd to see the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom so empty; since Professor Lupin wasn't staying at the school, Harry figured he'd opted to leave his things in London, at the house. It made the whole place look rather empty, and depressing. Not that the house in London was much cheerier, especially not--

"Now then," Professor Lupin said, and Harry snapped his head up. "I have this stack of very interesting questions you have posed to me, and I intend to answer them. Let's get to the first and most important one: what am I doing here. I am here to teach you how to defend yourself, because we all know - and the Ministry has announced - that there is a genuine threat out there, one that you should be very concerned in being prepared to face. Many of you took it upon yourselves to prepare last year, which will be the basis I intend to start from." People looked at each other; Harry thought many people were in for even more surprises.

A hand went into the air; a girl from Ravenclaw. "What about--"

Professor Lupin interrupted. "We will be working hard to make sure everyone who elects to take these more unusual lessons is capable." The Ravenclaw put her hand down. "Secondly, why am I here when you all have heard what I am?" Harry might have been mistaken, but he thought Professor Lupin's voice shook a tad. "The answer is, I will not be around more than one day a week; I am still living elsewhere, not on school grounds, traveling to the school when I am able rather than residing here. If this is unprecedented, I think everyone would agree it is better than the possibility of something untoward happening. And no one need stay in these lessons. In fact," Professor Lupin finished, quieter, "you need have no contact with me at all."

"That's ridiculous," Dean burst out with, "how could anyone--"

Professor Lupin put his hand up, and Dean subsided with an apology. "I appreciate the sentiment, Dean, but one of these parchments asks the question how Dumbledore could let a dark creature become part of the faculty. I am answering that person.

"Thirdly, the precautions being taken about my condition are as follows: I am not living at the school. I am drinking Wolfsbane potion. I do not intend to be at the school during a full moon, regardless."

Professor Lupin shuffled the papers around some, and set a large stack aside. "The rest are a little more interesting - here's someone who wants to know what other duties I could have away from the school." He put yet another parchment aside, and looked at the class gravely. Harry felt a sudden pounding in his heart. If Remus was going to--

"Two years ago, Dumbledore told you all that one of your fellow students, Cedric, was killed by Voldemort." Gasps went up in the class, and Ron, beside Harry, went very white. Harry tried not to sigh. Professor Lupin saw both the gasps and Harry's slightly disdainful expression, and told them all quickly, "You'd best get used to it. I intend to say Voldemort, as loud and as often as possible, in order to get you used to it. Fear of a name," he said, "increases fear of the thing."

"But Professor," Susan Bones started, "he, he's something to be fearful of, isn't he? No one," and she looked around uncertainly, "well, even with what you could, teach us. Could we really..."

She trailed off, but Professor Lupin took up the sentence. "Could you really survive?" He waited a moment, as did the class, and then the Professor slowly pointed at Harry. "I hate to single Harry out, as I'm sure he's had enough of it already, but there's at least one student in this classroom who has already faced Voldemort himself - more than once - and survived. Several more students faced the most horrible and cruel Death Eaters, and suffered no casualties--"

Remus broke off for a minute. Harry saw his face tense up, just slightly, and then relax again. Even the most minute acknowledgement of what happened, it hurt. Harry balled his fists up under the desk, and felt sorry for Professor Lupin, who had no such option. He smiled, finally, and asked, "Neville, would you please come up to the front of the class?"

Gone were the days when Neville was too frightened to do anything in class, and he stood up readily, only looking a little anxious when he reached the Professor. "Yes?"

"Neville is one of those students who has faced most frightening adversaries and lived. Neville, did you expect to survive? Against the Death Eaters you battled?"

He looked around, nervous, and swallowed. "Not. Not really."

"But you did." Professor Lupin took his wand out, and stepped back. Harry saw Neville's hand going for his pocket too, though his face and his stance hasn't changed. Professor Lupin relaxed again, looking pleased. "You see what Neville did just there?"

There were a few murmurs, and finally Ernie Macmillan put his hand up. "It looked like he was getting ready to pull out his wand."

"That's right!" Professor Lupin gestured for Neville to take his seat. "Five points to both of you. Now, why was he going for his wand?"

Ernie looked around. "I, I don't know."

"Neville?"

Neville sat back down beside Ron, and went pink. "I'm not sure myself, Professor." He shook his head.

Professor Lupin put his wand back in his pocket, and leaned against his empty desk. Harry wondered where his briefcase was; it didn't seem like he was bringing anything to class at all. "That's right, you didn't know why you did it - but you did. A survival instinct," he added kindly, "that you learned out of necessity and under great stress." He turned to the whole class. "The same instinct may very well save your life.

"I was in Morocco one week," Professor Lupin told them idly, "and the only reason I didn't lose a leg, or worse, to a Death Eater is because I had my wand out before I was even awake. It is probably redundant to tell you to be constantly vigilant," and everyone grinned, "but the truth is, that's the best way to defend yourself."

Susan put her hand up shyly. "Professor, you never did tell us what your other duties were."

Professor Lupin nodded. "No, I did not." He squinted at the class for a minute. "I have given you ample clues, however. Can any of you take a guess?"

Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at each other, and then at Professor Lupin; he looked at them, and smiled, just barely. Harry didn't bother putting his hand up; he figured it would be rather unfair for one of them to answer, considering they'd already been told. Finally, Susan raised her hand. "You did start by talking about how, Cedric died." She glanced at Harry. "So, does it have to do with, You-Know-Who?"

"Voldemort please, Susan," Professor Lupin answered. "And quite."

"You've fought Death Eaters!" Seamus said, getting excited. "So are you an Auror?"

"No," and Remus's face was oddly closed off, "certain things disqualify me."

"Oh," Seamus said, disappointed. "And I guess you couldn't work for the Ministry, either, then."

"Not likely, no," Professor Lupin told him. "But I am working to stop Voldemort, and that is all the detail I intend to give you for now. Five points to both of you. You're all doing very well."

"Sir, why did you have us write our questions down," Lavender asked, hand up, "rather than just answering them?"

Professor Lupin looked at her for a long, moment, then raised his voice so that everyone could hear him clearly. "The most important weapon you have," he said slowly, "is your own capacity to reason. It's there, even if your wand, your allies aren't. Being able to puzzle out the whys of things is a very important skill if you want to protect yourselves against those that would wish to harm you. I want to encourage you to think things through very carefully." He flipped through the pages, and finally pulled another one out. "Now. Here's the last question for today: why did Dumbledore choose you, in particular."

Remus hesitated, and Harry saw him glance at Hermione. It must have been her question. "That, I don't know."

~

"We're not going into the Forest, are we?" Harry asked Professor Lupin. Their entire class, after a short break, had left their books and notes inside, and trouped outside. They were joined by the rest of the seventh years, who had obviously had their classroom hour with Professor Lupin before the sixths.

The Professor shook his head, and several of the Gryffindors close to them looked relieved. "The centaurs have made it quite clear we aren't welcome. But there's plenty of space to practise outside."

"Practise?"

"Yeh'd rather duel out here than in that room again, wouldn't yah?" Hagrid stomped up, with Ginny Weasley and Colin Creevy in tow. Luna Lovegood trailed after them. "Here's the last of them, Remus. They'll have to make up their Transfiguration homework," and he stared at Ginny and Colin severely, "or they can't come again."

Professor Lupin smiled. "Thanks. How are things progressing?"

Hagrid glanced around. "Yer obstacles are half done, I'd say. Ready for next class."

"Good." Harry, Ron and Hermione ran up. "You've got a second," Professor Lupin told them with a grin, and left to gather up the rest of the class into a loose circle.

"How are you, Hagrid?" Harry couldn't help but smile at him. Defense days were shaping up to be the best lessons possible; especially if Hagrid as well as Professor Lupin were teaching them.

"All righ'," and then Hagrid chuckled. "Best you get to your class. We'll have tea tomorrow."

As he wandered off, Harry, Ron and Hermione took their places in the semi-circle. Professor Lupin was standing at the side, and he said, "All right, please arrange ourselves according to the Dark Wizard you chose to research. This might take a few minutes, but try to hurry. We only have one day a week, you know."

Harry looked around, bewildered. Ernie, who was standing beside him, asked, "Who did you do?"

Harry said, "Bartemius Crouch, Junior," and then Ernie sighed. "You?"

"Augustus Rookwood. Spy in the Ministry." Harry nodded; he'd seen Rookwood named in Dumbledore's Pensieve. "Suppose I'd better find out if anyone else chose him."

Ron said, with great satisfaction, "I focused on old Malfoy." He stretched, looking around. "Funny that he's here today."

"Yeah." They stared at Draco, who was muttering off to the side, with a self-satisfied smirk on his face. "Wouldn't have thought they'd stooped to taking classes from a--"

"Werewolf?" Ron nodded. "Class got a little thinner - not much though. This is bloody ridiculous."

The two of them watched, as people milled around, asking each other about their chosen figures. Beside them, Hermione tutted. "Oh for heaven's sake." She pulled out her wand, and wrote 'Lucius Malfoy' right above Ron's head, 'Bartemius Crouch' above Harry's, and 'Antonin Dolohov' over her own. A few students looked over, pointed, and then several more wands came out.

"Hermione," Neville said, walking over quickly, "can you show me how to do that?"

"Like this," and she told him the spell. Neville stood beside them, a determined look on his face, and wrote 'Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange' in front of himself.

Harry swallowed thickly.

When everyone had sorted themselves out - Harry and Ron were alone in their choices, though Hermione had been joined by Sarah Prewett - Harry examined the class. Everywhere Harry looked, he saw students standing under the names of the Death Eaters that had killed their families. Susan Bones, along with two others, was standing under the name Travers. Her face was set. No one was smiling.

Neville's group, however, was possibly the largest, with two seventh years and another sixth year standing behind Neville. Bellatrix and Rodolphus - Harry's fists clenched - were some of the most well known supporters of Voldemort. Their torture of the Longbottoms was infamous, and anyone who wanted to talk about the lengths to which a Death Eater would go for their Lord, the horror Voldemort's followers inflicted, brought up their names. Neville's arms were crossed. The only group attracting more attention than Neville's was--

"All right," Professor Lupin said, looking around. "Let's begin. We're going to discuss the crimes that--" and then he broke off, staring at what Harry had seen. Harry was too busy trying to will his body not to punch Draco Malfoy's smiling face.

He was standing right under a magic banner that read Black, Sir--

"What's the matter, Professor?"

Professor Lupin stared at Draco, Crabbe and Goyle - who looked even dimmer than usual, if that was possible - and then pulled his wand out slowly. Draco's smile slipped a little. "An interesting choice," Remus said. He addressed his next question to Draco in particular. "Why did you pick this particular wizard?"

Draco smiled widely, but kept his eyes on Remus's wand. He smoothed his hair back. "He killed thirteen Muggles and a wizard named Peter Pettigrew. I found out that he turned the Potters', his best friends, into the Dark Lord. Surely, he was the worst of--"

"Yes," Remus interrupted quickly. Hermione had put a hand on Harry's shoulder surreptitiously, and she was squeezing it, hard. "Thank you. I think. Yes." It was obvious that Remus had utterly lost his place in the lesson, and had to look away from the name before he could address the class. "As some of you also chose Ludo Bagman, I want to stress the importance of looking at the evidence from all sides." He went to the chair he'd brought out with him, and sat down heavily, then looked at his wand. "I am going to ask, however, that you hold off on this particular case," and he waved his wand, dispelling the letters from the air.

"Are we in trouble?" Draco asked innocently.

"No, no," and he stood up again, "No." He looked at Draco. "I expect that you have somewhere else to be, Mr. Malfoy?"

Draco didn't look happy at all. He started, "But sir, Siri--"

and Remus cut him off again. "Draco," he started, "I don't know as you, or Vincent and Gregory, can be completely impartial in this lesson, knowing your parents' involvement. Why don't you go back to the castle?"

The tone was pleasant, if a little forced. Draco opened his mouth to object, and then his eyes strayed to Remus's hand. He still had his wand out. The three of them stalked away, Draco muttering. Harry swallowed, fighting down bile. He really really wanted to go after Draco and curse him into the ground.

"Not now," Hermione hissed at him, face scrunched up. "Professor Lupin might get in trouble."

"But--"

"Harry," and she kept her hand on his shoulder, tight, "did you see his face?" She looked at the teacher, who was counting off the students carefully. "He was close to hexing Malfoy himself."

"Too bad he didn't," Harry muttered. Ron was watching him nervously. "All right, fine," and Harry pulled away from Hermione resentfully. Let her talk about being reasonable, let her--

Remus turned around, and Harry was startled to see how white his face was. Remus blinked, rapidly, while he wasn't facing the rest of the students, and then carefully put his wand back in his robes. "All right," he said, turning around. "Let's begin. Would anyone like to go first?"

Hermione raised her arm, of course, and so he nodded to her. "Antonin Dolohov was one of, of Voldemort's Death Eaters," she said. "He killed Muggles, and tortured them, as well as wizards."

Sarah Prewett, a girl Harry didn't know well, spoke up next. "He was one of five Death Eaters that murdered my uncles. They were blown to bits," she said flatly.

Hermione added, "last year, he nearly killed me, as well."

Remus ignored the looks students were giving each other, and the whispers, and asked them, "Who caught him?"

Hermione hesitated. "It isn't stated in the Ministry records, but one of the Aurors. He was caught right after, well, Harry, banished Voldemort."

Remus nodded at them, kindly, and asked the two of them, "and where is he now?"

Sarah frowned. "He was caught by the Ministry last June, and re-imprisoned. But who knows if he'll stay there."

"Do you know how he is being guarded?"

Sarah and Hermione looked at each other. Hermione bit her lip. Harry knew why she was concerned; they had a few theories on that, but since the Dementors weren't to be trusted, they didn't know what was keeping the Death Eaters in Azkaban. Sarah finally admitted, "no."

"Very good," Remus said. "All right, who would like to go next?"

Harry listened, numb, as the histories and crimes of dozens of Death Eaters were spewed off. In several cases, Remus asked questions the students couldn't answer - not even Hermione knew how Mad Eye Moody had brought Evan Rosier down, for example. He didn't really care, he was just dreading Neville's turn.

Harry snapped back into focus, hearing Ron regale the class with what Alastor Moody went on record as having suspected Lucius Malfoy of doing. He was just saying, "but he weaseled out of the charges, the first time anyway."

Harry knew that the class was grinning; Draco was not well-liked by anyone. Even Remus seemed a little happier. "And where is he now?"

Ron said with great satisfaction, "in prison. He and a bunch of other Death Eaters broke into the Ministry last June to--" and he faltered. "They were caught."

Remus studied him. "Do you know what they were trying to do?"

Ron blinked, and looked at Harry for support. Obviously, he didn't know whether to answer truthfully or not. "Yes..."

"And why is that?"

Ron stood up a little straighter. "Because I was there, with Ginny, Neville, Hermione, Luna, and Harry, and I helped stop them."

Another murmur went through the class, and Ernie - who was standing beside Ron - started to ask what happened. Remus held his hand up for quiet. "Thank you very much, Ron." He nodded. "Now, Harry, if you would."

Harry nodded, and faced the class finally. He could barely feel his hands; the image of that name hovering over Draco's smiling face, was burned into his mind. "Bartemius Crouch Junior was, obviously, the son of Bartemius Crouch Senior. He was likely going to be Minister of Magic because people approved of his harsh methods for dealing with Death Eaters; when his son was arrested, he lost all of his support."

"What were his crimes?"

Harry gathered a breath. "It's hard to say, but the one that he was imprisoned for was the torture of a popular Auror and his wife." He spared a glance for Neville, though all he could see on Neville's face was faint anger. Harry stopped there; he didn't have the right to tell everyone who Neville's parents were.

Remus accepted this. "What happened after he was imprisoned?"

Harry spoke rapidly. "He escaped from prison; everyone knows the story now. Voldemort rescued him from his father's control; they killed his father, impersonated Professor Moody in our fourth year, and tricked me into winning the Triwizard Tournament." He took a breath. "The cup was a portkey, and it transported both Cedric and me to Voldemort, who rose, with a body. Dumbledore caught him, got the full story, and then Crouch received a Dementor's Kiss, so he couldn't tell anyone else, and hardly anyone believed it."

Harry finished, and tried to keep the bitterness out of his face. In a way, he felt relieved. Somehow, even though everyone knew the story, giving even that many details felt oddly freeing. He finally looked around; no one was staring at him as if he was a celebrity - except Colin Creevy. Harry sighed. He had a feeling that he'd have to get used to Colin's stares, since they weren't diminishing at all. But Ernie, beside him, was listening politely, not with his eyes wide. Susan Bones looked sympathetic. Hermione was biting her lip.

Remus nodded slowly. "Thank you, Harry. Full marks. Now I believe the only group left to go is Neville. Neville, would you like to begin?"

Neville stepped forward, and took a deep breath. "Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange were two of, of Vo-voldemort's cruelest supporters. They tortured people because they liked it. Harry already talked about the case that they were imprisoned for; the torture of an Auror and his wife. Frank and Alice Longbottom."

The class was still.

"They, along with Rabastan Lestrange and Bartemius Crouch, tortured the, the Longbottoms until they lost their minds. They thought that it would be possible to find out where You-Know -- where Voldemort, went, after he was banished."

The class was silent.

Neville's voice rose. "Last year, the Lestranges broke into the Ministry, along with all the other Death Eaters, and tried to kill Harry and us, and a bunch of other wizards, too. We survived, but Bellatrix managed to, she killed someone." He paused. "She laughed about it." As an afterthought, he added, "and she escaped with Voldemort."

The class didn't even breathe.

Harry's stomach was roiling, and unbidden, the moment Neville was narrating flooded back to him. The fight, the terror, the heart-pounding. Harry could see the class clearly, the blue sky, Ron and Hermione's white faces - and yet he was back in the Department of Mysteries.

Remus licked his lips, and said, "thank you, Neville." His words broke the spell of silence. He pulled his wand out, and waved it; all the letters dissipated, Bella's name first. "Thank you." He looked around. "I need a few minutes to get the next part of the lesson ready. Please don't go anywhere, our time is limited."

Harry watched his rapidly retreating back, and followed Remus's outline until he disappeared by Hagrid's hut. It was all he could do to breathe properly. "Harry?" Ron asked. "Harry."

"Yeah." Harry forced himself back. People were all staring at each other, curiously. Neville was staring back defiantly, as if daring someone to ask him about his parents. Harry scrubbed his face, and turned to Neville. "Neville, that must have been hard," he said, low.

"Kind of," Neville admitted. "But now it's out there."

"Yeah," Harry echoed.

Hermione glared fiercely at Colin, who was edging towards them. He smiled brightly at her, but backed off. "Did you see Professor Lupin, though?" she asked, worried. "He looked so. Lost."

"What?" Ron looked at her as if she was crazy. "What are you talking about?"

"Hermione, he set the lesson." Harry crossed his arms. Professor Lupin couldn't have picked a more insensitive first lesson. First he asks them to talk about the Death Eaters, then Neville spills about--

"It looked like he wanted to cry," she finally stated. "Please, don't be angry, Harry, but you're, you're not the only one grieving. Please." Hermione put a hand on his shoulder again, which he shook off. But he couldn't argue with her. He wasn't the only one grieving.

It took Professor Lupin a full ten minutes to come back. When he did finally emerge from Hagrid's house, his eyes were red.

~

"Many of you have already perceived one of the biggest challenges we face in this class," Remus said. "And that is that about half of you had admirable lessons last year, despite certain setbacks, which the other half regrettably missed out on. In order to bring the whole class up to speed, I'm going to split you into pairs, and you'll be responsible for teaching the standard list of spells that Harry went through last year to your partner." People looked surprised at this, not least of all Harry. "Now, let's split up, and if you can't find a partner, let me know."

Hermione and Ron were whisked away by a Hufflepuff boy and a Ravenclaw girl, respectively. The Gryffindor sixth years found themselves in high demand - most likely because of their startling admissions. No less than three seventh year girls asked if Neville was free. He blushed and stammered, and finally ended up showing a tall blonde girl named Mina how to set up to duel. Harry stared around, a little out of sorts. Ginny even found herself standing happily beside a tall black haired boy.

"All right, Harry," Remus said quietly, "you and I will observe, is that fine with you? You have some experience with teaching already, and I can't manage this large a class on my own."

Harry swallowed. "All right. I guess, I can do that."

"It looks like everyone's found someone." Remus stepped away from Harry, and called out, "All right, let's begin! We'll go through the simplest spell, and I have every confidence that you will all perfect it by the end of class. Expelliarmus, if you please."

Harry wandered around, much like when he was teaching the DA, and helped people who were having difficulties. Other than Colin accidentally hitting Hermione, they managed to all get that one down remarkably quickly. They moved on, and by dinner time, despite the minor bumps and bruises, everyone was cheery and talking about the lesson.

"A moment, if you will!" Remus called out. The class ringed around him once more. "I wanted to have a last word with you before I leave." He pulled out a sheaf of parchment from the case he'd retrieved, and handed them to Harry. "This is a list of spells I'd like you to practise. Your partners will be around if you need help. I don't expect you to get all of these the first try, but do practise as much as you can." He was looking at his wrist watch again, and Harry got the feeling that he was feeling rather rushed. "One more thing I want to tell you." He clamped his suitcase closed. "I assigned you the task of researching the crimes of Death Eaters in order to see exactly what kind of things you must protect yourselves against, and asked you to present your research so that you could see the damage these crimes have had - not only on the population as a whole, but on the people and faces we know, knew, personally."

Harry swallowed. He didn't think that the lesson had been easy on Remus, either.

"Now that you've seen the full extent of Voldemort's powers, and have read about the cruelty he wields, you should know how serious this is." Remus checked the time again. "But you should also know, even from this first lesson, that it is possible to defend yourselves. It has been done before, and will be done again. So practise hard!" He checked his watch a final time, and then nodded. "All right, head back to the castle for tea now. I've got to go."

Ginny wandered up to Harry and Ron. Harry was staring at Remus's retreating back, again, and Ron was staring at Hagrid's cabin. "This is wicked, isn't it?" she asked them. "Finally, a proper class. And I can join you! I'm so pleased McGonagall let me come; I was afraid that because Colin and I were a year below you, we wouldn't be allowed." Ginny snorted. "As if we'll have any trouble with our O.W.L.s."

"Did you see that?" Ron asked.

Harry blinked. He'd lost sight of Remus, and he was gone. "See what?"

"I could have sworn that something moved behind Hagrid's cabin."

Harry shrugged. "Let's go." They followed Hermione and the class back up to the castle, Ron glancing behind himself every few seconds. Harry was hungry enough that he didn't bother asking him again.

~

"Despite that fact that it might not be the most practical place to start, I've decided that we'll cover duelling in our first weeks." Remus surveyed the class with an amused face. "I dare say you'll find it interesting enough to not mind the change in curriculum?" Enthusiastic nods answered him. "I've asked Professor Flitwick to demonstrate, this week, as he is a champion duellist. He was kind enough to agree. I have had less experience than he, though," and Remus swallowed quickly, turning away as if to adjust his suitcase, "more than I'd like, the last months."

Aside from that brief conversation with him their first class, Harry hadn't had time to speak with Remus, about the Order or anything. He knew from the carefully worded letters Ron had sent him that summer that the Order was busy. Harry guessed they were recruiting, shoring defences up for the day when the Death Eaters would break out of prison again. They all knew it was a matter of time.

As they followed Remus into the Dining Hall, which was set up with a duelling ring much like when Lockhart had tried to begin a duelling club, Harry thought, watching Professor Lupin answer people's questions. Perhaps bringing in a member of the Order to teach them Defensive magic was less about passing O.W.L.s and more about keeping an eye on the school as well as teaching the current generation how to go into battle.

It was an uncomfortable thought, and Harry barely listened while Remus outlined what they were going to do. Professor Flitwick would be along momentarily - as soon as the fourth years were out of Charms - to show them the proper duelling technique. Then they were going to show everyone the most common ways to circumvent the proper duelling technique, to get a one-up on your opponent.

"Many people might ask why I would be teaching a class how to do this, especially seeing as how it's definitely not the honorable way to duel." Remus tied his shabby robes around himself, out of the way. "Can anyone take a guess? Anthony?"

This one was easy. Anthony didn't even hesitate. "Because there's no way to guarantee people are going to be honorable or polite - and in a fight, they probably won't be."

"Good. It might seem obvious, but I've seen many people nearly lose their, their lives," and he halted, dropping his wand arm. Remus closed his eyes, slowly, then opened them. "I've seen death occur because a person forgot that duelling is never predictable."

A squeaky voice from behind the class said, "A true if tragic sentence, Remus. Shall we begin?"

"Ah, Professor Flitwick! I do appreciate this." Remus gestured to the class. "All right, separate into your pairs. I think we'll run this exercise one by one. The professor and I will demonstrate."

The two teachers went through a simulated duel, Flitwick stopping often to point out one of the finer details of duelling. Harry forced himself to pay attention. Even if he'd probably already battled more often than anyone in the class ever would, Flitwick's comments on style were interesting, if not terribly useful, and his demonstration of different timing was astounding - he flattened Remus in ten seconds, and then in five, and oddly enough Remus could counter the five second but not the ten.

"Did you see that, class?" as Remus stood up again, rubbing the back of his head. "I couldn't predict when he would counter, and those extra few seconds he waited cost me the advantage."

Harry sidled over to where Hermione, Ginny and Ron were standing, next to their partners. The four of them backed away from the class a little bit to talk privately. "I've been thinking," Harry started quietly, while Flitwick demonstrated a jinx they'd learned last year, "about why a member of the Order is teaching us."

Ginny looked thoughtful. "It's pretty obvious that Dumbledore doesn't trust your Defense class to someone not in the Order."

Ron nodded. "I heard mum say that if Remus wouldn't come, Dumbledore was going to have to ask one of the other members to do it."

"But if it were just, just me," Harry whispered - he was going to have to learn how to fight, there was no way around it, no matter how uncomfortable a thought it was - "he wouldn't hire a teacher for everyone, too."

Hermione had been quiet throughout this, watching the demonstration. The professors couldn't really see them, as far back in the group as they were. It wasn't likely that they would get told off for speaking anyway, and Harry knew what the lesson was going to entail - Remus had owled him a quick note the night before, carried by a post owl from Kent, which he'd shown both Ron and Hermione. She couldn't be worried about completing the lesson, then. "Do you think," Hermione finally whispered, "that Dumbledore wants us all. well. er." She glanced at Harry, and finished lamely, "ready?"

Even voicing the thought out loud made Harry balk; just thinking about it made him resentful, made him want to quit school and yes, even go back to the Dursleys. It was probably exactly what Dumbledore wanted. His jaw clenched, and he answered quietly, "haven't you noticed? Members of the Order, they don't just die of old age."

~

Lunch was a lightning affair for their entire class, sandwiches taken in a quick break, and then Remus had them pair up to duel, every so often stopping the lesson to point out something or other to the class. By the end of the hour, everyone was confident enough; no one got hurt, and people were cheery.

Remus smiled benignly. "Now comes the twist. As Professor Flitwick had to attend to his other classes, I have asked Harry to assist me in this part of today's lesson. A volunteer pair, please?"

Of course, Hermione put her hand up; her partner looked wary. Remus started the exercise over again, and then wandered over to Harry. He said quietly, "look for an opening, and hex one of them."

Harry blinked.

The class was cheering, seeing the two of them duel. Remus gestured. "Go on."

Harry swallowed, feeling a little nervous. It felt, wrong, to take advantage, and he didn't want to - even if it was obvious why this sort of lesson was important, even more important than the duelling itself. He pulled his wand out, and sent a mild jinx at Hermione. She toppled over, legs stuck. Her partner paused, wand upraised, and looked at Remus. "Professor Lupin?"

Remus unstuck Hermione's legs, who was bright red and slunk back to the crowd. "Did you all see what happened there?" He spun around slowly. "Did any of you catch Harry's jinx?"

Silence met his words.

Remus said, "being able to duel is useless if you're unable to observe what is happening outside of the duelling circle. In the real world, people don't step aside to allow you a clear shot. If Voldemort intends to kill you," he said clearly - people shrank back - "anyone and everyone he can employ will gang up on you.

"I've faced down Voldemort myself," Remus said quietly. "It's not the magic you know that will save you, as I hope I've already impressed upon everyone." He looked at Harry. "It's what else you know."

Tentatively, Lavender raised her hand. "Are we going to have to do this?"

Remus tilted his head, and looked at her kindly. "We're going to go through this exercise until you all are able to recognise the threats coming at you - from your opponent as well as the rest of the class. We'll be using the Jelly Legs curse until you all feel more comfortable. Any volunteers?"

After a moment, Ron stepped forward, pale. "I'll, I'll go."

Remus looked pleased. "Good."

It wasn't quite as bad as Hermione; Ron dodged the spells thrown at him by his partner as well as two shots Harry got off, before he fell over. His partner went to unlock his legs. Ron stayed on his back, saying clearly, "Perhaps it's just safer on the floor."

The whole class laughed, but Remus nodded. "It quite possibly is. Tell me, Ron, can you duel properly from where you are?"

Harry was probably the only one who saw Ron's little grin. He whipped his wand around, and sent a jinx at Remus himself. Remus's arm was up, muttering a counter curse, before anyone even blinked. "Wow!" Seamus called out. "How'd you do that?"

"Very simply, Seamus." Remus eyed Ron, with a slight grin. "Practise. Would you like to go next?"

~

When it was time for dinner, the entire class was exhausted, bruised, but in great spirits. Everyone had a story to tell about how they managed to avoid a careful jinx, or a great counter curse they pulled out. "A moment, Harry," Remus called out, as everyone filed out of the Great Hall.

"Sir?"

Dumbledore was just coming into the room, to put the hall back to rights before the rest of the school came in to eat. Remus glanced around, and then leaned over. "How are you, Harry?"

Confused, Harry replied, "all right."

"Good, good." Remus glanced at his watch; "I only have a few minutes but I wanted to see how you were. How are your lessons going?"

Harry wasn't entirely sure what Remus wanted him to say. He definitely wasn't asking as a teacher. "All right."

"And," Remus lowered his voice, "Occlumency?"

"All right," Harry repeated dully. Truth be told, he didn't know how those lessons were going; he wasn't sure if he could block out Dumbledore's mind any more successfully than he could Snape's last year. But it was important to keep trying, despite the nearly constant headaches in the evenings.

"Quidditch?" Harry shrugged, and Remus patted him on the shoulder. "Maybe we can talk more next Hogsmeade weekend."

Harry nodded, but he didn't know what to say. That was probably the main problem with Occlumency; he didn't know what to say to Dumbledore, even if he thought Dumbledore would answer him. Other than the class itself, the magic, they had been very distant. At least Harry knew the reason now, but it still made him burn with anger.

Dumbledore was approaching them. Remus looked at his watch once more, smiled at Harry - a little tighter than before - and said, "I'd best be off. Perhaps we can talk more on Saturday." He left just as Dumbledore came up. Harry got the feeling Remus didn't know what to say to Dumbledore any more than he did.

~

The next evening, when he was trying desperately to keep his mind together and safe from incursions, Harry finally asked Dumbledore, "Professor, did you ask for Professor Lupin to come and teach here in particular?"

"Yes, I did, Harry."

Harry nodded faintly, and rubbed the scar on his forehead. "Oh."

After a moment, Dumbledore dropped his wand. "We will take a short break. Would you like a Chocolate Frog?" They opened the candy - Harry wasn't sure quite what was going on - and then Dumbledore took his glasses off to wipe them on the sleeve of his robe. "I asked Remus Lupin to teach here again for many different reasons, Harry. One of them is that, in the past, I underestimated you." He paused. "I underestimated your determination, your resourcefulness - wishing to protect you meant that, most importantly, I underestimated how much you and your comrades were ready for the battle ahead. You had progressed more than I knew," and Dumbledore sighed, "which meant I underestimated what had to be done to prepare you all further."

He solemnly handed Harry the Chocolate Frog card, and added, "I do not intend to do so again."

Harry digested this while he stared at the card he'd been handed. Ron didn't have this one; he pocketed it for later. "Oh," he said again. He swallowed.

It wasn't fair, that he had to be prepared. He thought about the way Dumbledore said 'comrade', and fleetingly wondered if Dumbledore had ever seen a time in his life where he wasn't at war. Harry gripped his wand - would he ever see a time in his life where he wasn't at war? It wasn't fair, that he might see the death of all his friends just like Remus had. But what else could he do? Harry took a breath. What else could they do.

Harry nodded, finally. "Okay. That. That makes sense."

Dumbledore smiled, and picked his wand up. "Now, let us go again."

~

Sure enough, next Saturday when Ron and Hermione and Harry went into the Three Broomsticks, they found Remus sitting at a back table by himself, nursing a dark green liquid that reminded Harry of childhood descriptions of absinthe. It wasn't butterbeer - Ron ordered them three, and when Remus waved, he uncertainly carried them over to his table.

"Hello, you three," and Remus smiled crookedly. "As Hagrid would say."

Ron slid into the booth, Harry joined him, while Hermione drew up a chair. "Where is Hagrid?"

"He'll be along." Remus swished his goblet around, and the liquid went from green to orange. "He had some things to do at the school."

Harry glanced around. "Order things?"

"Something about the school pumpkins," Remus answered. His orange drink was beginning to climb out of his glass; he sipped it, and it subsided. "Actually. All quiet on the British front."

"Front?" Ron asked, expression blank.

Hermione kicked him under the table; he rubbed his shin with a grumbled 'ouch', and gave himself into his beer. Harry stopped himself from sighing. He was so certain that Hermione and Ron would have stopped arguing and got to the point this summer, but, apparently not, and their bickering had got to new heights and taken on new dimensions. It was quite tiring to Harry, who personally didn't really understand the fuss.

Remus had an oddly soft look on his face. "That's exactly how Lily used to deal with James," he said.

While Hermione and Ron both blushed dark red, Harry leaned forward, eager. "He did?"

Remus nodded. "In fact," he continued - his now purple drink tried to escape the glass again; he swallowed a long gulp - "the two of them used to sit at this very table." His glass did a little hop, and he planted a hand around the stem firmly. "James brought her a bouquet of roses, their seventh year, and dumped them on the table so he could go back to trying to throw Peter," and he paused, frowning.

Ron and Hermione were looking at the table, anywhere but at the Professor. After a moment, Remus's face cleared, however, and he smiled again. "That's right! They were trying to get Peter stuck up a tree."

After a moment and when it seemed that Remus wasn't going to elaborate - he looked happy enough, however - Hermione asked, "why?"

"Goodness knows," Remus said promptly. "Who knew why they did half the things they did?" He chuckled, and then drained his glass. "Peter probably deserved it."

It wasn't said with any resentment or rancour; simply stated as a slightly nostalgic fact. Harry had no idea how Remus could even say Peter's name without burning up inside, but instead of even looking angry, Remus was smiling. Abruptly, Harry pushed his beer away. "How can you," he started. "I mean."

"If I hated everyone and their memories that were responsible for everything bad that had happened to me," Remus said to the three of them, "I would have wilted before I reached your age." He dug in his pockets for a Sickle, and finally pulled five knuts out of a very Muggle looking wallet. "You'd do best to keep that in mind. Peter and I were very good friends at school."

Harry said, "I'll get it," and put a Sickle on the table.

Remus stood. "I've got to go; things to do before the Feast tonight." He leaned forward, suddenly. "I shouldn't do this, but - if you'd like to know some of what's going on, make sure you're back in the pub by four. There's a meeting."

As he strode away, Ron looked astonished. "He's changed into a completely different person."

Hermione, however, had a different opinion. "I think he's just being who he was, before."

Harry wasn't sure who he agreed with. Remus was acting the same, a little less like a teacher, but his behavior patterns hadn't varied really at all. It was, perhaps, simply their perspective of him that had changed drastically - whereas before, he was just a teacher, just a professor, and one of Harry's father's friends, now he was someone that had gone through the same metaphorical storm they had.

~

It was easy to see the members of the Order - Hagrid sitting a head taller than everyone else - taking up two tables near the back of the pub. It was chilly outside, so many students were crammed into the pub, all laughing and joking. Two Hufflepuffs were sitting at the counter juggling something that looked suspiciously like live baby geese. Harry gave them a wide berth. Usually it would have intrigued him; now he just wanted to grab that corner booth close enough to McGonagall that they could hear.

"--growin' just fine now," Hagrid was just saying. Hermione ducked behind a tall witch, and raced to the booth, back to Hagrid as she slid into it. Ron stood at the bar casually, chatting to Ernie. Harry used the distraction of Rosemerta appearing at the teachers' table to sit beside Hermione.

"Did they see me, do you think?" he asked Hermione quietly. She shook her head. They leaned against the booth, desperately trying to hear something other than the uproar of laughter as one of the geese flapped up to the ceiling, squawking. "How are we going to hear anything?"

Ron carried the tray, face hidden behind the bottles. "Have no fear," and he pulled out three of the Extendable Ears of Fred and George's. "They sent them to me last month, said I might get use out of them, being in the hot bed of news." He passed them round. "Made me promise to share what we found out."

Harry carefully listened in to Hagrid's tale about trying to feed the Thestrals in the Forest without coming afoul of the Centaurs; he rolled his eyes when Hagrid started in on the pumpkins.

"And what about Frank and Alice?" Harry and Ron stared at each other - the only Frank and Alice they knew were Neville's parents, in permanent care at St. Mungo's hospital.

Harry wished he could see McGonagall's face when she answered low, "the same as always, Hagrid. The hospital turned away two visitors just last week."

"Ruddy lot of'em, just trying to get a peep at--"

Ron - the only one of them facing their table - shrank down as McGonagall's eyes darted around, looking at the neighbouring patrons. Thankfully, the goblins at the next table were chattering loudly and waving a scarf around, so she missed them, huddled down behind the booth. "Keep your voice down, Hagrid," she murmured. Harry thanked Fred and George for the Ears; no way anyone could hear the murmured conversation over the loud clink of glasses and voices of happy students, none of which had any idea that their teachers were discussing anything other than midterms. Draco Malfoy would probably have killed to sit in on this one.

"I followed'em what dropped the parcel off," a witch in a pink lacy veil muttered suddenly. Harry had ignored her completely; the witch was sitting with her back to the teachers and drinking from what looked like a Muggle whiskey bottle steadily.

McGonagall gave no notice to the witch, but turned to Remus. "You said it had poison on the outside?"

"Severus tested it," Remus's voice answered. "Dung here managed to snag it before the Healers touched it; he had his lace gloves on or it's likely he wouldn't have made it out of the ward."

"Nearly burned straight through'em, too," the witch said, and poured more whiskey into her glass.

Ron's mouth opened, and he craned his neck around; Hermione kicked him. Ron mouthed, 'is that Mundungus?' Harry shrugged, but it had to be. His voice was creaky, wheezy, as if his throat had seen too much pipe tobacco - but high pitched nonetheless. It could have been a spell, changing it, or maybe he was just good at impressions. Harry knew that Dung wasn't allowed in the Hog's Head; it appeared he wasn't allowed in the Three Broomsticks, either, or else he didn't want to be recognised. No true way to tell which was the case.

"But they're aw' right," Hagrid whispered.

"I was over there just yesterday," Remus said quietly. "Brought them some new flowers, checked on the ward. Same patients as always, nothing suspicious. Same healers, too."

Someone sniffed. "To think that Frank and Alice are still at risk," McGonagall said. "It's criminal."

The talk drifted to other matters; Harry tried to follow it, but they were discussing Ministry wizards that he'd never met and names he didn't recognise. Harry vowed to read the Prophet the next day to see if he could spy the stories they were referring to. Ron scowled several times; obviously he followed more than Harry had. The one thing that Harry got irrevocably from the conversation was bad news.

~

"We have a few guests today," Remus said, coming in out of breath. All the students were still carrying their books and quills to class, though it had been over a month now and still hadn't opened their bags. Harry didn't really think Remus had any intention of ever making them take notes; it was one of the major factors that made his classes easily the most popular.

"We've been concentrating on some more advanced curses and counters in the last week, and I'm very pleased with everyone's progress." Remus looked around, and Harry understood the pride in his voice; the entire class had got round all of the spells he'd focused on, as well as several other counters that Remus had introduced.

"For the moment, however, we're going to leave counter curses behind." Remus nodded to himself, putting his suitcase down on the bare desk. Over a month and still there was nothing in the classroom at all, aside from the dusty and untouched chalkboard, a skeleton in the corner, and a lot of cobwebs. "Our guests are only available for a short time, so we're lucky to avail ourselves of their knowledge. They are going to show you some of the more impressive things that can be done to disguise yourselves, as well as demonstrate some of the nastier things you'll want to avoid."

The door opened, and Hermione let out a soft 'oh!' as Mad Eye Moody and Mundungus Fletcher snuck into the classroom. They both surveyed the room, eyes darting around, before coming in all the way. Moody kept his back against the chalkboard, and Dung grinned toothily at Ron, clamping a hand over his pocket when it started to wiggle.

"I believe you've met, however briefly, Alastor Moody," and Remus gestured. "And this, is Mundungus Fletcher."

Lavender stared at the two men - Mundungus was puffing on a cigar, Moody was gazing around the classroom, weight heavy on his wooden leg. Remus disappeared into the office with his little suitcase. "I don't know what," she whispered to Parvati, wrinkling her nose, "two grubby old men could teach us."

Hermione leaned over her desk, and rolled her eyes. "Lavender," she whispered, "the fact that they're dirty is part of the disguise."

Parvati tilted her head; the two adults left at the front of the classroom were apparently paying no attention to the whispers, though Moody was staring at everyone, big blue eye piercing. "But, they're. They're so."

Hermione clicked her teeth together. "I for one find the thought that they've lived a long time comforting. Don't you want to live that long too?"

Lavender considered for a minute. "Only if I keep washing my hair."

"All right," Remus said, emerging again. "That's that. We may begin."

"You still trying to teach these kids how to make it?" Moody asked, blue eye whirling every which way so fast it was making Harry dizzy. "How are they faring?"

"Quite well, Alastor." Remus looked more cheerful than he had last week; he smiled as he shook their hands. "I appreciate the two of you coming in."

"Eh, weren't nothing," Dung said. His pocket wiggled more insistently, and Harry and Ron exchanged a glance, Ron leaning a little farther away from the two men. Whatever it was inside Dung's pocket, there was a good chance it wasn't at all legal, and potentially dangerous. Interesting, undoubtedly, but nothing they wanted to get too close to.

"All right, class. The seventh years had an extra study hall this morning, so they won't be joining us until this afternoon." Remus pulled his wand out. "Questions?"

Terry Boot was the first person to put his hand up, though several other people were quick to follow. The more Professor Lupin encouraged questions of his methods and his classes, the more people were willing to ask what was going on. Harry could see, even if he resisted, the manipulation Remus was pulling on them all, urging them to teach themselves. He knew that Remus Lupin had been the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher they'd had; one of the most empathetic teachers ever, willing to listen and encouraging kindly. He just hadn't appreciated how complex his methods were before.

"--don't you take this lesson yourself?" Terry was saying. Harry forced himself to listen.

"That's a very good question." Remus pulls what looks like a little bowling ball out of his suitcase next, handing it to Moody to hold. Moody squinted at it, ignoring the kids. "I'm afraid it doesn't have a very interesting answer. Alastor and Mundungus have always been more talented at, blending in, than I have."

"What about when you taught before?" Terry asked.

"This is not, precisely, N.E.W.T. standard magic we're going to be showing you today. However Dumbledore thought it prudent, which is why I decided to invite Alastor and Mundungus here today. You are well ahead of where most students would be in their studies of Defensive magic, so don't worry - we aren't neglecting one topic to cover another.

"Now, if you would, close your eyes." Harry stared at him, while beside him, Ron tried very hard not to laugh. Remus went to close the door, and then raised an eyebrow when none of the class had complied. "Now, please."

Obediently, Harry closed his eyes, and counted off the seconds. In four seconds, Remus said, "now open them."

Moody was gone.

Harry rubbed his eyes - no, it wasn't just a trick of the light. Remus nodded to Dung, nodded to the class, and said, "I'm going to leave the classroom now - I have several owls I have to send that are rather urgent - and the only piece of information I'll give you is that Alastor won't exit the classroom when I leave. I'm going to lock the door, and come back in fifteen minutes. Do find him before then." With that, he exited, leaving a very confused class behind him.

Harry glanced around, at Dung, and then at Ron and Hermione. "Find him?" Harry asked, blankly.

Ron looked as puzzled as Harry felt. "Find him how?" Hermione was already opening her textbook. "Now what are you doing?"

"Isn't it obvious?" she said, rifling through the pages. "No, no-- hmm! I don't know." She sighed. "It's a test. We're going to have to figure out how Moody disappeared before Professor Lupin comes back."

Dean shared a look with Harry. "All right," he asked. "How do we do that?"

She stood up, hands on her hips. "I don't know!" After a minute, she nodded to herself, pleased. "Okay. We all have to do this together, so we might as well start. All right?" There were various nods and murmurs of agreement. Hermione turned to Mundungus. "Are you allowed to help us?"

He stopped rifling through his coat, and pulled out a pipe. "Damned if I know. Can't tell you the answer, 'e'd have my 'ead."

"Hermione," Hannah started. "How can we possibly do this?"

Hermione turned around again, and Harry tried not to wince. He recognised that look in her eyes. "If we can survive a Potions O.W.L., we can do this."

Thoroughly heartened, Hannah stood up too. "All right!" She looked around, and sank down again. "But, oh. Where could he have gone?"

"Well."

Mundungus leaned forward, to shield his pipe, and lit it with his wand. After a big puff, he offered up helpfully, " 'e's still in the classroom."

"Well, that narrows it down."

Harry put his chin in one hand. Ron frowned, in concentration. "Could he just be under an invisibility cloak?"

"Nope," Mundungus said cheerfully. "But a good guess." Ron looked around, craning his neck; Hermione started muttering under her breath; the class looked bewildered, whilst shuffling their papers. Harry sighed.

"All right," Hermione said doubtfully. "We'd best start looking."

Justin had stood up and was examining the door carefully. He shrugged. "Nothing, but, just in case."

Harry kind of sat there while various students got up and looked around; when Seamus finally lifted up a stack of clear vials, Ron rolled his eyes. "Are you ready to concede defeat yet?" he asked Seamus, who flushed scarlet and put the vials down.

"I knew a bloke once," Dung started, poking his pipe with a yellow finger, "who used to keep a ghoul inside a whiskey bottle. Clear as day. 'e used it each 'alloween to scare the kids."

"but--" Hermione started. "Mr- Prof- Alastor Moody," she settled on, "wouldn't fit in a whiskey bottle, would he?"

Padma looked thoughtful. "If he was smaller, he would."

"Mundungus," Hermione whipped around, excited. "Has he changed his size?"

His mouth around the end of his pipe, chewing the end, Dung smiled.

"Of course!" A moment, and then Hermione's face fell. "Oh. That means he could be anywhere."

Seamus muttered, "like under vials," and eyed Ron, who snickered.

Harry finally stood up, and everyone turned around to listen. Hannah and Susan had their textbooks open; Ernie was poking all the cracks in the floor with his wand. "Listen," he started. "Professor Lupin wouldn't have given us this test if we couldn't do it." He glanced at Ernie. "And we can't guess; we'll be here all day."

"So what do - oh!" Hermione looked annoyed. "Of course. Did Professor Lupin bring anything in with him? Does anyone remember?"

Lavender exclaimed, "That little crystal ball! It was ever so pretty. He took it out of his briefcase, and then," she frowned. "I don't remember what he did with it."

Moving towards the desk, Harry smiled. There, behind a discarded set of scales, was the little glass bowling ball he'd seen Remus hand Moody. He looked at it, and scratched his head; behind him, the whole class was craning to see. Harry was about to pick it up, but then - "You know," he said thoughtfully, "I don't really want to touch this if we don't know what it does."

Dung tapped his pipe against a spare desk, looking pleased.

"But how can we figure out what it does if we can't touch it?"

Luna tilted his head this way and that, and pulled her wand out from behind her ear. Harry had a feeling - she touched the end of it to the little bowling ball, and a faint glow came off the ball.

"That was stup--" Ron started, and then amended, "maybe dangerous."

Luna put her wand back complacently. "The Professor wouldn't let us touch something that was really dangerous."

"So we know that whatever Moody did, this ball did it." Hermione sighed. "Well, unless someone knows what this thing is, I don't know what else we can do."

Dung, still smoking - the air in their classroom was starting to take on a slightly purple tinge; it didn't smell unpleasant, but a little odd - spoke up. "Time's almost up."

"Come on!" Hermione scrunched her face up. "Think! We can do this!"

"Mad-Eye, 'e's gonna be right ticked when 'e gets outta there," Dung commented. Lavender held her nose, shuffling away from the smoke, but then Ron's eyes widened. He gaped a few times, spinning slowly on his axis, then grabbed the ball--

"Ron, stop! You don't know the first thing about that thing--"

and smashed it against the side of the desk.

Alastor Moody popped up in front of them, shaking himself out. "Took you long enough," he growled. "My leg was cramped."

Dung pulled a flask from his inside pocket, and said "They wasn't doing 'alf bad. Poking cracks in the floor, but."

Moody swivelled around, eyeing each of them in turn. "Is that so." He stared at all of them, then said gruffly, "back to your seats then."

A few people drifted away, but most were examining the ground where Moody stood. "The glass is gone," Susan said. "How did it do that? Apparate?"

"You can't Apparate in the school, hasn't anyone read Hogwarts, A--"

"Go on then." Moody stared at them fiercely. More people went and sat down, and finally Harry took his seat too. There was something funny going on. That seemed simple, almost. The answer was presented to them almost readily; and they still had a few minutes left before Remus was planning to return. Harry scratched his forehead absently. Something wasn't--

Harry finally looked Moody full in the face, and realized. He raised his hand, gulping. He remembered someone telling him once: sometimes, the tricks that are used keep being used because they work. He swivelled around to face Dung, who'd put the pipe down and was drinking from a hip flask, then he looked at Moody, who was favouring his good leg, nose not quite broken enough. Not quite broken enough.

"Yeah?" Moody asked gruffly.

Harry hesitated; what could he ask? Beside him, Hermione exclaimed 'oh!' faintly, and Ron muttered something under his breath. That sealed it. He said, "you switched identities, didn't you?"

Dung put the flask back in his pocket, and turned around, looking at his watch. His face was already beginning to ripple, contort, and Harry saw the familiar effects of Polyjuice Potion. "Took you long enough." But when Remus came back into the classroom, Moody said, "they didn't do half bad." He was actually smiling.

~

Harry was practically hip deep in an essay about the kinds of magical plants one could use to counteract poisons - a slightly more useful lesson, his practical side accepted, than most of their Herbology classes, and definitely more engaging for Harry personally since there was a good chance someone might try to poison him at some point - when Ron flopped down beside him. "Why'd I let you talk me into advanced Potions?" he moaned, hands bright purple. "Why'd Snape let us into the class?" he added, "more to the point. Even if we're both crackers enough to sign up, he should have prevented the calamity that was me enrolling in another bloody Potions class."

"Here," and Harry tossed him a half-completed essay, their homework this week. "Hermione's already checked it over."

Ron was already scribbling out garbled words for it. "Why. Why."

"Because potions is something an Auror has to take," Harry intoned, and stared at the book he'd been reading. Apparently there was a South American herb that would counteract a lot of the effects of the Belladonna plant, at least the Muggle poisons that came from it. Harry thrust the book aside. Nothing could counter the poison of some things named Bella.

"I could go to work just as easily without this class, couldn't I?" Ron asked, hopefully. He'd got six inches written in five minutes, mostly by rewriting what Harry had down. "I know that to be an Auror you have to be familiar with Dark Wizard's methods, but does that have to extend to sitting in class with them twice a week?"

"At least Hermione didn't drop it," Harry replied. Potions, strangely, no longer had the power to terrify him any more. The worst things that ever happened in class was the Slytherins - for the class was full of them - would ridicule him, and Snape would torment him. That didn't have as much sway over Harry as it used to. The worst torments Snape concocted just made him alternately tired, or angry. Harry'd already been sent out of class twice this term - he had to assume McGonagall had intervened on his behalf to keep him from being thrown out altogether.

The animosity between he and Snape only served to bring up painful reminders of other people. Harry couldn't help but stare at Snape's wrists, the strip of skin that was exposed at the cuff of his robes - and envision the mark on his forearm.

~

"Do you want to go to the library and start on that essay for McGonagall?" Ron asked he and Hermione. Breakfast was porridge, with lots of brown sugar. "I can't believe I'm offering to go to the library on a Saturday."

"You just want to put off your poisons homework," Hermione said tartly. "That's what you should really be looking up. Aren't you worried Professor Snape's going to try to poison you in class next week?"

To go along with their unit in Herbology, Professor Snape had announced, to many people's horrors and a few smirks, that they were to begin studying counter-poisons and remedies. The class was convinced, moreover, that some time this week as a test, he was planning on forcing them to drink something in class just to see if they'd been listening. While Harry appreciated the need to know how to brew potions for this sort of thing, he had a very nasty feeling that Snape was going to use him as a test subject.

"I know you won't let me drink anything I shouldn't," Ron said airily. "Fine then, feel like going for a walk on the grounds?"

In truth, Harry had stopped caring if Snape tried to pull anything on him. Maybe he'd poison him - then Snape would have to pay the consequence. Harry let himself grin. That might be worth it.

"I'll help you study those antidotes," Hermione told Ron, "but you have to at least attempt to learn them."

Though they tried desperately, Ron and Harry found themselves on the receiving end of one of Hermione's more brutal tutorials. More than once Ron paused to mutter, "I hate Snape, I hate Snape," which was about the time Hermione brought a book she'd taken from the library, that showed some of the nastier results that had been recorded from the poisons Professor Snape inevitably knew how to concoct.

~

It was to their indescribable shock and dismay, then, to find Snape standing in their Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom on Monday.

The notice had gone up Sunday night, and Harry had had to stay up until past midnight in order to finish the questions Remus wanted them to answer about the different kinds of ways you could disguise yourself. Since Harry had had personal experience with a Metamorphmagus, a cross-dressing member of the Order, the Disillusionment Charm, and Polyjuice potion, it wasn't too hard to do, just long. He ended up looking up several other methods, and mentioned - though not the circumstances - the usefulness of being an unregistered Animagus. It was the first time he'd ever felt really good about doing an essay.

"I hope," Snape said, arms folded, "you are all prepared for today's class."

Ron looked like he wanted to cry. Harry was angry. Not only did he have to put up with Snape staring at him, tormenting him, and possibly trying to kill him, in Potions - now he was going to ruin the one really good class Harry took. It wasn't fair. If only Fred and George had sent them some of their Skivving Snackboxes this term--

"Ah, good, you're here," and Remus strode into the room, briefcase in tow. "I apologize for being late, class, but if you'll just wait a moment I will be with you. Just have to deliver," and he went into the office, reappearing almost immediately with just his wand. "Now then." He rubbed a hand over his face. "Again, I apologize."

Everyone was still staring at Snape - Hermione put her hand up, tentatively. "Professor Lupin, what," and her eyes darted to Snape; she swallowed, "what are we doing today?"

"I'm glad you asked." Remus patted his pockets, glanced at his watch. "We are going to play a bit of a game, today."

Neville had shrunk back in his chair, but he too, put his hand up. "A game?"

"It is time," Remus said, "to put all those hours of practise to work! How do you feel like playing curse-tag?"

Harry hadn't taken his eyes off Snape. If he wasn't mistaken, he was smirking a little. Whatever about, it couldn't be good.

"In short, we are going to endeavour to jinx one another. This may sound a simple thing, but I've asked Hagrid to set aside some space for us, in order to make the game more interesting." He paused. "How many of you have been in the Forest in your time here?" The class gasped. When no one raised their hand, Remus surveyed them. "No one?" Harry, glancing at Ron and Hermione, put his hand up, and then they followed, as did Neville. Gradually, a few others did as well. "Those of you that have had some experience with the Forest know, then, that this game will be anything but easy."

"But," and Hannah's face was white, "we're not allowed in the Forest."

"True. However I've made sure to set aside an area near the border. And I must impress upon you all - please. Please. Do not stray beyond those boundaries," Remus said gravely. Snape, who still hadn't said a word, possibly looked disdainful. "While I have every confidence in your ability to protect yourself, perhaps it would be wise not to find out exactly what there is to protect yourself from. Yes?"

Harry was mulling everything over in his mind, while they walked down to Hagrid's house. This was dangerous, he knew; even without the centaurs being ready to deal with all humans that trespassed into their space, and without the possibility of running into a giant spider, there were plenty of other things living in the Forest that Harry would have been perfectly happy to never see again. But as long as they could stay clear of the centaurs, it shouldn't be a problem.

As they were nearing the hut, Harry caught up with Professor Lupin. "Sir, what about the centaurs?" he asked, very quietly.

"There are few people who know this Forest as well as I," Remus murmured, "and I've chosen a place as far away from them as I could. And Dumbledore is also observing."

"He is?"

Remus nodded, pitching his voice so none of the other students could hear him. "As well he can. He does, after all, have a useful little mischief making item, provided to him by Messrs Moony--" and he halted, nearly losing stride. "Anyway. He'll be able to keep track of where everyone is."

After that, Remus didn't seem to want to talk anymore; Hagrid, coming up to greet them, forestalled any awkwardness. "An' I got your three wayward students, Remus," he said, gesturing to Luna, Colin and Ginny - let out of class once more. "Yeh want I should go in first?"

"I've looked myself," Remus said, "and," he paused, looking at the students. "We'll be fine."

Harry knew that Remus was about to say "you're not welcome in the Forest anymore." Knowing Hagrid as well as he did, Harry figured it was probably best that Remus had stopped when he did. Snape came up as well, to stand at the side, arms crossed and scowling fiercely. So far, he hadn't said a word.

Remus gestured for everyone to gather around so they could hear him. "Now then. The plan," he started, "is for Professor Snape and myself to enter the area - marked by those magical flares you can see. You, then, will wait a few minutes, and then follow us in." He allowed himself a grin. "This is a chance for you to take out your frustrations about school out - for your targets will be us."

"You, Professor?" Ernie asked. He couldn't help but look at Snape.

Remus answered, "Yes indeed, Ernie. If you'll remember, we have a list of standard spells, jinxes, curses and counters that we've all been practising. That is a rather extensive list--" for it was - they'd learned nearly forty brand new spells, and the students who hadn't studied under Harry had learned quite a lot more besides - "but those are the only spells Professor Snape and myself will be using. Should any of you know any others that might be useful, you are, of course, allowed to try them.

"We are limiting the magic in this exercise in order to prove something most important to you," Remus said. "So you may be assured that neither of us will go beyond that list."

Most of the class looked sceptical - Harry included. There was no way Snape wasn't going to curse them into oblivion as soon as he got the chance. Snape actually rolled his eyes, snarling, "there is no need for me to deviate from these spells in order to counteract your magic."

Harry was utterly unconvinced. "Professor," Hermione asked, "if we're all in there," and she pointed to the Forest, "who is going to watch to make sure that everyone's all right?"

"A very good question, Hermione." Remus turned to Harry, who blinked and tried to look more attentive than he was. In truth, he'd been watching Snape tap his finger against his arm. "Harry, if you wouldn't mind, I was planning on asking for your help in that, seeing as how you're probably best suited." He paused a moment, and Harry looked at his shoes - he was best suited because he'd been in more battles than the rest of the students, and if he needed to haul someone out of the way of a Centaur, or something worse, he'd be able. Probably. "I intended for you to manage the 'safe' zone - a place where anyone put 'out of the running' so to speak may come to wait out the exercise." Remus then marked out a large section, right at the boundary of the Forest, in bright purple lines. Harry assumed this was intended to be the safe zone.

"If anyone should run into trouble, as per usual, send up a red flare, please. Should anyone see a red flare, stop immediately, and wait for instructions." Remus narrowed his eyes suddenly. "Anyone who abuses this warning system will find themselves in detention, though," and he relaxed, "I know I don't have to worry about that, do I?"

Harry thought back to the time Draco had scared Neville in the Forest so bad he'd sent up a red flare; from Neville's suddenly darkened face, he suspected Neville was, as well. But Draco was stuck in the castle, probably ignoring all his lessons.

"If you're ready, Severus?" and Remus turned to Snape. Without a backward glance, Snape started off towards the Forest, Remus behind him.

Hagrid stepped up. "Now I'm supposed tah time yeh. Two minutes."

"Does anyone think," Ron said once the two teachers were gone, "for one minute that Snape's going to do what he's supposed to?"

Hagrid stared down at him. "Professor Snape's doing this voluntarily enough," he said, "so he'll do it right." Harry was surprised, hearing Hagrid take Snape's side. He had a pretty good idea the two of them had little time for the other. Though, they both had very unorthodox teaching styles, and similar in a few ways - both of them could, and often did, put them in grave peril during class in order to get results. The difference was, Harry realized suddenly, that - at least in Harry's own case - Snape enjoyed the peril. He'd set a snake on him, second year, whether to show everyone he was a Parselmouth or simply to frighten him, Harry didn't know.

Whatever else was true, in all ways, Snape worked for himself. Harry didn't trust him at all. He said to Ron, "even if he does follow the lesson, you're in for some nasty shocks. We covered some pretty intensive curses."

"Aw right," Hagrid called out, "Time, you lot. Go on. Yeh have an hour. Remember, any trouble, red flare."

The students started to group themselves, in pairs or threes, and headed slowly into the Forest. Harry sat on a nearby log to wait.

~

The hour did not go quietly.

Harry watched the first few students come out of the Forest, and then Snape appeared. He muttered about already being late, and walked as quickly as he could back to the castle without even a backwards glance at Harry. Professor Lupin was right behind him. "All right, Harry?" he asked quietly, and Harry nodded. "Good. Ah," he added in a louder voice, "it appears everyone made it more or less intact."

When everyone was finally back in the 'safe' circle, a few of them limping - Luna was supporting Neville, who still had his wand in his hand - Professor Lupin nodded to the ringed class. He was wiping his forehead off, himself. With a wave of his wand, he set everyone to rights, and removed the jinxes from the few students who were still having problems. Everyone looked at him expectantly, and so he smiled. "All right, what have you all learned today?"

Seamus answered immediately, "that you still have some tricks up your sleeves that we don't know yet." The class giggled a little, since Seamus looked rather disgruntled at his inability to catch the teachers off-guard.

Dean, rubbing his shoulder fiercely where a welt was starting to form, added, "and that I shouldn't run right into Seamus if we're trying to sneak up on you."

Harry had been watching through the trees, and Seamus and Dean hadn't managed to get anywhere near either Snape or Professor Lupin. Professor Lupin waved his wand again, and Dean stopped rubbing his shoulder, though it still looked quite red. Instead of laughing with the class, however, Professor Lupin took them quite seriously. "Very good," he told them. "What is it that you really learned, Dean?"

Dean frowned. "That we should have been working together, and had a plan?"

The answer wasn't too confident, and Dean's voice raised as a question at the very end, but Remus nodded. Harry thought that he had a pretty good idea of what Remus was getting at, and had his suspicion confirmed for him. "It's sometimes not enough to simply work towards the same goal. You have to be aware of what everyone is doing, and make sure that what you're doing is complimentary." He grinned at Seamus. "I could have simply told you that, but this little exercise, I hope, will work to illustrate it much better. Anyone else?"

Terry said, "I wish I'd studied the things we learned last week - about blending in - more. You always seemed to know when someone was coming."

Remus nodded. "Very good. I hope you've all also begun to understand that everything I introduce in your lessons is connected. The simplest thing, like a silence spell, may come in handy at the most unexpected times. Anyone else?"

Hermione, predictably, put her hand up. "We also learned how important the simple defences are, not just magic - something as easy as ducking. It's not all curses and counter curses."

Harry thought that the class was getting used to Professor Lupin asking them to puzzle out his reasons for doing things. They were also getting quite good at it. Remus nodded again. "Very good. There's always going to be someone who knows more magic than you. The question is, what else do you know that'll help you survive?"

Neville put his hand up, too. "We, we can't always rely on someone else to bail us out, but sometimes someone will help." Harry had seen Luna rescue Neville from a stray jinx; the same one that left him limping at the end. If she hadn't countered, it would have locked his legs completely.

Remus nodded, and for a moment he looked sad. "Yes, that's important. Possibly more important than everything else."

He refused to elaborate, though the whole class waited, so finally Harry spoke up. "We, we learned something else, too." He took a breath. "Even if you hate someone, you can work with them to win."

Remus nodded. "That you can," he said. Some people looked surprised, that he allowed even such a tacit admission of the animosity between himself and Snape, but he added quickly, "all right, five points to everyone who answered my questions, five to Harry for watching out for everyone, and ten to everyone who managed to jinx Professor Snape or myself."

He surveyed the class once more, and then told them, "for next day, summarise the importance of non-magic Defense, if you please. Six inches of parchment will suffice; I want to see you really thinking about the assignment, rather than spending your time filling inch after inch. How will knowing other ways of defending yourself, other than magic, help you?"

The class trouped back to the castle, Harry, Ron and Hermione dropping behind a little bit to talk to Remus. "Harry," he started. "I appreciate the help this class."

"Of course," Harry answered, uncertainly. Ron and Hermione flanked them, going inside, and he asked, "any word on, things?"

Remus waited until three Hufflepuff girls passed them, and the corridor was quite empty, before he answered. "Nothing as yet. So far, no one has stepped into the open."

"Would they though?" Hermione asked, surprised. "With everyone aware, and being so--"

"Vigilant?" Remus finished for her, smiling slightly. Even the oblique reminder of Mad Eye Moody made them all grin. "It's possible that has something to do with it. You three are doing remarkably well in class." Hermione and Ron blushed at this. Remus glanced at his wrist, where what looked like a quite-ordinary Muggle watch ticked. "And now I must be off. I have to be - overseas - in an hour, and I still have to pick up my briefcase."

He patted Harry on the shoulder, and disappeared inside his office. Ron frowned, more than a little puzzled. "How's he plan to get overseas? He can't Floo it. Portkey? But I thought those could be traced."

Harry and Hermione shrugged, Hermione answering, "one more mystery to add to the pile."

~

Next week, they were thrilled to find themselves allowed out to Hogsmeade on Thursday because of Defense Against the Dark Arts.

"Now it took me a good long while to get the school to authorize this field trip," Remus said, as they stood on the edge of town. Hogsmeade was much less crowded than it usually was; witches and wizards out to do their shopping, babies in magical strollers. "Let's not waste it, shall we? We have to be back at the school for tea." He stared at each of them. "This is a scavenger hunt of sorts. I've hidden a number of items, magical and non, around the town. Each item has a crescent moon on it somewhere," and the Professor drew the symbol in the air with his wand, "so you can all identify it. Anyone who can find an item may remove it, provided you write down where you removed it from. I will be comparing these lists to the master list, so please do try and find out all the information you can about something before you pick it up."

Hermione asked, "but if we take it, won't the rest of the class not be able to see it?"

Remus paused a moment. "That is a distinct possibility."

"Are we allowed to work together?"

He looked at them for a long moment; then instead of answering, said, "I intend to use this time to mark your essays from last week in the Three Broomsticks. My time has been very limited lately, so I apologize - I just didn't have time to finish them. If you require anything, I'll be upstairs, that's where you'll find me."

"What are we supposed to find out, Professor?" Ernie asked.

"That, Ernie," he replied, "is your first mystery."

Harry pulled the parchment out of his bag; Remus had handed them out before he'd told them what was going on. It had a blank list, numbered one through fifteen - he assumed these were the items they were supposed to find. The second sheet had instructions, as well as a list of stores where clues could be located. Harry was relieved that only seven stores, and three places labelled 'other', were part of the lesson.

"Do you have any idea what we're supposed to be doing?" Ron asked, scowling at his assignment. Harry folded his up, sticking it in his pocket. "I mean, this seems a bit daft to me."

"It's like Clue," Hermione replied. She, too, was frowning at her parchment. "You know, who did what, where. Only we're not sure what mystery we're supposed to be solving."

"And we're not the only ones playing." Everyone had dispersed, gradually; Parvati, Padma and Lavender were just disappearing down the lane that Madame Puddifoot's was down. Ron sighed, saying, "All right, Harry, you're the one that always knows what to do in this class. Come on now."

"Shut up." In truth, Harry had no idea what to do; Zonko's, Honeydukes, and the tea shop were on their list of possible shops, as well as a bookstore he'd never been in, the post office, and two other miscellaneous stores. Harry was thankful that the Hog's Head was not. The Three Broomsticks wasn't either, presumably because Remus was currently in there. "I wish we'd got lunch."

"Oh, if we don't hurry we're not going to get anything done," Hermione said, looking around. "Everyone else is already gone."

"Nearly everyone." Neville was coming out of the pub, a steaming mug in his hands. "I couldn't do any more in this chill without something warm." Both of his hands were wrapped around his cup, and his cheeks were flush. "Do you think, could I work with you three? I've no idea what to do, and things have been going so well in this class..."

He trailed off, and Harry felt a little sorry for him. Hermione said straightaway, "of course, we'll look together, but truthfully, none of us have any ideas either."

While Neville offered Hermione a sip of his warm cider - Ron's teeth were grinding together - Harry thought really hard, and came up with absolutely nothing. "At least we've got good enough marks that even if we don't find anything today, it'll be all right," he said, gloomy. "Should we pick one of these stores and look?"

However, after ducking into Honeydukes, the bookstore, and even the tea shop, the four of them found them stuffed to the brim with students already. Harry sighed. "Should we look for these 'other' things, maybe?"

"But how?" Neville stared at the cobblestones. "We've no idea where to start."

Harry suddenly slapped his palm against his forehead. "I know one place, if I know anything about Remus." He started down the lane away from town, and up towards the Shrieking Shack. Remus never did anything without a reason; if there was a clue around here, it was more than likely because he expected Harry to find it, since no one else would know what special significance the Shrieking Shack had. "Most people would be afraid to come too close to this building. Only we know that it's not really haunted."

Neville said, "It's not?"

Hermione scowled fiercely at Harry, and Harry backtracked. "It. It's a long story, it's not really. It has to do with Professor Lupin being a werewolf." Neville just nodded, accepted his explanation, for which Harry was grateful. Neville, too, seemed to know what it was like to have a secret that you didn't really want to explain to anyone.

Right along the front stoop - or what would have been the front stoop except that it was grown over with dark clumps of weeds - they found a toy wagon, a crescent carved into its old boards. Hermione bent to pick it up - the wood was hot to the touch, and she yanked her fingers back. "Ouch!" She examined her fingers, then - "It burned me."

Ron eyed the thing. "All right, then what is it?"

"A wagon," Hermione answered.

"I know it's a--"

"Why isn't it burning anything else?" Harry wondered aloud, half to stop them from arguing. "And why aren't there any flames?"

Neville was peering at the thing. "It's sitting on a stone stoop, and there aren't any weeds touching it." He poked a leaf at the little wagon carefully, and the leaf started to glow; as they watched, an ant that crawled off the leaf onto the wagon flared up, then-- nothing.

Harry swallowed, and asked no one in particular, "Did it just-- is that ash, on the wagon?" He peered down. "But, if the ant was just-- then how can we pick it up?"

After a lot of examination, they found out the wheels were somehow cool and managed to tuck the toy into Neville's now empty mug. "Well, what that clue has to do with any of this, I don't know," Harry said, "but that's one for our lists, at least."

However, even after another hour searching, they only managed to procure a sack of Sugar Quills from Honeydukes and half an envelope in the post office that might have had a crescent moon on it. "It looks more like a coffee stain, Hermione," Ron said, but Hermione tucked it in her bag anyway. Harry was a little angry with himself. He couldn't even seem to put anything together. They looked around the other stores, and even kicked over a few paving stones, but to no avail.

When they went back into the Three Broomsticks, however, Harry was at least gratified to find everyone else looking as annoyed or disappointed. "What did you find?" Ernie demanded. Neville showed him his cup, and the little glowing toy inside it. Ernie went to grab it, but Neville pulled the cup away. "What are you doing?"

"It's on fire," Hermione explained. "Some how. What did you find?"

He hesitated, glancing at Hannah who'd sidled up to him, but then they pulled out a school hat, crescent moon easily visible around the brim. "It was in that store beside Zonko's," Hannah explained, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. "It's a real Hogwarts' uniform hat, too, it even has a little crest on the side."

"The Professor would have had access to one easily," Ron said. Harry chewed a candy Quill absently, finally sitting down at a table. The others sat with him. They obviously weren't going to figure anything out without all the clues. This was ridiculous. He looked around the pub - Remus was nowhere in sight, though the rest of the class had wandered in. "Can I copy yours?" Ron was saying to Hermione, who handed over her description of the wagon with a sigh.

The six of them wrote their two items down, and stared hopelessly at the rest. Harry passed the bag of Sugar Quills around. There was nothing for it. They were going to have to copy off everyone else, since there was no way that anyone had left their items behind. None of the clues were particularly useful on their own; they could only hope that some coherent whole formed once they had all the pieces. Harry said, "We'll have to get everyone else's clues."

Still, even after the whole class shuffled around to ring themselves around the largest table - Hermione and Ernie had ordered everyone, as Prefects - with their carefully collected bits placed in the center, no coherent whole was obvious.

"Is that a --"

"Don't touch it, it's on fire. some how."

"This is just like Clue," Dean said. Hermione glared at Ron. "Mr. Mustard, in the library, with the rope. Only it's," and he stared at the table, "a Hogwarts' hat, somewhere we aren't sure of yet, with the--"

"wagon?"

"Well, this is a mess," Hermione declared. "We'll just have to go about this sensibly. What do we know?"

"That our grades are dependent on a piece of string?" and Seamus held up said object. It wasn't really a piece of string; it was more like, a piece of string made of some kind of horsehair, woven carefully together. The end was knotted, cut, as if it was supposed to be--

"Give me that," Susan said, and grabbed it. She frowned. "This should fit on the wagon. See? It doesn't have a handle to pull it, and it's just the right thickness to go through that hole."

"well if you ever figure out how to pick the wagon up--"

"if we could only figure out what to do--"

"--then maybe you can attach it without it burning--"

"Don't we have something metal around here somewhere?" Terry asked, suddenly. "Put that stupid toy on that."

Several people had already been burned by the little toy. All they'd figured out is that no dousing spell would put the little toy out - it simply refused to stop burning. It would make wood glow and blister fingers immediately, but didn't affect plastic or metal or ceramic, apparently. It seemed to want to burn only things that were once living. Rosemerta's tables were all wooden. "Nasty spell," Susan said, thoughtfully, as Terry carefully up-ended the wagon onto a plate he grabbed from the next table. Susan held the little piece of rope up to the toy, careful not to touch it. "See?" she said. "It's supposed to be on here, you can see the burned ends where it was knotted."

"Where was that piece of string found?"

"In Zonko's, it was near the display of Splattering--"

"So it, was it burned off in the store?" someone asked. "Then how come the--"

Harry stared at the table. People were playing with the rest of the clues. A mouldy glove sat beside the Hogwarts' hat - Harry felt it, and realized it was the kind of gardening glove that had plastic coating on the outside of the fingers. He felt the plastic. It was warm. Residual effect from being in contact with the wagon? Would the plastic be enough to protect your fingers, long enough to put the toy where you wanted it?

Harry slipped his hand into the glove, and reached out with one finger, to carefully touch the wooden bed of the wagon. It was hot to the touch, but not scorching. He picked it up, while everyone watched, between his index finger and thumb.

Ginny - who'd shown up late, and been most put out to find that the lesson was half-over - grinned. "Well, now we know the how, right? Glove, wagon, string." She stared blankly at the table as Harry put the three things aside, the plate with the wagon on it out of the way of everyone's fingers. "Now what do we need? Who, where?"

"Why?" Ron pointed out.

Ginny turned, "Well I don't feel like failing this--"

"No," and Ron frowned, picked up a piece of parchment with a crescent moon in the corner. "We need to know why, right?"

Mandy picked up a book with no writing on the cover. "We still need to figure out what exactly we're supposed to be doing too. I mean," and she flipped the book open, "this is, what is this?" She held the book up. "It's a description of famous Quidditch teams from the second half of the century."

Seamus took it from her, interested, as Dean said, "so what does Quidditch have to do with this?"

"Hey, there's stuff underlined in this!" Seamus said suddenly. He held it up for everyone to see. "Look. The Arrows and the Wasps." He flipped a few more pages. "Whoever owned this book sure didn't like the Arrows much."

There were several things written in the margins of the book, including "stuff it, Arrows" several times. What it had to do with the rest of the things on the table Harry had no idea whatsoever. Ron peered over Seamus's shoulder, and then frowned. "This letter here is an address from Wimbourne. It's all about, now is the time, we've got to act." He tossed it aside. "Doesn't say what they intend to do though. Whoever 'they' are."

"Well, we've got a Hogwarts' hat," Susan said uncertainly. "That means that a Hogwarts student is probably involved, right?" Everyone looked at each other for a minute. "Does anything else suggest anything about who?"

"The letter itself is from Wimbourne, that's something--"

"here, here's a bag of Sugar Quills - oh, sorry Harry, didn't know those were yours."

"Wait, this is a receipt for purchase of those gloves!" Parvati said, excited. "It's signed by an A. Horne." She leaned back, none too puzzled. "A. Horne? Do we know who that is? We found this in the tea shop, but didn't know what it was about since 'one pair, green' made no sense then." The glove was green.

Susan flipped the Hogwarts' hat over. "Look, 'A.H.', in tiny writing."

"Then we know that A. Horne was a Hogwarts student," Hermione said. She was busily writing down everything that everyone was saying, and documenting their objects onto her assignment sheet. "Who's the letter addressed to? From?"

"Don't know." Ron shrugged. "Both names are ripped off."

"And someone sure didn't like the Arrows," Seamus put in, putting the book beside the letter. "Probably A. Horne, right?"

"Mostly likely." Hermione wrote it down on her sheet. "Now what about the rest of these things?"

After another half hour of brainstorming or so, they had several sketchy but working outlines of what might have happened - assuming, of course, that they were trying to solve a crime. They managed to catalogue fourteen out of fifteen pieces of evidence, and only then realized that they were one short.

"Huh," Ron said. "We missed one. How'd that happen?"

It was a question that was answered, quite literally, as Luna came floating over to their table, something in her hand. "I counted our clues," she said, "a while ago. I think this might be the last one - it had a crescent moon sticker right holding it up, so I do believe--"

Luna finally placed the article she'd found - cut out of what looked to be a Daily Prophet - on the table, and shrugged. "That's it."

Hermione snatched it up, and began skimming. "Where'd you find it?" Susan asked.

"Oh, behind Zonko's," Luna answered, and stared off into space. "Stuck in the window frame."

The article was from 1977. Even though the Daily Prophet had changed their format and layout since then, it was still unmistakeably that newspaper. The article hadn't even rated front page; there was a six visible in one corner of it. Harry read over her shoulder, as Hermione read the first paragraph aloud.

"Wizards and Muggles alike were shocked to hear of the damaging explosion in Hogsmeade village just yesterday afternoon. The tragedy could not have had worse timing; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, located just outside the town, had let their students out for the day. Several were trapped inside Zonko's Joke Shop when it exploded, burning from the outside in. There were no major injuries, though the shop was nearly reduced to ruins. There is no word on the cause of this terrible accident."

As Hermione read, Harry felt a lead weight settle into the pit of his stomach. The article even had a moving picture of the debris surrounding Zonko's, complete with a recovery team of wizards, investigating the street. The store was nearly destroyed. Harry had a very unnerving feeling - though the assignment was fake and the motivation was ludicrous. He suddenly realized it was because though their assignment was fake, the spell, the crime, had, at one point, been very much real.

~

When Remus came back downstairs into the main part of the Three Broomsticks, the class all vied to be the one to tell him.

"It was Zonko's--"

"A. Horne--"

"and the wagon burned my fingers--"

Hermione handed him her assignment sheet, and went a little pink. "I, that's everyone's assignment, because we had to do it together, so really, we could all write it out but that's finished, and--"

Remus held his hand up. "You've all done remarkably well," he said. "We once did a similar assignment when I was in school; it took our class nearly twice as long to complete it. Of course, many of the class simply gave up on the assignment and enjoyed the time away from school. I'm very glad to see that all of you participated. Of course, your class is," and he hesitated. "Smaller, than ours was."

Harry tried not to wince. He knew that Remus was referencing the fact that only certain students had elected to participate in class with him. The fact that not everyone was willing to take instruction from a werewolf still hurt him, Harry bet. But the plain fact of the matter was, those students that were left were better at the class. And it certainly made exercises like this one - where they had to cooperate - a lot easier, especially with Malfoy currently in the Slytherin Common Room.

"So we were right?" Parvati asked. "Zonko's was the place in danger, and from that burning spell?"

"All because of a Quidditch team--"

"No, the article didn't know--"

"Professor, was that article real?"

Harry couldn't hear who'd asked; as Remus nodded, the chatter died off. He suddenly looked away; stared out the window, off into the distance. "Yes. It happened when I was in school, actually, seventh year," he told them. Everyone stopped moving, stared at him, waiting. "It wasn't an accident, like the Prophet said. Someone attacked the shop. Several students were trapped inside."

No one said anything for a moment. "Did, did--"

Remus turned back to them. "No, everyone was all right. The Head Boy got the prefects organised and managed to counter the spell. He was probably one of the cleverest wizards I've ever met." Harry saw him swallow. "This might have seemed like a game to you, today, and it was - but never forget. Things like this happen, and happen for real. Just imagine trying to figure out what's going on, who's responsible for it, while students are screaming and the snow is falling so thick you can barely see. And all you know is that somewhere, in that mess, people are in danger."

What felt like an eternity went past, everyone crowding the table utterly silent. Harry hadn't ever heard this story. Remus hadn't named his father, but Harry knew his dad had been Head Boy - his dad had been the one to hold things together. Somewhere, in all those stories he'd heard about his father - both bad and mischief-filled - he'd never really realized that there was a Head Boy hidden underneath. Someone Dumbledore had trusted with the school in some of the scariest years imaginable.

Remus suddenly sat up, and asked much more briskly, "Now you know the truth. What could you have done?"

As usual, eventually someone answered. Harry wasn't even sure who it was, speaking - his world was in fog. Whoever had chosen to answer claimed the lives of people were the most important thing, so the first thing they would do is try and sort out who was safe and who wasn't. Someone else pointed out that people had to know what was going on, as quickly as possible; then Ron distinctly said, "and someone was wandering around out there that had done it."

Remus flat out refused to show them the spell; he did, however, explain how it worked and how to counter it. The spell was Dark Magic, obviously, and dangerous; Harry didn't hear any of it. He was envisioning the image he had of his father, trying to imagine him as someone who could save students' lives. Clever, yes, and someone capable of pulling off incredible pranks - that seemed to be all Harry ever heard about him. Slowly, Harry had accepted that his father was not a hero in saving Snape's life; that he was sometimes a right jackass. It was painful, but he'd managed to swallow that. Knowing his father's friends helped there immensely. He was only just now presented with another option - that of the James Potter who'd also faced down Voldemort, and lived.

~

They were in the Common Room later, doing homework - Harry felt like he never did anything but homework, the occasional Quidditch practise, and Occlumency lessons - when Hermione tentatively brought up what Professor Lupin had told them. "It's, it's horrible, isn't it?" she asked, eyes darting to Harry. "The thought that someone might try and attack a joke shop, of all places."

Ron shrugged, face twisting up. "They did last year, didn't they? We were nearly done for with old Umbridge."

Hermione looked very anxious. Her hands kept twisting in her lap. "Do you. You don't think something like what the Professor described could happen again, do you?"

They both looked at Harry, and anger welled up. He bit off, "I don't know!"

"Why do you think he told us that?" Ron said, deflecting Harry's thoughts from the vision of Voldemort swooping down on the school, or on Hogsmeade. "It's kind of, well, personal. What with."

Hermione chewed her lip. "He makes us be honest in class," she said, slowly. "Professor Lupin made us tell the truth, like in the Death Eater assignment, so I think," and she looked thoughtful. "I think he's trying to show us what knowing the truth means?" the last word was hesitant, unsure.

"Great," Harry said. "Some of us would maybe like to not know the truth for a little while."

Ron gulped, glancing at Hermione. He tried to change the subject with, "what I'd like to know is why Dumbledore picked Lupin to be our teacher. It would have been dead easier to find someone the Ministry approved of. There has to be someone else out there that's capable."

Hermione was still frowning, eyes staring off into space. "I think," she answered slowly. "I think he wanted Professor Lupin to teach as much for his sake as for ours." Ron looked at Harry and shrugged. Hermione bit her lip. "Well. He's been trying to get us to figure things out ourselves."

"so? Have you figured him out, then?" Ron asked, sniffing.

"I think. I think Professor Lupin lost as much as," and she faltered. "As, as you did, Harry."

"You don't know--" Harry started, then stopped abruptly. He thought about Remus admitting freely that the bottom had fallen out of his world, the way he stumbled while talking about the Map. Harry still couldn't get to sleep at night without feeling his eyes burn, hot and tight, and his stomach clenching. Every day he thought about what happened. "The bottom fell out of his world," Harry told them. "He said that to me."

Hermione looked sad. She said tentatively, "they were friends for so long," and then stopped too, for which Harry was grateful. It didn't matter what they said, or didn't say about Professor Lupin. It seemed like they'd stumbled, by accident, on the real reason he was here. Just like the rest of them, he was hurt.

~

After tea, Harry was incredibly surprised to be going past the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom on the way to the library and saw a candle burning in the office. "Professor?" he called out, unsure. Remus had never ever stayed at school later than the lesson before; Harry had no idea what he was doing still at the school, if it even was him. If it wasn't, he was damned curious - wary - about who was in the classroom.

It was Remus, however, that came out of his office. "Harry, hello," he started. Remus was holding a cup of tea in one hand and a Muggle newspaper in the other. "Cup of tea?"

Harry took the proffered tea and sat down in an arm chair. A fire was burning in the grate, and despite the chill going around the castle the little sitting area was warm. Of course it wouldn't take much to heat the room; barely room for two arm chairs. Harry recognised a frame that used to reside in the back bedroom at Grimmauld Place, two unassuming older people. On closer inspection he thought they might have been Remus's parents, though why he was carrying around their photo Harry couldn't guess. Any possible explanation was just a sad thought.

"I'm glad," Remus said, sitting with him, "that you came round, Harry, actually. This is one of the very few evenings I have free to spend at the castle, marking--" and he gestured to a pile of parchment, "for one thing. But I wanted to ask you, as well, how do you think the lesson went today?"

"The scavenger hunt?" Harry thought about it. He'd been frustrated, originally, with a whole class devoted to something that didn't really even seem like they needed magic to solve; frustrated with his inability to piece together what anything meant; and eventually relieved to have it over. "It was difficult," he finally admitted. "Though it probably shouldn't have been."

"I asked a few of your classmates earlier, and they told me that they'd expected more magic out of it." Remus sipped his tea, toes curled against the hearth. "But then, sometimes magic isn't the important part."

Harry answered, "your best defence is thinking things through?" Remus nodded. "Sir," he began. The only piece of magic that was involved in the whole lesson had been a spell Remus was unwilling to teach him - ostensibly because it couldn't be used by defence, in reality because it was Dark Magic. "Sir, what was the spell you used?"

Part of why he wanted to know had to do with just wanting to know more about what Voldemort could throw at him - if he could find out as much as he could, then he could be ready for anything. Part of it was that ever since Remus had told them about the Zonko's fire when he was at school, Harry had been trying to envision a story where his father was Head Boy and failing. Percy was Head Boy; how could someone like who his father'd been painted to be fit the role?

"I'm not going to show you how it works," Remus told him quietly. "I probably shouldn't have even used it in class."

Harry stared into his tea - milk, no sugar. The cup was warm, not hot. He saw Remus brewing the tea from a bag and the enchanted kettle that had once sat in the cupboard over the wood stove in Grimmauld Place. He asked, "then - what does it do, exactly?"

Remus looked away from Harry. "It's a spell that can somehow will living - or once living - matter to burn. Because it's a different kind of curse than most other simple incendiary spells, no typical counter-spell will negate the effects. The only way to neutralize it is to force the curse to let go of the object - so that the object itself no longer has the will to burn." He paused. "Your father figured out the side effect of this procedure, of course, is that will turning inward upon yourself. He was in the hospital wing with singed nerves for a week; Lily walked around complaining of prickling skin."

"what--" Harry latched on, "what really happened?"

"Before Zonko's was hit," Remus started quietly, "James had figured out that the Slytherins in our year and below - that grew up to be some of the worst Death Eaters - had found a book of Dark Magic and were quite likely going to pull some cruel joke. He and--" and Remus stopped, mouth open. He closed his lips, swallowed, pressed his lips together. "They started to learn the spells themselves for the challenge of trying to reverse them.

"It was a Hogsmeade day in winter, and there was snow everywhere. When Zonko's went up there was instant panic. James managed to coordinate with the other prefects and upper years to get everyone back to the school - then he and Lily forced the building to stop burning." Remus smiled, briefly. "James was always so determined. It wasn't the first or last time he'd managed to pull off something no one else knew how to do simply because he knew he could."

Harry stared at his tea. His father had been called arrogant, by more than one party, and shown to be so when he was at school. Here was something he'd never considered into that bravado - the kind of confidence that made him capable of great things, too.

"Of course, there was nothing we could do about the kids that did it - they had influential families and fear on their side. At the time, we all vowed that some day we'd make sure they paid for all the damage they did at school--" Remus trailed off, shrugged lightly. "I miss your parents. It was easier to think we'd," and he stopped again. "It was just easier, when James was still Head Boy. Now, I suppose, it's up to me."

It occurred to Harry that here was another case of an identity he had only just realized; Remus's loss, like his Aunt Petunia's, was very real, no matter how deep it was buried. And like Aunt Petunia, Harry had to re-evaluate Remus in the wake of the news. He was slowly understanding that Remus felt very keenly all the holes in his life.

Harry sipped his tea. "Would you, would you tell me something else about my parents at school?"

Usually such a question wouldn't have occurred to him; because Remus was never quite as approachable as, as others, about his lost family, their lost comrades. But, too, Remus had never been the only one left who could tell the stories.

"Your mother loved the Beatles," he said, and stared into the fire. His office was still barren; the arm chairs dusty. The tea pot, the kettle, and the book were his; everything else was being stored here for the winter. It felt like even Harry and Remus were being stored there for the winter, until they could be brought out and used again. "Did you know that? She used to sing for us, sometimes."

Harry closed his eyes. Somewhere, deep in his brain, there might be a scrap of memory, his mother singing. But it wouldn't come. "What did dad say?"

"James?" Remus smiled, briefly. "He used to laugh at her for it. Though, that describes their first few years as friends, I suppose." He looked reflective. "Perhaps friends is stretching it."

"Were they really," and Harry hesitated; did he want to ask this? Did he really want to know? "that angry with each other all the time?"

Remus actually let out a chuckle. "They put on a good show. And your father was a prat, Harry, I'm sorry to say. He wasn't always as horrible as what you saw, but sometimes." Remus sighed. "They could be rather mean. Lily didn't like that kind of behaviour.

"But it wasn't usually like that." Remus was barely talking to Harry; he wasn't looking at him, surely, but at the fire, which crackled but wasn't very warm. "Lily was there for him when your grandparents died when he wouldn't listen to anyone else."

Harry's heart skipped a beat. "When my."

Remus glanced at him. "Well, you're old enough to--" and he shuffled around in the stiff-backed chair. "James lost his parents when he was still in school. Sometimes I think if it weren't for that," and he trailed off.

Harry's heart skipped a beat. "If it weren't for that?"

"Your father would never have been as determined as he turned out to be. Rather, he'd never have turned that determination from childish pranks to anything else." Remus fiddled with the handle on his cup. "Of course, he never fell straight in line with Dumbledore, or the Order." Harry stared at the desk, rather than at Remus's dark face. "But he knew that just because he didn't always agree, that didn't make Dumbledore wrong."

"He - my father didn't agree with Dumbledore?"

"Not always." Remus shifted again, to face Harry, and his lips were twisted in a frown. "No one else will dare to tell you now, so I guess I - no, they didn't always agree."

Harry took a breath. "Was it because my dad was a, a."

Remus's face lifted, momentarily. "No. Your dad's troublemaking wasn't the cause. Dumbledore often seemed, almost proud, of the things we got up to. I sometimes still wonder--" and he shook his head. "They disagreed over the important things. Putting people in the line of fire, so to speak. Your dad didn't always hold with it."

"Oh." Harry ran a hand through his hair, absently, and tried to digest. His dad had sometimes disagreed with the way the Order did things. His dad had sometimes disagreed with the way Dumbledore did things. He didn't know what to do with that information, because it was like he'd suddenly been shown a new facet of his own life. Suddenly, Harry got a small sense of all the things he'd missed out on knowing about his parents, and his eyes started feeling tight.

"But you didn't ask for all that," Remus said suddenly. "I'm sorry. Let's see. A story about your parents in school..." He thought for a moment. "Well, it's quite easy to see how Lily dealt with your father. This was in fifth year, I believe, and James had been dangling - well. He was tormenting Severus Snape quite thoroughly for some time, and Lily, being the newly assigned prefect, took it into her head to stop him. So each time they tried to jinx Severus, Lily and a friend of hers made sure to lure a teacher around. She never put him in detention herself once and yet James was more angry than if you'd heaped a thousand weeks of scrubbing tile on him."

"Surely, he couldn't have liked scrubbing tiles."

"Not in the least." Remus opened his suitcase, and pulled out a little mirror with a smile, a smile that died immediately. He held it up for a moment, showing it to Harry, and then placed it carefully away. "They had a system set up, though. Detentions were never too boring."

Harry knew that Remus was editing out names, a name, from each story. He knew from the way Remus said 'they' and yet only named 'James'. He knew it from the way Remus had let his tea get cold on the dusty desk. Harry knew it because he recognised that mirror; pieces of one just like it were wrapped away in the bottom of his trunk. One of a matched pair, and neither had an owner. He swallowed around a sudden lump in his throat. "Does it ever get any easier?"

Remus stood up. "Yes and no," he told Harry. He drank the last of his tea in one quick swallow, and put the cup face down on the saucer. "I can talk about your parents, now."

Harry watched, as he waited for all the tea to drain out, and then Remus stared into the depths of his tea cup. Remus saw him, and shrugged, rueful. "Old habit. We, we used to joke about knowing the future." He put the cup down, in his suitcase, and Harry handed him his own. "It used to be funny."

It wasn't James Remus was remembering.

Harry stood, and offered Remus a small smile. He didn't know how deep the wells of grief went, in Remus, but he knew that he'd seen a small trickle let out, today. There might not be anything anyone could do to mend that hole, but Harry could offer up something. "Divination is always funny," he said, hesitantly.

Remus smiled again, a little wider. "Your father used to think so."

~

Next Defense day, they had a surprise practical test wherein the entire class tried to catch them unawares, like the obstacle course in third year but a lot more nasty. Remus had assured them that their grades were not incumbent with how fast or slow they were jinxed, but rather how well he saw them analyze the situation. Harry watched people; from the way Remus was smiling, he knew everyone would pass.

~

At the end of class they trouped inside, where the rumour was running rampant of another surprise test - written this time - for Defense Against the Dark Arts in the afternoon. "It's not fair!" Hermione wailed. "I haven't studied, he didn't give us a chance to study!"

Ron shrugged. "So? No one's studied - he knows that. He's not going to fail us all, Hermione, calm down."

When the time came, all the sixth and seventh years in Remus's class, with Ginny, Luna and Colin, sat themselves in the classroom, voices buzzing. Hermione was speed-reading through the textbook Harry knew they hadn't opened all year; Ernie was demanding someone test him, and Ron was doodling. When Remus came in, several voices called out at once, all wanting to know whether it was true they were going to have another test.

"Yes, I'm afraid it's true," Remus told them, "there is another test, this time of material rather than practical. There is, however," and he held his hand up as people continued to talk. Remus raised his voice slightly, and finally the class was quiet. "Thank you. There is, however, a reason I did not tell you about these quizzes - I wished your reactions to be as genuine as possible. Defensive magic is important to study, important to prove your knowledge of, but when all's said and done," and here he gave them a smile that was anything but amused, "the time and place where you'll need to remember it won't be anywhere convenient.

"I have a list of questions here," and indeed, he held up a piece of parchment, "which I intended to ask you to answer to the best of your ability." He looked around at everyone. Harry wanted to ask what had happened last night; Remus looked dead tired, and despite the practical exam that morning, still didn't look any more ready to be in the classroom. In fact, it looked like Remus felt quite uncomfortable in front of the class. He added, "These pages would require a lot of you, whether the questions are long or short. Does anyone want to take a stab at why?"

Hannah looked around, raised her hand. "Because you think that we have to be able to face these things?"

Remus nodded, though he didn't look pleased at all that she'd answered his question. "That is exactly right. And why is it important for you all to face the painful things in your lives?" A long moment paused, in which no one raised their hand, and then Remus scrubbed at his eyes fiercely, rubbing his face as if to wake himself up. Softly, he told them, "I will tell you why. Because you cannot protect yourselves from anything if you don't. Voldemort and his followers enjoy causing pain," and Remus swivelled his head, stared out the window. "That pain is something that you have to face, to fight it."

Harry's eyes narrowed. It was all very well and good for Remus to say that; all very well and good to try and force the class to deal with whatever was going on in their lives - but this seemed too cruel, too much. All very well and good to make them do it--

Almost as if Remus was reading Harry's mind, Remus said quietly, "To allow you to know exactly what I mean, I'll begin. One of the questions on this piece of paper asks what is the most horrible thing you think you've done to someone else." Remus put the parchment down carefully, and looked at the class, face closed. "Someone I was very close to was accused of being one of Voldemort's supporters. He was arrested, without trial." Remus was careful to modulate his words, spoke calmly. "He spent years in Azkaban prison for something he didn't do. Do you know what the hardest part of seeing him, in the newspaper, in the reports, was at the time?

"I believed he did it."

The class couldn't look at Remus; some stared at their desks, some crossed their legs, some tried not to twist their hands together. Harry felt that familiar hotness rising in his chest. "Sometimes," Remus said softly, "you either believe your friends, your family, capable of horrible things, or you find yourself vulnerable. It's a lesson I dearly hope no one in this room ever has to learn, but part of me knows you will." He sighed. "I still feel guilt over believing him capable of what they accused him of, still believe I should have known better. Maybe I couldn't; maybe I'm just the kind of person who is able to think the worst of things. I did of." He stopped.

Finally, Hermione's eyes rose. "Why, why are you telling us all of this, Professor?"

Remus looked up, a little startled, as if he'd nearly forgotten that there were students in the room. Lines of worry and age creased his eyes; he looked tired and worn out, but that wasn't new. What was new was the sadness that lingered, every day they saw him. He stood, carefully, and shrugged, a painful little smile on his face. "I honestly don't know."

Harry believed him; that he was saying these things and allowing the whole class to see these things and he didn't know why. Remus was simply doing, without thinking, because if he thought then he'd remember. Harry knew a thing or two about trying not to remember.

Remus said, "I was going to ask you all to complete this test, and then keep the answers for yourselves. However," he continued slowly, "I don't think I can. I know I can't. Instead, I have just one more assignment for you to complete." He went to the chalk board. "I hope you'll all be truthful; there's nothing I can do to make you, of course." He turned around, and wrote on the board what is the most important thing you've learned?, then sat down at his desk, motions slow, halting. Harry glanced around, and then pulled parchment towards himself. Remus's head was bowed, hands placed carefully on his knees.

Remus's tests were, without doubt, the oddest - and in some ways, the hardest - tests they'd had. Harry chewed on the end of his quill, then spat it out when he realized it wasn't candy. What had he learned?

Sentences poured out, line after line of wet ink. He tried to encompass everything they'd learned, all the spells and why they could be useful, how he might use them to defeat Voldemort. Mentally, he was repeating the battle they'd nearly lost in the Department of Mysteries - the question was, what could Harry have done differently? Could he have stopped Bellatrix? He knew that eventually he'd have to face Voldemort again, so what had he learned that could be used to keep someone else from dying? There was no denying it, not to Remus anyway; Harry was going to have to face Voldemort, again and again. Anything less than the whole truth and Harry wouldn't pass.

When the time was finally up, Remus held his hand up, signalling they should put their quills down. "All right, if you'll flip those papers over. I have to tell you something - I don't think I'll be able to continue these lessons. You'll be able to study with the other teacher, or on your own, from now on."

Protests met this statement. Dean put his hand up. "Why?"

Remus smiled, face tight. He stood, and didn't answer Dean. "The exams you've just completed you may keep; I graded you all on your practical knowledge this morning. You'll be happy to know that everyone in this room passed with flying colors."

He turned around, and went to the blackboard. Under what is the most important thing you've learned? he answered, absolutely nothing is easy.

~

They had a few minutes before tea, still. Harry dug through his bag, and found the very first assignment Remus had given the class - why people should or shouldn't someone trust him. A list of reasons, and today, an essay of things he'd learned that boiled down to, he was going to face Voldemort again and again, until one of them died.

Harry stared at the parchments. His list of reasons people could trust him had grudgingly got longer. At the very bottom of it was, I think I was a good teacher, and then, because of me, people learned about how to survive. He had over a dozen reasons people couldn't trust him, as well. At the very end of it, he wrote slowly, Cedric died, and then underneath that, Sirius died. He sat back, feeling his chest tighten.

He stared at the words Sirius died, and then survive, and carefully picked up his quill, eyes burning a little. Across both columns, he wrote I'm the boy who lived.

~

Harry ran up the path, puffing and out of breath. All he knew was that he had a list of reasons people couldn't trust him in one hand, and no answers in the other, and Remus was leaving for London however he left, and maybe wouldn't come back.

"Wait!" he called out. "Wait. Wait."

Remus turned around, suitcase in hand. He didn't look at his watch. "What can I do for you Harry?"

A reckless anger had taken hold of Harry; he'd been given assignments that hurt to the core, had honesty demanded of him, and now Remus had threatened to leave without explaining why. He panted, clutching his side, and said, "You never explained why you got us to write that list!"

Remus shifted his suitcase from one hand to the other. "What list?"

"Of reasons people could trust us! Why," and Harry faltered, "why does it matter? What does it mean?"

Remus sighed, quietly. "Harry, some things don't mean anything."

"Of course they do!" Harry glared, and was embarrassed to find his eyes welling with tears. They were standing on the drive that lead out of the school, and he was nearly crying. "Look!" He waved the parchment in front of Remus's face. "You were friends with my dad, that means something! I finished your stupid list!"

Remus rubbed his face. "Do you want a grade?"

"I want you to tell me why. Why." Harry took a breath, fighting the anger in him. He stared at the piece of paper. "Look at it," he told Remus, quieter. "What have I really learned? All those things, and it all boils down to the fact that I'm alive, and other people aren't. That, means something, right." He gulped. "Just, what does it mean?"

The suitcase dropped, banged painfully against Remus's shins. He took the paper, and scanned it carefully. For a moment, all Remus did was stand there, staring at the parchment, and then he finally murmured, "Some people trust you, some don't. That's just the way it is."

"I trusted you, and you're leaving." Harry bit his lip, feeling more angry at Remus by the second. "You were the best teacher we had, and."

Remus let out a painful little laugh, and sank down into a crouch. "It was just an assignment, Harry. It was supposed to make the class think about how people saw them." He shrugged, staring at his feet. "Obviously you've already got something hanging around your head, you know what people see."

"Then why'd you make me do this! Why'd you make me? All those things you made us think about, why'd it matter then, if we can't learn anything from it! why'd. why'd Sirius--"

A halting breath, and Remus told him, "This is the truth of the world, Harry." Harry glared at him, and Remus inhaled, slowly, and exhaled, slowly. "No matter how much we loved him. It doesn't mean anything."

Harry wiped his eyes fiercely. "I don't know why I keep staying alive. I shouldn't. It doesn't make any sense."

Remus shrugged, stood up. He picked up his suitcase, handed back Harry's list, and sniffed. Harry stared into his face, and was shocked to see the glimmer of tears rolling down Remus's cheeks. "Nothing really makes sense, Harry. But that doesn't mean it's all bad."

Harry gulped again, and balled up the parchment. It didn't mean anything, it never would. It just meant that he was here and Cedric. And his parents. And. and Sirius wasn't. "Am I going to always be the one that lives? It's a pretty shitty legacy."

And Remus did something Harry never expected he'd do - he hugged him. "It's better than the alternative."


not at all the end.