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You Never Know

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You Never Know

 

Severus had never seen so much food. It covered the whole of one of the seats in the compartment, and overflowed onto the floor.

“What possessed you to buy all that?” he asked, staring up at Sirius. “You can’t have been hungry at home; I know your mother fed you.” He tried not to remember how thin the soup had been in his last week at home. He knew things had been tight since his father’d died, but he thought the mill had been giving his mam a pension.

“They’re for all of us,” Sirius said, casually tossing two pasties onto Severus’ lap. “You look like you could use a few.” Severus thought about being angry, but he was too hungry. And he knew that Sirius liked to help. He grinned his thanks and bit deeply into the pork one. Across from him, Sirius was practically inhaling a bag of Every Flavour Beans.

“I don’t know how you can eat them like that,” came Peter’s voice from the door. “Aren’t you worried that you’ll get something disgusting?”

“He eats them so fast he can’t taste them anyway,” Severus said, happily starting a third pasty. He thought about owling some to his mam. She’d be angry with him, but she’d eat. She was pragmatic enough to eat when there was food.

Sirius, seeing him eyeing the pasty, nodded. “We’ll put together a package, as soon as we get settled in. You know the elves will be happy to see us.” He grinned. “They’re probably wrapping up a box already.”

Severus smiled, but looked away, out the window. He’d been so upset in his first year, worried about his mam, worried that she’d have a hard time if he wasn’t there to help about the house… He’d expected his dorm mates to think he was a baby, but Sirius had been understanding. They’d been sending care packages back to his mam ever since. She’d sent him a Howler about it but he knew she was eating the food. It made him happy to know that, even though he’d been sorted into the wrong House, he could still help her.

The compartment door flung open, slamming against the stopper.

“James!” Sirius sprang up and pulled him into the compartment. “We’ve been suffering in here, with all this lovely food and candy. You’re just the man we’ve been looking for. Surely you can help us dispose of this shameful excess.”

James laughed and collapsed onto the floor. He reached out and blindly grabbed a Chocolate Frog. He shoved the chocolate in his mouth and eyed the card. “Mhph. Cliodna. Have her. Want her, Peter?”

Peter waved the card off, and leaned forward. “No, I’ve got her too. Listen, while Sirius here was buying the whole snack trolley and Severus was busy learning how to be the Man, I saw Lupin slipping into the back compartment. He’s sure to be doing something disgusting in there. Shall we go see?”

Sirius’ eyes lit up. “Well, I think it’s certainly something that Prefect Snape here should be made aware of. There might be some misbehaviour. I would hate to think of a Hogwarts student being allowed to get away with breaking the rules.”

Severus rolled his eyes. He knew very well that Sirius was the biggest rule breaker in the school. “I think we should leave him alone, actually.” He wished the other boys would just leave off harassing Lupin. He tried, every time the other boy’s name came up, to steer the conversation to another subject. However, there was something about Lupin that he himself found fascinating, so he often didn’t try as hard as he thought he should. “We could plan something for the first day of classes, instead.”

“No,” James said, his voice thick with his third chocolate frog, “I think that Peter and Sirius are right. You never know what that slimy little Slytherin’s up to. And, as a prefect, I’d think that you should be most interested.” He stared up at Severus, then winked. “Let’s go.”

Severus sighed. “Actually, as a prefect, I should be making the three of you leave him alone.”

Sirius grinned and pulled Severus up. “Tell you what. After we go see what he’s up to, we’ll come back here and plan. We won’t be but a minute with him.”

It took at least ten minutes to make their way to the last compartment in the train. Sirius had to stop and chat up every girl he saw, and James kept looking around for Evans. Severus had seen her leave the prefects compartment and go no further than one or two cars down the train, so he knew James’ search was futile. As usual. Peter was the only one really pushing to get there and Severus wondered, again, what the boy had against Lupin. Severus shook himself, mentally. Peter was one of his friends, someone he trusted and liked. Lupin was just some scrawny kid in Slytherin. The Slytherin’s all stuck together, anyway.

As they approached the compartment, Peter fell back and smiled up at James. His face shining, he gestured the taller boy in front. Sirius grinned and threw an arm around Severus’ shoulders, waiting while James mouthed a silent countdown from five to one. On ‘one’, he threw open the door.

Inside, Lupin was crouched over his trunk, his wand out and his some of his things piled on the floor next the trunk.

“What—“ he snapped, then, seeing who it was, he spun to face them. His wand was in his hand, and he stood up slowly, his eyes never leaving Sirius’. “Get out. I’m using this compartment.”

“We think it’s big enough for all of us,” said James. He stepped in and sat down on the seat nearest Lupin’s pile of stuff.

“And,” continued Sirius, “it’s not as if you own the compartment, is it? You can’t tell us to get out.” He’d stepped to the side of the door, so that Lupin was facing the four of them spread out too widely for him to get all of them at once with his wand. As Lupin’s eyes passed over his face, Severus looked down.

“What’re you doing in here?” James’ voice sounded friendly, but Severus could hear the malice in it. He knew that Lupin could as well.

“Nothing that’s any of your business,” Lupin snapped. He looked over towards James, who’d begun to shove the pile around with his foot. “Get out of that!”

“Why? It’s just disgusting Lupin stuff.” James kicked the pile over then began to laugh. The pile of clothes had been hiding a large stuffed wolf. James’ foot had kicked it over, and the light from the windows glinted off its eyes at Severus.

“You keep a stuffed animal? You great baby!” Sirius was delighted. He reached out to pick it up, but Lupin, who’d gone white when James started laughing, lunged for him. James whipped out his wand and Petrified him before he’d gone more than two steps.

“Oh, this is too too precious,” crooned Sirius, “do you need your little wolfy to sleep with? Does the wolfy protect you?” He picked up the doll and lunged it at Peter, who laughed and batted at it. Severus watched as Lupin’s face tightened.

“Stop it,” he said. “Just stop. He’s not doing anything I need to be here for, and there’s still planning to do. You said that we’d just come and look…” He reached for the doll. “James, release him. It’s enough.”

The other three reluctantly stopped, and James released Lupin. After they’d left the compartment, Severus handed the wolf to Lupin.

“Here.” He couldn’t look at the other boy. “I’m sorry.”

“Right. You’re sorry. If you were really sorry—“ Lupin’s voice shook and Severus glanced up helplessly. “If you were really sorry, you’d make them stop.” He looked at the doll, then back at Severus. Severus found himself stunned by the pain in his light brown eyes. “You’re a prefect now, right? Then do something about it.”

“I—“ Severus stopped. What could he do? If he really tried to stop them, they wouldn’t be his friends any more. He didn’t want that… Shaking his head, he turned and started to walk away. As he left the compartment, he glanced over his shoulder. Lupin was looking at the wolf in his hands with the most intense expression of despair and loathing Severus had ever seen.

~*~

Severus found himself swept up into the school year. Patrolling and meetings with other prefects took up more of his time than he’d expected. At least his mam had been pleased that he’d been chosen as prefect, although she was still grumbling about his sorting. He had decided, after her first Howler, that he’d never tell her that he had asked to be put in Gryffindor. She’d told him bedtime stories about Hogwarts and Slytherin until he’d complained that he was too big for stories at bedtime. He hadn’t expected to make friends with James and Sirius on the train to Hogwarts. However, when he did, and he saw them go to Gryffindor, he’d begged the hat to send him with them.

He never really regretted it. Sometimes he wondered, when he was most upset by his friends’ pranks on Lupin, if they’d have treated him like that if he were in another House, but he always stopped and told himself that his friends were, above all else, honourable. Lupin could fight back; he always managed to get back at them somehow for their pranks.

In November, just after the Halloween Feast, the Charms class was broken up into pairs. Professor Flitwick told the group, after they’d been divided up, that they were to work on levitation charms. They would have to develop a new charm, one which could either levitate something by itself, or which could be combined with another, already developed charm, to modify how it levitated things.

Severus stared down at his book, not wanting to look at his partner. Professor Flitwick, for some reason that Severus couldn’t even imagine, had broken the class into cross-House pairs, and had cheerfully ignored all groans and complaints from the group.

“I can meet you in the library on Tuesdays after lunch.” Lupin was staring at him, his quill poised over a parchment with his schedule on it. “Or,” he went on, “I can meet on Fridays, but not until an hour before dinner. I guess we should meet after dinner, then.”

Severus nodded. “I… yeah. Tuesdays are good. I don’t know about Fridays. I’ll have to look.” He couldn’t look at Sirius and James; he knew if he looked, all he’d see was their fury at being paired with Rosier and Avery. Poor Peter had got Wilkes; the taller boy was already glaring at Peter.

Severus glanced over at Lupin. His face was calm. He’d been the only person in the room who hadn’t seemed angry at being paired with someone from the other House. Over his shoulder, Severus could see Evans fuming at being paired with Bella Black. “Tuesdays will be fine. I’ll see you then.”

In the common room that evening, all Peter could talk about was the Charms project. Finally, Sirius threw his quill down and barked, “Shut up about it. We’re all as fucked as you. Severus has Loony and you don’t see him complaining, do you?”

“That’s ‘cause Severus got lucky. Loony Lupin’s at least going to do his own work,” Peter snarled back.

“Severus just knows that whinging about it won’t change the fact that we’re all stuck with the prats,” said James, from the depths of the squashy armchair he’d sunk into.

Severus stood up. “Actually, Severus knows that it’s time for him to go patrol,” he said, amused. “You know we’ll all be working on the projects here together anyway. What difference does it make that we’re paired with those idiots?” He stuffed his books into his bag. “I’ll see you later. I’ve got to meet Barnaby down at the library. Take this up to the dorm with you?” At Peter’s nod, Severus left the common room.

Barnaby, the fifth year Ravenclaw prefect, waved to Severus from the Library door.

“Hey,” he called, “I was about to start. You’re late.”

Severus shook his head. “My friends were whinging about Professor Flitwick’s new class project. I didn’t realise how late it had become.”

Barnaby looked puzzled. “What’s wrong with the project? We’re to develop new levitation charms, right?” The two boys began walking through the halls, checking idly behind statues and trying the occasional door to make sure it was locked.

“Right. Except that we’re paired up with the other House.” He peeked behind a suit of armour. “So, I’ve got Loo—Lupin and James has Avery and Sirius has Rosier…”

Barnaby laughed. “I get it. Yeah, we’re paired up with the Hufflepuffs, but it’s not that bad. I’d hate to be paired up with Wilkes.”

They started talking about the upcoming Ravenclaw-Slytherin Quidditch game and started up the stairs to the next floor.

The next Tuesday, Severus went to the library after lunch. He brought all the books that looked useful on levitation, and stacked them up on the table. Half an hour later, Lupin came rushing into the library. Madam Pince reached out to stop him, then pulled back abruptly. Lupin seemed to see her movement, though, and he slowed down.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said in a low tone. “I had to get my stuff from my dorm.” He pulled out his parchment and quills. “Oh, you got the levitation books. I thought we would start with charm creation first, then figure out the levitation part later.”

Severus eyed him. “You may start wherever you wish. I,” he paused, “will be starting with finding out what all the levitation charms are.”

Lupin’s mouth shut with a snap. After a long moment, he said, “This is supposed to be a joint project. Or have you forgot that?”

Severus looked up at him, his mouth open to say that he’d forgot nothing, but the expression in Lupin’s eyes stopped him. His face was full of … something, Severus couldn’t quite put his finger on what, but it made Severus’ chest tighten. Just as Severus saw it, though, the expression was wiped from the other boy’s face.

“What?” Lupin asked, his face a neutral mask.

“I—how about you start looking at charm design and I’ll make a list of current levitation charms and then after an hour we’ll trade off?”

Lupin nodded, looking surprised. He slanted a quick smile at Severus, and turned to his own stack of books.

They agreed to meet again on Friday evening. Severus could see Sirius at a table across the room. He and Rosier didn’t seem to have reached any sort of agreement and Severus shook his head. Trust Sirius to make this difficult. Severus wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier if Sirius hadn’t been paired with someone as pure-blooded as Rosier.

“Huh.” Lupin had come in late again and Severus had been so busy watching Sirius and Rosier, he hadn’t seen Lupin sit down. “You watch him a lot. Don’t worry about him. Rosier won’t kill him.”

“What? I’m not watching—“ Severus stopped. He had been watching Sirius, but… “I’m not worried about him. He can take Rosier.” He didn’t want to tell Lupin that he was worried that Sirius’ temper would get the better of him.

“Did you bring the list?” Lupin had set his note taking equipment up and was smiling at him. Severus drew in a slow breath. His heart was pounding and he felt flushed.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve got it,” he pulled his eyes away from Lupin’s smiling mouth and rummaged around in his notes, “right here. I made you a copy of the list of current charms and some charm creation stuff I found.” He handed them over, watching Lupin reach for them.

As the other boy read down the list, Severus looked at him. He didn’t think he’d ever really looked this closely at Lupin before. He’d always been the boy that Sirius hated and James thought was disgusting. He knew that James didn’t like Lupin because the Slytherin knew a lot about the Dark Arts, but Severus also knew stuff about the Dark Arts and he didn’t understand why James was so set against them.

Lupin’s hair, always floppy and long, brushed against his collar. Severus stared at the corner of Lupin’s jaw, watching the shadow there shift as he swallowed. Something was different, Severus mused. Lupin seemed … thinner today. Severus’ brows drew together. He was thinner. How had he lost weight in the past three days? With the amount of food the elves served, it was difficult not to gain weight.

He opened his mouth to ask if there was something wrong, when there was a shout across the room. Sirius had finally stopped trying to be reasonable and was bellowing at Rosier. Severus could see his face getting red and his hands curling into fists. Madam Pince was in front of their table almost before he saw her leave her desk.

Lupin looked up at the noise. He started to grin, but then shot a look at Severus and dropped his head again. Severus just groaned and said, “I’m surprised it took this long.” Lupin laughed, a startled chuff of sound, then bit his lip.

As Sirius and Rosier passed their table, being berated out of the library by a still furious Madam Pince, Severus saw Rosier shoot Lupin a look of superior amusement. He paused and leaned over their table.

“You’d better bring me the books I need, Moony, or I’ll have to invoke Malfoy on you,” he whispered, not quite low enough for Severus not to hear. His curiosity about the other boy increased. Malfoy had been a seventh year in their first year; he had been Head Boy that year and the Slytherins had made sure that everyone knew that the Head Boy from that year came from their House. He couldn’t be visiting the school, so what had Rosier meant by ‘invoke Malfoy’?

When he turned back to Lupin, the boy was crouched over his parchment, making notes quickly. He’d bent over so that Severus couldn’t see his face.

~*~

That Saturday, Severus woke up late. He stretched and struggled out of the covers that had performed their nightly attack on his pillows. After battling his way past the bottom edge of his sheet, somehow turned around and up near the head of the bed, he sat up.

“And the dead rise!” Sirius was sitting on the edge of Severus’ bed and grinning down at him. Severus scowled at him.

“Prat.” He slid out of bed and started to dress. “Did I miss breakfast?”

Sirius handed him a stack of toast. “Here. You’ll have to figure out your own morning tea, though.” He fell back across Severus’ bed. “I’ve been doing some studying on the Animagus thing. I think I found the next part we need.” He sat up and started toward the door. “I’ll get the others. We should do some work on it this weekend. I’ve got to meet that arse Rosier on Monday, so I can’t do anything about it then.”

At lunch, Severus sat so that he could look at the Slytherin table. Lupin was there, but there were seats left empty on either side of him. Severus could see the rest of the Slytherins in their year sitting together, chatting. As he watched, Lupin did eat something, or at least he put something on his plate. He appeared to be reading a book, and not thinking about food.

“Severus, didn’t you hear me?” Peter prodded his side. “I wanted to know if you were up to a little after hours action.”

Severus jumped a little, then turned to his friends. “When, tonight? I thought we were going to work on the … uh, the transfiguration project tonight.”

James nodded, his mouth full of food. “Yeah, Sirius thought it would be good to do it in one of the empty classrooms on the fourth floor. You don’t patrol tonight, do you?”

“No. Do you guys remember Malfoy?” Severus turned at Sirius’ sharply drawn in breath. “What?”

Sirius’ face was tight and Severus knew he’d said something again that triggered the pure-blood issue with Sirius. Sometimes he wished his friend would just get over it. Families were all filled with people that you didn’t like. The only person Severus liked in his family was his mam. He ignored everyone else. He’d heard from James, though, that Sirius’ mam was a horror, so he held his tongue.

“Malfoy? Why do you want to know about that arse?” Sirius was glaring across at the Slytherin table, where his younger brother was laughing with one of his classmates.

“I overheard his name the other day, and I couldn’t think of who he was. He was the Head Boy our first year, right?” Severus was uncomfortable telling his friends what he’d overheard in the library. It almost felt like betraying a confidence.

“Yes,” grated Sirius. “He was. He’s from a pure-blood family, one that’s all Dark as anything. I’ll bet he’s already thick as thieves with that Voldemort.” Peter squeaked at the name and Sirius shot him a disgusted look. “Where’d you hear his name?”

Severus blinked and said, “Uh, the Potions class, I think.”

“Oi, Evans,” called James. He’d reddened and was trying to sit up as straight as possible. “Want to go to the Quidditch game tomorrow with me?”

She shot him a flat-eyed look. “I’d sooner go with … with a hippogriff.” Turning her back on him, she picked up her bag and began walking toward the door. As she passed the Slytherin table, Lupin was just standing up. He smiled at her and James growled.

“That Slytherin scum. He’s talking to my girl.”

Severus raised an eyebrow at him. “She’s hardly your girl. Or do you mean you’re secretly a hippogriff?”

Peter and Sirius laughed and the boys got up to go back to their common room.

~*~

The next Tuesday was disastrous. Sirius was hexed badly in their Defence Against the Dark Arts class by Bella Black and had to go to the hospital wing. Severus heard, at the end of Defence, that Lupin was ill, so their study session was off. James and Peter were busy after lunch; they both had signed up for Care of Magical Creatures so they had to go to class.

Severus thought that he might as well visit Sirius in the hospital wing, and maybe he’d get to see how ill Lupin was. Maybe that was why he’d lost weight. He edged into the room, looking for Madam Pomfrey. She was at the far end of the room, near a bed with the curtains pulled around it. Sirius was lying in a bed nearer the door, and Severus sat down in the chair next to his bed.

“Hey, Sirius,” he whispered. Sirius opened his eyes and grinned weakly at Severus. He was quite pale and was sweating.

“Hey. How was the rest of class?” Severus relaxed back into his chair. If Sirius was asking about class, then he was all right. “What was it that hit me?”

Severus shrugged. “I’ve no idea. It was red, whatever it was.” He saw movement at the other end of the room and looked up. Madam Pomfrey was coming towards them. She looked cross.

“You can’t stay here,” she said sharply. “He needs to rest and he’s not the only one here.” She smiled down at Severus. “I know you want to visit with your friend, but he needs to be sleeping and don’t think I don’t know that you’re just here to plan mischief.”

Severus smiled back at her. “Can’t I stay for a little bit? I don’t have any classes right now, and I promise I’ll leave just as soon as he falls asleep. I’ll keep an eye on him for you.” He tried to look earnest.

She sighed, then nodded. “Just for half an hour, now.” After straightening Sirius’ sheets, she went back to her office.

“How’s your mum,” asked Sirius. He’d curled up on his side and was rubbing his chest. “She’s learning. She didn’t send a Howler for the last box we put together for her. I think the elves are having fun with it, though.” He paused, his breath rasping a little. “I think I saw them putting in about a pound of chocolate cake.”

Severus smiled. Sirius never failed to ask about his mam. James sometimes would forget that any of them had parents until he needed something. Severus knew that if he had parents who treated him as well as James’ treated him, he’d be grateful every day of his life. He couldn’t figure out how James could treat them so casually.

He knew that Sirius sometimes thought the same thing. They’d spent almost all of their third year frustrated with their parents. Severus’ da had just died and his mam was snappish all the time. She’d been so easily upset that Severus had wanted to stay home, to take care of her. She’d been livid at the idea and had dragged him to King’s Cross over his protests that he could help at home and maybe she wouldn’t have to go to work in the factory that had killed his da.

That had been the only time she’d ever sent back one of their boxes from Hogwarts.

Sirius had been angry at his parents because of something they’d said to him about his friends. Severus still didn’t know all of what they’d said, but he knew it had been about him because of the way they’d treated him on the platform at King’s Cross.

He reached out and touched Sirius forehead. “You’re really hot. Are you okay?” He looked over the bottles Madam Pomfrey had left on the table. One of the bottles held an antipyretic and he relaxed a little. Madam Pomfrey always knew what she was doing, but he was worried about his friend.

“Yeah. I’m just sore. And I can’t breathe very well. Oh,” Sirius said, “Loopy Lupin is here. You can’t study for that stupid charms thing.”

Severus pulled his bag out from under his chair. “No, I can’t. Is he back there?” He nodded towards the curtained-off bed.

Sirius glanced behind himself. “I guess. I didn’t check. Madam Pomfrey was there a while ago. What’s that?”

Severus had pulled out their Animagus notes. “I found out what the problem is with the transfiguration project. We’re using the wrong anchor. We need to use something different for each of us. I think,” he shuffled through his notes, “we need to use one of the things listed in the book, but we can’t all use the same thing. The book James ordered last time had a chapter about it and I read it. We need to—“ This time he definitely heard something move from the other end of the room. He stared at the curtains around the other bed. Hadn’t they just moved? His eyes narrowed. “I’ll write it out and give it to you later.”

Sirius nodded. His eyes were shadowed and Severus could see that he was fighting to stay awake. Severus shoved his stuff back into his bag and stood up. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll bring you some chocolate cake in the morning.” Sirius wiggled his fingers and yawned.

As Severus turned to leave, he saw the curtains moving again.

~*~

Lupin was in the library before Severus that Friday. Sirius was still in the hospital wing, and Severus had stopped off for a minute to bring him the Charms and Herbology work he had to do. As Severus walked through the stacks to where Lupin was sitting, he saw Rosier leaning over the other boy. Without thinking, he moved quietly to where he could overhear them.

“You’ve been getting off recently, since you’ve been coming here to study with your precious Gryffindor. Don’t think that we haven’t noticed. You’ll have to make it up later.” He leaned on the table and reached over to pet Lupin’s hair. Severus stiffened, then bit his lips when he saw that Rosier wasn’t petting Lupin’s hair—he’d fisted his hand in it and was tipping Lupin’s head to the side. Rosier bent until his mouth was just over Lupin’s now exposed ear and whispered something too softly for Severus to hear. Lupin jerked a little, then stilled.

Rosier glanced over his shoulder and let go of Lupin’s hair, shoving his head away. “Just remember, Moony, we’ll be waiting for you.” He stood and straightened his robes, then strode away towards a table filled with other Slytherins.

Severus shifted from foot to foot. Something was very strange here. The Slytherins all stuck together, he knew that. Sirius had told him that at the very beginning of school, and it had always seemed true. Every time they pranked one of the Slytherins, the Slytherins had ganged up on them. Severus tried to remember if Lupin was different, but he couldn’t.

“Friend of yours?” Severus asked, as he dropped down into the seat next to Lupin.

Lupin jumped, and stared at him wildly. Severus’ mouth opened in shock; he’d never seen the other boy anything but calm. After a short moment, his face darkened. Lupin had lost even more weight, and there were narrow red scars across his cheek that hadn’t been there before.

“What’s wrong with you?” Severus asked.

Lupin’s eyes flashed angrily. “Nothing’s wrong with me. I’m just trying to get a decent mark on the Charms project that I thought we were supposed to be working on together and you’re late.” He shoved his notes over to Severus then stood up. “I’m going to see if I can find something we haven’t looked at already.”

Severus watched him storm off and shook his head in confusion. What was going on?

 

Sirius was allowed back into the dorm that night, and the four boys had a party. Peter snuck down to the kitchens in James’ Invisibility Cloak, Severus got out all their Animagus notes and James set the silencing spells.

Once the initial hilarity wore off, Sirius sat forward. “I think we should do the preparation over the Christmas hols. Peter, you’re going home, right?” At Peter’s nod, he grinned. “You’ll be able to get loads done then. I’m stuck going to James’ and there’ll be all sorts of interruptions.”

Severus stifled a jolt of envy. He’d like to go to the Potters, but his mam wanted him to stay at Hogwarts. When he’d asked why he couldn’t go—the Potters had invited him—she’d said something about wanting him to keep some of his wits about him. He still hadn’t figured out what she had against the Potters, but he figured as long as she didn’t try to make him not be friends with James and Sirius and Peter while they were at school, things would be okay.

Sirius turned to him. “You’ll be staying here, right?” At Severus’ nod, Sirius reached out and patted his shoulder. “You can be our eyes and ears here. I think Loony is staying over the hols as well, so you’ll be able to keep track of him.”

“Have you noticed that he’s got new scars?” Severus blurted out before he could think to stop his mouth.

James leaned forward. “Who? Loony?” He reached for a tart and took a big bite.

“Yeah. He was in the library before me today and there were scars on his face.” Severus tried to ignore the disgusted snort from Peter. “New ones.”

Sirius was looking at him, with a suspicious expression on his face. “How do you know they’re new?” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the headboard.

“Because they weren’t there last Friday and because they were red.” Severus wished he’d never even asked about this. “I just wondered because he gets sick all the time and he was in the hospital wing when Sirius was last time and …” he trailed off.

A huge smile lit Sirius’ face. “I know. You’re right. He does get sick an awful lot. How about this. The next time he’s sick I’ll go back to the hospital wing and sneak over to where he is. We’ll see if we can find out what he’s got. Maybe it’s contagious!”

Peter piped up. “He’s always watching you, Severus.” He fidgeted with his blankets. “I’ve seen him, in Potions and in Charms. It’s like he’s hunting you or something.”

Severus crossed his legs. “Really? That’s weird.” He wanted to ask more, to find out how much Lupin watched him, and what he looked like when he did… but he didn’t want to think about why he cared, so he shoved the questions from his mind.

“What’s really important,” James interrupted, “is that we all study up and practice over the hols. I think we should try it for the first time when we get back. Then we’ll have the rest of the year to sneak around.” He fell backward on his bed, then rolled over to grin at his friends. “I bet I’ll be something really sneaky.”

Severus laughed. “You? You’ll be a mooncalf and you’ll be stuck following after Evans all the time.”

~*~

Watching his friends get onto the Hogwarts Express to leave was awful, but at least it meant that Severus could go into Hogsmeade. He hadn’t bought them presents yet, and he wanted to get it done as early as possible. There wasn’t much money for frivolous things in his mam’s budget, but he had enough, he hoped, to get them each something they’d like.

He jingled the coins in his pocket as he walked to the village, thinking of the work he had to do for the Animagus project. He could barely even remember why they’d started it. It had probably been Sirius who’d wanted to try to be Animagi first. He’d seen Professor McGonagall and couldn’t talk about anything else for almost the first two months of school. Finally, they’d looked up the spells necessary in the library and had been amazed at how complex the process was. Sirius had quit talking about it for a while, but by the beginning of the next school year he’d managed to rope them all into doing it together.

Scrivenshaft’s was quiet; most people seemed to have gone to the Three Broomsticks after seeing the train off. Severus knew that Peter had broken his last quill and thought that he could buy some decent ones and put an Impervious charm on them. He shook his head over the display of quills and picked out two sturdy light brown pheasant feather quills and one brilliantly blue quill that must have come from some tropical bird. Why would anyone want a peacock feather quill, he wondered. Or one made of dyed ostrich feathers with flowers glued on?

The quills took less money than he’d thought, and he was glad of it when he found, in Dervish and Banges, an antique miniature Quidditch pitch with charmed players for James. Sirius would be happy with sweets, so Severus picked up a bag of assorted boiled Muggle sweets. Sirius was always amused by sweets that did nothing but have flavour; he seemed to think it funny that Muggles were stuck with only one flavour per candy.

Pleased with his purchases, he stopped into the Three Broomsticks to have a butterbeer before beginning the trek back to the castle. It had snowed for the whole week before the Christmas hols, and he wasn’t looking forward to the ice and snow that was sure to greet him on the path.

He’d been right at first; the pub was more than crowded. There weren’t too many students staying at Hogwarts over the hols, but there were enough to fill the pub. Severus could see Madam Rosmerta grinning behind the bar. He moved between the tables, trying not to knock into anyone with his bags. As he walked, the tried to find an empty table, or at least a seat at one with people he could tolerate. One of the reasons he hated it when James and Sirius were both gone was that it seemed he lacked their easy familiarity and personality. He couldn’t pretend to be interested in the trivial things that most of the other students were enthused about. It meant that often, when he was alone, it was made clear to him that the only reason people were friends with him was because he was friends with James and Sirius. Most of the time it didn’t matter to him—most of the time he was with his friends and never noticed the lack. It was only at times like these that he realised how thin the surface tension of his acceptability actually was.

He’d been harassed, mainly by Slytherins, about his parentage, but he had always known more hexes than most of the kids in his class, so he’d never felt really threatened. James and Sirius and Peter had been outraged, however, and had pulled off some spectacular pranks after the last time it had happened. Slytherin students had pretty much left him alone after Sirius had figured out how to get into their common room and had made all their showers spray a depilatory rather than water.

Finally he saw a table with only one person sitting at it. He moved towards it, not looking closely at the occupant, and waved his free hand at Madam Rosmerta for a butterbeer. It wasn’t until he actually got to the table that he realised its occupant was Lupin. He stopped moving for a moment, then pushed forward.

“May I sit here?” Severus put his hand on the back of the empty chair.

“If you want,” Lupin said, not looking up. He was writing something, his quill moving swiftly across the creamy parchment. Severus tilted his head to try to see who Lupin was writing to, but the other boy’s arm curved around and hid everything.

“Here you are, love,” said Madam Rosmerta as she dropped the bottle of butterbeer on the table. “Will you want anything else?” She turned to look at Lupin and tapped him on the shoulder. He shook his head without looking up and she shrugged at Severus. “I’ll be back by later to check up on you two again.”

Lupin’s head snapped up as she left. “What?” When he saw Severus, his eyes widened. Severus saw, with sudden clarity, that his eyes were exactly the colour of the amber he had chosen as his Animagus anchor. The inconstant light from the fire and the candles shimmered in Lupin’s eyes, making the amber glint gold. For one moment, it almost looked as if they were reflecting light, like a cat’s eyes.

“What are you doing here?” Lupin asked, his body curved protectively over the parchment.

Severus glowered at him. “I asked if I could sit here. What’s your problem?” He reached a shaking hand to his butterbeer and took a long pull on it. Why did he even care what colour the prat’s eyes were?

Lupin stared at him for a long moment, then he shuddered in a deep breath and relaxed. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I must not have really heard you.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Really? You responded, both to me and to Madam Rosmerta.” He took another swig. “That must be some letter you’re writing.”

Lupin flushed and rolled the parchment up. “Just writing to my mum. Nothing important.”

“Ah.” Severus finished his drink and began gathering up his bags again. He didn’t really want to go back out into the snow just yet, but it was clear that Lupin didn’t want him to sit here and there was no other table available. “Thanks for the seat,” he said and stood up.

“No, wait,” Lupin said. He reached out a hand and grabbed Severus’ wrist. “Really, I was so distracted I didn’t realise you were here. You don’t have to go. I’ll go, if you want the table.” He released Severus, then started to shove his things into a large bag at his feet.

Severus sat back down, his head cocked to one side. “You don’t have to go either. It’s awful out; better to stay here where it’s warm.” Over Lupin’s shoulder, he could see Madam Rosmerta’s eyes on them. He waved for another butterbeer, and then pointed at Lupin and held up two fingers. She nodded and turned to get the bottles. “You’re not going home for the hols?”

Lupin finished putting his things away, then leaned back in his chair. “You’re sure?” At Severus flat look, he grinned a bit. “No, I’m staying at Hogwarts. My mum’s…things are easier if I’m here for now.” Severus gritted his teeth at the sudden rush of sympathy. “You’re staying too? We could work on the Charms thing, if you like.”

The butterbeers arrived, but the two boys were too deep in a discussion of the various declensions of nouns to do more than smile at Madam Rosmerta.

~*~

Severus was revising for the History of Magic OWL and realised that he’d turned in the one library book he needed. Grumbling because he’d spread all his things out in the common room and he didn’t want to have to move everything, he trotted down the stairs, automatically skipping the third step on the first stairway. Once in the library, he lost himself in the stacks, idly moving down one shelf after another, adding several books to his armload.

He came across Lupin in the Potions section, reading a large book about Healing Salves. Severus’ eyebrow raised. Was the Slytherin thinking of becoming a Healer? It seemed early to be making that kind of a choice; there were two years of school yet. None of the Gryffindors had chosen a field. Then Lupin shifted and Severus sucked in his breath. There was a raw, oozing scrape trailing from the side of Lupin’s neck down past the neck of his robes. It started out narrow but was almost a hands width wide by the time it reached his robes.

At Severus’ gasp, Lupin looked up sharply. His eyes were wide and slightly unfocussed. When he saw who was looking at him, he tensed, then winced.

“What happened?” Severus’ voice was hoarse. Whatever had done this to Lupin was clearly very dangerous.

Lupin stared at him, his face working. Severus moved forwards, his hands up to check on the scrape. Lupin lunged backwards, whimpering when his back hit the bookcase behind him.

“Leave me alone,” he whispered. “Just… I don’t want to see you.”

Severus’ head whipped around. “What?” After a frozen moment, he turned, snatched his bag and pile of books up from where he’d dropped them and stalked off.

He spent that evening in the common room, jotting down a list of any creatures he could think of or find in James’ copy of Monster Book of Monsters that could make a scrape like that.

~*~

The next time he saw Lupin the scrape was gone. They were in the Great Hall for lunch and Severus sat at the large table Professor Dumbledore had drawn up to seat everyone who was staying over the hols. He kept feeling like there was something he was missing, something obvious, about Lupin. As Severus piled food on his plate, he saw Lupin come into the Hall. He was thinner again; that was easy to see, even across the room. The fact that the other boy had lost enough weight to show across a room was disturbing. Hadn’t anyone else noticed? What was wrong with Lupin’s Housemates, that they hadn’t seen something so obvious?

Lupin sat down several seats down from Severus and desultorily put a few spoonfuls of the shepherd’s pie on his plate. He ate a few bites, then stopped eating. His shoulders were slumped over and it looked to Severus like he was shaking. Just then, Professor Sprout came into the Hall, chatting animatedly with Madam Pince. The two women reached the table and started to sit down in between Lupin and Severus. Suddenly Professor Sprout sucked in a sharp breath and turned away, pushing the librarian ahead of her; the two women found seats at the far end, away from them.

Severus saw Lupin’s face clench, his eyes closed. He couldn’t think what was wrong at all—there was no reason for two of the nicer teachers in the school to act so oddly.

Severus scowled down at his plate. Nothing about this made sense. Where was Lupin coming up with something that could wound him and why wasn’t he going to Madam Pomfrey? Sirius was in the hospital wing practically three or four times a month and she always patched him up perfectly. She never even complained about it. Much. James joked that Sirius should just have his own bed in the hospital wing.

~*~

Severus saw Lupin in the library again a few days later. This time, the Slytherin was at a table, studying with some Ravenclaws who’d stayed over the Christmas hols to study for their OWLs. They were all laughing and Severus was surprised by the sudden stab of envy he felt. Even Loony Lupin had friends. They were studying Transfiguration, the same class he was there to study for. He looked down at his notes and sighed.

Without realising it, he let his eyes drift back to Lupin. Lupin had a new bruise. Severus could see it reaching up the back of his neck from his right shoulder. It was fading, already a dull yellow-green, but Severus could just see that it was part of a larger bruise… he felt his eyes narrow. Making sure that no one was watching, he sketched on his notes the outline of Lupin’s neck and the bruise. Then, teeth gritted against what he already knew, he held his hand out, curving his fingers around an imaginary neck.

Lupin had been choked.

Severus was shaking, shuddering with rage. He could feel his hands, clenched so tightly into fists his knuckles hurt, but all he could see was bruising, on her neck, on her shoulders, on her face. His breaths came in short harsh gulps.

“Hey,” he heard, “Snape? Are you okay?”

He jerked his head up, lips locked into a snarl. His mother’s face, jaw line darkened with bruising, looked at him sadly. Severus blinked fiercely, then looked again.

Lupin’s amber eyes widened in alarm at his expression. Severus stared into them, then his eyes drifted down to the bruise he knew would be on the front of Lupin’s neck. There were matching fingertip bruises on either side of Lupin’s adams apple.

With a sound like a strangled shriek, Severus tumbled his supplies into his bag and ran out of the library.

~*~

Christmas morning was bright, and Severus grinned down at the pile at the foot of his bed. He wished he could be opening the gifts with his friends around, but he had learned pragmatism at his mother’s knee and knew it was a gift that he had any gifts at all.

An hour later, he trotted into the Great Hall, hoping he hadn’t missed all of breakfast. He knew he could always stop into the kitchens but he wanted to see—he’d really rather not bother the House Elves yet today. He was planning on asking them for a hamper for his mam; there was no need to bother them twice in a day.

He slid into the seat he’d taken before, the one that faced the Slytherin side of the table. Lupin wasn’t at the table yet, so Severus served himself some rashers of bacon and spread marmalade thickly on a piece of toast.

Lupin never made it to breakfast. Severus refused to admit to being worried, it wasn’t as if the other boy wasn’t a member of the sneaky Slytherin Snake House. Slytherins always landed, figuratively at least, on their feet. Shaking his head at the mental image of a snake with feet (would a snake with feet ever want to roller-skate?), he stood and started off to the common room to gather up the note he’d written for his mam. He’d sent her Christmas present before the holiday itself, but he wanted to send a letter in the hamper.

Last year, Sirius had stayed behind over the hols, and the two of them had written increasingly silly things in the holiday note. Severus tried not to be disappointed that he couldn’t do that this year.

To his surprise, there was an owl waiting for him in the common room. It was the dark brown one that the Potters had got James for his birthday that year. “Arlath!” Severus ruffled the owl’s feathers happily and rummaged in his pockets to see if he had a treat. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “I don’t have anything for you. I’m going to the kitchens in a little while, though. You could come along, if you like.” Glad that the other Gryffindors who were staying over hols couldn’t see him talking to an owl as if it were a human, he untied the parchment from Arlath’s leg.

It was from Sirius and James. Sirius had written a silly note addressed to ‘Severus’ Ever Patient Mum’, full of bad jokes and even worse puns. His two friends had also sent along a letter telling Severus all about the progress they’d made on the Animagus Project. Severus was amazed and pleased that Sirius had remembered the notes they’d written the previous year, and he knew his mam would be amused at the jokes.

Dinner that evening was light-hearted and fun. Severus was seated directly across from Lupin and they shared several crackers. The light from the candles and the fairy lights in the massive Christmas tree reflected in Lupin’s amber eyes making them flicker and sparkle. For several moments, when the two boys were waiting to pull the last cracker, Severus felt as if they were the only two people in the room. Lupin’s smile was brilliant, and Severus flushed, looking away at Professor Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes.

After dinner was finished, the other students left for their common rooms. Severus decided to stay in the Great Hall when he saw Lupin had moved to sit near the tree. As he sat down, Lupin shifted to look directly at him.

“What do you want?” Lupin’s voice was low. He was sitting with his knees drawn up, his chin resting on them and his arms wrapped tightly around his shins.

Severus stared at him. What he wanted? He had no idea what he wanted. Finally, aware that he’d been silent too long, he stumbled into speech. “Just to study.” He could have hexed his own lips closed after that. What did he think he was saying? “I mean, I guess, it’s Christmas. I know that James and Sirius are …” he trailed off.

“You’re saying that you want a truce?” Lupin’s position hadn’t changed, but something about him seemed different to Severus. The other boy had withdrawn, without moving at all.

“No,” Severus mumbled, “I want—friends, can’t we be friends?”

Lupin’s head lifted. “What’d your mates think?” He was still withdrawn; his eyes were a flat bronze colour.

“I—dunno,” Severus sighed. “I don’t know why this all—“ He scrambled to his feet. “Merry Christmas.” He turned and walked away, wondering why he even cared what that stupid boy looked like with candlelight on him.

~*~

After the holidays were over, Severus was swept up into the chaos of classes and patrolling again. He didn’t think about Lupin for the first week of classes; then it was the second Tuesday and he realised that they hadn’t met for the Charms project yet. He looked over at the Slytherin table at dinner and didn’t see Lupin, but decided to try the library anyway.

The table they’d been sharing in the library was empty, so Severus turned to go study in his common room. On his way past the third floor, he heard an odd shout from a corridor he knew only held empty classrooms. Sighing at the thought that being a prefect wasn’t quite what he’d thought it would be, he turned and walked down the corridor. The sounds were muffled, but he thought they sounded louder from the fourth door on the right.

Carefully, he cast an eavesdropping charm and leaned in close to the door. The sounds sorted themselves out into three boy’s voices, all talking quietly. He listened harder, trying to figure out who was speaking. He’d been pleased when Professor McGonagall had praised him at a prefects meeting for being conscientious and hard-working as a prefect. She had no idea that he was ensuring that he knew what the people he caught were doing by eavesdropping first. Moving down the corridor slightly, he pulled a book from his bag. The blank endpapers would work for the spell he wanted to use.

The voices were no clearer as he worked, but he ignored the sounds and hunched over the book. With a deep breath for concentration, he drew a circle on the blank page with his wand, then tapped the centre and whispered a short incantation. The circle in the book fell away, revealing a shimmery flat surface. It rippled, suddenly, then changed to show the room Severus was listening to.

It was bright, Severus noted, and he glanced up to note that the people inside must have some sort of hiding spell up to block the light from showing under the door. He tipped the book from side to side, shifting the image in it until he found the room’s inhabitants.

Three of the Slytherin boys in his year were in the room. He looked closer. Wilkes, Avery and Rosier were sitting on a sofa they must have conjured or transfigured; Severus knew there wasn’t any furniture that comfortable in any classroom, especially the empty ones. They had their legs up, propped up on a low table, one that was oddly coloured…

Severus sucked in his breath. That wasn’t a table, and the red liquid dripping slowly to the floor wasn’t wine.

All four of the Slytherin boys were in that room. Severus felt his gorge rise, and realised that he was shaking so hard the book in his hands had slipped to the floor. He didn’t know what to do, how to deal with this. This wasn’t like the stuff he’d found so far, couples snogging in private or, once, some second years trying to brew a potion in a bathroom. This was serious.

Throwing the book back into his bag, he stumbled to his feet and ran down the hall, hoping that his Head of House was still awake.

The next morning, Severus sat at the breakfast table staring across at the Slytherin table. He’d dragged Professor McGonagall to the classroom where he’d seen the Slytherins. They had found an empty room with tracks in the dust on the floor, but nothing else. The professor had been confused, but her initial crisp requests that he admit that he was hiding something his dorm mates had done changed when she’d seen how shaken he was. After they’d searched the room thoroughly, she sent him to bed, telling him that she’d ask Professor Slughorn if he knew of any of his students being out after curfew.

To his surprise, Lupin showed up to eat breakfast, as if nothing had happened the night before. He sat down in his usual seat, and started eating. Severus stared at him, his own food forgotten. Sirius leaned over his shoulder.

“I thought you said he’d been whipped,” he whispered.

Severus turned his head toward Sirius, but couldn’t take his eyes off Lupin’s unbloodied form. “He was,” he whispered back, voice harsh and tight. “He was bleeding all over…” He looked at Sirius, distressed. “It was running down his arms and dripping onto the floor.”

Sirius’ expression changed. Suddenly he reached an arm around Severus and patted his shoulder. “It’s okay, Severus. If you saw blood, there was blood.” He grimaced. “It’s not as if we don’t know what blood looks like.” Severus shuddered under Sirius arm. They didn’t mention this part of their families to each other much, and, after the night at the beginning of their second year when they’d both been in the showers washing up before bed, and they’d seen similar marks on each other, they’d never spoken of it to either James or Peter.

James twisted around and looked across the room. “I thought you—“

“I did,” Severus snarled. “No, I don’t know why he’s here. He should have been in hospital, he needed several different healing salv—“ His eyes widened and he stared blankly at James, who raised his eyebrows.

“I take it healing salves mean something?” He’d turned to look at Sirius, who’d been distracted by breakfast.

“Umph?” Sirius swallowed his over-large bite of eggs manfully, and shook his head. “No idea, mate.”

“He was in the library, over Christmas hols—“ Severus began.

“Fancy that. Loony Lupin in the library,” sneered Peter. “Sounds like a baby rhyme.”

Severus glared at him. “He was in the library and I saw him reading a book on healing salves. I thought it was early to pick a career; we haven’t even had our OWLs yet.”

Sirius nodded. “He must have been looking up how to make them.”

Severus leaned back, thinking. “If he was looking then… oh! And he had a whacking great scrape that time, too. I wonder…” His eyes met Sirius, and he could see what the other boy was thinking. If he was looking up healing salves, it was because he needed them.

Peter sucked in a breath. “I wonder where he’s making them.” He shifted around and rummaged in his bag, pulling out a sheaf of parchments. “We should see if it’s a place to add to the,” his voice dropped, “the Map.”

Severus sighed. He hadn’t worked on that project for a while. They needed an ink that would reflect the whereabouts of everyone in the castle. Sirius was researching the spells for animating the parchment. He’d had the brilliant idea of setting it up so that an incorrect password would make the parchment speak in their voices. Severus wasn’t sure that Sirius could find a spell for that, but he was beginning to think that the ink could be made to do it.

“Remind me again why we’re doing all this extra work?” James picked up his bag and the others hurried to catch up.

“Because it’ll be brilliant to know where everyone is! Imagine it.” Sirius held his hands out in front of himself, as if he were holding a giant piece of parchment. “We could keep tabs on Filch, or on Sluggy.”

“Or on Lupin,” added Peter.

Severus stopped walking. “I’ll catch up. I’ve got to talk to Lupin.”

The three boys stopped and turned to look at him. Sirius cocked his head to the side. “Why?”

“Because,” Severus said, a little anxiously, “we’ve missed three study sessions now and that Charms project is due soon. I want to make sure he’s going to be there on Friday.”

Sirius’ eyes flashed, but he turned back and herded the other boys towards the door. Severus turned and moved to the Slytherin table.

“Lupin,” he said. “I want to talk to you.”

“Well,” came Rosier’s drawling voice, “if it isn’t Sirius’ lap dog. Here to practice arcane canine rituals?”

Lupin flushed, and stood. “Yes, Snape? What is it?” He picked up his bag and started walking toward the door, forcing Severus to hurry to catch up.

“I want to know,” something caught Severus’ eye and he paused, then pulled in a deep breath, “if you’ll be in the library on Friday. We’ve missed several sessions already and I don’t want to fail the project.” He dropped a little behind Lupin and double checked. There was a raw wound on the back of Lupin’s neck. He must have missed it with the salve.

Lupin shrugged. “Do you think we really need to meet any more? I know you’re studying with your friends,” his voice hitched for a moment, “ and so I don’t really see the need to meet.”

“Well, I do.” Severus didn’t want to think about why he wanted to continue meeting with Lupin. He wanted to know more about what the other boy was doing, that’s all. What he was doing and what was going on in the Slytherin dorm. He shook his head then pushed his hair back behind his ears. “I’ll see you there on Friday, or I’ll come to the Slytherin dorms and get you.”

Lupin stepped backwards. “Fine,” he muttered, looking sullen. “Friday after dinner.” As he turned to walk away, Severus reached out and grabbed his sleeve.

“What happened to your neck?” He hadn’t meant to ask, but at the last minute he’d needed to.

Lupin stiffened, his eyes flat and hard. “I burned myself in the shower.” He was gone before Severus could even make sense of his response.

~*~

That Friday, Severus waited for Lupin at their regular table in the library. He hadn’t seen the other boy at dinner, but since they’d agreed to meet, and he needed to study for Astronomy anyway, he pulled several books off the shelves and stayed in the library.

He heard a noise by the door and glanced up. Lupin stood in the doorway, staring down at the floor. His bag lay at his feet, shredded, and his books were scattered everywhere. Behind him, Severus could just see James and Peter fading back into the hall.

Slowly, Lupin crouched down and began picking up his things. Severus watched for a few seconds then with a mental shout of frustration at his friends, he put his own things away and went to help the other boy. He was the only one helping, he noted, surprised that Madam Pince, who normally would have swept everything up with her wand and berated the person who’d dropped their things, hadn’t stepped forward.

Lupin jumped, startled, when Severus started stacking his parchments for him. Several of them had been badly damaged by ink and Severus began looking for the broken ink bottle. He found it under the shreds of the bag itself and carefully swept the shards together.

“You don’t have to do this,” Lupin muttered. He stacked the books and looked, his face stormy, at the ruined pages of notes at Severus knee.

“Yes,” Severus responded, “I do.” At that, Lupin looked up at him, something shifting in his eyes, making them lighter. “I’m a prefect, it’s part of my job to help other students.”

Lupin’s eyes turned dark bronze and his brows knotted. “I see.” He grabbed at the torn bag, but Severus held onto it. “Give me my stuff; you’ve helped enough. Now go run along to your friends and tell them that they managed to ruin yet another day for me. I’m sure you’ll all find it very amusing.”

Severus could see that Lupin’s hands were shaking, and he looked closely at the other boy’s face. He’d lost weight again, weight Severus thought he’d gained back over the hols. His eyes were shadowed, and he looked drawn, as if he’d had a horrible shock.

Reparo,” Severus whispered, and the bag in his hands re-sewed itself. He waved his wand over the broken ink bottle as well, and began putting everything back into the bag.

“Here,” snapped Lupin, grabbing at his hands, “stop that.”

“I’m taking you to the hospital wing,” Severus stated, his voice flat. “You’re clearly ill.” He stood up, threw both his own and Lupin’s bags over his shoulder, then dragged Lupin up as well. “Let’s go.”

Lupin struggled for a moment, then followed along quietly. Severus opened his mouth several times, but nothing he was thinking could possibly be asked or said. Finally, they reached Madam Pomfrey’s door. To Severus’ surprise, Lupin brightened a little, seeing her.

She smiled warmly at him and said, “Mr Lupin. I was just coming to see where you were. You’re almost late, you know.” She turned to Severus. “Thank you for bringing him here and for carrying his bag. It’s hard for him, sometimes; all those books get so heavy.”

She took the bag from him and gently urged Lupin into the room. Severus could see the bright lights from the candles in the room shimmer around the dark silhouette of Lupin’s slumping form.

~*~

“He’s sick again?” Peter sounded incredulous. “Do you think he has something we should know about? Maybe it’s something fatal.” He sounded surprisingly pleased at the thought.

Sirius leaned back. He was sitting on Severus’ bed and had draped himself across enough of it that Severus was reduced to one corner of the bed. With a thoughtful grunt, Sirius grabbed a pillow and threw it across Severus’ lap. Then he turned over and sprawled across the pillow himself.

James looked up from the floor between Severus and Peter’s beds. He had the parchment they were making the Map out of in front of him and was carefully sketching in lines from drawings they’d done of the fifth floor hallway. “Well, I say he’s sick too often for it to be something small. What makes a person sick that much?”

Peter reached out and snagged a small piece of torn parchment from the floor. He turned it over in his hands, looking idly at the marks scratched onto one side of it. “He could have a weak heart.” His uncle had died the year before of an undiagnosed heart problem, and the four boys had stayed up late on many nights to talk to Peter when he was upset about it.

Severus nodded. “He could. He keeps losing weight, though.” He tried to shift around on the bed. “Oi, Sirius. You weigh a tonne; must you lie across me like that? There’s enough room on the bed for both of us.”

Sirius grinned at him lazily. “But you’re such a comfortable pillow.” He chuckled at Severus’ glare. “I’ve told you all before. I’ll sneak into the hospital wing and see if I can figure it out. I mean, there’ve got to be potions bottles or something on the table by his bed—“

“There won’t be any get well cards, that’s for sure. No one likes Loony that much,” Peter interrupted.

Sirius nodded agreement. “I’ll write down the names of any potions I don’t know and we can start looking them up.”

James moaned. “I should have known this just meant more work.”

The next night, the four boys waited in the common room until everyone else had gone to bed. Once the last late-studying seventh year had gone upstairs, James quietly pulled his invisibility cloak out of his bag.

“Here,” he said, handing it to Sirius, who swirled it over his shoulders and admired his invisible feet. He took the quill and parchment Peter handed him and waved jauntily to his friends. “I’ll be back late. Don’t wait up!”

Severus watched him pull the hood up over his head and shove the portrait door open, his feelings jumbled. He did want to know what was wrong with Lupin, but something about this was wrong. Why couldn’t they just let the other boy alone?

Not half an hour later, the portrait was pulled open and then slammed shut. The slam woke Peter, who’d fallen asleep and slid sideways to lean against the arm of the sofa he had been revising on. Severus and James stared at the empty space in front of the door.

“Well,” came Sirius’ voice from the air, “he’s certainly up to something.” He sounded disgusted, and Severus had an awful thought. What if Lupin found out that they were prying into his business?

“Sirius,” said James, “pull the hood down. It’s weird talking to air.”

Sirius yanked the hood off, then unclasped the whole cloak and threw it onto the arm of the closest chair. “I can’t believe this is going on right under our noses!”

“What?” Severus stiffened. “What is going on?”

“He’s not even there! I checked all around the bed; his stuff’s there, all right. He’s got a bed table stocked with potions,” he saw Severus cock his head, “all pain relievers, nothing really special, Severus. I know you get excited about potions, but can’t you concentrate on the important thing, here?” Sirius fell into the chair he’d thrown the invisibility cloak onto, making it slip across his legs. Severus blinked at the odd sight of Sirius with feet but no legs.

“What do you mean, he’s not there,” demanded James, leaning forward. “I checked today with Madam Pomfrey and she said he’d be there until tomorrow, at least.”

“What was there?” interjected Severus. “I mean, you said ‘his stuff’. What did you mean by that?”

“His things, you know.” Sirius ran a hand through his hair. “His bag, his shoes, even, under the bed.”

“Maybe he just went to the loo,” muttered Peter, from the corner of the sofa arm. He yawned, nearly cracking his jaw. “How long did you wait?”

Sirius looked disgruntled. “I checked the loo. What do you take me for, a beginner?”

Severus sat back. “Well, it does look like it’s something we should be investigating. Let’s see if he shows up for breakfast tomorrow.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m exhausted. Let’s go to bed.”

~*~

“Excellent,” Professor Flitwick cried, as Alice Harfax and her Slytherin partner demonstrated their levitation charm. They’d taken a goose feather and applied an enhancement charm to the downy portion. Then, using the combined effect of the floatational abilities of the down and a standard levitation charm, they produced something that one could work into fibre to make extra-light bags or clothes.

Alice and her partner both looked pleased, although Severus could see that the Slytherin looked slightly smug as well. His attention was drawn to the front again when the professor called his and Lupin’s names.

He drew a deep breath and stood up. Across the room, Sirius grinned at him. Lupin’s face was pale, making the scars across his cheeks and nose stand out in bright relief. There were more scars than Severus had realised.

He and Lupin had worked out a plan, a schedule. He would speak first, explaining that they’d chosen to modify the Mobilicorpus charm, then Lupin discussing the modifications themselves, then the two of them casting the charm on themselves. Finally, they were going to explain the ways in which this charm could be modified; that different wand movements caused different types of levitation.

Everything went well, and Severus stood forwards to cast the spell the first time in public.

Levicorpus,” he said, waving his wand so that he lifted off the ground and stood half a metre off the stone floor. He could see James’ face, and Peter’s—they looked amused, but when he looked at Sirius he could see something else. For a moment the other boy looked … possessive. Severus looked away, confused.

~*~

The next weekend was a Hogsmeade weekend. The four boys spent all of Saturday morning going through the shops, spending money at Zonko’s and Honeyduke’s. By the afternoon, they were back in their dorm. Severus felt anxiety and nausea working its way through his middle, making his stomach feel as if it had lead inside. Silently they dropped off their purchases, gathered up the supplies they needed for the Animagus transformation, and went to the abandoned classroom they’d chosen, weeks before, for this very purpose.

Severus knew they’d done everything right. They’d all practiced the spells, each of them taking turns helping Peter. Peter, who had always been least interested in the project, was surprisingly tenacious about learning the process. He’d struggled to master the spells, but once he’d learned it, he was quickest at reproducing each step.

Severus was the last one in the room, and he quietly locked the door behind them. Turning to face his friends, he looked at their faces. James looked suppressed, Peter anxious and Sirius was glowing.

“Come on,” Sirius stage whispered, “we’re going to find out our secret animals! We’ll be able to sneak around the school without anyone knowing who we are. This is fun! Who’s going first?”

Severus opened his mouth to volunteer, but Peter jumped in before him.

“I want to.” His voice was nervous but firm. Something about the way he looked terrified, yet wanted to take the chance, broke the anxious mood and everyone laughed a little.

Peter sat down in the centre of the room. Grinning, Sirius began his part of the spell.

Several hours later, the light coming into the room had moved from one wall to the other. It had taken on a golden cast and the whole space glowed with it. Severus had ended up going last, and found the brilliant colour of the light inspiring. Holding in his head the image of the anchor he’d chosen, the amber that was just the colour of Lupin’s eyes, he closed his own eyes and spoke the last words of the final spell.

The sunlight on his eyelids melted into the amber, making it glow from within. Suddenly, the amber expanded, and Severus felt a shock, as if he’d walked through a curtain of cold water, or into a ring of standing stones. He opened his eyes and immediately scrunched them shut again.

It was bright! The light that had been so beautiful before was almost painful now. Slowly he opened them again, to see his friends all staring at him, their expressions a mix of amusement and awe.

“Well,” said Sirius, his voice cracking with what Severus confusedly identified as pride, “we certainly can’t let you out in the hallways.” He stepped closer to Severus and reached out a hand slowly. They’d all learned to move carefully at first; Peter had bitten James’ hand just after he’d transformed for the first time.

Severus looked down at his hands.

He saw heavy, golden-furred paws, leading to muscular legs and … He stood, feeling the new way his body moved now. Whatever he was, it was big, and four legged. He started trying to walk to the mirror they’d set up in the corner of the room and staggered. Four legs were much harder to manage than two; that was clear.

Above him, Peter laughed and dragged the mirror closer. Slowly, wondering if he really wanted to know what he was, Severus turned to face his new shape. He saw a confused blur of light coloured fur with a heavy, dark shadow around his shoulders. Blinking to clear his vision, he stepped closer to the mirror.

“My Lord Prince,” intoned Sirius, behind him. “We are all your faithful subjects.”

He was a lion.

~*~

In the Defence Against the Dark Arts class on Monday, Severus spent the time wondering what he and his friends would do now that they could transform. They hadn’t had much time to do anything more than practice the actual change. His wandering attention was brought back to class by a burst of laughter.

They were studying Dark creatures and Sirius was pretending to be a werewolf. He staggered around the room, moaning and howling and leaning on people. James and Peter were chuckling, but for some reason the Slytherins were laughing much harder. Severus looked over and gasped. Lupin had gone dead white and was backing up down the aisle away from Sirius.

The end of class bell rang, and Lupin whirled and ran out of the room.

 

~*~

After that, there was little time for anything but revising for OWLs. Even patrolling took a back seat to the urgency of study, and Severus found himself buried under books and parchment more than anyone else in his year. The only student not in Ravenclaw who was as focused as he was on revising was Lupin. It seemed that the other boy spent every spare moment in the library; several times Severus saw him there until the library closed.

James and Peter would stay in the library for a few hours, finish their revising for the day and leave. Sirius wasn’t as worried about the tests as Severus was, but Severus knew that the Black money would be there for his friend even if he only passed a few OWLs and took no NEWTs at all. What Severus couldn’t understand was why Sirius was spending so much time in the library with him.

Sirius would revise for a while, then pull out the Map and begin to draw in more of the missing parts of the castle. When Severus told him to work on that in private, Sirius grinned and admitted that he’d already cast the first of the Notice-Me-Not spells on the parchment itself. Severus subsided, but remained edgy until a passing Hufflepuff came and, leaning over Sirius shoulder, commented that she hadn’t known he could draw such pretty unicorns.

She left in a huff when Severus couldn’t stop laughing. Sirius complained that Severus chased off all the birds, but he didn’t get up and follow her.

Valentine’s Day fell on a Hogsmeade weekend, and Severus, Peter and Sirius spent the week beforehand trying to convince James not to ask Evans on a date. He had been working on elaborate paper cutting spells and intricate fairy dust incantations, and insisted that this would be the year Lily Evans went out with him on Valentine’s Day.

“It will be,” he declaimed loudly, standing on his bed, fist raised defiantly to the sky, “the first of many such happy occasions. We will all look back fondly on the joy that will radiate from this day forward; we will bask in the light and rejoice in the blessings that will flow, like manna, from the splendour of this day.” He fell over backwards under a barrage of pillows.

Severus made sure to have a seat in the common room before James came downstairs to ask Evans out. He glanced at Sirius, sitting next to him, his hand covering his mouth and his eyes dancing with humour. Severus looked away. He knew if he caught Sirius’ eye again, he’d burst into laughter.

James came down the stairs and moved confidently through the crowd to where Evans was sitting with her friends. Severus couldn’t hear what he was saying, but Evans’ response could be heard by everyone.

“You disgusting beast. If you think I’d ever go anywhere with someone who asked me that, you’re even stupider than I thought.” She tore up the valentine he’d made for her, threw the shreds at his head, and stormed off up the stairs to the girl’s dorms.

Severus collapsed, snickering, and Sirius leaned over. “I told him not to tell her that she was ‘lovely enough to eat with beans on toast’, and then ask her if she’d strip and lie down on a toast coloured duvet.”

Severus roared with laughter and Sirius grinned at him. James, hearing the noise, stalked over and glared at them.

“If you two prats are finished crowing over the demise of all my deepest hopes, we’d better go. It’s time for lunch.”

Severus chuckled all the way through his meal, which was, to James’ dismay, beans on toast.

~*~

That Sunday, the day after Valentine’s Day, the four boys were sitting at a table in The Three Broomsticks, working on the Map or revising. Severus glanced over at the door just as Lupin came in, shaking slush off his cloak and rubbing his arms. He’d brought a bag of books and looked around the room slowly. His eyes passed over Severus’ and Severus shivered.

Severus turned back to his table, and his eyes caught on Sirius’. His friend looked angry.

“What?” Severus was confused. Just a few minutes before, Sirius had been cracking jokes. He’d been so unpredictable recently. Sirius didn’t respond, but just shook his head and transferred his glare to his Transfiguration notes.

“Remus,” called a light voice, and Severus’ head snapped up again. James’ did also, and his expression darkened.

“Sirius,” said James in a tight, low voice, “that Slytherin scum is talking to my girl again.” Sirius turned to look. His face contracted into a hard knot of anger, darker even than James’.

“Right. We’ll just have to do something about that arse, won’t we?” He stood and aimed his wand at the chair Lupin was sitting in. With a choppy wave of his hand, he muttered a quick hex, then sat down. Across the room, there was a loud crash, followed by shouts of dismay. The four of them sat and watched as Lupin was helped up. Then, when it became apparent that he’d been hurt in the fall, Evans picked up his things and the two left the pub.

“Thanks, mate,” mumbled James. “Now he’s got her all to himself, all the way to the castle.”

Sirius shrugged. “Sorry. I just wanted him out of here. He was going to make the whole place stink.” He shoved his quill away. “Anyway, she’ll be back. She left her bag.”

Half an hour later, he was proved right. Evans came back into the pub, glaring over in their direction. She sat down at her table and said loudly to her friends, “Remus was so hurt he’s having to stay in the hospital wing overnight. I hope whoever broke that chair is sorry.”

The four boys exchanged looks. This meant that they could try again to see what was wrong with Lupin.

This time, all four went. There wasn’t enough room under the cloak unless Peter transformed, but he fit neatly into Sirius’ pocket. They left the common room earlier than before, and carefully shuffled down to the hospital wing. Once there, they checked and saw that several beds were occupied. Apparently, there had been an accident in Potions, and five third years were in hospital to have their skins turned back to opaque.

After a glance at one of them, James turned a little green. Severus stared, transfixed. He’d no idea that muscles looked like that when they were exposed.

Sirius nudged him and whispered, directly into his ear, “Pay attention. Look at the bed in the back. It’s where Lupin was last time. Maybe he’ll be there again.”

“We’ll have to wait,” replied James, “it’s too early now. Madam Pomfrey’ll be able to tell we’re here.”

They moved back out into the corridor and around a corner, then settled down to wait. They’d done this before, and Severus found himself remembering how worried he’d been on the day he’d come to King’s Cross for the first train ride. He’d been so sure he’d never have any friends; the boys at home were always mean to him and he had been convinced that everyone would treat him the way those stupid Muggle boys had. Feeling a burst of joy that his earliest predictions had proved untrue, he shivered.

Severus scooted a little closer to Sirius and looked over his shoulder at the book the other boy was reading. Sirius glanced up and obligingly held the book open a little wider.

and then the witch ran her hands through her long, shimmering hair, pulling some of it forward to cover her full breasts.” Severus read, eyes widening. He skipped down a few paragraphs. “Her lips parted and he could feel her warm, moist breath flutter over his engorged…

“Sirius,” he whispered, shocked. “Where did you get that book?”

Sirius grinned at him. “My dad tries to hide these in his study, but I’ve kipped several. Want one?” He waggled his eyebrows. “Peter likes them.” Severus glanced down at the book again and saw that Peter, still transformed into a rat, was standing on Sirius’ lap and reading avidly. Severus shook his head and turned to James.

“Hey,” James muttered, “don’t look at me. I tried one already. Boring. I prefer the ones with pictures, anyway.”

Severus groaned and dropped his head onto his drawn-up knees.

They’d waited over an hour when they saw Madam Pomfrey usher Lupin through the door.

“Come on,” they heard her say, “we’ve left it a little late this time. We’ll have to hurry.” The two of them left the hospital wing and rushed down the hall.

Sirius whispered, “Wait here, you three,” and, pulling the cloak to himself, took off after them at a dead run. Severus and James eyed each other, startled. Moving as quietly as they could, they moved down the hall to the nearest empty room.

Leaning back against the door, Severus demanded, “What is he thinking?” James, who’d moved across the room to look out the windows, shrugged. Peter, who’d been dropped in Sirius’ flight, sat on the floor and rubbed his head.

“Dunno. He’s just Sirius, you know.” He leaned closer to the window. “Wait. What’s that?” Severus came to look, but all he saw was shifting shadows as the full moon emerged from behind a large cloud bank. James shrugged again. “I thought I saw someone walking, but I guess not.”

They waited, James and Severus staring out the window, and Peter reading the book Sirius had left behind, until there was a soft scratching at the door. Peter opened it slowly and let an invisible Sirius in. He pulled the cloak off once the door was closed and swore.

“I lost them.” He bent over and pulled in great gulps of air. “I was as quiet as I could be, but I think Lupin heard me. He kept turning around. They moved too fast for me to keep up and still be silent.”

After a moment’s thought, they all bundled up under the cloak and made their careful way back to the dorm.

 

~*~

Even revision for exams couldn’t stop prefect’s meetings. Severus found himself at the next meeting stuck at the back of the prefect’s room, balancing parchment on his knee and trying to remember the twelve uses for dragon’s blood. The sixth year Hufflepuff prefect had been droning on about needing more patrols in the lower corridors for twenty minutes. Severus, bored, had decided that he could revise and make it look like he was taking notes on her diatribe.

The prefects next to him weren’t listening either; he could hear them whispering together. Suddenly, he caught the name Lupin in their conversation and froze. Glancing over, he saw that it was the Slytherin prefects making the noise. Carefully, trying to make sure he wasn’t seen, he whispered the incantation for an eavesdropping spell. Their voices came clearly to his ears.

“—don’t understand why we can’t just make him do the work for us. It’s not as if he has anything else to do.”

“Because he’s Wilkes’ tomorrow. He said that Lupin lost too much time the last time he wasn’t in the dorm.” Avery shifted in his chair, and pulled his quill out. “You know that Malfoy gave the Invoking Rights to Wilkes. He’s called them in. Lupin’s been spending so much time in the library that he’s slacking off in the dorm.”

The other Slytherin prefect, a girl named Parkinson, tossed her hair. “Well, I don’t see why I should have to do my work when there’s a perfectly good—“

The Head Girl had clapped her hands to bring everyone’s attention back to the front of the room. “Now that everything has been discussed,” Severus overheard Parkinson say something about not allowing discussions to turn into whines, and felt an unexpected burst of agreement, “and all patrolling schedules have been finalised, please go back to your duties. I expect to see a high level of patrolling, especially in the common trouble areas. Thank you.”

The two Slytherins swept out of the room so quickly it seemed to Severus that they hadn’t even waited for the Head Girl’s speech to be finished.

~*~

The OWLs themselves were almost a let down. Severus was sure he’d passed the first few well, there was only the Defence Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration OWLs left to take and they were done for the year.

The Defence OWL was the first one on the last Thursday before classes were over. The Great Hall was filled with sun, the light streaming down onto the bent heads of the class as the sound of scratching quills filled the room. Severus glanced up and saw that James was sitting back and re-reading what he’d written. His hair stood straight up in back, and Severus smirked to himself. James always played it cool, but the more stress he felt, the more he ran his fingers through his hair.

He bent his head back to the parchment, writing furiously. Another glance told him that he’d written more than his immediate neighbours, but he wasn’t sure he’d written enough about kappas. Sirius, who was sitting four seats behind James, extended a leg and tapped his toe on the floor. Severus looked over at him, and received a grinning thumbs-up. He shook his head and went back to writing.

Finally, the test was over and Severus stood, twisting and groaning. He’d been bent so far over the desk it was a wonder his nose didn’t have ink on it. He picked up his question sheet and waited for his friends. They came over and the four of them started moving toward the door.

“Did you like question ten?” asked Sirius, as they made their way through the crowd to the front doors of the castle.

“Wait.” Severus checked his sheet. “’Give five signs that identify the werewolf.’ I think I did all right.”

“I got the snout shape, the pupils of the eyes, and the tufted tail,” said Peter, anxiously, “but I couldn’t think what else…”

Severus, turning to remind Peter of the two signs he’d missed, saw Lupin, walking near them. He’d gone pale and was fidgeting with the strap of his bag. He met Severus’ eyes and his face twisted, Severus was reminded, suddenly, of the expression he’d seen on Lupin’s face at the very beginning of the school year when he’d been looking at the stuffed animal.

“Well,” said Sirius, “I thought that paper was a piece of cake. I’ll be surprised if I don’t get an Outstanding on it.” He grabbed James’ sleeve. “I’ve an idea. How about you, me and Wormtail here see if we can get the House Elves to give us some food and we’ll have lunch by the lake. Severus, you can go to make sure our seats don’t get taken.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “You really need three of you to carry the food? You know the elves’ll give it to you in a hamper. Why don’t you and James go and Peter and I can find someplace to sit.” Peter, who’d been looking longingly out the front doors, grinned.

Outside, they found a spot under a shady birch tree and spread out. Severus took his Transfiguration book out to revise, but tossed it aside after a few moments to lean back against the tree trunk. Beside him, Peter flopped to the ground, rolling over to stare up at the sky.

“I can’t wait until OWLs are over,” said Peter. “You and James are so smart, and Sirius is rich, but I’m going to have to do really well if I want to get any kind of a job after school.” His hands were clenched in the grass and Severus could see his chin wobble for a moment.

“We’ll help you get through it,” Severus said, softly. “The Fearsome Foursome stick together, right?” Peter tilted his head upside down to look at Severus. His grin was a little watery, but definitely there.

Severus leaned over and tugged the book back into his lap. “Here,” he said, “we can revise for Transfiguration until James and Sirius get back.” Then, with a grin, he continued, “But it’s not like you really need help in Transfiguration, Wormtail.”

Peter laughed and sat up. He started talking about what he was planning on doing over the summer, when Severus heard something. There were several large bushes near the birch tree and one of them had just grunted. He gestured to Peter, who looked over at the bush with wide eyes. He’d stumbled to silence and Severus turned to glare at him.

“So,” Severus said in a friendly voice that wasn’t at all matched by the intensity in his eyes, “you’re going to Bath with your mum?” He waved his hands in a ‘keep going’ sort of movement and Peter sat up stiffly.

“Yeah,” he said, his voice a little high, “we’re going to Bath. My mum and me. I’ve an aunt there and she’s said she’s going to take us to see the real waters…”

Severus stood up, letting Peter’s chatter wash over him, and began to walk silently towards the still grunting bush. The grunts were beginning to solidify into actual words, and he strained to hear them.

“You thought you would be allowed to spend time outside, like a regular person?” Another grunt, and then, “You know that Malfoy said you’d have to pay for every infraction of the rules,” grunt, “and right now I think you need to pay up front.”

Severus peered carefully around the bush and saw Lupin, kneeling on the ground, arms pinned behind him by Regulus Black. Lupin’s wand was at his knees, and Bellatrix Black and Wilkes were kneeling in front of Lupin. Severus could see that Lupin’s shirt had been pulled up. There were already bruises beginning to form on his ribs. Severus gasped in a breath. Then he froze as Wilkes turned around.

Severus lifted his wand quickly, but not quickly enough.

Expelliarmus,” yelled Wilkes and Severus’ wand flew from his hand to land almost on his own bag under the tree. Severus turned and dove after it. Just before he could grab it, he heard a voice, he couldn’t tell whose, yell, “Levicorpus,” and he was pulled up off the ground and spun upside down.

The quick spinning made his gorge rise and he struggled against nausea for one horrible minute. Then, with a sudden resurgence of the feeling, he realised that his robes had fallen down around his head, leaving his legs exposed. Snarling, he shoved his hands up and tucked his robes between his legs.

It was too late, he could tell. A crowd had started to gather, and many of the onlookers faces were amused.

Finite Incantatem!” James’ voice bellowed across the grass, and Severus fell, only just managing to tuck his head enough to not hit his head. He lay, stunned, on the grass and saw Sirius charge over to him, dropping food as he came.

“Severus!” Sirius was white. “What happened?”

“Lupin,” Severus croaked, “where’s Lupin?” At first he’d been horrified—Lupin was clearly being abused—but the only person who could have used that spell to turn him upside down like that was Lupin. They’d figured out the wand movement for turning a person upside down, but had decided to not present it to the class. All of the wand movements were in their report to Professor Flitwick, but Severus knew a Professor wouldn’t have done this. Lupin was the only one who could have. It was Lupin.

At his words, Sirius’ expression changed from worry to blazing fury. His nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed. “Lupin, was it?” Severus stared at him. He’d never heard his friend sound so bleak and furious, not even when Regulus had refused to speak to him at his sorting.

He tried to speak, but his chest ached horribly. Sirius heard him wheeze, and his expression shifted back to worry.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we’ll get you to Madam Pomfrey right away.”

Severus shook his head, and struggled to sit up. Peter, who’d run over, helped him up.

“I saw it,” he whispered, “I did. It must have been Lupin. He went running away from behind that bush just before you guys came up!”

Severus sucked in a breath. His lungs were beginning to feel a little better. “I can’t miss my OWL. I’m fine, really.”

James hunkered down next to them. “I couldn’t catch up to them. It was Wilkes, Black,” he shot an apologetic look at Sirius, “both of them—sorry, Sirius—and Lupin.” He eyed Severus, who was beginning to feel like the prize Kneazel at a Pet Show. “How are you? You didn’t hit your head, did you? Do you want to go to the hospital wing?”

“He doesn’t want to,” snapped Sirius, “but he should go.”

“I’ll go after the next OWL,” Severus said, pleased that he sounded a bit more firm. “Honestly, I will. But I can’t miss it, and it’s Transfiguration. Professor McGonagall would kill me if she heard that any of us didn’t get Outstanding on it.”

James’ eyes met Sirius’. “All right,” James said slowly, “you’ll go first thing after. Now, let’s get some of that food.” He turned away and glared at the few other students who were still watching. Then he began picking up the food that Sirius had dropped.

~*~

“So,” Severus began, “what are you going to do over summer hols?” Sirius was sitting in the window while Severus packed his trunk. Severus had been packing for half an hour now, and Sirius hadn’t said a word. Severus was getting a bit desperate; Sirius was never silent.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing, but I know Mam’ll have me helping with the garden. She likes to grow her own herbs back there…” He fell silent and stared at his hands. “Sirius, what’s wrong?”

Sirius turned, the light from the setting sun behind him shining on his hair and setting the tips aflame. Severus could barely see his face. “Nothing,” Sirius muttered. “Nothing’s wrong. I’m just tired.” He slid off the window sill and stared around the room. “I’m going downstairs.”

Severus watched him leave, his mouth open. What was going on? Sirius had forced him to go to the hospital wing immediately after the Transfiguration OWL. He’d only left after Madam Pomfrey chased him out. Severus had to stay overnight, and when he got out this morning, Sirius had been ignoring him. Beginning to get angry, Severus threw the last of his things into his trunk, slammed it shut and locked it with his wand. He’d have to get his mam to unlock it at the other end.

Suddenly, there was a storm of footsteps and Peter, James and Sirius burst into the room, laughing. James threw himself onto his bed and crowed, “No more studying for at least a month. I’ll get my mum to lock my books up and I won’t have to look at them. Oh, I can’t wait.” Peter sat on the edge of his bed, and Sirius lounged next to him.

The four boys began to discuss their summer plans. Severus noticed that James and Peter weren’t ignoring him, and his anger grew. Whatever it was bothering Sirius, if he couldn’t be bothered to tell him, Severus wasn’t going to be bothered by it. He didn’t care about anything that prat was upset about, anyway.

He tried to be interested in the conversation, but finally gave up. Excusing himself, he picked up his toilet articles and started off to the loo. Peter yawned and called after him to wait.

Severus waited, scowling down at his feet.

“Are you still hurting?” Peter was peering up into his face anxiously. “I’ll take you to Madam Pomfrey, if you need it.”

Severus shook his head sharply, and tried to smile. It must have been successful, because Peter grinned at him and pattered down the corridor.

On the train the next day, Severus sat in the corner of the compartment, staring out the window. Sirius was still ignoring him and since he and James were planning the different ways they could annoy Sirius’ mam, James was ignoring Severus as well. For almost an hour, Sirius and James hadn’t even been in the compartment. Sirius had said something about wanting to check for birds and tugged on James’ arm. James had looked confused for a minute, then, after a glance at Severus, he’d looked startled and practically dragged Sirius out of the compartment. Peter hadn’t even noticed; he’d been busy trying to find a place to hide the books he’d got Sirius to give him in his trunk.

Severus couldn’t help but contrast this train ride with the one at the beginning of the school year. Even with the usual harassment of Lupin, it had been a fun trip; he’d been with his friends. Now, it felt as if it would be more comfortable if he were alone.

He stood up. “I’ve got to patrol the corridor,” he said, abruptly, interrupting Sirius long-winded description of a prank he wanted James’ help with. Everyone looked at him, Peter and James grinning and Sirius blank-faced. “Excuse me,” he said, leaving the compartment.

Out in the corridor, he slumped against the wall for a moment, then began a patrol down the corridor.

The compartment at the end of the train looked empty, so he slid the door open and stepped inside, turning to shut the door. Suddenly he heard a shocked gasp and he spun. Lupin was in the compartment, curled up in a corner. Severus snarled, all his anger at being hexed by Lupin blending with his anger at Sirius for being such a prat. He pulled his wand and pointed it at Lupin’s face. Lupin leaned forward and pulled the window shade up. The light fell on his face; it looked as if he’d been beaten.

“Come to finish the job?” Lupin’s voice was harsh and he stared up at Severus. “It would be good to collect the full set.”

Severus fell back against the door, his rage battling with confusion. For a moment, the confusion won and his wand arm dropped. Lupin chose that moment to lunge forward, moving faster than Severus thought a person could. He slammed against Severus, using his body to press Severus back against the door and holding Severus’ wand arm down with his hand. Severus could feel Lupin’s fingers pressing into the back of his hand; it almost felt like claws cutting into his skin.

“Get off me,” Severus yelled, the sound muffled under Lupin’s other hand, which had clamped over his mouth. He twisted from side to side, trying to find a way to push the other boy off him.

“I will not,” Lupin whispered in his ear, voice dripping scorn. “You Gryffindors all think you’re so special; you think you can get away with anything. You’re golden, aren’t you?” He shoved harder, blocking every shift and move Severus made. Severus hadn’t realised that Lupin was so strong; he looked fragile. “Well, I’m tired of being the punching bag. It’s time I reminded everyone that even a kicked dog will fight back eventually. I’m not going to be here forever, and it’s time I started making plans for the rest of my life.” The hand on Severus’ face clenched; Severus could feel Lupin’s fingers digging into his cheeks, cutting the insides of his cheeks on his teeth. “You’d better watch your back, Gryffindor, because I’ll be ready for you.”

With that, he shifted against Severus and somehow managed to get the compartment door to slide open. With one last movement, he shoved Severus out of the compartment and slammed the door closed again. Severus sat on the floor of the corridor, staring up at the door, stunned. After a long moment, he felt fury building up again. How dare that scum act as if he’d ever done anything to him? It wasn’t his fault that the Slytherin had pissed off his Housemates. If that was how he acted toward them it was no wonder they beat him when they could.

Severus scrambled up from the floor and stalked back towards his own compartment.

~*~

Summer started out slowly. His mam let him lie in for the first weekend, then gave him a complex set of instructions on how she wanted the back garden set up. He sulked around the first week, and got yelled at for wasting precious time staring around for owls from his friends. By the second week he’d settled down and had weeded all of the un-dangerous gardens. He was just about to start on the shed with the Night-Blooming Carnivorous Lilies when his mam stepped out the back door.

“Severus,” she called, holding out a letter. “This came for you. It’s lunch time. Come in and eat while you read.” She smiled at him as he galloped up to her. She hadn’t asked him any questions about school after the first day, when he’d been irritable and snappish. He’d said something about being tired from OWLs revision after she sat staring silently at him. She’d shot him several searching looks since then, especially when she noticed that he’d not gotten any owls from his friends, but she’d been quiet about it.

He smiled at her as he got to the top step and reached for the letter. She turned away and called, “Don’t stand there idling. You’ve work to do after you eat.” He could hear the warmth under her sharp words. Following her into the dim house, he pulled the letter open.

It was from James. He’d spent the first week of hols flying and practicing his Quidditch dives. He and his parents would be going to London to see the Weird Sisters. He hadn’t had a chance to work on the Map yet. Did Severus think he’d be able to visit at all this summer? His parents were yelling at him that it was time for dinner, so he had to go.

Severus turned the parchment over, looking for more. James hadn’t mentioned Sirius or Peter at all. He knew that Peter was probably still stuck at home; his mam was over-protective and often didn’t let Peter go anywhere but shopping with her all summer. Sirius usually spent some of the summer at James’, but James hadn’t said anything about it at all.

The rest of his lunch tasted like ashes.

~*~

He spent the next two weeks working for his mam and hiding. He’d sent a note to James; James’ owl had waited for a response, but he hadn’t had much to say. It wasn’t like he was going anywhere, so what could he say that James would care about?

He spent one entire day hiding in his room, refusing to get out of bed. His mam, who normally would have been angry at him for wasting time, actually left him several sandwiches and a pitcher of chilled pumpkin juice in the middle of the day. He finally stumbled down the stairs in the evening, bringing his empty dishes. She filled the empty spaces at dinner with chatter about the witch down the street who’d insisted on trying to raise a venomous tentacula in her back garden and how the vegetables at the local market weren’t as good as they used to be.

By the fourth week of summer, he’d almost forgot anything but the daily work in the garden and the quiet routines of home. Thus, it was startling to receive another owl, this one with a much longer letter. His mam was inside this time, so he opened the letter in the middle of the back garden, hands covered in dirt.

 

Dear Severus, it began
How’re you? How’s your mum? There’s loads of news over here. We’ve got a new houseguest—you’ll never guess who. I’ll let him tell you all about it. But I want to know, will your mum let you come and visit? I know she doesn’t usually, but this is special, and anyway, what if it was only for a weekend? She could spare you for a weekend, right?

Let me know by return owl,
James

 

Wrapped up inside that letter was another one, shorter, but sweeter to Severus.

Severus,
I’ve run away from home and I’m at James’. Come visit me?
Sirius

 

“Mam! Mam, I’ve just got an owl,” Severus yelled, running into the house. “Mam?” He checked the back workroom, then the sitting room in front and came to a halt in the empty kitchen. He turned slowly in place, then groaned and threw himself back into a chair. She was out somewhere.

He’d gone back to tending the foxglove, wearing gloves himself against it’s small, but sharp little teeth, when his mam stuck her head out the back door.

“Coming in for lunch?”

He bounced up and ran to her. Standing at the base of the back steps, he grinned up at her. “Mam! I’ve had an owl. Can I go? I mean, James invited me, and he said it’s only for a weekend and really, I’ve weeded the whole garden and …” He pulled himself to silence, knowing she’d say no, and trying to stop hoping so hard that she’d say

“Yes.”

He gaped at her. To his shock, she burst into laughter, and he could suddenly see the girl she had been, before age and tiresome Muggles had worn her down. “What?”

“You left the notes on the table, you prat. Did you think I wouldn’t read them?” She was still smiling, her dark eyes shining at him.

“Oh.” He felt entirely stupid. “Wait. You said yes? I can go?” The stupid feeling was washed away completely by a rush of joy so sudden he staggered. “I can go?” he repeated.

She sobered, looking at him with a sad face. “You may go visit your friends. I’m sorry I’ve kept you all this time, if you’ve wanted so badly to go.” She stepped back into the house. “Wash your hands and we’ll talk over lunch. Oh, and bring that poor bird in with you!”

Over lunch they discussed the things he’d need to bring with him. He sent off James’ owl with a response, feeling excited and nervous. This would be the first time he’d ever gone to stay over at a friends’ house. What if he did something wrong? What if he didn’t help enough with the chores? Would James’ parents send him home early if he didn’t help enough?

He stood at the side of his bed, staring down at the small pile of clothes and things he wanted to bring with him. James’ owl had returned with a long, and slightly incomprehensible, note about what they were going to do this weekend. There was something about flying, and also something about going down to the local Muggle village. Severus didn’t have a broom, so he rather thought he’d be staying on the ground for that, but he did think that he’d know more about getting along in a Muggle anything than his two friends. It made him feel a little better to know that there might be something where he wasn’t the poorest or the slowest one.

With a slight smile, he bundled up his things and stuffed them into his largest bag. Halfway to the door, he stopped and turned around. He slowly moved back to the bed and picked up a tattered stuffed owl he’d named Howard. His fingers clenched and he shoved Howard to the bottom of his bag. Finally, he left the room, feeling as if he’d be different when he came back; travelled, somehow, or more worldly.

Downstairs, he was greeted by his mam, smiling uncertainly at him. She was holding a bag of Floo powder and a piece of parchment. He blinked at her.

“Why’re you all dressed up?” She was wearing her best robes, and the pretty green colour swirled around her as she turned to pick up a small bag of her own.

“Your friend’s parents invited me to dinner tonight.” She looked nervous. “I thought, since you say they’re so nice to James…”

She was worried that he’d not want her to go, he realised. “That’ll be good,” he said firmly. “You haven’t really had a chance to meet James and Sirius yet and I want,” he broke off for a minute, thinking of the silly things Sirius had said in his notes over Christmas hols, “I want you to meet Sirius, at least.”

She gazed at him steadily, then nodded. They moved toward the Floo together, Severus both glad she was there, and worried that he’d make a mistake in front of her and have to be sent home with her at the end of the evening.

Several hours later, his bag tossed unceremoniously on a bed in James’ large room, he sat at the dinner table and watched the adults from under his lashes. Seeing his mam here, sitting calmly next to the much older Mr and Mrs Potter, made him realise with aching sorrow that he and his mam were poor. Her best robes were clearly old, and the colour that had seemed so bright in their dim sitting room was dull and worn in the Potter’s bright dining room.

James, to his right, hadn’t yet stopped talking about the things he intended them to do while Severus was there. Several times, he’d said things like, “getting everything in” and “while we have you”. Severus, after listening to the first ten or so plans, thought that James might be a bit overexcited and gave up trying to follow him.

Sirius, however, seated across from Severus, was quieter. He wasn’t ignoring Severus any more, he’d said several things to him, and had given him a thoroughly startling hug when Severus came through the Floo, but he wasn’t as effervescent as he usually was when given a chance to show off. He’d been watching Severus; he could feel Sirius’ grey eyes on him, but when he looked up, the other boy would look away.

As several minutes had passed and everyone was clearly finished, Severus stood up and began collecting plates. He’d managed to get the three boys’ plates, although James had given him a confused look, and was about to start collecting the adults’ plates, when Mr Potter glanced at him.

“What’re you doing that for, young man?” His voice was gruff, but Severus didn’t hear any malice in it.

“Clearing up, sir,” he responded. He looked at his mam, trying to see if she thought he’d done something wrong, but her face was perfectly blank. He stood, tense with conflicting urges, until Mrs Potter smiled up at him.

“Oh, my dear, you don’t need to do that. You’re a guest here. Please, sit down and enjoy yourself.” She turned to the other two boys. “Would you three like pudding?” At their enthusiastic nods, she smiled back up at Severus. “You look like you could use some pudding. You must be shooting up fast, to be so slender. Here,” she waved at the table, “set those down here, and I’ll just call in Pasky.”

Severus, not sure who or what Pasky might be, set his stack of dishes down and started back to his seat. As he turned, he caught his mam’s eye. She smiled at him and he relaxed. He couldn’t have made that big a mistake if she wasn’t angry at him.

Pasky turned out to be a house elf. She trotted in, after Mrs Potter called, then snapped her fingers at the dishes. With brisk movements, she waved her hands at the table and everything on it straightened up. Severus jumped as his napkin, which had fallen unnoticed to the floor, slithered up his leg and back into his lap. James grinned at his startled look.

“Not how your elf does it at home?” he asked. Severus looked at him, flatly.

“No,” he said, as calmly as he could. Across the table, Sirius shook his head. Severus thought he saw Sirius mouth the words “great prat” and felt better.

~*~

Later that evening, after pudding, and after spending an hour or so outdoors under a large tree near James’ house, Severus’ mam called him inside. His friends came with him and wandered upstairs.

“I’ll be going,” she said. He was surprised to see her relaxed and smiling.

“Don’t forget, Eileen,” called Mrs Potter, “about next week. I expect to see you with lists for that plan we discussed.”

She waved back, and turned to Severus. Reaching out, she tugged at the collar of his robes, straightening them. “There, now you’re all neat. Don’t forget, you’re to come back on Monday afternoon.”

He stared at her. “Mam?” This smiling, happy woman wasn’t the mother he’d known all his life.

She smiled up at him and he was relieved to see that her eyes were as brisk as usual. “I’ve just been discussing the herb garden with the Potters. You’ll be glad to know there will be plenty of work for you once you get home.”

He groaned, but couldn’t help hoping that more work for him meant more sales for his mam. It would be brilliant if she could stop working in the Muggle mill. She’d begun growing the herbs and magical plants after his da died, but it had been slow going, getting a clientèle. If she was going to sell to the Potters, that could only be good. He tried to remember if James had ever said anything about his parents being brewers or needing anything for potions.

After his mam stepped through the Floo, Severus raced upstairs. He turned the corner to the bedroom and found that Pasky had set his things out on the bed.

Sirius was standing at it, Howard in his hands. He looked up at Severus’ entry, his eyes growing wide. Severus blanched, then tried to sneer to cover his shame. He should have known that bringing Howard would just leave himself open for humiliation. He turned to leave the room, determined to go downstairs and hide in one of the many empty rooms James had casually shown him, when Sirius called after him.

“Wait?” Severus couldn’t detect any maliciousness in his voice, and he didn’t want Sirius to go back to not talking to him, so he turned, slowly. Sirius had moved; he was now kneeling at the bed he’d been given, rummaging underneath. Severus stepped forward a little, trying to see what Sirius was reaching for.

He pulled out a large, black, stuffed dog. It was missing an eye, half its tail and was clearly someone well loved. Sirius sat back on his heels and held it out.

“This is Fidelius.” He waggled the dog slightly from side to side. “He came with me.” Severus felt himself calming. Sirius’ face twisted and he tucked Fidelius back under the bed. “So, see, I saw …” he looked down at the owl in his hands.

“Howard,” whispered Severus.

Sirius nodded at Howard. “So, when I saw Howard, I just…” he trailed off again.

Severus sat down next to him and took Howard. Leaning back against the bed, he asked, looking at Howard, “Ran away? What happened?”

~*~

 

The weekend raced by. Severus was surprised to find that he hadn’t needed to stay on the ground and watch as James and Sirius played Quidditch; James’ parents had several extra brooms and enough random Quidditch gear to outfit a whole team. Severus found himself wondering, again, why James wasn’t more grateful for his parents. Sirius seemed to agree with him; the one time the three boys didn’t agree on something was when James said something about running away being an adventure and Sirius stormed off.

Saturday evening, they slept outside, in a small field a quarter mile away from James’ house. The three boys stretched out in squashy sleeping bags Mr Potter had conjured, tired after a day of hiking and falling in the local creek.

“Look,” James said sleepily, “I can see Draco.” He pointed up at the sky, almost directly up. Severus squinted and could just make out the stars in the dragon’s tail, curving around.

Sirius, his voice sounding a little tight, said, “There’s Regulus.” Severus tried to see where he was pointing, but couldn’t. The light from the full moon near the horizon washed out most of where he thought Regulus was supposed to be.

“I can’t see it,” he said, “the moon’s too bright.” He rolled over and curled up in the sleeping bag. Beside him, he could see that James had fallen asleep, his head still tipped over looking for where Sirius had said Regulus was.

Severus turned to see if Sirius had fallen asleep as well. Sirius was staring at him, his eyes glittering in the moonlight.

“I’m sorry,” Sirius whispered. His head was propped up on his hands, and he looked more serious than Severus had ever seen him.

“For what?” Severus was confused. Sirius hadn’t done anything to him today. He’d pushed James into the creek several times, but he hadn’t tried anything on Severus.

Sirius stared at him, face a little stunned. “Er. For before. You know. At school. I don’t know why I was so angry at you.”

Severus sucked in his breath. He’d almost forgot about it, in the new joys and potential pitfalls of this weekend. “Why?” he asked, voice low.

Sirius flinched as if he’d yelled. “I—don’t know. I … just, I’m sorry, all right? I won’t get angry at you again.” He looked away, then back. “Not unless you steal my Bertie Botts.”

“Hey,” laughed Severus, feeling as if he’d missed something, “that was Peter. You know I don’t like those.”

Sirius heaved a sigh. “Poor Peter. Trapped in his mum’s house, with his aunt Perilla visiting. He needed those books, didn’t he?”

Severus rolled his eyes. “You and your dirty books. You just thought it would be easier to get your father to believe that he lost them if you came home and they weren’t in your trunk.”

Sirius grinned. “True. All too true. But, about the books, did you get a chance to read them?”

“No!” Severus was shocked. The one glimpse he’d got of them hadn’t done anything but make him want to correct their grammar.

“You know,” Sirius persisted, “there was one I didn’t show to Peter. He wouldn’t have liked it at all. In fact,” he mused, “I’m surprised my dad even had one like it.”

Severus knew that Sirius would continue hinting until he asked, so he gave in. “Why? What was special about it?”

Sirius lowered his voice until it was almost too soft for Severus to hear. “It was about two blokes, instead of a bloke and a bird.”

Severus felt his stomach clench, all of a sudden, and for some unknown reason, he thought of Lupin’s eyes. “W—what?” He struggled to keep his breathing normal. “Can blokes even … do that?”

“Oh, yeah.” Sirius’ voice was thoughtful. “It’s similar.”

Severus tried to picture it and failed. “Similar how?” If this was another of Sirius’ jokes, he’d never trust him again.

Sirius smirked. “Well, all right. Not exactly the same. But, similar. They can use their hands and their mouths the same…”

“But, what about…” Severus couldn’t even quite make himself say the word.

“Shagging? Easy. There’s another opening, you know.”

Severus couldn’t credit how knowing Sirius sounded. “How do you know all this?” he asked, his voice sceptical.

“I read the book, didn’t I?”

“And it had that in there?” His voice cracked, and he winced.

“’Course it did. Had other stuff, too. Do you want to read it?”

“No!” Severus glared across the small camp-site. “No, I don’t.” He pretended not to see Sirius’ smirk.

~*~

The three boys spent Sunday in the nearest Muggle village, which Severus was surprised to see wasn’t as small as he’d expected. It wasn’t anything like a city, but there were enough tourists and day travellers that they didn’t stick out as sorely as he’d thought they would.

He had to stop Sirius several times from saying something like, “Hey, look at that!” and pointing at something mundane, like car parks and radio towers. Finally, he pulled his friends aside and whispered, “Sirius. Why are you acting like this? Isn’t your house in the middle of London?” James turned to look down the alley they were standing in. “Surely you’ve seen more than this…”

Sirius stared at his feet. “My home is in the Cotswolds, where James lives. I don’t know anything about London.”

Severus looked at him, confused. “What—“

“Look, my parents never went anywhere in Muggle London, okay?” Sirius snapped. “I’ve never seen London. Just Diagon and a little of Knockturn when my father would take me there.”

Severus leaned back a little. “Oh,” he said. “Well, how would the two of you like to visit a bakery and a teashop?”

James perked up. “I want to try Muggle biscuits.”

Severus, shaking his head and leading the way to the teashop he’d seen across the street, said, “They’re the same thing, you prat.”

~*~

The next afternoon, Severus stood in front of the fireplace and said goodbye to his friends. He’d tried to thank Mr and Mrs Potter, but they’d both waved him off and said something about always being welcome. He’d nodded, but hadn’t really thought they meant it. Did they really expect him to believe that they’d take him in if he just showed up unannounced?

“I’ll see if I can get my parents to convince your mum to let you come over for longer next time,” James said enthusiastically as Severus pulled his bag back up to his shoulder. “I mean, it worked once, right?”

Behind him, Sirius smiled at Severus. It was the slow smile that Severus had seen Sirius use on Hufflepuff girls and he couldn’t understand why the other boy was aiming it at him. He also couldn’t figure out why his stomach tightened and he had to look away.

“Bye,” he said, feeling overwhelmed. “I’ll owl.” He stepped into the Floo before he realised that was an entirely idiotic thing to say. He couldn’t owl; he didn’t have one.

Once home, he found that his mam had pulled together a lovely tea. She’d made ginger biscuits, something she hadn’t done for him since he was small, and had gone to the Muggle market to get his favourite bread for sandwiches.

After finishing three ham sandwiches, he sat back in his chair. “What do you want, mam?” he asked. She must be feeding him up for something. They didn’t have the money for this kind of food on a regular basis.

She smiled at her plate. “Can’t get anything by you, can I?”

He smirked. “I figured there was something…”

She leaned forward and shifted the plates to the side. Then, pulling out several pieces of parchment, she unrolled them and used empty tea cups to hold the corners down.

“The Potters own several apothecaries. They said that they’ve been having difficulties obtaining fresh supplies of tentacula, aconite, knotgrass and fluxweed. Over the weekend, I visited their apothecaries and found that they’ve outdated supplies of poppy flowers and several other things we could grow here.” She pushed aside that list and picked up what Severus could see was a sketch of their back garden. “I thought, while you’re here, you could help me arrange the garden so we can grow more of what they need.” She poked the sketch with her wand and two planting beds switched places. “This is a big contract, Severus, and if it works I can stop working for Muggles entirely.”

He nodded. He’d wanted her to stop having to pretend that she was a simple Muggle, but this looked like a lot of work.

She eyed him. “You’ll be allowed to use your wand for it; I cleared it with the Improper Use of Magic people.”

Maybe this would be easier than he thought. He pulled the sketch closer and began looking it over.

~*~

That evening, as he dumped his bag out on his bed to put his things away, he saw a book he hadn’t brought with him in the pile. Curiously, he pulled it out, then dropped it like a hot coal when he saw the cover.

It was the book Sirius had told him about, the one with blokes with blokes.

He could hear his mam’s footsteps on the stairs, and he hurriedly shoved the book under his thin pillow. Tumbling his dirty clothes into the basket, and tucking Howard back under his blanket took a quick minute, and he turned to face his mam as she came into the room. She was carrying a pile of cleaned clothes, and moved across his room to drop them on his bed.

“You look flushed,” she said, “was it harder than you expected, getting the new planting beds into place?” She put a cool hand on his forehead.

“Er, no. I’m fine,” he blurted, hoping she hadn’t seen the bulge under his pillow. With a sharp look at him, she left the room, shaking her head. He just overheard her muttering something about boys being deliberately confusing.

After climbing into bed, he pulled the book out. He intended to wrap it up and send it back to Sirius, but it fell open and he caught a glimpse of text.

His hands slid down his partner’s thighs, bringing his face closer to the nest of dark curls cradling the firm, pink…

He gasped and slammed the book shut. After a long moment, filled with more curiosity than he’d ever felt before, he reached out and opened the book back up.

An hour later, the book had fallen aside and he’d curled up around himself, one hand working frantically and the other made into a fist and stuffed into his mouth to try to smother the sounds he couldn’t stop himself from making.

~*~

The rest of the summer was a haze of working in the garden, receiving and sending daily owls to and from James and Sirius, watching his mam plan for the preservation and sales of the plants he was working so hard on and staying up late every night … reading.

He’d thought of Sirius, early on; Sirius handling the book became Sirius handling him the way Altaire in the book handled his lover, Tarant. He’d shuddered to climax several times to that image; one memorable night it had taken three successive goes at it before he was sufficiently … relaxed … to sleep.

Two days before going to Platform 9 ¾, he’d settled down for his nightly reading when his mind substituted Lupin’s face, suddenly, for Sirius’. He exploded so quickly at the image that he nearly fell off the bed. Lying back, legs dangling over the edge of the bed, he couldn’t decide if he was more horrified at the strength of his orgasm, or at the person who’d triggered it. It couldn’t be Lupin’s face that had made it feel that good. The orgasm had come so quickly that he’d almost not felt it, somehow. His body was still bubbling with the arousal and need he’d felt before he started; it almost felt as if he was still waiting for his first one of the night. He decided to try it again and see if he could repeat the experience.

With a silent moan, he reached for himself and allowed Lupin’s face to fill the places that Sirius’ face had inhabited before. It worked well; the book’s main character Altaire was described as a dark blond with light brown eyes and tan skin. That description melded very easily with Lupin’s looks, leaving him free to see himself as Tarant, who had dark hair and pale skin.

The next day, he couldn’t wait for evening before trying again. Around mid-day, when his mam was sure to be busy inside, he hid inside the shed. Sitting in the storage area in back, with the earthy smell of loam filling his nostrils, he stroked down inside the Muggle trousers he wore to garden and filled his hands with himself. Picturing Lupin’s face, flickering images from the times they studied together, the time he’d watched the shadows in the curve of Lupin’s jaw, the funny way his amber eyes lit with humour or fury… It was the image of Lupin’s face tight with anger in the train compartment that mixed the sharp scent of his seed with the gentler scents of the garden around him.

~*~

Severus stood on the platform at King’s Cross, looking eagerly around for his friends. He and his mam had got here early; she needed to be back at home for the first of the deliveries, so she’d brought him, given him more than usual for his pocket money, kissed him and hurried off.

He felt grown up, being on the platform all by himself. He’d already put his trunk in a compartment, checked in at the prefect’s compartment and was now waiting to see if he could spot Sirius before he was spotted himself.

The crowd surged around him, made of laughing children, nervous first years, parents visiting with each other—all combining into a cheerful cacophony of sound. Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of Lupin through the swirling mass. Without thinking, he moved closer, looking at the other boy curiously.

He was taller than his mam. She was small, and she looked… Severus sucked in a breath. She looked as his mam had just six months ago. Careworn, poor and nearly desperate. Blinking fiercely, he looked more closely at Lupin himself and saw that his robes, certainly the correct black for school robes, were fraying at the edges slightly. Severus’ eyes, knowing the most likely places for patches from hard experience, caught on seam lines and small areas of coarser fabric.

Lupin was as poor as he was. Severus couldn’t understand why that made him feel so sorrowful, but it felt as if his heart were clenching.

Suddenly, Lupin spun around, head cocked to the side. He stared directly at Severus, his amber eyes first curious, then challenging. With a calming gesture towards his mam, Lupin turned all the way around, standing erect.

Severus’ eyes caught on a flash of silver on the front of Lupin’s robes. Lupin was a prefect this year.

Chapter Text

As soon as Severus got back to the compartment from the prefect’s meeting, Sirius pounced on him.

“Hey,” he grinned, literally dangling off of Severus’ shoulders, “did you have a nice time after you went home?” He wagged his eyebrows and Severus spared a thought to whether Sirius would ever grow all the way up. He rather thought not.

“Actually, I spent most of my time working in the garden.” The memory of how he spent his last two days in the garden shed rose before him and he blushed. “Outside. You know. Working.” He was desperately glad he hadn’t said ‘wanking’.

Sirius fell off of Severus and onto a seat, still grinning. “Working. On what?”

James said, “Oh, I bet it was for the thing my parents are working on with his mum, right Severus?” He was lounging in the corner of the compartment, legs stretched almost all the way to the door.

“Yes. She is delivering the first batch today.” Severus tried to sit down across from them, but Sirius slipped over and sat next to him. “We had to rearrange most of the garden, but I think—“

Peter charged into the compartment, reminding Severus of the way he’d come in the previous year. He seemed upset this time.

“You’ll never guess who’s a prefect this year,” he snarled. Severus paled slightly.

“Who is it?” James leaned forward.

Just as Peter opened his mouth, the compartment door slid open again. Lupin stood there, calmly. His arms were crossed, making the silver prefect’s badge pinned to his robes shimmer in the light.

“Snape,” he said in a conversational tone, “it’s time for us to patrol the corridor. You agreed to the schedule in the prefect’s meeting. Severus thought he’d put a slight emphasis on the word ‘prefect’.

Severus stood up and Sirius grabbed the back of his robes. “You can’t go,” he hissed, “not with him.” Lupin’s face twisted, and Severus wondered how he could have heard anything. He turned and faced his friends.

“I have to go. Really. I’ll be back in an hour.” He glanced at Lupin, who looked calm again. “I’ll have to do it again in a few hours.” Lupin’s eyes glinted and Severus pulled in a sharp breath. He felt his body react; his stomach tightened and his breath shortened. All of a sudden, the fact that he’d been wanking, masturbating, to images of people he actually knew, struck him like a Bludger. He stiffened, his eyes wide and blank.

“Er, I have to—I have to go,” he blurted out and ran from the compartment. He thought he heard a voice calling him, but he ignored it.

He locked himself in the first toilet he found, and leaned back against the door. His mind was filled with the images of him wanking to Lupin, of all people. How could he have thought it was acceptable to do that and be thinking of someone he knew, someone who hated him?

He sank to the floor, his face in his hands. Why did he even want to think of Lupin when he did that?

After about a quarter of an hour, in which he came to no conclusions except that he was doomed, he stood, splashed water on his face and left the toilet.

Lupin was right outside, waiting. Severus stopped, still half in the small room.

“All finished?” His voice was amused, but there seemed to be something else, something flat and unamused, in his eyes.

Severus straightened his shoulders, reminded himself that the Slytherin couldn’t read his mind and see what he’d been doing, and nodded. He turned to walk up the train, checking in random compartments as he went. Behind him, he could hear Lupin doing the same on the other side of the corridor.

He could do this. He could act as if he hadn’t been thinking inappropriate things about someone who hated him. He could.

~*~

His first few weeks of school was frustrating. He’d taken O’s in Potions, Defence, Transfiguration, and Arithmancy and E’s in everything else. He still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after his NEWT’s, which seemed to frustrate his Head of House, but he decided on taking seven NEWTs. His schedule filled up quickly with classes and prefect’s meetings and patrolling. Wistfully, he thought about his mam’s garden and the way the summer days had seemed to last forever.

Sirius had been livid with him for not saying first thing that Lupin had been made a prefect. It had taken days for Sirius to calm down, and he still watched Lupin like a hawk, waiting for him to do something wrong. He hadn’t taken as many OWLs as Severus had, and now that he wasn’t going to be able to live on the Black money, he was upset about that as well.

The only thing that Severus liked about the time when Sirius was mad at him was that he’d stopped talking about that book. As soon as he was feeling better, he started making jokes about reading, and late nights and personal study. Severus couldn’t figure out why he was so set on teasing him; it wasn’t as if Sirius had been interested in reading the book. If he had been, he’d have kept it.

After a long session with Professor McGonagall, Sirius decided to be a Hit Wizard. He didn’t have the Potions OWL to get into Auror training, and he seemed to think it better to be a Hit Wizard anyway. He practiced his imagined Hit Wizard techniques on Peter so often that Peter learned exactly when to dodge.

By the third week of classes, everyone had calmed down and settled into their new schedules. It felt odd to Severus to go to classes without his friends, but he learned that Potions was actually easier for him if he weren’t always watching to make sure that Peter didn’t accidentally drop in fennel instead of fenwort. He had Sirius in Defence still, and Transfiguration and Charms, so he didn’t feel quite so lonely most of the time.

Professor Slughorn enjoyed pairing his students up in class. He seemed to delight in cross-House pairings, never allowing two House-mates to pair up if he could arrange it differently. At first, he’d changed the pairings every class, but soon he set up permanent pairings. Severus was dismayed to find that he was paired with Lupin.

Evans, who was also in the class, just laughed at his expression.

“He’s nice,” she said, as they left the classroom after the pairings had been set, “once you get to know him.”

James, who was shadowing Evans’ other side, muttered something about not wanting to get to know the loony git.

~*~

Suddenly it was the beginning of October, and the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year rolled around. Peter, who was only taking four NEWTs—Severus couldn’t imagine what he thought he’d do with only four NEWTs—had made sure to sign them all up to go.

They sat at the breakfast table, laughing over a charm one of the third years had mispronounced, giving him troll’s feet. The boy was getting anxious, so Severus stood up.

“Here, you lot,” he said, “you go on to The Three Broomsticks. I’ll just take Coweper here to the infirmary and then I’ll catch up.” James waved a hand at him, and the three boys galloped off to the Front Doors, Peter saying something about stopping off at Zonko’s on the way.

Severus moved down the table and stopped at Coweper’s seat. “Come on,” he said to the boy’s anxious face. “Madam Pomfrey’ll set you right. Nothing to worry about.”

Coweper took longer to get upstairs than Severus had expected, and it was almost an hour later that Severus escaped to Hogsmeade. The leaves were falling from the trees, and the brisk air made Severus shiver in his thin cloak. He’d had an owl from his mam, telling him that the new gardens were doing well, but he didn’t want to ask for money for something as trivial as a new cloak.

Lupin was on the path, walking slowly back towards the castle. Severus smiled and greeted him, but the other boy barely lifted his head. He looked practically ill, in fact, and Severus stopped walking.

“Lupin, what’s wrong?” Severus reached out a hand to stop Lupin, then snatched it back. He was burning up. “Here, you’re sick. I’ll get you to Madam Pomfrey.”

Lupin’s head snapped up. “No,” he said, his normally soft voice harsh, “I’ll get there on my own. You don’t need to help me, even if you are a prefect. I’m one also, so just let me be.” He shoved at Severus and stumbled on toward the castle.

“Suit yourself,” Severus responded, but he stood still and watched until Lupin had turned the corner onto the actual grounds of the school.

He found his friends at a large round table with several other kids. They were all laughing and talking about the upcoming Quidditch match. Severus pulled James aside and whispered, “Lupin’s sick again. Should we see if we can get more information?” James lit up at the idea.

“Why, my dear friend, nothing would suit the Fearsome Foursome better than a little night time investigation,” he whispered back.

~*~

This time Peter went alone. He was smallest, when transformed, and could use the cloak to get down to the infirmary as himself, then hide the cloak in the same classroom that they’d used before and transform to Wormtail. No one would even notice him.

Severus and Sirius stayed up in their dorm, studying; James was down in the common room, trying to flirt with Evans again. Sirius was reading over his Transfigurations notes; he almost sounded as if he were doing battle with them. He’d got a hold of one of the hamsters Professor McGonagall used for classroom transfigurations and was poking it with his wand, transfiguring it successively into a vase full of gerbera daisies, a bottle of olive oil, an oil lamp, a glowing candle, and back into a hamster. By the time Sirius had run through the sequence three times, the hamster was huddled on the desk, shivering.

Severus reached out and picked it up. “Sirius,” he said softly, “I know you’re worried about Peter, but he’s good at this.” The hamster curled up in his palm and buried its head in its belly. “You’re scaring the hamster.”

Sirius twisted in his chair and stared at Severus. “I’m not worried about Peter. He can take care of himself. I’m worried about you. You’re spending more and more time with Loony Lupin. I’m worried that you’re going to be poisoned by his Slytherin stink.”

Severus sighed, and let the hamster run back into the cage he’d transfigured for it from a pair of Peter’s old shoes. “Sirius.” He sighed again. “He’s just my lab partner in Potions. I have to work with him, I’ll fail the class if I don’t.”

Sirius’ face darkened. “Then why are you always patrolling with him?”

“That’s assigned by the Head Girl and Boy, not chosen by us. We’ve got nothing to do with it.” Severus was beginning to be frustrated by Sirius’ insistence that Lupin was horrid. As far as he could tell, his friend had never even given the other boy a chance; Sirius had simply taken a dislike to the book the boy had been reading on the Hogwarts Express on their way to their first year and had decided that Lupin was too interested in the Dark Arts to be trusted. He couldn’t understand why Sirius was so dead set against Lupin and the Dark Arts, when he seemed fascinated in the things Severus had found in his mam’s old Dark Arts books from when she was in school. “We’re just patrolling, anyway. You never got mad last year when I was patrolling with Barnaby.”

Sirius turned back to his books. “No, but Barnaby’s not a Slytherin.” There was silence for a few minutes. “Hey, how come the Slytherins changed their prefects, anyway? That’s not the usual thing, is it?”

“No, it was—“ Severus stopped talking at the sound of pounding feet coming up the stairs. James and Peter burst in a few moments later, panting.

“Whew,” Peter said, falling back across his bed. “That was close.” James snickered. “I’m sorry, guys,” Peter continued, “I couldn’t do it. I was down there, everything was fine, but then Lupin saw me.”

“What, through the cloak?” Sirius’ scepticism showed.

Peter shook his head. “No, no. I’d already transformed and was sitting at the corner. I was mostly worried that Mrs Norris would come by.” The three other boys smiled involuntarily. Peter had had a couple of near misses with the cat late last year. “Thanks mates,” Peter drawled, “you’re no help. Anyway, I was sitting there and waiting and Lupin came out with Pomfrey. I started to follow them and Lupin just turned around and looked at me.”

James sat back on the floor. “You probably made noise or something.”

“I didn’t! I was careful!” Peter sat up so quickly he nearly slid off the bed. He scrambled backwards and up onto to the bed proper. “He didn’t even have to look around. It was creepy. He just swung around and stared right at me. It felt like he already knew where I was.”

Severus stiffened. “Maybe he did hear you.”

“What? I said—“ Peter started, but Severus ploughed right over him.

“In the train compartment, on the way to school, Sirius, do you remember whispering to me?” Sirius shook his head, brow creased. “Well, just when Lupin said we had to go patrol, you whispered to me, something about not going with him. I know you whispered.” He looked around at his friends, all regarding him as if he were speaking nonsense. “Lupin heard you.”

Sirius bit his lip. “You’re saying you think he’s got really good hearing?”

Severus rolled his eyes. “Isn’t that what I said?”

James grinned. “No, mate. You said that Lupin heard Sirius whisper.” Severus glared and threw a pillow at him.

Sirius, however, waved his hands at them dismissively. “No, no. This helps. This means, that if we can figure out how to follow him from a distance, we’re better off.” It was Sirius’ turn to be stared at.

“Sirius,” Severus said, “that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say. How are we better off? Part of the problem is that we keep losing him in the castle.”

Peter chewed on his finger. “The Map’s not ready yet, is it?” James, who’d been working on it most recently, shook his head. “Well, then, why don’t we do some research?”

“On what?” Sirius sounded sullen.

“On when Loony’s sick,” said Peter, as if he were explaining things to a child. “Maybe we can see a pattern. Like, does he get sick after using something in Potions. Did he refuse to touch any of the plants in Herbology? Does he get any specific symptoms? We could look them up in the library.”

~*~

At the prefect’s meeting that week, Severus watched Lupin. He wasn’t sitting with Parkinson; he sat by himself against the back wall of the room. The only person who’d greeted him with more than a single word was Evans. Severus could see Lupin writing in his notebook. Thoughtfully, he leaned his hand on his fist. That was odd, in itself. Was Lupin Muggleborn? Purebloods would have been using parchment.

Severus had hated parchment at first; it seemed to him that notebooks were more sensible. During his first year, however, when he was trying desperately to fit in with his new friends, he forced himself to use parchment and now he couldn’t go back. He did keep a notebook for more private things, but he kept it locked in his truck.

Thinking of his trunk led him to think of the other thing he had locked in it. He still hadn’t found a way to return the book to Sirius. He couldn’t even think of the book around Sirius or he started stammering and blushing. Sirius teased him all the time about it; often in front of James and Peter which meant that Severus couldn’t get him to stop by just asking him to. He really didn’t want to try to explain to his friends that he’d found the book interesting. Sometimes he wished he had never opened the book at all.

Lupin’s hair fell in his eyes, and he tossed his head to move it out of the way. The shadow of his fringe made his eyes darker. Severus could feel his fingers twitch when Lupin’s fringe fell down again. He was almost leaning forward, almost reaching out to brush his hair back when the other boy glanced up.

Lupin looked directly into his eyes, then blinked slowly. He smiled, a small twitch of the corners of his mouth, then turned back to his notebook.

Severus sat up, chest pounding and shivers flowing over his body. What? Why had he smiled like that? The sounds of the other prefects gathering up their bags and supplies made him jump. The meeting was over, and Evans was waiting for him, impatiently.

“Come on, Severus.” She tugged on the sleeve of his robes. “The meeting’s over. Pack up.” Lupin looked as startled as Severus was, and he shoved his things into his bag quickly.

“I’m coming,” he muttered, and stood. “What were they talking about at the end there?”

She glanced up at him, her eyebrows raised. “You weren’t paying attention? Severus Snape, the person who takes more notes than I do?”

He blushed. “I was thinking….”

“Uh huh.” She sounded knowing. “You finally got a girl?”

“Oh.” He shifted on his feet, trying to look less guilty than he thought he must do. “Well—“

Lupin, who’d been behind them on their way out of the room, shoved past them. “Stop blocking the hall,” he snarled and stormed down towards the dungeons.

~*~

Severus was in the library, trying to find the book on healing salves he’d seen Lupin reading. He walked down the aisle slowly, letting his fingers trail along the spines of the books. He scanned the titles on the shelves above his hand, trying to remember if the book had been red or purple…

“Well, I don’t see why we have to take it.” Severus could hear, from around a corner, the nasal tones of Parkinson, the female Slytherin prefect.

Wilkes’ dark voice answered her. “Don’t worry, we won’t have to for long. I’m due to hear from Malfoy any day now and I’m sure he’ll have some thoughts on what to do about this situation.”

“It’s not like we don’t know what Lupin is,” she continued, as if he hadn’t said anything. “And I don’t like having to treat him as if he were—“

“Hey, Severus! Where are you?” Sirius’ voice echoed through the Healing section of the library. Severus saw the two Slytherins shoot looks at each other, then move away.

He stared after them, wishing Sirius could have waited just ten more seconds.

~*~

Lupin was late. They were supposed to meet for the evening’s patrol, and he was late. Severus leaned back against the library doors, irritated. The Slytherin was usually on time or early. Finally, after waiting half an hour, Severus shrugged. He couldn’t wait forever, and the patrol had to get done. Annoying to have to do it alone, but the over the past two weeks, it wasn’t as though Lupin had been a good conversationalist when they were paired off for patrols. In fact, Severus mused, as he checked the fourth floor classrooms, Lupin had been oddly distant and irritable recently.

He was on the fifth floor now, and was systematically checking each room as he passed it. Locked. Locked. Unlocked, but empty. Unlocked, but empty. Locked. Unlocked, but … he heard a sound.

Lifting his wand and preparing a hex, in case he was surprising something dangerous, he slipped into the room and closed the door behind himself. He didn’t cast Lumos; he had read enough books to learn that showing a light where one was, was often simply making oneself a target. Moving carefully, he worked his way around the walls of the room. He could see a bit more on the other side of the room now; the large windows were letting in the light of the moon. He glanced at it: nearly full. Peter had said something at the Halloween feast the week before about if there was some sort of rule against having a full moon on Halloween. Sometimes he thought of the strangest things.

Severus saw a pile of old clothes on the floor under the windows. He relaxed, thinking that the sound he heard must have been rats in the clothes. This classroom hadn’t been used in years, he knew that.

Lumos,” he said. He hated that he’d have to clean up this mess that had been here for so long, but it was part of the job of prefect and he did like having the authority that came with it. If that meant that he’d have to deal with some unpleasantness, he could accept that.

The light flared at the tip of his wand, and he stepped closer to the clothes. They shifted, and he froze. Surely any rats would have run off when he came into the room. He winced. This meant he was dealing with a nest, and the thought of an angry mother rat almost made him decide it wasn’t worth the trouble of cleaning. With a grimace, he moved forward again. There seemed to be an odd shadow under the clothes.

It wasn’t rats. He stood, staring blankly down at the arm, the human arm, lying at his feet. The hand lay palm up, with fingers curved gently, as if the owner were simply asleep. What he’d thought was a shadow was blood, pooling around the body’s shoulders and head.

With a gasp, he realised that whoever this was, was still alive. He’d seen movement. Kneeling down, he carefully reached out and tipped the head over so he could see the person’s face.

It was Wilkes.

Suppressing a shiver, for whatever had done this to the much bigger boy must be something particularly strong, he stood back up and waved his wand.

Mobilicorpus,” he whispered, and, doing his best to keep Wilkes steady, he left the room in search of the infirmary.

~*~

Sirius curled up on his bed, knees drawn up and his chin resting in the slight gap between them. They’d pulled the curtains closed; the other two boys were asleep, and Severus wanted to talk to Sirius.

“How much blood did you say there was?” Sirius reached out and picked up another chip from the plate the house elves had given him. After sliding the length of the fried potato into his mouth, he licked the salt from his fingers and Severus gritted his teeth against the image that he invariably had of Sirius licking something else.

He hoped his friend didn’t know that he kept thinking things like this about him. He knew that it would disgust his friend; Sirius joked about the book, but he was always chasing girls. He’d never be able to understand or forgive Severus for not being interested in girls. Severus couldn’t quite make himself admit, except when he was alone and under his blankets, that he was interested in boys. Over the course of the year, he’d resorted to casting silencing spells around his bed and thinking of the two characters in the book. Every so often, he’d slip and imagine Lupin’s face and his own again, but the rush of shame and horror after would always make him unwilling to do it again. Even if those orgasms were exponentially better than any others he had. Because those orgasms were better. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes against the image of Sirius’ tightly pursed lips and wet tongue swirling around his finger.

“More than I’d think a person could live without,” he responded, hoping his voice didn’t give him away. Maybe Sirius would think it was shaking slightly because of the blood. He was glad he had a pillow over his lap; that way Sirius couldn’t see how his body was reacting.

Sirius’ eyes flashed at him. “So,” he drawled, licking the salt directly off another chip, “you think there might have been another person there?”

Severus closed his eyes. “Yes. If there was another person, though, they weren’t there by the time I got there. And, whoever it was didn’t go to Madam Pomfrey. She was in bed when I got there and none of the beds were filled.” Severus thought about Madam Pomfrey’s reaction and opened his eyes again to see Sirius licking his lips. He bit his own, then continued. “Something odd, though. She seemed surprised to see Wilkes. I mean, not just the usual kind of woken-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night surprised, but something else. She started to work on him, then stopped and hurried me out before doing much of anything.” He thought again. “The one thing she did do to him looked like she was checking him over for something.”

Sirius shifted, so he was lying on his back, his hands on his stomach. Severus did not find the new position a relief at all. His friend’s pyjama top was half unbuttoned, and the bottom edges fell away from each other, exposing Sirius’ stomach. When had he grown hair, Severus wondered, trying to keep his eyes away from the narrow line arrowing its way past Sirius waistband.

Sirius rolled his head to look at Severus. “You know,” he said thoughtfully, “that is odd. That she’d rush you out, I mean. You’re her favourite of the four of us.” His hands moved slowly down his stomach. His fingertips slid just under the waistband of his pyjama bottoms, and he laced his fingers there, pulling the waistband up. Severus closed his eyes again, trying not to look at the interesting shadows at his friend’s hips.

“Um.” He lay himself face down, trying to hide his erection as he turned. He was worried that his nightshirt might not cover everything. He heard a slight gasp as he moved, but hoped it was just a snore from James or Peter. After a moment spent trying to remember where in the conversation they were, he blurted, “She’d not want me to be there for a student who’s not my friend, though.”

“True,” returned Sirius, who clearly wasn’t having any trouble. Severus felt himself writhe in shame. Why was he like this? “Severus? Are you all right?” Sirius’ voice was concerned. “You just …”

Severus’ head dropped. He didn’t want to have this conversation. “I’m… tired,” he finally said, hoping Sirius would take his distracting body and leave.

He didn’t leave. He whispered something too softly for Severus to hear, then shifted. To Severus’ horror, he rolled onto his side and reached out to touch the back of Severus’ head. His hand, warm and strong, stroked down Severus’ hair, along the length of his back, and came to rest on Severus’ arse.

“Sirius!” Severus jack-knifed up and, too late, remembered that he wasn’t wearing pyjamas. His nightshirt flared out, making a gust of cool air shoot up to Severus’ chest. “Sirius,” he whispered harshly, clutching the fabric down and together in front of his hips, “what are you doing?

Sirius sat up slowly, his face tense. “Severus,” he began, not whispering at all, “I thought … did you read that book?”

Severus sat back, confused. “Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do with you … touching me.” He blinked for a moment, then said, “and hush. I don’t want to wake up James or Peter.”

Sirius shook his head. “I’ve cast a distraction charm. They hear us talking about candy.” He shrugged. “It was all I could think of at short notice. Sorry. But, you did read that book.”

Severus nodded.

“Did you like it?” Sirius didn’t wait for an answer. “Only that I’ve read it, and several others. I swear I don’t want to know why my dad had them all. Anyway, I read them and I wanted…” He fell silent, his eyes fixed on a spot just in front of Severus’ toes. “I want…” He groaned and reached out. His fingers stroked down Severus’ chest.

Severus froze. It felt as if he couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. Sirius pulled away, his face falling.

“I guess I was wrong,” he said and moved toward the bed curtains.

“Wait,” Severus gasped against the knot in his throat. “I… you’re not… I mean, I want, too.”

Sirius turned back so quickly he nearly spun all the way around. His face had lit, and Severus marvelled that he looked so happy. Sirius had always been interested in only the prettiest girls, and Severus was under no misapprehensions about his own looks. He wasn’t the worst looking bloke, but compared to Sirius, he was plain.

“Really?” Sirius voice was full of wonder. He moved closer, reached out both hands to cup Severus’ face, and brought his face down for a kiss. Severus was still, not knowing what he should do. Sirius’ lips were soft, and warm, and then they parted to allow his tongue to slide across Severus’ mouth.

Gasping, Severus leaned in. His gasp had allowed Sirius’ tongue to slide into his mouth, and Severus nearly melted at the sensation of his friend’s tongue twining against his own.

Sirius slowly brought his body to rest against Severus’. Severus could feel his arms lifting, wrapping around the other boy’s waist. He hoped this wouldn’t be too much. Some small part of his mind thought of the things he’d read about Tarant and Altaire doing and he moaned. Would they do that?

Sirius moaned in reply and toppled the two of them over onto their sides on the bed. His hands slid under Severus’ night shirt, and Severus forgot to think.

~*~

Severus woke up late the next day. He rolled over, curling up around his pillow, then shot up in bed, staring around. Had he really … with Sirius? He sat back slowly, still clutching the pillow to his chest. Sirius had kissed him and then touched him and … he could feel his body reacting to the memories.

Sirius stuck his head through the bed curtains, grinning. “You’re awake. I don’t know how you sleep so hard.” Suddenly he blushed and Severus grinned back, eyebrow raised.

“Hi,” he said softly. “Um.” Suddenly he realised he had no idea what to say. “Did I miss breakfast?” Sirius didn’t seem upset, so clearly that hadn’t been the worst thing to say. Severus let go a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding when Sirius pulled his head back and yelled something at Peter.

Severus rooted around in the sheets, found his nightshirt and pulled it on. Maybe if he hurried, he could still get toast for breakfast. He wanted bacon, but that might be too much to hope for.

That afternoon, the four of them sat under the birch trees near the lake, laughing and talking. It had snowed earlier in the week, but James conjured a comfortable sofa with pillows and blankets for them to sit on. He’d offered to conjure one for Evans, but she’d tossed her hair at him and called him a berk. They were the only ones who stayed outside more than an hour; there had been some third years playing snowballs, but they’d gone in for lunch. Severus was a little uncomfortable at first; Sirius had sprawled out across half the sofa and pulled him down so his legs were across Sirius’ lap. He’d then thrown a blanket over them and proceeded to tease James about Evans’ continued resistance to his charms.

After half an hour of being stiff and anxious, Severus saw that James and Peter didn’t notice anything different and he relaxed.

Night fell early, and, as they stood up to go in for dinner, they saw two figures hurrying away in the opposite direction, towards the Forbidden Forest. As Severus gathered up the blankets, the bright light from the full moon, behind the clouds, shimmered on the light brown hair of the person in the lead. It almost looked like Lupin, but as he was always vocal in prefect’s meetings about following the rules regarding curfew, it couldn’t be him.

Severus followed his friends to the castle. He was hungry and a hot dinner sounded wonderful.

~*~

Sunday found them deep in the library, at one of the study tables in the back, working on the Map. Peter was running down a list of rooms on each floor, and James was confirming that they had each room inked in. Severus had pulled out all the books on Animated Ink he could find, even the one with the pages one had to turn with tongs or else the letters swarmed up off the page and onto the skin of whoever was reading it. Sirius had his chair tipped back and was idly scanning a book on secrecy spells.

“Hey,” he said, “this one is cool. It says that if you do this spell,” he flipped a few pages ahead, “huh, pretty complex, anyway, it says that if you do this one, someone could be looking in your window and not see you. Pretty cool, huh?”

Peter nodded absently. “Sure, Sirius. What’s it called?”

Fidelius.” He read down the page. “Says here it ‘hides a secret inside the Secret Keeper’s soul’.”

James looked up, eyes snapping irritably over his glasses. “Sirius. We need something to use on the Map, not proof that you’ve sold your soul in order to get more sweets. Keep looking and stop getting distracted.”

Sirius grumbled, but settled down.

Some time later, Severus closed his latest book and rubbed his eyes. “Well, I think the books don’t have it. I’ll have to make one myself. Maybe Professor Slughorn will let me do it as a special project.”

“That reminds me,” Sirius said brightly, “are you going to the next Slug Club Party? Do you need an invitation?”

Severus blinked at him. “I’m already invited to the party.” What was Sirius playing at?

James glared over. “Sirius, if you’re just going to be distracted, why don’t you do something useful and see if you can figure out how to get some food in here. It’s past lunch and Pince’ll flay us if she sees anyone but you bring the food in.”

Sirius glowered, but looked pleased at the thought that he was irresistible. He started off, then swung back around. “Wait. Are you saying she fancies me?” His three friends sniggered at his horrified look.

After he came back, pockets loaded down with a veritable mountain of food, he picked up where he’d left off.

“See, I need a date to the party, and you don’t have one yet,” he looked over at Severus. “You don’t, do you?” Severus shook his head, wordlessly. “Right. So, let’s both of us go together. Without dates. See, so it works perfectly. And I won’t need to try to peel any damned birds off me for weeks after because they think that one snog or date means that I’m their boyfriend or something.”

Severus felt his eyes widen and he looked away quickly. He could see, through the shelves, someone hunting for a book in one of the aisles nearby. The other student turned the corner and froze on seeing them. It was Lupin. As Severus watched, he moved carefully backwards and disappeared between the shelves again.

Severus’ brows drew together. Lupin had bandages on. Some on his arms, and he’d just seen one peeking out over the neck of Lupin’s robes.

“What is it?” Sirius poked him. Severus turned quickly, eyes still wide, but now with curiosity about the bandages. What could have happened to the other boy? Could it have anything to do with Wilkes?

Sirius’ eyes widened at Severus’ look. “Hey,” he whispered, leaning in close, his breath tickling Severus’ neck, “I didn’t mean that thing about snogging not meaning we’re boyfriends. I… I just want to go with you, okay? Even if we can’t go, you know, really together.”

Severus stared at him, all thoughts of Lupin flying out of his head. “What?” he whispered back. He glanced across the table, concerned that their friends might have heard. James had set up his chicken bones as Quidditch posts and he and Peter were making bits of paper fly back and forth like players. Peter had a pretty good Chaser. As he started to turn back to Sirius, he saw, in the stacks, Lupin holding his arm and staring at the gradually reddening bandage.

“I’ll go,” he said and started to stand up.

Sirius grabbed his arm. “Where are you going?”

Severus pointed. “Lupin’s in trouble. I’ve got to get him to infirmary.”

Sirius’ face twisted. “You’d rather be with that arse than with me—with us?”

Severus froze, his insides clenching. Why was Sirius acting like this? He had to help the other boy; he was a prefect, and it was clear that Lupin shouldn’t be out of the hospital wing. He turned back to Sirius and bent down. “No, you prat,” he snapped, forgetting himself and speaking out loud, “I’d rather be here with you, but I have to do the job I was given. I’m a prefect, and that means I have to help students when they’re in trouble. I’d send him with a friend, but he doesn’t have any, so I have to do it myself.” He turned again, to see that Lupin had heard him.

He was standing, arm clenched to his chest, face white and eyes burning. “Don’t bother,” he said sharply, and turned away.

“Oh go and be a prefect,” groused Sirius, but his voice was no longer angry, just grumbly in the way it got when he was pretending to be upset.

~*~

That night, Sirius slipped into Severus’ bed and, after one horrible awkward moment, pulled Severus into a hard kiss. Severus had left his nightshirt off, in wild hope that Sirius wanted to do that with him again. It hadn’t been everything that Altaire and Tarant had done, but he thought that maybe they could work their way up to more.

~*~

Severus waited until Professor Slughorn was busy talking to someone on the far side of the room before he reached into his bag. He pulled out a jar and dropped it gently on the table in front of Lupin.

“Here,” he said, in a low voice and keeping at least one eye on the plump form of their teacher. “I made it last year; it’s still good.”

Lupin eyed him coldly. “You can’t think I’d trust anything that any of you Gryffindors made, do you?”

Severus stared at him. “It’s a salve that will help you when you get cuts or scrapes. I made extra because Peter is always cutting himself and I wanted to stop having to bother Madam Pomfrey.” He pushed the jar closer to Lupin. “This is yours. If you throw it out, that’s your choice. I just…don’t want to see those welts anymore.” He could see one now, in fact, raw skin showing on the back of Lupin’s hand. He tried not to think of how horrible the scarring must be if Lupin refused to go to Madam Pomfrey or at least keep the bandages on. “Don’t you know the bandages can’t do any good if you take them off?”

Lupin shrugged, his face now a study of confusion. “It’s not really important. I’ll heal.” He tugged his sleeve down a bit.

Severus checked again for Professor Slughorn’s whereabouts.

“I can make you something to minimise the scars, if you like,” he offered to the cauldronful of fluid they were working on together. Lupin’s face darkened back into suspicion and Severus rushed on. “It’s not difficult. I used to help my mam—I mean, I helped out at home.”

Lupin looked at him, studied him, and Severus remembered the rush of light he’d seen when he had transformed into The Prince for the first time. Slowly he nodded. “I’d like something to help with scars. Can you,” he looked away, “could you teach me how to make it?”

Severus grinned, not thinking about why he was happy to be spending more time with Lupin.

~*~

Patrolling the next night was more fun than Severus had expected. The evening had begun badly, with Peter in a bad mood about one of his classes and Sirius being irritable about Severus’ patrolling schedule. It took half an hour of conversation with Sirius before Severus felt like he could go on patrol, and he was out of sorts as he walked to the library to meet Lupin. It wasn’t like Sirius to be quite this irritable all the time. He knew that the time he spent with Lupin always made Sirius angry, but it seemed to be getting worse.

Thinking of Lupin brought to mind the horrible welts and wounds the other boy kept getting. Severus knew what they studied in Care of Magical Creatures and he didn’t think it made sense for only Lupin to be getting injured in class. He wasn’t even sure that Lupin was taking Care of Magical Creatures; who wanted to have an OWL in animals or beasts, anyway? He wondered what Lupin wanted to do after school.

He was beginning to think that he could work for a potions manufacturer, developing new potions or working on better systems for older ones. He thought he would make an appointment with his Head of House to see if she had any information he could use; she’d been very clear with him at the beginning of the year that the sooner he started to specialise, the easier it would be for him to get a job later.

Lupin was already at the library doors, waiting for him. He smiled tentatively as Severus approached, and Severus was struck by how rarely he’d seen the other boy smile. This made him wonder what Lupin had to smile about, if he had anything to smile about; sometimes when Severus looked at Lupin’s arms, he still saw the trails of blood he’d seen that horrible night when he’d seen all the Slytherin boys in the old classroom together. Lupin’s smile faded and Severus’ mood darkened. Now Lupin wouldn’t smile at him at all? What was wrong?

“Ah,” Lupin said, after they’d patrolled down one corridor and were beginning a second, “are you upset about something? If you don’t want to teach me how to make that scar potion, you don’t have to, you know. I can find one in the books.”

Severus shot him a confused look. “I do want to teach you. It’s not hard to learn it, and it’s not one you’ll find in the books. My mam found it in one of her parents’ books before she was kic—before she left.” He stopped walking and faced Lupin. “Why? Are you rethinking whether or not you can trust a Gryffindor?”

Lupin kept his face pointed down the corridor. “You just look,” he gestured vaguely, “I dunno, angry or something. I thought it must have to do with me.”

Severus grinned, then chuckled, then burst out laughing. “It does have to do with you, actually.” Lupin’s face fell, and Severus hurried on. “I was thinking that you never smile.”

Lupin turned, smiling at him and trying to hide it. “I do so smile. Just not at Gryffindor prats like you.” He assumed a haughty pose, with his nose tilted up into the air. “We Slytherins have to ensure that the recipients of our largesse of smiles and pleasantries are worthy of the honour of receiving them.”

Severus rolled his eyes, laughing. “Yeah, whatever.” He started walking again, and Lupin trotted after him.

“You don’t really smile much more than I do, you know,” he said.

They finished the patrol early, having rattled through several corridors trying to see who could get to the end fastest. Severus made Lupin go back twice because he’d simply been locking the doors without checking to see if anyone was inside. Lupin’s rolled eyes at Severus’ insistence that he’d been cheating set Severus laughing again.

They ended up on the seventh floor, around the corner from the Fat Lady. They had been discussing the latest Defence teacher’s lecture on vampires, when Severus heard the creaking sound from the Gryffindor portrait opening. He reached out and covered Lupin’s mouth with his hand.

“Wait,” he whispered. Lupin’s eyes were wide above his hand, and Severus snatched it back quickly. “Sorry.”

Standing, he crept to the corner and peeked around. A pair of third year girls huddled together, giggling. His shoulders relaxed, and, striding forward, he snapped, “You are out after curfew. Get back inside.” He paused, waiting for the moment when the girls had begun to relax. “Now!” he shouted, enjoying their jumps of fear. Tumbling over themselves and apologising, they scrambled back in through the portrait, the last one in leaving it slightly open. Severus shook his head and closed it, nodding companionably at the Fat Lady.

Lupin was right where he’d left him, still staring down the corridor. Severus sighed as he sat back down. “Were we ever that young?” he asked.

“What,” Lupin’s voice cracked, and he coughed. “What was it?”

Severus opened his mouth to say, then realised that Lupin didn’t know about the Fat Lady being the door to Gryffindor. “Oh, um.” He frantically searched for something to say, then settled on the truth. “Just some third years, out after curfew.”

Lupin eyed him. “You didn’t take points?”

“Forgot to,” Severus told his knees as he drew them up so he could wrap his arms around his legs. “I was wondering,” he said, desperately trying to find something to distract Lupin with, and simply saying the first thing that came to mind, “if you agree with Professor Schicksal that werewolves are worse than vampires because you can’t tell if a person is one.”

To Severus’ confusion, Lupin went white. His eyes glowed in the torchlight, reflecting the light back like a cat’s eyes. Then, he blinked and shuddered. “I have to go.” He sounded dead, and Severus was even more baffled. They’d been talking, just as if they could be friends. He didn’t know why, but he wanted to be friends with the Slytherin, despite the fact that he was a Slytherin.

“Why?” What had changed?

Lupin stood, not looking at Severus. “I don’t need your help with the scar potion. Just give me the recipe and I’ll do it on my own.”

Severus stood up slowly. “I don’t have it with me,” he said, hoping to keep Lupin there long enough to persuade him say what was wrong. “I don’t want to give you the wrong ingredients.” He held himself very still, feeling as if there was something else happening, some other conversation that was going on under the one he thought he was having. “And I want to help you.”

Lupin started to walk away. “I don’t need help, Gryffindor.

Severus stood in the empty hall, feeling dizzy.

~*~

Severus didn’t see Lupin again until Friday afternoon in Potions. He had the list of ingredients written out, but he was determined to refuse to give it to Lupin until he went back to their original deal. Frustratingly, they’d made it through half the class and Lupin still hadn’t said a word to him.

Finally fed up, he leaned over the cauldron. “Lupin,” he whispered, “if you want that potion, I’ll meet you tomorrow night after curfew in the empty room on the seventh floor behind that giant vase with the dancing Greek boys.”

Lupin smirked. “You only see them dancing?” He raised an eyebrow at Severus. “I’d have thought, with your friends, you’d have seen the rest of it by now.”

Severus was so relieved that Lupin was speaking to him again that he ignored the attempt at an insult. “I’ve better ways to spend my time that watching painted boys do anything, actually. Will you meet me?”

Lupin nodded slowly, watching Severus’ face. Severus tried to keep his expression neutral, but thought he must be failing miserably because something changed in Lupin’s expression. For a moment, it looked as if he was in pain, or as if he was happy… Severus couldn’t tell which was right.

Lupin glanced down at their cauldron, and flinched. It was almost boiling over. He reached for the ladle to stir the potion, then gasped and dropped it. Severus, whose gaze had followed Lupin’s, snatched it up and stirred the potion quickly. “Are you all right? Is your hand still hurting?”

Lupin nodded, but Severus noticed that he wouldn’t meet his eyes. He’d get it all out of the other boy tomorrow night, he resolved.

~*~

After dinner, Severus sat down in the common room and pulled out his Transfiguration notes. There was a quiz coming and he knew he hadn’t studied enough. Peter wandered down next, dragging a bag with Transfiguration and Muggle Studies books in it. He settled down in an armchair across from Severus and began to make notes on a parchment balanced precariously on the arm of the chair. After a moment, he said, “Wait. Is it Vervaine or Vetiver smoke that promotes cross-species transfigurations?”

“Vetiver,” replied Severus, re-reading his own notes. After several quiet minutes, he looked up. “Where’re the others?”

Peter yawned. “Shouldn’t have had that last tart. Upstairs, I think. I know Sirius is, at least. James is around.” He craned his neck and scanned the room. “There he is.”

Severus glanced over and saw James messy head hovering over a glint of bright red hair. “Is he never going to give that up?”

Peter laughed. Then, after a thoughtful moment, he said, “We’re doing it tonight, right?”

Severus, eyes sparkling, nodded.

~*~

“Are you sure we’re ready?” Peter was sitting under the windows in the same deserted classroom they’d used to transform for the first time. The parchments that they were enchanting to become the Map were arranged in the centre of the room.

James, kneeling near the parchment which depicted the basement and dungeons, flicked a short glance up at him. “I’m sure, Sirius is sure, Severus is sure. Why are you still worried?”

Severus was hunched over a small cauldron, watching the liquid in it carefully. He’d devised a potion to animate the ink for their security system, but it had to be watched. If it boiled in the first brewing, it was ruined. After it was finished brewing, it could sit for several hours. He added the last of the tiger lily root and sat back. It needed to simmer for half an hour, but he could leave it now. “You know we’ve studied this for over a year now, Peter. It’ll be fine.”

“I think it’s time to finish it.” Sirius looked up from his notes and flashed a grin up at Peter. “You’re just worried that there won’t be any more work for you to have us do. There’s more work. We’ll be using this to help us the next time we go Loony Lupin hunting.”

Peters eyes glittered, and he joined the group. “Right. What do we do first again?”

Two hours later, most of the parchment had disappeared, leaving just their notes and a rather large piece of parchment covered in complex lines and art. The four boys sat back and grinned tiredly at each other.

“We did it!” Sirius fell over backward and threw his arms out to the side, landing one in Severus’ lap. “We finished it. Now we can see where everyone is!”

“If it works,” Peter muttered. They all leaned forward over the Map, staring. They could see dots, so small as to be almost invisible… there was a tiny dot labelled Mrs Norris on the second floor. It wasn’t moving, and Severus assumed that meant she was asleep for the night. Horace Slughorn was in the first year Slytherin dormitories. Minerva McGonagall was in Rolanda Hooch’s quarters, in the sitting room. Four miniscule dots crowded together in a small classroom ….

“There we are,” whispered Severus. They’d done it. He rubbed his eyes for a moment, then stood up. “Well, did any of you manage to think of what you want to use as a password?”

James stood, stretched and went to the window. “I couldn’t think of anything.”

Sirius snorted. “By which he means that all he could think of was Lily Evans and rightfully gave up.” James crossed his arms and didn’t respond.

“I don’t know,” Peter said, “it needs to be something that we can remember and something that other people won’t guess.”

Severus, who hadn’t been able to think of anything that he knew would work, yawned. “We have to pick something now, or I’ll have to make the potion again and I don’t want to. It was enough to make it once.”

Sirius beamed around at his friends. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

“Yes, Sirius,” Severus said, trying not to sound as impatient as he was feeling, “but have you thought of a password?”

“I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” Sirius repeated, still grinning. “And I thought we could use ‘Mischief Managed’ as a way to, you know, seal it up again.”

Severus buried his face in his hands, groaning. “That’s the longest password I’ve ever heard.”

“But you have to admit that it’ll never be guessed.”

James turned back to the group. “I think it’s brilliant,” he said. “No one will ever guess!” Peter nodded, and Severus shook his head in bemusement.

“Well, then, it’s time to do the last bit of the spell work.” He tapped the low flames under the cauldron with his wand, making them larger. “Come over here; I’ll need blood from all of us.” He carefully dripped three drops from each of them into the potion, then circled his wand in the steam. The liquid shivered, then turned black. “This is it. Bring me the Map.”

With delicate strokes, he painted the black potion onto both sides of the parchment. Almost holding his breath, he tapped the centre of the parchment, then waved the others to do the same. When all four had tapped, he whispered, “Abditum.

The black fluid sizzled, as if it had been heated suddenly, then it faded, revealing a blank parchment. Trembling slightly, Severus reached out and tapped his wand in the centre of the parchment and whispered, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

As if a bottle of ink had been dropped onto the surface of the parchment, little black lines radiated outward from the tip of Severus’ wand, zooming to the edges of the parchment, and filling themselves in. In a moment the castle revealed itself.

The Map was done.

~*~

That night, Sirius crept into Severus’ bed. He whispered the privacy spell, and slid under the blankets easily. Severus reached out, hands hungry for Sirius’ smooth skin.

“Come here, you,” whispered Sirius, reaching for him at the same time. Sirius slid his fingers over Severus chest slowly, starting at his shoulders, sliding along his collarbones, then splaying his hands out and rubbing his palms down the centre of Severus’ chest. His grey eyes intent, he moved one hand and rubbed back and forth slightly over the dark pink nub he found.

Severus gasped and arched his back. “Oh,” he sighed, “I…you know I like that.”

“Yes,” Sirius said, his voice thick and dark. “I do.” He bent his head to taste the spot he’d been rubbing and Severus was lost to sensation.

Later, as Sirius slowly fitted himself in the warm angle of Severus’ spread legs, he leaned down and kissed Severus again. Their tongues met in a slow dance of thrust and counter thrust, making Sirius moan. He pulled away, eyes wild.

“You’ll have to tell me if this hurts,” he said, voice tight. “I don’t want to hurt you.” He whispered something and Severus felt himself relax; it felt as if Sirius had rubbed something warm and creamy between Severus’ legs. He could almost feel ghost fingers rubbing him there and he writhed, rubbing his hips against Sirius’.

Shaking, Sirius pressed in, moving slowly and continuously. Severus panted at the feeling, the stretch and overwhelming invasion. He went still, concentrating on the sparkles and tingles he felt. Sirius froze as soon as Severus stilled, teeth clenched.

“Am I hurting you?”

Severus opened his eyes, looking up at his best friend. “No,” he replied, “it doesn’t hurt exactly, but it’s—“ his eyes came unfocussed as he tried to find the words to describe how it felt. “You can keep going.” Experimentally, he shifted his hips upward and was rewarded by a strangled gasp from Sirius.

They began moving, each to his own rhythm. Severus knew that there was supposed to be a mystical connection, or at least Altaire and Tarant had felt one the first time they’d made love, but he was pleased just to be doing it. It was different, better, than what he’d expected. It didn’t hurt, not at all. In fact, he felt his body tightening, his hips shifting faster, until he couldn’t hold it any more and the heat and light pooled in his groin, then shot to his head and made him blind to anything except the stars he saw and Sirius’ shining grey eyes. Above him, Sirius stiffened, teeth biting almost through his lip. His back arched and Severus watched eagerly as a look of pure joy flitted across his face.

Sirius collapsed across Severus, his head landing on Severus’ shoulder. “That was brilliant,” he said hoarsely.

The two boys fell asleep still tangled together.

~*~

Sirius had already left the bed the next morning, and Severus thought he should be pleased by that. He didn’t want to have to try to explain to James and Peter why he and Sirius were in bed together, naked. He stretched, feeling the way his body ached in new and exciting places. Smiling, he clambered out of bed and got dressed for the day.

At breakfast, he was surprised to see an owl land in front of him and offer him a letter. He had sent a hamper to his mam a week or so earlier, and the school owl had brought back a letter. She’d been excited about a new customer, and had sent along a sketch of the back garden. He didn’t know anyone outside of school who’d be writing to him.

The owl clacked its beak at him and he tugged the scroll off its leg. With a yellow glare, it snatched up three pieces of bacon and flew off to the owlry.

“That’s not a school owl,” said Peter, mouth half full of potatoes.

Severus shook his head, ripping open the letter. Something dropped heavily onto the table but he ignored it in favour of reading what his mam had written. “She’s got two more new customers and has quit the mill. And she’s bought that owl,” he glanced up in the direction it had flown, “she says it came with a name already. Hesper.” He read further. “She might be buying a greenhouse, one that’s bigger on the inside; she says she doesn’t know how she’ll keep up with demand otherwise.” He sat back, smiling at the letter. His mam, prosperous. She’d bought an owl.

He turned to James. “This is because of your parents, isn’t it?” James, who’d been staring across the room, blinked at him curiously.

“I guess.” He shrugged. “My parents just do things on their own. I didn’t ask them to do this, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

Severus shook his head. “No, I wanted to say thank you.” He waved the letter, trying not to show how much this affected him. “Maybe I should write to your parents. I’ll ask my mam what she thinks.” He gathered up the letter, stuffed a last piece of toast into his mouth and scooped up the thing that had fallen out of the letter. It was a small bag with money in it. Sinking back down to the bench seat, he poured the coins out into his palm. A note fell out with them.

Here’s some money for you to have for shopping for Christmas presents. I expect something nice.
Love, Mam

His hand closed over the coins, and he looked up. Sirius was grinning at him.

“I expect something nice, too,” he said.

~*~

The four boys spent the short winter day in their common room, studying or talking. Severus had sent Hesper back with a thank you note and a question about whether he should thank the Potters.

It wasn’t until dinner that he realised that he was supposed to meet Lupin, and he’d have to lie to his friends if he wanted to do it. He couldn’t just tell Sirius that he was going to go out and make a potion with someone that Sirius hated. He looked over at the Slytherin table. Lupin was sitting at the end nearest the door. The table was crowded and boisterous, but no one seemed to be including Lupin at all. As he watched, he saw that the other kids were even leaving an empty seat between themselves and Lupin.

From this distance, he realised, he could see the other boy’s scars. There was one across his nose and right cheek, and it looked like the scrape on the back of his hand was finally healing. Good. He was using the healing salve.

James shoved him, and Severus spun, angry at having been pushed.

“I asked you,” James said, glaring back, “if you’ve got patrol tonight. ‘Cause we were thinking of running around, you know, out, if you don’t.” He made horns with his hands and held them to his head.

Severus started to say that he didn’t have to patrol, but he stopped quickly. “Yes, I do have patrol. With Barnaby, actually. I didn’t—I wasn’t on the schedule, but one of the other prefects couldn’t do it, so I have to do her shift.” He was proud of himself for remembering, and for coming up with such a good lie.

James grumbled, but Severus could see that Peter wasn’t really disappointed at not going outside as a rat. Interestingly enough, even though Sirius had been the one of them who really wanted to learn how to be an Animagus, he wasn’t the one who wanted to transform most often. James would sometimes just transform right in their room, simply to ‘feel the stag’, he said. Severus tried to leave the dorm when he did that; he found it annoying to have a great big stag in the room. It didn’t fit well, and several times, Severus had found his bed curtains torn from having Prongs’ antlers getting caught in them.

He packed his bag carefully, trying to hide how he felt. He didn’t want to make his friends curious about this patrol. He knew that when he’d first gotten the prefect badge, his friends had snuck out of the dorm and followed him about under James’ invisibility cloak.

He couldn’t afford to have any of his friends sneaking after him today. He knew that none of them would understand why he was helping Lupin. He wasn’t even sure, himself, why he was helping. He liked the way he felt around the other boy. The times they’d studied together, he found that Lupin made him think about the classes, the information, more than anyone else he knew. He felt as though he were smarter after spending time with Lupin.

He shrunk his bag and put it in the pocket of his robes, then, trotting downstairs, he waved at his friends and crawled out of the portrait hole.

Taking a deep breath after closing the Fat Lady behind him, he moved quietly down the corridor. He turned a corner, passed the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy, and walked briskly to the door near the giant vase. He was early, but his lie meant he had to leave at the time he’d normally go on patrol. He had stuffed a book in his bag to read while he waited for Lupin.

To his surprise, Lupin was already in the room. He was sitting on a tall stool at a table covered in dust. He looked up sharply when Severus opened the door. It looked as if he were happy to see Severus, but then his expression smoothed out into neutrality so quickly Severus thought he must have been mistaken.

“Well,” Lupin said, “I’m here. Can I have the recipe?” He slid off the stool and held his hand out.

“What?” Severus had almost forgot that Lupin thought that he was just going to hand over the recipe. “No, I’m going to help you. I told you.” He pulled his bag from his pocket, started to set it down on the table but then yanked it up again. “Scourgify,” he muttered, dropping his bag onto the now-clean table. Not looking up, he began pulling supplies out, setting them out in order.

Lupin stared at him, and Severus glared at him. “What?”

“You,” Lupin started, “why are you doing this? I don’t want you—I can make it on my own.” He crossed his arms and glared back.

Severus’ eyes fell. “My mam helped me make it the first time. It’s trickier than it looks like on paper.”

Lupin nodded slowly. “All right. Show me, then.”

Severus relaxed inwardly. It could have gone wrong, Lupin could have insisted that he just hand over the recipe and be done with it. “First,” he said, pulling his mam’s handwritten recipe closer, “we have to chop the firewort.”

Lupin sighed, picked up the knife that Severus had brought and asked, “How small do the chunks need to be?”

An hour later, the two boys stood talking, while the steam rose off the viscous liquid as it cooled in the small cauldron. Severus had rolled his sleeves up, and was gesturing widely.

“See,” he turned so his back was to Lupin, “if you add in the variable here,” he pointed to an empty spot in the air, “then the whole equation changes. You have to know what you want the equation to … to point to, before you put in the variable.” He looked over his shoulder to see Lupin smiling at him. “What?” Self-consciously, he dropped his arms.

“Nothing,” Lupin smiled. “I just—you’re the only person I’ve ever met who can get so enthusiastic about things like Directional Arithmancy. It’s nice.” He blushed and glanced down at the cauldron. “Should we be doing something with this?”

Severus glanced at it. “Oh. We could bottle it, I guess. It’s about cool enough. Here,” he reached into his bag again and pulled out three jars, a quill and some labels. “Do you have any ink with you?”

Lupin rummaged through his own bag, but came up empty. “I’m sorry. Uh, I’ll try to remember the name of it until I get back downstairs.”

Severus waved that off. “I’ve got some, I’m sure of it.” Dumping his bag out, he shoved things around until he found a small bottle of ink. Without thinking about it, and without checking to see what kind of ink it was, he dipped his quill and wrote out three labels with Eileen’s Scar Minimiser on them. He reached to put the stopper back in the ink bottle and paused. He’d used the last of the animated ink from the Map. For one moment, he teetered on the edge of telling Lupin to just remember the name but then he relaxed. It wasn’t as if someone would be tapping the labels with wands, anyway.

Lupin had been reading over his shoulder. “Eileen? Is that your mum?”

Severus nodded, jaw tight. He didn’t want to have a conversation about his family. He knew that Slytherins hated half-bloods and mudbloods. He didn’t want to find out that Lupin felt the same way. “Yes,” he returned, as shortly as he could without sounding too rude.

“My mum’s name is Janice,” Lupin offered, smiling at him. “My dad’s dead.”

Severus sucked in his breath. “Mine, too.”

To his surprise, Lupin’s face became sad. “I’m so sorry,” he said softly. “Did it happen recently? Are you still upset about it?”

Severus blinked. “Did what happen recently?” What on earth was Lupin talking about?

“Your dad.” Lupin had moved closer and when Severus glanced down, he could see that Lupin’s hand was right next to his on the table. All he’d have to do was move his hand a couple of inches and he could be touching Lupin’s hand. His chest tightened, and he tried to put the distracting images away. He and Sirius were, well, something.

“You are still upset, aren’t you?” Lupin put a hand on Severus’ shoulder and Severus jumped. He’d been so distracted by how near Lupin had been, that he’d not only forgotten what they were talking about, he’d missed the fact that Lupin had come even closer.

“No! No,” Severus looked down and tried to sidle away. “I’m not upset. Really. He was an arse and he used to hit my mam.” Realising what he’d said, he closed his eyes to hide from the inevitable revulsion that Lupin would show when he thought about what he’d said.

“He hit your mum?” Lupin sounded horrified, and Severus knew it was because he’d figured out that he was a half-blood. He started to turn away, keeping his eyes closed, when he felt Lupin’s hand on his cheek, turning him back. “Severus,” and Lupin’s voice was so soft that Severus almost couldn’t hear it. “Did he hit you?” He bent a little, and Severus realised that the Slytherin was taller than he. “You can tell me, it’s okay. Did he hurt you?”

Severus’ eyes popped open. “You’re not—he wasn’t a wizard,” he blurted, confused and perversely excited by Lupin’s hand on his face.

Lupin nodded. “Yes, I understood that.” His face twisted. “Wizards use their wands, after all.” Severus’ vision filled with the image of Lupin, who was so friendly and smart, Lupin covered in cuts and dripping with blood.

“The potion,” he gasped. “Your scars. I want to show you,” he struggled for a moment, then Lupin’s hand dropped. The other boy’s expression had gentled even more, and Severus couldn’t look at him. This boy had been beaten, worse than beaten, and he was concerned about Severus? None of this made sense. Slytherins hated half-bloods, they all believed that pure-bloods were better. They didn’t care about the other Houses, they only took care of their own.

But they weren’t taking care of Lupin, not at all. Severus turned, his face set. If no one would take care of this boy, he would. He could rescue someone. He scooped a small fingerful of the potion from the cauldron and reached for Lupin’s arm. “Here, let me have that.”

Slowly, Lupin extended his arm but then he grinned and pulled it back. “I think I need to roll up my sleeve a bit,” he said lightly. When half his forearm was exposed, he reached out for Severus again. Severus spread the salve on the scar and began to work it in.

“It has to all be massaged in, like this. If you leave any of it on the surface of your skin, it won’t be able to work and it’ll take longer for your scars to fade.” He smoothed the salve along Lupin’s arm, trying not to think about how strong his arm felt, even though it was shockingly thin.

He glance up and froze at Lupin’s expression. The other boy was staring at him, his eyes wide and glowing. Severus couldn’t identify the emotions playing over Lupin’s face. Severus gasped, and dropped Lupin’s hand. He had completely forgotten that he was holding it. “See,” he said, “the scar’s almost gone.” Lupin’s gaze dropped to his arm and he gaped.

“You—wow. That’s amazing.” He turned his arm from side to side, watching the light reflecting off his arm. “Thank you.” He smiled at Severus.

“I’ll fill these jars,” Severus said, after several quiet moments, “and then I think it’s time to go back. Let me know if you need more, and we can meet here again.”

Lupin nodded, seeming to be suddenly in a rush to leave. He stuffed his things back in his bag, tossed it over his shoulder and stepped to the door. He turned back for a second, flashed Severus a brilliant grin, and then was gone.

~*~

Severus crept into his dorm, listening carefully to the sounds in the room. He could hear James snoring slightly and saw Peter’s foot sticking out of the blankets. He couldn’t see Sirius, but his friend liked to sleep with the curtains pulled, so he wouldn’t have been able to see him anyway. As silently as possible, he put his bag down and tugged his robes over his head.

Moving quickly, he slid between his own drawn bed-curtains. He found Sirius there, awake and glaring, with the Map spread out in front of him.

~*~

Severus sat in Potions, staring into his cauldron, wishing he was someone else; someone who could figure these things out, someone who wasn’t so stupid. He reached for the crushed doxy wings, but jerked back when Lupin’s hand got there first. Lupin was looking at him, had been watching him for the entire class period. Severus refused to look up. He was here to make this potion, even if it was one he and his mam had worked on and improved. He resolutely followed the instructions chalked on the board and didn’t look anywhere but at his cauldron or his hands.

It wouldn’t help, but at least it couldn’t make things any worse.

To be honest, he couldn’t think of anything that could make things worse.

~*~

Eating meals was a struggle. He still sat near his friends; James and Peter spoke to him and cracked jokes, but there was an echoing, empty space between him and Sirius. A space he had no idea how to fill.

He finished his lunch and stood to leave. To his surprise, Sirius called his name. Severus stifled the spike of hope and anger that shot through him and turned, lifting an eyebrow.

“I just wanted to know,” Sirius said in a too-casual voice, “if you’re up for some activity tonight. I mean—if you want to come with us. We’re thinking of going, you know,” he winked, and Severus could see that he was trying to pretend that there was nothing wrong, “out. Just the four of us.”

Severus nodded, pleased that he was finally included again. “Ah,” he said, sinking back down into his seat, “what were you planning on doing?”

James grinned. “Peter thinks he’s found a new tunnel, one we haven’t put in the Map, and we thought we’d check it out.”

Severus nodded. That sounded like something they would enjoy doing. He nodded again. “I’m in. When are we doing it? Only, I have to study this afternoon for a test in class.” He saw Sirius’ eyes darken and winced. “Not Potions,” he blurted, “in Arithmancy.”

Sirius shifted, and stared down at his plate. “We thought we’d go after curfew.”

“Do you have patrol?” Peter chimed in. “You don’t have to cover for someone else again, do you?”

Sirius flinched. James leaned across the table, knocking over a goblet. In the ensuing chaos, Severus saw Sirius shoot James a grateful look. He sighed.

“I’ve got to get to the library.” He stood back up and waved, feeling stupid. He didn’t used to have to wave goodbye; they used to come with him.

In the library, he settled in and began taking notes. He had permission to take out some books from the Restricted Section, and he wanted to get as much note-taking done as possible. If he was going to be The Prince tonight, he needed to get more work done now. He’d not have any time for it later.

He had almost forgot everything except the Arithmancy he was studying when someone sat down next to him and moved a stack of books.

“Hey,” a soft voice said, “what are you studying?”

He looked up to see Lupin’s face, amber eyes shining in the late winter sunshine streaming through the windows. When he’d sat down, the sunlight had been pooling in the centre of the room; it had moved and was now casting thin gold streamers down onto Lupin.

Severus blinked at him, confused for one moment about why he wasn’t supposed to be as happy as he was to see Lupin. He tucked strands of hair behind his ear and rubbed his face. Lupin chuckled, and said, “You’ve got ink, just there,” and reached out and touched Severus’ cheek.

He put up his own hand, as if the ink was something he would be able to feel, like a mole. “What are you doing here?” he whispered.

Lupin looked back, brows drawing together. “It’s the library, everyone can come in.” He glanced at the books on the table. “Arithmancy? Are you still working on Directional Equations or have you gone on to something else?”

Severus sighed. “It’s still Directional Equations. I think we’re beginning a section on Architectural Modification next; after the hols. What are you here for?” He knew that the question sounded abrupt, but he didn’t know what else to say. He felt trapped, and just wanted to be able to hide.

Lupin was silent for long enough to make Severus look up at him. “I was looking for you, actually.” He idly straightened the stack of books nearest him. “You’ve been acting odd. I wanted to make sure that you hadn’t got into trouble, or something. You haven’t even looked up from the floor for almost a week.”

Severus bit his lip. “No, Professor McGonagall doesn’t know I was out.”

Lupin raised his brows. “I meant with your,” he paused, then sighed, “your friends.”

Severus looked away. “That’s fine. They’re fine.” He could see that Lupin didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t know what to do to sound more convincing. “Really.”

“So, I was wondering, are you doing anything tonight? ‘Cause I had a good time, and I thought that this time I could show you something.” Lupin shot him a look from the corners of his eyes then went back to poking at the books on the table.

Severus winced. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I have to—“ he broke off. “I’m busy tonight. Um, tomorrow, too.”

“Oh.” Lupin’s voice was flat. “I see. Never mind, then. I’ll, uh.” he started to stand up, but caught his foot on the chair leg and fell back.

“Lupin, please,” whispered Severus. “I’m not … what did you want to show me?” Unconsciously he leaned forward and put a hand on Lupin’s shoulder. Lupin flinched away, eyes wide. Severus tried not to think about how much it hurt to have Lupin, who he wanted to be friends with, not want to touch him. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, pulling his hands back into his lap.

“No,” Lupin gasped, “no, it’s okay. I just…I was surprised. I wanted to show you something my mum sent me. She was in Majorca and found an old bookstore. There was a book there with potions that she couldn’t identify, so she sent it on to me. I thought you might want to see it.”

Severus nodded, thinking hard. He would like to see something like that. He didn’t let himself think about how much he wanted to spend more time with Lupin. “We could meet on Sunday,” he said slowly. “I’ll be done with my other stuff by then… want to meet in the same place?”

Lupin smiled, and Severus felt himself smiling back helplessly. “I’ll be there. What time do you want to meet?”

“After dinner?” Severus thought that if he spent most of the weekend with his friends, they’d be more amenable to him having Sunday evening to study.

~*~

Late that night, Severus crawled into bed, trying not to look anywhere but in front of himself. He kept his eyes down as he drew the bed-curtains closed, but he couldn’t stop himself from glancing desperately around, making sure no one else was in the bed. It didn’t really help, being alone in the bed. Every time he got into bed, all he could think of was the way Sirius had reacted last week when he’d discovered Severus’ lie.

At first he’d hissed, throwing questions at Severus, questions about where he’d been and why he’d been with ‘that disgusting Slytherin’, and what had they been doing. Severus, who’d been startled into answering totally honestly, repeated that he’d just been helping the other boy with potions and he’d done nothing but some brewing.

Sirius hadn’t calmed down; if anything, he’d got more and more upset until finally he grabbed Severus’ wrists and pulled him into a kiss that was more violence than arousal. Severus struggled, but Sirius was stronger than he, and Severus had left his wand on the bedside table.

Sirius whispered a silencing spell, and proceeded to kiss and lick everywhere he could reach without letting go of Severus’ hands. Severus continued to struggle, thrashing around on the bed and trying to kick Sirius off. He thought that if he could just get Sirius to slip off the bed, even a little, he could get some leverage and pull his hands free.

His body, however, was reacting to Sirius’ tongue and teeth. Sirius wrapped his legs around Severus’—pinning him—and he began to whisper as he nibbled his way along Severus’ collarbone. Severus could just hear him saying, “mine, all mine, won’t let anyone have you” until the blood rushing in his ears made it impossible for him to hear anything.

Soon, he was writhing and thrashing under Sirius; his hands were free to move, but he couldn’t think of why he’d wanted to move them. Sirius flipped him over, suddenly, pulling his hips up and shoving his shoulders down until his face was pressed into the bed. As he leaned over Severus, gathering up Severus’ arms and pinning them at the small of his back, he whispered, “You’ll never belong to anyone but me, and don’t you forget it.”

With one thrust, he slid into Severus and Severus screamed. He’d expected something like the first time, when it was so gentle and soft and wonderful. This felt like he was being ripped in half. He tried to push away, to escape, but Sirius leaned his weight down onto Severus’ shoulders harder, making his neck twist unmercifully.

Sirius was panting harshly behind him and Severus felt tears rising in his eyes. Where had this all gone so wrong? He’d just wanted to help someone. Wasn’t that what Gryffindors were supposed to do? Be the hero? Sirius knew that Lupin had been tortured by the other Slytherins, didn’t that make him worthy of being rescued? Or, at least, helped? His thoughts disintegrated in the face of another thrust and he began to wail. His sounds only seemed to spur Sirius on, until finally, not soon enough for Severus, Sirius pushed forward one last time and held, shuddering his release.

He pulled back, and Severus, feeling Sirius’ distraction, yanked away from him, moaning in pain. He turned, and was preparing to hex Sirius with the strongest wordless hex he could think of, when Sirius interrupted him.

“Oh god. Oh Merlin. I’m so … oh god what did I do?” He reached out for Severus, his face a frozen mask of horror, but Severus flinched back. “Severus, please, I’m so sorry. Please.” His hands dropped to the duvet and he shivered. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

Severus clenched his jaw, closing his lips against the curses and anger that threatened to spill out. After a long moment, when he was sure he would be able to speak without either crying or shrieking, he opened his mouth. “Why?”

Sirius reached for him and Severus flinched back so hard he struck his head against the headboard. “I—I don’t know. I’m so sorry. I just…I can’t bear to think of you touching him, touching anyone.” Sirius looked down, and seeing the red smears on his thighs, whispered, “At least let me heal you.”

“No,” Severus said, “no. Get me my wand and I’ll do it. I don’t want you near me.”

Sirius stretched to get Severus’ wand, then used his own to clean himself. As Severus cast several healing spells, Sirius leaned forward again. “Please, Severus. I’ll never—“

“You’re right, you won’t. You’re never getting near me again.” Severus’ voice was flat and final. “Never.”

Alone in his bed, Severus curled up trying not to think about how happy he’d be to see Lupin on Sunday.

~*~

The weekend flew by and, almost too soon for Severus’ peace of mind, it was time for dinner on Sunday. He sat, surrounded by his friends, trying not to stare over at the Slytherin table. He could see, without moving his head much, Lupin sitting in his usual place, with one seat left empty next to him and no one sitting across from him. He had spread out a bit, in the resulting extra room, and was reading something, flipping pages idly as he ate.

Severus paused, fork halfway to his mouth. Rosier was walking behind Lupin, to get to the doors, and as he moved past Lupin, he leaned forward to whisper something in Lupin’s ear. To Severus’ surprise, Lupin spun around and, almost too fast for Severus to see, grabbed Rosier’s collar and threw him back against the wall.

“NOT ANY MORE,” he yelled, then, seeing that everyone was staring at him, he grabbed his bag, stuffed the book he’d been reading into it and dived out the doors.

Severus slowly lowered his fork back to his plate. “I have to go study,” he said, still looking at the place where Lupin had disappeared. He turned to pick up his things, and met Sirius’ suspicious grey eyes.

“Why?” Sirius crossed his arms and glared at Severus. “I thought we were going to go back to the dorm and play Exploding Snap.”

“Are you mad,” called James from across the table, “I’m not playing that game with you again. I always lose. I need to go to the library, anyway, and do some work on the Charms thing Flitwick gave me. Aren’t you coming?”

Beside him, Peter nodded, picking the raisins off a bun. “I have work to do for Charms, too. I was hoping you could help me,” he glanced up at James, and then away, “because you’re so good at them, you know.”

James didn’t even look at Peter. “No, you know who’s really good at charms? Evans,” James breathed. He was staring down the table, and Severus could see that he hadn’t seen Peter’s face slip into anger. The expression was gone when Severus blinked and he wondered if he’d missed it. Severus glanced over at Sirius, and saw that Sirius had seen the same thing. They looked at each other, matching confused expressions on their faces.

Severus looked away, uncomfortable with the very comfortable feeling of understanding between himself and Sirius.

“Well, no matter what you are doing,” Severus said, standing and gathering his things up, “I’m going to study now.”

He trotted up the stairs, running over the different projects that were coming due in his classes. Maybe he could even get some studying in with Lupin, after he looked at the book. He wondered if he’d be able to copy out some of the potions to try them.

He reached the room behind the tall vase and dropped his bag on the table again. Lupin wasn’t there yet, so Severus left the door slightly open for him. He spent a few minutes circling the room, looking out the window and transfiguring the few remaining chairs into a low sofa and a lamp. He sat down on one side of the sofa but then thought that Lupin might think this was too friendly, so he transfigured the stool into another chair and set it across from the sofa. Unable to keep still, he went back to the window and stared out.

This window looked out over a different side of the castle, and Severus could just see the branches of the Whomping Willow shifting in the wind. He stared at the trees just past the willow and grinned to himself. There wasn’t a wind. Something must have irritated the tree, to make it move around like that.

The door creaked, and Severus spun around, but it no one came in. “Lupin?” he called, crossing to the doorway. He glanced up and down the corridor, but didn’t see anyone. Shrugging, he went back to the sofa and curled up with one of his textbooks.

When he reached the end of the chapter, he looked up and saw that Lupin had come in and was standing in the doorway staring at him with the oddest smile on his face.

“Lupin,” Severus said, “you’re late.”

“I’m sorry, Severus.” Lupin’s voice was thick, and he turned away for a moment. “I had to get something.” He came closer. “Is this for us?” he asked, gesturing at the furniture.

Severus nodded. “I saw no reason to be uncomfortable while we study.” He blushed slightly. “I thought we might work on the Potions essay, the one on moonstones? I know you just said that you wanted me to look at the book your mam found, but….”

Lupin laughed under his breath. “I’d love to study with you, Severus. What are you reading there?” He dropped into the chair and leaned forward. Severus held out the book of Defensive Charms, and tried to feel proud that he’d given Lupin a choice of places to sit instead of disappointed that he’d not wanted to sit nearer.

As Lupin’s head bent over Severus’ book, the light fell on his hair, making it shimmer with gold highlights. For one moment, all Severus could see was the images he’d had at the end of summer, of himself and Lupin as Altaire and Tarant. He gasped and spluttered into speech. “Um. Where’s the book from your mam?”

Lupin jumped in his chair. “Oh,” he said, “right. Here, it is.” He rummaged around in his bag and pulled out a small book, bound in red cloth. The edges were tattered, and there’d been clear previous attempts to fix the book. Severus could see old spellotape curling and yellowing on the inside front cover.

The book was written in an antique looking calligraphic script, and Severus’ brows drew together. “She found it just like this?”

Lupin nodded, and shifted to sit on the sofa. He leaned halfway across Severus and pointed at several places in the book. “She said she thought about trying new spellotape on these tears, but sent it to me like this anyway. Would it have made a difference?”

Severus shrugged. “I’m not sure. It might have. I could ask my mam; she might know.” He paged through the book for a moment. “I think we should copy these out, first. Can I send this to my mam? She might be able to match up some of these potions with others she knows about.”

Lupin grinned at him. “Of course you can send it to her. I want you to help me figure it out. It’s like a puzzle, isn’t it?” He reached for a quill and some parchment. “Let’s start the copying now, so you can send it to her soon.”

The only table in the room was too tall, so Severus transfigured it into something smaller. The two boys worked side by side, copying things out and discussing the different uses for moonstones until Severus sat up sharply.

“What time is it?” He quickly snapped closed the potions book he’d opened to make a point about dittany, and shoved his things into his bag. “It’s late and I have to get back inside my dorm before Si—I have to get back.”

Lupin stopped copying, but didn’t hurry to pack up. “You did get in trouble with your friends, didn’t you?” His voice was soft. He reached out a hand to touch Severus’ shoulder and Severus lunged backwards.

For one horrible, choking second, all Severus could see was Sirius’ face as he’d shoved his face down into the bed, and his ears were filled with the sound of Sirius panting behind him.

“—everus? Severus?” Lupin was crouching down in front of him, trying to get his attention. “What happened? Are you okay?” He started to reach for Severus’ knee but withdrew his hand quickly.

“Fine,” Severus gasped, “I’m fine.” He ran his hands over his face, and through his hair. “I’m just … tired. I should go.”

Lupin looked unconvinced, but stood and backed up. “Can we do this again? I think I actually understand how dittany, moonstones and goatshair moss interact now. Slughorn would be so pleased.”

Severus nodded, pleased himself. He liked talking to Lupin, liked hearing the other boy’s thoughts and impressions. “I’d like that,” he whispered. “I have patrol tomorrow and Wednesday, but maybe we could meet on Tuesday?”

Lupin grinned at him. “Tuesday it is, then.”

When Severus crawled into bed that night, he noticed that Sirius’ bed-curtains were still open and it looked like Sirius hadn’t gotten into bed yet. As he drew his own curtains closed, he deliberately put aside all thoughts of Sirius and thought, instead, of Lupin’s grin.

~*~

Severus sat in Transfiguration class the next day, after lunch, and wondered where Sirius was. He’d been thinking during the morning and he wanted to talk to the other boy. He’d hoped to do it today, and had wanted to see Sirius before class started to set up a time for them to talk in private.

The door opened one last time, and Sirius walked in, with Rosier right behind him. To Severus’ surprise, Rosier nodded to Sirius and then sat down next to Avery. Severus smiled at Sirius, feeling a little more confident now that he’d figured out what he wanted to say. Sirius blanched for a moment, then grinned so brilliantly it almost seemed he was the old Sirius, the one before things had gone so horribly wrong.

~*~

Severus still hadn’t found a time to talk to Sirius by the time he was to meet the Hufflepuff prefect, Addams, for patrol. He decided that he’d just talk to him after he got back from patrolling, and then maybe things could go back to normal.

He met Addams at the Front Doors, and they quickly worked their way up to the sixth floor. Anxious to finish and have his conversation with Sirius, he offered to do the seventh floor by himself and Addams, who’d talked of nothing but her upcoming test in Care of Magical Creatures, was happy to have the extra time to revise.

Severus trotted up the stairs, and swung to the left to start checking rooms. The first one he checked was the one he thought of as Lupin’s room. Surprised to find the door open, he stepped inside. For one moment, he thought that his memories of Lupin had called him up; Lupin lay sprawled across the sofa that they’d left there the night before. Then, he looked closer and saw that Lupin’s clothes were torn and there was blood dripping from his hand to the floor.

“Lupin,” he gasped, finding himself on his knees next to the sofa without knowing how he got there. “Lupin, oh my God, what happened?” He reached out, almost afraid to touch the other boy. Would he make the injuries worse? He had to get Lupin to Madam Pomfrey, though.

He touched Lupin’s cheek, running his fingers down to his neck, not sure if he would be able to feel a pulse, not even sure if there was one. He was concentrating so hard on Lupin’s face, it startled him when Lupin’s chest jerked and he sucked in a breath. Severus leaned forwards, staring into Lupin’s face.

“Lupin,” he called. “Can you hear me? I’ll take you to Madam Pomfrey right away, just hang on.” He started to stand, but stumbled when Lupin’s hand shifted and tangled in his robes.

“No.” Lupin’s voice was so low that Severus almost couldn’t hear it. He bent closer.

“No what? Lupin, don’t talk, I have to get you to the infirmary.” Lupin’s hand clenched and Severus was afraid to pull away sharply, afraid that if he jostled Lupin at all, the other boy would be hurt more. “Lupin, let go.”

“No,” Lupin whispered harshly, “I don’t want to go to … infirmary. I want to know… why you did it?”

Severus knelt down again. “Did what? Lupin, you’re bleeding. At least let me help you.” He pulled out his wand and began murmuring the strongest healing charms he knew. Lupin shifted under his hands, tugging at his own robes. They hitched up as he moved and Severus could see Muggle trousers peeking out from underneath. He blinked at them, but was distracted by Lupin’s hand pulling out a piece of parchment and dropping it to the floor.

“You sent me a note.” Lupin’s voice was a little stronger. Severus picked up the parchment, but shook his head.

“I didn’t. I wouldn’t.” He closed his eyes and waved his wand, conjuring a bowl of water and a flannel. “Let me wipe your face and see how bad this is.”

“You did,” Lupin insisted, “you said you’d changed your prefect schedule, and wanted to meet today instead of tomorrow.”

Severus stopped his movement. “You didn’t check the schedule board in the prefect’s room?” Lupin’s injuries must have been less serious than he’d thought. He’d seen all the blood and thought he must have been cut to ribbons, but he could only find two deep cuts on Lupin’s arm and a scratch across Lupin’s neck.

Which was odd, he thought, staring at Lupin’s neck. When he’d tried to find Lupin’s pulse, he was sure he’d seen a slice almost all the way across his jugular. Not deep enough to actually slice it open, or Lupin wouldn’t have been alive when he’d got to the room, but there had been a cut there. He was sure of it.

Lupin shifted on the sofa so he was sitting up a little more. He looked a little sheepish. “I didn’t even think of it,” he muttered. “I just …”

“Who gave you the note?” Severus still wanted Lupin to go to Madam Pomfrey, but he seemed much less injured now than he had at first, and Severus wanted to make sure that he found out who was forging his name.

Lupin set his jaw. “I’ll deal with them,” he said, voice tight. “Just—it’s my concern. I’ll fix it.”

“I don’t think so,” Severus snapped, still frightened by the shock of seeing Lupin hurt and beginning to be angry that he had been scared. “They’re using my name, whoever they are, and I have a right to know who they are.” He was snarling by the end and Lupin gave him a startled look.

Suddenly, Lupin groaned and wrapped his arms around his stomach. “Oh!” He went pale, and Severus leapt forward again.

“I’m taking you to Madam Pomfrey and you don’t have a choice.” Severus looked around for Lupin’s bag and shrugged when he didn’t see it. “Mobilicorpus,” he said and glared back at Lupin’s floating form. “Don’t make me Petrify you,” he said firmly, “just be still and stop fighting this.”

As he left the room, carefully floating Lupin in front of himself, he saw what had become of Lupin’s bag. It had been tossed into the farthest corner of the room, and everything that had been in it was dumped out and scattered about that end of the room. Severus made a note to come back and get everything gathered up for Lupin.

~*~

Severus stormed into the dorm, dropping Lupin’s bag onto his bed. He turned and glared at his friends.

“Sirius,” he snarled, “I want to talk to you.”

Sirius, who was sitting on his bed surrounded by textbooks, stared at him, eyes wide and a shocked expression on his face. For a moment, Severus thought he looked guilty, and he was glad. Sirius should still feel guilty for what he’d done.

“Okay, er,” Sirius glanced at James and Peter, who were sitting on the floor under the windows. They were going through a stack of books and making notes on whatever they were revising for. “Not here, though.”

Severus stalked downstairs, waiting impatiently for Sirius to join him in the common room. He trailed down after a few minutes, carrying the Invisibility Cloak over his arm.

“I think we’ll both fit under here,” he started but froze at Severus’ narrowed eyes.

“I said you’d never touch me again, and I meant it.” Severus pushed open the portrait. “I’m a 6th year prefect. I can be out if I need to be. Put that on and follow me.”

Severus led him to a small classroom at the end of the hall on the sixth floor. Once he knew Sirius was in the room, he locked the door and threw up the strongest silencing spell he knew.

Sirius had dropped the cloak on the floor near the door and was standing on the other side of the room. “What have you got against Lupin?” Severus leaned back against the door and crossed his arms. Sirius looked guilty again, and Severus felt a stab of pleasure.

Sirius’ face creased in confusion. “What? I don’t—I mean, he’s stupid and he’s always reading those damned Dark Arts books and he knows all of those curses…”

“I know curses, Sirius, I know several that I should be using. You liked it well enough when I knew that blood tracing spell in third year and that was just as Dark as anything Lupin’s been reading.” Severus began to move toward Sirius, anger on his face. “What I don’t understand is how you can stand there and think that he’s any different from us.”

Sirius snarled. “Of course he’s different. He’s a Slytherin, isn’t he?” His hands were clenched into fists at his side, trembling with emotion.

“Oh and that’s supposed to make a difference? Why? Would you hate me if I were in Slytherin?” Severus stared at Sirius’ face for a moment, then laughed harshly. “You would, wouldn’t you?” His voice dropped to a whisper. “You’d never have got to know me. You wouldn’t care if I were being beaten or raped by my Housemates…”

Sirius went white. “Why should I care about what the disgusting Slytherins do?” Sirius crossed his arms and looked away.

“BECAUSE WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE THE HOUSE WITH HONOUR,” Severus screamed, losing control. “Because we’re the ones who are supposed to be there to protect those who aren’t being protected, right? The ones who fight for the weak and the defenceless?” He stormed up to Sirius and shoved hard against his chest, making Sirius stumble back. “When did it stop being about Gryffindor honour and start being about Sirius getting to own every damned thing he wants to own?”

Severus could see Sirius flinch and pressed on. “I just got back from bringing Lupin to Madam Pomfrey. Some of his House mates, people who should be taking care of him, right? Well, they lied to him and told him that I had changed my schedule and was waiting to revise with him. He was beaten, Sirius, beaten and bloody. Just like you and I were at home.”

Sirius’ expression reminded Severus of his Muggle cousin, his father’s sister’s boy when he’d had his peppermint humbugs taken away. He had been the most appalling person Severus had ever met; he’d whined and thrown tantrums until his mam, Severus’ aunt, had given him the candies, then, when Severus’ da had taken them away, the boy’s expression had filled with malicious hatred before he’d started screaming again.

“You disgust me,” Severus said, his throat feeling raw. “You think you’re better than anyone else, because of your name and your oh-so-special renouncement of your family. Well, Sirius, until you can learn to see past your self-centred nose, we’re through. I don’t care what you do, just don’t come near me.”

Sirius spun around. “Severus, wait,” he called. “Severus, I’m sorry. I really am. I never meant to hurt you, never. I just—I saw you in that room with him and I just … things got out of control.” He’d reached for Severus when he’d turned, but his hand fell to his side. “I’m so sorry. I’d give anything to not have hurt you.”

Severus paused in the doorway. Part of him missed his friend Sirius so much it felt like he had an unhealed slice inside him. Sirius had been his friend more than James or Peter had been; he’d shared things with Sirius, family issues, little jokes. Sirius had been the one who’d helped him get the House Elves to send food to his mam. Sirius had been the one to help him when he’d been all over bruises the first week back at school in second year and he hadn’t wanted anyone to see.

“So would I,” he said, in a tired voice, “but it’s too late now.”

~*~

He brought Lupin’s bag to the hospital wing the next day, but Madam Pomfrey had already released him to breakfast, so he had to hand over Lupin’s bag in front of his House mates. Lupin was friendly and calm, but Severus could feel the rage curling under his own skin, aching to be released at the boys who’d hurt someone he wished he were friends with.

He ate his own breakfast that morning staring furiously down at his bowl of porridge. He didn’t look up until James sat down next to him and said, “Did it steal your notes or something?”

“What?” Severus snapped, still caught in fantasies of hurting Those People the way Lupin had been hurt. He couldn’t quite picture clearly who Those People were, but he knew they existed. He kept seeing images of his mam’s face with bruises just past Lupin’s face when he pictured the things he’d do to his enemies.

James, who’d been reaching for a platter of fruit, turned and stared at Severus. “Your porridge. You’re glaring at it like you want to try setting it on fire with your eyes alone. What did that poor defenceless porridge ever do to you?” He sat back down and cheerfully handed oranges around. “I finished that hideous paper for Defence. This year’s teacher is evil, don’t you think? Imagine assigning a fifteen inch paper detailing the various types of inferi we might encounter this close to the hols. It’s criminal, that’s what I think.”

Peter laughed, adding, “There’ll be a different one next year, so we won’t have to worry about him for long.”

Sirius slouched up to the table and dropped into a seat across from Severus. He filled his bowl with porridge and sprinkled sugar on top, then sat and stared at the food.

“What’s wrong with you,” asked Peter. “Were you up late?” He waggled his eyebrows at Sirius, who turned and stared at him blankly. “You haven’t mentioned which girl it is you’re seeing and you’ve been staying up late and going out at night almost every night.”

James leaned forward. “Yeah, Sirius. It’s not like you not to share the details with us…” He grinned up at Severus, who’d been looking away, up at the teacher’s dais. “So, come on, spill.”

Sirius stood up and shoved his bowl back. “Maybe I’m just staying up revising because I don’t want to fail my courses and look stupid, like you two.” Grabbing his bag, he turned and stormed away. James and Peter stared after him, then turned to Severus. Severus was watching Sirius walk away, feeling a confusing mixture of relief that Sirius was going to stay away from him, and dismay that things had turned out so badly.

Lupin was standing up just as Sirius stalked off, and for one moment Severus thought it looked as if Lupin were … afraid of Sirius. The expression was smothered under Lupin’s normally calm demeanour before Severus could be sure of what he’d seen.

“What the hell was that?” James said. “Sirius must have struck out with his latest girl. She can’t be a Gryffindor, we’d already know who it was then. A Ravenclaw?”

Severus scraped up the last of his porridge and pushed his own bowl back. “I need to … to get to the library early to pick up a book for Defence. I’ll see you there?”

Peter and James nodded, then went back to discussing potential dates for Sirius.

~*~

Severus made it to Defence class early and sat in the front. He’d discovered early on that sitting in the front meant the teacher paid less attention to him; the Defence teacher usually ended up having to break up conversations in the back of the room. Lupin entered the room, nodded to the teacher, then came and sat at a desk near Severus.

Just as he turned to say something to Severus, Sirius came in and dropped his books onto the desk nearest the door, making a huge bang. Lupin jumped, shot a startled look over his shoulder and turned to face the front of the room. Severus, who’d seen Sirius come in, pretended to look at his paper to make sure it was as complete as he could make it.

At the end of her lecture, Professor Schicksal turned to lean on the edge of her desk. “As there are still at least two weeks until you leave for the holidays, to which I am certain you are looking forward, I have decided to assign you one last research paper.” Her words were met with an almost unanimous groan and she smirked. “You are to present to me a twenty four inch paper detailing the habits, life-cycle, methods of transmission and recent history of the werewolf.”

Severus, who’d been taking notes quickly, heard a sharp inhalation to his left. Lupin was staring fixedly at the teacher; the hand holding his quill clenched so tightly his knuckles were white. Severus was surprised; Lupin hadn’t had any reaction at all to studying the inferi or vampires or any of the other Dark Creatures previously assigned. With a feeling of shock, he remembered Lupin saying that his da was dead.

Lupin had acted upset every time werewolves were mentioned, in fact; Severus remembered the way he’d turned white in class the previous year when Sirius had been pretending to be a werewolf. He nearly groaned aloud as he remembered that he himself had said something about werewolves right before Lupin had got so upset while they were patrolling.

His father must have been killed by a werewolf. Severus blinked, remembering how Lupin had seemed so distressed by his da’s death. It made perfect sense, and now he was being asked to research the very creatures that had killed his father.

Thoughtfully, Severus packed his things into his bag, and left the room, following James and, because James was talking to him, Sirius. Lupin stayed behind. Severus threw a look over his shoulder as he left the room and saw Lupin packing up slowly.

~*~

On Saturday afternoon, at breakfast, James mentioned the holidays, and Severus felt a rush of relief that he’d be able to say that his mam still wanted him to stay at school. He had been planning on asking her if he could go stay with James, and maybe come home for a day or two for the holiday, but then things had collapsed, and all he wanted to do was to have the dorm to himself for a while. He thought that if he could just get comfortable in the dorm without Sirius’ presence, that comfort would remain even after Sirius returned.

Sirius was, of course, going to James’, but Peter said he’d owl his mum to see if she’d let him visit as well. James turned to Severus. “You really don’t think your mum’ll change her mind? It would be brilliant if we were all together over Christmas. There’s this field near my house and we can camp out on it. It’s not snowy down there, or at least it’s not always snowy and we could always—“

“Take a breath there,” Sirius laughed, and then sucked in his breath. Severus turned away a little more and concentrated on looking over the table at the other students. He was a prefect, after all, and had to be on hand to help if someone needed it.

James elbowed him. “So, your mum won’t change her mind?” he repeated.

Severus shook his head. He said as clearly as he could, “No, she won’t. I’ve asked and she said that she wants me to stay here.” He took a deep breath and crossed his arms. “It’s only a couple of weeks, anyway. I’ll be all right.”

“I know you’ll be all right,” James persisted, “but it would have been brilliant.” He stood up and dragged Sirius up with him. “Let’s go have a snowball fight.” Peter lit up at the idea and clambered from the table immediately, leaving Severus to bring up the rear. For one aching moment, he did wish he could go to James’ house, and just be friends again with all of them. Then Sirius shot a glance over James’ shoulder and Severus’ resolve firmed. He didn’t need them.

He didn’t.

~*~

The beginning of December passed in a flurry of schoolwork and quizzes. There was homework assigned for over the hols, and Peter complained several times that Severus would be able to get it done more easily with access to the library. James finally buried him in pillows to make him stop worrying and the four boys ended up in a gigantic pillow fight that filled the room with feathers. Watching them float lazily to the ground, Severus remembered the day in Charms in fifth year. Who was it who’d found a way to make the feathers lighter?

Something about that day kept coming back to bother him; he spent the last few days before everyone left for hols feeling like there was something he was forgetting, something he should do.

This feeling was completely shocked out of him when Peter suggested that he keep an eye on Lupin over the hols.

“You didn’t come up with any new information last year. It’s a perfect time to see if you can find out more about why he’s sick so often.” Behind Peter, Sirius turned vaguely green, and pushed his Charms book aside. “I’ll leave you all my notes about what he’s done so far, and you can learn more.” He started digging in his trunk and didn’t see the look between Sirius and Severus.

Two days later, Severus stood on the platform and watched the Hogwarts Express fill with students going home. He’d said goodbye to James and Peter, and stood awkwardly with Sirius after they’d walked away. Sirius stuck his hands deep in his pockets and stared at his shoes.

“I know what you said,” he blurted, “and I know you meant it, but…but I am sorry and I wanted to say it one last time.” He shifted on his feet and tipped his head all the way back, so he was staring up at the leaden sky above them. “It’s Christmas. Tell your mam…tell her I said hullo and that I hope she has a good holiday.” He turned to go and Severus shivered at how badly he wanted to have things be the way they were before.

“I will,” he called, and Sirius turned back, his face aglow with hope. “Have a good holiday,” he said, in as calm a voice as he could manage. Sirius took a step toward him, then stopped.

“You too,” he said, grinning. He turned and ran up the stairs into the train, shouting for Peter and James to find some candy.

Severus turned away, his eyes passing over Avery stepping into the train several compartments down from where Sirius had run up the stairs. His mood darkened with the reminder that it had been one of Lupin’s House mates who’d forged his name and hurt Lupin. Suddenly, he stopped; the thoughts of the Slytherins combining with the memories of designing the spell with Lupin. He could create a hex to hurt his enemies. He resolved to start working on it soon.

As the Hogwarts Express steamed away, and with a lightening of his heart that he refused to give a reason for, Severus began walking into Hogsmeade.

~*~

Severus didn’t know if he should buy a present for Lupin. He stood in the bookshop, wishing he knew more about the other boy’s interests. He couldn’t buy him anything about werewolves, he knew that. Was Lupin interested in Dark things? He read books about curses, but that didn’t really mean he liked them, just that he found the books interesting. Severus read books about Muggle gardening, but he didn’t like doing the work and wouldn’t appreciate receiving an unenchanted wheelbarrow.

He gave up after almost half an hour of indecision, found the Potions section and poked about until he found a book on Chinese herbs and plants and their uses in potions. It was more money than he’d had all together for Christmas presents the year before, but his mam had said she’d like something nice, and he knew that she loved reading about how potions were made in other wizarding societies. And he had the money, after all; she’d sent him more than enough.

After some thought, he found a book titled Myths of the Rat, with tales and legends about rats around the world and added that to his pile. Peter would be very interested; Severus grinned when he thought of what Peter would say when he discovered that there was a Rat Cult in India. He’d probably try to get them all to visit India.

He couldn’t find anything for James; he knew that James had all the Quidditch books the shop carried, and there wasn’t much else he would read about happily.

Outside, he looked up and down the street. It was crisp and cold, but not snowing. It hadn’t snowed for at least a week, and the ground was covered with old, grey slush. The grey sky was clearing, and bits of pale blue were beginning to show.

He poked about in Zonko’s, and in Honeyduke’s, but couldn’t find anything that really leaped out at him for anyone else. Finally, he trudged to the second hand store. He’d find something here, he was sure of it.

He found Lupin. Severus had been rummaging through the back shelves, hoping to find something like the Quidditch game he’d found for James the previous year, but the most interesting thing he found was a set of paired Conversational Mirrors. He set them aside, carefully not thinking that Sirius would love them, and continued his search. As he turned to begin poking in the bookshelves, he saw Lupin, reaching for a book stacked on the books on the very top shelf.

“Hullo,” he said, trying not to grin.

Lupin jumped and knocked several books off the shelf. “Damn,” he muttered, then turned to Severus. His eyes widened, and he glanced down at the books piled at his feet. “Severus. I, uh, wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

Severus crossed his arms, feeling unexpectedly annoyed. “Why not?”

“Well,” Lupin sent him an uncertain smile, “I rather thought you’d be over at the bookshop, or in Zonko’s.” He bent and began picking up the books he’d knocked over. “Or in The Three Broomsticks.”

“Not all Gryffindors are interested in the puerile jokes stocked at Zonko’s,” Severus said in a lofty tone. Lupin sniggered, and Severus felt his annoyance melt away. “Let me help you.”

They got the books stacked up and Severus turned to start putting them back on the shelf. As he turned, he saw Lupin slide one book out of the stack and set it aside.

They began to chat, over the dusty furniture and broken toys, and Severus found himself wishing he could have been friends with Lupin before. If weren’t for the stupid House prejudice, he knew that his dorm mates would like Lupin; he had just finished a very off-colour joke about the Head Boy and Girl. Severus sighed and looked down. He’d been idly going through a bin while they talked, and he’d found an old Snitch. One wing was bent, and the whole thing was a little rusty, but Severus thought he could clean it up and fix it enough for James to like it.

“Listen,” he said, “let’s go. I’ll get these things and let’s go to The Three Broomsticks.” Lupin nodded, and they wound their way to the counter. As Lupin paid for the book he’d found, Severus ran back and picked up the mirrors. Sirius really would love them, and it was Christmas. It wasn’t really going back on his decision if he sent his old friend a present, was it?

Late that afternoon, as they were leaving Hogsmeade, Severus pulled to a stop. “Wait?” he gasped. Lupin nodded, and Severus galloped back to town.

He spent a rushed five minutes in Honeyduke’s, leaving with a large box of assorted chocolate for his mam, and a set of chocolate bars for Lupin. As he hurried back to the spot where Lupin was waiting, he hoped that Lupin wouldn’t be upset by the generic nature of the gift. His breath caught at the brilliant smile on Lupin’s face as he came running up.

~*~

The week before Christmas felt, to Severus, almost magical. There were only eight students who’d stayed at the castle over the holiday, and none of them were in his year. He and Lupin spent hours together, often meeting at breakfast and spending the whole day revising, or reading, or just talking.

He discovered that Lupin hadn’t been in a snowball fight ever, and so he organised the other kids together and spent an exhausting afternoon generaling two first years and a second year against Lupin’s forces of one lone seventh year and two fourth years. Dinner that evening was quiet; one of the first years fell asleep with his face on the table next to his pudding.

~*~

On Christmas day, he woke to a pile of presents. Smiling to himself, he picked up the top one, a rather large squashy parcel with his name written on it in Ever-changing Ink. Ripping open the paper, he gasped as a heavy wool cloak fell into his lap. A card slipped out of the folds as he shook the cloak out.

Dear Severus,
Your old cloak is getting thin and I thought you should have something nice. Stay warm and study hard.
Love,
Mam

He grinned at it, glad he’d gone back for the chocolate for her.

He went down to breakfast wearing his new cloak, and carrying his gift from Sirius. He’d been surprised to see one from him, and opened it slowly. It was an antique book, one that Severus had never heard of, about the Philosopher’s Stone. The author was Nicolas Flamel, who’d lived in the 1300’s and had done extensive work on the Philosopher’s Stone. Severus sucked in his breath when he opened the book; the book label read, Toujours Pur Arcturus Black.

The rest of the day passed in a blur; Lupin found him paging through the book after breakfast, and they spent the day together in the library, reading up on the Philosopher’s Stone. Lupin was the one who found a reference to Headmaster Dumbledore working with a Nicolas Flamel, but the two boys, after staring at the two books, decided that it must be a different Nicolas Flamel, a ten-times grandson or something. No one could live that long, and Severus’ book said that Flamel hadn’t been able to make a Philosopher’s Stone.

Christmas dinner was very silly; the Christmas crackers this year had popped out a large top hat with a white rabbit that wouldn’t get out, a huge green bonnet with hideous pink roses climbing on it, and several smaller hats with soft spikes sticking out from the sides. Severus hoped he’d be able to get the image of Professor Dumbledore wearing the green and pink monstrosity out of his head soon.

Afterwards, Severus stood up and drew Lupin toward the glittering Christmas tree in the corner.

“Listen, there’s a place we could go, someplace nice.”

Lupin eyed him, his face unreadable. “What, now? It’s snowing.”

“Yeah, I know, but really, it’s great.” Severus leaned down and offered his hand to the other boy. “It’s outside, but it won’t be too cold.” Lupin’s hand in his was warm and dry.

Severus didn’t know why he was bringing Lupin to one of the hidden courtyards Peter had found, but he wanted to give him something, he wanted Lupin to smile at him the way he’d smiled before, on the way back from Hogsmeade. The courtyard was around a corner, and through a door that looked just like an old cage. At first Lupin wasn’t willing to go past the bars of the cage, but Severus dragged the door open. Lupin peered through and when he saw the falling snow outside, Severus saw him relax.

“Yeah, weird, huh?” Severus stepped out into the courtyard, and looked up into the gently falling snow. “I’ve no idea why anyone would put an iron barred cage in a castle full of children, but the Founders must have been very strange.”

Lupin didn’t answer, but moved further into the court. The snow caught in his hair, reflecting the light of the fingernail moon that was just visible reflected in the windows of the Great Hall across from the courtyard. Smiling, Lupin tilted his head back and stuck his tongue out, trying to catch a snowflake. After a moment, he turned back to Severus and smiled—a lazy, brilliant smile that made Severus feel something twinge, deep in his chest.

“You’re right. This is nice. How’d you find it?” Lupin was looking around at the stone benches lining the area. He swept the snow off one and sat down. Severus sat next to him and leaned back, staring up at the sky.

Even though it was snowing, the clouds were high and light. It felt to Severus as if they were the only two people in the world.

“Peter found it,” he said softly, tipping his head to the side to look at Lupin. “Lupin—“

Lupin shifted and Severus wondered if he’d meant to move so close. “Why don’t you use my name?” His voice was as soft as Severus’ had been, but he sounded almost hurt. “I’m Remus.”

The twinge was back in Severus’ chest, but this time it felt as if it were squeezing his lungs. He gasped in a short breath, then whispered, “Remus.”

Remus was leaning closer, his eyes glittering in the reflected moonlight, his lips slightly parted. Severus stared at him, feeling dizzy, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. Just as he thought that Lu—Remus was going to pull away, the other boy pressed his lips softly to Severus’.

The twinge in Severus’ chest broke open and it felt as if he were breaking in half and growing fuller at the same time. With a soft moan, he opened his lips and ran his tongue against the seam of Remus’ mouth. Remus groaned in return and buried his hands in Severus’ hair, pulling them closer together.

Severus heard someone making short, impatient noises; he couldn’t identify who, though. He clung to Remus, wrapping his arms around the other boy’s too thin waist, feeling as if he couldn’t get close enough to him, as if he needed to be closer than skin and bone would allow.

After a few minutes, Remus pulled back slightly, and rested his forehead against Severus’. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that,” he whispered.

“Not nearly as long as I have,” Severus whispered in return, and pulled Remus into another kiss.

~*~

That evening, Severus lay on his bed, staring up at the canopy. He could tell he had a silly grin on his face, but every time he tried to calm down and change his expression, the grin crept back. Finally, he gave up and rolled over.

“Remus kissed me,” he whispered, feeling as if it wouldn’t be true unless he said it aloud. He stretched his legs out and felt something bump against his foot. Curious, he sat up and rummaged around under the pile of blankets at the foot of his bed. He pulled out a slim package, wrapped in faded green paper. He turned it over and a small piece of parchment fell to the bed.

Severus,
I saw this in the shop and thought of how hard you worked on the Levicorpus charm. I thought you might be interested in reading about how other people designed spells.

Merry Christmas,
Remus Lupin

Severus started to pull open the gift, rip the paper apart, when the very shabbiness of the paper stopped him. This was clearly something that Lu—Remus had saved from a gift he had been given. Severus knew exactly how it felt to have to use something twice over, or more. He turned the book over and carefully peeled the paper off, then folded the paper into a small rectangle and set it on his desk.

The book was wonderful. It had been written in, obviously by several different people, but Severus knew the appeal of writing one’s notes in the margins of a book. He flipped through the book, dipping into the text every few pages. After half an hour of browsing, he sighed. It was time for bed, and he needed to give Remus his gift tomorrow. He set the book aside on his nightstand, right next to the neatly wrapped stack of chocolates he’d bought for Remus, but had been to nervous to actually have owled to him. He’d give them to him at breakfast.

He curled up under the covers, thinking of the way Remus felt, of the way it felt to kiss him.

~*~

At breakfast the next day, he was startled to see Sirius’ owl land heavily on the table and stalk toward him.

“What is it, Arlath?” he asked as he tried to get the letter off Arlath’s out-thrust foot. Arlath simply hooted at him, then grabbed a scone and flew off. Severus turned back to the letter. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to open it or not; he really didn’t know what to think or how to feel about Sirius. He hated feeling so lonely. Remus was … was wonderful, but he did miss Sirius, the playful, joking boy who used to be his best friend.

Holding his breath, he opened the letter and scanned it. It was filled with general chat; it seemed that Sirius had decided to be as non-committal as possible. He asked if Severus liked his gift, thanked Severus for the mirrors and said he was thinking about Severus’ mam. He’d included a note to send to her, and Severus set it aside to owl with his next letter home.

Severus sat back and stared at the note. It almost didn’t sound like it Sirius had written it. It sounded … shy. He was glad Sirius was taking him seriously. He’d been afraid that the letter would be filled with explanations or demands. He smiled down at the note and hoped that they’d be able to be friends again. Nothing like what they’d been before, not really, but at least friends.

He wanted to write back to Sirius right away, and he thought the library would be the best place for that. Plus, he wanted to see if he could convince Madam Pince to let him into the Restricted Section; he wanted to try to get some information on hexes. He still thought it was a good idea to create a hex to use against the next person who tried to hurt him. He thought he might teach the hex to Remus, too; the other boy did seem to get hurt an awful lot. Maybe Severus could help him fight back.

Remus found him in the library at the back table they used when they were studying together. He’d told Madam Pince he was working on a project for Professor Flitwick, and she said he could use the books while he was in the library, but since he had no note, he couldn’t take them out of the room.

He’d nodded, too excited and pleased that he’d be able to get the books to be upset at not being able to take them to his dorm. By the time Remus found him, he’d managed to find several books on the subjects he wanted.

“Severus,” called Remus softly, “are you behind all those books, or has there been some sort of awful accident and you’ve been eaten?”

Severus stood up and grinned. “I’m right here. The books wouldn’t eat me; it’s still hols.” He sat back down and shoved several of the books out of the way. “Sit here. I’m finishing up a letter, but then let’s go outside.”

Remus sat down, looking at the titles of the books. “You’re reading up on—“

“Oh! I nearly forgot!” Severus burrowed into his bag, pulling out the book Remus had given him and the package of chocolates. “I didn’t see the gift until last night; it had been shoved under some blankets somehow,” he shuffled the things in his hands and tentatively offered the chocolates to Remus. “and I didn’t…well I wasn’t sure if I should give you this, but…” he trailed off and shoved the package at Remus.

Remus’ eyes widened and he reached for the gift. “For me?” He glanced back and forth between Severus and the gift, as if he weren’t really sure what to do.

Severus nodded eagerly. He’d been so unsure of the gift at first, but now he just wanted to see if Remus liked the chocolate. He promised himself he’d study the boy to see what he’d like, to see if he could find something to give him that was less … impersonal.

Remus picked at the paper carefully, and Severus thought back to the paper his book had been wrapped in. Remus pulled the paper open and the chocolate bars spilled out onto the table, their bright, multicoloured wrappers sparkling in the thin sunlight. Remus’ face was wondering, and he reached out to touch the candy.

“It’s just chocolate,” started Severus, feeling as if Remus was more impressed with the small gift than he should be, “I didn’t know what kind you liked, so I got a sampler set. There’s one of every flavour there.” Remus stroked the chocolate, then smiled over at Severus.

“They’re lovely. I’ve never managed to get all the different flavours, to taste them. I—my family doesn’t often have money to send me, so I tend to get the less expensive sweets.” He searched through the stack until he found one wrapped in pale mauve foil. “I like this one, if it’s the one I think it is.” He took a small bite and smiled. “Would you like some?”

Severus shook his head. “No, I’m still full.” He didn’t want to say what he was really thinking; that it felt amazingly good to be able to give his new friend something he’d never been able to have before. “I’ll just finish this letter, then we can go.”

Severus signed his name with a flourish, and rolled the letter up. “Come on,” he said, standing, “let’s go to the owlry and get this done. I want to go to see what it’s like outside.” Remus gathered up his chocolate, slipping it into his bag, and nodded.

Severus glanced at him. There was chocolate smeared on his lower lip. He stepped closer. “Wait,” he whispered, and pulled the other boy’s head down. Slowly, afraid that Remus wouldn’t want to do this again, he ran his tongue over the chocolate. It tasted wonderful, sweet and wild; like Remus had tasted the night before.

Remus’ arms wound around him and his mouth opened under Severus’ tongue. They spent long moments there, their mouths moving against each other, tongues twining and bodies pressed closely together. Severus’ fingers sunk into Remus’ hair and he could feel himself harden and tighten against Remus’ hip. Remus’ answering arousal was evident; it pressed against him and it felt to Severus as if he could feel its heat even through all of their clothes.

They broke apart suddenly, gasping and panting. Severus felt himself shiver; kissing Remus was much more intense than kissing Sirius had ever been.

“We should… we…” he cleared his throat. “We should re-shelve the books and then find Arlath.” Severus’ voice was thick, but he was proud that he managed to finish the sentence.

Remus licked his lips slowly, and nodded. “All right. But who’s Arlath?” He turned away to start stacking the books.

Severus saw him stiffen when he said, “He’s Sirius’ owl. I just need to send this letter and then I’m ready to go.” They shelved the books in silence.

As they left the library, Remus said, “I’ll meet you at the Front Doors. I, er, I’m not dressed for going out.” Severus nodded and turned to run up the stairs to the owlry. On the way, he tried to put together Remus’ reactions to Sirius. He knew he’d seen Remus flinch from Sirius, before everyone had left for the hols. What could Sirius have done… Severus sighed deeply. Maybe it was just that Sirius had been teasing and tormenting Remus from the time they’d started school, but it did seem that Remus’ reaction at breakfast that day had been stronger than usual. He shook his head. He couldn’t figure this out now.

Chapter Text

Hours later, the two boys stumbled back inside, damp, cold and happy. Remus had taken his newly-learned snowball fighting skills and had used a wordless Leviosa to slip several large handfuls of snow down the back of Severus’ cloak. They’d ended up half buried in one of the gigantic snow drifts against the castle, all the way around the side where it looked like no one had been in months, maybe years.

They’d kissed there as well, the warmth from their bodies making the hollow in the snow feel comfortable, almost hot. It was enough to make Severus wonder if they’d unconsciously Apparated somehow to someplace warmer. The slither of snow under his robes brought him back to reality.

Now they were shivering and laughing their way through the halls. Severus was aiming for the kitchens; they’d missed lunch and he was hungry. He didn’t know if Remus knew about the House Elves, but he knew they’d be happy to see another student to feed.

He was brought up sharp by a crisp voice coming from the Great Hall. “Mr Snape. Mr Lupin.” Professor McGonagall was standing in the door; behind her Severus could see on the ceiling that it had begun to snow again outside.

“Yes, Professor?” He stopped and turned to her. He couldn’t think of anything that he could be in trouble for, so he waited patiently. He could feel Remus’ tension, at his side.

“You missed lunch,” she said, her voice slightly reproving. “I was about to ask Hagrid to go looking for you. Aren’t you hungry?”

“Oh, yes we are, but I was going to—“ Severus broke off, afraid that if he said he’d been headed for the kitchens, that she’d tell him it was forbidden, and then he’d be stuck actually disobeying a rule. He did try to follow them, or at least to make it look as if he were following them. “Er, I thought we should take a bath first, to get warmer. And dry.”

Her mouth twitched and she looked almost amused. “Yes. Well, I see that you are headed down the corridor towards the dungeons. I’m certain that will warm you sufficiently. Do try to make it for dinner.” She smiled at Severus, nodded to Remus, and turned back into the Great Hall. “Oh, Hagrid,” they heard her start to say when the doors swung shut and she was cut off.

Remus stared at Severus. “Is she—just what are we going to the dungeons for, anyhow?”

Severus started walking again. “You’ll see. It’s fantastic. Are you hungry?”

Remus nodded, looking baffled, and followed Severus down the stairs and along a corridor. He watched impassively as Severus stopped in front of the painting of fruit and grinned at him. Severus was pleased to see his impassive look fade away to reveal wonder when the door opened onto the kitchens.

Severus bent low, gesturing widely for Remus to precede him into the room. “The kitchens,” he said, grinning.

 

The elves gave them more food than they could eat in a month. Severus chuckled as Remus staggered under the weight of a hamper filled with pitchers of pumpkin juice and hot chocolate. He was carrying a large hamper with sandwiches, fruit and hot chicken. There was another hamper in the first, with his favourite tart and what he assumed was Remus’ favourite cake.

Remus followed him out of the kitchens, eyes still slightly wide at the cheerful way the elves greeted them. Back in the corridor, he turned to Severus. “Now what?” He sounded a little breathy, and Severus hoped he wasn’t getting too cold. He knew the next thing he was going to suggest would get them warmer, but it felt risky. He had no idea if Remus would think his suggestion was too personal.

“I thought we might take a bath, actually.” He started walking back toward the stairs up to the Entrance Hall.

“Oh.” Remus’ voice was flat. “I guess we’ll divide up the food, then.” He followed Severus, and shifted his hamper from hand to hand. “Why didn’t you just tell the elves to put this in separate hampers, then?”

Severus turned around, but kept walking. “No, I meant we could…take a bath together.” He blushed and looked away. Remus was silent, and Severus immediately wanted to kick himself. “You’re right,” he blustered on, “it’s silly—“

“No, wait. I think that’s a lovely idea, really. Only, where? I don’t know if you want to come into the Slytherin dorms. They’re rather cold really, and won’t the other Gryffindors staying over be upset if I go into your bathroom?” Remus looked confused.

Severus tilted his head to the side. “I was thinking of the prefect’s bath, on the fifth floor?” He walked back to Remus and tugged on his sleeve. “You’re all wet and you know the bath there is amazing. Come on.”

Remus began following him again. “I don’t,” he said.

“Don’t what?” Severus was beginning to wish the elves hadn’t been quite so enthusiastic. Lugging these hampers… he stopped short and shook his head. He wasn’t usually this distracted. “Wingardium Leviosa,” he muttered, and the hampers leapt out of his arms to hang, patiently, at his elbow. He turned to see Remus grimacing and casting the same spell.

“Now, why didn’t I think of that,” he grumbled, rubbing the red lines where the handles of the hamper had pressed into his palms.

“Because you were distracted?” Severus grinned and continued leading the way to the fifth floor. “What don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

Severus strode down the fourth floor corridor towards the staircase leading to the fifth floor and the statue of Barnaby the Bewildered. “You said ‘I don’t’, and I don’t know what you don’t.”

Remus was silent a minute. “I don’t know about the bath, the one you’re taking me to.”

Severus pulled to a halt and stared blankly at Remus. “The prefect’s bath. The one for the prefects? It’s just down here. Didn’t your Head Boy explain it to you?” At Remus’ shaken head, Severus grimaced. “You’re going to have to explain how Slytherin House works, because it makes less and less sense the more I learn about it.” He sighed. “It’s right over here. The password’s ‘lemon zest’.”

Remus was entranced by the room. He stared around at everything and then smiled at Severus. “This is amazing. What do the taps do?”

Severus had been setting out towels and the food near the edge of the tub. “Get into the bath and see,” he said, beginning to struggle with his own wet clothes. He turned away slightly, not sure if Remus would be embarrassed to undress in front of him. He assumed the Slytherin showers were communal, the way the Gryffindor ones were, but he really didn’t know.

He finished undressing and wrapped a towel around his waist. Turning to get into the tub, he saw Remus’ back. It was covered in scars. Most were thin, like slightly silvery string had been draped over his friend’s back. There were a few thicker ones, red and slightly welted, running down his arms and one long jagged looking one on his hip and right thigh. The worst, though, was a large raised mass of scars just below the place where Remus’ neck met his shoulder. It was semi-circular, and had strange dimpled edges.

Remus turned, a towel now wrapped around his own waist. “Oh,” he said, his voice perfectly flat, “I… forgot. I’m sorry, I should have thought, I’ll—“ he reached for his robes again and unfolded them. “I’ll go. Enjoy your lunch.”

Severus lunged forward in the water. “No! Wait. Please, Remus. What happened?” Remus slowly turned to face him, his hands still full of his robes and trousers.

“I was a clumsy child,” he said, without any expression in his voice.

“Please, don’t go.” Severus could tell that he was pleading, but he couldn’t stop. Every time he thought he was beginning to understand his friend, something happened, something changed and what he thought he knew was proven to be different. “Come into the water; it’s warm and soft. And you can choose the first tap.”

Remus put his clothes back down and, dropping his towel, slid into the water. “Why won’t you tell me what the taps do?”

An hour later, they’d tried every tap and found that nothing could quite get rid of the scent of strawberry bubbles. Remus was leaning back against the side of the bath, and Severus was sitting with his legs across his lap.

“I still can’t believe they didn’t tell you about this,” Severus mused, tipping his head back and sluicing water over his forehead.

Remus grimaced. “My House is not as open as yours is, I think.” He pulled on Severus legs, and wiggled about until Severus was straddling him. “It might have been a test, to see if I am clever enough to find it.” He stroked his hands up Severus’ back, pulling him closer. “Right now I want to see if I can find something much more important.”

This time the kiss felt incendiary to Severus. Remus’ lips on his, the soft stroking of his tongue, the warm water surrounding them and caressing his skin made Severus shiver with sudden desire. He leaned into Remus, sliding his hands down Remus’ chest and losing himself in the kiss.

When his hands stroked across Remus’ nipples, he felt the other boy’s body buck slightly under his. He reached for them deliberately, watching Remus’ expression closely, trying to see what felt good and what he liked. He pinched, carefully; Tarant had done that to Altaire and Altaire had been reduced to helpless moans. Severus hadn’t really been sure that the book had been telling the truth about that reaction, but it seemed to be working on Remus. Maybe it was something that worked on tawny-haired people.

Then Remus’ hands came up and he pinched Severus’ nipples gently. A jolt of sensation ran through his body, making him gasp. That felt much stronger than just rubbing them. He moaned and pressed into Remus’ hands.

Remus’ eyes opened; they were glowing gold and slightly unfocussed. Severus bent forward and kissed him again, enjoying the way he could feel Remus’ body under his; feeling his firm chest and hard thighs. Severus could feel how aroused he was, how hard and stiff he’d grown.

He slid forward, wrapping his arms around Remus’ neck, kissing him more forcefully than he’d kissed anyone before, plundering his mouth. He could feel Remus’ hands slide over his shoulders, and down his back, skating further down. Suddenly, Remus’ fingers were in between his cheeks, pressing in and … He pulled away before he even realised he was moving.

The room was dark and all he could feel was hands, holding him, hurting him.

“No,” he moaned, “please, Siri—“

~*~

Remus pulled back so quickly a small wave sloshed over the edge of the tub and spilled foam onto the white marble of the floor. His hands flew back, away from Severus’ body, then snapped forwards again to grasp Severus’ upper arms when he began to slide off his lap and into the deeper water.

At the sudden movement, Severus opened his eyes. He glanced around the room, then turned to face Remus. Remus’ face was white to the lips and his eyes blazed a hard, flat gold, almost yellow.

Severus shifted, and Remus’ hands lifted off his arms.

“I’m sorr—“

“Don’t you dare apologise,” snapped Remus, his usually calm voice harder than Severus had ever heard. “It’s not the first time I’ve been a surrogate, and I doubt it’ll be the—“

Severus, aghast, blurted, “No, no. That’s not… I wasn’t, I didn’t mean that.” He tried to move closer, back to Remus’ chest, but Remus held up a hand, palm out.

“You aren’t … seeing Black?” His voice was sceptical. “You really expect me to believe that the two of you haven’t already…” he faltered, seemingly uncertain of how to say what he meant.

Severus winced, and moved to sit several feet away from Remus. His face was scarlet. “No, I’m not seeing Sirius. Not any—“ he clenched his fingers around his knees under the water at Remus’ jerk, “We were—we’re friends. Only friends.”

He looked over at Remus, almost afraid of what he would see. Remus was staring down at the water, his profile still and unrevealing. “I think it’s time I went back to my dorm.” His voice was stony.

Severus watched in silence as Remus slid out of the water, not bothering to hide his scars or mention them this time, and reached for his wand. He cast a quick drying charm on himself, and then on his clothes. As he began climbing into his pants, and then his trousers, Severus scrambled out of the tub, wrapped a towel around his waist, and moved slowly to stand behind him.

“I saw them before,” he began, knowing that this was a silly comment, but hoping that he could stall Remus, delay him just a little. “You wear trousers. I thought …”

Remus turned, his shirt unbuttoned and flapping open, exposing his slightly furred chest. “You thought what? That no Slytherins wear anything under those blasted robes? You damned pure-bloods are all the same, you know.” He spun again and began buttoning his shirt, then cursed as he realised he’d mis-buttoned it.

“Pure-blood? I’m not a pure-blood.” Severus moved to stand in front of Remus. “I’m a half-blood. I thought you knew. I thought everyone knew. My da was a Muggle.”

Remus paused, then stopped buttoning. “Really? I thought all four of you were…” He thought for a minute. “Wait, you told me this, didn’t you?”

Severus relaxed slightly. If Remus was talking to him, maybe he wouldn’t leave. “I… I thought,” he blushed, thinking of Remus’ voice when he spat out the word ‘pure-blood’, “I thought that Slytherins were all, well, you know.”

To Severus’ surprise, Remus chuckled. “You thought all Slytherins were pure-bloods.” He began tucking his shirt into his trousers. “No, we’re a,” he smirked, “a pretty diverse group. You’ll find all kinds of … people in Slytherin House.”

Severus shook his hair back from his face. “I never really thought about it. Is that where you got those scars? Because the other boys in your dorm are pure-blood?”

Remus shot him a sharp look, but then relaxed. With a thoughtful look on his face, he said, “Something like that. Look, do you want to get dressed? It’s almost dinner time and Professor McGonagall did say we should show up.”

Severus towelled his hair vigorously, and scrambled into his clothes; finger-combing his hair to keep it back and out of his face. “Will you—we can still talk, right? I wanted…” He hated how anxious he sounded, but he was worried that once they left the bathroom, Remus would leave him alone.

Remus, facing away from him, near the door, sighed. “What do you want from me, Severus? I thought—I don’t know what you want. I know that your friends,” and he made the word drip with venom, “live to make my life a living hell, but honestly, you’ve never done anything except not stand in their way.” He turned, leaning back on the door. “I know you try to stop them, I’m not blind. But I don’t know what you want from me.”

Severus stood in the middle of the floor, staring at him. What he wanted? He wanted to go back to the bathtub, and back in time, and make sure not to be afraid of what Sirius had done, this time. He wanted to know what it would be like to be friends with Remus, friends with him the way he was, or had been, with Sirius. He wanted to kiss Remus more, to feel the warmth and thrill that kissing Remus gave him. He wanted to be able to say the things he was thinking, without sounding like a total girl’s blouse.

“I want,” he sucked in a breath, and blurted out, “I want to be friends with you.” There, he thought, I said it.

Remus flinched, almost imperceptibly. Then he straightened up, a twisted smile on his face. “Friends it is, then.” He turned and pulled the door open. “Come on, mate. Let’s go to dinner.”

At dinner, something felt wrong to Severus. Remus had crossed the room to sit at the Gryffindor table, and was telling him a funny story about something that had happened over the summer, and Severus thought that he should feel happier. He’d finally told Remus how he felt, that he wanted to be friends, but instead of making them seem like friends, instead of making them closer, it seemed to have made Remus pull away.

He laughed at the end of the story, and told Remus about the time, when he was thirteen, that the Carnivorous Night Blooming Lilies in his mam’s garden ate the Muggle neighbour’s yappy dog and how even though everyone else in the neighbourhood was a Muggle, and they had no idea that his mam’s plant had eaten the dog, they’d all stopped by and surreptitiously thanked him and his mam for getting rid of the dog. As he told the story, though, he realised that it was rather sad, actually. No one had liked the dog, sure, but the woman next door had been terribly upset and Severus could see now that she’d been as heartbroken as if she’d lost a child.

He faltered in the tale, and pushed his plate aside. “I guess it’s not really that funny,” he muttered. Remus was looking at him, his face unreadable. “I’m going to go upstairs,” Severus continued. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” Remus nodded, but didn’t say anything as Severus left the Great Hall.

~*~

The next day, and the next, the strange restraint was there still, making Severus wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to just let Remus storm out of the prefect’s bath. At least then he might not feel this … flat inside, as if he’d put his hand into what he thought was a deep pool and found it was only an inch deep. What was wrong? He had what he wanted, he shouldn’t be unhappy.

The day after that was three days before New Year’s Day, and he spent as much of the morning as he could buried in the Restricted Section, trying to find curses he could use to create the spell he needed, the spell to help Remus protect himself. He’d dreamed, the night before, of Remus’ body, sprawled out on a bed, a bed so large he couldn’t see the edges of it in his dream. Remus’ skin had been golden against the pale cream of the sheets, almost glowing with life and health. He rolled over to show his back, and Severus could see that he had only one scar, the large, shiny one on his shoulder. He smiled up at Severus over his shoulder, and Severus could see that the scarred skin didn’t move well, that it was too tight and pulled when Remus twisted. Suddenly, Remus rolled onto his back again, exposing his chest and front, but before Severus could look, or look away, Remus’ face changed. He looked terrified, and he twisted frantically, trying to cover himself, trying to protect his face, his groin, his chest. Just as Severus turned, looking for what must be behind him that was scaring Remus, he caught a glimpse of blood beginning to stain the sheets under Remus, of the wounds he knew criss-crossed Remus’ body, of the wounds tearing open like mouths, like slices, like throats and pouring blood all over the sheets, all over Remus and he looked down and his hands were covered, oh god they were covered in blood, blood everywhere.

He’d woken up with his hands clenched into fists in front of his face, his nails having cut half-moon-shaped slices into his palms.

He’d eaten only a piece of toast for breakfast and had gone immediately to the library. Whatever had hurt Remus that much, whatever Remus was that scared of, he could do something about it. He could help, even though he didn’t know whether Remus would accept the help. He couldn’t just walk away, though. No matter how empty he felt, he needed to help.

~*~

He felt a hand on his hair, brushing it back and away from his face. Fingers stroked down his cheek, and along his neck to his shoulder, where they tightened and shook him. Blearily, he opened his eyes. He saw parchment, stacks of books and … oh. He was in the library, trying to find something to use to help Remus.

He sat up and looked around. Remus was sitting next to him, staring at the books Severus had spread out on the table.

“What’s all this?” Remus flipped open Designing Curses for Fun and Profit and eyed the illustration of a “victim” thrashing about under a “designer’s” cleverly applied alteration to the Homunculus charm. “You’re working on another charm? It looks, er, painful. And exhausting.” He smirked at Severus, who was still trying to wake himself up. He couldn’t believe he’d fallen asleep in the library. He hadn’t done that since third year.

“What time is it,” Severus yawned. The library was dark, but that didn’t mean much in the dead of winter.

“It’s past lunch,” Remus answered, still distracted by the illustrations. He had turned the book sideways and was bending the page back and forth. “I don’t think this one works. It looks like the victim is laughing. That can’t be right.”

Severus leaned over and looked at the picture. “Oh. Yeah, that book’s terrible. I just wanted to check the references in back.” He began stacking the books to re-shelve them. “I guess I’m done for the day. What were you looking for?”

Remus blinked at him and smiled. “I was looking for you. You weren’t at breakfast, and then I couldn’t find you outside,” Severus glanced at the library wall, while Remus continued, “and I finally ran you to ground here.” He tossed the book on top of the nearest stack. “What are you doing? Want some help?”

“I don’t… I mean, I’m working on something that’s not for class.” Severus walked to the shelf to start putting books away. He said, over his shoulder, “It’s something private.” He refused to feel responsible for the disappointed look on Remus’ face.

“What’s this doing here?” Remus held up a small book with a tattered blue leather cover. “It’s got a recipe for turtle soup…” he flipped a page, “and here’s a page on carving up a cow.”

Severus picked up the last few books and carefully slid them on the shelf. “Oh. That was on the shelf, but I don’t know why. It looks like a medieval cookery book.” He put a hand on Remus’ shoulder and leaned over him to look in the book. The illustration of carving a cow was graphic and explicit. It showed first the whole cow, then the skin peeling off, then the sections being sliced off in large chunks.

Severus’ eyes widened and he plucked the book from Remus’ hands. “This is it,” he whispered. “This is what I needed.” He reached out for his parchment and quill and found Remus already handing them to him, a small smile on his face. “Thanks. I’ll need to study this, though.”

“I’m glad to help.” Remus’ voice was dry. “Now, are you going to do anything else but stare at it, or should I just sit here and watch you watch the book?”

~*~

Severus sat in his common room, surrounded by scraps of parchment. He’d concluded that the spell the antique book described for carving slaughtered beef would be a good thing to base his new curse on. It was simple, clear and exactly what he needed. “Sectum,” he whispered, and smiled as the parchment in front of him sliced in half. It wasn’t quite enough, though, he wanted it to be the same length and depth every time. Sectum by itself wasn’t very precise.

He gathered up his shreds of parchment and tossed them into the fire. He’d done enough work for the day; he could go to bed now.

As he walked up the stairs to his dorm, he hoped he wouldn’t have any more dreams.

~*~

On New Year’s Eve, Severus jogged downstairs to breakfast. He’d figured out what he thought the rest of the spell should be, but it still needed practicing. There was something off about the wand movement…

He was hoping to see Remus; he hadn’t seen the other boy since he’d found the book in the library, and he was getting a little nervous. There weren’t enough people in the castle for Remus to be hiding with other students, and it had been snowing for the past full day.

Remus didn’t come to breakfast; Severus began to worry. He was thin enough as it was, it wouldn’t be good at all if Remus were skipping meals. He waited until the Entrance Hall was clear and slipped down the stairs to the dungeons. He walked down the corridor leading to the Potions classroom, trying to remember which direction the Slytherin students seemed to be coming from for morning classes. He stood uncertainly at an intersection, staring down the three corridors. They both appeared to lead directly into musty, damp, endless darkness.

“Looking for something?”

Severus jumped, and spun around. “What? Who—“ Remus was leaning on one shoulder against the wall, his arms crossed and eyes narrowed.

His lips twisted. “What do you want, Severus?”

Severus stepped closer. “I was worried about you. I haven’t seen you—where have you been? You look,” he tipped his head to the side, “you look thinner. Remus, aren’t you eating?” He reached out a hand towards Remus’ cheekbone, sharp under his skin, but hesitated.

To his surprise, Remus sighed and stepped forward, bringing his cheek into Severus’ hand. “I’ve been eating, but I just…” he looked away, then slumped. “I thought I would just stay in my dorm. It’s … easier.”

“Easier? Why?” Severus felt bewildered. Everything had gone wrong since he’d blurted out what he wanted in the bath and now Remus didn’t even want to be his friend. “Never mind. I’ll let you get to it, then.” He turned and started to walk away, his hands clenched at his side.

“Wait,” Remus called. “Severus, really. Wait. You can’t go that way. You’ll … oh hell.”

Severus heard a gusty sigh, then Remus’ footsteps echoing off the stone walls. He stopped moving and let his head fall into his hands. “Now he just left,” he muttered, only to jump again when he felt a hand on his neck.

“You’ll get lost if you go down there,” Remus said in a strangely gentle tone. “You have to go this way.” He led Severus down two corridors and through a room that he was sure he’d never seen before. Severus was about to accuse him of leading him deeper into the bowels of the castle to abandon him when the corridor took an abrupt left turn and opened onto the kitchen corridor, very nearly opposite the painting with the fruit.

Severus faced Remus, wishing he was as brave as Gryffindors were supposed to be. He took a deep breath, gathered his courage and choked out, "Listen, whatever I've done...I know I've done something wrong and I don't know what it is. I would apologise but I just don't..." he lifted his head. "Whatever I have done, tell me and let me make it right."

Remus sagged against the wall across from him. “Apologise? What do you have to be sorry for? You told me what you wanted; it’s not your fault that I have to get used to that, is it? I thought you wanted something—you’ve done nothing wrong.”

Severus stood still for a moment, feeling as if there was something important here, something that he shouldn’t miss. “You’re avoiding me because I said it’s what I want?” That couldn’t be right.

“No.” Remus glared at his feet. “Fine. I’ll tell you.” He fixed his gaze on Severus, his eyes glowing. “I’m avoiding you because I can’t give you what you asked for. I can’t be just friends. Not right away. I wanted more, and I thought you wanted the same thing.” He took two steps away from Severus and stopped with his back still to him. “You don’t want what I want; you want Black. Just… let me be for another day and I’ll be able to be your friend.”

Severus laughed, and Remus spun around, his face a mask of fury.

“You’re laughing at me?”

Severus sobered at the mixed anger and pain in Remus’ eyes. “No,” he said. “Honestly, I’m not. I just… I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean what you thought…” He moved slowly towards Remus, his eyes locked with Remus’ confused ones. “I meant something very different, but I must have said everything wrong.” He reached up and slipped his fingers into the soft hair at the nape of Remus’ neck. “I don’t want Sirius,” he whispered into Remus’ mouth, “I want you.” He pulled Remus to him and pressed his lips against Remus mouth.

Remus was stiff, his head barely tilted far enough for Severus to reach him. Severus pressed soft kisses to his lips and his line of his clenched jaw. The slight scratch of hair there scraped Severus’ lips, and he shivered. Then he touched the tip of his tongue to the hollow at Remus’ jaw and licked short strokes down Remus’ neck.

Remus melted, relaxing into Severus’ body. Suddenly he groaned and wrapped one arm around Severus’ waist. His other hand came up and pulled Severus’ face back up to his; he spent long minutes kissing Severus’ lips and his cheeks and his eyes before he brought his mouth back to Severus’.

Their lips opened and Severus lost any ability to think of anything more than the hard feel of Remus’ hand pressing him to Remus’ chest, and the soft, warm invasion of Remus’ tongue. He whimpered and Remus softened the kiss, coaxing his tongue to twine with his.

They broke apart, panting and flushed.

“Remus,” Severus leaned against his chest and dropped his forehead onto Remus’ shoulder, “I have an idea. Why don’t we…” he hesitated and Remus stepped back, keeping his hands on Severus’ arms.

“Why don’t we what?” Remus looked steadily at him, eyebrows raised.

“Let’s ask the Elves for a picnic and go sit up in our room and spend the whole day there.” Severus shifted so he was a little further away. “We could bring some stuff and transfigure it into a bigger sofa and … you could eat something. You’re turning into a stick. ” He smirked. “I have a vested interest in keeping you healthy, after all. Must keep your strength up.” He leaned in for another kiss, grinning and blushing at Remus’ strong response.

~*~

Severus groped around on the floor for his glass. He and Remus had decided, when it started to get dark, that they should have champagne for New Years, and they’d transfigured the water the elves had sent along in a large bottle to champagne. Severus had discovered that he couldn’t drink more than two glassfuls without making the room spin.

Remus didn’t seem to be as susceptible to the alcohol, but he had been laughing at Severus’ inability to walk and everything seemed wonderful.

In fact, Severus thought, bringing the glass to his lips and sipping, things were wonderful all around. He was sprawled out on the sofa, which they had spent several minutes making larger and more comfortable, with his head on Remus’ lap and his feet dangling over the sofa arm. Remus smiled down at him, stroking his hair back from his face.

“You know,” Severus said thoughtfully, staring out the window, “the full moon’ll be soon. The grounds are lovely during the full moon.” Remus’ hand tangled in Severus’ hair, pulling it slightly. Severus looked up at him and smiled. “Would you like to see it?”

Remus’ eyes were closed, and Severus could see that, for some reason, the hand holding Remus’ champagne glass was shaking. He opened his eyes; they shimmered in the candlelight. “Oh yes,” he whispered, his voice fervent, “I’d give almost anything to see it.”

“It’s on the—“

“Fifth, I know.” Remus drained his glass and levitated the bottle to refill it.

Severus sat up. “Slow down. You can get sick if you go too fast.” He blinked rapidly, suddenly seeing, not the comforting stone room lit with candles, but his sitting room at home, dark and musty, with his da spread out on the floor where he’d fallen after coming home the night before. There had been some smelly liquid near his head, but before he could get close enough to see if his da was breathing, his mam had scooped him up and taken him away.

When he’d asked her, she’d said that drinking could make people sick. Two days later, she’d had to explain that she’d meant that drinking a certain kind of liquid could make people sick, not just drinking water.

“Hey,” Remus’ voice cut through the fog of memories. “Where’d you go?”

Severus blinked at him. “Oh. I went home.” He tipped his head to the side. “Is your home nice? ‘Cause mine is nice now, but it wasn’t nice before. I like going home, now.” He rubbed his face. “I think the champagne’s made me confused.”

Remus set his glass aside, and gently tugged Severus’ from his hand. “I’ll show you something I’m not confused about at all.” He placed his hands on either side of Severus’ face, his fingers sliding into Severus’ hair and cupping his head. Slowly he brought Severus’ face to his, dropping kisses over his cheeks and eyes before pressing softly against Severus mouth. He pulled back, then kissed him again, warming his lips, tasting them; finally Severus opened his mouth and moaned, reaching his tongue out to twine with Remus’.

He wrapped an arm around Remus’ body, pulling the other boy as close to him as he could. Remus was strong; his chest felt wonderful against Severus’, muscular and flat. Severus slid his other hand into Remus’ hair, curling his fingers through the soft strands of it, feeling the way it slid over his palm.

Suddenly, it wasn’t enough. Severus pulled back, smiling at Remus’ half-lidded eyes and well-kissed mouth. “I want … I want to touch you,” he whispered, and felt a jolt run through his body at the sudden almost feral light in Remus’ eyes. “I want you to touch me.”

Remus closed his eyes for a moment. Severus could hear him breathing; panting, as though with exertion, even though they were sitting still. He expelled one last breath and shook himself, hard. Then he stood up, lifting Severus with him.

“If we’re going to do this,” he said firmly, “then we shouldn’t be on this sofa. It’ll just … we’ll roll off.” Severus laughed, somewhat startled, at this image, and nodded. “So,” Remus continued, his calm demeanour belied by the way his hands were shaking, “since you’re the better one at transfiguration…” he gestured widely at the sofa.

Severus nodded, suddenly nervous, and closed his eyes, picturing what he wanted. A large bed, he thought, with soft pillows and several blankets. He opened his eyes and glanced around. “We don’t have enough stuff,” he said, and upended the small table and all the stools onto the sofa. With a nod, he closed his eyes again, pictured what he wanted and waved his wand.

Remus burst out laughing. Severus’ eyes popped open to see a largish bed, with the most violently purple sheets and blankets imaginable. He winced, but Remus said, “Oh, it’s fine. I just wasn’t expecting, you know, Professor Dumbledore’s favourite colour.”

Severus cocked his head to the side. “Actually, I was going for white. Do you think it’s the Headmaster or the castle who likes purple that much?”

Remus chuckled, then wrapped his arms around Severus, nestling his chest up against Severus back and leaning his chin on Severus’ shoulder. “I guess it might be the castle. You’re an unusual thinker, you know. I’d never have thought of the castle…” He nuzzled into Severus’ hair and began kissing his neck, alternately nipping at his skin, then softening the bite with the flat of his tongue.

Severus moaned, letting his head fall to the side and exposing more of his neck. He could feel how excited Remus was; his hips were rocking gently against Severus arse. Severus could feel, even through all the layers of their clothes, how hard Remus’ cock was.

Remus began unbuttoning Severus’ robes, fumbling and tugging until Severus pulled away and laughed. “I’ll do that; I want to watch you.”

Remus looked wild, his hair was shining like dark gold in the mixed candle and moon light and his eyes shimmered. He tugged the first few buttons of his robe open, then cursed and pulled it over his head, tossing it away into a corner. As Severus watched, he got caught in the sleeve of his shirt, and snarled.

Severus, who hadn’t been wearing more than pants and his robes, moved forward. He was a little uncertain about his body—compared to Remus’ golden perfection, he seemed a pale scarecrow—but Remus seemed to be getting upset. “Let me help you,” he whispered, and Remus’ gaze snapped to him.

His eyes widened, and he dropped his hands to his sides. “You’re beautiful.” Whatever had been making him hurry seemed to flow out of him and he stood still under Severus’ hands. Once his shirt was off, Severus knelt down and began untying Remus’ shoes.

When Severus knelt, Remus groaned and his hips thrust forward. Severus’ eyes flew to his face, and he suddenly had a wicked idea. In that book, Tarant had put his mouth on Altaire, had licked and kissed and sucked on Altaire’s cock. Severus stopped working on Remus’ shoes and pressed his face to Remus’ crotch, nuzzling against the length he felt there. The groan he heard from above him encouraged him. He undid Remus’ trousers, sliding them down his legs with his pants.

Before he had a chance to think about what he was doing, and worry that he might do it wrong, he grasped the long, heavy cock in front of him and sucked as much of it into his mouth as he could. Remus made a sort of strangled noise, and Severus tried to take more in. He gagged and pulled back, but he could feel Remus’ hand in his hair, stroking across his cheek. He slid his mouth up and down, enjoying the feel of the soft skin moving over the hard, resilient length.

Remus’ foreskin slid back and forth, and Severus carefully worked his tongue under it, flicking the tip of his tongue against the delicate underside of Remus’ glans. Remus’ hips jerked forwards and Severus caught a tooth on the sensitive skin.

“I’m sorry,” he gasped, hearing the short cry above him. He tugged Remus’ shoes off, and his trousers and then blinked up at him, nervous again.

“Come up here.” Remus’ voice was hoarse. Severus stood, feeling the warmth of Remus’ golden skin filling the air around them. “You’ve never done that, have you?”

Severus winced. “Did I do it right?”

“Yes!” Remus wrapped his arms around Severus, pulling them together and fitting his body to Severus’. “I don’t think it’s possible to do it wrong. I’m just flattered that you’re doing it with me.” His hands stroked up and down Severus’ body, palms broad and warm. Severus shivered, making Remus step back. “I think it’s time we tried out the purple bed,” he murmured.

They lay under the blankets, curled up with Severus’ back to Remus’ chest. Remus nipped at Severus’ neck again, his teeth pinching the hollow where his neck met his shoulder. His hands roamed all over Severus’ body; one concentrating on twisting and rubbing Severus’ nipples and the other stroking his cock.

Severus thrashed under his hands, the sensations ripping through him. The sharp tug of Remus’ teeth contrasted with the gentle way he was fisting up and down on Severus’ cock sent heat through him, pooling in his chest and groin. He could feel, against his back, Remus thrusting, not into his arse, but against the small of his back, leaving moist trails of pre-come.

Remus was practically growling, his movements growing erratic and his hips thrusting harder and harder. The sounds he was making went through Severus; he could feel his own orgasm building, like a slow wave, rising towards a crest.

Suddenly, Remus’ growls changed; it sounded as if he were whining under the growls. His body stiffened, his hips snapping forward one last time. Severus yelped as Remus bit down on the tender skin just below his ear and hoped he’d not broken the skin.

He wasn’t given any time to think about it. Remus pulled away and shoved him over onto his back. Severus gasped at the abrupt move. He looked down and saw a wild-eyed look on Remus’ face before Remus bent over his cock and sucked it into his mouth. Severus howled; the wet heat and suction were more intense than he’d imagined they could be. He couldn’t stop his hips’ thrusting; all he could see was light and stars and the moon floating over his head, coming closer and closer until its light filled him and he exploded, releasing light and heat everywhere.

He thought he felt Remus whisper something against his leg, but he was too exhausted to ask him to repeat it. Remus crawled up next to him and pulled Severus into his arms. Severus sighed and curled up against his chest.

Just as he drifted off, he thought he heard Remus say, “Sleep well, love.”

~*~

Severus woke up slowly. He was warm, and there were arms wrapped around him, and he could feel, under his hands, something soft and furry… He blinked a couple of times and looked up into nervous amber eyes.

“We fell asleep,” whispered Remus, a smile flickering on his lips. Severus yawned and rubbed his face with one hand. He could feel, just behind his eyes, the beginning of a headache. “How are you feeling?” Remus shifted slightly, so that Severus’ head was pillowed on his shoulder.

“I think I’m going to have a headache,” Severus mumbled, and was rewarded by the rumble of a chuckle from Remus.

“You did have a lot of the champagne.” Remus’ hand stroked up and down Severus’ back, reminding him of what they’d done the night before. He blushed, and shifted, hoping his body’s reaction to being held so closely wasn’t obvious to Remus.

Remus pulled Severus closer, snuggling up to him. He didn’t seem to be upset at the fact that Severus’ hard cock was pressed up against his hip; in fact, he didn’t even seem to notice it. “Everyone’s coming back tomorrow,” he said, his voice low.

Severus nodded. “I know. I don’t—will you still be …” he trailed off, realising that he didn’t know what he and Remus were. Calling them just friends didn’t work, and it would make Remus upset again. He raised up onto his elbow, pushing the blanket down a little, and placed his other hand on the centre of Remus’ chest. There was a short scar there, and his fingers traced back and forth along its length. Remus lay flat, one hand on his stomach almost under the blanket, and the other curved under Severus, his fingers rubbing his hip.

Severus took a deep breath, keeping his eyes on his fingers. “I don’t want to stop … whatever this is.”

“Then don’t.” Remus let his hand slip further down Severus’ back until it lay, barely touching him, against the curve of his arse. “Who’s to stop you?” His voice was mild.

Severus glanced up at his face. His expression wasn’t mild; it was fierce, but Severus couldn’t determine if he was angry or simply upset, so he nodded and turned back to the scar he was rubbing. Slowly, he stroked across the scars that covered Remus, wondering where the other boy had been so badly beaten. “Did you get these at home?” he asked tentatively.

Remus stiffened, and Severus worried that he’d offended him again, but all he said was, “No. They’re … not from my parents.” Severus thought of his father’s brother and winced. “Not from anyone in my family, actually,” Remus continued. “I know they’re ugly.”

Severus shook his head sharply. “They’re not ugly. How could you think so? You’re all golden, all—“ He blushed at the arrested look on Remus’ face.

Remus sucked in a breath and pulled Severus against his chest. He kissed him wildly, lips and tongue and teeth, his hands first buried in Severus’ hair, then slid down to press their hips together and Severus could feel that Remus was as aroused as he was. Remus moaned into Severus’ mouth when their cocks rubbed together, and Severus felt a strong rush of power; that he could make the normally contained Slytherin behave so passionately made him determined to make Remus lose all control.

He swallowed the moan, and thrust his tongue into Remus’ mouth, stroking against his tongue, and then sucked Remus’ tongue into his own mouth. Then he pulled back a little, and began dropping kisses along Remus’ cheek, down to his ear, where he stopped and spent several moments nibbling and licking. He remembered how it had felt, the night before, to have Remus’ teeth scrape at the sensitive skin just where his neck met his shoulder, and worked his way down the warm skin of Remus’ neck.

Gently, he bit down, only just at the last minute realising that he was biting the curiously large scar on Remus’ shoulder. Remus shouted and thrashed; before Severus knew what had happened, Remus flipped them over. His face was a mask of desire, almost blank, and Severus shivered, suddenly much less interested in doing anything. Remus leaned down and pressed his mouth against Severus’ neck, and Severus whimpered, torn. His body was responding, but he felt something inside himself pulling away, trying to hide.

At his sound, Remus lifted back up. His eyes were wild, and his mouth was red, as if he’d been biting instead of just kissing. Severus froze, feeling suddenly as if he were in grave danger, and that he must be very very still. Above him, Remus’ body was clenched, shaking, his eyes closed; Severus almost couldn’t see if he was breathing.

When Remus opened his eyes again, Severus could see that whatever had taken control of Remus was gone. His eyes were dark bronze, and his body had relaxed. He collapsed to the side, and buried his face in his hands. Severus rolled over to face him.

“I’m sorry.” Remus’ voice was hoarse, as if he’d been yelling for hours instead of just shouting once. “I’m—that scar is … sensitive. I should have said.”

Severus reached out, careful to touch Remus’ arm. “It’s all right. Really. Just, I was reminded of… it’s okay.” He stroked slowly along Remus’ arm, then along his side and hip. “I’ll remember.”

Remus smiled at him, a little shakily. He fell onto his back, and Severus followed him. Severus shivered again, but Remus was warm; his arms felt strong and supportive as they came up and held Severus to his chest.

“What do you want to do today?” Severus’ head was on Remus’ chest, and his voice sounded deeper than usual. Severus smiled and decided he didn’t want to let things end like this. He slid his face over and took Remus’ nipple in his mouth. Remus stilled under his touch, then his hand clenched in Severus’ hair. “Don’t… don’t do this unless you want to,” he growled.

“Oh, I want to,” Severus breathed. He moved slowly back and forth between the flat discs, coaxing them into tight peaks, and then gently nipping them. When his teeth pressed into the first one, Remus’ hips thrust upward, his cock full and heavy. Severus trailed down, kissing the scars and stroking the ribs that showed under the scars. It almost seemed that Remus was thinner this morning than he had been the night before. Then Severus was at Remus’ hips and there was no room for thoughts that didn’t involve the heady scent of sweat and hair and sex.

He opened his mouth as wide as it could go and lowered it over Remus’ cock, doing his best to keep the pink head from touching any part of his mouth, trying to see if just his warm breath could excite his partner. After a moment, he closed his mouth and sucked sharply, not sliding upwards, just sucking on the soft skin, feeling it slide over the firm length it covered.

Under him, Remus writhed and shook, his hips thrusting shallowly and his hands moving restlessly over the sheets. They clenched in the fabric, then released and moved to Severus’ head and shoulders. Severus grinned around his mouthful of heated flesh and carefully wrapped a hand around the soft balls hanging just below. At that, Remus shifted; Severus twisted to look up and saw that Remus was up on his elbows and was staring down at Severus. His eyes were wide and glassy and his mouth was hanging slightly open, as if he’d started to say something and then forgot.

Severus closed his lips and slid his mouth up, trying to tap the tip of his tongue against the heavy vein along the underside of Remus’ prick. When he reached the tip, he pulled the foreskin back and sucked once, hard, on the delicate skin hidden there. Remus made the most interesting noise and his eyes rolled back in his head. His hips shook and he fell back again, his head tossing from side to side. His cock thickened, and shot heavy liquid into Severus’ mouth, filling it and saturating his senses. He sucked a few times, until Remus whined under him and tried to pull away.

Remus tugged on Severus shoulder. “Come up here,” he said, and, as Severus crawled up the bed, Remus slid down. Severus’ last coherent thought was how beautiful Remus looked. Then he was too distracted to think of anything at all.

~*~

They made it to lunch in the Great Hall, and spent the few hours remaining of the last day of hols playing chess in the room on the seventh floor. As dinner approached, they both became quieter. Severus felt the approach of the next day, with the rest of the students, like an approaching storm. It felt as if his skin was prickling and several times he caught Remus glancing out the window at the night sky.

After the last game, Remus grabbed Severus’ hand. “Stay here again? With me? I’m—I don’t want to be alone tonight.”

Severus nodded, eagerly. He didn’t think he could sleep in his bed, by himself, with the dorm empty. Not right now, not after the warmth and companionship of the last night. The silence would keep him awake, would keep him missing Remus. “Yes. We should be at breakfast, though,” he grimaced, “because everyone else will come sometime between that and lunch.” Something occurred to him. “Where does Dunn think you’ve been?”

“The first year? He’s too busy being scared of Madam Pince to think about anything.” Remus shrugged. “He’s all right. Not very curious, though.”

~*~

After dinner, they brought a pitcher of hot chocolate up to the room, along with several stools and desks they’d collected from other emptied classrooms. They transfigured the stools into giant pillar candles and spent several hours curled up on the bed, talking. Before long, Severus was telling Remus about his mam’s new garden and how it had gone from something that she could barely make ends meet with to something that was thriving. He tried to transfigure one of the chocolate mugs into a miniature version of the garden, but it leaked brown liquid onto the bed and he gave up.

Remus just laughed and cleaned up the mess. “It sounds lovely,” he said. “My mum’s working at a bookstore right now, but she’s having a hard time of it. She … sending me here is hard on her, but she won’t let me quit. She says that I have to finish, that I have to be the first—“ He took a deep swallow of chocolate and coughed. “I wanted to quit last year, after OWLs, but she refused.”

The shadow on his face made Severus ache, somewhere deep inside, and he nodded. “I tried the same thing, only in third year. My mam was the same.” Remus sent him a tilted, half-sad smile and Severus felt his stomach clench.

The bed that night was warm, but Severus found himself feeling as though he had to get more out of every second, as if there wasn’t going to ever be enough time to get everything he wanted with Remus. Remus clung to him, after everything, and he felt what seemed disturbingly like tears on Remus’ cheek, when he kissed it before snuggling down into Remus’ arms.

~*~

Severus was just putting the last few clean shirts the House Elves had left on his bed into the bureau when he heard the sound of feet pounding up the stairs. He turned, not sure how to feel, how to look, when Sirius burst into the room, laughing.

“Severus! I hoped I’d find you here. How was the holiday?” He threw himself at Severus and enveloped him into a huge hug, his hands pounding at Severus’ back, then pulled away, holding Severus at arm’s length and beaming at him. “Was it awful? Were you lonely?”

Severus pulled out of Sirius’ hands and nearly laughed at the fact that he had been so much the opposite of lonely that it wasn’t even possible think of the two words at the same time. “No,” he said, smiling at Sirius’ enthusiasm, “it was good, actually. I got some studying done and I did some extra work as well.”

Sirius laughed. “Trust you to spoil a holiday with work.” He threw himself backwards onto his bed and lay sprawled out, grinning over at Severus. “What did you do, anyway?”

Severus sat down slowly on his bed, wondering what he could say and what he shouldn’t say. “I studied the Astronomy stuff—“

“Late nights up on the Tower?” Sirius leered at him and then blushed fiercely. “Um, I didn’t mean… I, um.”

Severus laughed. “Yes, you did. You’re incorrigible, you know that?” Somehow, it felt like the time apart over the hols had been good for them. “Listen, there’s something I wanted to tell you, but—“

“Hey SIRIUS,” bellowed James, from downstairs. “Are you coming to lunch? I’m sure it’s lunch time already and I’m starving.”

Sirius and Severus shared a look of total amusement and understanding. “Children,” Sirius said, his voice dry, “I’m surrounded by children.” He yelped when the pillow Severus threw at his head hit him in the nose.

At lunch, Severus sat so he could see Remus. He listened to James and Sirius try to tell him everything they’d done, but they were talking over each other and laughing so much that he could barely understand anything they said. Peter kept interjecting jokes and places his mum had taken him. The whole Hall was ringing with the sounds of friends getting reacquainted. The sheer noise of it made Severus’ head hurt. He glanced over at Remus and saw him staring down at his plate, his face tense. His Housemates had left a large amount of empty space around him again, and Severus felt his anger rise.

He turned back to his friends, struggling to keep his emotions off his face. James and Peter were flicking peas at each other, but Sirius was staring straight at him, his face expressionless. Severus felt his chin rise and his expression changed to defiance.

“Yes?” He was proud of how cool his voice was.

Sirius looked away, and mumbled, “Nothing. What, er, what did you get for Christmas?”

~*~

Severus’ Astronomy Class that week was on Tuesday. Professor Sinistra had them observe a full moon once every season; she said it was good to see which stars and constellations were visible in the brilliant light from the full moon as well as those which were more delicate and only displayed themselves in the dark of the new moon.

Severus had waited at the bottom of the staircase for Remus, but he hadn’t come to class. Worried, Severus walked up the stairs slowly, continuing to check behind himself until he reached the door. He drew the door shut behind himself, to block out any stray candle light from the hall, and joined the rest of the group.

The students huddled together at the top of the Astronomy Tower and stared out over the grounds. Hagrid’s hut looked miniature next to the looming dark presence of the Forbidden Forest and the lake glimmered in the moon’s light, which flashed on the small wavelets raised by the night’s wind. Severus leaned on the wall and looked up. There were several high, thin clouds scudding through the sky; they covered the moon’s face for the first several minutes of class, but then the sharp wind shredded them and the moon burst forth.

Suddenly a lone howl lifted above the Forest. After a few moments, a chorus of wolves joined the first, and the night rang with the sounds of wolves in full song. Several students gasped sharply, and Professor Sinistra stepped away from the shadowed wall where she’d been standing.

“The full moon in January is often referred to as the Wolf Moon,” her dark voice said, softly.

When Severus crept into the dorm after class, trying to be quiet enough to not wake anyone up, he noticed that Sirius’ bed was empty. He turned, thinking that he must have missed him sitting in the common room, then shrugged and got into bed. It was late, he was tired, and Sirius could take care of himself. He’d ask where he’d been in the morning.

~*~

The Prophet’s headline the next morning drove all thoughts of where Sirius had been out of Severus’ head. The headline screamed, “DEATH EATERS KILL FAMILY IN PORTSMOUTH” and the accompanying photograph showed the damage explicitly. The house was completely destroyed, and Severus could see, sticking out from under one of the fallen walls, a small arm covered in dirt.

The article, written by one of the Prophet’s stringers, a witch named Skeeter, dwelt in loving detail on the fact that the family had been Muggles, with a Wizarding child at Hogwarts. That the child was now an orphan, and that there wasn’t anything that could be recovered from the destroyed dwelling-place. Severus’ reading was interrupted by a rising shriek from the Ravenclaw table. Professor Flitwick was running so quickly to his table that he appeared to be flying; Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey weren’t far behind.

Severus pushed his plate away, unable to face eating. He looked over at his friends. Peter looked grey, Sirius looked like he was going to be sick, but James was glaring, lit with fury.

“Those damned Death Eaters! Think they’re so tough, facing down some defenceless Muggles, what does that show?” He’d begun in a harsh whisper, but his voice rose so that by the end of the sentence, he was practically screaming.

“What indeed,” came Professor Dumbledore’s voice, magically enhanced, from the dais above them. He was standing, leaning forward with his hands propped on the table. “What we can learn from this, is that those who would strike against us choose to strike against our weakest allies, against those who can not defend themselves, and thereby, our enemies show their own weakness and cowardice. We must remember, when it is our turn that we must rise up to defend the weakest among us. It is not enough to simply defend ourselves, we must stand together, or we will fall, each of us alone.” He sat, and the noise level in the Hall began to rise.

Severus stared at his friends, and said, “I think I need to owl my mam.” James nodded once, but Sirius went white.

Peter leaned forward. “Do you…do you think they’d go after her? She’s a Pureblood and you know the Death Eaters leave Purebloods alone.”

Severus’ fists clenched, but James jumped in first. “You idiot. She married a Muggle, didn’t she? Do you think You Know Who’s supporters would think that’s okay?” He flinched, and spun around. “You know I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” he said urgently to Severus, who shook his head.

“No, it’s all right. I know what you mean.” He forced himself to relax. “For all we know, Death Eaters would think she was as sullied as…as I am.” He sighed, heavily. “We’d better get to class. Defence won’t wait.”

Severus spent class staring out the window instead of concentrating on the counter-curses being demonstrated. Suddenly, he remembered that Remus was a half-blood as well. He stared around the room, trying to see Remus. His normal seat, in the back, closest the door, was empty. Could he still be sick?

After class, he slowly gathered up his things, thinking. Maybe Remus was sick again. He’d missed two classes. He was probably in the hospital wing. He started to leave the classroom, when he heard James on the other side of the door.

“—don’t like it, Sirius. What if he finds out? He’ll be furious.”

“I don’t care.” Severus could tell Sirius was wearing his most annoying sullen expression. “I think we need to know, and…”

Severus shoved the door open. “Oh!” He smiled. “I didn’t know you were still here. Thanks for waiting for me. It’s lunchtime and I’m starving. Come on!” He strode away down the hall, hoping Sirius wasn’t being as stupid as he could be.

After lunch, Severus said he was going to the prefects room for a meeting. Sirius and Peter had to go to class, and James wanted to study in the library. After making sure that James was really in the library, and smirking to himself at how often he was staring at Evans instead of his revision, Severus went to the infirmary.

Madam Pomfrey met him at the door, her arms crossed and her face set in a scowl.

“I’m here to give Re—Lupin his class work,” Severus said, trying to look responsible.

“You’re not to disturb him,” she said firmly, “he’s sleeping. He had a rough night.” She stood aside and waved him toward the bed furthest from the door. It had draperies drawn all the way round it, and Severus remembered that it had been hidden from view the one other time he knew Remus had been in hospital. What could be wrong with him? He was sick so often.

He passed the Ravenclaw student sleeping on a cot and slowly drew aside the drapes around Remus’ bed. He lay there, asleep, his hair spilling out over the pillow, and his skin almost as white as the sheets. Severus made a small noise and stepped inside the draperies.

There were new wounds. One, on Remus’ wrist, looked almost like a bite. Severus could see, where Remus’ pyjama top gaped open, several long scratches running up from his shoulder to his neck. They were red and raw, and Severus felt himself begin to get angry. Someone was hurting a person he cared about. He couldn’t let this continue.

He wouldn’t.

~*~

Severus didn’t catch Remus alone for almost a week. He hadn’t been able to stay in the hospital wing as long as he wanted; Madam Pomfrey bustled through the curtains to tend to Remus and shooed Severus away firmly. She said she’d tell him that Severus had been there, but Severus wasn’t sure she would. He began to think she hadn’t, as it almost seemed that Remus was avoiding him.

Finally, in Potions class on Tuesday, they were assigned Felix Felices. Severus shrugged his shoulders at Professor Slughorn’s excessive warnings about the danger of mis-brewing and began chopping his daisy stems. Remus, at his elbow, read over the ingredients list in the book.

“Do you want me to get the pickled clover from the Stores?”

Severus nodded, then glanced up at Remus. “Thank you. If you could, please bring the powdered narwhal horn and the moonstone essence.” He poured the chopped daisy into the cauldron and pulled the pestle filled with pepper nearer. “Oh, and get one of the silver stirring rods. I left mine upstairs.”

Remus froze, just for a moment, before nodding. “Sure. I’ll get that.” He moved away, muttering “Narwhal horn and moonstone essence” under his breath. Severus grinned after him, amused that he needed the help to remember the ingredients. Severus had been looking forward to making this potion all year.

Remus seemed to be taking an unusually long time in the Students Stores, and Severus began to look for him. They were going to need the moonstone soon, and even though Severus hadn’t been impressed by Professor Slughorn’s listing of the things that could go wrong if the potion weren’t right, he didn’t want to fail. This was important. He craned his neck around, and saw, finally, Remus leaving the storeroom. His face was oddly stiff. Severus tensed, concerned. Just after Remus came around the doorway, Rosier slipped out of the storeroom and to his own table.

Severus was so busy thinking about what Rosier could have said to make Remus upset again, he didn’t notice that Remus had dropped everything but the stirring rod on the table. “Here,” he said, and thrust it at Severus. He’d wrapped it in the sleeve of his robe.

Severus raised his eyebrows. “I know the instructions say to make sure it’s pure, but really, your fingerprints aren’t going to do anything to the potion. It’s sensitive, but not that much.”

Remus gave him a sickly smile and shrugged. “I just … wanted to be sure. Sluggy said it was disastrous if we failed, so I wanted to be extra careful.”

Half an hour later, they had added the last of the first batch of ingredients and were watching the mixture simmer.

“What did Rosier say to you?” whispered Severus, leaning closer to Remus. Remus flinched away slightly and Severus started to worry. Had Remus been ignoring him?

“I can’t,” Remus glanced around, “we can’t talk about this here.”

Severus pulled his parchment closer and dipped his quill.

What did he say to you?

He shoved the parchment over to Remus and glared at him. Remus sighed and picked up the quill.

Nothing that concerns you. Don’t worry.

Severus read the note as Remus wrote it and his glare intensified. What did he mean, he shouldn’t worry? Why couldn’t he worry for Remus?

What did he say? What’s wrong? You’re sick all the time and I saw you. You were covered in cuts. Who is doing this to you?

Remus read the note and stiffened.

No one is doing this. I’m just ill. Please don’t ask about me it.

You can’t be just ill. There isn’t an illness that gives you bite marks and great bleeding slices on your chest.

Remus nudged him, and nodded over his shoulder. Professor Slughorn was two cauldrons away, telling Evans how amazing she was and how she graced his Slug Club like a glowing star. Severus rolled his eyes, and turned back to check their potion. He added the hornet stings and the honey and began the counter clockwise stirring. Professor Slughorn leaned over his shoulder and Severus could see Remus tuck their notes into his book.

It felt like the professor spent ten minutes chatting at Severus, asking him about his family, and whether or not he’d be able to make it to the next Slug Club meeting, and was there a chance he could bring anything truly unusual from his mam’s house, she was from such an old family that surely there were many amazing things in his house he could share. Severus set his jaw and answered as shortly as he could.

Finally the stirring was done and the potion turned a light shade of green. Severus slumped back onto his stool and grimaced at the professors back.

“He’s pretty awful, isn’t he?” asked Remus, amused.

“He’s worse even than the Defence professor from third year, the one who was so taken with himself.” Severus shook his head. “How do you stand him as a Head of House?”

Remus’ face fell into neutral lines. “He could be worse.” His eyes shot to Rosier for a second. “He could be much worse.”

Severus leaned over and pulled the notes out again.

I’ll make you tell me. I saw you, you know, one night just after curfew.

Remus’ eyes widened and he turned a pale face to Severus.

You saw me?

Yes. You were being… Rosier and Wilkes and the others, they were all in a classroom on the third floor. And they had you… you were

Severus shoved the note away and clenched his fists. Remus craned his neck around and for no reason that Severus could understand, he seemed to relax.

“Oh,” he said softly. “I see.”

Yes, well, I stopped them. Wilkes won’t come near me any more and he told the others to leave me alone.

Severus felt as if he’d been doused in ice water. That horrible beating Wilkes had suffered, all those wounds he had seen—Remus had done that? He stared at the parchment, deeply confused.

How long?

Remus’ brow knotted.

How long had they been doing that to you? Tell me.

We really shouldn’t do this here. It’s too long. Remus’ hand tightened on the quill, sending droplets of ink spattering across the table. Can we meet tonight? In our room?

Severus nodded, and bent to the potion again.

Severus didn’t bother telling his friends anything, this time. He just packed up his bag and left the common room, when curfew had passed. It was time to find out what was going on.

Remus was already in the room, waiting for him. He’d transfigured the stools back into the sofa but it was orange this time, with strange brown spots. Severus shut the door behind himself, crossed his arms and glared.

“What was happening in the Slytherin dorms?”

Remus sank down into a corner of the couch. “I think it all started on the train, in first year, actually.” He stared at his feet, then lifted his head and straightened his shoulders. “Now that I think about it, I’ve never told anyone all of this. My mum asks about things sometimes, I think she knows that there’s something wrong, but she never says.”

Severus moved further into the room, slipping to the other corner of the couch and sitting down. Remus sat still, his head still high, but his shoulders beginning to slump.

“Lucius Malfoy was the first. He was on the train, he was Head Boy that year, do you remember?” Severus nodded, and drew his legs up to rest his chin on his knees. Remus stared at the floor, as if he could see what he was remembering there. “I was the only one in my compartment, and he came in with his friends. He told me to get out, and when I said that I’d nowhere else to go, that the other compartments were full, he … he said that the only way I could stay was if I worked for it. That the only place for me was as a slave.”

Severus felt his hands curl into fists and buried them in his robes. He was fiercely glad he’d already worked on the spell to hurt people; he was only sorry he hadn’t perfected it yet.

Remus tilted his head back and closed his eyes. “I spent the rest of the year being the dormitory’s slave boy. I didn’t know anything about the wizarding world; my parents … we moved around a lot and we never had much of a chance to really settle down, so I didn’t meet many other people. There were so many of them…” He shifted so his head was lying on the back of the sofa and he could look at Severus.

“Have you ever noticed how many people there are at school? Sometimes it’s just so loud.”

Severus nodded. “I noticed right after hols, when everyone came back. I hadn’t noticed before that, but I live… my mam and I live in a Muggle neighbourhood. It’s noisier there.”

Remus smiled for a moment. “I’d like to see that. How does she grow anything?” Then the pensive look filtered back onto his face. “We lived in the country, mainly. I was so glad to go home over summer hols. Then, in second year, I hoped things would be different, but Malfoy had told Wilkes he could keep me. Wilkes would …” Remus’ voice hardened, “loan me out to people he wanted favours from. Something else happened in second year, they found—“

Remus stood up and strode to the window. “You can see the Whomping Willow from here, can you?”

Severus cocked his head. “Yes, why?”

“I just noticed that. It’s interesting, that tree.”

“Remus? Why didn’t you fight back? Or tell your Head of House?”

Remus’ laugh was bitter. “Old Sluggy? He wants to meet Rosier’s dad. He loves the cigars and champagne that Malfoy’s family sends him. He says it’s the only thing that makes ‘exile in this frozen wasteland’ worth it.” Remus spun so the window was at his back. “He’d never do anything for someone as worthless to him as me.”

He sighed. “Finally, I just decided that I’d had enough. You and your friends wouldn’t leave me alone,” Severus made a noise then, unsure if he should apologise, or if that would make things worse, “and I’d decided that nothing mattered any more. I was worthless. I am worthless. But that doesn’t mean that I have to take the abuse of the people around me. Not anymore, and never again.” His face was locked in a snarl, and Severus shivered for a moment.

“You’re not worthless,” he stated firmly. “You’re worth ten Malfoys.”

Remus’ amber eyes flickered. “If I’m not worthless to you, you see something in me that no one but my mum and dad have ever seen. I don’t see it.” He licked his lips. “I let them do that to me. I could have … done something to them. Even if it would have meant I’d be killed, after, it would have been worth it, I think, to know that I had stood up for myself earlier.”

~*~

Severus sat up straight on the couch. “Killed? What do you mean killed?” He was confused. How could Remus be killed for standing up for himself against bullies? “No one’s killing you.”

Remus crossed the room back to the sofa and sat down, smiling slightly. “You’re a good friend, Severus Snape.”

Severus’ confusion deepened. Hadn’t Remus been upset when he’d said that he wanted them to be friends? Was he supposed to be upset now? He shook his head and muttered, “I don’t understand you sometimes.”

They sat together silently for several minutes. Then Severus, who’d been thinking over all the times he’d seen Remus and hadn’t realised he’d been being tormented, jerked up.

“Wait,” he said, thoroughly baffled now. “What about after OWLs? You cast Levicorpus on me! You know we didn’t tell anyone but Professor Flitwick about the part of the spell that made people turn over.” He crossed his arms, and glared at Remus, who was looking just as confused as he felt.

“I didn’t. None of my notes were private for that. I,” Remus looked away, “I had to tell them every variation we came up with. I saw what they did. I’m so sorry.”

Severus whirled around, staring at the empty room. “I saw you, just before … it happened. They were hitting you.” His head dropped. “Why didn’t I see what was going on?”

Remus came up behind him and put an arm around his shoulders. “No one saw—sees it. I don’t expect anyone to, any more.”

Severus let his head fall onto Remus’ shoulder. “Well, I see it now and I’ll make sure it stops.”

~*~

Severus spent the next few days dithering over how much, if anything, he should tell his friends. He hoped they’d be interested in helping to protect someone who needed it, but he wasn’t sure they’d be able to see past Remus’ House.

James was spending a lot of his time in the library researching love charms. He’d declared, as usual, that this year he’d make Evans love him. Sirius seemed to be entertained by his determination, and had been taking notes for him from the books he couldn’t read himself. Peter, however, wasn’t as amused.

In fact, Severus began to think that there was something wrong with Peter. He was fine, his usual happy self most of the time, but whenever James would mention Evans, he’d glower. Severus cornered Sirius late one Saturday afternoon and asked if he’d noticed anything. Sirius laughed it off and made a joke about Peter probably just having a crush on Evans himself and not wanting to have James horn in. He’d seemed particularly pleased by the awful pun, and galloped down the stairs to repeat the joke to James and Peter themselves. Severus, following him, just made it to the common room in time to see Peter go ashen and James fall over in laughter. Something was definitely wrong.

Finally, a week after he’d talked to Remus, he screwed his courage to the wall. At dinner, he asked Sirius to meet him in the library to study. Sirius started to say something about Severus ruining a perfectly good evening when he looked into Severus’ face and stopped talking. “I’ll be there,” he said softly.

In the library, Severus cast the strongest silencing spell he knew and told Sirius everything. That Remus had been tortured, not just by them in the halls and with pranks, but by his dorm mates. That Remus had been beaten. That something was still slicing him up and he was pretending he was ill to cover for whoever it was who was hurting him.

He ended his story shaking and angry all over again.

Sirius, who’d been silent the whole time, shifted the pile of books they’d put on the table as camouflage, straightening the corners. “How do you know he’s telling the truth?” He didn’t look at Severus when he asked the question, but regarded his shoes as if he’d never seen them before.

“What?” Severus was outraged. “I knew it. Your anti-Slytherin bias has warped your brain. I knew it. You just—“

Sirius lunged forward and slammed his hand over Severus’ mouth. “Stop it. I asked a reasonable question. You know James would ask.” Severus slumped back down into his chair. “Now answer me. How do you know he’s not lying. And yes,” he said angrily to Severus’ raised eyebrow, “I am thinking of the fact that he’s a Slytherin. How can I forget it?” His eyes flickered past Severus to a table with Wilkes, Rosier and Parkinson at it.

“Well, he’s all over scars,” Severus began without thinking. Sirius’ face went still and cold.

“How the hell do you know that?” He might have been carved from stone, so little expression remained on his face when he spoke.

“Its’ none of your—oh all right, we were having a bath during the hols and I saw. We were having a snowball fight and got cold and wet, so we went to the prefect’s bath.” He felt his face flush; he couldn’t help remembering what had nearly happened there. “He’s got scars all over, Sirius. Like,” he tucked his chin at his shoulder, indicating his back, “like these, you know.”

At that, a flicker of expression did shift across Sirius’ face, but it was gone before Severus could identify it. “I know what you mean.” Sirius laced his hands together and tightened them until it looked like he had one giant fist at the ends of his arms. His face softened, though, and he asked, “So, what did you think we could do about it?”

“I thought you’d want to help. I knew you were still a good person, in spite of everything…” Severus plunged on. “We’re Gryffindors you know. We’re supposed to stand for what’s fair. I thought that if he had allies, people to stand with him, it could be enough to make it hard for his dorm mates to hurt him again.” His face darkened. “I found him, it must have been the last time they did anything to him. He was in a room on the seventh floor, covered in cuts and bruises. He said someone had given him a note telling him to be there. Whoever it was who gave him the note forged my name.” He shot a glance at Sirius. “My name. Sirius, they used me to abuse him.”

Sirius flinched slightly and unlaced his fingers. “That is awful. I know how much your good name means to you. Did he tell you who gave him the note?”

Severus shook his head, surprised that he hadn’t thought of that himself. “I can ask him, though, in the next Potions class.”

“Oh, it’s not important,” Sirius said quickly. “I was just curious.” He stared across at the table with the Slytherins. They’d been joined by his younger brother, and he stiffened again. As they watched, Regulus left the table, but a chorus of “Hey, Black!” rose from the table and he returned, grinning.

“I wish I could change my name,” muttered Sirius.

~*~

Over the next weekend, Severus kept waiting for Sirius to start the conversation about Remus with James and Peter. Somehow, it never seemed like the right time. Also, Sirius seemed to be spending more time than usual with Peter. They appeared to have a private project; they spent all of lunch on Saturday whispering together. James didn’t notice-he was too busy trying to chat up one of Evans’ friends to notice when Sirius switched his plate with the empty serving platter of sandwiches.

~*~

Severus was late to Arithmancy, and was hurrying through a corridor that he didn’t usually use. It was a shortcut, but there were three trick panels and a narrow staircase to pass and usually he arranged his schedule so he could use the easier, but longer, main corridor.

As he passed a tapestry, he heard voices behind it. One of them sounded familiar and he slowed. What was Sirius doing all the way up here? His next class was Muggle Studies; he’d begged Professor McGonagall to get the teacher to let him in even though he’d not taken the course in fifth year. He always revised for that class; Professor Millrace was very strict and had given Sirius detention for being late when he’d not had his quill wet enough to start taking notes immediately.

Glancing around the corridor, Severus saw a suit of armour nearby. He slipped behind it and rummaged for a blank parchment to see if he could work the spell to see who Sirius was talking to. Before he’d gone further than pulling some parchment from his bag, Sirius and his conversation partner stepped from behind the tapestry.

“Why are you so interested in Lupin, all of a sudden?” Rosier’s voice was snide, and Severus could see the tension in Sirius’ rigid back.

“I just think he’s a danger to the school body, being ill all the time like that—“

Rosier laughed, cutting Sirius off. “You have no idea.” He took a deep breath and calmed down. “Try the Whomping Willow.”

Sirius crossed his arms. “No one can get near that damned killer. We’ve all been thrashed by it at least once.”

Rosier was the image of relaxed humour. “There’s a knot, kind of like your head, actually, hard and full of nothing but wood. If you prod it with a long stick, the tree goes quiet and you can go into the tunnel that’s underneath it. You might be interested in what you find there, the next time Lupin’s ill.” He nodded amiably at Sirius and sauntered off toward the staircase.

Sirius made a rude gesture at his back and walked off in the other direction.

Severus leaned against the wall and stared into space, more confused than he’d ever been in his life.

He waited two days, before he realised that Sirius wasn’t going to tell anyone about his conversation with Rosier. That Sirius had probably been talking to Rosier for longer than he’d been talking to Remus.

He spent that night sitting up in bed, staring through a gap in his bed-curtains at the waxing moon in the window. Quietly, so that no one else could hear, he said, “If no one else will go, I’ll go. Maybe I can help.”

~*~

It felt to Severus as if he were becalmed. He’d read stories about ships, in the days of wind and sail, becoming stuck in the Sargasso Sea and never getting out, just being trapped there, day in and day out, the sailors gradually losing hope of ever seeing land and loved ones again.

When he was young, he would spend hours in the shed, dreaming of how it would feel to have the days go on and on. It seemed to his six-year-old mind to be something romantic, the slow pace and endless wait.

In real life, it was excruciating.

He watched Remus even more carefully. Every time he saw the other boy, he’d check for more wounds, lost weight, or other signs of failing health. Remus sent him several confused glances during meals, and he made a few comments during Potions and Arithmancy classes, but Severus just asked if there was something wrong with keeping an eye on a friend.

Sirius was watching him, he knew, but hadn’t said anything. He’d been disturbingly quiet, in fact, but Severus couldn’t decide if he was relieved that Sirius was leaving him alone, or upset that Sirius didn’t seem to see that the right thing, the honourable thing to do, was to help Remus. When he’d been sorted into Gryffindor, he’d thought of Sirius as the epitome of Gryffindor House, as someone who would show him how Gryffindors—a group he had no information about save the few things, none of them positive, that his mam remembered from her years at school—should act. Sirius had chosen Gryffindor House over Slytherin, after all; surely that meant that he inherently possessed the qualities of the House.

He had attempted to ignore his growing disappointment and deep disgust for years. He had absorbed Professor McGonagall’s stories of Godric Gryffindor and had even listened raptly to Professor Binns’ dusty retellings of the stories of Brave Gryffindors of Olde, and had thought that all of his classmates yearned to be, as he did, as honourable and righteous as the Housemates they heard about.

Over the years, he’d learned to close his eyes to his friends’ willingness to tease those younger and weaker than themselves, their immediate and unthinking disgust for all Houses but their own—most particularly Slytherin—and their unwillingness to see any way past an obstacle except straight through the centre of the problem. However, he was no longer willing to close his eyes and turn his back.

If he was the only one who would stand up against the bullying, so be it. He was strong enough to stand on his own, and certainly strong enough to help someone he cared about. Let Sirius watch disapprovingly. Severus was sure of his choices.

~*~

Severus decided to revise in the library on Saturday afternoon. Before packing his bag, he turned it over and dumped it out. He hadn’t cleared it out since before the hols, and the collection of old parchment, broken nibs and half written notes was beginning to make it difficult to put his books in the bag.

Sifting through the paper, he opened each crumpled bit to make sure that he wasn’t discarding anything important. About halfway through the pile, he unwrapped and smoothed out something that wasn’t his own notes. He was about to toss it onto the discard pile, when the name at the top caught his eye.

It was the note that Remus had been given, the one that led him to their room where he had been beaten. It was written in handwriting that didn’t really look like his, except for in one or two letters; all except the signature, which looked exactly like Severus’. Something about the handwriting looked familiar to Severus, and he tipped the note back and forth, trying to see if he could remember where he’d seen it before.

After a few moments, he realised that he was just staring at the Ever-Changing ink. As he tipped the note from right to left, the ink changed colours, as if there were an iridescent rainbow that only showed in the letters on the parchment.

Suddenly he sucked in a sharp breath. Ever-Changing ink? The only person he knew with Ever-Changing ink was Sirius. Slowly, Severus pulled out some notes on Transfiguration he’d borrowed from Sirius and, holding his breath, laid the two pieces of parchment down next to each other.

The handwriting matched. All except the signature.

Severus was filled with sudden, implacable fury. His hands, resting on the two pieces of parchment in front of him, tightened into fists, one finger ripping through the Transfiguration notes entirely. When he lifted his head, it was as though everything in his room, in his life, had changed in the seconds between reading the note and now. The dorm room was just a stone room, filled with beds that were slightly shabby from hard use by hundreds of boys. Sirius’ corner was ugly and messy, with forgotten bits of paper, old quills and unfinished bags of sweets everywhere. James’ and Peter’s stuff tended to intermingle, but their area was just as filled with clutter. His own part of the room, while certainly not perfectly clean, was at least not messy or disorganised.

It was just a room, and his friends were just boys. They weren’t the knights in shining armour he’d thought they were when he started school and begged the Sorting Hat to put him in the same House as them.

In the library, he found Remus and dropped the note in front of him. “Who gave this to you?”

Remus picked it up and read it. “Oh. This is the note that I thought was from you, that time…” He looked up at Severus, glowering by his chair. “Rosier gave it to me. Why?”

‘That’s not my handwriting.” Severus felt like he was trapped in an ever tightening spiral of rage and betrayal. “I didn’t write that.”

“I think I understood that, when you weren’t the one who came into the room,” Remus said in a mild voice. “Sit down, Severus. You’re looming.” He smiled up at Severus, a wide friendly smile, and Severus fell into the chair next to him, unable to refuse. Remus’ smile faded. “Severus? You look awful. Are you all right?”

Severus felt as if there weren’t anyone he could trust except Remus. Only Remus hadn’t lied to him, or betrayed him. “I’m fine,” he said, then belied his words by dropping his forehead to the table and locking his hands together over the back of his head. “Just, everything’s different.” He couldn’t figure this out. Sirius and Rosier were working together, which meant that Rosier wanted Sirius to go see what was under the Whomping Willow. But Severus knew that Rosier had been abusing Remus since they were first years. Why would he want anyone to see Remus when he was sick? What could he be sick with that he needed to go underground? Nothing made sense anymore.

He heard Remus whisper something, then felt Remus’ hand on his shoulder.

“Nothing’s changed, Severus.” Remus’ voice was soft. “Rest, and things will be better after a nap.” Severus could hear the smile in his voice as he continued, “The library’s a great place to take a nap.”

~*~

The next Thursday, Remus missed dinner. After the meal was over, Severus snatched up his bag and strode off towards the hospital wing, to see if he was sick again. As he passed the Slytherin table, he sneered at Wilkes and Avery.

Remus was in the hospital wing, but Madam Pomfrey wouldn’t let him visit. She said that Remus was asleep, and that he, Severus, should be revising or out playing with his friends, rather than visiting. Severus didn’t know how to ask her if he could just look at Remus, so he left the infirmary and wandered down the corridor. Seized by inspiration, he turned and hurried up the stairs to Gryffindor tower.

Once he got to the dorms, he rummaged around in James’ trunk until he found the invisibility cloak. James always let them use it as long as they left a note. Severus jotted down something about a secret raid and left the note on James’ desk. Then, he stuffed the cloak to the bottom of his bag. He was ready.

He spent that night curled up under the cloak in front of the door to the infirmary, but no one came out. Long after midnight, he crept into the room and moved carefully through the beds to the one in back with the curtains drawn. Remus lay there, half uncovered by the blankets, pale in the moonlight. He seemed to be having bad dreams, as he was thrashing about and moaning low in his throat.

Feeling brave, Severus reached out and stroked his hand down Remus’ arm. Remus stilled under his touch; he continued to stroke, smoothing his palm over the now-paler golden skin. Remus didn’t feel overheated, and he didn’t yet have the cuts and scrapes. Severus hoped that this time whatever was doing that to him, whatever was causing those injuries, wouldn’t happen.

He spent the next day in an agony of waiting. The wind had picked up and all around him the Sargasso Sea was moving and shifting. Remus didn’t come to any classes.

Severus sat outside the hospital wing again the next night. Remus and Madam Pomfrey left almost as soon as curfew passed, but Severus didn’t bother following. He knew where they were going. He waited by the doors in the Great Hall until he saw Madam Pomfrey hurrying back across the grounds, then slipped outside and began moving quickly to the Whomping Willow.

He thought that maybe the tree wouldn’t attack him if he were invisible, so he stayed under the cloak as he edged nearer. To his dismay, the tree began to creak and thrash as soon as he got near. He backed up quickly, not wanting to repeat the pummelling he’d got from the tree years before.

Frustrated, he cast about for a way to poke the knot that he could see in the bright moonlight. He found a long stick on the ground nearby and snatched it up, hoping it was long enough to reach past the branches of the tree. It was, just, and he hurried past the unnervingly still tree branches and into the dark tunnel he could see opening up in the ground at the base of the tree. Just as he slipped in, he saw the branches begin to swing back up into position.

Carefully, he took off the cloak and stuffed it into his bag. Not wanting to light his wand, in case the whole thing was a prank by Rosier, he crept carefully down the long dark tunnel. Every so often, he’d straighten up just a little too much and crack his head on the roots poking through the ceiling.

He’d just managed to see a bit of light escaping around the edges of a wooden door at the end of the tunnel, when he heard a person scream in agony.

“REMUS!”

~*~

Severus threw himself down the tunnel, cursing his stupidity in calling out. Now, whoever was hurting Remus knew someone was in the tunnel. Unless, he thought, Remus’ cries had covered the sound of his own voice.

He made it to the door. Closing his eyes, he pressed his ear against the door, trying to see if he could hear anything. Another scream echoed through whatever was beyond the door and Severus whimpered. He couldn’t just stand there, he had to do something. He was the only one Remus could depend on.

He pushed the door open, and glanced quickly around the room. There was furniture tossed about; he could see deep gouges in the floor. He slipped through the door, wincing as it creaked loudly behind him. The screaming appeared to be coming from up the narrow staircase in the hall across the room. Severus crept through the room and into the hall, peering up toward the second floor.

The screaming was beginning to change; it sounded less and less human, as if Remus were fading away. Severus rushed up the stairs, wand out, ready to cast his new spell, even though it wasn’t perfect yet. It would cause damage and he would be able to get Remus away from whoever was doing this.

The staircase opened out into a dark landing. Severus started towards the door he could see at the other end of the short hall when it opened slightly on its own. He could see a shadowed form moving back and forth behind the door and he gripped his wand more tightly.

Lunging forward, he burst into the room yelling, “Sectumsempra!” What he saw froze him to the spot. There was blood everywhere in the room. His eyes slid over an ornate four-poster bed hung with ragged cloth, now caked with blood, old as well as fresh; the plank floor had brown stains on it overlaid by brighter red spills. He began to look around more frantically; he couldn’t see Remus. He caught a glimpse of his clothes on the bed—the dark trousers Remus had been wearing earlier that evening—but he couldn’t see Remus anywhere.

A short snarl was the only warning he had of danger. He spun to the side, and screamed himself when he saw the huge wolf leaping at him from behind the bureau. For one awful second, he thought he wasn’t going to be able to move. It felt as if he were trying to move his legs or his arms and nothing worked.

Then, just as the hot breath of the wolf hit him in the face, he moved. He stumbled backwards, eyes so wide he could feel them straining. Panicking, he cast Stupefy at the top of his lungs, then Sectumsempra again, but nothing worked. As he backed out of the room, frantically thinking of what he could do, what he could remember about werewolves, he tripped over the lintel of the door and fell over backwards.

Whimpering, sobbing in fear and horror—whoever this werewolf was, it had eaten Remus—he rolled over to try to push himself up again when his body took over. Before he thought of it, before he knew what he was doing, he transformed. The weight of the wolf hit him squarely on the back, but his heavy mane protected the back of his neck, giving him time to shake the disgusting creature off.

His horror turned to rage and he spun on his hind legs and lashed out with one heavy paw, knocking the wolf away. It skidded back, snarling jaws dripping saliva and blood. When it reached the doorway, it stared back at him, seeming to be confused by the sudden return attack.

The Prince filled his lungs, and let out a full roar, starting with a heavy coughing and ending with a sound loud enough to make the windows in the house rattle. He could see the wolf cower under the noise, but when it faded away, the beast gathered its legs underneath itself and lunged again, mouth open.

For the first time since he became an Animagus, Severus felt what he’d always heard Sirius and James and Peter say they felt when they transformed. The Prince had taken over; he wasn’t in control at all. He could see the wolf lunging at The Prince, but his own, human, instinct to run was completely subsumed by The Prince’s urge to stand up against the puny challenger and destroy it for invading his territory and harming one of his pride mates.

The wolf hit squarely, but The Prince had turned so that the hit was against his shoulder, making the wolf’s mouth close uselessly in the thick hair of his mane. The wolf’s hind legs scored The Prince’s skin as it slid off his body, but he barely felt the slices in his need to destroy and kill.

It was all Severus could do to keep The Prince from biting the wolf, right under his throat and tearing it out, but he wasn’t sure if the blood of the wolf could turn him if he were the one doing the biting. The Prince snarled and coughed out another roar, then stalked closer to the wolf, who’d skidded down the hall after sliding off The Prince’s body. The Prince half stood, and swiped out his paw, claws extended fully. He slashed across the wolf’s chest, knocking the other creature down the hall and down the stairs.

The Prince followed the trail of blood down the stairs, snarling. At the foot of the stairs, he saw that his enemy, the intruder, lay still. He nudged the body with his nose a couple of times, then paced around the room, smelling the dusty wolf smell and snarling. Finding no trace of any other intruders, he returned to the body and nudged it again. Walking past it, he scraped at the floor with his front feet, trying to cover the intruder’s scent. After a few strokes, he gave up and padded up the stairs.

He had the idea to look for his pride mate, to see if the intruder had left anything. He hadn’t had time to see clearly before, and he didn’t want to leave before checking to make sure that there wasn’t anything he could do. At the top of the stairs, he stopped and glanced around, panting. He could feel the scrapes on his side, now that he was no longer in the fight, and they hurt. Suddenly, Severus shoved forward, forcing The Prince back down and inside himself.

He collapsed onto the floor, moaning with the pain of the scrapes and bruises from the fight. The pain was much sharper when he was in human form and it took several minutes for him to be able to stand up. He staggered to his feet and into the room where the werewolf had … had…

He fell to his knees and vomited, the horror and adrenaline making him dizzy. Finally, he dragged himself back up and searched the room. He found the clothes Remus had been wearing, and his wand, on the bed. There was a strange sort of nest-like place in the closet, which smelled mightily of wolf even to Severus’ human nose, but nothing else.

Could the wolf have eaten all of Remus, that quickly? Shouldn’t there be… he stopped himself there, knowing that he needed to get back to the castle and if he allowed himself to really think about what had happened to his friend, he’d never be able to move again.

He nearly didn’t make it down the stairs. His feet didn’t want to work together, and he ended up having to lean on the banister so hard he practically slid down the stairs, dragging his feet behind him. At the bottom, he froze, staring at the beast. It was lying on its side in a pool of blood, with its head drawn up towards its back.

“I hope it hurts you,” he shrieked, hating the wolf, hating everything, “like you hurt Remus!”

Carefully, with his arm wrapped tightly around his chest to stanch his own bleeding, he moved through the room, shut the door behind himself, and started down the tunnel.

Getting through the tunnel was a nightmare of hitting his head on roots, tripping over his own feet, and blacking out from pain and lost blood. Finally, he could see the thin outline of moonlight around the door in the base of the Whomping Willow. He pushed the door open, hoping he wouldn’t have to try to find the knot in the tree, but his luck held and the tree relaxed its military stance as soon as the door opened.

Once he was past the tree, his pace picked up and soon he was tearing across the grounds. Strange sounds followed him, sobbing sounds, and sometimes he could hear something whimpering, but when he whirled around to confront it, he was always alone.

Getting through the castle corridors was another nightmare; the intersections loomed strangely and he could hear whispers as he passed the portraits. He stumbled down one corridor and up another staircase until he found himself in front of the stone gargoyles who guarded the Headmaster’s Office.

He pounded on them, trying to get them to open, yelling that he needed to tell the Headmaster something important.

“My dear young man,” came a dry voice behind him, “what ever can be so important this early in the morning?”

He spun around, almost falling again, and he saw Professor Dumbledore’s face change from amused to disturbed in a moment.

“Professor, you have to … there’s a werewolf! The school’s not safe. It’s already hurt …” he stopped, his mouth wide open, still unable to even think of what had happened to Remus.

Professor Dumbledore’s face showed a flash of shock, before setting in hard lines. “And what were you doing so far out of bounds, Mr Snape?”

Severus stared at him, confused. “I was… it hurt me! It was going to kill me! It’s already killed—“ He held out his hands to show how close he’d come.

The professor seized his hand, inspecting it closely. “I think this needs to be discussed in the infirmary,” he said.

~*~

Severus was led, sputtering, to the hospital wing, where Professor Dumbledore calmly left him on a bed and swished away to find Madam Pomfrey. Severus sat in the darkened room, staring at the bed where Remus had been, just the night before. With a low moan, he turned away.

Madam Pomfrey clucked at him and gently laid him down on the bed. “You’ve done something terrible to yourself this time, Snape.” She ran her wand over his body, nodding and muttering a little under her breath. After a moment, she bustled off, looking slightly odd with her dressing gown over her night clothes.

“Now,” said Professor Dumbledore, having drawn up a squashy purple chintz armchair next to Severus’ bed, “I think it’s time you—“

Severus, who’d seen the purple chair and immediately remembered his conversation with Remus about the colour purple, had burst into harsh sobs. “It ate him, Professor. I saw—I saw his clothes, and there was blood and …” He brought his hand to his face and tried to scrub away the tears.

“Ate who?” Professor Dumbledore’s voice was crisp. “What ate whom, Mr Snape?” He folded his hands in his lap and leaned back in the chair.

“The werewolf!!”, Severus screamed, trying to sit up. Across the room, Madam Pomfrey, on her way back towards him with her arms full of potions bottles, gasped. Severus turned to look at her, then fell back again. “The werewolf is down that tunnel under the Whomping Willow and it’s going to get loose!!” It felt like he was yelling loudly enough to rip his throat open.

Madam Pomfrey dropped the bottles on the table next to Severus’ bed and began to pull his robes away from his side. “What were you doing down that tunnel?” she asked, pouring a thick orange cream over the cuts and scrapes on his ribs. She whispered something under her breath, and the cream dissolved, bringing all the dried blood and dirt with it. “How did you get past the Willow?” Her voice shook.

“I found a stick, and poked… there’s a knot on the tree, but,” he wrenched away from the Matron, “Professor, you’ve got to go kill it. I managed to …” he flinched suddenly, “I got away. I don’t know if it’s still alive anyway.”

He couldn’t understand why Professor Dumbledore paled, and behind him, he heard Madam Pomfrey sob slightly. “Why won’t you go there and see? Do you think I’m lying?” He managed to sit all the way up, then had to close his eyes against the strange way the room dipped and swirled around him. “Why would I lie about … about that thing eating Remus?”

Professor Dumbledore looked at him, his usually mild blue eyes piercing. “What makes you think it was dead when you left?”

Severus wanted to look away, but found his gaze trapped in the Headmaster’s. “It… it was lying so still and there was so much blood,” he said, his voice rough.

At his words, Professor Dumbledore placed a hand over his eyes, releasing Severus’ gaze. “I see,” he said. “I see.”

“Snape, you must lie down.” Madam Pomfrey’s hands pressed his shoulders back towards the bed. “If you want to get these scrapes healed, I can’t do it while you’re sitting up.”

He twisted away from her and turned back to the Headmaster. “It gave me these,” he gestured at the cuts, bleeding again and raw. “Why don’t you believe me?”

But Professor Dumbledore stood up and bent over him, his eyes now locked on Severus’ side. “Did it bite you?”

Severus felt some part of himself relax at this evidence that someone believed him. “No, but it tried. I think there’s some saliva in my hair…” He started to put his hand back to feel, but Professor Dumbledore reached out quickly and stopped him.

“I think,” the professor said slowly, “that if Madam Pomfrey has finished,” Severus saw her nod out of the corner of his eye, “that you should clean up a bit. There is a small bath through there,” he pointed at a door across the room, away from the windows, “which you should find stocked with everything you’ll need to ensure that any of, ah, the werewolf’s remaining saliva or blood is washed away. We will see about answering any other questions later.”

Severus nodded. Now that the initial shock had worn off, and he’d got someone to listen to him, he felt suddenly muzzy headed and weak. Moving slowly, he stumbled across the room and into the bath. It had a shower, with water at just the right temperature, and thick towels that were soft on his new skin. His skin was tender where he’d fallen; he’d scraped both knees rather badly and he could tell he would bruise on his arms and his shoulder. He could feel his arms—he’d almost thought, ‘front legs’—shaking from the unaccustomed use. He stared down at his side as he washed and then dried himself; wonderingly he ran a hand over the pink skin on his side. It looked like he’d scar there, and the thought of his new scars, so like those Remus had had, made him begin to sob again.

Unable to stop the tears running down his face, although he did manage to swallow the awful sounds he had been making, he opened the door to the infirmary and began the long trek back to his bed. He saw the two adults clustered together at the windows. Madam Pomfrey had changed into her regular robes and was wrapping herself up in a heavy cloak. There was a large bag at her feet; it looked as though Madam Pomfrey were getting ready to go out and the Headmaster was arguing with her. Scraps of conversation floated over to him and he puzzled over them.

“—don’t care if it’s not all the way down. He might need me—“

“—not safe. It’s only another hour or so—“

By the time Severus made it back to his bed, Madam Pomfrey had swept out of the room and Professor Dumbledore was at his bedside again. Severus turned his head and looked blearily at the Headmaster. “You’ll deal with the werewolf, won’t you? It shouldn’t be allowed to hurt anyone else.”

“I will deal with it as I must,” Professor Dumbledore said, in a strangely heavy voice. “Enough people have been hurt, that is true. Now sleep, young man. Madam Pomfrey tells me that you’ll be very tired after your ordeal.”

Severus thought he nodded, but his eyelids closed before he could see anything else.

~*~

When he woke up the next morning, Sirius was sitting in the squashy chintz chair, staring at him, his grey eyes shadowed.

“I’m sorry,” he said as soon as Severus opened his eyes, “I didn’t know that … I mean. Madam Pomfrey said that I had to tell her as soon as you woke up, but I want to make sure you’re okay.” He reached out slowly and put his hand on Severus’. “Professor Dumbledore came and got me a few hours ago. He said you might need a friend, and,” he faltered, “we’re still friends, right?”

Severus let his fingers lace in between Sirius’. “Yeah, we are.” He knew that he’d never be able to be the kind of friends he’d been with Sirius, before everything that had happened, but Sirius had been his best friend for years and right now, he just wanted someone who felt familiar. “Still friends.” He smiled a little and tried to turn over. “Oh!” he gasped. He was horribly stiff; the new skin on his side felt tight and stretched.

“What? Are you hurt again?” Sirius forgot to keep his voice low, and Madam Pomfrey rushed over. She pressed Severus back against the pillow, and drew the blankets down so she could check on the progress of his healing skin. After a moment, she smeared a thick green paste on the pink skin. The relief from his stiffness made Severus gasp again and he smiled up at Sirius anxious look.

“He’s not hurt,” she said crisply, “he’s just trying to move too quickly. I told you to tell me as soon as he woke.” She glared at Sirius, then continued, “I could have put this on immediately and spared him the stiffness.” Sirius tried to look contrite, making her smile slightly and shake her head. “You’re incorrigible, you are.” With one last rub to his scars, she turned to Severus. “You’re to rest today. No strenuous activity all weekend, and you’ll have to get a friend to help carry your books on Monday.”

She nodded sharply at the two boys, then bustled back through the curtains to where Remus’ bed had been. Severus turned to Sirius. “Who’s in there?” he asked.

Sirius looked at him, brows drawn together. “Lupin. He’s sick again. Didn’t you know? I thought you’d… well, I thought you’d gone to,” he looked away suddenly and stared out the window, “to, you know, see him. But he couldn’t have hurt you like that…”

Severus sucked in a sharp breath. “Remus? He’s there? Did you see him?”

Sirius’ gaze shot to his. “No, I didn’t see him. Why would I want to look at that—hey, why are you getting up? Madam Pomfrey said you had to stay in bed.” Severus ignored him and struggled to his feet. He was in pyjamas, and the stone floor was icy to his unclad feet.

He took two steps and nearly fell, but Sirius dashed around the bed and caught him at the last minute. “You stupid prat,” he cried, “why are you doing this? You’re freezing!”

“I need to see his… his body,” muttered Severus. “I need to see it.”

Sirius shook his head. “At least put on a dressing gown and some slippers.”

A few minutes later and tightly wrapped up, Severus shuffled over to the curtains around Remus’ bed. He put out a hand to push them aside and was surprised to see it was shaking. In a convulsive movement, he shoved through them.

Remus lay on his back, with the blankets drawn down to his hips. He was pale as death; the only colour in his skin seemed to be the five angry red slices across his chest. His golden hair spilled around his head like a halo and his eyes were closed.

~*~

“Well, now,” Professor Dumbledore said, lowering himself into the chair at the side of the bed, “I confess to being curious about a few things. I’m sure that you’ll be able to explain anything that’s too confusing.”

Severus shifted in his bed in the hospital wing, his hands tightly clasped in his lap.

“I find myself very curious about how exactly you found out about the tunnel under the Whomping Willow,” the Headmaster said.

Severus shifted again, shot a quick glance at Sirius, who was sitting on the edge of the bed, and then turned to look at Professor Dumbledore. “I, er, I overheard another student mention it. He said something about there being a tunnel and…” he trailed off for a moment, trying to think of a way to protect Sirius. It hadn’t been Sirius’ fault, exactly, that he’d decided to go down the tunnel. He sucked in a deep breath. “And I wanted to see where it led.”

Professor Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. “Idle curiosity?” He smiled, his eyes twinkling. “It is fun to see the twists and turns this old building hides, isn’t it? We’re lucky that this time, curiosity didn’t kill the cat, aren’t we?”

Severus managed to hide his response, but he saw Sirius twitch. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“It does make me wonder, however,” continued Professor Dumbledore, “how that student heard about that particular tunnel. I know that the castle is full of hidden rooms, but how could he, or she, have learnt of a tunnel hidden by the Willow?” He smiled again, at Severus. “Would you be so kind as to tell me the student’s name so I might ask him or her directly?”

Severus laced his fingers together and tightened his hands, making his knuckles go white. “It was Rosier,” he whispered, after a long silent moment. At his side, Sirius flinched.

The Headmaster nodded, not seeming surprised. “Ah, yes. Mr Rosier. A very interesting young man.” He stood and clapped his hands together. “As Madam Pomfrey has said that you and Mr Lupin will not be able to come visit me until Monday, I will have to plan on seeing you then. Please don’t talk about what happened, even with your estimable friends, until after our discussion. I think,” he paused for a moment, and appeared to be counting, “I think just after lunch would be a good time. I’ll expect you then.” He shot Severus a sharp look over the tops of his half-moon glasses. “Just you, if you don’t mind, Mr Snape. I’m certain that there is class work that your friend could be doing.” He twinkled at Sirius, and left the room.

Severus stared away towards the windows, and Sirius was silent for a long time. Then Sirius moved to sit in the chair that the Headmaster had vacated.

“You saw me and Rosier?” His voice was rough. “I’m… I didn’t know.”

Severus squashed the uncharitable comments that rose to his lips before they slipped out of his mouth. After a moment, he said, “I saw you. How long, Sirius? How long were you working with him?” He tried to close his mouth against the stream of questions he wanted to ask, but they burst out. “You always said you hated Slytherins, and that they couldn’t be trusted and it was you,” he wrapped his arms around his chest and his fingers brushed the new scars through his nightshirt, “you who sent that note. You planned things with that… with Rosier. You … why did you do all of that?”

Sirius paled. “You know about… I don’t know why I did it. I’m stupid, that’s why. I got so angry about you being,” he blanched even more, but continued, “friends with Lupin that I thought I had to do something.”

Severus stared at him. “You… you know that if you’d simply asked me what I was doing, I’d have told you. And then, I did tell you. I did. I was trying to help someone who needed it.”

Sirius held up his hand for Severus to stop, and rubbed his eyes. “I know, but he never really looked like he needed help, did he? He always managed to hex us back, or do something to get us in trouble.” He sighed. “Look, I don’t really want to talk about him, anyway. I still don’t see why you think he needs help. He’s not too bad off right now, is he? I mean, Madam Pomfrey’s fixing him right up, so he can’t be too hurt.”

Severus bowed his head and wondered why it seemed that Sirius couldn’t see clearly when Remus was involved. After another moment or two, he leaned back against the headboard of the bed. “I think I need to rest again,” he said, sliding down under the blankets. “I’m feeling a bit tired.”

Sirius immediately looked concerned. “You go to sleep then. I’ll go to the dorm and get my books and I’ll be back, okay?”

Severus nodded and watched through almost closed eyes as Sirius left the room. He wasn’t really tired, but he felt too full of confusion and questions to try to continue the conversation with Sirius. Remaining friends with Sirius would clearly be something he’d have to work on.

He hadn’t expected to, but he fell asleep fairly quickly.

~*~

Severus perched in the chair Professor Dumbledore had shown him to and tried to figure out what to do with his arms. He tried crossing them, but he felt silly. Then he stuck his hands in his pockets, but that pulled the neck of his robes tight around his neck. Finally, he laced his fingers together in his lap and tried to sit still.

The door opened again and Madam Pomfrey came through, leading Remus, who hadn’t been able to leave the hospital wing to go to class. Severus jerked to his feet and started forward, but Madam Pomfrey had already helped Remus to lower himself into a chair slightly nearer the Headmaster’s desk.

“Remus,” Severus said, “are you all right? I was so—“

“I understand that you are anxious to talk to your friend,” interrupted Professor Dumbledore, “but I must ask that you wait for the final member of our discussion to arrive before we get started. He shouldn’t be long now.”

As Madam Pomfrey left the room, nodding at the Headmaster, and then at Remus, she held the door open for Rosier. Severus stiffened when he saw who else Professor Dumbledore had asked to come to his office. “Professor,” he cried, “why did you get him to come here? It’s all his fault!”

“Please,” said the professor, his voice mild, “have a seat. I have a feeling we’ll be here for a while, and it would be difficult to have this discussion if any of us collapse from exhaustion.”

With a scowl, Severus fell back into his seat. To his right, Remus wouldn’t meet his eyes and he felt the beginnings of worry in his chest.

“Now then, as we are all here, let us begin.” Professor Dumbledore glanced at the three boys. “Mr Snape. Why don’t you tell us what you saw, what happened to you.”

Severus crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, still unhappy. “I overheard Rosier tell another student that there was a tunnel under the Whomping Willow and I wanted to see where it went, so I snuck out of my dorm and out to the tree. I found a stick and poked about on the tree until I found the knot he’d mentioned. The tree stopped moving and I saw that a little door had opened in the ground in the roots.” He’d thought about what to say all weekend. He couldn’t say anything about being an Animagus, or about how he escaped, so he’d have to change the story quite a bit. He only hoped that it sounded realistic. He took a deep breath and plunged back into his story.

“I followed the tunnel to the door at the end and… there was a scream.” For a moment he could hear it again, and he flinched. “I thought it was Remus, that someone was hurting him again. So I ran inside, but the room was empty. I went upstairs… he was still screaming, but then it changed…”

Remus made a strangled sound, beside him, and Severus looked over. Before he could ask Remus what was wrong, Professor Dumbledore interrupted. “The screaming changed? In what way?” He sounded infinitely sorrowful, and Severus turned back to him, the feeling of worry congealing to cold fear in his stomach. Something was very wrong.

“It … it sounded thicker, almost like he was coughing or like there was an animal in the room with him. I started toward the room, to see if I could help him, when—“ he broke off, the memory freezing him in place for a moment. “There was a werewolf.” He was whispering; his throat had closed and he didn’t think he could make a sound right now if his life depended on it. He stared blankly at the memory, then blinked hard until it was gone. He discovered that he’d been looking straight at Remus, who was staring back at him with an expression of pure horror on his face.

All of a sudden, he remembered his theory that a werewolf had killed Remus’ father. He winced at how terrible it must be for Remus to have to have seen another werewolf, to have to be sitting here and listening to him talk about another werewolf attack. Remus’ obvious fear made Severus angry; he’d hoped to make his friend’s life better, and here he was making it worse. His anger gave strength to his voice and he continued much more firmly.

“It lunged at me, but I fell backwards. I tried to keep it from biting me, I think I twisted a little and so it only bit my hair.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Remus lift a shaking hand to his lips. “Finally, I managed to get away a little bit, but it chased me again and … we fell down the stairs. It scraped me with its legs as we fell, but I think landing at the bottom stunned it and I could get away. Then I came back to the castle to find you, sir.”

The room was silent for a minute, then Severus remembered the other part of the story that he’d rehearsed. “I know I heard a human voice, and I saw Remus’ clothes on the bed in the room before the werewolf jumped at me, so I thought the wolf must have killed Remus.” He smiled over at his friend. “I’m glad it didn’t.” Remus tried to return his smile, but his was sick and shaking.

Suddenly, Rosier burst out laughing. He’d been silent the entire time Severus had been speaking, but something seemed to have amused him.

“You thought that the werewolf had killed Lupin? You …” he laughed again, “you have got to be the most idiotic arse I’ve ever met. The werewolf can’t have killed Lupin, you cretin. The werewolf is Lupin!”

~*~

Severus stared at Rosier for a moment, then said harshly, “What do you mean, ‘the werewolf is Remus’? That’s a disgusting lie.”

Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat, and Severus swung around to glare at him. He caught a glimpse of Remus’ face, and turned all the way around, the fear in his chest sinking down and becoming lead in his stomach. “Remus?” he whispered.

Remus was leaning on the Headmaster’s desk as if he couldn’t hold himself upright any longer. He was shaking; his face filled with despair. Severus recoiled, his eyes widening.

“Yes, Severus,” he said, his voice soft but implacable. His face was filled with despair, but none of his emotions showed in his voice. “I am a werewolf.”

“You’re a werewolf?” He couldn’t believe it. “But you look so…so human.” Remus flinched at that and Severus saw something change in his eyes. After a moment Severus realised that this was the first time he’d heard Remus say anything since before the full moon. He’d been dosed with sleeping potions all weekend, so Severus hadn’t had a chance to talk to him.

“Mr Lupin is as human as you or I,” interrupted Professor Dumbledore, He leaned forward over his desk and caught Severus’ eyes. “I understand that you are confused about this, but you must promise me never to reveal the secret of Mr Lupin’s illness to anyone. Even, and upon thought, most especially, to your friends.” Severus couldn’t look away from his bright blue eyes and nodded mutely. “I think we have strayed slightly from our original topic. There is something else that must be discussed.”

The Headmaster turned to look at Rosier, and Severus slipped a little in his chair, as if he’d been leaning against a wall and it had suddenly turned to vapour or disappeared. He could feel his emotions writhing within himself; he was angry, and confused, and nauseated. That horrifying werewolf, the thing that he’d fought with, that had nearly… He gasped, as the knowledge that he’d really nearly been bitten by a werewolf suddenly became real to him. He pulled as far away from Rem—Lupin as he could, disgusted. Underneath his gentle and considerate exterior, Lupin was a foul, Dark, cursed thing, not a person. Severus’ skin crawled and he rubbed his arms. He’d actually let Lupin touch him.

Professor Dumbledore had pinned Rosier with the same firm gaze and had asked him a question. Severus hadn’t heard it in his own dismay. Rosier was answering, though; he seemed proud of what he was saying.

“—known since second year. Everyone in our year knows, in our dorm. The girls know as well.” He shot Lupin a look of loathing mixed with arrogance. “He knows that he’s to do what we say, or we’ll tell everyone.”

“But that changed this year, hasn’t it?” Professor Dumbledore’s voice was mild, and Severus was surprised to see his hands laced tightly together on the desk. As soon as he saw them, the Headmaster relaxed his fingers and let his hands fall, fingers slack, to the arms of his chair.

Rosier, who’d been eyeing Lupin, hadn’t noticed anything. He turned back and continued. “The disgusting beast changed, somehow. We talked it over, we even owled Malfoy.” His face changed again, and the calculation on it made Severus nearly as sick as sitting next to a vicious killer did. “You remember Lucius Malfoy, don’t you? His father is on the board of governors. He knew as soon as our first year that there was something wrong with Lupin, and he was right, wasn’t he?”

Lupin, whom Severus hadn’t been able to keep from watching warily out of the corners of his eyes, sat up straighter. He didn’t look any healthier, but he was focused so hard on what Rosier was saying that he looked flushed.

“I do remember Mr Malfoy.” Professor Dumbledore nodded. “However, I fail to see what he has to do with this situation. If you would continue, I’m certain you will be able to explain it so that even I can understand the matter.”

Rosier smirked at Severus, and nodded at the Headmaster. “It’s simple, sir. Malfoy met with me over the Christmas hols, and he introduced me to several of his friends. One of them was truly brilliant, and told me what to do. It couldn’t fail.

“Black, Sirius Black, had already begun to understand the need to be rid of the filth in the school. I helped him with a project earlier in the year, and then I had a hook into him. Malfoy’s friend told me that if I could convince Black that Lupin was doing something in the Shrieking Shack, that he’d bring his three friends down there with him to find out what the beast was doing.

“I’d make sure that Black only went there when Lupin was,” he paused, a twisted smile on his face, “indisposed. I knew that a werewolf would be able to kill all four of those boys, and that it would be put down as soon as it was discovered what it had done.” He leaned forward and grinned nastily. “Best of all, Malfoy’s friend realised that as soon as the board of governors found out that you’d allowed a werewolf to enrol at Hogwarts, you’d be sacked.

He leaned back in his chair, looking triumphant. “I’d be able to help Malfoy and his friends, and all it would take from me was to get Black a little curious. We’d get rid of two blood-traitors, a near-squib, a half-blood and a beast, and a Muggle-loving headmaster all at once. It really couldn’t fail.” He seemed oblivious to the fact that it had failed.

Severus felt as if nothing in his life had been what he thought it was. Sirius had been working with Rosier, had been helping Rosier, for months. His … Lupin was a werewolf, a disgusting killer monster, one that only lived to tear the throats out of any human it met. The Headmaster, who he’d thought knew everything, hadn’t known anything about what was really going on, and had allowed a werewolf to enrol in school and threaten everyone.

The room was silent for a minute and Severus glanced over at Lupin. He was still shaking, but his eyes were blazing. “You told Lucius Malfoy’s friend about me?” His voice froze over.

Rosier looked at him, looking slightly amused. “I didn’t have to. Malfoy had already told him all about you. When I got to Malfoy’s house, his friend asked after you by name.” He smirked. “Seems he knows someone who you met several years ago. An old friend, you could say.” He rubbed his shoulder and Lupin’s body jerked as if he’d been struck.

Severus looked back and forth between them, feeling more and more as if he were missing something, as if there were a conversation happening that he couldn’t understand.

Professor Dumbledore cleared his throat and all three boys looked at him. Severus was startled to see that he looked very old, all of a sudden. “I believe we have found out everything we can at this time. However, I wish to make it perfectly clear,” he stared firmly at each of them, “that I will not tolerate any discussion of this matter outside of this room. You may not discuss this with your friends, your dorm mates, your classmates or your families. If I find that you have discussed this, I will be forced to take strong measures.”

“Why? Why can’t we talk about this? You let a werewolf into the school!” Severus felt his conflicted emotions boil up into anger. “I think people should know.”

Lupin shrunk back a little, in his chair. “Severus, please…” he started, but Severus ignored him.

“You’re saying that I can’t tell my friends what hurt me? Or anything?” Severus suddenly realised that after the first visit, Sirius hadn’t been back to see him. They’d been so distant for the past few months that he hadn’t noticed at the time, but it seemed sinister now. “What did you tell Sirius?”

Rosier crossed his arms, looking insouciant. “Everyone important to me already knows. And you can’t do anything to me, old man. You can’t expel me; if you try, I’ll make sure that Abraxas Malfoy takes measures against you.”

Professor Dumbledore’s eyes flashed and Rosier settled back in his seat, looking a little less triumphant. “I understand,” the Headmaster said, in a voice so harsh Severus sucked in his breath, “that you believe I am interested in whatever the board tells me to do. Unfortunately for you, and for Mr Malfoy and his friends, I am aware of the fact that there is more at stake than simply your petty bullying. The single thing standing between you and expulsion is the protection of Mr Lupin’s privacy. You would be wise to remember that fact.”

Across the room from him, Lupin groaned softly. Severus could see him rubbing his chest where the slashes were and for a moment all he wanted to do was apologise for having hurt him. Then Lupin looked at him; his golden eyes reflected the thin winter sunlight and turned a flat yellow for a moment. Severus recoiled before he even thought and Lupin’s face closed. He had nothing to apologise for anyway. He’d just been defending himself.

~*~

Professor Dumbledore sent Lupin back to the hospital wing as soon as he saw that his wounds were hurting him. The professor asked Severus to help him get there, as he was still too weak to get there on his own.

Severus could feel his skin crawl where Lupin was touching him. “You lied to me,” he whispered as they shuffled at Lupin’s terribly slow pace down the corridor to the infirmary.

“I didn’t,” Lupin gasped, breathing in short pants. “I didn’t lie. I just…I knew that you’d stop liking me if I told you. So,” he shrugged, then rubbed his chest again, “I didn’t tell you. But I didn’t lie.”

“You knew I thought you were human, and you said nothing.” Severus set his shoulders and turned his head away. Lupin couldn’t be trusted; no one could be trusted, not really.

He felt cold inside, when he realised that there was no one he could trust any more. He was alone.

~*~

Classes the next few weeks were difficult, and Severus missed two due dates for class essays. His professors seemed concerned; but as he couldn’t tell them what was bothering him, not what was really bothering him, he said something inane about how he was just tired and he’d be sure to turn the work in within the week.

Potions was nearly intolerable now; it was barely acceptable the first week when Lupin was still in the hospital wing, but after Lupin was back in class, Severus found himself dreading every class in the dungeons. Rosier smirked at him from his worktable across the room and Lupin, after one attempt to talk to him during class, simply went through the motions of the potions assigned like an automaton.

The worst part, oddly enough, was that he missed his friend. Several times a week he’d think of something, and he’d think that he needed to remember to tell Remus about it, but then he’d remember and the horror would rise, fresh as the first day. The next worse thing was that he couldn’t tell James, Sirius or Peter. He’d had to tell them something, so he’d come up with a lie about having been working on an experimental potion and the cauldron exploding.

Sirius had given him the oddest look, when he told them his cover story, but he was too confused by how quickly everything had changed to determine what Sirius was thinking.

He felt as though he were doing everything while wrapped in a thick layer of invisible gauze; nothing quite made it through to him, and he could barely feel anything at all.

Then Lupin missed a day of classes and Severus nearly vomited in class when Rosier, when both of them were in the storage room together, whispered, “Your friend is transforming soon. Don’t you want to go see it?”

He finally began to come out of his funk the next night when he overheard a conversation between Peter, James and Sirius. It was the evening of the full moon. He’d come up to the dorm early, just after dinner. He was lying in his bed with the bed-curtains closed, and he heard his dorm mates come into the room.

“—know what’s bothering him,” Peter’s voice was concerned. “He’s been like a bear with a burr in its arse for weeks.”

The springs in James’ bed creaked and Severus could picture him sitting on the edge of the mattress with his legs stretched out, reaching almost all the way to the next bed.

“Sirius?” That was James. “Severus hasn’t said anything to you? I know he tells you things he won’t tell us…”

“Not a thing. I saw him in the hospital wing—“

“You told us that part,” interjected Peter. “But then Pomfrey told you that he needed his rest. I remember. But he hasn’t said anything about it to you?”

Silence answered the question, and Severus assumed Sirius had shaken his head.

“Well, then,” came James’ voice, sounding unaccountably pleased, “I think it’s time we found out for ourselves, isn’t it? We can’t let him keep going like this; he’s clearly not happy.”

Peter said something, too low for Severus to hear, and Sirius responded, “I think it’s something to do with Lupin.”

“You said we should let him alone, though!” Peter sounded scandalised.

Something heavy fell to the floor, making a loud thud. “I know,” snapped Sirius, “but whatever this is about, I think it’s about Lupin. He was in infirmary at the same time as Severus and … well, you didn’t see his face. Lupin was in the next bed, did you know he’s got five great slices on his chest? Like he went up against some animal. Anyway, Severus said something about ‘having to see his body’. It was as though he thought Lupin was dead.” There was a long pause. “His face, when he looked at Lupin, he looked like my mum did when Andi left. Well, like she looked before she remembered to be angry.”

“Devastated?” James was becoming more perceptive than Severus had realised, he thought, as he heard Sirius suck his breath in sharply.

Peter laughed. “Why would Severus be devastated about Lupin, anyway?”

The silence that followed echoed strangely inside Severus’ bed-curtains. James finally broke it by saying, “He’s never seen him the way we do. He’d probably have been happier if we hadn’t teased him so much.”

“Well,” said Peter, clearly not convinced, “I know just how to find out what’s going on. Give me a week and I’ll know everything.”

Sirius, who’d apparently moved to close to Severus’ bed, whispered, “I don’t think you’ll know everything.” In a louder voice, he said, “Anyone know where he is?”

James’ bed squeaked again. “I think he’s in the library. Isn’t that where he’s been hiding out?”

The room filled with the sounds of the three boys gathering their supplies and leaving the room. After he was certain they were gone, Severus slid from his bed and stood in the centre of the room.

“What are you three planning to do?” he whispered.

Chapter Text

The next Friday, Severus got an owl from his mam. She had sent back the old potions book he’d borrowed from Lupin, along with a long, chatty letter. Severus stuffed the book in his bag, doing his best not to think of how they’d spent so much time copying out the recipes, and how happy he’d been. He couldn’t have been really happy with a werewolf; he wondered if werewolves ever stalked their human prey while in human form themselves.

Ignoring the loud sounds of breakfast around him, he began reading his mam’s letter. Sirius leaned across the table and glanced at the letter.

“What’s she say?” he asked. “That’s longer than usual for her.”

Severus glanced up at him. He still didn’t feel as close to Sirius as he had before, but the past few weeks had made him less filled with anger at Sirius, because he could see, even through his haze, that Sirius was trying to be his friend still.

“She’s finished looking through this book—“

“That’s the one with—where’d you get that book?” Sirius asked.

“It’s from an antique store in Majorca,” Severus said, not wanting to say where he really had got it. “She went through it and tested out some of the potions. She’s sent along her notes.” He waved a thick stack of parchment that had been included in the parcel with the book.

“Only your mum would send you potions notes and expect you to be happy about it,” Peter said from beside Sirius.

Severus grimaced at him. “I like potions. They’re interesting, unlike some people I could name.”

Peter grinned back, then held his hands over his heart. “Oh, I’ve been insulted. I’ll just have to die now.” He flung himself sideways across Sirius and began an enthusiastic rendition of supposed death throes.

“You prat,” laughed Severus. Turning back to his letter, he saw that Sirius was looking at him, a wistful smile on his own face. Severus flushed, and looked down at the parchment in his hand. After a few minutes of reading, he gasped, all amusement suddenly fled.

“What? No, mam, you can’t.” He stood up, looking around for the owl. “I’ve got to send her a note, right away.”

James pulled him back down. “What is it? Here,” he shoved the plates aside and cleared a space in front of Severus. “Write her the note here and tell us what’s wrong.”

Severus re-read the letter, then looked up and across the room towards the Slytherin table. Lupin was sitting alone, as he always had, but he didn’t look happy, or at least calm, as he used to do. He was eating his meal with steady, almost stiff movements. He looked almost lifeless.

Severus looked back at his friends and laid the letter flat on the table. “She was contacted by someone acting for the Malfoy family. They want to invest in her business, want to give her a large amount of money. She’s really excited about it. She says,” he glanced down at the letter again, “that they said she was recommended to them by Rosier’s da.”

James looked puzzled. “Well, and what’s wrong with that? It’s good that someone wants to invest, right? You were pleased when my parents helped out.”

Severus looked at Sirius and saw an expression of tense worry that he thought must match his own. “I’m beginning to think that Sirius is right about Malfoy, actually. I, er, heard some things about him, recently. Things he was doing when he was here while he was Head Boy, and things he’s been doing since he left school. They’re,” he paused, “they’re not nice things.”

Sirius looked dark. “He’s a Slytherin and they can’t be—“

“Stop that,” barked James. “I know you hate them, Sirius, but really. They can’t be all evil. Severus has to study with Lupin and you don’t see him spouting that anti-Slytherin nonsense.”

Severus felt the blood drain from his face, and he looked down at the letter again, hoping to hide his reaction. “I have to tell her that she shouldn’t get involved with Malfoy. There’s some friend of his…” he trailed off, only just remembering in time that he wasn’t supposed to know anything about who Malfoy was friends with.

When he looked up, Sirius was staring at him. “You know an awful lot about him, all of a sudden.” His voice was flat.

Severus was taken aback by the hostility in his eyes. Sirius had been so protective of him since February that seeing him looking untrusting again was shocking. “I can’t help the fact that I listen when people around me talk about things,” he said sharply. “You’re not the only one who sometimes finds himself spending time with people he doesn’t expect to.”

Sirius looked abashed at the reminder of his plotting with Rosier.

“I still don’t see what’s wrong with Malfoy wanting to help your mum out,” said Peter.

“He thinks that Malfoy’s on Voldemort’s side,” whispered Sirius harshly.

Peter blanched, slouching in his seat. “Oh,” he said. “He … scares me.”

“Belt up, Peter,” said James with a grin, “we’re with you, and he’d never get through us. You’re safe with us.”

Peter gave him a sickly smile and then jumped as everyone in the room began to stand up and start for the doors. As the group gathered up their things and started walking to their classes, James asked, “So, what are you going to tell her?”

“I don’t know,” said Severus, “I don’t know if she’d listen to me anyway. I just don’t trust Malfoy. He’s too willing to hurt people I know.” Someone jostled him in the crowded doorway, and he looked up to see Lupin, sending him a startled look as he was caught up in the swirling crowd and pulled away.

~*~

As he’d expected, his mam hadn’t paid attention to his worries about Malfoy. Her return note was brisk; she said that she was well able to take care of herself and that she wasn’t worried; all Slytherins stuck together.

“But they don’t, mam,” he whispered to the parchment. He lifted his head and saw Sirius looking at him with a sad expression.

“She didn’t listen, did she?” James dropped down into the chair across the library table from Severus. At Severus’ shaken head, he sighed. “We’ll just have to hurry up and become Aurors quickly so that we can help protect her.”

Severus smiled in response, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that whatever happened, James wouldn’t be an Auror in time to do anything.

~*~

Severus crawled through the portrait hole and stumbled to where his friends were sitting in front of the fireplace. Dropping his bag on the floor, he groaned and fell over onto the nearest empty spot on a sofa. “I never want to see another third year Hufflepuff again. Why did Professor Sinistra make me be the one to watch their detention while she was up with the class on the Tower?”

“It’s because she knows you’re ever so responsible,” said Peter, who was sitting on the floor with his Herbology notes spread out around him. Severus rolled his eyes at him, and struggled to sit up. He put his hand on the next cushion over and jerked back sharply when he realised he’d put his hand on Sirius’ thigh. He’d flung himself back against the arm of the sofa before he was even aware of having moved.

“I’ve got lots to study,” he said, hoping his voice didn’t shake, “so I think I’ll sit down there with you, Peter.” Severus slid off the sofa and shoved some of Peter’s notes into a pile, then reading the top page. “Here, I’ve got to do that essay as well. Maybe we could share notes.”

Peter nodded. “That’d be great. I haven’t even decided what plant to write about yet.”

“I’m writing about aconite,” Severus said, not looking anywhere but at his own notes.

“Severus,” said James, in a questioning tone of voice, “there’s something we need to talk to you about. It’s about what happened last month.”

Severus’ head snapped up. Sirius was staring at his own knees, but James was leaning forward, a concerned expression on his face.

“We can’t really talk about it here, though,” James continued. “We were mainly here waiting for you to get back. Come on up to the dorm and let’s talk, okay?”

Severus nodded slowly, saying, “I’m not supposed to talk about what happened.”

“Well, then,” said Peter, his voice sly, “you can be quiet and we’ll talk. You’ll see. It’ll be better, now that we know. We can protect you.”

“Protect me?” Severus paused in packing his things back into his bag. “Protect me from what?”

Peter just waggled his eyebrows, and Severus groaned.

In their dorm, James and Peter sat on James’ bed, and, after a hesitant moment, Sirius joined them, leaving Severus alone on his own bed. James looked curiously from Severus to Sirius, then appeared to put whatever he was thinking aside. Peter, at his side, hadn’t noticed anything; he was leaning forward, his expression avid.

“See,” he said, when Sirius was finally sitting, “we knew that there was something wrong. You never end up in trouble, at least not without us, and not only did you end up in the hospital wing with great big scars down your side, but then you had to go see Dumbledore.” He grinned, and for a moment Severus saw something in his eyes, something unpleasant and almost frightening.

“So,” James picked up the narrative, “we, well, mainly me, but Sirius went along with it, anyway, we asked Peter to transform into Wormtail and see if he could find anything out. He hung out in the dungeons every evening for almost a week before he got a break.”

~*~

“I don’t think we should do this,” Severus called after James, Peter and Sirius. “The Headmaster was very clear when he told me not to talk about this.” James grinned over his shoulder and waved Severus closer.

“You want to be there when we tell Lupin what we’ve figured out, right?” Behind him, Sirius and Peter were laughing at something Peter had just said.

Severus stared at his friends, feeling suddenly cold. “You’ve figured out what? You didn’t figure it out, you prats, you spied around and found out. It’s not something that people are supposed to know.” He crossed his arms and glared at James. “How would you feel, if you had a real secret, something that could change the way everything thinks about you, and some arses just rubbed your face in the fact that it’s not secret?”

Sirius and Peter had gone quiet and moved up behind James.

“You’re saying that you know?” Sirius’ voice was low. “And that you think it’s okay that he’s here?”

Severus paused for a moment, then decided to take this as slowly as he could. Maybe he could stop what his friends were doing. He glanced around quickly and, spotting a door in the corridor, started towards it. “Come in here. I want to talk to you, all of you.” Once they were in what turned out to be an oddly small room, with a sink at one end and a single table at the other, he faced them. “Tell me, before you spring it on anyone else, what it is you think you’ve discovered.”

Sirius, crossed his arms and looked away, as if he found the stone wall fascinating. James stood with his hands on his hips.

“He’s a werewolf,” Peter chirped. “And I can’t think of why he was allowed to stay in school. Or, really, why he was allowed to come to school in the first place. Everyone knows they’re killers.”

“Did he kill anyone?” Severus wasn’t sure that he knew how to change their minds, but he did know that if Re—Lupin thought he’d told his secret, he’d be hurt. He refused to think about why he didn’t want to hurt him; it wasn’t like he wanted to have anything to do with him, but something about the way he looked so defeated every time he saw him made Severus unwilling to hurt him more. “Do you really think that Professor Dumbledore would let him stay here if he were really a threat?”

James dropped his arms and started to look pensive, but Sirius spun around sharply.

“What? And what he did to you wasn’t a threat? He could have hurt you? He did hurt you!” His shout echoed off the walls.

Severus crossed his arms and looked Sirius in the eye. “The Prince nearly killed him, you idiot. He’s what? 80 kilos at most? The Prince is easily 190 kilos. I’m more than twice his size, and I’ve a longer reach. And I can think while I’m that size. He’s not … well, he’d be a threat to Peter here, and probably you, you great moron. I think Prongs could probably take him, if he knew in advance.”

James’ head shot up. “What?”

“You’ve that rack, and remember that time you kicked me in the ribs? I had a bruise for a month from that.” Severus sighed. “He’s…not that threatening, really.”
“What’s wrong with you?” shrieked Sirius. “Why are you taking his side? Again?”

Severus gritted his teeth. “I’m not taking any side. I’m just saying that the Headmaster, who’s supposedly the person we’re all to look up to and whose lead we’re supposed to be taking, told me not to tell anyone. And, I’m saying that you’re planning on telling Lupin for what? To make him feel bad? Don't you think that having been bitten by a werewolf makes him feel bad enough? He’s cursed for the rest of his life, does he need you to rub his nose in his friendlessness on top of it?” He sent a flat glare around at all of them. “I’m sick and tired of hearing you creak on about how Gryffindors are the best House and they’re so brave and they’ll always protect the defenceless. Coming from you, that’s nothing but a pack of useless lies.”

“You keep saying that,” Sirius groaned, “but I don’t know what you want from me.”

Severus narrowed his eyes. “I want nothing you’re offering.”

“Wait.” James’ voice cracked. “Wait. First of all, I’m confused. You’ve talked to Sirius about this? I thought you were all upset because you weren’t supposed to talk about it.”

Severus rolled his eyes. “No. I haven’t spoken to anyone about Lupin’s… about Lupin. Except that I did tell Sirius here about what’s been happening to Lupin for the entire time he’s been here at school. He said that he’d talk to you about this, but…” he trailed off, his eyes widening. He turned to Sirius, face blank. “You didn’t say that you’d talk to them. I just assumed… I’m such a gullible prat!”

James stared back and forth between Severus, standing and glaring down at his shoes and Sirius, who was trying to look calm and failing. “Well, you’ve started to tell us now. Why don’t you finish?”

“Can we go somewhere else to do it, though?” Peter asked. “Only it’s cold down here, and I think something died in this sink.”

~*~

Severus’ steps slowed as he approached the room where he and Lupin had spent so much time together. He’d skipped this room the past few times he was on patrol, but he really couldn’t put it off any longer. With a sigh, he peered around the slightly open door. The room was empty, the floor coated in dust. He sighed and turned away.

He’d made it several steps down the corridor before what he’d seen drew him up short. His face tense, he turned and moved as quietly down the corridor as he could, drawing his wand and preparing a defensive spell. Once he reached the door again, he slid through as narrow an opening as he could and stared around the room.

It was completely empty. He remembered it as having several scattered bits and bobs, even when he and Remus were using it, but now there was nothing. Plus, there hadn’t been time for the dust to get so thick. It was when he looked out the window that he began to really get concerned. The window showed a bright starry sky.

It had been raining for the past two days, and was raining now.

He took a sharp step into the room and froze as the air around him shimmered. Slowly, like a photographic image floating to the surface, he began to see what had been hiding in the room. He was lucky he’d stopped so short; his front leg was inches from a chair with clothes neatly piled on it. The light was dim, he could barely see. He scanned the room, taking in the low sofa, desk covered in parchment and books, and a small table with a scattering of quills, inkpots and more books. Finally, he looked at the bed, still violently purple, and shivered.

The light was coming from a candle, burning very low, on a trunk standing by the bed and serving as a nightstand. Severus, nervous about being caught and wishing he’d brought James’ cloak on patrol for once, whispered a quick invisibility charm and crept to the bedside.

Lupin was asleep in the bed; he’d fallen asleep while revising for Potions. He was half under the blankets, with his book open to the page on Euphoria Elixirs. Severus stared, cataloguing the changes since he’d really looked at him. He’d lost weight again, and he had dark rings under his eyes. His fringe had fallen forward, brushing his cheeks; Severus nearly reached out to stroke it back when he stopped himself.

As he watched, Lupin shifted; he appeared to wake up slightly. Severus saw his eyes blink open. He sat up slowly, rubbing his face.

“What time is it?” he muttered, reaching for his wand. “I can’t do any more tonight. I hope I can make it to class on Tuesday.” He closed the book, dropped it on the trunk and pulled the blanket up over his shoulder, shifting around until he was lying on his side, staring at the candle. “I wish…” He trailed off and covered his eyes with a hand. His face tightened, and he leaned forward, making Severus wish he hadn’t been standing quite so close. He was afraid to move in case the other boy heard him, but he didn’t think he wanted to listen to any more.

Lupin pulled in a shaky breath and blew out the candle. “Good night, Severus,” he whispered, and Severus’ heart stopped, but then he continued, “wherever you are.” Instead of going back to beating, Severus’ heart clenched, making him feel almost like he had a band around his chest. Remus shifted again, and Severus realised he could use a wordless spell to make himself silent.

He snuck back to the door, eyes trained on the light filtering in from the hall outside. Just as he slipped back through, he glanced behind himself and saw an empty room, with dust covering the floor.

~*~

At lunch the next Monday, he watched the Slytherin table. Lupin wasn’t there. Rosier caught his eye and winked, but Severus just lifted his chin and glared back. He turned back to his own table and saw Peter and James looking at him. James looked a little amused, but Peter seemed to be tense.

“What if he gets upset?” Peter began shredding a piece of bread.

“Who? Him?” James shrugged. “I think Severus knows what to do with someone like ugly Rosier, don’t you?”

Sirius sat down in a seat across from James and began to fill his plate. “Sorry I’m late, had to ask Donalson something. What’d I miss?”

Peter dropped his shreds on his plate. “Lupin’s not here.” At that, Sirius looked stony and took a big bite of shepherd’s pie. “And Rosier is trying to get a rise out of Severus.”

James rested his chin on his hand. “I wonder if Professor Dumbledore did anything to Rosier for what he did to you, Severus. I mean, he tried to kill you, kill all of us, and look at him. Can’t even be expelled, because then, you know, everyone will know about,” his voice dropped to a whisper, “Lupin’s furry little problem.”

“No,” began Sirius, “and I think that’s the foulest thing about this. Well, except for Lupin himself, but I’d say Rosier’s already one of You Know Who’s people.” Sirius shovelled another bite into his mouth and blinked at the looks he was getting from his friends. “I just think that the school shouldn’t let anyone like that in,” he continued, after chewing mightily for a few moments. “I know you all think it’s romantic to be,” he glanced around, “I mean, to have a furry little problem, but you keep forgetting that his ‘little problem’ would love to tear your throat out. I don’t like it, I don’t like him; he’s a Dark creature and Rosier’s one too.”

Severus looked away. He still didn’t see what the difference was between a regular spell and a Dark one. Well, that wasn’t entirely true, but he did know that often people seemed willing to overlook the Darkness, or lack of Darkness, in a spell if it was useful. Some Dark spells, even the Darkest ones of all, could sometimes be used to do good things. There was nothing good, or Light, at all about lycanthropy. It was just an ugly curse. Lupin hadn’t chosen it; it wasn’t as though he’d deliberately cast a spell transforming himself into something disgusting.

Even now, he was probably sitting alone in the hospital wing, waiting for it to get dark enough for him to go back down that tunnel and transform. Severus could still hear the agonised cries he’d heard at first in the Shack, the ones that he’d thought were someone being killed. If transforming into a werewolf hurt enough to make him sound like that, it couldn’t be anything good.

“You know,” he said, swinging back to his friends, “we really don’t know that much about lycanthropy, do we? We just assumed, from what the Defence teachers have told us, but they’ve been crap teachers. I think—“

“Oh no.” Sirius stood up and grabbed his bag. “I’m not researching that. Not at all, not even for you.” He flushed and fidgeted with the strap of his bag. “I’m going to class.” Severus turned to James and Peter.

“Really, Severus,” began Peter, glancing up at James, “don’t we have enough work to do? There’s revision for all the classes, and James has Quidditch practice…”

Severus snatched up his own bag. “I can see that you don’t want to do any research that doesn’t fit into your sneaking around. Fine.” He glared across at Rosier and Wilkes, who were laughing at something at their table. “I’ll do my own research.”

~*~

To his disgust, Severus found that the most of the texts on lycanthropy were in the Restricted Section of the library. He didn’t want to explain why he was studying lycanthropy to a teacher, and Madam Pince was strict about what she’d let him borrow.

He found the answer in the notes his mam had sent him. He’d not yet figured out a way to return Lupin’s book; he kept it in his bag all the time in case he found a way. Somehow, every time he was in Potions class, he’d forget about it.

His mam had found a potion named Wolf’s Rest in the book. It purported to be a drug for werewolves, one that they’d react to as strongly as a cat to catnip, but instead of making them excited, it was supposed to make them more like true dogs. The potion’s inventor said in his notes that he’d thought to make werewolves trainable, so he could have a pack of intelligent wolves at his disposal.

Severus could tell, even without his mam’s cutting comments under her transcription, that the potion wouldn’t work. For one thing, it had much too much fluxweed, and there was no way any werewolf would be attracted to something with that much aconite in it. It made him think, though, that maybe a potion could be designed to make the werewolf less vicious. Something to put it to sleep, perhaps.

Feeling very hopeful, he approached Professor Slughorn after class the following Friday. He told the teacher that his mam had found this old recipe and he was wondering if he could try to make something that would work better. As he rattled on that he’d need access to the Restricted Section, the professor interrupted him.

“Well now, fancy you having an interest in that.” He smiled broadly and leaned back in his chair. “You’re a bit late on the mark there, but it’s an interesting line of study. Using potions to control an involuntary transformation.”

“Late, sir?” Severus was confused. The potion he’d seen was easily 50 years old, and clearly a failure. How could he be late?

“Oh yes… let’s see.” Professor Slughorn stood up, grunting slightly, and began shuffling through a stack of potions journals. “Ah, here it is. A Damocles Belby just published a preliminary study on something he calls Wolfsbane. He says it makes the werewolf more human somehow. I wasn’t very interested; how many werewolves can one meet safely, anyway?” He smiled again at Severus, and moved a bit closer. “Still, it would be something a bright boy like yourself would be interested in. Here,” he thrust the periodical at Severus, who took it from him with numb fingers. “I’ll give you a pass to the Restricted Section; maybe you can try to make the potion Belby is working on. From the recipe alone, it looks pretty challenging, but I think you’re up to it.”

He wrote out a quick note, handing it to Severus. “Run along now. You don’t want to be late for your next class.”

~*~

Damocles Belby’s article was useful, but Severus thought he must have deliberately not included everything needed for the potion. He’d ruined a pair of shoes, two stirring rods, and his good set of callipers just trying to get the potion to be liquid enough to pour into a flask.

After his fourth attempt, he stopped trying and went back to reading the only book in the Restricted Section that had anything more than vague information about werewolves. It was old, older even than the potions book Lupin’s mam had found, and discussed not only werewolves, but other Dark creatures like Inferi, Vampires and Hags. Several of the commonly understood facts about werewolves were, according to Dywyllwch Chreaduresau, completely untrue. Severus spent a wistful moment over the cures listed, then read further.

~*~

“Now this,” called Professor Slughorn, leaning over Evans’ cauldron, “is a perfect example of Amortentia. Everyone, come and look at the way the steam is spiralling into the air.” He beamed at her and stepped closer. “Just perfect.”

Lupin stepped in between them, his eyes on the liquid in the cauldron. “I think we’re close to that, Professor. Would you like to come to see us?” Severus grimaced; he didn’t really think their potion was quite ready to show to the teacher, but Evans looked so grateful he could hardly complain.

The professor glanced idly at their potion. “Yes, yes. Very nice.” He turned to Severus. “Are you making much progress with that potion you asked me for help with? The one to subdue werewolves?” He shifted so that he wasn’t standing in between Severus and Lupin.

Severus struggled to keep his eyes on the professor. “Thank you for asking,” he said through gritted teeth, “I’ve been studying the techniques used in it.” His hands twitched and he busied them on the work table. “Do you have any other information that I might be able to use?” As he stirred the potion, he saw Lupin’s face, set in uncompromisingly harsh lines.

“I might, but it’s difficult to get to. Why don’t you ask me at the next meeting of the Slug Club?” He smiled genially at Severus and turned to go.

Severus sent a worried look towards Lupin, who had moved away and was cleaning up his side of the work table. After a moment, Lupin pulled out a quill and a piece of parchment.

You made your point ages ago. Why won’t you just leave me alone?

Severus winced. This was not how he had planned things.

It’s not… I’m not working on what he said. It’s for another project.

Lupin read the note, and then, staring directly into Severus face, tore it into tiny shreds. They fluttered down onto the table, looking like forlorn bits of snow. Suddenly, their potion shifted colour and the steam slowed to make curlicues and spirals in the air. Severus turned and stared at it, overcome by the scents of books, chocolate and… he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, was that … fur? He flushed, and turned away. Flustered, he turned in the wrong direction, and caught a glimpse of Lupin’s face as he, too, breathed in the vapours from the potion. His eyes met Severus’, making Severus flinch back, away from the naked pain they showed.

He stepped forward, his arm lifting, when a loud thump behind him made him jump. He spun; Evans had dropped her book on the floor.

“So sorry,” she said cheerfully. “I’m not usually so clumsy. I must have knocked it off.” She smiled directly at Lupin, and Severus flushed again, feeling very stupid. Just because… the scents he’d smelled could have been anyone. He closed his eyes, trying to make himself believe that.

~*~

That weekend was a Hogsmeade weekend. Severus was happy to get out of the castle for a while; he felt like he’d been trapped in a shrinking glass bowl ever since February. He and his friends visited Honeyduke’s, and then Peter led them into Zonko’s. Severus stopped in the door, struck by an idea.

“I’ll meet up with you at The Three Broomsticks,” he called to James, who was the only one within sight. James nodded, already distracted by something on a lower shelf.

Severus galloped to the book store and began reading the titles in the section on Defence. Maybe there were newer books, ones which the Hogwarts library didn’t have yet. He left with a small book titled, Whither the Werewolf, and a rather larger one called, So You’ve Been Transforming Against Your Will. The prettyish witch behind the register looked at him curiously and he twitched.

“Class project,” he said, sweeping his change off the counter and leaving quickly.

~*~

A few days later, he decided to sit in the prefect’s bath and soak while he read Whither the Werewolf. He’d been asked by Professor Slughorn to watch as some first years cleaned up dungeon seven, and somehow they’d managed to get his robes covered in shreds of chomping cabbage and flobberworm skins. He could tell from the way everyone he passed in the corridors moved away from him that he stank and he was looking forward to a long soak in the hot water, maybe with some bubbles from the tap that always had something sharpish scented in it; cedar, he thought, or maybe burnt amber.

“Idiots,” he muttered, closing the door behind himself and dropping his bag to the floor. A strangled sound from behind him made him jump and he spun around quickly.

Lupin sat in the tub, one hand moving under the water, the other frozen in the act of pinching his nipple. His eyes were wide and glazed slightly. Severus froze, his eyes going wide, and as he did, Lupin’s head lolled to the side, his eyelids drooped slightly, and he stiffened, making the water slosh slightly.

“Severus,” he moaned, and the hand that was underwater appeared to slide forward. His eyes closed, and he made a sound almost like a whimper. “Why do I keep seeing you like this? You’re never really there…” His head fell back against the white marble.

Severus snatched his bag up and fled through the door so quickly he’d have thought he’d Apparated if he hadn’t known it was impossible in Hogwarts. He leaned back against the door, his breathing a little fast. Lupin still thought of him like that?

Slowly, he went back up to the Gryffindor Tower and resigned himself to a shower in the regular baths.

That evening, he found something interesting in one of the chapters of his book. It said something about werewolves being somewhat calmer when they had a companion after the transformation. Apparently, one man had a large dog as a pet before he was bitten by a werewolf. He’d locked the dog out of the house on the nights of the full moon, but had forgot that he’d a pet door in the storage room he was locking himself into. The dog, hearing his cries, had crawled inside the house. When he woke up with the dog sleeping beside him, he was stunned to see that the storage room wasn’t destroyed the way it usually was after a full moon night.

He’d tried the experiment several times after that, and found that any pet, as long as it was one which was familiar to the werewolf, helped keep the wolf calm while it was transformed.

Severus leaned back against his headboard, ideas and thoughts flying so quickly through his head he couldn’t keep track of any of them.

“… any pet, as long as it was one which was familiar to the werewolf…” he whispered. His sleep that night was broken; his dreams filled with friendly faces shattering and becoming gigantic mouths trying to eat him. Every time he was about to be eaten, he’d hear the echo of a roar and wake up.

~*~

The next full moon was on a Tuesday night. He was sure that Lupin wouldn’t be able to come to Potions class, so when he had to find the other boy in the hospital wing, he wasn’t surprised. Lupin was sitting up in bed, his knees drawn up and his chin resting on them. When Severus entered the room, Lupin’s head lifted, then he looked away.

“Lupin,” Severus began, his voice coming out more sharply than he expected it to, “I brought you the reading from Potions class.” He held out the notes he’d taken, knowing he had to have some excuse to visit Lupin in infirmary.

Lupin took them and dropped them on the bed. He sat up straight, then looked flatly at Severus. “Is there anything else?”

“Yes, actually.” Severus felt very nervous, now that he was actually here. “Do you have any pets at home?”

“What kind of nasty joke is that, Severus? You know what I am. Why would we have a pet?” His lips twisted and he looked bitter. “Don’t you think one beast in a house is enough?”

Severus felt like wincing, but made himself stiffen instead. “Are you allergic to anything? Any animals, I mean?”

Lupin began to look a little less angry. “No. Not even, you know, while I’m,” he paused, “not myself.”

“Yes, right, your furry little problem. But I just wanted to know, you’re not allergic to anything, are you? You know, like dandelions or cats or anything?”

~*~

That night, Severus told James and the other boys that he was going to stay up late revising. He didn’t want to fall behind again, and he was worried that he hadn’t done enough over the past few days. James shrugged, but Sirius shot Severus a suspicious look.

“You are coming upstairs when you’re finished, aren’t you?” he asked. He wouldn’t quite look Severus in the eye.

Severus tipped his head back to look at Sirius, who was halfway across the room. “Of course I am,” he said, trying to smile. “I just don’t want to get behind again.” Sirius didn’t look convinced, but he couldn’t seem to figure out any reason to stay downstairs himself, so he followed Peter up the stairs.

Severus waited for another hour before he slipped out of the portrait hole and down the stairs. He’d taken the precaution of slipping the Map into his bag earlier in the day, and he checked it often for Filch and the ghosts. After having to hide behind a suit of armour for almost ten minutes while Filch stood in front of the staircase he needed, Severus began to despair of making it in time.

Finally, Filch moved and Severus ran as quickly as he could to the Whomping Willow. Snatching up the stick that he now realised was always left in the same place, he poked at the knot-lock and slipped into the tunnel. It was full dark, but the moon hadn’t quite crested the horizon yet; he might still be in time.

At the far end of the tunnel, he listened carefully at the door, trying to hear if Lupin was in the first room, or if he’d gone upstairs to that awful bedroom. He decided that it was now or never, and pushed on the door. To his surprise and dismay, it was locked.

“Damn it, Lupin,” he whispered, “why’d you have to get smart this time?” He tried two unlocking spells before finding the one which released the door. “At least you’re really locking yourself in,” he continued. “I wonder if you remember anything from before.” Once in the downstairs room, he dropped his bag on top of one of the pieces of furniture in the room and crept slowly to the stairs to wait.

Upstairs, in the bedroom, he heard shuffling sounds, then a low moan. Soon, more moans followed, shortly turning into screams and shrieks. Severus huddled at the foot of the stairs, trying to cover his ears from the sounds of Lupin’s body changing. Whither the Werewolf had had a large set of illustrations showing exactly what happened in a lycanthropic transformation, and Severus had stared, horrified, as the man in the illustration had changed back and forth again and again, ripping himself into pieces time after time. He hated to think of anyone he cared… anyone he knew having to endure that.

Once the sounds died away, replaced by quieter whines, Severus transformed and began moving up the stairs. He’d put a lot of thought into the best way to approach the werewolf, and finally just decided to do whatever came naturally. He did think that he should probably not show himself in human form to the wolf; it would want to attack any human, no matter who it was.

He padded down the hall, nosing open the door to the bedroom he’d found Lupin in last time. The werewolf was on the bed this time, savaging the clothes Lupin had left there. Sparing a thought that Lupin wasn’t really thinking clearly to have left his clothes where they were in danger of being destroyed, Severus allowed The Prince to come forward a bit.

He made a low whuffing sound and the wolf’s head snapped around, its yellow eyes gleaming. Dropping the trousers, it spun on the bed and growled, a low, threatening sound that filled the room. Severus felt The Prince wanting to answer the challenge with a roar, but he hung on tightly and forced him to repeat his first sound.

The wolf lunged off the bed, throwing itself at The Prince, its snout open in a snarl. Severus backed up a few steps, then reached out with his claws retracted and knocked the wolf to the side. The wolf went flying, somehow managing to turn in mid-air so that he landed on his feet.

He tried lunging at The Prince a few more times, but each time Severus was able to fend off the attack without letting the wolf come close enough to do any damage. Eventually, the wolf sat on the floor, tongue dangling from its mouth, panting heavily. Severus backed up into the corner of the room closest to the door and sat, himself. He realised that he hadn’t quite thought this through.

Ruefully shaking his head, he thought that he hadn’t thought this through at all. He was sure he could stay The Prince all night, but it would be exhausting to continue to bat the wolf around without hurting him too much. Would the wolf attack him if he lay down?

He tried it; easing himself down onto the floor with his front paws extended and his eyes locked on the wolf’s. Suddenly, he remembered something he’d read about wolf pack dominance behaviours. Did refusing to look away from a werewolf’s gaze mean the same thing, or did werewolves not fall into standard wolf pack behaviours? No matter, he couldn’t let this werewolf think that he was backing down.

The wolf seemed confused by his movements, and echoed them, shifting so he was lying down on the floor. Severus blinked at him; how far would the wolf mimic his actions? He lowered his head, and the wolf followed suit. Lifting his head again, he watched as the wolf did, also. Thinking fiercely, he stood up and walked towards the door.

The wolf stood up and growled, lowering his head and hunching his shoulders. The Prince had had enough; he turned and snarled, then gave a full-throated roar. To his surprise, the wolf dropped from his position into a crouch and whimpered. The Prince stepped forward, Severus dithering on the inside, and lowered his head. He closed his mouth over the back of the wolf’s neck, biting down just enough for the wolf to feel the sharp points of his teeth. Under him, the wolf collapsed all the way to the floor. Severus backed up, staring, waiting to see what would happen.

When Severus had backed all the way into the corridor, the wolf began to move again. It—he, thought Severus, this is Lupin inside that wolf body—he crawled forwards on his belly several feet. Severus stopped, and the wolf dropped its jaw, looking almost like it was smiling. The Prince took a step forward and the wolf—Lupin—jumped to his feet. Severus froze, but Lupin bounced forward, his mouth still in that almost-doglike grin.

Shaking his head, and laughing to himself at how horrified Sirius would be at how much Lupin reminded him of Padfoot at his most playful, The Prince joined the game of Pounce.

~*~

He woke up at dawn, still in the form of The Prince. The wolf was curled up beside him, its nose buried in the heavy fur of his mane. It was whimpering and Severus could see the bones beginning to shift under its skin. Severus flinched back, away from the horror, but his movement woke Lupin. He lifted his head and stared into The Prince’s eyes, his own filled with pain and confusion.

Suddenly Severus’ horror at the transformation of Lupin into a disgusting beast transmuted into horror that Lupin was trapped with these devastatingly painful transformations, with no way to choose not to, and no way to make the wolf understand why it kept happening. In its own dreadful way, it was simply a dumb beast, no more responsible for its actions than any natural creature.

He watched, his teeth gritted against his own whimpers of sympathy, as the wolf’s body broke, the bones seeming to literally move under the skin, the fur fading, not quite retracting, the paws changing back into hands and feet. The worst part was Lupin… Remus’ face; watching the snout pull back, the eye sockets change shape, the nose break and re-form, nearly made him howl with dismay, himself.

When it was all over, and Remus lay on the floor, unconscious from the pain of the transformation, Severus stood up and galloped down the stairs. He transformed back from The Prince in the downstairs room and snatched up his bag. He pelted back up to the bedroom and fell to his knees next to Remus. Carefully, he cast Mobilicorpus and floated Remus to the bed, lowering him as gently as he could.

Then, he pulled a large flask from his bag and uncorked it. Tipping Remus’ head back, he poured a little of the thick liquid into his mouth. Remus’ throat worked and his body relaxed.

“One more,” whispered Severus. “It’ll help.” He poured another mouthful into Remus, re-corked the flask, then dropped it back into his bag. He fussed with the blankets, pulling them up to Remus’ chest. Moving the blankets uncovered the destroyed trousers, and he cast a quick Reparo.

“Severus?” Remus’ voice was almost too thin for him to hear it. He spun to look at the other boy. He was staring down at the foot of the bed, his eyes confused. “Why do I keep seeing you, wherever I go?” His head fell back again. “I wish I were seeing you for real.”

~*~

Severus sat in Defence the next day and couldn’t stop smiling at his textbook. He hadn’t had a chance to see Remus yet in the hospital wing, but he was sure that his research had paid off, that Remus had been less injured than usual after a full moon. He’d chosen the strongest of the pain relieving elixirs he could make, and hadn’t had to use any of the healing salves at all.

His shoulder was poked and he glanced up, the smile still on his face. It faded as he saw Sirius glaring at him.

“What?” he whispered.

“You never came back in last night,” Sirius whispered back, leaning as close as he could without actually leaving his seat. “I waited up.”

Severus sighed. “Sirius, I’m not going to talk about this.”

“You said we were still friends.” Sirius sounded anxious. “But all you want to do is look for stuff to do with Lupin.”

Severus glanced at the teacher. She was at the other side of the room, talking to a Hufflepuff. “Friends! You mean you want me at your disposal at every moment!" Severus hissed angrily. Apparently he was too loud, as the teacher turned around. He sat up straight and smiled at her attentively. “Yes, Professor Schicksal?”

She stood over them, glaring hard enough to peel paint. “This class is for your education in the methods and resources you will need to defend yourself and others against Dark magics and Dark creatures. Not, please note, for you to waste on frivolous private conversations and whisperings.”

“I’m very sorry, Professor,” Sirius said, smiling at her. “I was just asking Severus about different Dark creatures. I’ve been thinking of doing a little research on my own.”

She smiled back and Severus grimaced down at his book. No matter what, everyone wanted to please Sirius. He was handsome, intelligent and came from a rich, pure-blood family. Out of all of them, Sirius was the one the teachers were always lenient to. James came a close second, but Severus knew very well that if he’d tried to talk their way out of trouble, the teacher would be less likely to believe him.

“So, I couldn’t think of what to study and so I asked Severus here.” He smiled over at Severus, who sucked his breath in. Sirius’ eyes were the coldest he’d ever seen. “I think,” Sirius continued, turning back to the professor, “I’ll study werewolves. They’re very important to study, especially now, I think.”

Professor Schicksal raised her eyebrows. “Yes? Why now, especially?”

“Well, with Greyback around, I think it would be good for me to know more about them.” His smile tilted up at one corner and he leaned a little closer to the professor. “I’m going to be a Hit Wizard, you know.”

The bell rang, and Professor Schicksal strode to the front of the room. “Your homework is to write out the most commonly believed fallacies about Inferi and how they can actually be combated.” Her voice was almost obliterated by the sounds of the other students gathered up their things.

James, who’d been sitting just behind Sirius, said, “I don’t think you should keep doing that, Sirius. I know you don’t agree with what Severus is doing, but really, you can’t think that he can’t have friendships with people besides us.”

Sirius swung around and glared at James. “Don’t tell me what to do,” he snarled, and stormed out of the room, leaving James and Severus to stare blankly at each other.

~*~

After lunch, Severus made his way to the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey met him at the door, her eyes checking him over for injuries.

“Oh,” he said, smiling at her, “I’m not here for me. I’m fine. I was just… I came to talk to Remus.”

In the back of the room, Remus’ head lifted. He was sitting on the bed with his legs drawn up with his head resting on his knees.

Madam Pomfrey relaxed. “Well, he’s much better today than he is usually. It’ll be good for him to have company. You go and sit right down. I’ll be in my office, if you need anything.”

Severus walked across the room, feeling almost as nervous as he had the night before walking down the tunnel. He sat down in the chair next to Remus’ bed and smiled uncertainly.

“Hi,” he said. “Um, how’d it go last night?”

Remus just stared at him, his face a study in confusion. “What?”

“I just…I mean, last night was the full moon, and…” Severus took a deep breath. “You’re usually pretty sick after, so I was wondering how you are.”

“I’m fine,” Remus said slowly, still looking as if he wasn’t really sure what was going on. “What are you doing here?”

Severus’ brows drew together. It wasn’t like Remus to be so confused. He didn’t think he’d given the boy too much of the pain reliever; why was he this puzzled?

“No,” Remus said, “I heard you. I just don’t… well, I don’t believe you. You made it clear that you hate me, so what are you doing here?”

Severus flushed, looking away. ‘I don’t hate you,” he said.

“Well, you gave a very good impression of it, then,” Remus snapped. He’d coiled up on the bed, his legs drawn under him, his arms bracing his upper body.

“I—I’m sorry,” Severus replied. “Really, I am. I was just…look, can you just tell me how you are?”

Remus’ body relaxed a little, but Severus wasn’t sure he was out of trouble yet. “Fine,” Remus said, “in fact, I was asleep in the bed when Madam Pomfrey came to get me.” He shot a look at Severus, then shook his head. “I forgot you don’t know. There’s a bed there, where I … change.”

“You’re not normally in the bed?” Severus began to wonder if Remus remembered anything from during the time he was transformed. This could complicate matters.

“No. Usually I wake up on the floor. The time you…” Remus sat back against the headboard and rubbed his face. “The time in February, I never woke up, actually. I didn’t wake up until the next day and then I was here. I still don’t know everything that happened.” He eyed Severus.

Severus looked down at his hands. “Do you want me to tell you?” He hadn’t expected to have to talk about this, but maybe this would be a good way to start. At Remus’ nod, he laced his fingers together. “I found the tunnel and the little house.” He was distracted by a thought. “Rosier said it was the Shrieking Shack? Aren’t you worried about the ghouls?”

Remus chuckled, and shook his head. “At the risk of scaring you off again, I’ll tell you something else. I’m the ghouls.”

Severus’ eyes widened for a moment, then he, too, chuckled. “Oh, the screaming. But that’s only once a month. Doesn’t anyone notice?”

“People are less observant than you’d think.” Remus’ voice was dry. Severus nodded, feeling sheepish for not having noticed, himself.

“I heard screaming, so I went upstairs. There was blood everywhere, and then I saw…” he looked up and saw that Remus had covered his face with his hands. “I saw you. You were… pretty scary, actually.” His voice had gone soft. Before he could think of a reason not to do what he wanted, he reached out and pulled one of Remus’ hands down. “I’m fine, you know. Nothing happened. I know you’re upset, and I even know why you’re upset. But, well, if I can get over it, then you should be able to, also.”

“You think you know why I’m upset?” Remus’ voice was harsh. “I could have killed you, Severus. Or worse, I could have turned you into this.” He waved a hand at himself and pounded his fist into the bed. “If I’d done either of those things, I’d have been brought to the Ministry and killed. And they'd have been right to do it. Do you know how they put down feral werewolves, Severus?”

Severus shook his head, a little startled at Remus’ outburst. He was usually much quieter.

“They’re beheaded, Severus. They get an executioner, they put the werewolf’s head on the block, and if the werewolf is lucky, the executioner does it in one swing. If they’re not lucky, the axe gets buried in the poor werewolf’s head or back and the executioner has to pull it out and try again.”

Severus had gone pale. “Remus, Remus, stop. That’s not going to happen. I won’t let it happen. Please, stop.” Without thinking about it, he moved to the bed and wrapped his arms around the other boy. “I’m fine. You haven’t bitten anyone. It’s okay.” In his arms, he could feel Remus shuddering, then Remus’ hands slowly wrapped themselves in the fronts of Severus’ robes and clenched into tight fists.

“I don’t want to be executed, Severus. I just want to be normal. That’s all.” His voice was thick with unshed tears.

Several minutes later, Remus pushed at Severus’ chest. “Sorry,” he said, not looking up at Severus. “I’m tired, I guess. I don’t usually think about that.”

Severus let go, but didn’t get off the bed. “No, and you shouldn’t think about it again. It won’t happen, Remus. I promise.” He reached out slowly, not sure if Remus would let him do this, and cupped Remus’ chin, tipping his head up so he could meet his eyes. “I promise. I won’t let you ever get put down.”

Remus’ eyes were glowing, shimmering with moisture, and some emotion Severus couldn’t name. He blinked slowly, then pulled away. “Thanks, but really, I think I’ll just stay with the locking myself up.”

Severus thought about mentioning Belby’s potion, but since it wasn’t ready for anyone to take it, he decided it would be cruel. “Actually, I’m here for a different reason.” He took a deep breath. “There’s something I have to confess to you.”

Remus tipped his head to the side. “What, that you told your friends? I figured you would right away.”

“No! I didn’t tell anyone.”

Remus’ eyebrows shot up. “No? Then how come Pettigrew can’t look at me without going white and Potter keeps saying things like ‘Buck up.’?”

Severus winced. James really meant well, but he was something of a berk, wasn’t he? “Ah. They, well, they found out on their own. I made them stop trying to find out more. They wouldn’t help me with—this isn’t what I wanted to tell you.”

Remus smiled encouragingly.

“Before I start, can I ask you a question?” Severus felt himself getting more and more anxious as he got closer to telling Remus. Remus nodded, beginning to look amused, and Severus grimaced. “What do you remember from when you’re the wolf?”

“Not much,” Remus began, “mostly scents. Impressions, really. Nothing concrete. Most often I wake up feeling like I’ve been trapped against my will.”

Severus nodded, thinking hard. “All right. Here, then.” He pulled the book with the story about the man and his dog out of his bag. “See? Read that. Then, I’ll tell you.”

Remus gave him a confused look, but bent obediently over the book.

~*~

Ten minutes later, Remus closed the book. “So, you're saying I should what? Get a dog?”

Severus spent a moment frantically trying to control his expression; the first thing he'd pictured was Padfoot cowering in fear while the werewolf tried to play Pounce. Once he was sure he wouldn't burst into laughter, he nodded. “Something like that.” He laced and unlaced his fingers. “I still haven't confessed yet. When are you getting out of here?”

Remus looked at him, his gaze calm. Severus tried to look as calm as Remus did, but glanced down at his feet.

“I think Madam Pomfrey would probably let me go soon. Why? How bad is it, what you want to tell me? If it's just telling me to get a pet, you can stop worrying. My mum won't get one.”

Severus winced. “No, it's more than that. I--” He stood and picked up his bag . “Can I meet you later? In... in our room?” All of a sudden he didn't want to have this conversation somewhere public.

Remus blanched. “Our room?” He licked his lips. “Erm. Sure. What time?”

“Right after dinner?” Severus stuck his hands in his pockets, trying to hide how nervous he was. At Remus' slow nod, he relaxed and grinned. “Great. I'll see you then.” With a wave, he turned and started toward the door. Just as he left, he heard Remus' voice calling for Madam Pomfrey.

He spent the hours before dinner fidgety and anxious. He had no idea what he'd do if Remus got angry at him. Remus hadn't seemed particularly willing to look at the idea; what if he refused to let Severus stay with him again?

Severus ate his dinner without even noticing what it was. It wasn't until James elbowed him and whispered that he could stop trying to scoop up the last of his soup that he even realised he'd been trying to eat from an empty bowl. Across from him, Peter was biting his hands, attempting to hide his laughter. He grinned at Peter a little self-consciously, and shifted in his seat. Sirius, next to Peter, was glaring at him.

“What're you so upset about?” He rested his elbows on the table. “We're your friends, why won't you tell us?”

Before Severus could think of anything to say, Evans' voice called from down the table. “Maybe because you're a great berk and he doesn't want to deal with you?”

Sirius snarled at her and threw himself away from the table. “You keep out of it, you--”

“Oi!” James stood up. “You leave her out of this.” Severus looked up, expecting James to be yelling at him, but was surprised to see him glaring at Sirius instead. “She's just saying what I was saying earlier. Get over this.” His voice dropped and he spoke in a low, intense tone. “Sirius, I know how you feel about...” he glanced down at Severus, “about that but you can't keep getting angry like this. Especially right now.”

Sirius sat back down and leaned across the table. “Why not?”

Peter shifted away. “And why right now? What difference does it make if he hates Slytherins, anyway?”

James looked at the pair of them. “Because of Voldemort, you idiot. He wants to make us all hate each other, and for us to stop trusting each other. Look, I'm going to be an Auror. You,” he pointed to Sirius, “you're going to be a Hit Wizard. Where are we going to get our potions? The ones we need for healing and for defence and offence?” He pointed at Severus, who was surprised at the rush of pride he felt at being included. “Peter's going to help us by finding out any information we need, right? It's the four of us against the world, right?

At Sirius' grudging nod, he continued, “But that means we need to trust each other. Trust each other's judgement and choices. I don't like the Slytherins, but I believe in Professor Dumbledore and he believes that we shouldn't judge by House. So if Severus is friends with one, I'm willing to trust Severus' judgement.”

Sirius looked congealed, but Severus could see, over his shoulder, Lily Evans hanging on every word. He smiled down at his bowl, amused that James had finally got the girl's attention, and he didn't even know.

Sirius stood up. “Well, that's fine, but what if one of us screws up? You act like this is my irrational prejudice, like it comes out of nowhere. Everyone in my family was in Slytherin House and they always talked about it as the pureblood house. These are the same people who think that Voldemort has the right idea. That's what they say, at home 'the right idea.' So all idealism aside, James, but what if my parents are right and everyone in Slytherin feels that way? I wouldn't trust your life, or any of your lives, to someone who believes what they do." He stared at James challengingly. "I'm going to find out everything I can about any Slytherin that one of us wants to trust. I'm not taking any chances."

~*~

As Severus climbed up the stairs to meet Remus, he kept thinking about Evans. She didn't usually get involved in anything with the four of them, but she'd jumped in quickly today. She wasn't stupid; she was just as good as he was in Potions, and could more than keep up in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes as well. She excelled at Charms, though.

He couldn't think of a reason for her to have gotten involved at all. Just as he stepped onto the seventh floor, he remembered how she'd acted in Potions class, when they'd brewed the Amortentia. She'd deliberately dropped her book right when he was about to reach out to Remus.

Could it be that she had a crush on Remus? No, that didn't make sense. She seemed friendly to Remus; they'd often revised together for classes in fifth year, but she'd dated lots of boys, in several Houses, and hadn't dated Remus even once.

He froze outside the door to 'their' room, a feeling of dawning horror breaking over him. Did she know about the two of them? In a daze he pushed the door open and stepped inside. Everything was exactly as it had been before Remus had put the cloaking spell on it.

“Where's the...” he trailed off, remembering only just in time that Remus didn't know that he knew Remus had been sleeping in the room. Closing his eyes for a moment, he shook his head and tried again. “Where is the extra table?”

Remus, who'd been sitting in the corner of the little sofa, looked puzzled for a moment. “The extra... oh. I used it to make the sofa a little bigger.” He stood up, walking closer to Severus. “Now, what is it you wanted to tell me?”

His presence seemed to fill the room; it felt to Severus almost like the air itself was warmer around Remus. He could feel his body reacting; arousal and heat coiled in his groin. “Er.” He took a deep breath, which didn't help, as he could smell Remus' scent, rich and almost furry... Frantically grasping his slipping control, he turned and shut the door behind himself, muttering a locking spell.

“I think Lily Evans knows about us,” he blurted out, not turning around. Remus' laughter, warm and deep, surprised him and he spun around. “What? Why are you laughing?”

Remus sat back down on the sofa. “She's known for over a year. She caught me, oh it must have been in our last month of Muggle Studies class last year....” He blushed. “I'd written your name in my notebook and she saw it while she was testing me on transportation methods.” He shook his head. “I don't know why I took that class. Anyway, she cornered me and demanded to know what I wanted with you. I think she thought I was after something else; she was quite defensive of you.”

Severus moved into the room, and dropped down onto the squashy chair; it was violently yellow today, with a repeating pattern of blue and green stars. Part of him was amazed at this glimpse into Remus' past, into his friendships and relationships before they'd really got to know each other. He was struck by how little they actually did know about each other.

“What did you tell her?” He curled up in the chair, and rested his chin on his hand.

Remus flushed and glanced down. “I, er. I told her I fancied you. I didn't mean to tell her that. She's a very determined witch, she is.” He flashed a grin up at Severus, who couldn't believe that Evans had known something like this all this time and hadn't said anything, or done anything. Most girls would have been...

“She was horrified. She avoided me for almost the whole last month of school, but then something happened. I don't know what, actually.” Remus shrugged. “It must have happened in your dorms. Right before the summer hols, she sat down next to me in the library and said that she'd been thinking about it and I'd be better for you than--” Remus' eyes widened.

Severus tried to think about what had been happening right before summer hols last year. They'd taken their OWL's, and there'd been the Levicorpus thing after the Defence OWL. He bit his lip, remembering how upset he'd been when Sirius had stopped talking to him suddenly; Sirius had snubbed him pretty fiercely once in the common room and Evans must have seen it.

There was a long silence. Severus gathered his courage.

“What do you know about Animagi?”

Remus looked confused. “They're people who can change into animals. Professor McGonagall is one; she showed us at the beginning of school.”

Severus clenched his hands together. “See, I've been thinking. What if you had someone with you when you were...” his mouth opened, but he had to gulp for a minute before continuing, “a werewolf?”

Remus shook his head. “I'd tear anyone apart. That man, he'd had his dog for years before he was bitten. The dog knew him, and, more importantly, he knew the dog.” He shook his head. “It wouldn't work. But,” he smiled at Severus, a smile so pleased that Severus felt like crawling on the floor to him, “thank you for looking for something to help.”

“No, you're not... I mean, what if there was someone who was an Animagus, who could stay with you? In their animal form.” This wasn't quite how he'd planned on saying this, but learning about Evans had completely turned him around.

Remus sucked in his breath. “Who? The only Animagus I know is Professor McGonagall, and she's a little house cat. I'd eat her.” He'd gone pale.

Severus sighed. It seemed that there was nothing else to do. He stood up and stepped into the centre of the room.

“You know me,” he said, and transformed.

~*~

Remus jerked back in the sofa, his eyes wide. Severus didn't move at all; he'd been expecting something like this. He'd rather thought that Remus might be nervous around large animals. As Remus began relaxing, Severus sat down and tipped his head to the side. Remus let out a breathy laugh, and leaned forward a little.

“You're a lion?” Remus sounded almost awed, and Severus took that as his cue to stand up and move closer. He padded his way around the low table to stand in front of him. Slowly, Remus reached out and slid his hand into The Prince's mane. “You're beautiful.”

Severus transformed back, crouching at Remus' feet, feeling Remus' hand in his hair. For one moment, it felt to him like everything stopped. All he could feel was Remus' fingers, tangled in his hair, cupping the back of his head; all he could see was Remus' eyes, glowing amber and gold, like the amber he'd used to become The Prince. He strained up, wanting to kiss Remus again, missing the feel of his lips, his hands, his skin...

He pressed his mouth against Remus', feeling need rising up in him. This wasn't what he'd expected at all, wasn't what he was here to do. The desperate desire he felt filling him surprised him; he'd been so focused on other things that he hadn't thought about being close enough to Remus to touch him again.

Remus' lips were so soft against his; he wrenched his mouth away and pressed urgent kisses to his cheeks, his eyes, his jawline. He could hear himself making anxious sounds, echoed by similar sounds from Remus.

His arms wound around Remus' waist, and he pressed forwards more, crushing Remus against the back of the sofa, relishing the feel of his body, of the solidity of it under his, the way Remus clutched his head and slid his other hand up Severus' side. Their mouths crashed together again, tongues tangling, thrusting and retreating. Severus slid a hand up Remus' chest, the fingers searching a bit until it found the already tightened nub of his nipple. He pinched it through Remus' robes, and Remus bucked up against him, head thrown back and neck exposed.

Severus licked a long wet line up the cord of Remus' neck, then buried his face in the hollow behind Remus' ear. He could feel Remus' hips undulating against him; his cock was hard and every time it pressed against him, he wanted to see it again, to touch it again. With a moan, he pushed away from Remus and began shoving at Remus' robes, trying to burrow underneath them or pull them open. Remus' trousers frustrated him for a moment, but he finally remembered what buttons were and how zippers worked and managed to get them undone.

Above him, Remus was whining and panting. His hips were rolling forward, thrusting his cock, heavy and red, up at Severus. Severus skimmed his hands under Remus' shirt, scratching lightly with his fingernails at the skin of his stomach and chest. Just as he reached Remus' nipples again, he lowered his mouth to Remus' cock, sucking it in as far as he could at once.

Remus cried out, his voice hoarse. Severus glanced up and saw that Remus was staring down at him, his eyes glazed and his lips parted slightly. His hips kept rocking and Severus tried to mimic the movement with his mouth, enjoying the way Remus lost more and more control. Severus' eyes drifted closed, and he concentrated on the lovely texture in his mouth, the way it was soft and smooth, and the deep musk he could almost taste rising from the bronze curls tickling his nose.

The sounds he could hear Remus making, and the lovely scent rising from Remus' body were combining to make him so aroused he was dizzy. He tried opening his eyes again, but the room seemed to dip around him; the only stable thing he could cling to was Remus' body. Giving himself over to the sensations, he slid back to his knees between Remus' legs and licked the tight balls hiding below Remus' prick. Remus' legs fell even further open than they'd been before and Severus moved his mouth lower down, finding an endearingly smooth patch of skin right on the base of his sack. He teased it with his tongue, enjoying the way Remus' hips shuddered under his tongue and hand.

He slid one hand down to his own aching cock, pressing down hard with the heel of his hand. He could tell he was almost at the brink, himself, and he didn't want to stop what he was doing to Remus. His other hand curved around the thick shaft of Remus' cock. It was moving on its own; he stroked up and down, trying to match the movements of his tongue to the slide of his hand.

Remus' moans changed—Severus could almost hear words mixed in. He moved back to sucking and slid his hand down to rub where he'd been tonguing before. The moment his mouth closed around the head of Remus' cock, Remus gave a strangled shout.

“Severus, I--” he bit his wrist and stiffened. His cock swelled even larger, and Severus felt hot fluid hit the back of his throat. It was bitter, but Severus remembered it from before. The taste of it gathered on the back of his tongue, filling his senses with Remus.

His own, unattended to, arousal spiked and he whimpered, burying his face in the curve where Remus' leg met his body. He was shaking with need; he couldn't think past the urgency of want coursing through his veins. There was an indistinct noise above him and he felt hands tugging him up.

Remus coaxed him into a position lying on his back on the sofa then and slid his hands under Severus' robes, tugging his pants down. He lowered himself down and began breathing hot, moist air onto Severus' cock, which, now freed, was dripping pre-come. Severus felt like he could barely breathe, all he could feel was the way his prick felt, the way he needed Remus to touch him, to suck on him.

The sudden shock of a tight, wet mouth wrapping itself around the head of his cock shredded any awareness he had left. He barely even felt himself thrusting up, didn't hear the shouts and pleas pouring from his mouth; all he felt was the release, the joy filling him at finally having Remus touch him again.

~*~

They lay entangled on the sofa, Remus' head pillowed on Severus' shoulder and Severus' robes draped over them like a blanket. Severus had taken quite a while to collect himself, but Remus had seemed content to just lie there, together.

“So,” Remus began, his voice soft, “you think that maybe, if you're transformed, my,” he shifted against Severus, “things will be easier for me?”

Severus yawned, physically drained. “Yes. You said yourself that you were healthier this time. Madam Pomfrey seemed to think it was amazing.”

Remus struggled up, ending up hovering over Severus, supporting himself on one arm. “What do you mean, this time?” There was a hint of fear in his voice, making Severus feel a chill. “You weren't there with me.”

Severus sat up, forcing Remus to move back. “When you wake up, normally, after the full moon, what is it like?”

Remus looked suspicious, but took a breath and answered. “I wake up wherever I've fallen, usually. Often I'm bitten, at least my hands and legs are. Sometimes, if the change was really bad, I'll have scratched myself also. The rooms in the Shack are torn up,” he paused, “well, torn up more. I don't go there any time besides the full moons, so I don't really clean it up. And, always, I'm in pain...”

“And how was the last full moon different?” Severus sorted out which wand was his and conjured a pot of tea.

“I woke up in the bed, covered and warm. The room wasn't damaged at all, and I wasn't in any pain.” Remus began to pull his pants and trousers back on. “You stayed with me, didn't you?”

Severus nodded, expecting Remus to be happy, and say that they should start working on a way to get together over the summer hols.

“You idiotic arse,” snapped Remus, making Severus pull back quickly. “How dare you put yourself in that kind of risk? I locked that damned door as well, so I know you broke in.” He'd put his shirt on as well, and he stormed across the room to the window. The last of the evening sun poured in, gilding his hair and making him seem, to Severus, ethereal and unworldly. “You could have been bitten, or hurt. Or killed.”

Severus finished dressing. He walked across the room towards Remus. “But I wasn't. And really, Remus, think about it. How big is... are you when you're the wolf?”

Remus turned away, looked out the window. “I don't know,” he said harshly. “I've never seen the wolf.”

“Wolves are usually less than 80 kilos.” Severus leaned his shoulder against the wall and crossed his arms. “How big would you say The Prince is?”

Remus turned back to him, eyebrows raised. “The Prince? Is that what you call yourself?”

Severus flushed. “No, that's just a stupid nickname that Sirius came up with. How big, do you think?”

Remus shrugged. “I don't know. I was a little distracted by the fact that there was a lion in the room with me.”

“Try 190 kilos.” Severus stared flatly at Remus' stunned expression. “And something else.” he shifted a bit. He felt much less confident about this part. “You know those cuts you got? In February?”

Remus lifted a hand to his chest. “That was you,” he breathed, his eyes going very wide.

~*~

Severus nodded shortly, unsure if this would destroy everything he was trying to start. Remus hadn't known that he'd been the one to nearly kill him.

“That's how you weren't hurt.” Remus backed up, hitting the windowsill abruptly. “You never answered anyone... you skipped that part.”

Severus nodded again. “Yes. No one noticed, and it's not something I wanted to talk about.” He shifted from foot to foot. “There's tea.” He gestured at the table, hoping that he could distract Remus.

“When did you become an Animagus?” Remus was whispering, his face a mixture of awe and confusion.

“Remus, you weren't at dinner. You can eat while we talk. You need to eat.” Severus ignored the way Remus rolled his eyes. “I'll tell you everything you want to know.”

Remus walked to the sofa, made a small noise at the mess of their robes, and began tidying up. “Why did you become an Animagus?” he asked, over his shoulder.

Severus sat down on the chair and poured out two cups of tea. “I learned the final spells at the end of fifth year. I didn't have many chances to use it after that, but if it can help with this, then I want to be there every month.” He sipped his tea, trying to think of other things to say, to convince Remus to let him help. “I'm sorry I hurt you so much.”

Remus waved that off, leaning forward on the sofa. “It's okay, really. But, you haven't said, what made you decide to become one? And did you know you'd be a lion?”

“No, it's not something you choose. The spells just,” he paused, trying to think of a way to explain it, then realised that Remus was half-Muggle, as he was. There was a chance that he'd understand things in a way that Sirius and James never had. “I think it's like setting part of your subconscious free, and then it chooses for you.” Remus nodded, his eyes alight. “If I could have chosen, I'd probably have picked something smaller, actually. It's kind of annoying to be something so big and conspicuous that I can't go anywhere.”

“I wonder...” Remus stared off into the distance.

“What you'd be?” Severus smiled at his tea-cup. “I wondered that also, actually. Would your lycanthropy override the Animagus spells? Could the Animagus transformation subsume the lycanthropic change? What if your Animagus form was a wolf? What if it were something the wolf hated, and you spent your entire time during the full moon hurting yourself more?”

As Severus listed the questions, Remus' eyes grew wider and wider. “You've clearly been thinking about this.”

“I have. I'd tell you to learn how to do it, but it took ... me several years to learn all the spells. Although,” he thought for a moment, “you'd have the advantage over me of having me guide you through them.” He shifted his hands around the tea-cup. “Will you let me stay with you? There's one more full moon before the end of school, and I'd like to see if I can get to you during the summer as well.”

Remus pulled back again, his face shuttered. “I don't know, Severus. I don't... it's ugly. I'll need to think about it.”

Severus grimaced. “I saw you change back, you know. I wasn't... I didn't see you change from—well, I saw the wolf change back to human. It looked miserable, actually, but not really ugly.” He pulled out what he was hoping would be his trump card, the thing Remus wouldn't be able to pass up. “I can make you potions to ease that for you. Things to help with the pain, and with me there you didn't hurt yourself at all.” He leaned forward. “I can help you, Remus. Please, let me help.”

Remus looked tentative; Severus could see that he was wavering. He bit his lip to keep from bursting into further explanations, when the sound of pounding feet outside the door made them both stiffen.

“Quick,” a girl's voice yelled, “it's almost curfew. If we're caught out late again we'll get detention. Hurry up!

Severus stood up slowly. He'd missed his chance now, he could tell. He'd have to just keep at it, keep asking and asking. Remus couldn't refuse him. A small voice in his head said that Remus wouldn't be able to refuse the pain potions, but he squelched it.

“I guess I should go,” he said, gathering his robes and bag. He turned to say goodbye. Remus moved, too quickly to be humanly possible, and pressed his lips to Severus'. Severus dropped everything and wound his arms around Remus, one hand sliding down the curve of Remus' back to rest on his arse, the other one slipping up to catch around Remus' shoulder, pulling him closer.

Remus moaned into Severus' mouth, his body still moving forward until Severus was pressed against the stone wall. Remus pulled his mouth away, then rested his forehead against Severus'. His eyes were closed. Severus tipped his head up as much as he could without losing contact and pressed kisses to wherever he could reach.

“It's okay,” he murmured into Remus' ear. “It's okay. I'm sorry. I'll help, I promise.”

Remus groaned, letting his head drop to Severus' shoulder. “You should hate me. I'm a beast. I'm sorry I'm... I just, you turned away and all I could see was you, hating me. Severus, I--” he kissed him again, frantically, short whines and moans escaping him.

Severus kissed him back, trying to put all of his feelings into the movement of his lips, the way he wound his tongue against the other boy's. “I'm sorry I acted that way, Remus. I don't hate you. I never really did...” He gasped and shuddered at the feeling of Remus' hand moving down his chest to burrow under the waistband of his pants. Remus stepped away from him, and watched as Severus melted against the wall under his hand tugging and sliding up and down on Severus' suddenly fiercely aroused cock.

Severus tried to watch him, to reach for him, but Remus pushed him against the wall again. “You stay there,” he whispered. “Let me do this. I want to have this.” He rubbed his thumb over the tip of Severus' cock, twisting the foreskin and Severus lost the ability to see anything but Remus' eyes, glowing almost yellow, yellow like the eyes of the wolf and at that image Severus shouted and shattered, coating Remus' hand.

Remus immediately pressed against Severus, holding him gently until his own knees were able to hold his weight again. “You're beautiful, so beautiful like that...” he whispered. Severus clung to him, confused by the intensity of his orgasm and by how desperate Remus seemed to have been. Sometimes he thought he'd never understand the other boy.

~*~

Severus spent the next couple of days trying to think of more ways to convince Remus to let him stay with him during the full moon. He knew that Remus had been leaning towards letting him help before those two blasted girls had distracted him, but he wasn't at all sure now of what Remus was thinking, and he hadn't been able to corner him in the library.

He had been amused, though, to see Lily Evans sit next to James in the next day's Defence class. Well, he thought, anyone would be amused to see James, normally the best in the class at protection spells, fumble a Protego and end up with a Jelly Legs Jinx hitting him square in the chest. In her defence, Evans did manage to stop giggling long enough to cast the countercurse, but Sirius spent the rest of the day sniggering intermittently.

That Friday, as he set up his table in Potions, he flushed as Evans gave him a huge wink just as Remus came into the classroom. He could feel it burning all the way from his ears down to his chest as Remus, who'd missed the wink, looked at him strangely and worried about whether he was feeling all right.

That weekend was a Hogsmeade weekend. Sirius had to stay in the castle; he'd got detention from the Muggle Studies professor for not having turned in a good enough essay on Muggle Weaponry. Severus had seen it while Sirius was working on it. He wasn't surprised at the poor mark; the essay had been all over blots and scratch outs.

James and Peter were planning on going to refill their candy stash and Severus wanted to go to Scrivenshaft's, so they planned on meeting at The Three Broomsticks for lunch. After breakfast, Sirius slouched off to do his detention work, and Severus turned to James.

“Listen, there's something I wanted to ask you.” He felt nervous, although he didn't know quite why. He'd already made his choices about who he would be friends with.

James cocked his head at him. “You want us to meet Lupin, don't you?” Across from them, Peter jumped, but didn't say anything. Severus could see Evans leaning a bit closer.

“I thought you might want to meet him in person. You... I, well. That way you can make up your own mind.” He took a deep breath. “I'm going to be friends with him no matter what, but it would be nice if you could be his friend as well.”

James looked at him for a long moment, then shrugged. “Sure. I mean, I should see who this prat is, who you've decided is as good as us.” Evans whirled, fury in her face, but Severus could see the repressed humour in James' eyes.

“Yeah,” Severus drawled, “you might even decide he's worthwhile yourself.”

“Who knows,” James said, standing up, “stranger things have happened.”

~*~

Severus didn't bother trying to convince Remus to go to The Three Broomsticks to meet James and Peter. Remus had been more than happy to go to Scrivenshaft's with him, and after Severus had picked out new quills and ink for both of them, Remus was more than happy to go along to The Three Broomsticks to continue the argument about whether or not he should have let Severus pay for the quills.

Severus peered through the crowd until he saw James' unmistakeable hair. Hoping that Remus couldn't see where he was headed, he wound his way through the tables. He could tell when Remus figured out where he was planning to sit, because he stopped short.

“Severus,” he said in a low, tense tone. “I'm not sitting there. Not with them.”

Severus turned back to him and smiled. “Remus, please. I want you to meet my other friends.” He glanced back at the table and saw James poking something in a bag Peter was holding. “You'd like them, if you got to know them. I know they'll like you. Please?”

Remus stared at him, his face unreadable. Slowly, he nodded. “But I can leave if I want, right?”

Severus blinked at him in surprise. “Of course you can. I'm not chaining you to a chair, I'm asking you to eat lunch with my friends.” He paused, wondering if he should say the next part. “Remus, if they say something that makes you leave, I'll be leaving with you.” He hoped Remus didn't think he was too much a girl.

Remus relaxed, though, and nodded. “All right,” he said, “let's get it over with, then.”

The conversation was difficult at first. James clearly didn't know what to talk about, and Remus refused to help. He didn't order anything for lunch, and got awful, tight lines around his mouth when Severus ordered two servings of the mutton stew. James thawed after that; shooting a sympathetic glance at Severus, he asked Remus what Quidditch team he followed.

After the food arrived, things flowed a little more naturally. Remus liked The Prides, and Peter shouted in dismay. He spent the next half hour trying to explain the subtleties of the Cannons defence to Remus, while James and Severus collapsed in laughter at Remus' sour expression. Things changed entirely for the better after Peter had set up the condiments and emptied bowls as a Quidditch field and the four boys began discussing the last inter-House game in earnest.

“Is this a closed party, or can anyone join?”

Everyone at the table started, but Remus was the first to react. With a sweeping movement, he stood and bowed Lily Evans into his seat. “My dear Lily,” he said, in plummy tones completely unlike his actual voice, “we were missing your lovely presence and now here you are to divert and amuse us.”

Lily smirked at him, sat down in his chair and stole the chips they'd been using as stand-in Beaters. “What game is this?” she asked, leaning forward to examine the pitch.

James, who'd glowered at Remus during his speech, snapped, “The last game, the one between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.” He relaxed a bit when she smiled at him.

“You were good in that game,” she said, idly moving the spoon standing in for the Hufflepuff Seeker. Severus had to look away from the sudden rush of hope filling James' face. His eyes caught on Peter's expression of dampened fury and he felt a terrible chill run down his spine. He lifted his gaze to Remus and saw that Remus had seen it as well. They stared at each other, Severus frozen in his seat.

“Well,” said Remus, a little too heartily, “since the Fair Maiden has taken my chair, I guess it's time for me to go.” Severus shot to his feet, and gathered up the bag from Scrivenshaft's.

“Peter and I will come with you,” he said, staring fixedly across the table at Peter. Once Peter stood up, Severus dumped a couple of Galleons on the table and herded everyone to the door. They made it outside before Remus burst into whoops of laughter.

“I'm sorry,” he gasped, “but your friend, James.... Is he always that obvious?”

Peter smiled, a little tightly, and nodded. “He's only been mooning over her for two years, the git.” Severus could see him struggling with something, but then he stuck his hands in his pockets and continued, beginning to walk towards the castle. “You didn't hear about the time he called her beans on toast?”

Remus chuckled, following Peter. “No,” he said. “Whatever did he do that for?” He glanced back at Severus, who was surprised to see uncertainty in his eyes. Severus smiled, and caught them up, wishing he could touch Remus, reassure him that things were okay.

~*~

Sirius knew that they'd eaten lunch with Remus before they told him. He refused to eat dinner with them and ended up sitting down at the very end of the table. Severus glanced down the table at him several times, and caught what looked like the tail end of an argument between Sirius and his brother Regulus.

Peter leaned across the table. “What do you suppose that's about?” he asked. Regulus had to come over deliberately to talk to him.” He shot a look towards Sirius again. “He looks furious. I hope he's not too angry with us.”

Severus raised and eyebrow. “Why would it matter? Surely we're allowed to have lunch with people when we're out, right?”

Peter twitched. “I don't like it when we're not friends.” He sounded forlorn and Severus slumped a little.

“Peter,” he said, not sure what exactly it was he wanted to say to the other boy. “It's possible to be friends with people, even when they disagree with you.”

Peter shrugged, and Severus gave up. He knew his feelings about Remus wouldn't change, no matter what his friends thought. He looked at the Slytherin table, and saw that the news that Remus had been in Hogsmeade with Gryffindors must have made it over there as well. The usual space around Remus had widened, but he didn't look unhappy about it at all. He'd brought three books to dinner, and had them spread out, all open, in front of him. He appeared to be taking notes; he'd take a bite of dinner, then pick up the quill and write something down.

Peter, who'd turned around to see what Severus was looking at, said, “You know, that doesn't look so bad. It's more room than I ever get here, that's for sure.”

~*~

A week later, after Tuesday Potions, Severus caught Remus up in the corridor. “I want to talk to you about,” he glanced around them and dropped his voice to a whisper, “your furry little problem.”

Remus glared at him. “Why do you call it that? Do you think it's funny?”

Severus grimaced. “No, I don't think it's funny. I do think I can help, though, and that you're being stupid not to accept the help.”

Remus drew himself up, and Severus was reminded that he was shorter than Remus. “Are you calling me stupid?” Remus asked, in the iciest tones he'd ever heard.

“No!” He stepped forward-then stopped abruptly. “No, I'd never call you that. But I can help and you're not letting me.”

Remus looked around the corridor. “We can't talk about this here. I'll be in our room after dinner. We can talk about it then.” He turned and strode away, leaving Severus feeling frustrated and baffled.

~*~

“No. I've thought about it and my answer is no.” Remus stood with his back to Severus, staring out the window. He'd set the room up again to look like he was just studying here and Severus wondered if this meant that he didn't really trust him with the truth.

“Why? You didn't hurt me. Remus.” Severus stepped away from the door he'd barely got through before being greeted by Remus' refusal. “You're not a threat to me, not while I'm transformed.”

Remus hunched over a little, as if his stomach hurt him. “Don't, Severus. Just... I can't let you do this.” Finally he swung around and Severus was horrified to see his face working, his lips unsteady and his eyes hot and wild. “This isn't something you can just do some of the time, Severus. This is permanent. I'm always going to be a werewolf.”

Severus nodded. He knew that part. “I don't understand what that has to do with me helping you. I know you're a werewolf, and that there isn't a cure. But why does that mean I can't help you if I know a way?”

“Because if you help me now, what am I going to do when you stop? When it becomes too much, or you get bored,” Remus' voice rose, “or you find someone else who needs your help and you leave me?”

Severus relaxed. “Oh, if that's all, Remus,” he began, but Remus bent forwards, fists buried in his stomach.

“You think that's all? Severus, if you leave me, I don't know what I'll do...” Remus tried to straighten up, but staggered and banged his shoulder hard against the stone wall. Severus dashed across the room to catch him, and Remus clutched at him, his fingers pressing hard against the skin of his back and neck. “I can't let you start helping me, because I'll start relying on you and you'll leave me. Everyone leaves me. If I lost you I'd....”

Severus staggered a bit himself under Remus' weight, but managed to balance. He wrapped his arms around Remus as tightly as he could and began trying to work them back toward the sofa. Maybe if he could get Remus to lie down, at least a little, he'd feel better. Remus clung to him, his hands curled around great fistfuls of Severus' robe, his face buried in the curve of Severus' neck. He continued clinging, while Severus shifted them about on the sofa, almost as if he were a child holding onto someone it dearly loved.

“I plan on being there for every trans... change... full moon after this,” Severus said into the wild strands of bronze hair scattered across his face. “Every single one.”

~*~

Breakfast for the next few days was ruined by the Prophet's front page blaring 'Breaking News' reports. There was a rash of Death Eater attacks, and the Prophet's staff always placed a large colour photograph on the front page of the latest Dark Marks, as well as listing the attendant deaths. The tension level in the Great Hall rose every single morning, until Severus thought it might make more sense to just skip breakfast all together.

Sirius was irritable, as well, and even hearing a list of plans James had made failed to cheer him up. He had begun studying much harder; Severus was surprised to find him in the library almost every day, behind a large stack of books.

Severus tried to revise with him, but Sirius just snarled and said that he could do very well on his own. After trying three days in a row, and simply asking if he could share the table once, Severus gave up. Sirius would get over his snit; he always did, eventually.

James was less helpful with things than usual. Evans—Lily, Severus supposed he should start calling her now, if she were going to start dating James—was actually spending time with James. Severus saw them holding hands in the hallway between classes once, and was so amused by the gobsmacked expression he caught on James' face that he had to duck behind a suit of armour to hide his face.

Ultimately, this meant that Severus spent more time alone with Peter than he ever had before. Peter wasn't in most of Severus' classes, but he was always willing to be a test subject, and was happy to trade off curse, hex and jinx practice for Defence class.

The more time Severus spent with Peter, the more uncomfortable he felt. It was odd, he thought, that Peter seemed to know so many things about so many people, and yet be so unwilling to talk about himself. Peter was happy to talk about things he'd heard while hanging around the dungeons as Wormtail, he gloated about how easy it had been to follow Avery from class to class, and he was personally acquainted with the interior of the girl's showers. However, when asked about what he wanted to do after school, he clammed up defensively.

One afternoon, Severus found Remus at the back of the library, sitting on the floor with his head on his knees. He didn't look up when Severus turned the corner into that aisle; Severus took a moment to just look at him. It was mid month, and Remus was filling out a bit. His hair shimmered in the warm shafts of sunlight, and Severus ached to stroke the it back from Remus' face. With a slight jolt, he realised that he actually could, that Remus wouldn't think he was a disgusting freak for wanting to touch him.

He gently lowered his bag to the floor and ran his fingers through the hair tumbled around Remus' ear. Remus jerked up and back, his eyes wild. When he saw who it was, he relaxed, but his eyes still looked startled.

“Hey,” said Severus, softly, “what're you doing back here?”

Remus leaned back against the bookshelves and stretched out his legs. “I didn't sleep well last night, and I'm tired now. I'll have to try to get to sleep early tonight.”

“Are you still sleeping in our room?” Severus shifted so that he was sitting tailor fashion facing Remus. He saw Remus' face blanch slightly.

“How did you know?” Remus looked worried, and Severus couldn't think of why he'd be worried. Didn't he know yet that Severus wasn't going to do anything to hurt him?

“I saw you.” Severus tugged his bag closer and tucked it behind himself to lean on. “I was on patrol, and I checked that room. It was while we... while I wasn't....” He took a deep breath and put his hand on Remus' calf. “I saw the room empty and dusty and started to walk away when I realised that the room shouldn't have been dusty. We'd used it only a week or so before. When I went back to look again, the view from the window was wrong.”

Remus grimaced. “What're you going to do?”

Severus stared at him, honestly baffled. “Do?”

Remus shook his head. “You're not going to tell anyone? Professor McGonagall?”

“Why? Should I?” Severus grinned. “I know you don't want to be in your dorm. I even know why. You've just found somewhere else to stay.” He shifted about to sit next to Remus, and watched as his legs stretched out beside Remus'. “What are you going to do about next year, though?”

Remus shrugged. “I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet.” His head tipped back and he closed his eyes. Severus watched the tawny skin of his neck as Remus swallowed; the flutter of his pulse at the base of his neck was visible in the brilliant sun. He felt arousal rising in him, making his toes tingle and his groin tighten.

“Why are we in the library?” he asked, trying to distract himself from thoughts of licking a path up that neck, nibbling on the soft earlobe just exposed by Remus' hair, biting at the spot behind Remus' ear. He'd discovered that being bitten there drove Remus to incoherence, and sometimes all he could think of was the sounds Remus had made the last time he'd been able to touch him there.

Remus rolled his head to the side, looking at Severus. “Because I need to revise for Ancient Runes. I don't know why you're here.”

Severus smiled. “I was looking for you.” He flushed at Remus' slow answering smile. “I think we should revise outside. It's sunny by the lake.”

Remus nodded, and the two boys scrambled to their feet; Severus made sure his bag covered his crotch as they walked past Madam Pince.

~*~

A few days later, Severus found Peter alone in the dorm. He was coming in from Herbology, and needed a shower. The Screechsnap had to be fertilised and Professor Sprout had chosen Severus and a Ravenclaw to do it. Severus felt filthy; the dragon dung had got everywhere, it felt like, and all he wanted to do was take the hottest shower he could.

“Severus?” Peter's voice was almost too low for Severus to hear. He stopped in the middle of pulling his robes over his head and turned.

“What?” With a grunt he pulled the robes the rest of the way off and threw them to the floor. “I just want a shower, Peter, what is it?”

Peter slid forward on his bed. “I'm just wondering, have you seen James at all today?”

Severus thought for a minute, while he tugged at his shoes and socks. “I saw him at breakfast, but he missed lunch. I think he's working on that essay we had to do for Charms. Did you try the library?”

Peter shook his head. “I just wondered. I haven't seen him since breakfast, and, well...” he trailed off.

Severus finished taking his clothes off and kicked the pile into a corner. He knew the House Elves would clean them overnight, and he didn't want to even think about them until they were clean. He hoped they'd be able to get the smell of dung out. “I'm going to the showers,” he said. “Did you need something from James? I can try to help when I get back.” He pulled on a dressing gown and gathered up his towel.

Peter shook his head. “No, it's just that I've been thinking about what we're going to do after school. James wants to marry Evans, you know.”

Severus did know. Severus was surprised that Peter seemed to be only figuring this out just now. “Yes, Peter. He's been saying so for almost three years now.”

“I just hadn't really thought about it,” Peter said, his voice almost a wail. “I like things the way they are. I like the four of us here, spending time together, thinking of pranks and things to do and lazing around all weekend long if we want to.” He slipped off his bed and crossed his arms tightly across his chest. “Now you're off studying or doing things with Remus, and I know you say he's nice, but he's not one of us, Severus, and he won't be, not ever, no matter how much you want him to be. Sirius is so angry all the time and I don't know why and James...” Peter drew a breath that sounded almost like a sob, “James is off with Lily Evans all the time. She's all he thinks of. He didn't want to sneak out to Hogsmeade this weekend with me. He said that Lily wanted to work on defensive charms and that Hogsmeade was old now, anyway.”

Severus sat down on his bed and stared. This view of things startled him. He'd seen everything that Peter had seen, but somehow to him it had seemed exciting, that the four of them were finding new things to do and new people to spend time with. He knew that he'd be friends with the other boys forever, that they were going to grow old together and have dinner at each other's houses even when they were as old as ... as old as Professor Dumbledore, but the thought of them living in separate flats had seemed like more fun to him, rather than less.

“Peter,” he said, his voice very tentative, “Have you thought of what you want to do after we finish school?”

Peter turned away, his face red and blotchy. “No,” he mumbled, “I haven't.”

Severus pulled in a deep breath. “I really need to take a shower. Professor Sprout made me fertilise the Screechsnap plants.” He smiled at Peter's groan. Peter had been stuck with that task almost all of last year. “I want to talk to you after, though. Maybe I can help you figure something out.” He stood up and walked across the room to Peter's side. “I'd like to help; we're friends and we stick together, right?”

Peter nodded, then scrubbed at his face with his hands. “Go shower. You smell like the worst part of dragons.”

~*~

Severus stared down at the bloody mess in front of him. He needed more practice with the spell he'd created, the one to help Remus, but he'd thought that he should see the effects on something living, so he'd gone to Hagrid and asked if he'd had any infestations recently. Hagrid had looked at him oddly, but then he'd grinned and said that he didn't want to know what he and his friends were planning. He offered Severus some stoats he'd trapped in the Forbidden Forest and asked that, whatever the prank was, to leave his name out of it.

Severus had almost taken them to the room Remus was sleeping in, but he realised that he couldn't go there if he wanted to do anything private. Finally, after some thought, he chose a room in the West Tower on the fourth floor and conjured cages for the stoats.

However, now that he'd tried the spell on the first stoat and it lay, a destroyed lump, on the table in front of him, he realised that he hadn't thought this through as well as he thought he had. The spell worked well, but he'd panicked at the effect it had on the stoat; he hadn't imagined it being so bloody. With a slow sense of horror, he realised that he had no counter curse—there was no way to heal the damage his spell could do.

Clearly, he needed to do more research. He put out bowls of food and water for the stoats and hurried down to the library.

~*~

That night, he dreamed of faces around him, dark laughing faces with malice and ferocity in every look. He stood, alone and naked in the centre of a large room, his hands tied behind his back. James stood near him, face twisted in disgust. Peter peered out from behind James, a look of avid cruelty marring his normally anxious features. Sirius moved closer, almost gliding; he stood in front of Severus and whispered, “You've done this to me. It's your fault.” and Severus saw his chest open and his heart, pulsing and beating, fall from the cage of ribs to land at his feet. Severus twisted in his bonds, trying to get his hands free to hide himself, to snatch up Sirius' defenceless heart and protect it, to cover his ears from the awful sounds of laughter and derision around him, but the knots held and the ropes cut his wrists.

Then Remus came, crawling towards his feet, his golden skin marred by cuts, small at first, then growing and opening, pouring blood to the floor until he fell, his arms reaching for Severus, his face a mask of desperation and fear. Sirius laughed, his heart pumping, and said, “You bring disaster on everything you touch.” and he stroked a hand over Severus' cheek, then over the largest of Remus' wounds. Severus felt himself pull away from Sirius' hand, but every part of him froze when Sirius' touch made the slice in Remus' skin peel open, revealing the wolf inside.

The wolf leapt to its feet and lunged at the heart, snatching it up in its jaws and biting it until it pumped rich red blood over the wolf's jaws and down its throat. Sirius stood next to the wolf, his pale white hand on its shoulder. “You never think before you act, Severus. It will be your downfall, that you don't look before you leap.”

Then everyone around him stilled; a sound came, soft and piercing, rich with emotion and depth, it wrung feelings from Severus. He looked at Remus' torn body and felt his heart shatter, the pieces falling inside him, slicing him to ribbons inside. But the song, the sound, still curled around him; he almost thought he could see the notes in the air. They drifted down, and when they touched Remus the wounds closed and the skin healed.

Sirius had moved around to stand behind him. “Never good enough,” he whispered in Severus' ear.

Severus woke, one fist shoved into his mouth, the other clenched tightly in his hair. He'd bitten down in his dream; his hand was bleeding from places where his teeth broke the skin.

~*~

He spent that morning in a daze, barely making it through his first class; unable to look anywhere without seeing sneering faces or hearing the derisive laughter of strangers. When he saw Sirius looking at him with a worried expression at breakfast, he had to blink twice to make sure that he wasn't really seeing the cruel smile he'd seen in his dream.

He didn't begin to come out of his dream induced confusion until he saw Remus' face in front of him. He stared at it, cataloguing the high cheekbones and the easy smile. He wasn't smiling right now, though.

“--what's come over him.” Severus heard a voice say from behind him. He turned to see who was speaking. James looked harried, and was carrying both his own and Severus' bag. “Just... keep an eye on him in Potions. Lily would, but you're his study partner in this class.” Severus turned again and saw Remus, looking concernedly into his eyes.

“Severus?” He stooped a little to peer into his face. “What's wrong?”

“Here,” James grunted, holding out Severus' bag. “I think he keeps half the library in there. He woke up this morning, and was like this. We checked him for hexes, but nothing showed.” He sighed and stretched his back as Remus lifted the bag from him and threw it over his own shoulder without straining. “Lily thinks something else is going on.”

“It was a dream,” Severus whispered, rubbing his face with his hands. “It was only a dream.” James and Remus spun to look at him, and Remus shook his arm slightly. “Sorry,” he continued. “I—just it was an awful dream. There was so much blood.”

“Well,” interrupted Lily, in a brisk voice, “reading the Prophet will do that to you. And those awful Curse books you've been reading.”

Remus cocked his head. “Did you ever find the thing you were looking for?”

“Unless you were looking for a potion,” came Professor Slughorn's voice from the door, “you would be wise to leave it outside this room.”

Class that day was a review of the various methods of reversing the effects of poisons and other dark potions. Severus sat, taking desultory notes, trying to remember everything about his dream. All he could remember clearly was the feeling of being trapped, and the faces, jeering at him. He remembered blood, and Remus dying at his feet, but there'd been something else, something he couldn't remember. He had the worst feeling it was something important.

“Mr Snape,” called the teacher from the head of the room. “Please tell us two things which will prevent the action of any poison.”

Severus stood to answer. In his head, his mam's voice asked the question, and he smiled slightly, missing her. “A bezoar, sir, and phoenix tears, distilled into a blend of purified rain water and moonstone essence.” He sat back down, not caring that Professor Slughorn shot him a dirty look before moving on to ask another student the next question.

“Phoenix tears,” he whispered. “Phoenixes are known for their healing tears and their song, which gives hope and strength.” He stared, blank eyed, at his notes. Maybe the counter-curse could be based on the song of the phoenix.

Suddenly the dream didn't matter. He was close to figuring this out, he knew it, and then he could show it to Remus, show him how much he wanted to help, to protect him. Then Remus would have no reason not to let Severus stay with him over the full moon.

It wasn't until he actually tried singing during a spell that he thought about how stupid he sounded.

~*~

Classes were over, and the train was leaving in two days. Everyone was scrambling to find their things, pack them and have the last bit of fun before the summer holidays.

Severus sat in his favourite chair in the common room and stared at the fire. Tonight was the full moon and Remus still hadn't said that he could stay with him as The Prince. He fisted his hands in his hair, tugging hard. He'd promised he'd be there, but Remus would be angry with him.

Someone sat down in the chair next to his. “Severus,” whispered Lily, “do what's right. Worry about the rest later.”

He lifted his head to look at her. She was smiling at him softly. As he nodded at her, her smile grew brilliant. He kept it in his mind as he raced down the corridors toward the Front Doors.

~*~

He didn't bother waiting for Remus and Madam Pomfrey to go down to the Willow. He galloped down the tunnel, making sure to leave the door as he found it, and then stormed up the stairs to the upper floor. He stopped on the way to the bedroom. Madam Pomfrey might see him there and he didn't want to have to explain anything to her. Moving quickly, he veered off to one of the other doors off the landing and closed its door behind himself.

Just in time, he thought, as he heard the sounds of footsteps and voices in the lower room. Two sets of footsteps mounted the stairs, and after some rustling and moving about in the next room over, one set of footsteps left the Shack.

Severus stood, irresolute for a moment, at the door, then pushed through it and walked to the bedroom. He moved quietly, and stood watching as Remus slowly took his clothes off. He folded them and reached up to put them on a new shelf high on the wall. He was muttering to himself, and Severus caught his breath when he heard his name.

“Remus,” he said, “how long do we have?”

Remus spun, his face first bright with something, some emotion Severus couldn't quite name, but then he scowled. “I told you no, that I didn't want you here. It's dangerous and I will not take this risk.” He stalked across the room toward Severus, hands in fists at his sides.

Severus stood his ground, breathing deeply and keeping his head up. “I know the risks, Remus, and I'm taking them of my own free will. I promised you I'd be here, that you wouldn't have to go through any more of these awful changes alone. I'm here now, and I won't leave.” He pulled a flask from his pocket. “I brought something, also. Something that will help.”

Remus looked away for a moment, crossing his arms, and Severus was reminded that Remus was naked. It didn't seem fair that Remus had to be so exposed, when he himself could transform while clothed. He thrust the flask forward, forcing Remus to take it or have it fall to the ground, so that he could pull his own robes over his head.

“What are you doing?” Remus' eyes were on him, hot and darker than usual.

Severus paused, robes already on the floor and one foot stuck in the leg of his pants. “I'm getting un-dressed. It's only fair.” He started to tip over, and thrashed his foot free.

Remus blinked, then smiled. Severus shivered; he'd never seen Remus smile quite like that before. He looked almost feral, like he was starving and Severus was the first meal he'd seen in a week. “Er, Remus?” Severus stepped out of his pants and picked his clothes up. “Can I put my things on the shelf, near yours?”

Remus drew himself up short, looking suddenly scared. He nodded and looked down. “Oh! What is this?” He waved the flask at Severus, who was stretching to reach the shelf.

“I made a pain reliever,” he said, turning to face Remus. “If you take ... how close is the moon?”

Remus rolled his head andflexed his fingers. “Soon. Within half an hour, I'd say. Why?”

“If you take half that flask in a quarter of an hour, the transformation should hurt less.”
Remus' eyes widened. “What's in it?”

“It's something my mam designed when she was... before my da died.” Severus tilted his chin up slightly. “It's a secret.”

Remus slumped. “You're pretty good at this, for a Gryffindor.” He smirked at Severus. “You knew I couldn't turn this down, didn't you?” At Severus' slow nod, he grinned and opened the top of the flask, sniffing at the potion inside. “Feough! That's foul. What's in there?”

“I told you,” Severus snapped, feeling angry with himself for hoping that Remus would want him there for himself.

“It's a secret,” finished Remus. He shoved the cork back into the mouth of the flask, then moved to Severus and wound his arms around his waist. “Thank you. No one ever made something that worked, that made this better. Any of it.” Severus relaxed against Remus' strong chest, hoping that the potion would work, that it could help make the pain go away.

They stood that way, quietly holding each other, until suddenly Remus jerked. “It's close,” he whispered; Severus couldn't control his quick step backwards. He gritted his teeth, and made his body stop moving.

“Drink it,” he said, pushing at the flask. “You need to drink it.” To his horror, Remus almost dropped the flask entirely. Severus snatched it back. He pulled Remus' head back, tipping the mouth of the flask over Remus'. When he thought Remus had drunk half, he re-stoppered the flask and hurriedly reached to put it on top of his clothes.

He spun at a whimper behind him; Remus was clinging to one of the bedposts, his fingers white from the strength of his grip. “Severus,” he cried, “Severus, leave. Run! Please, I don't... OH!” He jack-knifed back, his back bent almost double. Severus ran across the room, transforming into The Prince halfway without even pausing to breathe.

Remus lay on his back, his body roiling under the skin as his bones and muscles shifted. Severus almost couldn't watch, but something made him curious. He nudged Remus with his nose, and the other boy turned his head, slowly, to look at him.

“It ... it's easier,” gasped Remus, just before his face began to change. This was, if anything, worse than watching the wolf's face turn into Remus' as Severus had to watch his friend get lost inside the mindless fur and teeth of the wolf.

~*~

When morning came, and the wolf whimpered its first confusion, Severus lunged for the flask. He'd put it on the shelf, so that it wouldn't get broken, but now he couldn't reach it. He spent an agonised minute wondering what to do, then decided that he could probably manage to transform back into himself, grab the flask and shift back to The Prince before the wolf noticed.

He nearly made it; the wolf wasn't quite distracted enough by the pain of the beginning of the transformation to not notice his human scent. He did manage to bat the flask to the floor before jumping away from the outstretched claws and teeth of the wolf. The wolf's front claw caught his shoulder, but Severus figured that was a worthwhile trade for having the potion in the right place.

With dismay, he realised that, yet again, he hadn't thought things all the way through. He had the potion, but there was no way Remus would be able to drink it in his condition. He had the hysterical image of himself holding the wolf in his arms like a human baby and trying to get him to drink from the bottle and shook his head until the image faded.

He decided to give the potion to Remus after he changed back, and returned to the wolf, curling up around its smaller form protectively.

The next day, he had the satisfaction of overhearing Madam Pomfrey say that she was thrilled that Remus had done so well for two transformations in a row. “Just you wait and see,” he whispered to himself. “Just wait.”

~*~

Everything was packed, now, except for the clothes they'd need for the last day. Severus double checked his bureau drawers, knelt down to look under his bed, and cleared out the desk he'd been using in the room. Finally, he fell back across his bed, amazed that a whole year had gone past.

He heard footsteps and rolled over. Peter came around the door, smiling nervously at him.

“Almost time to go home,” he said, and Severus nodded. “I've been thinking,” Peter continued, “about what we were talking about. You're right. I need to find something to do, something I want to be that's separate from you and Sirius and ... James.” He wandered to the window and slouched against the sill. “I'm good at maths and keeping track of things. There must be something I can do.”

Severus sat up sharply. “You're more than good at keeping track of things. Remember those notes you kept, on Remus? That's a real skill; I'd bet you could work for a potions manufacturing company.” He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the jobs he'd heard his da talk about at the mill. When he opened them again, Peter had wrinkled his nose. “Not making potions, you arse, keeping track of things in the research labs. What's been tried, what they're working on, stuff like that. You'd be brilliant at it.”

Peter looked pleased and thoughtful. “I am good at making sure I have the information I need...” he trailed off, turning away to stare out the window again. “I think I'll start there. Thanks,” he said, glancing back at Severus. “You've been a great help.”

~*~

At the Leaving Feast, Severus ate happily, knowing that he'd be able to get what he wanted this summer. He just wanted to be able to help his mam, and Remus. He'd be watching for whatever it was that Malfoy wanted with his mam, as well. Maybe Remus would have some ideas. Maybe he could get his mam to let Remus come for a visit. He was decent at Herbology; he could help in the gardens.

He smiled down at his plate of trifle. He could see his whole life unspooling in front of him. He and his friends would figure out a way to defeat Voldemort, his mam would be happy and wealthy, and he and Remus could—he shivered to think about it—could maybe live together.

When Professor Dumbledore lifted his glass to the passing of another year, Severus raised his and smiled. The future would be wonderful.

Chapter Text

Remus lowered himself into a seat next to Albus Dumbledore. The older wizard was silent, and Remus felt his tension rise as the two of them stared at the figure seated in the middle of the large stone room. They were the only two spectators who were silent; every seat in the room was filled with witches and wizards talking or laughing amongst themselves.

Finally, a figure on one of the benches across the room stood and cleared his throat.

“Severus Snape, you are here to give evidence regarding the recent deaths at Godric's Hollow. What information do you have about the attacks there on 31st July, this year?”

As Remus watched, Severus pressed his lips together and lifted his chin. “I know nothing about the attack,” he spat. “I know that James and Lily... the Potters had been warned that Voldemort was looking for them--”

“Who told you that?” Crouch leaned forward, glaring down at Severus, who stared back up at him coolly.

“James and Lily Potter told me themselves that they had been warned. We were at their house for a celebration.” Remus could see Severus' knuckles whiten. He remembered that night himself. It had been the last time either of them had seen the Potters. Lily had invited them to celebrate Harry's half-birthday; Remus had thought it odd at the time, but given later events rather thought that they'd wanted to see Severus again before going into hiding and had invented something to celebrate.

Severus had entered into the idea quite enthusiastically; Remus had been surprised by how quickly Severus had taken to little Harry. Severus had been a favourite of Harry's as well; even at six months old, he'd been happy in Severus' arms, but had screamed when placed in Remus'. However, Severus had been very surprised to find that they were the only two guests. Lily had said something about not wanting to overwhelm Harry, but Remus had seen the look she'd shot Potter. Something else was happening, had happened, that night.

Pettigrew had been off doing something—no one ever seemed to know what he was doing with himself, although Severus said he wasn't worried about him—and Sirius simply wasn't there. Remus had had to suppress a surge of jealous fury when Severus asked if he were coming.

Towards the end of the evening, while Potter was in Harry's room changing his nappy, Lily had told them that they were going into hiding. There was a spell, she'd said, that would hide them away so well that a person could be looking into their window and still not see them. Severus had stilled, at that, and Remus saw him mouth something that looked like “fidelity”. When Potter returned, Severus demanded to know who they'd chosen as their Secret Keeper. Potter looked sheepish, and Severus practically begged him not to use Sirius.

Remus could tell, from the set of Potter's shoulders, that the choice had already been made. Lily didn't seem to agree, though, and Remus made a mental note to owl her and see if he could get more out of her than Severus could.

As he gritted his teeth in the cold dungeon courtroom, he wished that he'd asked her that night, instead of waiting until the next day. His owl had never been able to find Lily.

Crouch was questioning Severus about who had been chosen as Secret Keeper for the Potters' Fidelius Charm, when Dumbledore stood up.

“I believe, Mr Crouch, that I have the information you are seeking. Mr Snape was not involved in that decision.”

Severus' head snapped around at Dumbledore's voice. Remus could see his eyes, hot and wild, pass over the Headmaster and lock onto his. Severus relaxed, just a little, and Remus' heart broke to see his grieving lover being questioned as if he were a criminal. Didn't that hateful hypocrite Crouch know a good man when he saw one, or was he too blinded by the letter of the law?

Dumbledore moved down the benches and Remus could see a tall, young black wizard with closely cropped hair ask Severus to stand and leave the room. As soon as Severus was up and moving, Crouch snarled at Dumbledore, “Who did the Potters' choose as their Secret Keeper?”

Dumbledore reached the floor of the room and turned slowly to face Crouch. He looked regal, and yet, somehow tired in a way that Remus thought he hadn't seen before. “They chose Sirius Black.” Remus, watching past Dumbledore, saw Severus stumble on his way through the door to the corridor beyond.

~*~

The next weekend, Remus took them both to visit Eileen. Severus had been moving like a sleepwalker since the trial and Remus hoped that Eileen would be able to think of something that could bring Severus out of the haze he'd been in. She took one look at him and bustled them both into the sitting room.

“Sit here,” she said firmly to Remus and then she pulled Severus up the stairs. Half an hour later, she came down alone. “What happened?”

Remus, who'd remained standing, sank down onto one of the chairs around the low table. “He heard that Black was the Potters' Secret Keeper.” He rubbed his face. “He asked them not to; I think he wanted to volunteer himself.” He suppressed a shiver of fear that ran through him at the thought of Death Eaters anywhere near his Severus. When he looked up, Eileen's expression was knowing. “I don't know why it's hit him so hard. He knew that Black betrayed them. He knew before the hearing.”

“I've put him to bed in his old room,” she replied, “and I'm sure he'll sleep for a while. We've more than enough time for you to tell me everything.” The two graduates of the House of Cunning leaned in and Remus began to speak.

Several hours later, Severus stumbled down the stairs. He was wearing an old dressing gown, but Remus could see the cuffs of striped pyjama bottoms sticking out below the hem. As Severus sat down in the other chair, the dressing gown gaped open and Remus had to bite his lip to hide a grin at the snitches shooting across the pyjamas. Severus missed the smile, but when Remus looked over, Eileen was watching him.

“Why'd you put me to sleep, mam?” Severus asked, rubbing his face. “I'm not a child. You don't need to use that old Charm on me any more.”

Remus raised his eyebrows at Eileen, who shrugged. “You looked like you needed rest,” she said calmly. “I'll get supper. Remus, why don't you come and help me?”

Remus stood to follow her. As he left the room, he glanced back and saw Severus curl up in the chair, his hair falling forward to hide his face.

Once they were both in the kitchen, Eileen took out her wand and cast a strong silencing hex. She stared flatly at Remus. “I've not said anything these last years,” she said, “but don't you think it's time Severus found himself a nice girl? Are you going to find a flat of your own when that happens?”

Remus drew on the years of hiding his emotions at school and smiled. “Well, he's rather torn up right now. I think he's probably not looking just at the minute.” He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue. “If he finds someone he wants to settle down with, I'm certain we can work something out about the flat then. I don't like to borrow trouble.” He smiled at her, hoping it didn't look like the baring of teeth it felt like. “Why don't we start on something to eat. My mum taught me a great curry.”

She didn't look convinced, but she did take some chicken out of the Muggle refrigerator.

The conversation at dinner was stilted. The only person who didn't seem uncomfortable was Severus; he ate mechanically, as if he barely tasted the food. Eileen pushed her plate away, her food unfinished, and crossed her legs.

“Severus,” she began, “I'm sure you remember the Weasleys? They had another child, a girl this time. I think Molly Weasley will finally stop. That's seven children.” She shook her head, her voice faintly disapproving. Remus, glancing back and forth between Severus and his mother, noticed the gleam in Eileen's eyes and stilled.

Severus, however, froze. Slowly he raised a bone white face. “Harry,” he whispered. “What's happened to Harry?”

Remus, who had been still watching Eileen, felt such a strong surge of hope he heard himself whimper, just a little. To his relief, no one else seemed to have heard it.

“Harry?” Eileen cocked her head. “Harry who?”

“Harry! James and Lily's child.” Severus stood up and leaned his fists against the table. “I'd forgot about Harry. I have to find him.” He started for the stairs, pulling at his dressing gown.

“You can start tomorrow,” called Eileen, twisting in her chair. Severus didn't pause in his headlong rush and she called after him. “It's a little late to start now, Severus. Anyone who knows will be asleep and they'll not welcome calls at this time of night.”

Remus shook his head and sighed a little when the thunder of Severus' steps stopped at the head of the stairs. “What time is it?”

“It's gone ten,” Eileen shouted back, her hands laced casually across her stomach. Remus watched Severus reappear, his feet showing first, then the rest of him coming all at once as he sat abruptly down on the stairs.

“How long was I asleep?”

Eileen raised an eyebrow. “At least three weeks, according to Remus.” Remus shifted uncomfortably. He wasn't sure he understood Severus' mum at the best of times, and she'd been distinctly unfriendly before dinner.

Severus rubbed his face, then came back to the table and sat down. After a long silence, he sighed deeply and turned to Remus. “I'm sorry. I know this has been really more than you should have to deal with. You've really taken good care of me since—since Halloween.”

“Oh, no,” Remus started, then stopped abruptly. After Eileen's comments earlier, he didn't want to make it look like he was too close to Severus. They'd been careful to avoid anything that might make people think they were more than friends. He took a quick breath. “No, don't worry about it. I'm sure anyone would have done the same thing. After all, what are friends for?”

Eileen interrupted the odd look Severus gave Remus by saying, “Who do you think would know about where this boy is?”

“Dumbledore,” said Remus

“Albus,” said Severus.

They looked at each other. Eileen nodded thoughtfully.

“Have you thought of what you're going to say to him?” Her gaze was directed at Severus, who leaned forward and began listing the different families he thought Harry might have been brought to.

Remus idly shifted his utensils around, then, frustrated by feeling slightly left out of the conversation, began piling up the dishes to bring them to the kitchen.

Half an hour later, standing in the darkened kitchen, he was startled by arms circling around his waist from behind as he stared out the window overlooking the night-time garden. The moon had just begun to wax, and he could feel the shift from waning to waxing; it almost felt as if he were itchy somewhere he couldn't quite place. He felt this every time the moon phase changed, and the only thing that ever seemed to ease the feeling was Severus, touching him.

He sighed and leaned back into Severus, who hooked his chin over Remus' shoulder. Several minutes passed in silence, then Remus heard Severus sigh.

“I'm sorry,” Severus whispered. “I left you alone, didn't I? I didn't mean to. I was just so devastated. I told them, I begged them—Lily—to make James listen, but they didn't. He didn't.” His hands tightened, clutching desperately at Remus waist. “I knew that Sirius couldn't be trusted. He changed, he was never the same after—“ Remus twisted around, pulling Severus to his chest and holding him tightly. He buried his head in Severus' hair, letting one hand stroke up and down Severus' spine.

“It's just that James didn't seem to trust me,” Severus stumbled on, his voice getting louder and harsher. “Right after Lily got pregnant, things—James—changed. And I don't know what to think about Peter. He's just disappeared. I even went to visit his mam...”

Remus murmured, “So that's where you went. I wondered.” Severus looked up at him, his eyes wet, then kept talking.

“She hasn't heard from him since June. I don't know what's going on...” He collapsed against Remus, the only thing keeping him upright was Remus' arms around him. “The only thing I do know is that I never would have told anyone. I wouldn't have told you, even. They'd be alive, if James had just ... just...” He broke into harsh, discordant sobs and Remus felt his heart break.

He knew why James hadn't trusted Severus any more. Lily had invited them over for dinner to tell them that she was pregnant. Remus had seen Sirius leaving as they arrived. Severus hadn't seen; he'd been too busy greeting Lily to see James and Sirius in the kitchen. James had joined them in the sitting room after Sirius left through the back door, but he'd looked oddly at Remus the whole time, and had, in fact, barely spoken to him since then. Remus didn't know what Sirius had told James, but whatever it was, James clearly had thought it was important. Important and deadly, it now proved.

As he stroked Severus' hair, he glanced up and saw Eileen in the doorway. She looked oddly satisfied, but before he could react, she stepped away. After a moment, he could hear her walking up the stairs to the bedrooms. Deciding that Severus was more important than Eileen, he buried his face in Severus' hair and held on.

~*~

“What do you mean, you left him with his family? He doesn't have any family!” Severus stood in the centre of Dumbledore's office at Hogwarts. His fists were clenched tightly at his sides and his face was livid.

Dumbledore took a deep breath. “I understand that you are very upset by the deaths of your friends, and I am very sorry. Young Harry has close relatives on his mother's side. His aunt and uncle will, I'm certain, be able to explain everything to him when he's older. I wrote them a letter.”

This seemed to render Severus speechless with fury, and Remus found himself in complete agreement with his lover. They knew how badly Lily had gotten along with her magic-hating sister. Didn't Dumbledore? This seemed like strangely cavalier behaviour towards the boy who'd saved everyone.

“You gave Harry, little Harry Potter to Petunia Dursley and her walrus of a husband? They're the worst sort of Muggles. They won't tell him anything about who he is, or what he is...” Severus seemed almost stunned.

“Yes,” said Dumbledore calmly, “I do think that would be best. Can you imagine what it would be like, to grow up with everyone around you knowing your name? Being famous for something you can't even remember? No, it is best for him to grow up away from all of that until he's ready to take it.”

Severus stepped closer to the desk. “Give him to me. Let us raise him. We'll teach him about magic, raise him as any other magical boy.” He didn't even look at Remus, who blinked at the request. He hadn't really thought about having children, ever, let alone so young.

Dumbledore leaned back in his chair. “Sit down, my boy.” He waited until Severus stumbled back to his chair. “That is a gracious offer, and don't think it's one I did not consider. However,” his eyes flicked to Remus for a moment and the flat look in his gaze made Remus feel colder than he'd ever felt, “after some thought, I decided that this is the best thing for little Harry. I'm sure that, after some consideration and thought, you will come to agree with me.”

“You can't... Albus, we'd be good guardians, we would be careful to show him everything he'd need to know to be able to fit in when he comes to school and grows up.” Severus leaned forward, his arms outstretched in entreaty.

Remus, beginning to feel angry at Dumbledore's refusal to listen to Severus' suggestions and at the implication that he was a threat, stood up. “Thank you very much for your time, Headmaster,” he said. “I think we have another appointment soon, and I'm certain you're very busy.”

Dumbledore nodded at him, a smile lifting the corners of his mouth. “Thank you, Remus. I'm very sorry to have to give you such unhappy news, but I'm sure that, in time, my decisions will make sense.”

Remus hauled Severus up by the arm. Severus glared at him, then turned back to Dumbledore. “I'm not giving up, old man. That boy doesn't belong with those ... those Muggles.”

~*~

Remus shut the door behind him and turned to Severus who was standing in the centre of the sitting room with his arms crossed tightly.

“What the hell was that about? Why'd you drag me out of Albus' office that way?” Severus had clearly transferred his fury at Dumbledore to Remus, but Remus was confident he could handle it.

“I rather thought you'd want to hear this in private, is all.” Remus walked past Severus into the kitchen, grabbing a biro and a notepad on the way. He started tea and sat down at the table. “Now, how old is Harry? I mean, will we need nappies? And someone for him when we're both at work?”

Severus froze halfway down into a chair. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I don't see why we have to listen to Dumbledore. If you say the boy would be better somewhere else, then I trust you.” He shoved the pad over to Severus. “List what you think we'll need. I can pick some of it up in Birmingham when I'm there for work. Or,” he stood up and poured water into the teapot. “Or one of us can find the things in Diagon, if the magical variety is better. Now I think about it, magical nappies would be better. Do they have them?”

~*~

Remus stared around, amazed at how much the Muggles in this neighborhood managed to make every house look alike. “Hey, Severus, look at that!” He pointed at the house on the corner. The grungy motorcycle parked outside the garage was the only thing that looked real, that didn't look as if it came, pre-packaged, out of some catalogue of Boring Household Furnishings. Severus glanced over and grunted.

“That didn't used to be there. Petunia must be hysterical.” He turned away and walked quickly towards a house with a large number four next to the door. “It's this one.”

Remus grinned one more time at the automotive evidence of someone in the neighborhood being an individual, and then ran after Severus. “Wait, that's the house? That's so ... bland. Really?” He was surprised at how much he was looking forward to getting Harry. They'd gone shopping several days in a row in both wizarding and Muggle communities, and had added a small room onto their flat. He hoped that Harry wouldn't be too unhappy at leaving his aunt and uncle's house.

He stood, excited, behind Severus at the door. Severus knocked on the door, then turned to smile over his shoulder at Remus. Remus saw the curtains in the front window twitch. Several minutes later, the door cracked open. Severus turned to the narrow sliver of face visible through the crack and gave the most feral smile Remus had seen. Remus could see the horsey looking woman flinch away.

“We're here for Harry.”

At first the woman—Remus couldn't believe this was Lily's sister—wouldn't let them in. Then Severus threatened to have Remus change into a giant wolf and howl until her husband returned from work; Petunia blanched and let them in.

“I thought that man said the brat had to stay here or he'd be in danger,” she said, her voice scornful. “I'd think he'd be in less danger here. At least here there's a chance he won't grow up to be a freak, like you.”

Remus saw Severus' face tighten and he rested a hand on Severus' shoulder. “We're just here to take him. Let us worry about any danger the child might be in.”

She huffed and moved towards the stairs, but instead of leading them upstairs, she opened the door of a cupboard under the stairs. “He's in here,” she said, “and he's been a right handful already. He's taken much of the time I should be spending with my own dear child.”

Remus felt his temper begin to fray. “Mrs, ah, Dursley. You've put him in the cupboard? Surely there's another—”

She spun around, her face blotchy and tight. “I never wanted him. That awful old man made me take him, but he couldn't make me do anything else for the little freakish thing. Here.” She reached into the cupboard without looking and pulled out a small child by the leg. He'd clearly been sleeping, and his face crumpled in shock and fear as he dangled suddenly over the floor. “Take him. I don't want him to contaminate my precious Dudley.”

Severus darted forward and snatched Harry away. “You... you... “ he was stammering in fury, angrier than Remus had ever seen him. Remus himself, though he'd been apprehensive about taking on Potter's child, felt his own temper break.

“You shouldn't be allowed to have any children, if this is what you think is a proper way to treat them,” he said, only just managing not to scream. “We'll take him. Did he come with anything?”

“I'm not giving you any of the nappies or things I bought,” Petunia snapped.

Severus was most of the way to the door already and Remus wanted to hurry up and leave, himself. “I meant, was he given to you with anything, any papers or blankets or other things from his family?”

Petunia glanced at a smallish chest in the corner of the room, then quickly back at Remus. “No,” she said, widening her eyes. “I found him with just a nappy on, on the door step.”

Remus snarled at her, grabbed the chest and walked to the door, ignoring her angry cry. “I hope I never have to see you again,” he said, then left the house. Outside, Severus was standing on the walk, holding Harry tightly on his hip. The two dark heads leant together, their hair mixing, and Remus found his emotions turning quickly to a fierce, protective joy. This was his family now, these two people.

He and Severus had discussed what Dumbledore had said about Harry's fame and they'd made several decisions.

First of all, they added a second extra room to the flat and placed the strongest and most un-breakable silence and locking spells on it. Remus, standing in the centre of the small room, couldn't help but sigh. He wasn't looking forward to transforming in here, but it was safer than any other option they'd come up with.

Second, they told Eileen that James and Lily had left instructions for Severus to 'get' Harry, if anything happened to them. She didn't seem to believe them, but she was happy enough to have a grandchild, no matter how oddly acquired.

Third, leaving Harry with Eileen, they stopped off at Mrs Figg's house. Severus slipped a memory modification potion into her teacup and, while she was in a suggestible state, told her that she'd remember checking up on Harry every time she had been told to, and that he was happy and growing healthily each time she saw him.

Fourth, they went shopping for Christmas presents. The boy clearly needed everything.

~*~

Remus closed the door behind him with his foot, dropping his bags on the floor gratefully. “Ugh,” he groaned, twisting his back from side to side. “That's the last of it. I'm not going out again until after the holiday is over.”

Severus stuck his head into the sitting room from the kitchen. “Harry's sleeping. I sent an owl to my mam—she's expecting us for dinner on Christmas. Does your mam want us?”

“No,” Remus replied, bringing the bags into the kitchen. “She's in Greece this year, something to do with the native population of heatferns being decimated by tourists. She's doing a study.” He quickly put the groceries away, then stepped up behind Severus, who was standing at the stove. He'd pulled his hair back into a tail and Remus could feel himself getting aroused at the pale neck that was showing. “Mmmm,” he hummed, wrapping his arms around Severus' chest and burying his nose in the soft angle where Severus' neck met his shoulder. “You know I love it when I can taste your neck.”

Severus tilted his head away, exposing the spot just below his ear. “If you want to have dinner any time tonight, you'll leave that alone,” he said, belying his words by wriggling back into Remus' chest. Remus chuckled, then dropped light kisses up from Severus' shoulder to his earlobe, giving a short nip to the lobe itself.

“Dinner can wait,” he whispered. “I'm hungry for something else.” He slid his hands up Severus' chest and rubbed the already hard nipples he found there. Severus moaned and let his head fall back against Remus' shoulder.

“Yes,” he said, “it can.” He waved his wand one last time and the seething pot on the stove stilled. “Do that again.”

Remus laughed darkly, and spun Severus. “I can do much better.” He braced himself and lifted Severus, turning them both so that they switched places. Then he ran a hand down the front of Severus' robe while he kissed Severus fiercely, his mouth plundering his lover's. When Severus' robes were open, Remus moved lower, kissing Severus' neck, nipping at the sharp collarbones, then straying down his chest to the tight, brown nubs. He licked gently at one, and, inspired by Severus' deep moan, bit firmly on the other. Severus cried out, his hips jerking and one hand clenching tightly in Remus' hair.

“Oh!” He slid a hand under Remus' shirt hem, his long fingers pressing and rubbing at Remus' chest and side. Just as Remus thought he'd burst from the tantalizing shred of contact, Severus pinched his nipple. Remus felt lightheaded; he panted into Severus' neck.

“I love you,” he said, “I love you.”

Severus turned his head and kissed him, clinging to him and burying both hands in his hair. His lips opened, his tongue wrapped itself around Remus'. Remus ground their hips together, feeling his cock surge and tighten at the way Severus' tongue was mimicking sex in his mouth. After several long moments, he wrenched his mouth away and gasped for air.

Falling to his knees, he licked a path up Severus' inner thigh; then he took one of his balls in his mouth and sucked gently. Above him, Severus was staring down, his dark eyes wide and unfocused. Remus loved to make him this way, loved to make Severus lose control and become frantic and needy.

Keeping his eyes locked on Severus', Remus closed his mouth over the sensitive head of Severus' cock. Slowly, he slid his lips down the shaft, watching Severus' eyes become glassy. His own cock, upset at being ignored, throbbed in his trousers. He pressed the heel of his hand to it, knowing that there were better things to come.

He pumped up and down, relishing the delicate skin covering the rock hard flesh underneath. Severus was moaning and shifting, one hand clenched on the table edge, the other locked in Remus' hair.

Remus pulled his mouth all the way off, licking and sucking on just the tip, enjoying the way the attention made Severus' hips flex. Pushing at Severus, he managed to get him up onto the table with his legs spread. He stood up, tugging his trousers and pants off, and then he tipped Severus' hips up further. Remus licked Severus' balls again; after several moments there, he slipped his tongue down to the soft, protected skin below. Severus yelped and clutched at his shoulders, crying out, “Oh, God. Remus, oh please...”

Remus stood, fighting his own arousal. After a couple of deep breaths, he reached for his wand and whispered a spell. Thick gel poured out of the tip of his wand into his hand and he tossed the wand aside again. Slowly, carefully, he rubbed the gel into Severus' opening, sliding first one, then two fingers in and massaging the sensitive skin inside. When he could feel that Severus was ready, and when he could no longer wait, he slathered the remaining gel on himself.

He moved to stand between Severus' legs, pressing his anxious cock deep into Severus, not stopping until he was sheathed completely. Severus looked at him, his face suffused with joy. Reaching up, Severus stroked Remus' chest and whispered, his voice cracking, “I love you. Love...” He trailed off, throwing his head back as Remus began to move, pumping slowly and firmly . Remus was always careful to start slowly; several months after moving in together, Severus had told him what happened with Sirius in school. Remus swore to himself that he'd never do anything to make Severus think that he would do anything like that.

Severus' hips were snapping up to meet Remus' every thrust; Remus couldn't control his movements any more. Watching Severus' face, watching the look of insensible joy and pleasure creep up and then wash over him, hearing the sounds Severus made as he exploded, tipped him over the edge and he felt himself fill with light.

~*~

Dinner was over, and they'd moved to the sitting room. Harry was on the floor, playing with the miniature set of dragons Eileen had given him for Christmas. Severus sat with him, moving the dragons and making them talk to Harry. Remus glanced away from them to see Eileen watching him, a thoughtful look on her face.

“I'm going to make some tea. Remus,” she smiled at him, “would you help me please?” She stood up and started toward the kitchen. Remus grimaced, remembering the last conversation they'd had when she'd called him into the kitchen. Severus looked at him, a question on his face, but Remus shook his head. He'd find out what this was. If she planned to tell him to stay away from Severus, he would politely ignore her.

In the kitchen, Eileen had already put the tea service on a tray. There was a large wrapped package on the counter.

“Yes, Eileen?” Remus figured he was there to help carry the tray; it looked quite heavy. She'd gone overboard on biscuits, it seemed.

She turned and leaned on the counter, facing him. “That's for you,” she said, nodding at the box.

Remus, after a puzzled moment, pulled the paper off and opened the wooden box inside the wrapping. Inside was a full set of china, in an old-fashioned pattern of vines and lavender. Confused, he looked up at her.

“That's my grandmam's china. She gave it to me, when I got married. I've been saving it for Severus' wife, so...” she trailed off, looking uncomfortable. “So, I guess it's yours.”

Remus stilled, feeling conflicting impulses. The first thing that managed to find its way out of his mouth was, though, “Are you saying I'm Severus' wife?” As soon as the words were in the air, he groaned, wishing he could take them back. To his surprise, though, Eileen laughed.

“No,” she said, smiling. “You're not... well, anyway. I just,” she shifted, looking at the door, then at her feet. “Severus used to talk about you, when he was still in school, and I never really knew what to think of it. Then, in his—your--sixth year, something changed. I haven't found out what. For a while he seemed so unhappy, but when he's with you....” She looked him in the eye. “When he's with you, he seems happy. You're not what I expected. But you're what I have, aren't you?”

Remus bit his lip, unsure how to respond. He'd never expected Eileen to say anything like this. “I am, Eileen. I want...” he took a deep breath and glanced at the door, himself. “I want very much to make your son happy. I'll do what it takes to make him... to show him how I feel.”

She eyed him, her expression a mix of rueful and amused. “Even take on the child of someone you hated in school?”

He stiffened, then relaxed. Slowly, he began to smile. “Well, I think of it this way. If I help raise him, he can't turn into a copy of Potter, can he? And, he's also the son of a woman I cared about. I'll just have to think of him as Lily's boy, rather than Potter's.”

She smiled back. “That sounds... sound. Now—“

“Taaaaaaaa!” Severus, with Harry on his hip, was in the doorway. Harry had seen the teapot and was reaching for it, trying to say 'tea'.

Severus looked back and forth between Remus and Eileen. “What's going on here? What's grandmam's china doing out?”

Eileen smiled at Remus once more, then turned to Severus. “Give me that child. I gave the china to Remus.” She swung Harry to her own hip, and poked him in the middle. “I'm saving your grandmam's silver, though, for Harry's wife.” She placed just the slightest stress on the word 'silver' and Remus froze. He looked over at Severus, who'd gone white and was staring at his mum.

“Mam,” he whispered, “I, er....”

“What I don't understand,” Eileen said, as if she'd said nothing provocative, “is why I can't have Harry come over once or twice a month. You know,” she slanted another smile up at Remus, “to let you two have some time for yourselves.”

Remus relaxed against the counter. Life was a funny thing, he thought, watching his family grow. You really never knew what would happen next. He hoped that, whatever happened, he'd always have his loved ones nearby.

“Mus!” yelled Harry, stretching his arms out towards Remus. Yes, Remus thought again. You never know.

He smiled and grasped one hand, while Severus held onto the other. Eileen and Harry, in the middle, laughed.

Fin